Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
By Dobrochna Futro
Our small, PhD students-led training workshop: On the Border of Art and Language Teaching in the Multilingual World took place at the MILK Café in Glasgow and was included in the GRAMNet programme of Refugee Festival Scotland 2018.
The event was organised by three PhD students: Marta Nitecka Barche (University of Aberdeen), Deirdre MacKenna (University of Dundee) and myself as part of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities Cohort Development Programme.
We organised it because we felt the importance and the growing interest within our respective research fields in the use of art-based methods as research tools and as pedagogy.
By organising the event in the actual place where the community learning happens (MILK Café), surrounding ourselves with artworks (an exhibition that explored experiences of the new speakers was installed by Deirdre MacKenna in the MILK Café just before the event), and placing art and experiences of language learners at the centre of the learning process, we hoped to invert traditional models and be led by the learners/speakers themselves.
We invited Prof Vicky Macleroy (Goldsmith College, University of London), Prof Bernadette O’Rourke (Heriot-Watt University), Gabrielle Cluness (Milk Café), and Jessica Bradley (Leeds Trinity University) to come and talk to us about their fascinating projects in which they explored the use of art in linguistics and education.
Vicky Macleroy discussed research from a global 5-year project, Critical Connections: Multilingual Digital Storytelling (2012-2017), which links language and intercultural learning with literacy, active citizenship and the arts, Bernadette O’Rourke presented the New Speakers Studio developed with Deirdre MacKenna, Gabrielle Cluness talked about community language learning at the MILK Café and Jessica Bradley about arts-based practice and informal language learning for refugees sharing lessons from the Migration and Settlement project.
We gathered together a group of artists, teachers, children, and adult ESOL and foreign languages learners so the initial ideas and examples presented by our invited speakers could be tested, explored, evaluated and debated not only by academics but also by artists, language teachers and learners themselves, and invited other PhD students to participate in this small gathering. The many stories and case studies brought by the workshop participants also needed to be explored and debated so the discussions were rich and often very passionate. I very much hope the workshop website will help to showcase all these amazing projects.
Planning the event we expected to identify models of practice more effective than those currently being used in language teaching but we have not expected that the PhD tickets will be ‘sold out’ in 36 hours and we end up with several people on the waiting list. We were also not prepared for how different it is to run the training event in the community space. The unpredictability of technology, yes, but a delivery arriving in the middle of the presentation? Local customers coming and going, inquiring about various things, chatting in the kitchen, people walking in and out with several kids or food parcels? And beyond all of it, there was the smell of delicious lunch being prepared by Gabby (just before, or, rather as part of her presentation on the community-based language learning offered at MILK). This and the cosiness and friendliness that permeated the space and affected everything we did definitely exceeded our expectations.
We listened, we watched, we ate and drank, we asked questions and discussed how things are being, not being and could be done. We wrote, we drew, we talked and made new connections across our respective fields of expertise. Personally I learnt a lot, not only on how art can be used as research method and pedagogy (although we came up with a list of very concrete and inspiring ideas), but also how much we knew as a group and did not know as individuals, how much we differed in our shared interests, how different modes of communication enabled different participants to enter discussion and share their ideas.
I also physically experienced how space and community affected my learning and all those findings will undoubtedly translate into my research on language teaching.
We finished the day exhausted but hungry for more, for more case studies, more discussions, more viewpoints, more embodied and experiential learning. We hope to share the presentations and relevant materials on the workshop website soon. Please get in touch if you are interested in art and language learning – there will be more to come and we would like you to get involved!
The workshop: On the Border of Art and Language Teaching in the Multilingual World was devised and produced by Marta Nitecka Barche (University of Aberdeen), Deirdre MacKenna (University of Dundee) and Dobrochna Futro (University of Glasgow), and funded through the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities Cohort Development Fund.