Last year a friend of mine, who teaches in Spain (Basque Country), contacted me with the idea about our students becoming pen pals. There were several issues that needed to be worked out before we could begin. Her students spoke very limited English, their 1st language varied from Spanish to Basque to Arabic. A group of her students were Gypsies and had little interest in school, and her school has VERY strict Internet policies for students.
Of course my initial response was to have my students use Google to communicate, but with her school’s policies, that wasn’t possible. Our next best idea was to use Dropbox. She had her students type letters on her computer which she then uploaded into a shared file in Dropbox. When all the files were ready, I passed them out to my students. The initial reaction was that of excitement. My students loved that they had a connection to a student in another country, on another continent.
While they were excited with the new activity, they were also intrigued to see that many of those in Spain were just like them. The boys (in Spain) that had written that they enjoyed soccer were the Pen Pals that my boys fought over. One student (Spain) wrote that her brother plays soccer, but she didn’t like it and went on to describe all the things that she liked to do. Of course, my girls all wanted to write back to her. Then there was one special student. My friend had told me about her. I chose a student who would be sensitive and write a quality letter back. This particular student was having a hard time assimilating to her new home in the Basque Country. She was from the Middle East and bullied at school. The student I chose to pair her up with was an outgoing and kind girl. When my student wrote her response, the bullied girl was envied because her Pen Pal had written so much. It also helped her to gain confidence.
All in all it was a success. The Spanish students were able to practice their English, and even the most reluctant student was completely engaged. My friend reported seeing a change in those students who had little interest in school. Some of her students asked to write. It was a first for many of them to want to do something school related.
So Now What?
Well, today I was pleasantly surprised with an email from my friend. It seems that her current group of students are aware of the Pen Pal program we had going and asked her when they get to do it! So here we go, our second go-around with this. We are even thinking of doing videos this year. There are still the same strict policies that she must adhere to, but we think we can work it out. We will be using Dropbox again. Today I shared with my class what we will be doing. They seem eager and on board.