My first encounter with Literacy Through Photography was in January of 2009, almost exactly three years ago. I spent that Spring in Katie Hyde’s class at Duke University learning about LTP and the ideas and projects of Wendy Ewald. I had always loved photography and saw it as a way to capture my memories. However, after the class and experiencing LTP in Arusha, Tanzania, I started to see the powerful impact the medium could have on a student, a school, or even a community.
I came back from Tanzania and worked again with LTP in Durham. However, as an undergraduate student, my commitment was at most three or four months at a time. I had always wondered how LTP would look if I structured it into a more long-term curriculum. Thankfully, I got that chance this past year. After graduating, I got a job as a teacher at a small international school in Malang, Indonesia. I am so thankful that I get to work in a place where the curriculum is flexible and the staff is always looking for new approaches to get students to love and appreciate learning.
One of my favorite LTP projects I tried at this school was the alphabet project for an 8th grade World History class. This class is diverse learning-wise as we have a few students who are native English speakers, a few who are English as a Second Language (ESL), and others scattered in between. They had just finished learning about the Byzantine Empire and Russia, but a few were still having trouble with key terms and facts. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity for an LTP project. I decided on the alphabet project because there were many terms and ideas the students needed to comprehend.
We started off by brainstorming different words for the alphabet. The students came up with their own lists and after discussion with each other, they decided on an alphabet for the class to do together.
The class decided that for the letter “Y” they should pick the phrase “Y study this?” I was glad to see that the students were already one step ahead of me and were thinking about the significance of the lesson, rather than on the sheer memorization of a word.
We then assigned a “director” for each letter. The director would decide what to take a picture of and who s/he wanted to be in the picture. Some students struggled with how to take a picture – i.e. “But we don’t have snow here, so how would we take a picture of Russia?” However, after some encouragement and more brainstorming, all of the students had ideas on how to creatively portray Russia and the Byzantine Empire.
Therefore the second day of the project, we dove into taking pictures. I felt that this is where I had overestimated how much I could do. I had always worked in a team or at least a pair when working with LTP projects. And while the students are older than the average students I had worked with in LTP, there were too many of them for me to be able to supervise. I had difficulty trying to a) be efficient with the allotted time for my class period but also b) let the students take careful time and effort to get the results they desired.
Therefore what ended up happening was the whole class moved in a group to different locations. Although this process took longer than I had originally anticipated, I was able to supervise students alone and the students also had a chance to observe each other during this time. This proved to be beneficial, as they would often give ideas to the “director” of the photograph or talk amongst each other about the topic at hand.
One of the images I thought was extremely creative was Q – Quest. At first the students seemed to be daunted by the word, but then the “director” in charge of the photo decided to take a picture of ants. When I asked why, she replied that the “quest” of ants looking for food symbolized people of the Byzantine Empire on a “quest” for hidden cultural artifacts. This encouraged other students to think out of the box about their words. After the students finished taking the pictures, I had the photographs printed out and laid the images out for the students to see. Each student picked photographs that they wanted to write a short paragraph about, and got to work. The students took some time to “read the picture” – what was in the picture that related to the topic? Did the photographer leave any hints or clues? Some of the students began with a draft using the pre-writing process I often encourage and others started writing furiously on the colored sheets of paper. Many of them shared their writings with their neighbors.
I put up the pictures in my classroom so that the entire alphabet was displayed with the students’ writings. The first people to see the work were not my students, themselves, but other students of the school. They were impressed and took time in looking at each and every picture. My class was extremely proud of their work, and so was I.
One of the things I have grown to love about LTP is that it does not matter where you take it – Durham, Arusha, or even a little town in Indonesia. People are all looking for a way in which they can express themselves, and if given the encouragement, they will amaze you in ways you never thought were possible. And yes, there are bumps and challenges along the way, but as I learned in Arusha: pole pole, hakuna matata… slowly, slowly, no worries. I am so thankful that I get to experience LTP every day, little by little, pole pole.