Image courtesy of aussigall

One of my goals this semester has been to try to incorporate more hands on learning into my English classroom as after taking an inventory at the beginning of the semester, most of my students are kinesthetic learners. I also have been really trying to make an effort to bring the ‘real world’ into my classroom to show them why English class is relevant to their lives and I think this past week was my most successful thus far.

One of the tasks I had given my students was to read a supplementary novel that has a multicultural theme. I teach in a very white school and I think it’s important to show the students that one of the most amazing parts of life is being able to appreciate and learn about people and traditions from all over the world and so instead of me showing them, I had them research the culture of their respective novel. At first many of the students were hesitant as I was pushing them outside of their comfort zone when it comes to what they like to read, but by the end of this week, I had so many students thanking me as many of them really enjoyed the novels they read and found it fun to research a culture different from their own. The second part of the task was to come up with a creative ‘hands-on’ connection to the novel. They had many various options and I was really impressed with what each student chose to do for his or her connection and I will talk about a few that I think were really amazing.

1. One of my students read a novel about World War Two and the treatment of Jewish people during the Holocaust. After reading the novel, he learned that our small town has a Holocaust survivor and for his connection, he brought Mr. Kilberg into our class to discuss his life during WWII. It was a very powerful presentation as he discussed some of the awful actions he had to engage in if he wanted to survive as well as the brutality of the Nazi concentration camps. Many of my students have seen images of the concentration camps but I think having someone who actually went through it and could describe specific details really struck a chord with my students. The students also asked some really great questions of Mr. Kilberg. One student, specifically, asked if there was an event that really struck out in his mind and his answer was really surprising for many. He said that there wasn’t anything that stood out to him because he wasn’t actually living during the five years he was interred; rather he was existing and hoping to make it to the next day. He also closed his presentation with a really powerful message: he believes the Holocaust really isn’t over as human beings are still killing each other and treating others with the same disrespect that Hitler showed to the Jewish people. He thinks it will only truly be over when we can all live together in peace. Poignant, thought-provoking and what an opportunity for my students.

2. A number of my students chose to read the novel, Angeline, by Karleen Bradford and after talking with our librarian, (@firecrackersuzi) they discovered Ms. Bradford is an Ontarian who has actually presented at our school in the past and so these two girls asked me if they could email her and see if she would do a presentation in our classroom. Ms. Bradford now lives a great distance from our school, but she suggested they Skype together and so I had an author virtually visit my classroom on Thursday. She spoke to my students about her inspiration for writing this novel and the importance of doing primary research when writing as well as really listened to their questions and comments. I was especially proud of my students for arranging the whole presentation without me. They made appropriate contact, arranged a mutually convenient time, asked strong interviewing questions and thanked her both on Skype in front of the class as well as through a follow-up email. I think those students engaged in real life interpersonal skills that perhaps will be more beneficial than some of our classroom activities.

3. Many of my students chose to make food to represent their respective cultures and it was interesting to see and taste the different flavours as well as listen to their comments in discussing the differences to the food they are accustomed to eating. The students enjoyed looking up the recipes and especially the eating aspect of the class.

4. Finally, one of my students read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and was really interested in the appearance of a Geisha. For her creative connection, she convinced her friend to be her ‘model’ for a day and after researching how to do the make up of a Geisha, she videotaped herself doing her friend’s make up in a Geisha style. As she was showing the class the video, she was narrating and discussing the importance of each step. She then did a mini version of the make up in front of the group and again explained what each aspect of the make up represented to the culture. I was so very impressed with her attention to detail and the obvious research she had done into the life of a Geisha.

After reading these activities, I think some people would ask me how this is an English class. For many people, English class is reading and writing and sometimes an oral presentation, but I really think of it as something more. I think we really have the opportunity to show our students about life and to make connections outside our classroom. I think these are the most powerful experiences we can give our students and it provides them with the opportunity to become citizens of the world rather than just strong readers and writers. Sometimes I think that message gets lost in the barrage of marks, report cards and standardized test scores when really if, at the end of the day, we have shown them aspects of the world as well as helped their literacy skills, we have done our job.


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