Collaborative learning project
Over the last three years, the EAL departments at Island School in Hong Kong and the International School of Brussels have been working together on a joint language initiative. With a focus on peer learning and collaboration, the project has brought significant benefit to IB English Language B students at both schools. Chris Jay reports from Hong Kong.
The link was established through David Ripley’s website http://www.thinkib.net/englishb, a place where teachers can exchange contact details.
The project has primarily been conducted with our English B classes in the IB Diploma Programme. We use the social learning network Edmodo as a platform for communicating and sharing content, which makes posting and responding to other posts easy and in real time.
Social and academic focus
The shared tasks we post range from social activities, such as exchanging plans for the holidays, to more exam-oriented activities such as developing a personal response to a quotation. In addition, students also post voice files sharing mock individual oral responses. In the first year of the IB DP course, we use a structured approach to the collaboration, while the second-year collaboration tends to be on a more ad hoc basis. The tasks and the platform lend themselves well to individual, group and whole-class interactions.
Peer collaboration – the benefits
Teachers and students have both found there to be a range of benefits to the collaboration. In particular, the students almost immediately exhibited higher levels of motivation when producing work for their peers in Asia and Europe, respectively. There seemed to be an added awareness of representing themselves, their class and their school, which in turn seemed to raise their energy and enthusiasm levels. Most notably, their editing and proofreading skills, which are often neglected in student work, became much more polished and thorough.
The major advantage of the collaboration is that students develop a genuine awareness of other cultures, and also that they begin to establish an understanding of the need to create a context when sharing experiences with people in other places.
For instance, a post that might make perfect sense to their peers living around them might be unclear and even slightly confusing to someone living in another continent.
Even though both sets of students are immersed in international environments at their schools, they are still only international in a regional context.
Assumptions v Context
The assumptions made initially by the groups of students about what the other might know and be familiar with proved interesting. Geographical references in the beginning are often hard to appreciate. How many in Belgium, for instance, would know where a given Chinese city was? Or who would know about a particular French ski resort if you were living in Hong Kong?
References to pop culture were similarly not clear, since few students in Belgium are aware of what K-Pop is, and few in Hong Kong know such Belgian hip hop artists as Basta Bla. Nevertheless, students are eventually able to recognise, through experience and reflection, how elements of their own post could be received with ambiguity, and they thus begin to develop details in order to create a context.
Exchanging plans for the school holidays always produces lively discussion and reflection. To hear firsthand how holidays are celebrated or spent by international students in another continent is a source of fascination. Students enjoy recognising the shared similarities as well as the differences. The level of engagement is high and immediate, as they are interested and are communicating in a meaningful way with their contemporaries.
In addition, students of the same nationality at schools over the two locations can be quite surprised at how their countrymen celebrate a holiday differently in a different continent. All of this leads to great discussion and a range of new perspectives. Such remarkable insight certainly provides something different to reading and writing about the same topic in the form of traditional texts.
Collaboration between EAL departments generates a number of benefits such as developing genuine cultural awareness, learning to create context and engaging in meaningful discussion. Additionally, when a post is shared and someone mentions something like being busy with an extended essay or having to prepare for an internal assessment, there is recognition from the students that they are all on the same journey. They are also doing their best to meet the many challenges on the way.
Often laughs and smiles follow the “shared pain,” to use their description of it. Yet, the fact that this stimulation comes from engaging with peers from another continent somehow adds value to the idea of them being part of a much larger global context-and helps them see their place in it.
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