This week we have a guest post by one of the latest teachers to join our ever expanding pool of volunteers around the world, Emi Slater. What Emi writes fits in very well with the current trend in the work of the Hands Up Project to focus more on children creating stories, rather than merely consuming them. Over to you Emi…
I cannot believe that in my little village on top of a hill, deep in central England at 7am on Monday mornings I have been hearing and telling such profound and deep stories. I’ve just started working with the Hands Up Project and Nick asked me to work with a wonderful teacher called Sarah Zahran. She is also new to the project and we have had some fun over the last few weeks getting to know each other and the students despite the foibles of the Palestinian internet. After the first lesson Sarah asked me if it was really true that there were homeless people in Britain. When I told her there were thousands she asked me “but how! you are such a rich country?”. I was reminded of the time I spent travelling around the Soviet Union on the cusp of Perestroika when people in Siberia regularly asked me if it was really true that all British people had servants. That in turn reminded me of Nick’s comment on this blog that becoming global citizens is the only way out of this mess we are in.
We started with Nassreddin and the dinner party – using the Stories Alive version about a farmer who goes to a party in his work clothes and is rejected because of his appearance. So cross is he that the party guests only accept him after he has been home to change that he starts to pour food into his pockets, his hat and his trousers. When reprimanded for making a mess he declaims ‘I’m giving the food to my clothes’ . ‘I think you invited my clothes to the party – not me!’ Sarah had chosen it and it seemed so perfect for a group of 13 year old girls who would presumably be interested in clothes and self-image.
But their responses turned out to be far from such shallow trivia that so often preoccupies British teenagers. By our first lesson the girls had already written out the story, drawn their own pictures and were enthusiastically retelling me the story with their pictures on line. I was blown away by their enthusiasm and asked Sarah if the girls could write down their responses to this tale.
By the next lesson the girls had written their own moralistic tales, illustrated and even adapted them into mini plays – one about a poor black family who helped the white people despite how badly they had been treated by them, one about a man who, having lost his legs on his journey to work in England, was mocked by his own son for begging because he was too ashamed to return home, one fable depicting the ever increasing divide between rich and poor and one about a man who put a spell on some boys to stop them throwing stones at old people. I was slightly at a loss – the stories were already so wonderful and they had already illustrated them and performed them! It seemed wrong to start picking them apart and working on language or correcting them or even developing or editing them. The girls voices were strong and clear across cyberspace and I didn’t feel right interfering with such honest, important stories. I felt like I would be threatening the whole delicate and important ethos of the Hands Up project if I started behaving like an “english teacher”. And so it occurred to me that the only thing that might perhaps be useful for the girls was to hear my version of their stories. Partly for language learning purposes (obviously by recasting and extending I was creating more complex sentences which might perhaps be useful for the students to hear and perhaps work with later) but the key reason was confirmation. Confirmation that I had understood their stories correctly, and this not just on a linguistic level but on a human communication level – did I really “get” what they were trying to tell me? I tried to imagine what it would be like to hear someone Russian (the foreign language I know best) tell me a story that I had tried to write in Russian back to me. I decided it would probably be thrilling and so I suggested it to Sarah. The girls in Sarah’s class seemed to like my version of their stories and you can see them nodding at various points in the video. Is this them responding to my confirmation or is it because they liked or were interested in my version of their story from a language perspective? And of course they were only my versions. Certainly I could try harder at it making them fuller, rounder, more vocabulary rich but as Nick has been consistently saying on this blog the simplest things so often work best.
The original story created and told by Palestinian learners of English in a girls school in Hebron, Palestine
A reformulated version of the same story told by Emi