Image: Students deliver their presentations in the final session of ‘To be’: the ESOL Shakespeare Project’
Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen shines a spotlight on the finale of an innovative ESOL project, which was held over two sites and involved 15 academics from the School of Advanced Study and 20 adult learners from London’s Cardinal Hume Centre.
In my last Talking Humanities blog post, I gave readers an idea of the structure and intention of a community engagement project that would celebrate the work of William Shakespeare by connecting the themes of six of his tragedies to contemporary academic research. Over the course of the last three weeks, six academics delivered mini-lectures on-site at the Cardinal Hume Centre in Westminster and a further nine have either taken part in the opening or closing lessons.
Our project culminated in a ‘flipped’ learning event where students presented their own mini-lectures to academics. The prompt to choose a writer, or story that was important to them produced powerful personal responses, and myself, Dr Francesco Ricatti, visiting fellow, Institute of Modern Languages Research, and Sonya Rahaman, Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) PhD candidate, had the pleasure of a preview during rehearsals.
On Friday 27 May, comfortably located in Senate House Library’s S T Lee seminar room, school was in session for SAS academics as the learners delivered their readings on an inspiring writer, or story that meant something to them. Without exception, each academic in attendance learned something about literary works they were previously unaware of, and the value of our exchange was evident from their feedback.
Along with the academics who delivered the original lectures, we also hosted Dr Shahrar Ali (internationalisation fellowships team leader) and Dr Balasubramayan Chandramohan (ICWS) who both took part in the first ESOL project last year. They were joined by colleagues from the Human Rights Consortium and Senate House Library (SHL) – Dr Sophie Rigney and Dr Maria Castrillo – to hear the learners present on a variety of topics.
One chose a personal story about political activism, while another translated a moral tale on compassion learned during childhood. The work and lives of two Syrian poets, Nizar Qabbani and Muhammad al-Maghut, were represented as were those of Bolivian writer, Adela Zamudio and the Algerian novelist, Mohamed Moulessehoul. Acknowledging how the event honoured the library as a place of stories, Dr Richard Espley, SHL’s head of modern collections, wrote in his feedback: ‘I left the room thinking that somewhere in that couple of hours is a potted expression of what universities and libraries should be doing, but often aren’t.’
From Dr Julian Burger, who related two decades of United Nations experience, to a lecture on discrimination, justice and women’s rights in The Merchant of Venice, each academic did an outstanding job in delivering on-site lectures. Alex Curry, a PhD candidate at the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS), proved a favourite with many of the learners. They appreciated his warm, open manner and willingness to use personal reflections, as well as his research, to explore ideas of citizenship and the state in Othello. The informal style of Dr Esther Lopez’s (ILAS) discussion on land rights issues in The Tempest was also a winner, as was the passionate lecture about trauma in Macbeth by Dr Catherine Gilbert (Centre for Postcolonial Studies), who related the themes of this play to her work with survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
By far the harder task was completed by the students who took on the role of lecturing in a language they are still studying. Crucially, while preparing for this, they were also taking part in their daily classes as part of our intensive project. In one week we worked on three plays in a row, yet attendance was high throughout.
Improved listening skills was frequently cited by students as one of the benefits gained from our sessions. Expanded vocabulary and improved conversational skills were also noted, and learners felt that the opportunity for lengthy discourse with native speakers was also valuable. The Merchant of Venice and Othello, were their favourite plays with the class unanimously agreeing that these works, although written more than 400 years ago, had contemporary relevance for today’s audiences.
Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen is an associate fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies working on the publication of her doctoral thesis. Prior to completing her PhD, she worked as an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) tutor in London and as a volunteer ESOL tutor at the Cardinal Hume Centre, a Westminster based charity that supports the homeless and badly housed by providing access to education, training and advice.