Cultural Awareness and Expression: A cross-curricular tool for classrooms

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Cultural Awareness and Expression, one of the eight key competences for lifelong learning, involves appreciation of the creative expression of ideas, experiences and emotions and active creation in a range of media (music, performing arts, literature and the visual arts). It is a competence that is increasingly used as a cross-curricular tool in European classrooms and it includes a solid knowledge of local, national and European cultural heritage.

Cultural Awareness and Expression can be delivered and incorporated into classrooms and education in a variety of ways. The three projects presented in this article are taken from the Cultural Awareness and Expression Handbook.

‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ performance (with specific focus on conflict between minority and majority cultures)

This project uses a specific theatre format as a learning tool for social change. In the Czech Republic, ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ performances take place between Roma and non-Roma Czechs. The method allows for a whole range of topics to be discussed, including those which are not brought up in mainstream channels. A theatrical performance, where amateur actors act out short and simple stories showing a conflict that escalates into a drama, is produced. The stories are followed by a moderated discussion where the audience analyses the conflict, looking for motivations, behavioural clues of characters and identifying possible solutions to settle the conflict or at least to prevent escalation. The actors play the story again using interventions from the audience whose members can slip into the role of a character and perform the intervention, while the actors improvise new developments. Thanks to this format conflicts can be experienced and resolved both objectively and subjectively.

The project enables participants to develop new aptitudes in cultural awareness and expression. The method of ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ is transferable to non-formal sectors and different stakeholders.

Ways of Seeing I & II – Intercultural Learning Resources for Schools

Ways of Seeing’ is a project based in Ireland and Northern Ireland that promotes cultural dialogue across borders through cooperation that brings schools, educational organisations and museums to work together. It puts a special focus on integrating the increasing number of pupils whose mother tongue is neither English nor Irish. The project is created by the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin and the Ulster Museum in Belfast together with local schools and organisations.

The project uses culturally diverse museum collections to develop interactive and cross-curricular learning resources for teachers and students, for example exploring geometry, maths and science through the mandala exercise – a Buddhist art form and spiritual practice, although geometry is also found in the European and Islamic collections.

Jenny Siung, the head of education at the Chester Beatty Library says that “The project encouraged young students who were new comers to work with museum objects and learn from it, for example, visual literacy. If language is a difficulty, art, objects and museum collections are an interactive way to develop language and literacy skills as well as other skills.”

LOVA – Opera as a vehicle for learning

In 'LOVA', opera is used as a vehicle for learning. Students are involved in the design, development and production of an original opera that integrates the curriculum at various stages of the process. LOVA is a complex form of project-based learning that improves the communication skills of children, while also focusing on emotional development through music, staging, production and several opera jobs. The project promotes the development of expressive components while developing key communication, mathematical, science and technology, digital, social and civic competencies.

“We offer little to connect students to the world as they know it. They don’t know why they should learn what we are teaching. By providing an authentic purpose to learn academic content, students begin to see that they play an active role in their education. When they own it, they develop an intrinsic motivation to know, to do and to be more”, explains Mary Ruth McGinn, a primary teacher who started the LOVA programme in Spain.

Find more examples of projects in the Annex of the Cultural Awareness and Expression Handbook.