European selection

11th June 2004 at 01:00
A new online training course uses picture books as a way for children to engage with European languages and cultures. Penni Cotton describes how it works

Fast on the heels of 10 new countries joining the European Union comes another enterprise to bring Europeans together. This week marked the launch, at the University of Surrey at Roehampton, of an online teacher training course that introduces new ways of learning about European literature, languages and culture. The European school education training course (ESET) was created with financial support from the European Commission and is designed to help primary teachers work imaginatively with European picture books.

The course has been written by a small group of educationists who specialise in children's literature. It aims to give guidance to teachers on how to use books from the European Picture Book Collection - a specially selected set of children's literature - to read visual narratives from different countries and help their pupils understand more about what it means to be a European citizen.

The course provides materials for both initial and in-service training, which can be downloaded from the website free (for sample session, see Language bodies, right).

ESET is compatible with the national curricula of all UK countries, and its materials can be easily adapted for use in the literacy hour. It helps teachers analyse the similarities and differences between books from different countries, the languages they are written in, and the way they are illustrated and what this shows about the culture of their country of origin. It also highlights universal childhood themes permeating all the books.

For instance, the illustrations in the Spanish book, El Guardi n del Olvido (The Guardian of Lost Things), reflect the work of Dali and Vel zquez, and the colours used in the southern countries are different from those used in colder places.

The Danish book Mosekonens Bryg (The Marsh People) retells a tale very well known in its native land about the arrival of spring after a long winter, but is one of the most difficult for British children because of the unfamiliarity of such myths. The Marsh Woman, living beneath the ice with her family, brews a magic potion to start the new season. The familiar image of Scandinavian skaters is combined with the unexpected activity below them.

The course introduction is produced in more than 25 European languages, while the course itself appears in English, French and German. This allows primary pupils to develop an awareness of other European languages, and prepares them for language-learning in more depth in secondary school. In Wales, teachers have used European picture books to show children that Welsh is one of many European languages.

ESET can be used in a number of ways, in its entirety or in parts. For instance, in-service providers might want to do just a single session based on a specific theme or book. You can create your own ESET course by browsing through all the sessions and choosing the ones that fit best with your teaching curriculum.

* To use ESET, you need 20 European picture books, the EPBC video and the material from and (for sample session see right). You can seek further assistance by e-mail (see the ESET home page) Dr Penni Cotton is a research fellow at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL), University of Surrey Roehampton, and director of both the European Picture Book Collection project (EPBC) and the European school education training course (ESET). She is also author of Picture books sans frontieres (Trentham Press UK)

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