Ryan Wertz and Kathy Shelton, Education Specialists for World Languages and Cultures, Ohio Department of Education

Sister School and Classroom-to-Classroom Partnerships

In this installment of Around the State, we’d like to highlight the many benefits that come with the formation of strong international partnerships between classrooms and between schools. We’d also like to explore what strong international education partnerships might look like and ways that your class or school can become involved in an internationally based learning experience.

Anyone who has ever had a pen pal (back in the day!) or an e-pal can appreciate the positive impact that even the most basic global sharing and learning experiences can have. Friendships can form, perspectives get shared and curiosity can grow as relationships form across borders and cultures. With today’s technologies and social media platforms, it is easier than ever to connect our learners with peers around the world. As educators, we should promote these types of activities for our students while at the same time we work to expand their cross-cultural learning into the collaborative realm.

In her December 2022 article titled “Four Amazing Benefits of Global Collaboration,” author Gosia Jaros-White states that “Collaboration in a global context provides students and teachers a great opportunity to learn about the world beyond their classroom and develop skills essential to students’ future success, such as cultural understanding, communication skills, and knowledge and awareness of the world.”  She goes on to argue that “with the right tools, global collaboration projects can be easily implemented in any subject, from languages, social studies and the arts to STEM. They engage students from across the world in hands-on projects, in which they complete tasks, research and discuss global issues, and come up with solutions to problems.”

The benefits of global collaboration that Jaros-White identifies include heightened engagement through inquiry-based learning, appreciation of diversity while simultaneously finding similarities and common ground, students becoming teachers to their peers, and heightened empathy. These benefits align well with the learning envisioned by the Cultures goal in Ohio’s Learning Standards for World Languages and Cultures (2020), which call on learners to “investigate, reflect on and explain the relationship between [cultural] products, practices and perspectives” and to “interact with others in and from other cultures.”

Given the logistical challenges for intercultural experiences within the traditional language classroom, collaborative global learning projects provide teachers and learners with innovative ways to expand learning far beyond the confines of the school building. Several free and low-cost tools exist to assist educators with partnering their students with peers around the world:

  • Teachers’ Guide to Global Collaboration – This site, originally developed by the U.S. Department of Education, provides a repository of free information and resources on global collaborative learning. Sample projects, planning resources and links to organizations that facilitate global collaboration between students are provided.
  • iEARN-USA – iEARN-USA, the American affiliate of the International Education and Resource Network, facilitates communication and collaboration between teachers and students around the world, primarily through Web-based projects. There is a membership cost, but scholarship opportunities are available for schools with limited resources.
  • Level Up Village – The mission of this organization is to globalize the classroom by facilitating cultural collaboration between students from around the world. Carefully curated content guides students to build their communication skills and collaborate with their global peers to explore topics in the arts & sciences or languages & cultures through a secure online platform. Through these exchanges, students enhance their understanding of other cultures, strengthen their intercultural communication skills, and gain empathy. Level Up Village is powered by Language Testing International, better known for its OPI/WPT and AAPPL proficiency assessments. There is a cost to participate in an exchange, and the website regularly updates a list of potential grant funders for schools with limited resources.

Finally, if a formal partnership experience is out of the question due to financial limitations, don’t forget that the Department maintains formal education partnerships with the following countries regionally: China (Hubei Province), France (Académie de Normandie) and Japan (Saitama Prefecture). And it maintains national partnerships with the ministries of education of Serbia, Spain and Taiwan. All of these partnerships afford opportunities to connect Ohio teachers with educators abroad for the purpose of building classroom-to-classroom partnerships and sister school relationships. Please contact us if you or your school would like to explore a partnership opportunity in one of these places.

In closing, remember that you have many resources available to you when you visit the Department’s World Languages and Cultures webpages. If you haven’t visited recently, check out the recent updates, where you can search for resources by language, proficiency level or a specific topic.  Our Ohio Seal of Biliteracy guidance is available here.  OTES 2.0 guidance for our content area is located here. And credit flexibility guidance for world languages can be found on this page. As always, don’t hesitate to contact either one of us if you have questions or need assistance. We are here to help and support your work!

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