Friday 22 October 2010

What's Black History got to do with us?

I've been supporting workshops in a primary school in Birmingham in a community labelled, 'majority white, working class'.  It's a great school I've worked in for a couple of years now, and I was really pleased, following a staff training inset in which the entire teaching staff of the school visited Birmingham Archives, the school set up hour long black history workshops with every class from Nursery to Year 6.

'Black history remains one of those subject areas parents, children and staff can feel uncomfortable with.  We wanted to make sure the workshops were relevant to everyone in the school, and something which addressed the question, 'What's Black History got to do with us?'

So what did we do?  First of all we asked everyone to bring in a family photo beforehand.  Then at workshop we started looking at where everyone came from - walk to other side of room if you don't come from Birmingham, if your parents don't, if your grandparents don't - eventually you start with all on one side, end with most on the other.  Then map pin where your family come from - end up with map covered in pins.  This activity was a favourite with a few children (judging from feedback).  We had three maps - for Birmingham, UK and the world - It may be that some of the pins didn't match exactly where their families came from (there was an interesting one in middle of the Atlantic) but was great to start discusssion.

Then onto Vanley Burke, photographer.  Yes, he's black, and yes he's famous, but unlike Mary Seacole, he's alive, and he's from Birmingham, so a little easier to relate to.  Also much of his (prolific) photography is about documenting the community he lived in (which happened to be Handsworth).  He recorded the black community he was a part of through his photographs, and he has also donated large chunks of his photographic collection to Birmingham Archives & Heritage.

So having looked at the photos, next step, re-enactment of the photos to really start to empathise and get some understanding of the photos - as one yr2  put it - 'you feel like your in the photo'.  Great way to start discussion.

It was pretty hectic, and couldn't cover in too much depth in one hour with 30 children, but from comments looked like we engaged everyone, and made it mean something to them.  All children feedback was positive:

'We could learn about what are the same or similar to Birmingham [to other places]'

'We could do some more what we did today.'

'[We could] lurn about Weoly Casle'

'[We could] visit the libraries in other areas.'

And from the teacher comments:

'Some children commented, 'Why are all the faces black?'  The question was handled very well.'

'We would like to push it more - we need to make sure there is good follow up work.'

We had interesting break time conversations with children about where our families came from, and what questions we wanted to ask them.  All very positive, and from Izzy, workshop leader:

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