Right now, more than a billion people don’t have a home- that’s one in seven of the world’s population.
There are only two places you can be in life: home or away.
Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley is incredibly powerful, stunning and shocking at the same time as it gives a new meaning to walking in someone else’s shoes. It recounts the story of a typical Australian family who are forced to flee as refugees when war ravages our country and is told in first person through 15 year old Toby’s diary entries.
This is an excellent text to use in a grade 5/6 classroom; both my brother and my sister were read this book when they were at this level in primary school. What makes it so excellent is that the story is told from a protagonist not too far removed from their age group and the story is no longer about someone from somewhere students have trouble connecting to, now it is us, Australians, who are facing these problems. Some children though may have even come from a situation such as the one in the book so they will be able to better connect with the story. If this is the case they can if comfortable help other students in their understanding of the themes behind the text. As in real life there is no happy ending in this book. The tone of the book is brought down by some of the illustrations looking like a child’s drawings so that the book is not too confronting for the target age.
At English VELS level 4 students should be able to interpret and respond to a wide range of multimodal texts and print, understand textual features, analyse and discuss different perspectives in different texts on the same topic and identify ways in which texts present values and attitudes. They should also be able to use structure and features appropriate to purpose and audience and be able to use appropriately organise ideas and select vocabulary, text structures and visual features to effectively communicate.
This book also fits into the Humanities curriculum as at this level students are expected to be able to compare are contrast the values and beliefs of Australians and people of other cultures, and see the significance of events in their own society and to be able to explain the difference between needs and wants.
Using this book in the classroom with 5/6’s the teacher would use it to prompt discussion about refugees. Students can discuss how refugees feel, the difference between illegal immigrants and refugees, why they need to seek refuge and look at the government’s viewpoint on the situation is.
Students can analyse the effects of loss on refugees by doing a compare/contrast activity where they look at how the characters are at the start of the book compared to how they are at the end. Students can also use role play/dramatization and debating to look at the topics in the book as well as investigate the topic through interviews, books, the internet and other sources.
A good activity would be to ask the students to write their own stories (a recount) of being a refugee. This would be a good time to show students that recounts can be fictional and that recounts can be personal (such as a diary entry), factual, or imaginative and link it back to previous learning about recounts. For this activity students can work in pairs, a student who is say at level 3.5 can help a student at level 3.25 so that they are learning through teamwork with the teacher scaffolding their learning as appropriate.
Not all students learn the same and other modes of presentation for this task could be used such as recording their activity, using Prezi , Glogster, or a simpler PowerPoint.