A while ago, my students in one class said that they wished they could have pen pals in Russia. At that time, we had reconnected with a school in Yakutia because that school wanted us to do a contest with them. (That’s another story.) A while ago, we had set up a wiki page with some classes there, but I was discouraged by the fact that they were posting paragraphs about their region in laborious English, while we were posting the same in laborious Russian. Who was learning from this process?
I admit: we were fascinated by the different pictures of their vacations and region, so there was some cultural benefit. However, the kids weren’t connecting directly.
I wrote to one of the teachers in the contest that I’d like to let our kids correspond on Edmodo, because I’ve been having some positive results with it. It took a while, but we got three of my classes on line, and she enrolled twelve or thirteen of her kids. I emphasized that, while I wanted kids to have a chance to write in their target languages, I wanted compelling reading input from both sides. The Russians were to write in Russian and the Americans in English. Here’s an example of what happened:
It’s fun to read the exchanges, and it’s especially great that some of the most unlikely kids are the ones going in on their own time to write. But the best part is that kids like to read what the others wrote. They come to class asking to read if they couldn’t understand, especially when something is written to them.
I asked my kids to upload part of a current project so that the Russians could make corrections. I probably won’t do that in exactly the same way again. As you can see from this exchange, the Russians are more interested in the content than the numerous mistakes (as they should be).
So now, I’ve posted a request that the Russian kids tell us what they’d go see if they were to visit St. Petersburg (our theme just now). Because one Russian asked what an American student’s cat looks like, the American put a picture of her cat into a google doc, and linked to that document from Edmodo. That gives me the idea to let kids post links to their written work and ask for comments. I think that will work a lot better than asking for comments directly on the Edmodo page. Also, I have just had the idea to ask each school to do a 24-hours-in-the-life-of project, so that kids could see normal activities from each hour in the other location.
Another change that we’ll make next year is that I won’t put every class into the same “Yakutia” group. We have 55 Americans and 12 Russians in this class, making it hard for the Russians, especially, to keep up with the American notes. I’ll try to find teachers who can supply at least half the number of kids in their classes to connect with another class of similar size. Also, I’ll call the classes by the teachers’ names so that we can keep them straight.
If any of you have more suggestions to streamline and improve, I’d love to hear them!