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Connections & Communities: Expansion...

A Dozen Ways Wisconsin Teachers Make Global Connections

World language teachers are among the most global of American educators.  They travel, they teach deep cultural connections, and they are lifelong explorers of some of the most remote and most sophisticated cities of the world.  As we look into classrooms in Wisconsin, we celebrate teachers who have found ways to connect their classrooms globally.  Here are a dozen techniques Wisconsin teachers use not only to help their students make global connections, but also to keep themselves inspired as educators. 

  1. Teach a language ~ earlier, longer
    Every student needs keys to live, work, and explore the world.  Language educators teach lifelong skills by teaching world languages.  They are also the key advocates for helping parents, schools and districts plan to extend the world language curriculum to earlier grades and to longer sequences of instruction.  Join your colleagues in helping administrators develop and understand alternatives for keeping, expanding, and planning for world languages in the curriculum.
  2. Support world language colleagues
    As budgets are threatened and new languages are added, find ways to support all world language colleagues, from interns to veterans.  Advocate that all students learn at least one world language in addition to English. With 50% of Wisconsin students graduating enrolled in a language course each year, and most students having little more than two years of world language instruction by the time they graduate from high school, there are plenty of students to share.  As a professional group, there is enormous power if world language teachers stick together and assist one another, no matter what their language of instruction.

3.  Walk the walk

Find ways to advance your own proficiency skills.  Model the very language learning skills we teach students use the target language whenever possible;  don’t be afraid to make mistakes; ask questions; and find fun ways to learn.

4.  Try a new language

There’s nothing like trying new language to remember how difficult, frustrating, and embarrassing language learning can be.  One rediscovers how clear lesson objectives need to be, how important praise and encouragement are, and how essential are opportunities to practice speaking.  At the same time, one also rediscovers how much fun and breathtakingly exciting learning can be.  Whether Chinese or Hindi, whether a year’s course or just three lessons, try learning a new language.

5.  Schedule a Fulbright in your future

American taxpayers created Fulbright study exchange grants exclusively for educators.  At least once in your life, apply for and enjoy a Fulbright learning seminar.  Remember that there are 8 different Fulbright programs for which K-12 teachers are eligible.  Some are full year exchanges, but others are short 2-6 week summer seminars.  The key to participating in one is to look at your long-range calendar and try to figure out when one would work for you.  Most Fulbright deadlines are in October of the summer preceding travel.

6.  Establish a Sister School partnership

Every world language classroom should have a sister school partnership with a school abroad.  Whether involving an on-line project, an exchange of photos and posters by mail, or an actual visit by a teacher or a group of students from the other school, a Sister School adds spice and reality to teaching about far-away places.

Sister school sites on the Internet, as well as your our own travel contacts and the travel contacts of colleagues are good ways to find addresses of teachers, like yourself, willing to become a partner school.  Give the partnership three years to evolve, then try another one.

7.  Do an on-line project with a school abroad

Programs like i*EARN and KidLink help teachers connect with classrooms abroad.  They involve students in a shared project, whether researching a topic like child soldiers, comparing data on pollution of rivers in their cities, or interviewing grandparents or elders about ways of life 25-50 years ago.  Culminating projects, web pages, and even video conferences help students meet one another and see the impact of their work.

On-line projects provide a period of time for teachers to meet one another on-line, discuss their goals and the specifics of their class situations before beginning the project.  Some projects have precise beginning and end dates; others are on-going, so that you can join when convenient.

8.  Involve your students in a service learning project

Today’s students are eager to be a part of solutions to global problems.  Empathy and activism are important lessons from service learning.  Service learning projects, for example fundraising for AIDS/HIV medicines, making and mailing student-sewn quilts to orphanages in Bolivia, or building and shipping solar stoves to villages in Nepal, are projects that world language students can share with their Sister School abroad (item 6, above), as well. 

Any issue or country can be selected for a service learning site - it need not be a project in the country of the target language itself.  Some of the research of the global issue can be done in the target language.  Students might create posters, brochures, oral presentations or debates in the target language. 

9.  Expand language enrollments to new populations of students

Make efforts to reach underserved populations in your school.  Special education students, American Indian students, African-American students, English as a Second Language students, and Hmong-American students are examples of groups seldom enrolled in world language classes.  This is an undertaking that might involve many world language teachers in your district, and needs to include counselors or diversity staff in communicating with students and their parents.

10.  Honor and involve students who speak languages other than English

Wisconsin schools are increasingly filled with students who come from homes where a heritage language is spoken.  By finding ways to acknowledge and involve these students, teachers help world language students by introducing them to bilingual / bicultural peers. They also elevate the status of heritage students not only by appreciating and acknowledging their background but also by emphasizing their need to continue learning more about their home language and culture.  Wisconsin’s International Education Council has proposed the addition of heritage language proficiency assessment results to the school transcripts of heritage language students.

11.  Collaborate globally with teachers of other subjects

All teachers need to make global connections in their subjects if students are to learn that they are a part of an increasingly connected world.  Students do research papers, journals, science fair projects, posters, and oral presentations for other teachers ~ remind them their target culture offers many opportunities for research.  Find out what other teachers are doing in their classes, and offer your students opportunities for credit by doing research about the target culture within the context of a skill they are learning in the other class. 

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s international education curriculum guide has 100 pages of examples of global curriculum.  Examples include:

            Physical education:  Children’s games, folk dances, martial arts

            Geometry:  Shapes, angles, and architecture of other cultures including Islamic patterns, Egyptian pyramids, and famous buildings

            Language arts:  Reading and reporting on literature in translation;  reading or writing children’s books, proverbs, or folk tales in the target language

Science:  Chemistry ~ rivers & water quality;  Ecology ~ population & overpopulation;  nutrition & malnutrition;  endangered species;  Astronomy ~ calendars from other cultures

12.  Make connections with education efforts of colleagues abroad

Great strides are being made by educators in other countries.  We have much to learn about testing, teaching, and literacy from colleagues abroad.  Through the Internet, through professional reading, through visits to schools when you are traveling, and by asking questions of education delegations who are visiting here, make efforts to discover their strengths. Collaboration will raise your professionalism to an entirely new level, and provide some amazing opportunities to do travel, research, and presentations.

 Examples include:

European Union:  Numerous Socrates programs that involve 3-4 schools in collaborative learning;  world language teaching

Japan:  Collaborative learning

Russia:  Integrated learning

Great Britain:  Multicultural education

China, Singapore:  Mathematics and science curriculum

Finland:  Technology education

India:  Literacy initiatives; Outreach to drop-outs


World language classrooms are often hubs of excitement.  For students, the language teacher’s door is literally the door to the world.  Keep the welcome mat out, and watch students connect to the world.


 Share with colleagues the resources you find for making global connections, and visit the annotated list in the knowledge base, Resources to Connect Globally, contributed by many educators.

Taken from WAFLT Summer Institute 2006, Madeline Uraneck, International Education Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

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© 2004 Wisconsin Association For Language Teachers
Last updated: September 10, 2006