Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Say Yes to global connections

I once facilitated a live videoconference between a group of forth graders in central Maine and one in Belem, Brazil, on the Amazon. There were wild episodes of hand waving, amid sessions of question and answer. For example:
“What kinds of animals do you have?”
“Moose, porcupines, skunks.”
“Snakes and monkeys.”
“What kind of snakes?”
“Anacondas and Boas…”
I especially remember one boy whose eyes really bugged out at the thought he was talking to kids who had to worry about Anacondas. The hour passed quickly and the kids were certainly engaged on both sides. As it ended, this boy asked a simple question: “We could email them, couldn’t we?” And the teachers said, “yes, let’s look into that.”
I’d like to tell you this story ended well, but unfortunately it ended like so many others in our system, where the demands of standards and NCLB and the pressures to do “instruction” often get in the way of the potential for transformational learning. The actual answer was... “We’d like to, but there won’t be time.” The irony is that saying “yes” is actually a well-researched strategy for improving literacy levels as measured by standardized tests, and good teachers have known this for years.
I write this because in Maine we have a new opportunity in the partnership with ePaLs, and I’d like to challenge teachers to take the plunge. I just checked today, and found dozens of classrooms in countries all over the world, looking for English speaking classes to partner with. I know there is some uncertainty, some pedagogical risk, some inconvenience and messiness in getting involved with global connections, but I believe it’s better to say yes, and… (if it becomes the normal classroom culture, instead of a special event,) it will improve literacy levels.

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