On the last day of the MS Innovative Teachers Regional conference, I got up at the usual time and went down for breakfast. I could not see any of the conference participants that I had befriended, so I sat alone. Next to me, was another lone person. He introduced himself to me as Zainuddin and I discovered that he was from Malaysia. His English was excellent, so we struck up a friendship and said that we would work on projects together, once back home.
Our school teaches mandarin Chinese as the LOTE subject. At year 12, we have only one student learning the subject completing it by correspondence or external studies. Upon speaking to Zainuddin, my Malaysian contact, I discovered that his school had a large contingent of Chinese students who spoke mandarin. Our principal has been trying to establish further connections with our sister school in Beijing, but the firewall in China presents many challenges and difficuluties. So, ‘thinking outside the square’, Zainuddin helped me match one of his students with our year 12 girl. After several weeks of interuptions and difficulites in finding a common meeting time, we finally came online last night, using skype rather than msn as our conferencing platform.
Zainuddin and I decided to go online with them for the first few sessions until they became comfortable with each other. After a very slow start where the Malaysian student entered Chinese characters for our girl to respond to and as she did not have a keyboard or software for Chinese characters, it took a while to give an answer, they soon started further conversations. After one hour the girls were chatting away about music, their love of classical music, the fact that they both played piano and which styles of classical music they enjoyed most. Surely, the connections that the internet allows in such a scenario are amongst the most powerful in improving learning outcomes for students. It is hoped that these two students will maintain the friendship and work to improve both English and Chinese for each of them.
– the microphone of the Malaysian student did not work
-finding a suitable day and time
-enabling the girls to feel comfortable with each other
What worked well
-the fact that Zainuddin and I came online with the girls to allow them to push outside their comfort zones.
-despite the mic and therefore audio not working, the chat worked well anyway. It is a non threatening means of communication until confidence is gained.
-Zainuddin and I maintained a conversation in msn whilst keeping an eye on the girls (they did not know this)
-We used google translator to interpret the words that they used.
-the Malaysian student could speak both English, Chinese and Malay really well
-pushes the standards of my students to a much higher level.
-placing two mature students together from two cultures works far more readily than with younger students.
-it is good to just start with text chat and as confidence increases introduce the microphone or audio
-Both girls started with non identifying avatars but the Malaysian girl soon added her photo and then wanted to know if our girl had a photo. So, students obviously like to see what they would look like face to face and see the real identity of the person they are communicating with.
-girls quickly became comfortable enough with each other to say that they did not understand, forcing the other to try a different tact.