Friday, September 26, 2008
Ever since I read Shaun Tan's The Arrival, I have thought it'd make for a perfect illustration of how immigration impacted families as well as demonstrating the strangeness of the new country for the immigrants themselves. So I decided to incorporate it into a lesson on the immigration experience, a lesson that incidentally was being observed by my principal as the first of three scheduled evaluations this school year. So for those of you curious about how a fantastical tale can be woven into a social studies course, read on, or else be forewarned that there's some history stuff intertwined with this.
I began the lesson by having a simple question on the LCD projector: What is your ancestry? After a brief discussion in which the students discussed their ethnic origins (from virtually every continent on this planet, which was cool to learn in and of itself), I then had them in small groups for 5 minutes, working on coming up with at least three reasons why they thought people would immigrate. After they came up with answers such as "better life," "religious freedom," "political freedom," and "opportunity to get rich," there then was a short 15 minute Powerpoint presentation on the problems immigrants faced from the time they boarded the ships to the time they arrived - sleeping in bunks where they had to sleep on their side, no showers for hygiene, lack of sanitation, diseases like trench mouth - after 4-12 weeks of travel. So far, OK but nothing "Wow!" about it.
Enter the handout I made from the first chapter of The Arrival (with proper attribution, lest any worry about me violating Fair Use). Focusing solely on the images of the family home and the husband packing away and his wife and daughter crying as he boarded the station, I had the students describe what they saw in each and every frame. By the time I finished, just before the bell rang to dismiss class, I had several people saying, "Man, that's so sad!" or "Wow! This is moving!" I had a few requests for having more of the story presented to them next week when I continue the unit on immigration. The principal told me she really liked what I did with this part and that it really engaged the students and helped them realize just how human the story was.
And to think that this book technically is a "fantasy," because it is set in an imagined land and has some fantastical creatures in it. I guess it just goes to show that when presented properly, fantasy tales can hit a raw spot, one that helps us to better understand others and their experiences. Just thought a few of you might be curious to see how I incorporate this blogging element of my life with my paid profession.