Saturday, 7 January 2012

Strangers in Strange Lands

IslmabadI had a visit on Friday from Ginny Burfield, Suffolk’s Equality & Minority Ethnic Attainment Adviser, about using media with  students. We were continuing an earlier discussion about digital storytelling.
During the MAD project last term I was struck by how powerful a tool digital storytelling might be for  students with English as an Additional Language. Working with a Year 6 girl from Pakistan I was particularly struck by the way she “lit up” when we  looked a pictures of Islamabad on Google Images and  began telling me enthusiastically about her former home, her family and the cats she had left behind. 
Ginny told me a similar story about a rather shy girl from Southern Europe, who had been electively mute since arriving in her new school.  Whilst the teacher was talking about journeys, Ginny drew a rough map and aeroplane for her and said she thought perhaps the girl had been on a journey.  The language floodgates opened and she began talking in broken but comprehensible English about leaving her home and, at the end of the session, to everyone’s amazement, contributed to the class discussion.
Once upon a time it was the custom for young children to share their “news” with the class. With an increased focus on content do we now give students enough opportunities to bring their life outside the classroom into school?  Digital storytelling gives all students the chance to share and celebrate  their experiences. Used with EAL children it is can affirm the richness and significance of their former life and acknowledges its importance. It can celebrate, too, the joys and problems of being strangers in a strange land,  in a form that can  be shared with friends, classmates and relatives “back home” too, easily and enjoyably.
My “Tales from the Archives” site, - a step-by step set of tutorials on the process of digital storytelling - would be a really useful for EAL students working with a TA.
At a time when concerns about racism are in the news, I can think of few better ways of promoting understanding and empathy than by watching and discussing digital stories made by  peers.