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“My Homeland:” A Connected Learning Media exchange project between South Korean and Detroit HS Students

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Language and Power Video.mov (Click on this link for a second movie example)

The Process- "My Homeland" Project

  1. Show students Miguel Peraza's "The City", discuss, and assign individual free-write (10-15 min) "My Homeland Is..." Tell students anything goes- write from the heart.   Then share out.- 1 day
  2. Teacher groups students, and students select their favorite lines from each of their individual poems and put them together to construct one group poem. Homework
  3. Students create storyboard.PDF for a movie to accompany their group's poem. (storyboarding Workshop presented first)- 2 days
  4. Shoot footage inside and around school-1 day
  5. Edit footage and assemble-5 days (Mini-workshops throughout- audio, camera shots, iMovie general introduction)
  6. Share films- 1 day
  7. Share and discuss pieces media and poems from Jeonju, South Korea (see below).

Context

This is an outlined process and sample student production from a project called “My Homeland” that DFS teaching artist Isaac Miller and I designed for our third unit, "Resist". At this point in the year, we wanted students to have the repertoire of skills necessary to create more complex media pieces, while also recognizing that our 11th graders needed additional practice to become comfortable communicating, problem-solving, and collaborating as a group. We saw these as important tasks that were often times overlooked in classrooms, and wanted to be intentional about directly infusing them into instruction. Additionally, we thought it was necessary to develop a project that would be in conversation with our anchor text Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which we would be using to explore themes like alienation, resistance against culture change, notions of success and failure, and the debilitating nature of fear. We believed that all of these could be discussed within the context of our neighborhood and "homeland" experiences, and thus the creation of media pieces helped solidify understanding of classroom content in ways that were meaningful and directly applicable to our everyday lives.   

Furthermore, we wanted to collaborate with Isaac's friend who was a Fulbright Scholar teaching High School English in the South Korean city of Jeonju, believing that a media exchange could be a powerful way for students to make more personal connections to the impacts of globalization and its reach into our everyday lives.  Assigning students in both places to create poems and media pieces that captured their "homelands", we were able to frame generative conversations about many pertinent topics, including the connections between the shrinking of Detroit and the Urbanization of the Global South. It was a fully visceral experience for us; we were able to see, hear, feel, and imagine each other's stories from miles away, connecting to both the pain and possibility that were present in each of our collective narratives.  

While students in Detroit made small movies, students in Jeonju approached the assignment differently, as they did not have access to the same tools we had. They instead took individual pictures with their cell phones that represented a prominent concept in their community or everyday life, and then used a phone application to sketch an image over the picture that would communicate a dream or hope they had in relation to that concept. Below are two of these images, which I encourage you to interrogate and interpret for yourself. Following the images, I share two poems that came from the project, one from Detroit, and one from Jeonju.  

Samples 

Poems 

 From Jeonju:

"You see my homeplace isn’t such a comfy place, but isn’t such a bad place either

Trees and forests spread out in the mountains like wildfire, but a green one

Spiced foods usually show up on peoples’ tables, loved by those who eat it

So many games can be seen on the internet, so diverse, that it’s part of peoples’ culture

But people could be seen honking in their stuck cars, caring only about money

So sad to see

You can read about students taking away their own lives because of bullying

So angry to see

Quite the difference between rich and poor, you see the difference in their homes

Unbelievable

People throw chairs, swing axes and hammers to break down blocked doors in the place where we talk and decide about politics

So hilarious if you think they are politicians

You can see fierce arguing on the internet, not so sad but actually hilarious

But then again, people tend to care for the elderly, giving up their own seats

Young people have the passion to hit the jackpot someday in their lives

And I just love to stroll on very cloudy mornings, it’s like having never-melting ice in the desert"

Detroit:

My homeland is...

ugly and beautiful all at the same time.

With people who have no choice on where

they live, and people who love where

they are.

My homeland is...

multi-cultural, even if it doesn't seem

like it.

My homeland is...

Burnt down houses and skyscrapers

that reach for the sky.

With a corner store on every single

street, and some of the best restaurants

in the world.

My homeland is...

gangsters and people that want the

best for themselves.

Best for themselves and their children.

Kids dropping out of high school,

and kids graduating college.

My homeland is Detroit,

the Motor City.

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Discussions About This Resource

Anna Haschke's picture

          As I was reading this article, I could not help but make mental notes of things I would love to try in my own classroom someday.  I think it is very important to think of text through the multiple meanings of the word (including video, music, and so on.)  Filipiak mentions how “beginning-year standardized assessments that told [her] that 150 11th-grade students were functioning, on average, at a 5th grade reading comprehension level.”  Considering the level at which these students are reading and writing, I think the use of other technologies in the classroom becomes even more important.  Expressing one’s feelings and communicating one’s thoughts are essential to functioning in a society, and these other forms of media can help struggling students do this while working to improve their literacy skills.  While these students may struggle with traditional writing and reading assignments, putting them in other forms like movies or art can help them use their voice.  While I think using technology and alternative forms of writing such a poems or song lyrics is a valuable exercise for all students, I also believe they can be especially effective for students who may not be quite at the proper reading level yet.  Some things are better told without written words.

devymon's picture

I completely agree, and had the same thoughts about using media in a classroom that would benefit from having projects or coursework that involded little to no written work. Acknowledging that all students are not always going to be on the same reading and/or writing level, it is easy to see why encouraging media projects in the classroom could be stimulating and engaging for students who are not confident with where they stand educationally. That being said, I also think media is a nice change of pace from the mundane activities English classes often present such as in class essays, research reports, book reports, etc. Students who struggle and students who don't struggle in English could use media projects to collaborate as well- encouraging teamwork as well as leadership/mentorship. 

slrobert's picture

"Some things are better told without written words." Last line of your commentary was what stuck out to me the most. In schools today, there's a push for using technology to improve conditions, but it doesn't actually seem to fix the issues. Students still struggle with basic literacy even when the technology is the best possible. However, we can still take our basic teacher training to change conditions through creativity. Technology is only half the battle. Putting such a technology to actual work within a classroom, getting students involved still takes a huge amount of patience and innovation. As you pointed out above, technology and the assignments suggested in the article are a valuable exercise for students, "especially effective for students who may not be at quite the proper reading level yet." In Layman's terms, I agree with your above statements.

dneisler's picture

Technology seems to be a great entry point to motivate these students who have shown some level of disinterest, perhaps even contempt for traditional teaching models. As a substitute I have often encountered the response "I'm bored" when confronting a student about why they are not on task during a particular reading assignment. Rather than reading this as a simple challenge of authority it is, I think, entirely fair to ask the question "Is this assignment boring, and why?" It seems that giving students tools to tell their own stories through digital media has provided an impetus to students who may have found traditional essay composition boring. By capturing their interest and building on something they find not only entertaining but also empowering, you seem to be charting a new course for these kids. Would it be beneficial to introduce much younger students to this type of instruction? It is a shame that they are charting this new course as 11th graders--would it be possible to introduce this type of instruction much earlier, giving the students time to acquire more critical skills before their education concludes?

cindyoa's picture

David,

Out of curiosity, what led you to the observation that these students have been previously distinterested in school. (Not a criticism, just a wondering.)

What a powerful question you ask to help teachers reflect on their own practice: "Is this assignment boring, and why?" Last year, I Skyped author/English teacher Sarah Brown Wessling into my Methods class, and she recommended that we as teachers occasionally attempt our own assignments to determine their effectiveness and appeal.

Using technology purposefully, as Danielle has here, seems to have great potential for engaging students in questions that really matter to them.

- Cindy

dneisler's picture

She mentioned that when she initiated the project a large proportion of her 11th grade students were functioning at a 5th grade reading comprehension level according to standardized assesments and that "it was difficult, in the beginning of the year, to get students to even write a single sentence or read more than a paragraph of text." That led me to believe that for whatever reason these students were not engaging the material they had previously encountered. Because her digital media project had such a transformative effect on the classroom, it seems likely to me that the students had been disinterested in much of their previous schooling, probably finding it boring, or somehow not relevant to their lives. Once presented with material that was relevant and empowering to them they approached it with determination, which she seemed to be contrasting to how they had approached some of their earlier, perhaps more traditional, teaching.

aambron's picture

As the previous commenters mentioned, I agree with the philosophy that using new technologies is an extremely productive way to shrink the knowledge gaps between struggling readers and writers.  We grow up reading every day without really even knowing it, we read the emotions of those around us, we weigh the pros and cons of a situation all based on what we hear, see, feel and infer, essentially the same things good readers do when reading a text.  Thus, I believe by having students “read” different types texts (visual and auditory) we can show them they already have the skills needed to be good readers it is just a matter of effort and practice, with the goal being to improve their confidence. The same thing can be said about writing, when the students use new technologies to tell their own stories they consider the same things we ask students to consider when writing an argument, story, or anything else.  The students were conscious of audience, perspective, tone, evidence.  By using these new technologies students can see that they have the skills and intelligence to accurately read and describe an event, book, or idea even though they often thought or have been told they could not do so.    

cindyoa's picture

Good point, Andy. It would be interesting to ask students to ask students to reflect on their writing practices apart from school in a given day, including texting, Facebook, e-mailing, etc. Questions like these could help them realize that they are writers and make them more aware of the rhetorical moves they already know how to make:

  • What are they writing?
  • How often?
  • For what purposes?
  • To whom?  How do their texts to parents compare to those to friends? Why?

Danielle's students seem to have a strong sense of themselves as writers, would you agree?

- Cindy

aambron's picture

Yes, I would agree they certainly seem to have a very good sense of self.  Just in the little bit of writing and video clips that were made availible of the site it seems most, if not all, her students understand a specific story they want to tell, which parts of it they want to tell, to whom they will tell it to, and probably most challenging for young writers how they want to tell it.

 

Andy 

alcott73's picture

I agree, Anna, that providing other ways for students to "find their voice" is important. After all, what is the point of education - to create students who can test well, or to create students who have knowledge and can apply that knowledge in a variety of ways? I believe in the latter, and when an educator can make the application relevant and offer an authentic audience, magic happens. Or rather, learning happens. Also, I have three sons. Their modes of learning and application of what they know vary widely. Technology offers a wide range of opportunity for my sons - for all students - to learn and apply in a way that best allows them to demonstrate what they know, and potentially grow them in ways they weren't expecting.

cindyoa's picture

Stacy,

Just curious: do you think these two things are mutually exclusive?

After all, what is the point of education - to create students who can test well, or to create students who have knowledge and can apply that knowledge in a variety of ways?

- Cindy

alcott73's picture

No, I do believe they can be mutually inclusive. However, I do not like the trend that defines the one by the other. In other words, I believe that low test scores are not necessarily indicative of low learning. Conversely, I believe that high test scores may not necessarily reflect an acquisition of long-term, applicable knowledge.

LBrown's picture

"Considering the level at which these students are reading and writing, I think the use of other technologies in the classroom becomes even more important.  Expressing one’s feelings and communicating one’s thoughts are essential to functioning in a society, and these other forms of media can help struggling students do this while working to improve their literacy skills". 
I completely agree with you. I think that what alot of social media is is expressing one's feelings and communicating one's thougts whether it's through facebook, tweets, blogs, or instagram. There is a reason why oline communication was grown to become so popular among youths. I'ts a strange that the same youths who are having trouble writing their thoughts in an essay are spending all day doing just that via online. It might be interesting to further explore this mode of communication into the classroom, modifying it so that it fits in with improving literacy skills.

tylerarko's picture

It is no secret that schools in the United States are mainly focused on the history, and in turn the reading of White predominatley male works. The biggest advantage to reading and studying with new technology and the media that is available to students today is that teachers can teach a wider variety of history than can be found in the textbook that the school district assigns for the class. The opportunity for students to gain a better understanding and in my opinion a more vested interest in reading and writing in school can stem from the different view points that can now be studied thanks to media and technology. Students will have a better opportunity to study the history of thier own culutral background and write with models that would not have been available to them without the use of the new technology of the age. Media in today's society is everywhere and as a result the combination of more technology in the classrom will not only be practical to what students will need when they are done with their education but it will also most likely increase participation and relevance to students who have grown up in the age of technology.

mlefler's picture

 While I whole-heartedly agree with the notion that technology being utilized in the classroom offers teachers an effective way to incorporate multi-cultural sources of literature and media that were not, or could not be accessed in the past, there is still the problem of the existing curriculum and canon. Since an English classroom must utilize classic and canonized work a certain amount to meet curriclulm and standard requirements, regardless of the technology utilized, there is very slim pickings for racially diverse authors. Even when race issues are discussed in classical texts, they consistently reflect the 'classical' ideologies which place anyone that's not a white male as a demonized 'other.' Not to mention that canonized works by colored authors don't really show up until the mid-1900s, which potentially sends the message: "of course culturally diverse literature is important, but only the last fifty years of it." Regardless of issues with lack of diversity in the canon though, one big question remains for me: After using the 'time-honored' classics to fulfill requirements and standards, can a teacher reserve enough time to effectively utilize the new range of literatures made available by technology?

tylerarko's picture

I totally agree with what you had to say Mike, it is clear even in the classes that I have taken here at CSU that the main focus is on White, especially male authors. The current requiered works that are at this moment in the classroom do not leave as much time as it should to cover other authors that deserve to be discussed. In a shorter amount of words I whole heartedly agree with you. However one positive that I was taking from the new technologies in classrooms had to deal more with the writing side instead of all on the reading side. If students are given more choices on the research papers or book reports that they are able to do, teachers will better be able to utlize different cultural backgrounds with assignments like these. I recognize that this is not the cure for the lack of diveristy in the classroom right now in regards to what must be covered for standardized tests, however in my opinion this is at least a small step toward the right direction that will eventually push into many more steps forward. 

jmcgough's picture

I don't know if this necessarily goes along with what has been said above, but I wanted to comment on the cultural exchange that took place between Danielle's class and the South Korean class. As a future teacher I would like to incorporate international colaboration between classes to enhance my student's learning. It would be interesting to incorporate a Korean story or poetry that the Korean class recommended, translated from Korean, and I would work with my class to decided what we would recommend for their English class to read from a selection of stories that we have already read as a class throughout the year. It would require that the stories we read for the class are culturally relevant and representative of the kids in our class and it would give cultural relevance to the stories that the Korean students recommend to our class, since they would ideally be books that are important to Korean culture. I admire how international cooperation is used in Danielle's classroom, and I feel that it is a valuable way to exchange ideas and generate cultural knowledge that goes beyond the classic canon of white male authors. 

cindyoa's picture

John,

I really like this idea. I think it would be valuable not only for the element of cultural exchange, but because it would also ask students to reflect on their own culture in determining a text they deem significant enough to share. The decision-making process could incorporate writing (if students made nominations, for instance) and discussion that would require students to make a case for a particular text. This would give them lots of incentive to read closely and use argumentative writing in authentic ways.

Good thinking,

Cindy

Jsidoti's picture

This project really stands out to me not only because the subject matter is at the core of my social justice heart strings, but because it also brings two communities together for onversation.  While I have spent over five years working with adolescents who probably fit similar descriptions to the kids from Detroit, my own personal experience growing up was very different.  As I take time to reflect on projects like these, my own personal pedagogy, and what I hope I accomplish in my career I wonder what kind of school I will serve.  I wonder if I will end up at a suburban high school like the one I attended and if so how will I address the idea of oppression with those that are or could essentially be future oppressors. where I was initially hesitant to enter into classroomof with students from impoverished backgrounds I now dread the opposite, but I am convinced there has to be a piece of equal importance taken up with the next generation on both sides of this proverbial train track.
i am not, I admit, as optimistic about culture change, economic and social revolution as others may be but I do agree that education is the building block to success.  I worry that in some ways we are educating our students in urban areas to identify and analyze sources of injustice but have no tangible solution. (I cringe at my own pessimism as I write this).  That is why a project like this, used to connect students from high schools in varied socioeconomic backgrounds might be worthwhile.  Technology has given us the opportunit to make the globe local and if we can get students to communicate, build relationships, as well as draw conclusions about social justice together, then we have equipped a team on both sides of the argument (as well as prepared adolescents to deal with a reality that may be different from the one they are accustomed to- unlike me who felt pretty sheltered and ignorant well into college).
Essentially, my question is: how do we address these same issues with students that are privileged?

clintpendley's picture

Something that really stuck out to me throughout the entirety of the information provided here was the way that the year was scaffolded in order to get students to a point where they not only could create a piece of multimodal writing for their classmates, but also for people in South Korea. I think that the ability to do this is quite the feet, but as you said if you start off the year with a clear goal for your students and have a way to get there, it's possible. It's also extremely helpful to see the books that you were able to pair all of these different sections with, because that's something that I feel like always gets blown over. Was it ever possible to skype or video chat with the class from South Korea throughout the school year? It's amazing that all of this was done with an idea of globalization in mind, but were there any problems with administration through this process? I can't see why there would be, but it's always a possibility. 

ehale's picture

I thought this project was excellent for many reasons, especially for its creativity, required thought, and digital literacy aspects.  Also, helping students become comfortable communicating, learning problem-solving, and collaborating as a group are all part of the Common Core Standards we must follow.  It's vital that this project tied into the anchor text "Things Fall Apart" and I agree that the themes from the novel can be put into conversation with "homeland" experiences.  This is vital because this digital project is relevant and meaningful.  Another great aspect of the project was taking it a step further--to study globalization and similarities and differences with another culture by having students in South Korea and Detroit create poem and media pieces capturing their "homelands."  I can see that this would have added many deep discussions.