Cherished Traditions: ELL Teachers Create a Cultural Video Project
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, March/April 2023 Issue
By Sukhdeep Birdi, Harjit Chauhan, and Kawaldeep Ghuman
As ELL teachers for the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows district in British Columbia, we’ve noticed that a fervour of excitement fills the air at our schools each time a major holiday approaches. Students happily share their family traditions and customs, whether that means enjoying a bountiful meal at Thanksgiving or leaving cookies and milk for Santa at Christmas.
The excitement is so contagious that even our ELL students, who may be new to these holidays, often want to join in the festivities too. Naturally, they also want to reciprocate and discuss their own cultural celebrations, such as Eid and Diwali, with their peers. But while they feel comfortable doing so during small-group literacy lessons, many don’t know how, or feel too shy, to share with other students in larger settings.
In an effort to support our students and help them begin these conversations, we decided to create authentic resources that would highlight the wide range of celebrations, festivals, and holiday traditions that are important to them so that everyone in our school district could take part.
What Is Diwali?
We decided to first create resources for the festival that we were most familiar with: Diwali. Diwali is a festival of lights that’s celebrated around the world by Sikhs, Jains, and Hindus to symbolize light over darkness. It is observed every year in mid-October or early-November at the time of the new moon, which is the darkest day of the month. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, which means “rows of lighted lamps.”
Houses, shops, and various public places are decorated with small oil lamps called diyas that represent happiness and health. Diyas are also lit around the gurdwara or temple, which people visit in the evening to offer prayers and good wishes for the future and their loved ones. Women, men, and children typically wear traditional outfits and jewellery, often brand new, as wearing new clothes represents a fresh start.
In preparation for Diwali, people make rangoli, which is a type of traditional art that uses coloured rice, dry flour, flower petals, and diyas to make designs near the door entrance. Rangoli symbolizes welcoming others into your home. Another type of Diwali art that is commonly practiced is the use of mehndi or henna. It is applied to the hands and leaves a beautiful orange/reddish stain when it dries, signifying good luck and happiness.
Diwali is perhaps the best time to let our loved ones know how much they mean to us. Each family celebrates Diwali in their own way with festive and joyful activities, although many gather together to eat special dishes and sweets, and to share gifts. As a way of wrapping up the festival, families often enjoy Bhangra music and dance, and light fireworks and sparklers.
The First Project
We began our project by searching our school and community libraries and investigating online resources such as Teachers Pay Teachers and YouTube for inspiration. There were a variety of existing resources at our disposal, but as the three of us had each grown up celebrating Diwali, we thought it might be useful to make a personal and authentic video that would highlight our own experiences with the festival. It was our hope that such a video project could be easily accessible for the school community.
At the time, due to the pandemic, we were working both remotely and in-person, and had to take precautions with how to plan the project. We relied heavily on Zoom meetings to pool our ideas, and spent countless hours online together in the evenings after our children had gone to sleep.
First, we wrote a script using kid-friendly language to explain Diwali, then collected images and took photos of our own family celebrations to provide additional visual components for the video. Next we had to find a videographer to document the project. Luckily, after some extensive research, we came across someone local who was willing to make a home visit for a few hours of filming.
On the morning of the video shoot, we lit diyas, hung up artificial marigold garlands, laid out plates of mithai (sweets), and donned our traditional outfits. After setting out a few other symbols of Diwali that would be shown in the video, it was time to film.
The recording process took almost three hours. We talked about what Diwali is and how it is celebrated; we also prepared rangoli, applied henna, and danced to Bhangra music.
Then the videographer took the film back to the studio for editing. We continued to communicate with the editor until the video was complete, and were beyond thrilled with the end result!
Once the project was finished, the Diwali video was shared within our school district. As an additional resource, we also attached a lesson plan that we made for teachers to use as part of their instruction.
The feedback from students and staff across grade levels was overwhelmingly positive. Many teachers expressed that they used the video as a teaching tool in their classrooms. After receiving such encouraging feedback, we decided to produce a second video—this time led by students—about Ramadan and Eid the following spring.
Facts about Ramadan and Eid
For millions of Muslims across the world, Ramadan is an important time of the year. It is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it begins on the first sighting of the new crescent moon. Ramadan is a month of good deeds and charity, such as sharing with those in need, and is a new beginning for many Muslims.
A significant part of Ramadan is fasting. According to those practicing Ramadan, fasting is a sign of gratitude and it cleanses the body. Muslims regularly pray five times a day and during Ramadan they do extra prayers at home or at a mosque.
At the end of the Ramadan month, there is a three-day celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, which means the festival of breaking the fast. Eid starts with a prayer. Some people dress up and gather to enjoy a feast, treats, and to exchange gifts. It is a time for reflection with family and community.
Another Holiday Video
For the second video, we approached another ELL colleague, Moona Tyers, to collaborate with us, as she had her own memorable experiences of celebrating these holidays. One of her ELL students participated in the project as well.
We spent many recesses and lunch breaks helping students practice their lines for the video. With great enthusiasm, students were happy to answer questions and share their personal experiences of Ramadan. Then we contacted the school district videographer and set the schedule for filming. We emailed the script and also provided photographs sent in by our students and families to be included in the project.
On the day of filming, we started the morning at Kawaldeep’s school, where we all gathered to film the introduction. Her students shared stories about Eid, such as how their families decorate and celebrate the holiday. One Grade 2 student even performed an original song!
Then we went to Sukhdeep’s school, where her students answered questions about Ramadan. For example: What does it mean to fast for Ramadan? What type of clothes do people wear during that month? And what foods are special to Ramadan?
Finally, the videographer finished filming at Moona’s school, where she and her students shared their personal experiences of celebrating Ramadan and Eid. Although the video was shot at three different schools, the videographer did an amazing job of compiling it into one beautiful presentation and we were very appreciative of the final product.
We shared the video within the district and included resources we had found online and in the library. The feedback from this video was superb! Students were thrilled to have played a big role in its creation. They enjoyed dressing up in traditional clothing, as well as being able to share their knowledge, personal experiences, and family traditions about Ramadan and Eid. All of the participating students were so proud of how the video turned out and were eager to share it with their friends and family.
After watching our videos, staff shared that they had not seen this type of resource before and were grateful for it. They were surprised how we found the time to put it together. The Indo-Canadian ELL students were inspired to see their own cultures represented in the videos and were excited to make personal connections to them. Families even reached out to us to share their gratitude.
For us, we were happy to amplify our students’ voices and raise cultural awareness within our school communities. As for what’s next? We are hoping to collaborate again and create even more videos that honour the diversity of our students and celebrate the beauty of their cherished traditions.
Sukhdeep Birdi, Harjit Chauhan, and Kawaldeep Ghuman are English Language Learning teachers in the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows School District in British Columbia (District #42).