personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

Notes from the Field: Playing with Trainers in Vancouver

Had a great day. It certainly helps matters that the sun is shining, the air is delightfully fragrant from the cherry blossoms, and the participants were eager and enthusiastic to learn. The participants in question are day camp leaders and coordinators who have been implementing the Play It Fair! program that Equitas has been running for a number of years now. The program promotes human rights values – cooperation, respect, acceptance…seven values in all – through games. The key to the approach is that the learning from the games is always discussed with the children afterwards and enables them to reinforce these values in the day camps and in their daily lives.

A number of participants highlighted a challenge with the group discussion that follows a game. The format of the discussion has questions relating to three aspects: the “feel” questions, asking children how they liked the game, the “think” questions, asking them how the game relates to their personal experiences and what the game makes them think of, and finally the “act” questions that prompt children to suggest ways they can improve day camp life with concrete actions.

The format is simple but there are still challenges to leading a group discussion. Some leaders do not have much experience facilitating such discussions, others rely too much on asking the suggested questions in the Toolkit (thereby making the discussion rigid), and others mention that having a group discussion is challenging with multilingual groups of children.

The challenge of leading the group discussion was raised last night over dinner (which included my first taste of beef tongue, masterfully cooked by Tom, one of the coordinators at the Britannia Centre here in Vancouver, on a small heated black rock. He also shocked me with the knowledge that I have been pronouncing Osaka improperly all my life.). My thoughts remained on this (the group discussion, not the Osaka thing) until this morning. I had some solutions to propose, such as developing cards with symbols signifying words or feelings and having the children use symbols to express how they felt, but I felt I didn’t have much to offer. A quick message to an online community of human rights practitioners yielded a number of good suggestions from across Canada, Egypt, and China. Some suggestions: drawing images, painting, pantomime, sculpturing (making human sculptures as a way to represent power relationships between different actors), theatre of the oppressed, using (and not using) symbols. We also explored non-verbal ways of communicating with each other. The response I got from my online inquiry reaffirmed to me the value of networking with others to get their ideas, and it’s something I expect to do more of in the future.

On another note, Tom highlighted the introduction of journal writing for camp leaders. The journal was a regular, often daily reflection the leaders made on the games they played. The journal was private and to be shared only with their supervisor. Tom praised the added value the journals made to the leaders’ abilities to facilitate the games; they wrote their impressions of the games, how well they went (or how challenging they may have been), and how the children were internalizing the values promoted by the games. Writing in a journal was not an automatic gesture for some leaders, said one participant who kept her own journal. And it has to be said that writing is not for everyone either, but it can be a powerful tool. I offered them a simple framework I use when writing a reflective journal (not my idea): three questions – What? (what happened), So what? (what did I learn, why is this important, what does it mean?) and Now what? (what will I do differently now?).  I’d read in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom the other day that if we as educators want to ensure critical thinking among learners, we should be equally critical about our own practice. I felt I learned a lot from the participants today, and I’m thankful for that.

All the participants got to lead the rest in some of the Toolkit games, and we enjoyed being kids again and playing Rock, Paper, Conflict, The Inuit Hand Game, and my personal favourite of the day, Crazy Stories, which was a collaborative story-making activity that had us all laughing (the entire Toolkit is available here).

And now to end this entry, at least one mention of the joys of travel. The day more than compensated for minor annoyances the day before such as the customs officer in Montreal who felt the need to probe everyone’s carry-on luggage for liquids exceeding 100 ml. One could see his eyes bulge with rapturous excitement as he grabbed my new tube of toothpaste and searched for its volume. “It might be over 100 ml,” he whispered to his uninterested colleague. Alas, his disappointment was quite noticeable when he saw “85 ml” at the end of the tube. Honestly, our delays are long enough as it is at airports, should we not be entitled to qualified personnel who can do their job of protecting us rather than inspecting us in the hope of finding a liquid over 100 ml in our bags?

Perhaps one final note, a success story. Our lunch was catered by Pot Luck Catering, a small organization where former street children prepare the food, here they are: http://www.potluckcatering.org/about.html.

And another final note, to all Vancouver hockey fans, Canucks rock! And good night.



2 comments :

Laura said...

The challenges you mention with the group discussion have been raised in the past and there are a couple of reference sheets in the Toolkit with ideas for conducting a group discussion with multilingual groups etc. When I have spoken with leaders who were working with non english / french speaking children I found it helpful to ask them to reflect on how they communicate with the children in other camp situations and then to talk about how those strategies could be adapted for the group discussion. In one instance we then decided that the initial objective of the group discussion would be simply to get the children to participate by sharing their opinion of the game (like / not like) and as in that as time went on the group discussion could become more sophisticated (closer to the model in the Toolkit). In challenging situations such as language barriers, I found that getting the leaders to reframe their expectations of what the group discussion would look like relieved a bit of pressure they might be feeling and helped encourage the leaders and give them confidence - which in turn produced more effective group discussions. Give my love to team Vancouver, Laura

Paul McAdams said...

Much appreciated, Laura! I'll pass your message on to the team, and share this with today's new group as well. Paul