This post was co-authored by Danielle Hartman, English/Literacy Specialist, Technology Integration teacher, Burlington County Institute of Technology, NJ, USA @danielle6849 and Miriam Orlando, ESL teacher and teacher trainer, Liceo Celio-Roccati, Rovigo, Italy, EU @miriam2065
Miriam and I have both been active in global collaborations for some time now. However, this particular collaboration was the best we’ve ever participated in. We decided to analyze our project and share some tips to help you get started.
Finding Global Collaboration Partners
Miriam (Italy, EU): Danielle and I have been working on an awesome intercontinental/global collaboration project since February 2013. And -yes-, ePals is an awfully good global community of teachers and learners where it was pretty easy to find Danielle and her class. I used to start my collaborations on a European scale through eTwinning, a community for Comenius projects, which is another excellent website for European teachers who are interested in starting an international collaboration with another country in Europe. For teachers who are willing to start collaborations and are convinced of the efficacy of project-based methodology, it is urgent to sign up into one of these communities and post their call for collaborations. Then, as Danielle points out, you have to both start the contacts with other community members, and be flexible in welcoming offered collaborations from teachers contacting you. In one word, after signing up, you have to stay active in the community! That’s the best way to find partners.
Danielle (NJ, USA): Miriam and I used ePals to find each other, but there are a variety of platforms that can be used. As an American teacher, you need to know that there are far more of you desiring collaborations than anywhere else. Therefore, you need to do most of the legwork. I usually create a form email that I send out to teachers who have profiles that catch my interest. I try to stay flexible and explore different options. For example, when Miriam and I started working together, I hadn’t even considered Italy! I was looking for a teacher in South America, but my students were very interested in Europe, specifically Italy and England.
Miriam: Once you have found a collaboration partner, you have to be aware of the precious educational opportunity which is opening up for your students and for yourself! So, after the first contact, it is essential for the two educators involved to begin working together and sharing ideas and materials immediately. To start with, I normally share a table containing my students’ names, email addresses, interests, hobbies and free time activities with my collaboration partner. That tool helps in the process of matching pairs of students who will become epals. “Flexibility” is still the keyword at this stage (and throughout the collaboration, I should say), because it might be necessary to match one of your students with two epals if your partner happens to have a larger class than yours.
Danielle: I agree that, often, I have to work with more than one class. I have very successfully allowed my students a choice of 2-3 different geographical areas to correspond with. The students love having a choice. I have found that my male students prefer female partners, and vise versa. I’d also add that it is very important to exchange several emails with a potential partner. Often, if they are not going to follow through with an exchange, you will know it within the first few emails.
Starting The Students’ Email Exchange & Keeping It Going
Miriam: It’s exciting for the students to be given their epals’ email addresses. Normally, they can’t wait to start their correspondence! However, before giving out the email addresses, the two collaboration partners must have agreed on which set of students is going to start the correspondence, which is what Danielle and I did. It is also important to keep the correspondence going with a certain regularity, having the students write to their epals once a week, or once every two weeks. Plus, as an educator, you must be committed to monitor the students’ exchanges, at least at the beginning. This is made possible by the emailing system based on the communities for global collaborations, which offer a very good student mail-safe service.
Danielle: You also might want to agree beforehand on whether or not to encourage additional correspondence via social media. As my students are in high school, I allow, and even advocate, for the students to chat via other sources, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I always check the first few emails. I give the students a journal grade initially. This way, they know that they should be using correct grammar and good form.
Planning a Relevant Project
Miriam: For a successful, interesting and involving collaboration, it is not just enough to have the students email each other. The collaboration must be based on and develop along the planned lines of a shared project that the students will be carrying out. It is not necessary, though, for the collaboration partners to spend long hours planning the activities. Danielle was really creative and effective at directly and quickly sharing her ideas with me, so that we could easily and rapidly put them into practice. Danielle was also great at deciding the topic of our project (“Cultural Awareness”) and, as an expert Technology Integration teacher, at choosing free and easy-to-use web-based tools and facilities (such as Today’s Meet, Weebly, and Google Hangouts) for our students’ output. The keynote of a successful collaboration project must be the centrality of the students. They must really live through the experience in the role of active protagonists. We, teachers, must always work behind the scenes, planning, directing and monitoring our learners’ activities.
Danielle: This was a great collaboration for me because Miriam was so flexible in the lessons! On my end, our curriculum dictates that I do a unit on Cultural Awareness. As part of our sophomore English class, students study a geographical area, read their (contemporary) literature, and, hopefully, participate in a live exchange. Miriam assisted me in finding rich Italian readings. Our students read the same stories and worked together on a blog. They even participated in a live chat once in which they discussed “when cultures collide” through literature. We have even decided to participate in a student exchange. Miriam’s students are coming to New Jersey in April, and my students are traveling to Italy in October!
Meeting Standards and Curriculum Requirements
Danielle: With the advent of the Common Core Standards, there is little time for activities that don’t work towards meeting objectives. I focused on meeting the speaking and listening standards, along with W.9-10.6; publishing shared writing products, and RL.9-10.6; analyzing a cultural experience reflected in a work of literature. I found the collaboration to be a highly effective way to meet these requirements.
Miriam: As an Italian/European ESL secondary school teacher, I have to meet the standards of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) and namely I have to get my students to reach level B1 by the end of their second grade at secondary school. Thanks to this excellent global collaboration with Danielle and her students, my kids developed their oral/aural and written interaction skills in an exceptionally short time, they acquired fluency and the right frame of mind for language learners. I could really say that most of them have already reached level B1 at interaction!
You can see some of our collaboration here.
Tips For A Successful Global Collaboration:
Tip # 1 – Be Flexible.
Tip # 2 – Be Enthusiastic!
Tip # 3 – Project Around Your Students’ Interests.
Tip # 4 – Encourage And Exploit The Use Of Students’ Favorite Social Media.
Tip # 5 – Use Free Web-Based Facilities And Tools.
Tip # 6 – Be Emotional: Exploit the Power of Passion-Based Learning/Teaching.
Tip # 7 – Be creative! Don’t be afraid to deviate from your original plan.
Tip # 8 – Be Quick and Active!
Tip # 9 – Get Deeply Involved and Make Friends.
Tip # 10 – Have Fun!