Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Supporting our learners by making the 'why' real.

My level 2 Social Studies class are busy preparing for the 40 Hour Famine this year, which is raising money for the refugee children from South Sudan who are in camps in Uganda.  We have been talking about human rights, and whose rights we are standing up for when we are doing the 40 Hour Famine.  I asked my kids 'what is your why for doing the famine' and the majority said was 'I'm doing it for the credits'.  I knew this would be the answer for most of them, because they struggled to relate to the context.  My hunch was that if I could make the learning real for them, they would care about the context and about their writing.

I contacted the Auckland Resettled Community Coalition and asked if there was someone who who would be willing to share their journey with our students.  Mr Gatluak Chuol who is a Community Outreach co-ordinator, contacted me and said he would be happy to come and speak to our year 12s.  In 2015, Mr Chuol arrived in New Zealand as a refugee from South Sudan.

Today we were fortunate to have Mr Chuol speak to our class about the religious conflict that had led to the civil unrest in his homeland and he described the atrocities that had happened to him and his family when his village was attacked. "One morning, bombs were dropped and we had to run. We ran to a bush. We didn't know where our parents were. We were scared of being killed and saw lots of death around us. We walked for miles with nothing". He shared the anguish of losing loved ones in front of him and how the trauma still exists with many refugees who are trying to settle in our country.

I know our kids are respectful when they have a guest speaker, but there was a strange vibe in the room as Mr Chuol spoke.  It sounded like empty silence, it looked like disbelief and felt like time had stood still.  Here was someone standing in front of our kids who'd survived the unimaginable and he choose to share his story with them, making it real.

As he wound down his talk, I invited him to wander around and have a chat with the kids who may have had a few questions but were too scared to ask.  I noticed two students at the back of the room and overheard them talking about how they'd heard about South Sudan and why we were doing the famine, but weren't really caring about it until they heard the reality from Mr Chuol.  "We complain about little things like not having money for what we want and then we hear how Sir had to see his relatives pass away around him and hide under them away from gunfire...what do we know about hardship?".   I asked them if they were o.k and they asked me if I had any tissues.  They quietly thanked Mr Chuol for being there and I could tell they were affected by his talk.

Mr Chuol with members of our Level 2 Sos class.

At the end of Mr Chuol's visit, our students thanked him for sharing his journey and a group of boys asked to walk him back to the office.  For the students that remained, I asked how they felt about his visit.  There were mixed reactions of sadness for Mr Chuol and thankfulness for what they'd had.  Later on in the day, I emailed the class to ask them to let me know their reflections about the visit.  One of the boys, who I've struggled to engage with in the past, replied.  I was surprised by his reaction and understood that he may well have found his 'why'.




Reflecting on my Classroom inquiry into raising the achievement of boys' writing in my level 2 Social Studies class

In February this year, I shared a blog post about  my classroom inquiry and the fact that 8 of the 9 students who'd joined my class had ...