Transcontinental ELD

A few years ago a friend of mine, Ruth,  contacted me with this crazy (BRILLIANT) idea – to have our students become pen pals. I know, you’re thinking, “That’s not crazy, in fact it’s not even a new idea.” Yeah, I know. You see, my friend lives, and teaches, in Spain – the Basque Country. Ah, now you see how cool this is.

Ruth had a group of ‘less than enthusiastic’ 6th graders. They had little desire to go to school let alone learn English. She thought if our classes became pen pals (yup, pretty much the old fashioned way), it would motivate them AND get them to practice reading and writing in English. She started it off with her students writing letters on a computer. We shared a Dropbox folder (I said pretty much the old fashioned way) to ‘deliver’ the letters. The result, it worked so well, the next year her students asked when they would get to write to kids in America.

Admittedly, Ruth and I thought it would be a one-off sort of thing that first year. However, last year when she asked if I was interested I couldn’t wait to get it going again. Last year we upped it to 50 students on my side and around 40 on hers. The students shared about themselves and figured out how to take photos on the computer to share on their letters.

This year…

Ruth and I upped our game! Okay, it was all Ruth. She is at a new school and she quickly reBeginning of Videoalized that writing to us in English would be a struggle. We had discussed the idea of videos before, but she was up against some rules preventing images of the students from appearing online. So this year, we are sending videos! We are sharing our videos privately. Yesterday, we received our first video from our pen pals. The students were FANTASTIC! Ruth relayed a story about a girl in her class who was so excited, went onto Google Translate to help her get started. The student did all this on her own time! What a great activity this is already turning out to be.

Her students hard work was noticed. My students were impressed with their efforts. They asked if the Basque students were reading from something, because they wanted to be able to read from their notes too. I think they realized how scary the whole thing can be. They were so excited to get started on making a video for them some didn’t even wait for their video to be over before they started asking me when we can start.

Many of my students speak Spanish at home and asked if they could speak Spanish in their video. I said that they absolutely could. I even challenged some of my non-Spanish speakers to learn a few things to say in Spanish. Upon hearing that, a few students went onto Google Translate, while others volunteered to help translate for students. So my students will introduce themselves, in English, and hopefully send an additional message along, in Spanish.

I’m excited to see where this leads.

Pen Pals

Basque Country

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.


Problems Solved:

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.

Student Response:

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.