Tone Evensen works at Ringsaker adult education centre with newly arrived adolescents. She also teaches adult participants in introduction programmes. Tone emphasises multilingualism and diversity as a resource in the classroom.
In addition to teaching, she is the author of the blog In her blog, she shares her experiences from the classroom, gives advice to other teachers and shares materials and learning resources. Her interest in storytelling in the multilingual classroom comes from her work in the National Centre of Multicultural Education (NAFO) and the Tema morsmål website. For the past four years, she has gradually worked more systematically on different approaches to stories and she has achieved good results. You can read more about this work on her blog and in the book Grenseløse fortellinger (Limitless stories), which was published in 2019. and holds courses and lectures across Norway.
In 2017, she was awarded the European Language Label for ‘promoting language learning, with particular focus on multilingualism, inclusion and identity creation’. In 2018, she was named communicator of the year by Kopinor. Tone Evensen is one of the authors of the digital teaching material , which was published in spring 2020.
Do you know what it’s like to lose everything? Do you know what it’s like to be in prison because you were born in the wrong country? Do you know what it’s like to have to choose between getting married or enlisting in the army? Do you know what it's like to be afraid? Amir, Martin, Sara, Amina and the other participants know. When we let the students work with personal stories, we can all learn something about what life is like for a refugee.
Through the weekly storyteller course we worked towards a performance, in which the students were allowed to work on personal stories on the topic of freedom. What does freedom mean to me?
For several weeks, they struggled to find the words, memories flashed through their minds and they both dreaded and looked forward to telling their stories to an audience. The result was powerful stories that touched the full-capacity audience at the local library. Stories were told about longing, dreams, loss and hopes. It was a powerful and at times emotional encounter between the audience and storytellers.
Let’s tell a story, let’s communicate
For participants who are learning a second language, much of the training is about communication. One of the characteristics of oral storytelling is its ability to trigger interaction. When a story is told, the story is perceived based on individual references, which initiates communication within a group. This interaction contributes to creating a community based on trust.
When the participants get the opportunity to work on their own personal stories ahead of a performance, they invest more in their own language learning. It is important for them to tell their story, not just for their own sake, but also so that others can understand their situation. They struggle to find the right words, to make sure that the listener can understand.
To give the participants an opportunity to reach out to others with their stories gives an extra dimension to the teaching. Telling your story and listening to other people’s stories can bring pleasure, pride and new knowledge. Talking to an audience that listens can have a great impact and the listeners also communicate more comfortably through the context of the story. Listening to what the world looks like from the perspective of a refugee provides important insights into understanding wider society. Through these stories we find common ground.
Creating a sense of security
The most important thing when working in this way is to create a safe learning environment. The students must feel safe, these are their stories and they must decide what they want to communicate. Although telling a personal story can be cathartic, it is important that it feels right for the storyteller to do so. The participants must feel safe, these are their own stories and they must decide what they want to communicate. There has been laughter and tears in the process. The teacher's job is to encourage, cheer on and believe in the students, but if someone does not want to share their story, we must respect that.
When it comes to oral storytelling, it is often the case that the participants with little schooling are the best at it. They are funny and unafraid of telling stories. A lack of reading and writing skills is no impediment. This gives them a new sense of mastery, which motivates them for education.
Here are some ideas that might inspire the students to turn memories into personal stories:
- The day I was born
- Food (traditions, bad cook, grandmother's kitchen, by the campfire etc.)
- Strong women
- My best friend
- A mishap at the hairdresser
- What does freedom mean to you?
- A new beginning
- The first day of school
- My journey
The project, the process and the results are grounded in sound pedagogical theory. The students experience mastery when they stand in front of an audience and present an array of stories, when they feel that their experiences and stories are acknowledged as important. The joy when it is done and you have mastered something difficult is indescribable, and I believe the students gain a sense of confirmation. During the process, they have cooperated and learned from each other's stories, they have been allowed to be creative and they have invested in themselves and their feelings. Personally, I believe that a project like this also prevents outsiderness and contributes, not only to integration, but also inclusion. Altogether, this is MAGICAL!The sense of mastery afterwards is great, and they carry these experiences with them. Creating arenas in which the students can share their stories, experiences, dreams, longing and hopes is important and creates a warmer society.