I had the amazing opportunity, through my University, to create a short documentary film regarding some of the oral literacy traditions present in the Arab world. I wanted this piece to reflect my learning in my course, but I also wanted it to be a tool that teachers at our school could use to get to know the culture of our students a little more intimately. I set about researching and booking appointments with “experts”, planning shot sequences and music – all the things I knew went into making a good documentary. Then I remembered the words of my favourite educational author and realized that I was missing the most crucial voice of them all. So I set aside the research and went straight to the source – our students. I wanted to know about their experiences as multi-literate human beings, about their experience negotiating the tensions that sometimes exist between Arab cultural norms and Western cultural norms and most importantly, to ask them the question, “What can we, as teachers, do to better reach you?”.
The experience was profound (skip to 8:40 for the interesting parts). Our students were candid, insightful, honest and genuinally appreciative having been asked to share their experiences. This gave me pause to think – all of the times we are puzzling over how to effectively reach our classes, or a particular student, all the times we are trying to figure our students out – could the answer lay in asking the students themselves? Of course there is balance to be struck in terms of effective strategies we might be aware of that our students are not, but why not start with the learner? After all, don’t our students know themselves better than we ever possibly could?
After our interview, I felt, as an international educator, embarrassed that I hadn’t taken this opportunity to get to know my students on this level at an earlier time. However, as I reflect, I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to know our students better and hopefully I will be able to reach them in a way that makes them feel more comfortable and at home in their school community.