Children’s migration stories: How a school brought Europeana Migration alive in the classroom.
During the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, Europeana worked with cultural heritage institutions and citizens across Europe to share migration stories and objects on Europeana Migration. These stories are part of Europe’s rich and shared history of migration, and help to tell the story of Europe and the people who live here.
As part of the project, we worked with a leading international school, The British School in The Netherlands. Using one of the central themes, 'every object tells a story', as a unit of work in the Autumn term of 2018, more than 50 year 4 students worked with their families and teachers to choose an object to signify their (or their families’) migration stories. They each then wrote their story and digitised their object which was then uploaded to Europeana to sit alongside the stories shared with the migration campaign, as well as some 50 million digital cultural heritage objects. Their stories and personal objects are now part of Europe’s cultural heritage and available for reference and use.
In this case study we hear from Kimberley Harris, a teacher at The British School in The Netherlands about the steps they took, and the things they learned and achieved helping to contribute to the Europeana Migration campaign and its objectives.
Why did you undertake this project?
We decided to pursue this project for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a very exciting opportunity for the children to have their work published online on a website which was not linked to the BSN. Usually, the children write in their English books and this can then be shared within and across our school, but it can be challenging to find opportunities to share writing beyond our school context. This can make it difficult for the children to imagine an audience or to truly understand the purpose of writing, or, indeed, to relate the writing they are doing to the ways that we use writing every day in our jobs.
Secondly, as an international school, we are fortunate to have students from a vast range of countries on roll, and each child’s story is unique and fascinating. For example, it is not uncommon for children in our context to have a nationality without ever having lived in that country. Sharing and celebrating these differences - and also noting the similarities - is key to developing the idea that we are all ‘global citizens’ and, as such, have a responsibility to all others, regardless of their country of origin.
Lastly, we felt it would provide us with an excellent opportunity to learn a little more about our students, their heritage and even their own perceptions of their identities. These conversations are key, and yet school days are often so busy, it can be difficult to make time for them! This is important for a variety of reasons, including building self-esteem and forming strong relationships.
How did you approach the project?
We decided to complete this project at the start of the school year, to use it as an opportunity to baseline asses the writing of our students to inform our planning, and to get to know them.
We began the project on our ‘transition morning’, before the summer break, when the children visit their new class teachers. We teachers had each written our very own migration story linked to an object, which we shared with the children. We set a ‘summer holiday homework’ to discuss with their families their migration stories, and to choose an object that links to their migration. They would be required to bring this object (or a photo of it, if it was valuable, fragile or a living thing!) into school in the first week of term.
In September, when the children arrived, we shared their objects and completed a few short writing tasks linked to those objects. This meant we could assess the children’s writing in terms of description, editing and redrafting. Finally, the children wrote their own stories linked to their objects.
The children then typed up these stories using word processing (which also gave us the opportunity to run through how and where to save their work, creating new documents, typing and basic word processing skills).
In the meantime, we shared information about the project with parents at our parent open evening and via our digital ‘weekly bulletins’. Consent forms were sent home to parents following this.
Finally, the children’s stories, photos of the objects and completed consent forms were shared with Europeana.
What did the children gain from thinking about and writing about their migration stories?
The children enjoyed the opportunity to share their own personal objects and to talk about their ‘home’ countries. Some of the children had not previously considered themselves as migrants (especially those who were born here) and many of them had not previously known why they had moved here or, in some cases, when they moved here.
It was also very exciting for them to see their writing on a website. They were eager to share this with their friends and family.
What did the teachers / school gain from this project?
It was useful to gain an insight into some of the family stories our children shared, and formed a lovely basis for beginning to bond with our classes at the start of the year.
Using the project as an assessment tool helped to inform our planning. For example, we noted that few children were writing in paragraphs and identified this as an early teaching point.
What worked and why?
Planning writing tasks around the objects really motivated the children - they like writing about themselves! They were engaged and excited by the project. The parents were also very supportive. They were also pleased to see their children’s writing on an external website, and enjoyed the opportunity to discuss their family’s roots and heritage in more detail with their children.
What lessons would you share with other teachers?
Although there were many advantages to completing this at the start of the school year, such as the early assessment of writing and creating early bonds with the children, there were also some disadvantages. Mostly, this impacted the quality of their writing. Many children do not write over the summer break, and we usually expect to see a slight dip in attainment at the start of a new academic year. If this project had been undertaken later in the year, the quantity and quality of the writing would have been greater.
Similarly, some of the children and their parents misinterpreted the project, and so some children simply brought in objects they had bought on holidays rather than objects that related to their migration. We perhaps should have been more explicit in our explanations, and, when dealing with children so young, perhaps the parents would have benefitted from seeing our modelled examples too.
Recommendations for the future
This project would work especially well for any topics which are linked to identities. It could be used as a springboard into wider discussions about migration across all areas of the curriculum: PSHE, global citizenship, sociology, politics, philosophy. It could also be used in geography projects - any map work, identifying countries/continents, looking at human geography, trade etc.
It could also be a great project for children in leadership roles, such as school councillors or international ambassadors.
We are incredibly fortunate to have such a rich and varied student experience, and it is both important and rewarding to have a context to share and celebrate this in schools. It helps to foster empathy to others by indicating similarities between the children and their peers which may not have been evident before and gave them a fantastic opportunity to learn more about migration.
“It is wonderful for our young writers to have an opportunity to write for a genuine purpose, and to see their work published. The topic of migration is threaded through much of our curriculum work here at The BSN, and this project has enabled the children to consider migration from a very personal perspective.” Chris Bailey, Deputy Headteacher.
Read the stories contributed by the children of The British School of The Netherlands
If are interested in running a similar module of work, we hope to publish a learning scenario in Spring 2019, or get in touch.
Visit the collection and share your story at Europeana Migration.