Purpose and goals of the material

The purpose of this material is to highlight the value and importance of the students’ multiple identities: that is, the simple fact that they are boys and girls; that their family may originate from their place of residence or from another place; that they may come from different countries; that they can choose the same or different hobbies, sports and entertainment, and so on.

In this project, we believe that there is enormous potential in the students’ multiple identities, a potential that we may utilize in order to achieve many important goals simultaneously:

  • Empowering all students, both "locals" and "foreigners".
  • Supporting and encouraging students to express their individual and family narratives, memories and experiences of transitions to new places, languages, aspects of identities, fears, hopes and feelings of pride regarding belonging to a group, so that they can realize the multifaceted and flexible character of their identities, and reflect constructively.
  • Raising awareness regarding "belonging" and "otherness" in all students, both the ones that participate in the dominant culture and the newcomers.
  • Improving relationships and dynamics in school.
  • Ensuring a better integration and the development of appropriate skills by new students.

The key to achieving these goals is the way we manage the students’ similarities and differences. In general, the philosophy latent in the program involves encouraging students to think on and process both their similarities and their differences – not only the obvious but also the less apparent ones, which could function in a way that redefines them, or even as a link between students.

That is, we do not want students to think that everyone is different and that these differences do not really matter because we are all people with the same basic characteristics. Instead, we want students to think and reflect on the fact that what makes them different from some of their classmates also makes them similar to others. For instance, that some new students from Syria may differ from other new students from Afghanistan, regarding their habits and preferences, but may be more similar to some children from Greece, in the same respect. Or, conversely, that some students from Afghanistan may find that they are similar to some Greek children regarding certain characteristics, e.g. in a village in the mountains, while these children may feel that they are different from other Greek children, who live in more urban areas.

The combinations and possibilities that present themselves in this way are endless and involve numerous criteria: national and cultural (such as language, religion, etc.), demographics (town vs. village), gender, criteria regarding “taste” and the allocation of free time, and much more. In this process of identifying and processing similarities and differences, the main objectives for all students are two:

  • To present elements of their own story (personal, family, or community), of which they feel proud.
  • To think and reflect on the power, as well as the fluidity, of various ways they can use to describe themselves.
Collection of the material

The pupils turned to their families (or similar sources) to learn about their different identities. They searched for information and found out about their family background or about the history of other people from their community.

As a tool for the collection of the material by the students, the collaborating teachers used a variety of techniques: personal journals, group interviews of the students, interviews of other people, carried out by the students, family trees, narratives or dramatizations of critical "transitions" in their personal stories, etc. One of these techniques, which is symbolic and central to this program, is the backpack. The students were asked which things they consider the most valuable and would choose to put in their backpack if they needed to leave in a hurry or abandon their home.

At this point, it should be noted that students were never provided with specific or "predetermined" stimuli to facilitate the collection of the material. That is, no relevant text or audio-visual material was ever used as a stimulus to raise the students’ awareness (e.g. on the suffering of immigrants).

Instead, the material is "bottom up", in the sense that it is the product of the students' own quests to discover the multiple ways in which we are different from and at the same time similar to each other – this is the direction that the program followed.

The collection of the material was not easy and some difficulties certainly had to be overcome. For example, students do not speak easily about experiences that are emotionally loaded for them, nor do they know how other students will view and treat them. Wherever possible, these difficulties were overcome by the discreet insistence of the collaborating teachers, who had gained the students’ confidence.

On the other hand, teachers too have to overcome some complications, which in a way stem from their institutional role and their involvement in the dominant culture, which by definition is presented as "welcoming".

Analysis and categorization of the material

The material presented here is only part of a much larger, extremely rich material. The selection was mainly based on the range and depth of the reflection it may instigate, in terms of the program goals. Thus, we did not choose "beautiful", linguistically or aesthetically pleasing student narratives at the expense of others, more limited or "poor" with the same narrative criteria. We selected texts and images that capture as many and as diverse criteria as possible, based on which students can look for and reflect on the similarities and differences between them. This selection attempts to highlight "exemplary" ways of managing multiple identities, ways of life, ways of attributing meaning, emotionally managing and negotiating transitions, memories, "otherness" and a sense of “belonging”, as defined by the students themselves, focusing on highlighting the multiple possible ways of perceiving these provided ways and practices.

The four categories into which the material is organized stem from the same logic dictated. The aim of this categorization was to facilitate and channel reflection in the directions that have emerged, from the material itself, as more fertile for its further development. Latent in these categories are other, more detailed subcategories, which emerged from more complex categorization criteria (e.g. origin, free time), before we came to the following four categories:

  • Passages and identities
  • Roots, family and community bonds
  • Being different from and similar to others
  • My backpack

It is important to clarify that the four categories are not "mutually exclusive" and that they include other relevant subcategories (e.g. discrimination experiences, integration resistance, hopes and fears, feelings of loss, as well as pride, etc.). On the contrary, a text or image presented in one category could well fall into another. A story that talks about "passages", for example, may also refer to "family ties" and vice versa.

The aim is for the actual categories – and the material they include – to inspire both the students and us to discuss and reflect on the multiple identities that the students (as well as we all) have. In this process, we educators can explore the potential of the power and fluidity of identities, without the stress of having to fit them into preconceived forms and notions.

Combining the students’ narratives with school curricula

The collected "stories" can be used at school in many ways: they can simply be read in class as a listening activity, or form the basis for developing interesting projects, but they can also enrich the educational material taught in the various school subjects.

Some are real stories that contain the typical elements of storytelling and lend themselves to the analysis of narrative topos; others are (auto) biographies, factual data, comments on personal lived experiences, or the product of simple historical research. All of the above can be used to invent or reconstruct stories. Below, teachers can find some ideas about how to use them in the classroom, when teaching specific curriculum courses.

  1. Language arts (first language teaching)

    For example, first language teachers could use some stories for activities of text comprehension, description, or synthesis, or creative writing. An image or a family tree could make a story come to life; or teachers could take a story and ask the students to change its ending or mix the story with a classic fairy tale or introduce a fantastic element. Narration and description are the main text types that can be found in this multimodal material, which can be utilized in the teaching of specific grammatical phenomena, such as tenses, linking words, subject-object, etc. The material of the e-book is multimodal, therefore it also presents an opportunity for teaching multimodality.

  2. L2 course (second language acquisition)

    In general, the stories of the e-book can be used for reflection on grammar and language; of course, they can also be used in the teaching of English or other foreign languages. Since the material is multilingual, with the texts written in different languages (English, Swedish, Italian and Greek), teachers can also ask their students for their own stories, which can be written in various languages (e.g. Italian [L1] and English/German [L2]), and then proceed to activities involving translanguaging or code-switching.

  3. Geography, History and Social studies (Civics, Religious education)

    Stories that refer to "transitions" (changes, passages from one place to another) can be used for activities relating to geography, for instance immigrant transitions and general demographic changes in the past (e.g. Greek, Italian and Swedish immigrants in USA) can be paralleled to contemporary population movements. In the same sense, demographic changes can be connected to historical events, so as to promote critical historical thinking (connecting the past and the present). Moreover, depending on its specific focus, each story may present an opportunity to create specific activities related to civic education (national and European), while many elements of each story lend themselves to debates or text production regarding issues that relate to various school subjects, such as social studies, anthropology, religious education, etc.

  4. Music

    Some stories speak of music in particular, as an element that characterizes personal and global identities: the content of these stories can therefore be utilized in the music curriculum. Music can also be studied as a resource for attributing meaning.

  5. Science, Technology and Art

    The stories have different "objects", which often represent a specific (local culture) or a common culture (global culture). In any case, they can be studied from different points of view: from a historical perspective (how contexts change with the passage of time, as do ways of life, people’s habits, jobs, etc.), from a technical/scientific perspective (how old telephones work, which scientific principles govern their operation, etc.), from an artistic perspective (design / taste / use of various media, etc.). In fact, the visual representation of a story was one of the didactic elements related to its transposition to the screen.

  6. Physical education - activities

    Nutrition, eating habits and physical activities (dancing, taekwondo, Greco-Roman fighting) can become an area where the teacher can provide different perspectives and discuss the cultural habits of each era. Teachers and students can also discuss historical and cultural themes in physical education or even proceed to different practices. The Olympic Games of the past and present can also be combined with the provided material.

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