One of the frustrations of language teaching can be some children's tendency to act with thoughtless derision towards "funny foreigners". One of the privileges, however, is finding ways to engender a more nuanced perspective: ours is not the only way, despite what children may have "learned" from television.
I decided to address this issue in an assembly. I wanted to engage hearts and minds and I wanted it to be enjoyable and memorable. The solution was to introduce the sure-fire pleasure factor of a song, in this case the timeless ballad Stand by Me.
Most schools have a system for sorting children into house groups, Hogwarts-style, to motivate individuals to work together for the greater good. I could use this, too. As an additional challenge, I decided to make the assembly bilingual.
The house metaphor translated readily into Spanish, with the word casa already familiar to most pupils. And in the context of inter-house rivalry, it was easy to present and reject the anti-social opposition of "amigos" v "enemigos".
From there we moved to the broader concept of diversity within unity: somos todos diferentes (we are all different) and somos todos humanos (we are all human). I illustrated this with iconic images from around the globe and the plurality of world languages.
Listening to the song was the high point of the assembly. The original version by Ben E King is powerful enough, but my multicultural message was delivered perfectly in a cover version by inspirational solidarity project Playing for Change (bit.lyStandByMeSong). It features buskers from countries all over the world - including the US, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain, Venezuela, South Africa, Ghana and Congo - playing instruments such as guitars, cellos, washboards and harmonicas (see images above).
I told the children to listen attentively. I asked them to stand, row by row, each time they heard the words "stand by me".
At the end of the assembly they all stood supportively side by side, singing together as the remainder of the track played out.
The uplifting increase in solidaridad was positively palpable.
Heather Martin was recently appointed assistant headteacher of Kensington Prep School in London
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