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Connecting Preservice Teachers to the World Through Global Literacy Projects

Jennifer Williams, professor at Saint Leo University and member of the International Literacy Association Board of Directors, seeks to incorporate global education and practices of social good into every one of the curricular lessons she gives in her university courses. Here she shares three ways to connect higher education and K-12 education in a globally minded way.

Learn more and connect directly with Jennifer this Thursday, December 1, at 8 pm Eastern time during #GlobalEdChat on Twitter. Just type in #GlobalEdChat to participate!

By guest blogger Jennifer Williams

Every day in university preservice teacher programs across the world, the future of education is being formed and molded. Able to recite standards of instruction by number and code and proficient in identifying the qualities of instructional design, aspiring educators work diligently to perfect sample lesson plans for classrooms that, for them, are soon-to-be a reality. For these students, their university experiences are not only events bringing them closer to their careers, but they are defining moments that will shape their mindsets and pedagogical belief systems as they move forward as educators of our global world. By bridging higher education classrooms with K-12 classrooms, we can work to establish foundational understandings of global education for teachers in training and help to shift lessons from abstract simulations to authentic learning and teaching experiences.

This semester in my "Language Arts in the Elementary Years" courses at Saint Leo University in Florida, my students and I sought ways to connect meaningfully to world classrooms in our study of literacy and instructional practice. Here, I share three of these strategies.

Listening and Speaking through International Greetings
Following in the universal understanding that any new friendship begins with a greeting, Mystery Skype serves as a virtual handshake for classrooms of students. In our lessons on Listening and Speaking, we moved beyond simply reading about it, to putting our conceptual understandings of oral language into action. I reached out to colleagues from my professional learning network (PLN), and within two days, our Mystery Skype meetings were set.

student teachers maps.png

On the day of our Skype sessions, my preservice teachers joined in videoconference calls with students in unknown places and quickly found that identifying the locations of these clever 3rd-grade students through yes/no questions proved to be quite challenging. Armed with a map of the world and a quickly developing appreciation of the value of connecting with students from different parts of the world, my preservice teachers were able to share, laugh, discuss, ask, and answer questions with young girls and boys who were equally interested in being the first to discover the secret location of our class.

For some of my university students, this was their very first experience engaging with classrooms of students. In those moments, everyone was a learner and everyone a teacher—all searching to better understand the perspectives of each other. For us, the Mystery Skype experience served as a perfect beginning-of-the-semester activity and as an entry point into our semester long journey connecting to classrooms of the world. 

Writing for a Global Audience
In our conversations on best practices in writing instruction, my preservice students quickly identified the importance of teaching students at all levels to clearly identify the purpose and audience for each writing activity. In our discussions of journal writing in the K-5 classroom, we worked together as a class to create a collaborative listing of journal prompt ideas. Working on a shared Google Doc, my students found ways to negotiate as a team to create a digital artifact where each could take ownership. After our lesson, I decided to extend the learning by sharing with my global PLN of educators on Twitter. Within minutes of tweeting, I received responses from teachers across the world not only interested in viewing the ideas of my students, but also offering to share the prompts with their own classrooms of elementary students.

student teacher written responses.png

What happened next was, for me, nothing short of a global education sensation. The following week when I returned to my class, I was able to connect my higher ed students to actual writing samples of students from as far away as Australia  responding to my students' actual prompts. Following discussions on ways to develop and propel student writing forward, my students responded to the elementary students from around the world and offered comments to personally connect to each and every child.

The lesson not only provided a two-way authentic audience, but it allowed for relevant discussions on digital citizenship, use of technology for shared messages, and writing for a distinctive purpose. One of the elementary teachers shared that her students' writing for this experience were longer in length and higher in quality than ever before. And, for my students, this made all the difference! 

student teacher skype session.png

Reading Connections of our World
With so many opportunities to connect preservice teachers to high-quality books, literature studies continue to be an extraordinary way for learners of all ages to better understand distant lands and cultures. Projects and initiatives such as The Global Read Aloud and We Need Diverse Books allow preservice teachers to clearly understand ways to incorporate globally minded practices into their future classrooms. I wanted to help my students consider ways to organize their own future classroom libraries based on tenets from these two global organizations as well as see classroom libraries in action.

I again went to Twitter and the next morning, following our class discussions, we connected with three different schools via live video and were able to see firsthand how implementation of a classroom library occurs. We heard from teachers, principals, and students. With very little planning and a group of teachers willing to take a risk, my students were offered a global experience that only a few short years ago was impossible. student library skype.png

By connecting preservice teachers to K-12 classrooms, we can work together to bridge the divide and ensure that all students, young and old, have the opportunity to be part of global education conversations.

Connect with Jennifer and Heather on Twitter.

Special thanks to all these amazing teachers that brought the world to my students and introduced them to the power of connecting as globally minded classrooms:

Mystery Skypes:
Superintendent Randy Ziegenfuss; Principal Zachary Brem; 3rd Grade Teachers Kristen Zellner & Cindy Long; and Tech Coordinator Christina Westfall

Global Journal Writing:
Classroom Teachers
Kara Warren
, Karen Thompson, and Justin Birkbichler 

Live Video Sessions:
Principal Russell Schwartz, and Classroom Teachers Courtney Taylor and Nicole Baseline

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