The FLAME research team were invited to attend and present some of our own work at the second Critical Connections conference held on 27th May 2016 at Goldsmiths University, London.
The conference gave an overview of the activity and impact of the two-year long multilingual digital storytelling project that was funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (2012-2014) and led by Directors Dr Jim Anderson and Dr Vicky Macleroy at Goldsmiths University.
Taking fairness as its central theme, with creativity and social justice as hallmarks, the project aimed to examine how digital storytelling – as a useful, motivating way to engage with and enhance language learning – can be embedded in a deeper, more critical way in our schools. The project involved establishing links between mainstream and supplementary schools in the UK, as well as forming collaborative partnerships with schools overseas.
It was evident from the diverse range of speakers that this was very much an interdisciplinary project with representatives from the British Film Institute, British Museum, Museum of London, National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education, Speak to the Future, Goldsmiths Department of Educational Studies, Education / PGCE (Languages) Leads, Multilingual Creativity, among others. Project partners commented on: multilingualism; uniting home languages with English; technology and multi-modal literacy in the twenty-first century; the power and tradition of storytelling; community partnerships, internationalism and world citizenship; social engagement and intercultural connections; filmmaking and digital software skills; learner agency and student voice.
We were given the opportunity to see examples of the digital multilingual stories created by participating students as well as listen to the personal experiences of teachers who had implemented the project in their practice, with details of methodology shared in the workshops that took place in the afternoon. It was pleasing to hear that those that had used digital storytelling in the classroom had found that it offers an alternative, more authentic, interactive and creative way to learn a language. Teachers mentioned how students were more motivated, engaged and could steer their own learning, leading to a greater sense of achievement. Furthermore, it was praised as a pedagogical approach that allows for cross-curricula collaboration between teachers e.g. languages and drama / arts department. Thus, demonstrating and reinforcing our own appreciation of the value of creative practice and use of audio-visual resources in the language classroom.
The inspirational day concluded with an open panel discussion with reflections on: the importance of promoting all languages and ensuring that community languages are supported within mainstream educational contexts; the empowerment of language learning to break down barriers to build bridges and foster intercultural understanding; and the challenge of embedding creative practice into the mainstream system, especially given the current climate.
In looking to the future, it was emphasised that there is a need to train generations of teachers who are able to take risks, interpret curriculum descriptors creatively and extend beyond the limitations set in textbooks. Those on the panel talked about learning as ownership, discovery, meaning-making and how multilingual digital storytelling offers an enriching, functional learning experience that helps develop students to become responsible citizens. The importance of portfolios to document students’ work and trace their reflections on the process was stressed as a powerful tool to push the need to incorporate creative practice into mainstream education. Ultimately, the proof of cognitive gain is abundant in what the students themselves are able to creatively produce.
More information about the Critical Connections project can be found here.