The New Arrivals

tanOne of my favourite books has no words. Yet it came as no surprise this week to discover that Shaun Tan’s The Arrival was at the heart of an educational research project which has won the 2015 Edward B. Fry award from the Literacy Research Association of the USA. Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives was co-authored by Dr Evelyn Arizpe, a lecturer in the School of Education at Glasgow University, along with Professor Teresa Colomer of Barcelona and Dr Carmen Martínez-Roldán of Columbia University in the USA.
Dr Arizpe, whose team worked in Glasgow schools with children from 13 countries, found that their strategy of using The Arrival as a basis for discussion and learning gave teachers mechanisms to tackle difficult issues around migration with Scottish children, as well as refugee and asylum-seeking pupils.
“Immigrant children try very hard at school. Often it is the local children who don’t really don’t understand what they have been through and who are susceptible to negative stereotypes. When you give them a book that allows them to put themselves into the immigrant child’s shoes, they begin to understand.”
Immigration is an increasing global phenomenon, as conflict in the Middle east and other regions forces people to seek refuge in other parts of the world, including the UK, and schools and teachers in host countries must continually find new ways of working with an increasing numbers of the new arrivals. Language and literacy development are crucially important if children are to be integrated quickly into their new communities, but finding texts which cut across cultural boundaries can be difficult. The research carried out by Arizpe and her colleagues reveals the benefits of using wordless narratives such as picture-books and graphic novels to support immigrant children’s literary understandings and visual literacy. It also reveals, according to the report’s publishers Bloomsbury, ‘the wealth of experiences the children bring with them which have the potential to transform educational practices.’

What the report’s reviewers said:

“Product of an outstanding international research team, Visual Journeys Through Wordless Narratives offers the reader narratives by immigrant children about their feelings, emotions, experiences and knowledge inspired by Shaun Tan’s famous picture book The Arrival. Anchored in the metaphor of the journey, and using a visual journey as support, this unique, fascinating, and well-organized volume is a fine tribute to Tan and a genuine hymn to teaching and integration of immigrant children from diverse cultural and linguistic origins.” –  Maria da Graça Pinto, Professor, University of Porto, Portugal.

Detail from 'The Arrival' by Shaun Tan

Detail from ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan

“In this evocative book, Evelyn Arizpe and her co-authors reflect on their ambitious research project to explore responses of immigrant children in Glasgow, Barcelona and Arizona to Shaun Tan’s complex wordless picture-book, The Arrival. Framed by Tan’s eloquent introduction and by the authors’ in-depth analyses of the students’ responses, the book offers readers new understandings of the power of visual narratives to engage these young immigrants’ literacy skills, personal reflections and imaginative powers. This is an important new international addition to texts on picture-books, visual literacy and issues of immigration.” –  Ingrid Johnston, Professor, Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta, Canada.

“This fascinating and remarkable international research bears close reading and re-reading. A highly significant examination of the potential of wordless picturebooks to support immigrant children as learners and meaning makers, it is inspiring, thought provoking and engaging. This important book also reveals the critical nature of the teacher’s role in developing literary understanding through image based narratives and offers new hope for intercultural understanding in the classroom.” –  Teresa Cremin, Professor of Education, The Open University, UK,

Watch Canadian children welcoming their new neighbours, Syrian refugees. Heartwarming!

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Aussie Adventures 3: Postcard From Sydney

To round off my Australian trip I spent a few days in Sydney – or to be precise, in Richmond, about 50 miles to the north-west of Sydney. Of course, I visited the iconic city and took all the usual tourist pics, which I have used to create this Animoto video. If you have yet to discover Animoto, or even if you have been using it for some time, you may be surprised to learn that educators can apply for a free Animoto Plus account – for which private individuals like myself have to pay $30 a year. This allows you and your students to create stunning presentations – combining images, video clips, music and text – or to produce  videos which bring your lessons to life and show off your students’ work to the wider world. What on earth are you waiting for?!

Aussie Adventures 2: Launceston, Tasmania

To Launceston, Tasmania, and the purpose of my visit. I had been invited to deliver the final keynote speech at the New Literacies, Digital Multimedia and Classroom Teaching Conference, a collaboration between the Faculty of Education and the HIT Lab Australia (Human Interface Technology) at the University of Tasmania’s School of Computing and Information Systems. The conference was beautifully organised by Angela Thomas (@anyaixchel). Angela is a senior lecturer in English and Literacies Education at UTAS, whose research interests include children’s multimodal authoring, social semiotics and new media literacies. As well as making sure the event was running smoothly, Angela found time to present a workshop on Virtual Macbeth, the Shakespeare classic reimagined in Second Life, where participants could ‘explore the potential of virtual worlds for immersive, experiential and student-centred learning.’

Professor Len Unsworth of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, and well-respected author of several texts on new literacies, opened the conference with a fascinating insight into the ways in which the point of view of the reader/viewer changes between picture books and their animated versions, using the Oscar-winning animation of Shaun Tan’s picture book The Lost Thing as the focus. The point was well made that while the books and their moving image versions ostensibly tell the same story, there are often important interpretative differences arising from the position and actions of the camera.

Later in the day, Martin Waller (@MultiMartin), a primary teacher and researcher from Holy Trinity Rosehill Primary School in England, shared via his keynote the ways in which social media have fundamentally changed young people’s engagement with literacy and meaning making in the real world. The great thing about this inspirational speaker and teacher is that he isn’t just talking about it, he’s doing it in the classroom, where his Year 2 class (that’s age 6) have their own Twitter presence. Martin is also fascinated by children’s popular culture and how this can impact on learning, and is responsible for the famous @ClassroomTweets. Definitely a name to follow if you aren’t already doing so.

Day Two of the conference and the opening speaker makes an immediate impact. Lalitha Vasudevan (@elemveee) is Associate Professor of Technology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and her stated interest is in how young people craft stories, represent themselves and enact ways of knowing through their engagement with literacies, technologies and media. Drawing on her experiences in New York with court-involved adolescents, and through the moving personal story of a young man expressing himself through rap music, she made a very powerful argument for the case that in order to move towards greater enactment of multimodal pedagogies, such that adolescents’ literacies cease to be seen as barriers to educational participation, we need to provide teachers with access to what the research findings tell us and with opportunities to engage, explore and enact these pedagogies in the teachers’ own contexts.

Given the quality of the speakers and workshop presenters, being asked to close the conference with my own talk, ‘New Narratives for NewTimes’ was an honour and a pleasure. The feedback was incredibly generous and there are already plans to develop the conference themes into a book for publication next autumn. I would like to thank publicly Dr Angela Thomas, Robert Ceperkovic for making all the travel arrangements, the lovely Damon Thomas (@DamonPThomas) for chauffeuring us around and showing us the beautiful Tasmanian countryside, and all the other great people we met during our stay, including Annemaree O’Brien (@AnnemareeOBrien), Paul Chandler (@pauldchandler) and the irrepressible James Riggall (@jamesriggall).

If you are on Twitter you can catch a flavour of the conference at the hashtag #UTASNewLits, and if and when the presentations become available online I’ll post the links. Next time: Aussie Adventures 3 – Postcard from Sydney.

Aussie Adventures 1: Adelaide, South Australia

Arrived in Tasmania ahead of the New Literacies, Digital Media and Classroom Teaching Conference this weekend where I’ll be sharing the keynote platform with some interesting and inspirational speakers. You can see the full programme for the event here, and I understand that the talks are going to be recorded and uploaded to the UTAS website. Before arriving in Launceston however, I took the chance to visit some relatives in Adelaide that I hadn”t seen for quite a few years, and they took me on a tour of the wine-growing districts of Riverland and the Barossa Valley. Hard work but somebody had to do it. I thoroughly enjoyed South Australia and Adelaide in particular – beautiful city, great climate, fantastic parklands, bikes and bike lanes everywhere. Oh, and did I mention the wines and the seafood. Watch out for some photos when I get the chance to upload them. In ‘pretending to be working’ mode, I did also get to visit the great people of Renmark Primary School, where my cousin is the Principal, and share with them some ideas about developing multimedia literacies in the classroom. Even converted a few of them to Twitter so watch out for them on your social networks. Just had time before I left for a visit to Ned Kelly’s Retreat and some authentic outback tucker. No worries mate.

Tall Ships and Fast Cars

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that for the month of July I will be living, working and playing on the Isle of Arran, a

One of the impressive Tall Ships which called in on Arran this week

place which I never tire of visiting. Already this week I have made some small gains in the fitness stakes by getting back on my bike and taking to the hills, we have been barbecuing on the beach every other night, the Tall Ships have looked in on their way to Greenock from Wexford in Ireland, and the Lamlash Maritime Festival gave me the chance to try my hand at sea kayaking, something which has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time. All this among some of the most magnificent scenery in Western Europe.

To make sure we don’t miss out on what might be happening across the island I picked up a copy of The Arran Banner, which indeed provided a wealth of information – and the most bizarre editorial in a week of bizarre happenings in the press. OK, it wasn’t on the scale of the crash at News International, but the intemperate language might have been straight out of the Murdoch school of journalism. It began:

“Summer finally arrived at the weekend and with it came a swarm – not of midges – but of that other dreaded multitude, the cyclists. I think most island motorists will admit that, apart from the blood-sucking insects that plague Arran in the summer months, their other most reviled horde is cyclists.”

Now, I’m not entirely convinced that there is a group of people whose identity can be so easily encapsulated in the phrase ‘Arran motorist’, but if there is, I would have thought that tourists – a large percentage of whom are cyclists – provide much of their income, and that far from being reviled, they should be welcomed with open arms.

Arran is almost the perfect place for cycling: the roads are still relatively quiet; there are some excellent off-road tracks; the hills provide enough challenge for even the most competitive riders and it is easily accessible from the mainland.

However, in my own travels round the island this week I did notice that the number of cars on the roads is increasing, especially those massively fashionable 4 x 4s, and many of them are being driven too fast for roads which are narrow and twisting and full of blind summits and bends. They are wider than half the width of the roads, and for many of their drivers the white line down the middle serves only as a rough guide to the best racing line.

So I would like to offer an alternative manifesto for those looking to build the economy of Arran while preserving its unique beauty and tranquillity, which is what most of those tourist hordes are looking for:

Arran - a cyclists' paradise

  • Prohibit the movement of motor cars, apart from emergency vehicles, between the hours of 10.00am and 4.00pm in the summer months
  • Provide a more regular bus service, but limit their speed to 30 mph on all roads
  • Invest in re-surfacing the 56 miles of main road round the perimeter of the island
  • Promote the island as a Mecca for cyclists and encourage all cycling-related businesses with preferential business rates.
  • Encourage hotels to offer cycling packages for large groups or clubs looking for that special cycling experience.

With few exceptions, we are all motorists, but how on earth did we get to a situation where the motor car was so revered that there are people who define themselves as ‘motorists’ first and above all else, and where drivers expect to have right of way over cyclists and pedestrians. It isn’t so on mainland Europe, and it doesn’t have to be that way here.

Bowmore or Bust

I’m just chilling out today, as we younger dudes say, after a very enjoyable cycle trip to Islay to catch up with my good friends Ian and Andy. The visit was the ideal way of seeing a part of Scotland which is so significant to our cultural heritage, including the production of some of the finest malt whiskies on the planet, and at the same time making up in some part for missing out on the hugely successful unconference back in June. To call it a cycle tour is a slight exaggeration as in actual fact most of the journey was by boat and some of it by train.

Setting out from Ayr on Wednesday I tooJourneyk the train to Ardrossan Harbour and boarded the ferry to Brodick. From Brodick I cycled the very hilly road to Lochranza which was basking in glorious sunshine as I waited for the short ferry ride to Claonaig. Another five hilly miles across the Mull of Kintyre to Kennacraig and I was ready to board another ferry for the two and a half hour journey to Port Ellen at the southern end of Islay. Arriving at around 8.30 in the evening my effort wasn’t quite finished as I had booked in to the Bowmore Hotel in the main town ten miles to the north. Fortunately this part of the island is pretty flat, although that coupled with the fact that this stretch of road is also very straight can make it feel like you are never getting there. The round church at the top of the hill was a welcome sight as I freewheeled into Jamieson Street and found my digs for the night.

On Thursday I left Bowmore and headed round to Portnahaven to have a coffee in An Tigh Seinnse, the best (only) pub in Portnahaven and one of the smallest in the world, and to take some pictures of  the sandy bay where a group of children in wellies were playing along the water’s edge and a lazy seal lay sunbathing on a rock, posing for tourists. Stopping for lunch with Ian and Caroline at Port Charlotte I then headed to the distillery at Bruichladdich for a sample of the local produce (highly recommended) before making my way back to the hotel and the sanctuary of a hot bath.

After a bite to eat it was time to for a tour of some of the more remote parts of the island – this time in a four-wheeled vehicle – and a trip to the awesome Machir Bay to watch the breakers rolling in and the sky darkening as the rain clouds gathered. We retreated to the Bridgend Hotel for a few beers and a game of pool while we sorted out the Scottish education system and described with increasing clarity our vision for the curriculum in the twenty-first century.

I took my leave of Andy and Ian, as I was to be up early on Friday morning for the cycle back to Port Ellen and the same journey in reverse. I hadn’t been on Islay for much more than a day but I had seen enough of the island and the people to convince me that there’s something special there, and perhaps it’s best demonstrated by the fact that as you cycle the roads almost every driver gives you a wave, and not in the way they tend to on the mainland.


For more photos of the tour go to LiteracyAdviser on Flickr