More often than not we tend to look into what students are learning to the point of view of language alone, and tend to bring to class only the things we are comfortable with. One of the things I have learned though through my teaching career is not to be afraid to take students on board and learn together. It has been always my philosophy that I don’t know all things related to language and I can’t pretend I do (although some Ss do expect me to know it “all”, but that is another story). That has also been part of my personal philosophy, so doing that in class was never something odd or awkward. And recently with the advent of technology and the number of opportunities available, I feel at times overwhelmed. But even so, I keep in mind that it is just a tool and as so, I shall not be afraid to use digital tools in class whenever it is appropriate and useful for enhancing learning, even when I don’t master the tools myself. And that is exactly what happened when I took the challenge of linking up my class to Gemma’s class in South Korea through videos. I had never edited any recording. And had no idea how to do it.
But what has this project represented for me and my students?
The Virtual Exchange Project or Linked Classrooms ( Alex Walsh has a wonderful blogpost – Creating a Linked Classroom Part 1 ) is a concept that put students in the center of the communication, and relating it to culture Shrishti Choudhary summarized well in our discussion group over Facebook as follow,
It is all about sharing, collaborating & enhancing our horizons. An effort to erase all the geographical boundaries in an effort to understand each other better and to learn more from the students via dynamic interactive discussions. Share the knowledge & feel the joy…..
And this is the first lesson learned. I can remember very well, when living in London and in Alexandria, how important it was understanding language through the eyes of the speakers I was trying to understand and communicating with, taking into consideration their personal beliefs and life experiences. It made language learning meaningful because it was about learning how to communicate with those people, and not just a bunch of words on a sheet of paper. And interesting enough I had never realised that until I started engaging with teachers online. It probably has also something to do with the fact that learning in a monolingual classroom diminishes the function of language in communication when it comes to productive skills. And teens especially feel awkward to speaking in English in class when they could be speaking in Portuguese. You need the other one to make communication a need. And related to this aspect for teens it has already had already made an impact. Couple of them have said that now they understand they have to speak well to communicate with other English Speakers. They are eager to communicate with others in their own ways. And this is my second lesson learned. Give them the opportunity to engage through authentic and meaningful interactions and they will. Teens need freedom to make decisions and lots of guidance and time to reflect on their own decisions and outcomes. I learned to give them more credit and that they are all capable of doing more than my limited perception of them have ever thought of.
For those interested in Linked Classroom and engaging students in Virtual Exchange projects, here are some cool links to get you started:
Alex Walsh research paper on Computer Mediated Communication in Korean Public Schools: a Case Study of a Middle School Project in Busan, South Korea.
John Pfordresher shares thoughts on connecting classrooms – Kotesol Spring 2013 Publication.
“Tweet! Retweet! Share! Open the doors of your classroom and let your students learn from their international peers.” – Arjana Blazic gives a great interview to Daily Edventures website.
Discussing Virtual Exchange Projects – a Facebook group for teachers to share, collaborate and coordinate projects.
#ELTLink hashtag on Twitter to share all things related to Linked Classrooms.
Anna Loseva wrote for Blogathon at the BC website about Students Connected – a Facebook community for students aged 17+ (and their teachers, too).