Connecting with the continent

Written by: HTU | Published:

The British Council offers a host of international education programmes for UK schools. Sarah Stead tells us about the projects her school has got involved with, and the benefits they have seen for both teachers and pupils

As international coordinator at Adel Primary School in Leeds, I first became involved in eTwinning, one of the education programmes funded by the European Union and managed by the British Council, in 2005. Initially I used it to find a partner school in Spain to extend language learning by communicating with Spanish children. Six years later, I am proud to say the whole school is now involved in European collaborative activities and we were awarded the prestigious British Council International School Award in 2008 and again in 2010. Our eTwinning partnerships have developed into Comenius Partnerships and we also host Comenius assistants, (trainee teachers from across Europe). Our focus for international collaboration has shifted to social, cultural and global initiatives and we have developed full scale European and global links.

eTwinning enables schools and colleges across 32 participating European countries to work collaboratively on creative projects online. I use eTwinning to find school partners, to communicate and exchange ideas with other teachers and to start working on projects. It provides a safe and secure area for partners to communicate and share project work. It is free of charge and very flexible; projects can be started online at any time, can be any topic and can last for any length of time. eTwinning also offers online training sessions and face-to-face workshops to provide support on using online technology, finding a partner and getting started on a project, with off-the-peg ideas if you are not sure how to get started. eTwinning is part of the European Union’s Comenius programme, which offers funding for European partnerships. Recognising Comenius as a great way to enhance the activities of our eTwinning partnerships, we applied for and received Comenius School Partnership funding.

The Comenius programme enables schools in 33 participating European countries to develop knowledge and understanding among young people and education staff of the diversity of European cultures and offers opportunities for personal and professional development. Colleagues participated in Comenius contact seminars and workshops offered by the British Council to meet our partners face-to-face and develop project plans. Our Comenius funding has opened up new possibilities within our partnerships, as pupils and teachers are now able to participate in exchange visits.

Learning new skills

Our project work has been plentiful and diverse. From sharing games, songs, stories, festivals and traditions from each of our European partners, the children are learning new languages, discovering the similarities and differences in new cultures and learning new communication skills in ICT. As our headteacher Stephen Boothroyd says: “We are preparing our children for the future.”

We collaborate in organising events that take place in each partner school, such as Walk to School Week and Healthy Week. All our activities are captured in writing, photographs and video and we share them with our partners on our secure online eTwinning “Twinspace”. The pupils also communicate by letters, email, blogs and video conferences.

To further enrich the European experience within the school we also hosted a Comenius assistant from Bulgaria, who became a real asset to the school. She ran a club for our pupils called “Europe says hello” and taught the pupils about various European countries through language, geography, traditional music, dance, costume and food. She even taught them the Cyrillic alphabet. She really immersed herself into life at the school.

Outside the classroom

The activities go beyond the classroom. Families and school governors are included and come to the school to take part in events. They have shared their childhood games, cooked the healthy recipes sent to us by our partners and walked to school with their children. Some families really become immersed by hosting visiting teachers and pupils during the exchanges. We also disseminate our work to the community and neighbouring schools via newsletters.

Our exchange visits with our Spanish partners are significant to the development of our partnership and projects. Pupils and teachers meet in person and experience each others’ cultures first hand. As coordinator, I liaise with our partner school to plan and schedule a week long programme for both staff and pupils. It is very important that the visit consists of educational, social and cultural activities. During a recent exchange visit we spent a day in the school working with our partners in bilingual and cross-curricular workshops. The children worked together on maths challenges, art workshops, PE, flamenco dancing and music. We visited historical and cultural sites, such as the Alcazaba and the Picasso museum. We visited a bullring, which stimulated great discussions on bull fighting and got the pupils really thinking about different cultural traditions and expectations. Although the children learned about these in the classroom while preparing for the visit, it is even more exciting to see and experience them for real. They tasted traditional Spanish food while sharing lunch in the school canteen and in local tapas restaurants. We encourage the children to use their language skills by ordering food, buying items in shops and asking for keys to their rooms, but they also learn so much simply by interacting through conversation with their Spanish partners.

As a result of eTwinning and Comenius projects, the children are much more motivated to learn as they have real Spanish partners to share their project work with. Their language, communication and social skills have really improved due to online and face-to-face collaboration. They have gained new ICT skills by using online communication tools and animation and sound software. They have learnt to co-operate with and understand children from different cultures and have become much more culturally aware as they spend time in another country and with their Comenius partners. As one of our governors and parent Mrs Manogue commented: “You have changed my child’s life.”

As teachers we are all more motivated. We have acquired new ICT skills and enhanced our professional development through collaborative work and visits. We are able to extend our knowledge of different pedagogies and learning environments and of different cultures from first-hand experience. We compare teaching methods and styles and have implemented new ideas and techniques for behaviour management and teaching resources into our classes. Language teaching throughout the school has flourished through communicating with partners.

There have been so many positive outcomes as a result of our eTwinning and Comenius projects and partnerships. My role and priorities as a teacher have completely changed. I feel motivated to educate our children about their future as global citizens and I am committed to the programmes we are involved in.

Further information

If you want to register with eTwinning, join nearly 13,000 UK teachers in a network of over 142,000 teachers, find a partner and get free online training, visit www.britishcouncil.org/etwinning

To apply for Comenius partnership grants, in-service-training and CPD opportunities, and Comenius assistants to work in your school, visit www.britishcouncil.org/comenius

• Sarah Stead is international coordinator at Adel Primary School, Leeds.


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