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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Connect Your Foreign Language Students with the World

By Sara Bernard

1. Find Native Speakers

If you're looking for a school or classroom for your students to partner with, there's no place like the World Wide Web. "People need to get out there and form an online presence," says high school French teacher Toni Theisen. There are online communities everywhere just waiting to be blasted with your callout for a sister classroom.

The ACTFL Online Community:

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has all kinds of tools on its Web site at www.actfl.org, including a new networking hub that allows foreign language teachers to connect with each other via discussion groups and blogs.

American Association of Teachers of Any Language:

The American Association of Teachers of French, for example, allows colleagues to connect through forums and conferences. The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the American Association of Teachers of German, and the Chinese Language Teachers Association are other examples of places to link up.

The National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center:

This initiative at Iowa State University, whose mission is to improve K-12 foreign language teaching across the country, is a good place to connect with other like-minded teachers.

World Language Teachers Collaborative Sites:

Toni Theisen created both a Ning -- a social-networking site for groups with common interests -- and a Wiki -- a collaborative Web site -- to provide places where language teachers can rant, rave, and share resources. Visit the World Languages Teachers 2.0 Ning and the World Languages 21st Century Collaboration and Conversation Wikispace.

Twitter:

This is where Theisen met one of her classes' foreign correspondents; it's a powerful, quick way to connect with teachers across the globe. To start tweeting, try Twitter for Teachers.

Pen Pals Without the Pen:

For a social-networking site geared toward connecting students, the must-have pen pal resource, ePals, allows educators to search for classrooms around the world via a map tool, a list of ongoing collaborative projects, or online forums.

Form a Sister-School Partnership:

If you're looking for a larger, ongoing, school-wide partnership, check out Sister Cities International. Members can sign up for a sister-schools tool kit -- a comprehensive collection of resources, projects, and guidance.

For instance, the tool kit provides information about groups such as Seeds of Learning, a nonprofit organization that connects classrooms in the United States with schools in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and the Asia Society, which offers a wealth of information at its site, including an article called "How to Forge Partnerships with Schools in China".

The Virtual Comes from the Real:

Pen pal partnerships are often formed out of personal relationships. Toni Theisen's class wiki with a school in La Réole, France, was born because a former student of hers was working as a teaching assistant there. If you don't have that kind of connection already, try contacting English teachers abroad; their school might be as thrilled to have native speakers to correspond with as you are. Try the ESL Teachers Board, a comprehensive resource that lists hundreds of English teachers abroad and international ESL schools.

Even Without the Tech:

If your students have limited access to the Internet, here's something Toni Theisen tried long before the Web: She brought back phone books from various cities in France and asked her students to flip through the pages and choose people at random to send letters to. Here was a chance for students to practice their French skills and to make someone's day; sometimes, they received very heartfelt responses and maintained relationships afterward.

2. Once You've Found Them, Connect!

Skype! Skype! Skype!:

As soon as you've made a connection with a promising school, whether it's in your district or on the other side of the globe, you're ready to connect. One of the cheapest, simplest ways is to use Skype -- a free, online, video-enabled calling service. To get a Skype account, visit Skype.com, download the free software with the click of a button, and enter a user name and password; it's just like creating an email account. When you know the Skype user name of the teacher or classroom you're connecting with (and a time they're available), all you have to do is a quick double-click for instant videoconferencing.

For some extra tips and tricks, U.K.-based educator Joe Dale expounds on the many boons of Skype in the foreign language classroom on his blog, JoeDale.typepad.com.

Voxopop:

Essentially a message board with voices, Voxopop.com is another Internet service that allows a group of people located anywhere on the planet to speak together for free (Voxopop has a "record a message" button on each message board). You can start your own "talkgroup" or join an existing one. It's a favorite in Toni Theisen's classroom. For instructions, look up Voxopop on this Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers manual from learning-technology consultant Nik Peachey.

Wiki Wonderland:

A wikispace can be a simple and effective clearinghouse for student work -- and it can facilitate communication with students across the world via podcasts, slideshows, videos, and discussion forums. For a step-by-step tutorial on how to build your own wikispace, visit Toni Theisen's technology wiki.

3. But Don't Stop There!

For many more resources -- plus extensive step-by-step instructions -- check out the rest of Toni Theisen's technology wiki. There you'll find downloadable how-tos for VoiceThread, Voki, Wordle, ToonDoo, and other tech tools for online communication and class projects. Also try the tech links page on Jessica Haxhi's K-8 world-languages-methodology wiki.

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