I have been doing international projects with students of all ages and levels for about twenty years.

User-generated content

Nina MK, Ph.D.
I have been doing international projects with students of all ages and levels for about twenty years. Naturally one cannot start with a complicated project at once. Surprisingly, not every school child can use a computer or owns a touch screen device. This means that at first, I check their ICT skills. If necessary, I teach them how to use the technology, and how to put their knowledge of English to advantage. Quite often, we teachers come across the following situation: a savvy teenager spends a lot of time surfing, browsing, posting and communicating in their native tongue only. It does not occur to them to do the same, in English; nor do children have a good grasp of the Internet Safety concept. It happens because nobody told them to use their recently acquired foreign language skills on the web; and children have to be taught about the dangers which can seep from the virtual world into the real one, unless they are careful. “Do not talk to strangers!” may be a familiar maxim. Do not talk to strangers in chat-rooms, do not give out any personal information in any virtual medium, those are the ideas which take time to sink in. Thus, our task is manifold:

* Check the students ICT skills
* Show them some useful and fascinating sites in English
* Drill the basic safety rules into them
* Start working on user-generated content
* If possible, open up a few windows into the world; take part in an international project

Via several teachers’ organizations like I*EARN, International Education and Resource Network, or EUN, The European Schoolnet, you may find a partnership with any school in the world. With younger children, or with the beginners, an email correspondence may be a good start. Many times in my life, I have seen primary school pupils enthusiastically compose very short messages, every letter a different colour of the rainbow, to their peers around the globe. It is a joy to behold. Children can draw pictures, write down short captions, and post them online. This work may be topic-oriented, or free-floating. Gradually, your class will progress to creating their own sites, and their personal pages. My fifth-graders, for instance, took pictures of our town, made colourful maps, and wrote short stories about their families, their school and their hobbies. With my graduating class, I got an offer from a major national educational publisher to make a video of our lesson. We chose a topic, discussed and rehearsed it, and then had it all filmed as per requirements. The DVD was released just in time for their graduation; you can imagine the excitement of all the adolescents, the happiness and extra pride it brought to their families. The DVD was distributed to many schools around the country as a teaching aid, and I received a lot of emails from my colleagues asking the same question: “How do you manage to conduct the whole lesson in English?” The answer is, you do it by speaking English, and by teaching your students to do the same.

Many international projects are coordinated by wonderful specialists, who offer the templates, the timeline, the format; they help the participants to connect, and to solve all the problems, be they technical or cultural. The best feature of such an activity for me is, we do not need to make students do anything. The choice is large, and there are great activities for any age, level and interest. Once you establish a timeline, which can be the whole academic year or just one term, you can allot a regular short session for checking up on the students work. It may be the last lesson of the month. Some of them would bring in essays; others may prefer pictures, diagrams, or web research. I have had middle-school children spontaneously presenting very good translations of songs and games descriptions, and older students bravely working with Shakespeare’s texts. The time differences would preclude our working simultaneously with the partners: here in Siberia, we are five hours ahead of Europe; it is six hours with the UK, eleven, twelve or even fifteen with the USA; Australia, Japan and New Zealand are way ahead of us. This in itself is a good educational motive. If the project progresses well, individual students would find a time slot to connect with their peers in the evenings from their homes, and would report about it next morning in class. Some virtual friendships actually grow into real ones, and students visit each other’s families later, during a summer break.
Statistics tell us that 85% of school children consider communication the #1 reason for their coming to school. Once they understand that it is possible to use their ICT and language skills to post something of their own on the web so that it is understood and appreciated by their peers with the same skills, they become more and more successful in both spheres, and they certainly develop learner autonomy
Useful links:
International Education and Resource Network
The European School Network

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