Sunday, 4 August 2013

Refugee Book Project

I love doing projects with my students. I really see how engaged and invested they are when they have something they can get their teeth into. That said, no matter how hard I tried, it always seemed to be an anti climax at the end and for some of the students it felt like they were doing because they had to.

This was the fun part! I gathered all the students from two classes, there were 28 in total. I told them that this term would be very special, because we had a very important project to work on. "We would publish a book," I told them. I had their attention. "And, your names will be in the book." iPhones were put down and all eyes were on me - got them! 
I wanted the students to do the project, not because I told them to, or because they would get a grade, but because they were fully invested in it. It took me a while to come up with a project that would achieve that aim, but I eventually did.

In a passing conversation with a co-worker, we talked about projects we were both working on. I had just finished a book project, where my students created a book for refugee and orphan kids, and he was volunteering at a school for refugee kids and kids who come from low income families. As we discussed the projects more and my need for my students to have something more tangible to work on, we decided to combine resources. 


We eventually came up with a project, which I believed would get my students engaged and motivated. We planned to collect stories from refugee children and then publish them into a book. Copies of the book would be given to the school to help expand their library and any money made from sales would go back to the school. Also, my students would be acknowledged as researchers or collaborators, meaning their names would be in the book.


The project had a number of stages to it, so I'll explain them a little below.


Stage 1 - Competition 

To get the stories for the book, we asked the teachers in the refugee school to run a competition. Their students would record and give the teachers' their stories. Then, my team plus the teachers would choose the winners, which would be published in the book.

To my surprise and joy, after 2 weeks we had over 30 stories. I must give all the credit to the teachers at the refugee school. Working with them meant we got really authentic stories as the kids there trusted them with what they had to say. 


Stage 2 - Briefing 

I proceeded to tell them the plan. We would go to a school which educates refugee kids. You will take a tour of the school and meet all the students from 3 years old to 19. Next, the students at the school will take you for lunch. After lunch you will become assistant teachers, where you will teach a reading class to them. At this point I knew I had their attention and saw the excitement and dread on some of their faces. 

After teaching reading you will meet 15 students who will tell you their story. You will need to record this, then ask some follow up questions. After that, you will need to transcribe the whole thing and do some research on the country where they come from, plus the refugee situation. All this information will be stored on a Wiki. 

Stage 3 - Preparation 

We did a number of activities before the school visit in order to expose our students to the refugee cause. Many of them, to my surprise, didn't even know where Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Myanmar were. They were also under the impression that refugees were only found in some war torn countries. We proceeded to help them understand that refugees can be found everywhere. We prepared reading, speaking, writing, and small projects to help students to get an understanding before going to the school.

Stage 4 - School visit

For the students and I, this was the fun part and the part we had all been working so hard for. From the very start of the project, I told the students to document what they would do by taking pictures and video. Needless to say, on the big day everyone was camera ready. 

Firstly, the students sat through a short presentation about the school and the truly amazing work that they do there. With only 30 teachers they educate and care for over 800 students. Then, the students toured the school and were able to meet many of the students who go there. 

Teaching reading
Admittedly, I was a little worried about this part. I mean, the students were well prepared. They went online to find reading material and activities to use. That said, as any teacher out there will know, nothing ever goes to plan. I held my breath and wished everyone good luck as they went in groups to various classrooms. After 30 mins, I decided to check up on all my students. 

I arrived at the first classroom with images of kids running around screaming and my students shocked not knowing what to do. Much to my relief, there was no need for my concern. In the first class I saw my students teaching reading. They were 100% focused on the task and had the students hanging on their every word. To say I was proud would be an understatement. But, was that a one off I thought. I visited the other classrooms and found all my students doing an equally amazing job. 

Interviews
After teaching reading, my students were ushered to a room, where they would interview the story winners. I felt more confident now that my students would do a great job, and they did exactly that. I saw all my students mesmerised and completely engrossed by the story they were listening to. 

They asked great follow up questions in the Q&A afterwards and recorded it all on their smartphones - job done!

Stage 5 - The work begins
With a nights rest it was time for my students to really get to work. I set up a Wiki and created pages for each story. On the page, the students would upload the recorded story, interview and transcribe them. Then, they had to go online to find out more information about the story tellers country and refugee situation there. After about a week this was all complete and to a very good standard. I didn't have to chase anyone up to finish it. In fact they all did much more than I thought they would.

Stage 6 - Film Festival
As the students had been recording the whole experience, I thought it would be great if they compiled it all into documentaries and then reflected about the whole experience. From this, the student organized 'A Peace of Hope Film Festival' was born. You can read more about this in a separate post, just follow the link below.


Stage 7 - Making the book
My students did a great job. Because of all their hard work, all the information is now there to take the project to the next stage.

The stories are currently being adapted by local writers in Malaysia. Illustrations will get going soon by students from the graphic design school. 

So far over 50 people have worked on this book with the vast majority being students. We hope to have the illustrations and stories finished by the end of August. Then we'll spend September putting the book together. Finally, I hope the book will be ready in October.

We are planning to release the book in print to be sold, in book stores, at my university. We are also going to make a eBook version for sale on Amazon and iTunes. Also, there will be a text book for use in schools, which will be made with iBook author and available on iTunes. For the non-Mac users an interactive PDF will be released. 

Reflection
The project has grown so much since the first idea and I am so happy with the progress we have made. I really believe that my students valued this experience so much. It was something that truly engaged them in learning like I have never seen before. In the following term I had students asking if they could do the project again, or what the next project would be. When students are actively engaged in something I really believe that they learn best. The students stayed after class, came in early and put 110% into the project, because they knew that it had a meaningful outcome. 

Follow us
I have set up a Facebook page for the project, where anyone will be able to find updates and get access to stories when they come available. You will also be able to see art work when it starts to come in. Also, most importantly, you will be able to find out how to get the book. We welcome all your support and ideas and would love to hear from you. 

https://www.facebook.com/communitystories



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