Many of you know that I am currently working on my Master is Language and Literacy at UBC. This term I have been taking a class on Immigrants and Refugees. Although I have taught many immigrants from Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, and other countries, I never fully understood the challenges these students and their parents faced when they arrived in Canada. Through the many articles I have been reading for my class, discussions, interviews, as well as assignments, I have grown immensely in my understanding and have deep appreciation for everything these families go through .
For one of my assignments, I was asked to find a children's story book that connected to a theme related to immigrants and education. Coincidentally last year, I had purchased a book called The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. Although I read this book last year to my class, I never planned a lesson with it.
So last week I read the book and taught a lesson. I began by inviting the students to the carpet area were we looked at a "Name Jar" and the examined the cover of the book. We opened the jar and read a few names and then I asked the students to predict what they thought the book was about.
Next I read a few of the beginning pages. We learned the having just arrived from Korea, a little girl named Unhei is anxious about making friends and worried that no one will be able to pronounce her name. The name "Unhei" had been given to her by her mother and grandmother who had gone to a name master to find the perfect name. Her name meant "grace".
On the bus ride to school some children make fun of her name. Later, when she is asked by her teacher what her name is, she responds "Um, I haven't picked on yet". Suprised by this, her classmates bring a glass jar to school and begin filling it with names for Unhei to choose from.
At this point I asked my students, to "step into" Unhei's shoes and share what they thought Unhei might be thinking or feeling. After sharing with the class, they did a little writing.
Then we came back together as a group and continued reading and pausing to share our thoughts, predictions and our own feelings. Many of the students strongly connected to this lesson as they shared with me there Chinese and Japanese names. Some students had keep their traditional names but most of them had chosen new names.
After finishing the story, we discussed our feeling about our names. We then stepped back into "Unhei's shoes" and shared what we might have done if we were in her shoes. Although Unhei kept her name, as a class we also concluded that it is also alright to change your name. We had a wonderful discussion about not only names but the other challenges new immigrants/students face. The students told me a lot about how different their classrooms were in China and elsewhere. I finally learned why so many new immigrant parents ask to take pictures of the classroom. Almost every student remarked how colourful classrooms are in Canada and that their previous classroom were mostly gray. This was an "ah-ha" moment for me. I took it forgranted that all primary classrooms were colourful.
We concluded the lesson using laptops to search the meaning of our names and share our information with friends. It was a great lesson and one that I will definitely do again.