Tag Archives: collaborative teaching

Schools Without Borders: Collaborating in the Digital Age

9 Feb

I was inspired to share my presentation with my blog readers after witnessing participants’ enthusiasm about global collaboration following a talk I recently gave at the Just Learning Conference in Jeju, South Korea, on teaching in the digital age.

In addition to sharing some of the global collaborative projects I’ve guided and piloted throughout my teaching career, time was spent:

  • Discussing the steps involved in carrying out projects for global collaboration;
  • Describing and recommending projects that are easy to implement, and
  • Sharing a comprehensive list of resources that includes digital devices and online global organizations.

To gauge participants’ views on the role of global collaboration in teaching, I conducted a survey using Poll Everywhere. Results were compiled in a Word Cloud format with the larger words being the most frequently mentioned ones.


GlobalCollaboratorThese responses confirm that educators know and agree that connection, unity, peace, and diversity are some of the compelling reasons to conduct global collaborative projects in their classrooms. Their responses align with the International Society for Technology in Education’s  (ISTE) Standards, which include global collaboration as one of the essential standards for learners today.

global-collaboratorGlobal collaboration has been part of my teaching practice since the late 90s when I began teaching.  I was an English as a Second Language instructor at a middle school in a small rural suburb of Quebec, Canada.  Technology, at that time, meant a dust-collecting PC in a corner of the classroom, with DOS as its operating system.  There was no internet at the school but there was this abandoned PC and I decided to use it as the motivating tool for my learners, who were reluctant and not excited about learning English.

Using PowerPoint, I had each student prepare a slide about himself/herself.  I then placed these slides on a floppy disk and sent them via snail mail to a colleague who taught English as a Second Language in another region of Quebec.  In return, she sent me her students’ introductions.  Hence my first collaboration. We then had the students write letters to one another and at the end of that academic year, the students met in person. It was so amazing to witness the transformation in my students’ level of motivation and desire to learn English. Providing authentic opportunities to interact with fellow English learners fostered a culture of learning and increased their enthusiasm for studying English.

Global collaboration has been and will always be part of my teaching.  Working across the boundaries of time and location, connecting with teachers and learners from around the globe, and providing opportunities for my learners to interact with peers in other cultures and countries, not only enlivens and fuels learners but also develops their digital citizenship and global competence, much-needed skills for this beautiful interconnected world we call Earth. Needless to say, collaborating globally also enriches my experience as a teacher and as a world citizen.

I invite you to develop your own global collaboration whether you are a novice or an expert collaborator. Happy Collaboration!



The Powers of Photography

18 May

Where memory fails, Google remembers! In today’s technology driven world, search engines dig out information about us even when we no longer have a recollection of them ever taking place. That is how I came across a project I took part in, while teaching English in North Carolina, entitled CommonVisions.

Essentially the project consisted of taking pictures using disposable cameras. (Do these even exist now?) There were 20 participants from 8 different countries. The youngest was 12 years old and the oldest around 60. We met twice a month.

It was 2001. At that time, taking pictures meant using film photography and one had to wait about a week to see their ‘developed’ pictures. We were so filled with excitement upon receiving the envelope with our name on it. We would open it hastily and go through our pictures choosing one to share with our group that evening and leaving the rest to savor later.

This was not a photography course. For most, like me, we had no prior lessons on photography nor were any techniques taught. We were told to simply click when it felt right. We were given the medium of photography to capture that which we deemed important and to then use the photographs to dialog about race, ethnicity and culture.

As the English as an Additional Language Specialist, my job consisted of teaching English to Hispanic children of migrant worker. To achieve this goal, I worked at bridging the gap between parents of these children, the mainstream classroom teachers, and the school administration.


America: the land of opportunity, the paradox of our time-
                                                                               George Carlin

During my time with CommonVisions, I took many pictures of my students, their families and their homes.  These photographs allowed me to share and discuss the realities of migrant workers living and working in the States with project participants and co-workers, resulting in a much more profound understanding of the students I teach, their language needs and daily challenges.

CommonVisions is one of the many projects that exist where photography is used to bring about social change and to remind us of our unity as human beings. Kids with Cameras and PhotoVoice are the other two projects that I know of with a similar vision and mission.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom - Marcel Proust

Let us be grateful to people
who make us happy.
They are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust

With today’s ease of capturing photos, doing a project along these lines has a worthy place in any type of classroom, regardless of age and level, and especially in an English Language Learner setting, where students’ background and diversity lends itself to an array of discourse.

Whether you use the pictures for students to tell a story, give an opinion, or simply as a starting point to discuss issues  that unite us as a race, this type of activity will build connections that will once again leap out of the classroom, breaking all barriers, while forming responsible global citizens along the way.

Photography is an effective tool that can ignite a child’s curiosity, give an outlet to a young struggling student, build communities of learners and artists, and even transform lives. I would encourage each teacher to experiment with photography in his or her classroom and each parent to give his or her child a camera.  Why not pick up a camera today and start your own dialogue!


Student Writing and Peer Editing with Google Docs

3 May

Google Docs make teaching and learning creative. It gives students the opportunity to work collaboratively while becoming digital savvy. It is fairly easy to use and it is another one of my zero cost tools to use for teaching and collaborative learning.

I have been using Google Docs word processing for peer editing with my Middle School classes.  Students read each others text and offer comments, ask questions and suggest corrections.  At first, this exercise is modeled over a few lessons. On the overhead projector, a piece of writing is displayed and as a class, it is edited. Each student either offers a comment, a suggestion or a correction.  As comments, corrections and suggestions are noted, I as the teacher can then identify those strong editors in the class as well as point out the difference between “peer editing” and “content editing” all the while giving direction and modeling to ensure that students are focusing on specific aspects of the writing process. Throughout the process, students are paired with different writers in order to be exposed to many writing styles.


What I find useful in using Google Docs for peer editing is that it is web-based and therefore students aren’t limited by physical space, time, one classroom or even one country.  Students’ learning consequently goes beyond the walls of my classroom as they interact and exchange ideas and comments. In addition, it can be used at any point in the writing process: idea formation, outlining, draft revision, or copy editing a final draft. Another added bonus is that it is easy to track my student’s development and as I work with English Language Learners, this tool gives them a platform for purposeful communication and interaction in a stress free environment.


Peer editing keeps my students all participating. When students know that their classmates will edit their writing, they write better, livelier text. Identifying problems in their classmates’ writing helps them to think about their own writing. Peer editing gives them the opportunity to teach what they learned thus giving them confidence and solidifying the concept in their minds. After all, asking students to teach is a great teaching tool in itself!

Other ways I have successfully used Google Docs word processing in my teaching with different levels are:

  • I’ve set up a close exercise document where in teams students fill in the blanks –You can then project the answers for all the students to share and discuss.
  • For vocabulary building, I have provided students with a basic story line where students are asked to add details in teams.
  • I’ve given students stories where they have to change one part of speech for example verbs in the present tense to the past tense, adjectives to their antonyms, etc…
  • I’ve placed a shared reading on a topic where students can highlight words they do not understand. They then can click on the word and it takes them to its definition.
  • I’ve had students collaborate in creating a story by each adding one part. We did this as a collaborative project with another classroom and it was very successful.
  • I have also used it for brainstorming or developing ideas and goal setting.

Google Docs have made teaching and learning in my classroom more collaborative, creative and student-centered. Why not try it out!

Collaborative Projects Across the World using Skype

15 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATeachers have little or no time to plan collaborative projects outside of their own classroom. In addition, they sometimes fear the training needed to use certain technological tools and are always reminded that due to budget cutbacks, there is no money to plan for collaboration – especially for projects across continents.

In the next few posts, I will share with you how I have been collaborating with teachers on different projects with very little time, at no cost, and with minimal training for the tool used.

It is 10 a.m. on Saturday. I’ve just come back from the market. I get on Skype and I’m greeted by a first grade classroom in North Carolina, 19 little eager faces, in their pajamas, ready for a good night story from their reader across the world, Miss Abinader. I read the book to them and we play a guessing game with clues on the mystery of where their reader is exactly. We learn to say hello and goodbye in Vietnamese then it is time to sign off. These first graders have had a few other teachers read to them from across America and now they had a teacher read to them all the way from Asia.

This project was organized around the Read Across America program. The National Education Association created this program to celebrate reading. It takes place March 2nd, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday. On or around that date, schools, libraries and community centers across the United States celebrate reading by bringing together kids and books. One teacher wanted to add the multicultural and different time zone experience to the reading celebration and thus began our collaborative and interactive project.

The planning involved was minimal. It consisted of a few emails and the exchanging of Skype names. The gains however were plentiful in that the students participated in a diverse multicultural experience where reading was confirmed as a practice that is used and enjoyed by children all over the world.

In today’s technology driven lifestyle, it is so simple to make Read Across America be Read Across the World. In so doing, we will be one step closer to creating and building a global community of active learners and educators.