What have we learnt?

When I run online training courses for new volunteers (as I’m about to do again today) I always try to emphasise that what we do in the Hands Up Project isn’t really teaching.

It’s not teaching for two reasons..

Firstly, because the young people who we work with online in Palestine and Jordan already have English teachers in the room with them, and these teachers don’t need people like us to try to do their jobs for them.

In fact these teachers are in a much better position to teach English than we are as remote volunteers; they know the curriculum inside out (what’s in the coursebook, what may come up in the exam, what the learners have already explored and where they might be trying to get to), they know the first language of the learners very well (which means they can more accurately predict the level  of challenge of linguistic input and can more easily use translation as a teaching tool) and, perhaps most importantly, they know the learners very well (their needs, their strengths, their personalities, their learning preferences etc).

Secondly, an online session probably isn’t the best format for the teaching of language anyway; it’s often hard for us to hear each other comfortably so models of language get lost somehow and need to be reinforced again by the classroom teacher.

This is not to say of course that there isn’t learning happening and that what we are doing in the Hands Up Project isn’t useful. In fact, from the feedback we’ve had from teachers and learners in Palestine who’ve done sessions with us, it seems that for many people these online connections in HUP are some of the most powerful learning experiences they’ve ever had.

Here’s what one of our most experienced volunteers, a classroom teacher in Gaza, Amal Mukhairez, said about it.

“I think these sessions open up a new world of learning English. A world where students are not burdened with linguistic rules and exams which is, I believe, the key to getting more excited and effectively involved in the process of learning. The most interesting part about these online meetings is that students are introduced to the language more authentically and much more smoothly.”

And Hands Up Project sessions can also be a rich source of learning for the classroom teachers and remote volunteers themselves. Another long standing volunteer with us in Gaza – Sahar Salha, presented about this at last year’s Hands Up Project conference and at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool. Here’s what she wrote in her article for IATEFL Conference Selections (due to be published very soon)

“Being an English teacher can be a very lonely job, especially in a place like Gaza. We don’t have many opportunities for teacher development sessions and sometimes we have no idea about what other teachers are doing in their classes. It has been a real privilege for me to see another teacher from a completely different context, suggesting, explaining and implementing activities to do with my own learners here in Gaza. Sometimes I then try these activities out in my other face to face classes and they work really well. Maybe one of the most important things is that it’s made me realise the potential of my own students to use English naturally and communicatively with people outside of Gaza. So, I think I have higher expectations of them now and that is a very good thing”

Sahar feels that the online link ups have also helped with her own language development…

“Doing these sessions has also helped me with my own English. Until I came to the IATEFL conference in Liverpool, I had never been outside of Palestine and I’ve had very few opportunities in my life to interact in English with anyone who isn’t Palestinian. I can feel that my own English level has improved a lot by having this chance to communicate regularly with Alex”

And the feeling of learning is something that may happen to both the classroom teacher and the remote volunteer…

“Alex has also told me how she feels she has developed as a teacher through working with me. She always tells me that I have a great way of working with the girls, pushing them to do their best and managing things so that everyone feels involved. This is not easy in a class of 45 students with very few resources and where many of the learners are suffering from trauma. But this is one thing that we teachers in Gaza have learnt how to do to, and it feels good to be able to pass on these skills to Alex”

So over to you now….

Remote volunteers, Palestine based volunteers, students..What have you learnt by doing sessions with the Hands Up Project? Please write something in the comments below.

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Lots of learning happening in this session with classroom teacher Atiyyeh and remote volunteer, Michael 

 

Technical tips for making remote theatre through Zoom

There are just two weeks to go until the deadline for the remote theatre competition and we’ve already had some great plays submitted using the online form here

A few people have been asking me about the technical side of making remote theatre through zoom so I’ve made a little video to show you some of the things to keep in mind. Please remember that there is no obligation to make the play through zoom – you could do it through a mobile phone like last year. Just make sure you follow the guidelines of remote theatre.

PS, The full guidelines are available here and if you’re having trouble making the subtitle file Tim has made a very nice video here to help with that.

We hope it helps and the very best of luck to you all. Break a leg!

New versions of Palestinian remote plays

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I’ve just returned to the UK from a week in Austria at the Salzburg Global Seminar on Education for refugees and migrants. It was a very stimulating event in stunning settings with educators from all over the world. Education specialist, Rida Thabet and I presented about our work in Gaza in UNRWA and the Hands Up Project.

rida and me Salzburg

Then one evening we put on a remote theatre workshop for the seminar participants. This was a nice chance to try out the green screen that I now take with with me everywhere I go, and also for them to work with two extracts of plays created as part of last year’s remote theatre competition for Palestinian children.

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We only had about 45 minutes for each group to read the play, plan how they would do it, rehearse it and then perform it. The first group worked with an excerpt from ‘I will wait until they open the gate. This play was originally created and performed by Sara, Afaf, Abeer, Reema and Saja from Beach Elem Co-ed School (C), Gaza with support form their teacher, Luzan Matar.  Here’s the seminar participants’ version. I particularly like the way they have used depth and height in their performance. There’s a slight issue with fuzziness from the green screen of course but I think that this is caused by not having a bright enough light on it. Anyway a really nice performance. I love how the  giraffe has to bend down to make his face come into view.

Here’s the original, full version, performed by the girls in Gaza…

The second group worked with an excerpt from ‘Welcome to Earth’ originally created and performed by Mahmoud Kafafi, Rida Amouri, Ahmed Afghani, Abdul-Rahman Madi, Ahmed Abboush from Askar Boys UNRWA school, Nablus, with support from their teacher Ghada Hamdan. We used the virtual background feature of zoom but we didn’t actually have the green screen available when it was being rehearsed. The result was that the spaceship and the characters popped in and out of view and (by chance really) this effect fitted really well with the theme of aliens arriving on a new planet. So we decided to keep it in the final performance. What do you think?

Here’s the original version performed by the boys in Nablus..

I think this way of organising a workshop is a really nice introduction to remote theatre and it’s something that I’d love to do more of in English classes of teenagers around the world. Now that we have another great new book of 30 remote plays made by young people in Palestine, we have lots of resources available for these workshops. Let us know if you’d like to arrange one in your school.

A4 Advert.

Unfortunately we’ve already run out as we presented nearly 200 kids and their teachers with their own copies when we were in Palestine just before we went to Austria. But there will be plenty more copies available to buy in the new year. Watch this space!

Hanaa and Becca’s creative journey through the Hands Up Project

This week we have a lovely post written by an amazing team teaching pair – Hanaa in Gaza and Becca in USA. Over to you…

Hanaa says….

‘I consider myself extremely fortunate to be one of the very loyal members of the hands up project. I’ve initiated doing zoom sessions since I’ve started teaching  three years ago. I went through many ups and downs and definitely the unstable internet connection was a deep hole that frustrated me sometimes. However, contributing to the Hands Up remote theatre competition, and considering my girls’ play The Living Song as one of the finalists, was my Everest! 

Hence, this year we’re going through the most wonderful experience with the zoom live sessions with our amazing HUP volunteer and friend, Becca. We did a variety of sessions together; each session surprises us differently, enjoys us gorgeously, and connects us very warmly .

Our session today reflects drama in a wonderful way. We decided to warm up using some activities such as one-word theatre and tourist guide activity. Students, in the first activity, were spontaneously divided into groups according to their seats and assigned a word for each. They tried their best to represent what this word means to each girl in the group creating a very simple humble theatre. The latter activity was supported by the students drawings about places of their sheer imagination. They started showing  their drawings and turned to be very good tourist guides trying to convince Becca to visit their worlds. We were positively shocked by some creative places and totally willing to visit them if we could, such as the Nutella city or dreams land. The girls loved to end this drama session with acting an amusing traditional Palestinian story, ‘The farmer who followed his dream’ which was told by Becca previously.

Each session feels like it’s the first time we do it! The girls are extremely excited and can’t wait to communicate with their friend, and this is what is so special about these sessions!’
  

Becca says….

‘I remember vividly reading a story when I was about ten or eleven years old, in which a child on his birthday was allowed to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and supper. I thought that was the most fantastic thing I had ever heard. I found myself charmed merely by the idea of imagining what bliss such an indulgence would give me. Although I knew my mother would never allow it, not even on my birthday, I could nevertheless imagine it, secretly, and that seemed nearly as good as the real thing.

That childhood joy comes instantly back to me when I see the girls in the English club come up with ideas for their dream cities, where they want to lead me. It doesn’t take much enticement from them in their role as my tourist guide, because they promise me cities of donuts, ice cream and Nutella; of flowers, giant yellow balloons, and horses with wings and rainbow-colored tails. I would happily follow them wherever their imaginations lead me. It’s even better knowing that they want to travel with me to these magical places they have drawn so colorfully on paper and described so enthusiastically with their lyrical voices. I can’t resist stepping into those enchanting cities with them.

I’m equally entranced by the creativity that they show when given only one word and a very few minutes to develop a short performance by their group to express the word. I am amazed at how much they can make out of that single word, both as individuals and as a group. They show such enthusiasm for the assignment, and then are all so eager to share what they have done with me and with their classmates. I find myself often surprised by the cleverness sophistication of their thinking, and can’t believe they are so young. But then I remember how amazing the human mind is, and realize that because they are given the freedom to let their imaginations soar, nothing can limit them – not their age or their gender or the circumstances of their lives. Witnessing them participate with so much style and expressiveness, my entire outlook on life is made more positive and hopeful. These girls give me faith in the triumph of the human spirit.

Then there is the play about the poor farmer and his dream. Although I had told the story to another class in an earlier session, I had not given nearly as much detail as the girls did in their version. It was also amazing to see them really put themselves into their roles. From the beginning moments when the narrator draws us in with her words of, “Once upon a time…”, we are hooked. The “bearded old man” was a highlight, as he (she!) teased the old farmer saying that dreams mean nothing, then in the next moment describing his own dream that is the key to the whole tale. For me the dream of the old man is actually a reminder that our real treasure is actually back in our own homes and in our own hearts, not in a far-off place on a map marked with an X. I hope that the girls learn that their treasures are also to be found deep within their own blossoming and beautiful young souls.

I am thankful over and over that they have such a good teacher in Hanaa, who clearly is doing a fantastic job giving the girls plenty of time, space, and resources to empower their thinking, their creativity, and most importantly, their self image. It is an honor to work with such a fine person. I have learned a great deal from her about using art and drama for giving students a platform to explore this world and their very important place in it’

 

How to make a remote play

This week we have a post from Inas Younis Shurrab, a teacher of English based in Khan Younis Gaza, who has been involved in the Hands Up Project for a long time. Inas has written a report about the remote theatre training course for teachers that she recently conducted with 2 other experienced remote theatre specialists (Amani and Imad) from the South of Gaza. Please read it carefully. It contains some really useful tips if you are planning to submit a play for this year’s competition.

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How to make a  Remote Theatre Play – a report on the workshop for teachers we conducted.

Written by : Inas Younis Shurrab

November 2019

Day and date: Tuesday 29th October 2019

Place : Bani Suhaila Prep. Girls School -Khanyounis

Time : 11:00 am – 12: 15 pm.

Prepared by :  T. Inas Younis Shurrab  – T. Amani Kullab – T. Imad Wahba

Target group: Unrwa English Teachers at East Khanyounis area

Supervised by : The Educational Specialist Mr. Mohammad Al Astal

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As the three of us (me , Amani and Imad) were all finalists in the Remote Theatre Play writing Competition 2018 we decided to help  the English teachers in our area by giving them some tips about this art.

We started the meeting by an introduction about creativity and then talked about the following points :

1- What is a Remote Theatre Play :

As a new art invented by Mr. Nick Bilbrough , we didn’t find any resources on google. Therefore, I emailed Mr. Nick for some help. He provided us by some files and links of the Remote Theatre competition 2019 guideline .

– A New art .

*Invented by Mr. Nick Bilbrough , Britain.

*Producing a short filmed English play about any topic related to Palestinian children life

*The play can be performed by Zoom to other countries or people outside Palestine.

* The main language of the play should be English (It’s allowed to use some Arabic)

2- The Rules of the Remote Theater Play Competition:

*The play must be performed as a piece of Remote Theatre.

*The deadline to send the video of the play and the script is the 31st of December,2019

* It should be performed by at most five students.( any student can play more than one role.)

* It can be filmed on any digital device

*The recording device must not be moved at all.

*The camera angle must not change and no zooming or effects are allowed.

* It must be filmed in one take with no stops or pauses using the camera controls.

*If music, narration or any other sound effects are used they should be played during the performance and not added later.

*No editing  may take place.

*Subtitles need to included

*You need to include a short piece of writing about how you made the play

3-The most important elements of the remote theatre script:

Amani talked about the following elements in details:

The main language of the play is English. .

The starting point of the play must come from the children .

Use simple language and don’t complicate it .

Focus on the story itself . In other words ,every line and every scene should serve the story .

Try to use clear expressions .

Stage direction should be simple and  clear .

Don’t write too much.

4-How to write a good script :

I talked about some rules to help teachers and their students come up with a good script :

1- Get started : I suggested that they can visit the library, read some English stories and watch other plays on YouTube.

2– Do make sure that it’s clear : Everyone who watched the play will understand the main plot, message and morals behind this script . I provided them with an example of one of my plays which didn’t win last year . It’s called Jamila’s Dress. (You can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7joBQhKtDM&t=25s

Here’s a specific comment about this play from one of the judges.

“This was an effective and lively performance but sometimes the pauses made the acting a little disconnected. A very thought-provoking concept and story. It wasn’t totally totally clear to me but the ambiguity made me think a lot. The Palestinian flag as a precious dress was an interesting symbol. A very effective set and some nice ideas. I think more practice was needed with the choreography e.g. some of the actor’s heads were out of the camera and the time reference signs were sometimes lop-sided. Having said that they clearly worked well as a team within the constraints of remote theatre.”

 3- Don’t write too much .(Let the acting do the talking):

Example : Think how can you change this script to describe the feelings of the characters more effectively and in a concise way:

A : The things that happen made me extremely sad . Words can’t describe my sadness but look ,let me try to use words to describe it anyway .

B : Yes, I can tell how sad you from the way you told me how sad you are. And I empathize with  your sadness in a way that makes me feel emotional also.

4- Do focus on the story :

Remove every single line that doesn’t contribute to the actions /meaning  of the story

Example : Which line should we cut?

On their way to the market , the man told his son a story about his childhood .

The man : Did you like the story

The boy : Yes , dad .It was fantastic . You were very strong dad . When I grow up , I will be like you . I will be strong  . I will do as you did in the story . I will not be weak.

After that Amani talked about how to perform a script effectively . She discussed the following points . She applied all of them to a play as an example

– There is a big difference between reading a script  as a written document and performing a script as a sequence of actions .

-You should encourage the children to perform in clear connected English .

-So that a play is easy to comprehend for people in other countries .

Focus on :

*Sense groups : groups of word said together with no pause to show one meaning.         

*Pausing : tell students when they have to stop or pause.

*Stress / unstress : Teach students how to stress some words or syllables to convey the intended meaning of the sentence. (She suggested to record the teachers voice and to let students listen and imitate )

*Speaking more slowly : In order not to lose the feelings of words , students should speak slowly and clearly.

Then I talked about how to make the best video of your play . I told them about some tips we learned from Mr. Nick during our summer training :

How to interact with the camera:
Think about :
Who are they talking to ?*

Each other: ( look at each other and to the camera)
the audience :(Make eye contact with the camera lens ) (look at the camera lens not to your face.).

Also , I asked them to think about other ways to use the camera e.g as a mirror , a stage with audience watching and clapping , a magical thing they are describing , etc.

We showed them how they should think of different ways to enter the scene from different place e.g from the sides or above or under the camera or to be far and come closer to the camera…..etc

Then we showed them one of the most beautiful remote theatre plays “The Screen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cS5kquOQ29s

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After that Mr. Imad Wahba tried some practical dramatic activities with the teachers and asked them to apply with students during making their plays :

1- Try different kinds of clapping your hand .

2- Say the same words differently.

3- Shout aloud.

4- Try to connect some words which seem to be unrelated into one meaningful line.

At the end , we suggested three topics to the teachers and asked them to choose one topic to write two lines of a play script then to read the lines dramatically.

Act your script : Now this is your turn to write and perform at least one scene . Read the following lines and choose one idea to write about.

1-You are from another planet and you visit the earth for the first time with your friends.

2-At  night  while it was raining someone came to your house asking for help

3-A little girl is looking at your food.

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Finally , we asked them if they want to participate in the Remote Theatre Competiton of this year ,they should  answer all the following questions by “Yes”:

Performance

Is it easy to understand what the speakers are saying?
Does is seem like they are using language which they themselves understand and are comfortable with?
Are they connecting well to the audience (you) with their voices as well as connecting to each other?
Is the acting believable?
Do they act physically as well as with their voices?
Do they enter and exit the stage in an effective way?

Content

Does the play tell a good story?
Does something about it surprise you/make you smile/move you?
Is it original?
Does it have a satisfying ending?
Does the play help us to understand the experience of being human?

Overall Production

Have they thought carefully about the stage, background and props? Do they use these things effectively?
Is there something original about the way the play is performed?
Is the play well filmed within the constraints of remote theatre?
Do you feel that they have worked well together as a team?

Note : The previous questions were taken from the feedback email sent by the Hands Up Project to all the plays of the last year’ competition.

Thanks to the Hands Up Project for such a wonderful art . We wish all the best of luck to everyone who will participate in the Remote Theatre Competition.

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All the world’s a stage: experimenting with greenscreen storytelling

This week we have a lovely post by Phoebe Graham, a HUP volunteer based in the UK who, (as you’ll see from the post) has been doing some very creative things with her green screen. 

To collect photographs is to collect the world – Susan Sontag

I have carried a certain fascination with the theatre for as long as I can remember. Something about the endless creative potential of an empty space, all the stories waiting to be told, ready to transport an audience through any measure of time and to every kind of place. The theatre as an artistic medium allows performer and spectator to transcend their own personal, social and geographic boundaries, and to see the world through someone else’s eye.

Since recently joining the Hands Up Project in August, I was particularly keen to see how the development of online technologies – another means of crossing geographical borders – can intersect with the art of drama and storytelling to encourage creativity and form intimate connections with our wonderful classes in Gaza.

Most recently, a number of volunteers, including myself, have been experimenting with the use of the greenscreen in storytelling, a tool which can be enabled when using Zoom (the greenscreen itself can be purchased easily and cheaply online). This technique has allowed me to gather images and tailor visually exciting backdrops for when I link up with my class. Until now, volunteers have been using ‘SlideShare’ as the main means of storytelling and showing images. The downside of this method is that the boxes which frame the storyteller and the class consequently shrink in size, which can hinder the interpersonal engagement of the story being told. As seen here, the facial expressions and the gestures of the volunteer can become obscured.

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However, the greenscreen remedies this obscurity. With a visual backdrop, the volunteer is framed within the action of the story; the narrator is no longer separated from the narrative. This places the emphasis back onto their unique performance, creating an immersive experience of the tale for the students.

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Over the past few weeks, I have experimented with different ways to incorporate the greenscreen into my lessons. I have found that, while it is a vibrant way to frame yourself within the world of the story, it suits certain styles of storytelling better than others.

When I have worked from picture stories, where all the essential narrative elements are contained within each image, I have found that the body of the volunteer can obstruct the main action of the story. While the greenscreen does allow the students to engage with my gestures, voice and facial expressions, it is still important to ensure that every visual element of the story is taken in, so that the students can align what they hear with what they see. With fear of blocking the story, I found I had to push myself to the side of the screen to make room for all the details in each picture. In the image below, you can see that I am blocking the face of the sleeping lion with his eyes closed, an integral aspect of the narrative, as the mouse is trying to get away with stealing the lion’s meat unnoticed! I wouldn’t have encountered this particular problem with SlideShare, as the storyteller is separated from the story pictures.

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I tried to see if I could find a way to resolve this issue. I discovered a much more productive use of the greenscreen when I told a physical story. This is when the storyteller relates their tale with accompanying actions, while encouraging the students to copy these actions, embodying the movement, language and narrative for themselves. To do this, I downloaded a set of different backgrounds for the greenscreen (e.g. cloudy skies, a luscious green forest, the deep blue sea), which I would change as my story entered a new landscape against which I could perform. The versatility of the greenscreen means that an image switch is the equivalent of a set change. I could fluidly travel from place to place throughout my story with a single click; I could go from walking in a forest, to climbing a mountain, to swimming in the sea. As the greenscreen image merely acted as a backdrop, I gained the freedom to play around with movements within the proscenium arch of the laptop screen, whether left to right, zoomed in or out; the emphasis of the story was placed on the intimacy of my actions and expressions.

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As well as real-life photographs found from the internet, I also incorporated drawings that the students made for the class, bringing their creativity into the process of storytelling. Here, I can be found relaxing on a beach sketched by my student, Maisoon (inspired by her ideal summer adventure), which acted as the final chapter of my physical story. This makes for an empowering use of the greenscreen for the students, as it places the storyteller into their imagined and valued artistic worlds.

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The greenscreen can also be used in more general class interaction, especially to contextualise the volunteer when getting to know the students. In my first ever session with my weekly class, I introduced myself while showing a picture of my home in Devon which I projected behind me. I have also set myself against a photograph of Gaza, to the excitement and enthusiasm of another class I met recently. This personalised use of the greenscreen is an effective way to share each other’s home and heritage, as well as to establish a connection over land and sea almost as if you were really there with them, despite the geographical disparity.

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The greenscreen can also just make for a nice general backdrop to reinforce the tone of the lesson, one which can be changed each week. For a session focusing on the story of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, I ensured that I used a colourful image as my backdrop, matching the animated and lively spirit of the story.

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I am now very keen to explore how classes in Gaza can incorporate their own greenscreen for this year’s Hands Up Project Playwriting Competition. As we have seen, the greenscreen makes it quick and easy to gather and change sets, taking an audience to any place the storyteller wants to go, whether that’s into a photograph taken from far away, or into a picture designed and drawn by the students themselves. There’s a real innovative potential to be found in the combination of storytelling and the visual possibilities of the online greenscreen. I look forward to seeing how we can develop this creative tool into a vibrant facet of the Hands Up Project in the near future.