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Separation and Connection: Children Negotiating Difference

Margaret Somerville

I'm half Samoan. I talk a little bit of Tongan at home.

My favourite sports are basketball, footy, cricket and soccer.

At home I speak normally English because my brother and my sister don't understand me. At Church I speak Samoan but at the shops I speak English. I like speaking Samoan best 'cause I always trick my brothers and sisters. I'm always loud outside in the playground because I get bullied and I just get embarrassed so I shout at them and all that. I done all this [on my map] because it matches the colours of my church. The person is me and I go to church and I did lines because it looks better.

(Tao, Grade 3, Erehwon Public School)

'Tao' drew a map of his everyday language practices as part of a project about how we can better connect children's home languages and dialects to their school learning. Two classes of children from a school in the Mt Druitt area in Western Sydney took part in the study. The school, like many in Western Sydney, has high enrolments of Aboriginal children (24 per cent) and high enrolments of refugee and migrant children (40 per cent). It is also classified as low socioeconomic status and caters to many high needs children. I visited the school on many occasions during the year-long pilot study (2014) which will be continued as a fully funded study in 2015. This conversation with Tao took place in the Grade 3 classroom where the children displayed the maps that they had reworked after we had previously collected them for our research and returned them to the children. They proudly spread the maps on the tables and we all viewed them. Some children offered to be recorded while we looked at their maps and Tao was one. I wasn't planning to write about these children and the language mapping project until a week in July 2014 when the world witnessed saturation coverage of internecine violence against children on the television news. I wanted to do something against the deep existential despair of this violence by considering the children's map making project in terms of social sustainability. I felt impelled to think about how we might design classroom pedagogies that spring from how children learn to live with radical difference in an increasingly globalised and precarious world.

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