Helping teenagers appreciate cultural diversity

With the start of a new term fast approaching I’ve been looking back on a learning unit based on the book Crow Country that I taught in collaboration with a student teacher, for the first time last year.  I had heard about the novel Crow Country by Kate Constable  at the 2012 English Conference and after reading it I felt that it was a perfect match for our theme of ‘Brave Girls’ and it presented an opportunity to investigate Indigenous history and intercultural understanding.I was fascinated by how the book describes Indigenous heritage and relationship to place through the use of time travel and flashbacks.  It also explains how people can be negatively stereotyped and the hurtful effects of social ostracism. The overall message of Crow Country is positive as the main character speaks out against racism while discovering her own identity after moving from the city to a country town. Last year my year 8 students identified strongly with the story’s call for equality and justice and showed a real empathy for respecting cultural differences.

So what is new about this year? I have a student with an Indigenous background in my class and I wanted to encourage an open and inclusive classroom.  As a teacher I see it as my role to develop intercultural understanding and create new ways for students to learn about identity through the interconnected aspects of country/place, people and culture.

Last year, to spark an interest in cultural diversity and mutual respect the student teacher, who had a Vietnamese background, was able to share stories about her name and her experiences of discrimination in Australia. These stories had an immediate response as the students empathised with her experiences.

Roper Valley School

A photo of me in my caravan school at Roper Valley 1980.

To create a similar atmosphere in the classroom that respects cultural diversity I wanted to communicate to my students about how I am committed to understanding cultural differences and that I respect people with different values and beliefs. To do this I will  share some stories about my cross-cultural teaching in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

Empathy assists students to develop a sense of solidarity with others through imagining the perspectives and experiences of others as if they were their own. Empathy involves imagining what it might be like to ‘walk in another’s shoes’ and identifying with others’ feelings, situations and motivations.

 Before reading Crow Country I wanted a text by an Aboriginal so the class could begin to explore culture and identity and to think about – ‘Why do people make judgments about others without knowing?’

So I started searching the Internet and found this visual story from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Between Generations. By Rebecca Phillips, 2007 2:41 MINUTES

http://generator.acmi.net.au/gallery/media/between-generations

When looking back at writing this blog I realised how ‘blogging’ has taken me on a journey.  I had started off by thinking about my students and how to create an open and inclusive classroom. This led to exploring the Australian Curriculum for Indigenous perspectives and intercultural understanding.

In searching for resources I realised that my own experiences offered examples of respecting diversity, an article from Griffith University has given me activities to create a culturally inclusive classroom and CMI has given me visual stories.  All these ideas and resources I have captured in my blog for me to remember and later reflect upon and to share with anyone who reads this blog- my audience.

When I was thinking of names for my blog I wanted to use my favourite word ‘serendipitous’ as I often have ideas and then ‘out-of-the-blue’ events happen to create incredible possibilities.

By blogging I have an audience and hence the unique opportunity to share my serendipitous moments. By sharing I hope to encourage discussion, exchange and re-interpretation of ideas, which can lead to unexpected and innovative outcomes. So please post a reply.

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