Snapshot of Practice: Teaching Migration through Storytelling, Authenticity, and Dialogue

Kim Young is a Social Studies teacher at Weston High School in Weston, Massachusetts. She has been teaching Grade 9 World History for the last 14 years.

Making the decision to include the study of migration as a focused theme for my 9th grade World History classes was an easy one – it is a complex issue that all students need greater understanding of to be informed global citizens.  Deciding, however, on how to teach about migration to my students took much longer reflecting, learning, and planning. In piloting a new curriculum on migration with my students during the 2016-2017 school year, I tried to emphasize storytelling, authenticity, and dialoging.  A key piece to this planning involved deciding my students would participate in the Out of Eden Learn (OOEL) Special Learning Journey: Stories of Human Migration as the Project Zero curriculum complemented these goals.


As “one’s own culture and history is key to understanding one’ relationship with others” (Global Competency Matrix, World Savvy) our classroom study of migration started with the personal. After watching an introductory video from Harvard’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator (GHELI) to gain understanding of migration vocabulary, students practiced using the vocabulary by making it personal. As part of OOEL’s Footstep #1 Our Own Stories of Migration, students asked family members or close friends about personal stories of movement, and then classified these movements using the video definitions.

Students developed these personal connections through the process of storytelling by investigating one instance of migration in greater detail and retelling this story of migration using a digital storytelling tool to post on the Out of Eden Learn message board.  One of the more popular tools students used for storytelling was Pixtotale, which brings together a series of scrolling images with captions. One student, Anissa Zhang, used Pixtotale to share her father’s story of migration from China.  Through this activity, students started to see the study of migration as relevant to their own lives.  This increased student engagement and began the process of developing empathy before getting into the more complex aspects of migration.

As we moved deeper into the study of migration, an emphasis on storytelling remained, through the use of visual and text based primary sources.  As part of OOEL Footstep #4, Migration Today, students also explored storytelling through 360 video (virtual reality) resources “The Displaced” from The New York Times and “Forced From Home” from Doctors Without Borders.


Young’s students using virtual reality tools to explore stories from refugees from The New York Times and Doctors Without Borders.


Creating authentic assessment activities was critical to the success of our study of migration.  I moved away from traditional models of summative assessment, instead focusing on formative assessments and project-driven summative assessments.

Participating in the Out of Eden Learning Journey on Migration provided an authentic audience for student work.  In classroom skill-based lesson plans students practiced globally competent historical thinking skills through the topic of migration and then showed their progress on these skills through completing the OOEL footsteps.  Although I read (and graded) students work as well, sharing their work with peers throughout the world gave it deeper meaning and purpose.  As migration is inherently a topic that involves movement, and therefore an area larger than your local community, connecting with the world was even more important than with other units of study.


Given the controversial and political nature of discussions about migrants and migration policy, integrating learning activities that focused on how to engage in the process of dialogue vs. “winning” a debate was also important.  Emphasizing dialogue complimented a focus on understanding diverse perspectives – my goal as an educator not being to change students’ views, but to give students skills for investigating the world so their opinions are based on well-balanced research and understanding of other points of view.

Students began practicing by using the dialoguing tools to interact with global peers on the Out of Eden Learn platform.  Through these online dialogues, students had to use their skills of empathy and understanding multiple perspectives in order to engage with other students’ work.

Students also engaged in dialogue by participating in a symposium on Forced Migration hosted at the High School.  A variety of experts, practitioners, and service providers where invited to speak to students.  Students felt “the most beneficial part was just being able to interact with other people who were experts and ask them questions” and that “it was intriguing to hear about the experience of someone who was actually in the region, rather than learning from a database online.”  By dialoguing with experts, students gained confidence in sharing what they had learned, which will help extend the learning into other areas of their lives.

I am thankful for the summer recess to provide an opportunity for reflection and further revision of this year’s pilot attempt at integrating the study of migration into my World History curriculum.  I can’t wait until September to continue to evolve best practices in storytelling, authentic assessment, and dialoguing and expand my schools participation in Out of Eden Learn to more classrooms and grade levels.

What are some of your best practices, greatest successes, biggest failures?  Share below in the comments.

You can read more about Kim’s teaching through her blog or following her on twitter @9thWorldHistory.

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