Ann Rooney teaches at Wilderness School, an all-girls school in Adelaide, Australia. She teaches English as a second language to international students aged 16-17, who come from China. You can read more about Ann’s work on her Edublog The Possibility Post.
I teach a small class consisting of eight students whose English abilities range from intermediate to upper-intermediate levels. Some students have been at Wilderness School since year 9 or 10 but most are new arrivals. They have had English lessons back home in China and have attended a foundation semester in Adelaide before joining in the mainstream classes at senior secondary level. My students are boarders at the school and one student has relatives living in Adelaide. Hence, the school is their ‘family’ and local community. Their challenges are to understand and thrive in an unfamiliar Western education system and social environment.
In this blog post I share how participating in Out of Eden Learn has helped my students to develop cultural awareness and interpersonal language skills, motivated them and provided them with an opportunity to write for an authentic, online audience.
In what ways does a cross-cultural learning environment benefit ELL students?
For my students the Out of Eden Learn cross-cultural learning environment is a perfect fit. Students who are learning English as a second language, especially international students, contend daily with the challenge of ‘fitting in’ with the mainstream Western culture at school. Out of Eden Learn gives them a wider global social group with whom to interact in a cross-cultural situation. For example, in our ELL classes we started the lesson with reading posts and comments from students in our ‘walking party’. Out of Eden Learn organises groups of classes into ‘walking parties’ and we had schools from America, Indonesia and Spain in our group. This cross-cultural environment led to curiosity and inquiry about others and in class, we had lively discussions about different cultures, places and people, about similarities and differences and the perspectives expressed in other students’ photography.
How does slow observation develop interpersonal language skills?
The Out of Eden Learn focus on slow observation opened up creative opportunities for students to express themselves and verbalise their opinions about people and topics through written text, photography and video. This created a context to teach interpersonal language, especially the clause, a crucial resource for observing the world – the basic unit of meaning. My students wanted to express their thoughts about people, places and relationships so we explored the grammar and vocabulary necessary to express attitudes and appreciation of things. Moreover, Paul’s articles are excellent sources to analyse interpersonal language, concepts, sentence structure and vocabulary.
Students also developed important reading skills. As an ELL teacher, I am cautious about using journalism due to the idiomatic and descriptive language and presumed knowledge. However, to my happy surprise when we read our first article, Electronic Oasis, my ELL students were so curious that they were quick to infer meaning using the annotated version and then they used Google translate to check any other language queries. I think it is the idea of a person walking and documenting their journey that fascinated my students. The places Paul goes to are new to them and reading his articles led to discussions about language, Paul’s purpose and his audience and the genre of journalism—field, tenor and mode.
How does Out of Eden Learn motivate ELL students to write?
In the footstep activities, students are motivated to communicate by posting photographs and text for other young people to read and comment on. Out of Eden Learn thus creates purpose and an authentic online audience in which students enjoy the commitment of communicating. My students took ownership of their work and gave greater care and attention to their written expression by drafting their writing. In addition to students’ formal drafted posts, I encouraged my students to write more spontaneously in their comments on other students’ posts and to follow the Out of Eden Learn dialogue prompts. Here the Dialogue Toolkit was very useful, especially the sentence starters. One of the dialogue prompts is to make connections and this leads to teaching comparative language and clauses. Writing comments is also a great activity for ELLs to gain confidence in communicating as well as giving a short daily writing activity to build their written skills. Participating in Out of Eden Learn gave the students an audience and hence produced a context to teach digital literacies such as online safety, cultural awareness, being respectful and exploring empathy to understand new perspectives. Having this audience created a real desire, a spark, to communicate and my students wrote at length on their own initiative using the Out of Eden Learn prompts and Paul’s articles.
Reading my students’ posts made me aware of their deep thinking and heart-warming responses to the Out of Eden Learn activities. As a result, I have learnt more about my students and how they see themselves than in any other language activity I have previously done. From the very start of the project, my Chinese girls amazed me with their personal reflections. My students who are so far away from their families have embraced diversity with kindness and empathy and Out of Eden Learn gave them an online platform to learn, connect and express themselves in text and images. I close by sharing the first introductory post by one of my students, Lily. It reflects the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness with which my students approached Out of Eden Learn.
Hi Lily! I am interested in subjects which are science related too. My favourite subject is technical drawing, as I think it’s very relaxing. I enjoy Mathematics like you do as well. I also like photography, but I don’t take such beautiful photos like you do…
Keep enjoying what you do, it’s the best thing!!!!
Best regards from the Basque Country!