June 2, 2012

Talking Cultures Project

The last day of this school year is approaching and it is time to think about what went well and what could have been done better, the lessons that worked and the lessons to be improved if I want to use them again. Talking Cultures Project is one of the projects I want to continue next school year.

Talking Cultures is an international online project which celebrates cultural differences. It is a project for students in grades 7 and 8 of primary school, organized by British Council,. This school year it has had participant classes from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Russia and Ukraine, divided into 9 clusters, with one class representing every country in every cluster. My students are in cluster 7, with classes from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine and we work on our wiki 

British Council created a wiki for every cluster. A wiki is a special online platform designed for students to upload their work and share it with partners. It is a safe place on the Internet, only members can read and edit it.  The teachers are administrators of the wiki and the students are writers. They edit the pages together, uploading their writing, photos, video and audio files. The students can edit only their own project pages but can follow and comment on the work of all the partners on the wiki, which is an excellent way to learn about a new culture.
At the beginning of the school year the teachers were offered the Teachers’ Toolkit, a set of nine lesson plans, with a lot of ideas and materials, to use or adapt. Every teacher adapts the lessons, deals with all new vocabulary and structures that appear. After the lessons at school, we add a digital part, different web 2.0 tools to upload students’ writing, discussions, polls, pictures, widgets, audio files and all other different ways we use to share our ideas with partners.

The topics of all nine lessons are very appropriate for the age and language level of the students, but also so general that they can be used with students of all age and language level groups:
Lesson 1: Class Biography
Lesson 2: Our Country
Lesson 3: Food
Lesson 4: Famous People
Lesson 5: Festivals
Lesson 6: Music
Lesson 7: Holidays
Lesson 8: Sports
Lesson 9: Farewell

The work on the project is benefitting for the students in a number of different ways. Firstly, students learn to share, to collaborate and to think critically and decide on the material to present to the partners and share on the internet.
With the use of the wiki, learning does not stop with the end of the lesson at school. Students access the lessons in their own free time and do the tasks on the wiki. That makes them more autonomous in their learning. They are very proud of their work because it stays on display forever. A very important part is also reading and commenting on other groups’ work, which teaches the students to be positive, tolerant and polite.

Working on the project I have noticed a few problems, too. The first problem I had to deal with were privacy settings of the wiki. Because of the young age of the students, the organizers thought it was the best idea to set the wiki completely private, so that only the members can see any content on it. That sounds right, but in fact all parents, other teachers or students from our school would have to become members in order to see our work. The other problem was that all our partners used the wiki to upload the final versions of their presentations on various topics. I thought we needed to use one more advantage of the wiki – collaborating on various stages of the tasks. The problem was we did not want to be the only ones showing their work in progress.

The way to solve the problems for me seemed to create another wiki, for my students only. I set the privacy settings a bit differently – everybody can see the content, but cannot communicate with students or edit the wiki.
Our classwiki,  is safe, too, and it offers one more opportunity for learning for the students – they have learned about the responsible use of the internet: they never upload portrait photos, display their full names or write personal information. The use of our own wiki helps us in two ways: it allows us to use the wiki not only to share our work on the internet but also to work collaboratively outside the classroom. We have all our work on the internet and continue working on the tasks between the lessons at school. There is always a lot of work in progress on our wiki. Students add their part when they can, correct one another and help or finish their friends’ work if they think they have a better idea. We also show our work to parents and other teachers. Our two wikis seem now the perfect way to finish all the work on time and display its best version for our partners to see and comment.
Discussing different aspects of Croatian culture and everyday life, comparing them with British culture, sharing the information with students from different countries and learning about their different cultures are the main aims of “Talking Cultures”, but there are other equally valuable advantages for my students:
  • they use English outside the classroom and understand its importance in an authentic communication with peers,
  • they have become more confident in the use of the language,
  • they have become much more confident and responsible in the use of the internet.

This project is making it all possible and my students can’t wait for next school year. They are looking forward to new topics and the teachers are already working on the list.