CULTURE STUDY TOUR FOR TEACHERS: A TOUR OF DISCOVERY

Ewa Komorowska, XLIV LO, ul. Dolna 6, 00-774 Warszawa, Poland

 

Introduction

It was four years ago that I set off on a 9-day school trip to Britain with my 17- and 18-year-old secondary students. The trip seemed to have been very carefully prepared, with several lessons devoted to Cultural Studies. In my school it is still referred to as the best school trip, yet there seemed very little to be done as follow-up work after the trip itself. From this point of view, then, it proved to be a failure. I can still remember the feeling of despair over what had gone wrong and why.

 

Problems faced by teachers

Being an experienced teacher, I thought that those who are just beginning their professional career will surely encounter similar, if not greater, problems than I did at that time. The big questions are: WHAT do you do during a trip to Britain with your students? WHAT is left to work on following the trip? It seemed obvious that project work and some training in British Cultural Studies should help teachers overcome most of the problems they might have to face.

 

Aims of the Tour

INSETT  Warsaw organised a Culture Study Tour for teachers from primary schools, gymnasium schools (12 – 15-year-olds), and lyceum schools (16 – 18-year-olds). The aims of the tour and the workshops that accompanied it were as follows:

 

¡        to stimulate cultural awareness among teachers through ethnographic observation and fieldwork

¡        to encourage cross-cultural reflection among teachers

¡        to provide hands-on experience

¡        to encourage teachers to develop their own British Cultural Studies materials and projects

¡        to encourage teachers to produce their own lessons based on their British Study Tour experience

¡        to suggest options for a study tour with their own students

 

Support

The trip was a success thanks to the funding (1/3 of the cost) provided by INSETT, which also was responsible for the logistics and provided several videotapes on culture and history. The British Council was also very helpful – Simon Smith and Michael Houten attended the pre-trip workshop devoted to culture and ethnography, while the British Council Library let us use several videos on culture and history free of charge.

 

The Course

The Course consisted of three main elements: the pre-trip workshop (6 hours), the study tour itself (one week), and two post-trip workshops (7 hours each).

 

Pre-trip workshop

The pre-trip workshop took place two weeks before the trip. It was devoted to several issues, both theoretical and practical. The first part was devoted to a brainstorming session on a possible definition of culture, the ways in which ethnography is closely related to it, and how both relate to the concept of tourism since, in a way, the course participants would be tourists as well. This initial stage was meant to raise teachers’ awareness as to what the aims of the trip would be and ways of achieving the desired goals.

Topics

The group of thirty participating teachers was divided into six groups, and the groups chose from among six main topics the group leader had prepared in advance. The subjects seemed to lend themselves very well to analysing several aspects of British culture: they were also intended to encourage teachers to use various ethnographic techniques while working on their areas of interest. The topics chosen were: Family life; Shopping; National Heritage; The Millennium Dome; Shakespeare – the man and playwright, his theatre and plays; Planning a Day Out.

 

Not surprisingly the topics that were very popular with teachers from the very beginning were Shakespeare and Shopping, while the most difficult one, National Heritage, was the one that aroused the least interest.

 

Aims of workshop and procedures

The next step was deciding what should be produced during the workshop and how that aim should be achieved. After a very lively discussion, it was agreed that the main aim was to produce materials for the teachers to use as guidelines during the trip, and it was decided that the best way to facilitate work would be for every group to prepare either a questionnaire or an outline of steps to follow during the tour. The groups also made several decisions concerning working procedures: it was agreed that they would always be working as teams; peer suggestions and criticism would be welcome; all members were to collect as much authentic material as possible; teachers’ own photographs would constitute an invaluable source of information and visuals for participants and, later on, for their students.

 

Materials delivery and distribution

Before the workshop ended, all the groups had presented the outcome of their work and feedback was very positive. The materials (questionnaires and lists of things to do) were copied, so that each participant received a complete set of materials produced by all groups during the workshop. This was the first step towards stimulating teachers to use the materials produced: they could, with very little adaptation, use the questionnaires and lists of steps to follow, preparing similar worksheets with their students or using the existing ones.

 

Grass-roots initiative

Some of the participants voiced their desire to produce lessons based on their Study Tour experience, which was readily approved of by the rest of the group. Hence a decision was made that everything that might appear useful for a future lesson should be collected or carefully recorded.

 

Trip

The idea of staying with families proved to have been crucial from the ethnographic point of view. Participants working on all topics used the evenings spent with the families to find out more about their areas of interest. Some of these conversations proved enormously fruitful, especially in the case of Shopping, Shakespeare, The Dome and Family. Team members stressed the importance of hearing representative opinions on all these topics, as they were very different from what had been anticipated. Participants also learnt things they did not expect to find out about, which was another very important aspect of staying with families.

 

The tour was so packed with sites and museums we wanted to see or visit that it seemed almost impossible physically to manage everything. Yet the group proved to be so eager to see and experience as much as possible that they covered more than we would have thought feasible. Several teachers stressed that since it was their first time in Britain, they also wanted to learn how to do certain things, such as finding their way round the underground on their own.

 

Not a single minute of the trip was wasted – when travelling to or from a given site, the teachers very willingly watched videos; time spent in the coach was also used to exchange impressions and opinions, and to work on adding to the materials that had been prepared during the workshop.

 

Post-trip workshop I

The first post-trip workshop was almost entirely devoted to reflecting on the questionnaires and guidelines, their usefulness, and whether they helped the teams achieve their individual goals. It was stressed by all participants that these kinds of materials played a crucial part in structuring and directing their work during the trip itself. Upon our return, it appeared, in fact, that hardly any amendments had to be made to the original materials. Here and there a question or two needed adding, but the core remained unchanged. The teachers also remarked that the questionnaires were perfectly suitable for secondary school students, while the materials would need to be simplified for primary level.

 

The second part of the workshop was devoted to working on lesson plans for the teachers’ own students. It was stressed by all members of the teams that a cross-cultural approach would be most desirable here, as it would help students reflect on their own culture at the same time as developing analytic skills in dealing with British culture. Some teachers had already remarked that they expected their students to notice a number of similarities between our two cultures. Some teams managed to produce almost complete lessons, while others presented some rough plans. It was agreed that the next meeting would be devoted to presentations of the projects that students were supposed to prepare as an outcome of the lessons.

 

Post-trip workshop II

The first part of the workshop was devoted to presentations of lesson worksheets. Some were produced by experienced teachers, so were almost perfect, while others, produced by beginners in the profession were more of an outline than a regular lesson. Yet – and this should be stressed – all the lesson plans were produced to the very best of their authors’ knowledge and skills. The rest of the workshop was devoted almost entirely to presentations of of projects produced by students and teachers’ comments on the working process. British Cultural Studies projects were found to display enormous potential in the classroom by:

¡        allowing for practice of all language and some ethnographic skills

¡        stimulating further interest in British culture

¡        teaching autonomy by insisting on students making their own decisions

¡        encouraging students to look for data and doing materials research

¡        teaching students to process data and information found

¡        enhancing sense of achievement upon completion of project

 

Conclusions

The course and Culture Study Tour itself were found to be a success, mostly because they combined theory with practice. The outcomes of the course were:

¡        raising awareness of what British Cultural Studies entails

¡        reflecting on teachers’ own culture and learning more about it through comparing and noticing differences

¡        developing a sense of pride in teachers’ own culture

¡        learning to explore and examine British Culture

¡        encouraging teachers to compare cultures and to develop tolerance and appreciation for other cultures

¡        developing cross-cultural reflection

¡        passing on knowledge and reflections to students

 

Teachers expressed a strong need for follow-up courses that would be devoted to other countries of Britain, with Wales being described as the land we Poles know hardly anything about. It has been agreed that the next trip would deal with this particular country, and the course participants offered to prepare the workshops, partly at least, by themselves.