By Sukhdeep Birdi, Kawaldeep Ghuman, and Harjit Chauha, English language learner teachers, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows
After years of teaching English language learner (ELL) students, we noticed one common theme when it came to celebrating calendar holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter: students drew from their families’ celebrations to excitedly make and share their own cultural connections related to the holidays. Students often felt comfortable sharing their cultural celebrations, festivals, and holiday traditions during small group literacy times, but outside of these small groups, many students didn’t know how, or felt too shy, to share with their peers. Together, we explored how to create authentic resources highlighting student experiences to help all students feel welcome and included in school spaces and celebrations.
How it started—Diwali
We started with a festival all three of us are familiar with: Diwali. Diwali, a festival of lights, is celebrated around the world by Sikhs, Jains, and Hindus. Traditional stories describe Diwali as a celebration of light over darkness.
We searched our school and community libraries and investigated online resources to find ways to integrate Diwali celebrations into classroom learning. Our search was successful and resulted in a variety of resources including books, worksheets, and educational videos, but we wanted to further amplify our students’ voices. The idea we settled on was a video project.
Because of the global pandemic, we had to take extra safety precautions as we created the first video. First, we wrote a script using kid-friendly language to explain how and why Diwali is celebrated. Next, we collected and took photos to provide further visual representation. Most of the photos were from our own personal Diwali celebrations with our families, but we also took additional photos of student art and local community celebrations.
Finally, we found a videographer to document the project. We decided to include ourselves and our families in the video to create an authentic experience. Speaking in front of a camera for the first time was new and nerve-wracking, but, for us, authenticity is being able to use a platform to share our voices, first-hand experiences, and personal knowledge about celebrations that we don’t see on our school calendar.
Once the project was complete, the Diwali video was shared across our school district. To further supplement the video, we also created a Diwali lesson plan for teachers to use as a part of their instruction.
Another holiday video creation—Ramadan
After watching the Diwali video, some students who celebrate Ramadan shared their interest and desire to create a second video about their experiences of Ramadan. Ramadan is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it begins on the first sighting of the new crescent moon. It is a month of good deeds, charity, such as sharing with those in need, and a new beginning for many Muslims. A significant part of Ramadan is fasting as a sign of gratitude and to cleanse the body. At the end of the Ramadan month, there is a three-day celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, which means “the festival of the breaking of the fast.”
Students were keen on taking the lead for the Ramadan video. Since we now have fewer gathering restrictions from the pandemic, we structured this project to be student-led rather than teacher-led. This took off some of the pressure that we experienced with the first video; however, a student-led project has its own set of challenges. We used many recess and lunch breaks to help students prepare and rehearse their lines, practise public speaking skills, and communicate with families to get everything organized.
Students were thrilled to share their personal experiences and knowledge about Ramadan and Eid. The district videographer visited the schools to put the video together. The final pro-duct took many hours of work to compose, and we are so appreciative of all the support we received from colleagues across the district. We also asked one of our colleagues from the ELL department to join the video project and share her personal experiences about Ramadan and Eid. Like the Diwali video, this video was also shared as a district-wide resource.
Feedback from the school communities
We’ve noticed more openness to dialogue and teaching about Diwali and Ramadan in our schools. Classroom teachers felt more comfortable using provided resources to teach about these celebrations, especially some teachers who had not previously celebrated Diwali or Ramadan. In this way, the videos were a great starting point for Diwali and Ramadan celebrations in our schools. Some schools had school-wide assemblies where students’ families were invited to share about their celebrations, opportunities for students to participate in and ask questions about the celebrations, hallway displays to showcase and explain artifacts associated with the holidays, bulletin boards that combine both personal and informative photos, and classroom activities ranging from book studies and video discussions to crafts and food tastings.
The students we work with were excited to see themselves and their traditions represented in the videos and in school celebrations. We could see students’ pride in their identity. We also heard from several families who reached out to share their gratitude and express how they felt welcomed, celebrated, and honoured.
We feel a sense of accomplishment because, we were able to give voice to a group of students and create an opportunity for students to showcase their culture within our schools. The videos have prompted discussions about the changing demographics in our schools, how to acknowledge the growing diverse population, and how to foster identity and belonging.
Looking into the future, we are excited to collaborate again and create student-led videos that celebrate and acknowledge more of our students’ identities. We hope to empower students through this platform that is both authentic and educational.