What can we Learn from Listening to the Voices of Refugee-background Students?

We recently published Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry. In this post Shawna and Raichle tell us what we can learn from the voices included in this collection.

We are so excited about the opportunity to publish this new collection of educational research with Multilingual Matters! We’ve worked with refugee-background students in a variety of contexts: Raichle and Mary Jane have both engaged in research with adult education classrooms, and Shawna and Raichle currently collaborate with local school districts in Chittenden County, Vermont, which is a refugee resettlement community. Our book includes the work of researchers working with adolescent and adult students in seven countries, including those which have traditionally been among the top countries of resettlement – the United States, Australia, and Canada – as well as those with steadily increasing refugee populations: Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

One of our goals for this book was to put student voices at the center – to help us see schools and communities from the perspective of students with refugee backgrounds. This not only helps us understand students’ educational experiences, it also helps to counter the deficit-based narratives that are prevalent about refugee-background students – narratives that position these learners as lacking in social, cultural, and linguistic capital. There has been a rise in anti-establishment and nationalist sentiment in the US and Europe resulting from anxieties about migration. Refugee migration itself is often framed as a ‘crisis’, thus removing the human element from the discussion. When choosing chapters for this collection, we looked for those that highlight the agency, resilience, and ‘funds of knowledge’ of refugee students.

What do student voices in this collection tell us? First is that many refugee-background students are doing exciting things with literacy, both inside and outside of the classroom. Bryan Ripley Crandall’s chapter, for example, includes excerpts of academic and creative writing from several young men of Somali-background. Some of this writing, such as a film script and an essay about a family heirloom, came out of students’ English classes, however, much of it was shared on social media. Technology plays an important role in literacy for students in Delila Omerbašić’s study as well, which shows how students use digital tools to display cultural and linguistic knowledge. By exploring what she refers to as the girls’ ‘digital landscapes of knowing’, Omerbašić reminds us that students have many skills and resources that we might leverage as assets in the classroom. A similar

A student’s request for feedback on her drawing

message comes across in Amanda Hiorth and Paul Molyneux’s chapter, which includes excerpts of student-generated drawings, which offer unique insight into the emotional and social experiences of Karen students, as they transition from a newcomer program into a secondary school.

We also learn that students can assert themselves in powerful ways, to promote social and educational change. Erin Papa utilizes a photovoice approach in her

A Cambodian student’s attempt to write her name in Khmer

collaborative research with Guatemalan and Cambodian youth. In this approach, the youth used photography and writing to share about their lives and to suggest ways in which the school district and community might be improved.  Amy Pucino’s chapter shows how Muslim Iraqi students respond to discriminatory remarks from their peers, using humor, logic, and body language as communicative strategies. These chapters remind us that if given the opportunity, students can use language and literacy to be change agents.

We have been so inspired by the creative approaches of students – and researchers working with them – in this collection. This work has energized us as teachers and scholars, and we can’t wait to hear from readers: How do you create space for student voices in your work?

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Talking About Global Migration by Theresa Catalano.

 

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