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Teaching as Inquiry - Using E-pals to Improve Student Achievement in Written Language. Reflective Summary - St Andrews School

School Type

St Andrews is a rural school, of approximately 108 students, situated 10 minutes south of Timaru. There are 5 multi-levelled classrooms from New Entrant to Year Eight.

Cluster

We are part of the Aoraki Rural Cluster which includes 10 other schools from South Canterbury. We are finishing our third year on the contract   All schools in our cluster have identified a “Teaching as Inquiry”   ICT focus for 2011.  This year the Lead teacher/s in each school has/have taken on the responsibility for ICT pd within their school, with this focus in mind.

Each school’s Inquiry focus was on how ICT tools, strategies and thinking could be used in teaching and learning to improve student achievement in a selected aspect of the curriculum. Lead teachers undertook a “Teaching as Inquiry”   to be used as a model in assisting their teachers in undertaking their own “Teaching as Inquiry”.

Intentions

At St Andrews school our focus was How can we use ICT tools, strategies and thinking in our teaching and learning to improve student achievement in Written Language?

I was introduced to the website http://www.epals.com/  and after exploring this site decided that it would be perfect for my students. It is a safe site for children where they can email other children from around the world. It offers the opportunity to work on a range of projects. It provides motivators for writing and opportunities to share work. The children required parent permission to be able to take part and all emails had to be approved by me. My intention was that by emailing other students from around the world my students would be inspired to write. They would be required to write in a manner that others would be able to read their writing, and they would need to write more quickly to be able to complete their email in a timely manner. Their writing would have a purpose and they would get a response to their email that would require further writing. My intention was to have one buddy each, however we received many requests from different parts of the world from classes as well as individuals who were homeschooled.

Impact on the students

We began by emailing others from the class to learn how the email system worked. I discovered that many of the children started emailing from home straight away. They quickly became very independent and those that struggled would seek help from others in the class. It quickly became evident who the email helpers were.  The students became very excited about writing to their international e-buddies, and were even more motivated when they started to get replies. They had to think about what was important to include in their email and quickly learnt to include questions to ensure their buddy had a reason to reply. Our buddies in Scotland were studying New Zealand and asked questions which required the children to do some reading before replying. They also started including useful links for their buddies. We had buddies from England, Scotland, America, Canada, and Australia. We ran into difficulties in September when many of them went on Summer holiday and then changed teacher. We are continuing with Australia and we have new buddies from Scotland as the teacher wanted to continue. The children’s writing has improved as well as their ability to independently log in and email using their own username and password. This has been a good opportunity to introduce safety while on the internet, as the children have learnt about the importance of keeping a password secret and not supplying certain information while emailing an unknown person. We have had many discussions about appropriate information to share via email. We have also learnt about sending images as attachments and what is appropriate to send to an unknown person.

Next Steps

The children will continue to use e-pals for emailing students from around the world. They will be encouraged to continue to develop their friendships with their buddies. The children will be encouraged to continue to email from home when internet access allows. I will start to look for short term projects such as collaborative story writing with another class or group. We will endeavour to send links to our buddies when we have work on our wiki to share. I will also try to get students to include work from their buddies onto their wiki pages.  I have sent a kiwi soft toy to our Australian buddies and they are using it to write a blog to share with us.   We are receiving a Koala to do the same. I will send a digital camera home with the toy to enhance their blog.