Tag Archives: Migration

No Safe Place

5 Aug

As part of a mission to revitalise the English Department’s Book Room I have been reading a lot of teen fiction, hoping to be able to make recommendations as to which texts we should purchase.  As part of this process, I recently read No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis.

I think this novel would be a fantastic choice for a Year 7 or 8 class, potentially as part of units engaging with identity, refugees, migrations, survival, relationships or choice.  It follows the experiences of a group of young people fleeing danger, war and abuse, and seeking safety in England.  The text weaves between past and present, allowing for a nuanced understanding of characters and their situations.


‘Refugee Boy’

12 Mar

I have just finished reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy.

Despite some initial concerns that Refugee Boy would be simply another variation on Boy Overboard or Girl Underground, I found myself hooked from the outset.  I think my interest was stimulated by the text’s opening – a short outline of a mixed-race family’s experiences in Ethiopia, followed by an almost identical incident, this time in Eritrea.  I found this to be a very effective way of illustrating the complexities of that family’s situation and in illustrating the challenges faced during times of war.

I think this would be an interesting text to study in Years 7 or 8 in a unit with a focus on identity.  Indeed, the text deals with the tensions between self-characterisation and social identification.

It would also be worthy of inclusion in a ‘Coming of Age’ unit as it charts both the protagonist’s growing awareness of his social surrounds as well as his community’s growing awareness of the political and social landscapes in which they exist.

It would also be interesting to study this text in a unit about migration or refugee experiences, perhaps in combination with Boy OverboardGirl UndergroundThe Arrival and/or some newspaper clippings.

Post-it note conceptual mapping

26 Jul

I teach a number of mid to lower ability classes in which students struggle to understand nuances of the concepts and ideas that we explore as part of the English course.

To help students think critically and creatively about a topic, I want to implement a new approach to creating concept maps.  I plan to provide students with a concept and a set of post-it notes.  Working individually, students are going to write down words and phrases associated with that concept.  Then, students will work in small groups, pool their post-it notes and discuss the words and phrases they consider relevant.  They might also add additional words and phrases to the mix if required.  A class discussion will follow.  Students will then work in their groups to organise their post it notes so that the most important words/phrases or in the middle and the least important are on the margins.  In their groups they will have to discuss, agree and justify their criteria for importance.   The concept maps and reasoning behind them will then be shared with the class.

I am hoping that the ‘thinking pauses’ and discussions built in to this activity will help students to develop their reasoning skills and ability to engage critically with concepts studied.

Poetry and Fiction pairing

16 Feb

I have spent a lot of time recently reading and reviewing short stories in a bid to boost my students’ engagement with literature, help them to understand how effective short stories are constructed, and to model how to offer opinions about the work of others.

One of the short stories that I read was by Roxane Gay.  The language in this text (first seen in the title), probably makes it unsuitable for school.  However, it did get me thinking about the way in which composers convey emotion and the complexities of a migrant’s relationship with his new home.  The slur used in Gay’s text also reminded me of Wyclef Jean’s spoken word poem ‘Immigrant‘.

Pending permission from the powers that be, I think it would be really interesting to compare these two texts, exploring them as part of a suite of texts exploring the complex range of emotions and responses to re-establishing oneself in a new country, city or place.

Voices of pain and trauma

19 Jan

As discussed in yesterday’s post about gender and violence, I think it is important to use texts to introduce students to worlds with which they otherwise would not be familiar.  While some of our students have pain and trauma in their personal lives, I am finding that an increasing number of students have it in their family histories.  For some students, members of their families fled or survived genocidal regimes, while others fled war torn countries, dictatorial regimes, and nations which suppressed the rights of certain groups.  I think this is something worth talking about.  While the intricacies of the conflicts are perhaps better discussed in a History class, the way narratives of suffering are constructed is definitely within the parameters of English!

I have used spoken word poetry and songs to great success in a range of classes, and have found it to be particularly enjoyed by lower ability students.  Why?  Probably because these students can hear the shifts in tone and pace that are missed when they merely read a text.  With that in mind, I am on a mission to beef up my collection of spoken word poetry and hope to focus particularly on the ways poets use spoken word to personalise and powerfully communicate horrors.

JJ Bola’s ‘Tell them (they have names)‘ is a wonderful example of a poem which engages meaningfully with traumatic events.  The poem begins with reference to “bodies” and “eyes,” language that denies that humanity of those who died.  The metonymic reference to “eyes,” in particular, is interesting, as eyes tend to be construed as the window to people’s souls.  Yet, here, the eyes are closed, suggesting an inability of those who are counting the dead to connect with them.  This inability to connect is affirmed when a number is offered to represented the dead.   However, the dead are not just numbers to everyone.  They are names, and people, and experiences and memories.  This point is powerfully made by Bola as he weaves intensely personal portraits between the seemingly unceasing stream of numbers.

‘Living With the Enemy’

6 Jan

I recently viewed episode 3 of the SBS show Living with the Enemy.  The premise of the series is to have individuals engage with those who have ideologically disparate perspectives from their own.  The episode that I viewed focused on immigration, placing a Sudanese Australian and an Australian with right-wing political views together for a ten-day period.

I think this series (or select episodes of it) would be an interesting text to show to a Year 11 Standard English class as it would help them to understand the terminology and subject matter relevant to Go Back to Where You Came From.

I also think it would be an interesting text to show to a Year 9 or 10 class, perhaps as part of a bigger unit about the migrant experience.  Not only would it allow students to come to understand (and hopefully question) the documentary form, but it would present a real life representation of the tensions within our society.

Migrant voices and experiences

22 Dec

I am looking to collate a selection of resources for a Year 8 or 9 class about then migrant experience.  I am keen to begin our study with extracts from Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, and then to follow-up with some non-fiction extracts.  In particular I am keen to have them listen to some audio accounts of arriving in and experiencing Australia. Then, in order to help them recognise that challenges and triumphs are not peculiar to the Australian experience, I might ask students to read accounts pertaining to British migrants.