This old time classic pen pals project, gave a real purpose and meaning to learning a foreign language and helped the students experience education in a different country through European citizenship ,using Arts and crafts and a new tool: twinspace!
The project lasted a school year and we had to complete many individual items . We had to create common projects about: ourselves, our school, our country , our town ,our favourite sports and hobbies, our customs and special traditions, our most favourite place in our countries , our daily routine and habits and also ,create our pen pals as PUPPETS , reading their appearance descriptions and looking at their self-portraits ! We lived in another country, as our school and country ambassadors, and experienced life in another class, far away from home, for one school year! Puppet-students, wrote on their twinspace diaries about their adventures and collaboratively wrote and put on stage, a puppet play about their experience! Our projects and letters were both sent to our friends by snail mail and uploaded on twinspace, to share and compare, in a different class.
Pedagogical Innovation and Creativity
This was a new and innovative partnership for my school; It was the first time the students participated in such an innovative ETwinning project.
Both, group work and independent research was used by pupils.
The innovation and creativity of the project is based on the following factors:
1.The willingness of the teachers involved to communicate easily – via phone, email, sms
2.All partner schools being inclusive of each other, working as one unit on each common project
3.That the children felt able to be creative with their audience in the partner school in mind and dare to share and compare.They also used their imagination and creativity as well as their artistic skills, in order to create their puppet pals and write/stage their puppet plays.
4.That the learning from the project was so significant that it will not be lost from children’s minds
5.The student-Puppet-Ambassadors, created by and for the students ,served as a meaningful pathway towards understanding and learning more about our friends.
6.Our student-Puppets project, provided the opportunity to break down classroom walls. It gave our students a chance, to see a world outside of their walls.Students, became fully aware of the other European partner countries and their ways of life. Citizenship became a practical ,rather than theoretical, part of the curriculum.
7.Our ETwinning project, encouraged cooperation between teachers and unified learning. It also offered us the chance to collaborate with the local Puppet Theatre and museum,which was highly beneficial for all of us.
The scope of learning widened from English skills to several other subjects. The idea of being partners in a European project, encouraged the pupils to find out more about different European countries, their nature, art, food and ways of living. In the context of European partnerships,our work provided in the shared learning environment were not only learning material, but were a meaningful pathway towards understanding and learning more about our partners.
- In this sense, the true revelation has been that apart from climate and language, people in Europe are essentially very similar with shared values and interests. Surely, this helped us to overcome our prejudices and made us more open to intercultural cooperation.
The theme was chosen deliberately to ensure that the project and its work was as cross-curricular as possible. The areas of ,EFL, social studies, expressive arts, citizenship,and basic IT , have all been integrated into the sharing of our common project activities .
The main focus was to improve the learning of English.
This fitted well into the Curriculum and all my pupils benefited. Our project involved MFL, language, social studies, expressive arts and basic technology.
We held a European Day of Languages to get the rest of the school know our European friends better. We also had “Puppet Theatre” days, when our student-puppet-guests, presented their projects about their country and way of life, to us! It was exciting to lend them our voices and have them “talk” to us-we could also ask them questions! We later,uploaded all the photos on our Twinspace “Puppet Diaries”, where everyone could make comments or just read, share and compare ideas, thoughts and feelings.Finally, we were invited to take part in a local Puppet Theatre Festival, where we had the chance to present our play to the local community!
A second focus was citizenship. By exchanging information about each other’s towns, lives and heritage, the pupils learned a great deal about each other’s environment, way of life and culture. As far as my school is concerned, I made sure that almost all our project activities were connected to each of our English coursebook units. Luckily, our coursebooks , are based on both cross curricular and cross cultural topics quite relevant to our Etwinning project theme! Also, they are based on both creative project work and group collaboration which was highly helpful in our Etwinning project!
I made sure that, ALL my 85 students, in different age and language level, took part in our Etwinning project, a fact that proved to be a real challenge!
Finally, our student-puppet-guests, are going to spend their Summer holidays in our partner countries, write a Summer Diary entry about their Summer adventures and come back home in Autumn, to share it with us.
Communication and exchange between partner schools
From the beginning, there was a strong plan which gave the teachers guidelines, responsibilities and timescale for each element of the project.
What we practically did ,was that, we sent our pen friends all our group projects, on a topic we had already worked on in class and we asked them to reply ,by sending us the same topic based project! The projects we sent, were in the form of posters, flyers, brochures, magazines, PP presentations, albums , videos, etc….In class, we talked about the similarities and differences of cultures and ways of life !
The students’ very first project was their self-portraits and appearance descriptions, which were used to help their pals create their puppet-selves!
Arts and craft played an important role in n our project work !
If the kids felt the need to personalize their work even more, they were free to include little gifts having to do with themselves or the project topic, … I always printed lots of pictures and displayed them on our school notice boards.Students were also encouraged to interact on twinspace ,both at the school ICT lab and from home. This all gave a real purpose and meaning to learning a foreign language.
In these difficult times of financial crisis , our students were able to live abroad, as puppets and experience life in a different country and class for a whole school year ,sharing and comparing our ways of life and making new friends.
The most important tool of the project , was our Twinspace Forums Puppet Diaries: by visiting the Puppet Diaries on a regular basis, the children via their puppets, became ambassadors of our school and country! The pupils shared information and experiences, and thus learned from each other and strengthened their communication skills. They were also encouraged to interact on twinspace Discussion Forums, where they had to answer simple questions about themselves and our projects, as well as to read and make comments on their partners’ replies.
Collaboration between partner schools.
In collaboration the teachers in all countries, decided on the range of topics that we would cover and the optimum time for sending/receiving the correspondence items.
We tried together to do some pre-matching of pupils and classes , based on their known interests.
By all means we ‘recycled’ language that pupils have previously learnt in their English class .
We created a teachers’ e-mail exchange, too and a frequent collaboration on the Teachers’ bulletin.
We all had to make our partner’s Puppet-Self! In other words, create a puppet-pal ,with similar characteristics with our pen pal, to host in our class and country,for the whole school year!
Our puppets, would travel, play and learn, with their pen pals, in another country and class,experiencing a different way of life.
We created our Puppet-Ambassadors Diaries on Forums , which we often updated, with the help of our puppets.
We uploaded videos about our area ,as well as videos about our schools and puppet plays.
We also agreed on the letters and projects which would be implemented by our pupils and agreed on wall display of correspondence received from partner schools .
We made questionnaires, and quizzes about our common projects to see how much we had learned, about each other.
We finally, decided to have our students host our guest Puppets during the summer and write on the Puppets’ Summer Diaries which would later be sent , along with the puppets, back home!
We all agreed that, all students’ final products -our projects, would be achieved through group work ! No group project was sent abroad, before it was presented in class ,with the help of our student-puppet-friends and was later displayed on the classroom walls and ,finally, uploaded on Twinspace Pages.
Use of technology
Some of the partner schools ,had not used most of the web tools we had to use for this project, before .
I had small groups of my students, use Photoshop to enhance and crop photos and then put them into Movie Maker to produce a school video to be posted on Twinspace for other schools to view and had them to create a Quiz about our town. We also used Kizoa to make short videos, padlet to work on our Puppet play script, collaboratively, and a Word Cloud Generator,for feedback.
I have consulted and collaborated with partner teachers using Skype and a webcam. Outcomes and project work were saved on Twinspace ,allowing uploaded materials and presentations to be compared and contrasted easily across all partner countries.My students, were asked to interact with their pen friends on twinspace ,using their home computers, too ! Video-conferencing, using new webcams, were all new experiences for us .Our project brought a new and exciting dimension to our work.
Actually, the ability to use ICT is becoming more and more vital in today’s modern information society. However, ICT skills are still acquired mainly outside public educational institutes, in my country.
Actually, communicating with real people from other countries appeared to motivate the learners in a very special way, also in the use of basic ICT tools, mainly with our ICT teacher’s guidance.
Through ETwinning pupils learn to use ICT tools in a pedagogically meaningful way.
They wrote letters in the forums, chatted, did interactive exercises, took and uploaded digital photos and videos, searched for information, etc. And all this took place in the pedagogical context of studying English communication
Results, impact and documentation
The pupils were inspired and motivated. They had a great deal of fun working collaboratively .
Students had an opportunity to develop a sense of pride and respect toward other traditions. Our Puppet-Ambassadors, made Europe a more real concept, especially for those students who have never traveled abroad.
The organisation and commitment of the students has been very impressive.
The children showed a great interest in exploring another country and its way of life, as well as demonstrating increased motivation in learning a foreign language. They were always eager to participate, found information themselves, drew pictures, made posters, presented the project to other classes and last, but not least, create their own puppets and write their own Puppet play!
The group work of my students was collected, and ultimately, shared with our partners. Writing and illustrating personal responses gave students the opportunity to boost their art and creative writing skills. Reading the personal responses of their European partners, gave students greater insight into their partners’ context and worldview.
The project also brought the class together, as the pupils were working as a team. Through these activities the children also became ambassadors for the school and country .
The pupils learnt from each other and strengthened their communication skills.
All in all, we achieved :
- to promote group activities for tolerance and cultural understanding;
- to strengthen my students’ intercultural competences in order to be ready for responsible understanding of Europe’s identity and common values;
- to develop the European dimension through arts education (puppets) and creativity with the aim to promote multiculturalism and tolerance between students;
- To develop “Out-of-the-box” activities that would encourage mutual support, team building and group cohesion ;
- Encourage personalized learning approaches by acquiring new artistic and pedagogical skills with the aim of developing new ideas and creativity of the students involved in the project