eTwinning and Comenius Projects in ELT

Written by: Tsvetelena Taralova, 88 School, Sofia, Bulgaria

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There was the Lost Generation, The Beat generation and we are now the BBC generation. Let’ prove we can cope with the new challenges.

How did my story start?

I had been teaching for 3 years and I applied for a Comenius teacher’s methodology course in London. My application was approved by the Human Resource Development Centre Bulgaria BUT I wasn’t given a visa. I didn’t give up. I wrote to the embassy and I still keep their negative answer to show it to my students. And this was the first lesson of this kind in my life.  They say: “If something doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger”. Next year I could go to Dublin, Ireland to a similar methodology course. It was an enormous motivation to me. I had my first practical lessons in my life.

In the course report form I have to write about the other initiatives my school could participate, so I started reading about international school projects, found potential partners and went to a Comenius Project Preparatory Visit in Poland. I was quite shy at the beginning of the visit, but very soon I realized that the other people like me and trust me. It was a lot of cultural and social experience to me.

“Comenius projects are part of the EU Lifelong Learning Programme and seek to develop knowledge and understanding among young people and educational staff of the diversity of European cultures, languages and values. It helps young people acquire the basic life skills and competences necessary for their personal development, for future employment and for active citizenship”(http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-programme/doc84_en.htm)

The main aims of the projects are:

  • To motivate students to use languages and ICT in real-life situations;
  • To promote culture, traditions, history, art and literature of the region and the regions of partner schools;
  • To enhance participants’ social and team work skills.

You can find more about Comenius projects on our National Agency website: www.hrdc.bg

We got the grant for our project “Medieval Roots of Present Europeans” and about 50 students joined the project during the first school year. To create a team spirit we organized a tour round Sofia, participated in the school concert and students did their first activity, designing a profile of a historical figure from the Medieval Аges. Students used their History knowledge and creativity.

Then was the working visit in Portugal and explored Medieval Portuguese sites.We were special guests at the Medieval fair in our partner school in Penela, Portugal. The visit changed many things in our perceptions. Students still describe it as the most memorable event in their lives. We performed our national dances, saw many things about our partners’ cultures and improved many skills. It motivated us a lot. It was the first event of this kind to me, too. I realized what I am supposed to do as a project coordinator. We were a group, we had to be tolerant and everyone participated equally in most of activities.

Parents also noticed the big changes. According to one of them, “Our children left shy and not sure about what they know”. When they came back, they were completely different people, self-confident, motivated and surely creative.

Next year we were more experienced with the activities and with visits. Students used the language, made Medieval coin exhibition and wrote their story of old coins.

Organizing the Comenius visit in Sofia was the most difficult thing I had ever done. Over 40 students and teachers from 5 other countries said they were amazed by our perfect organization and repeated it during all the following working meetings later. Many colleagues got angry because they had to do something which is not paid, but our headmistress helped me a lot and that was a motivation to continue. We learned many of our strong and weak points. I personally started to express my opinion clearly.

A fashion show with a Medieval song was filmed in The National History Museum and we received similar clips form our partners.

A month later a group of 11 Bulgarian students and teachers visited our partner school in Gravina, Italy. During the visit we went to the medieval village of Arbellobelo and the nearest town Bary. Our students stayed with Italian peers and could see how Italians can enjoy themselves, and show a great respect for their teachers.

On the next year students wrote a Bulgarian medieval Story and made a Medieval Cardboard Castle. Now going back, I think I would organize this activity in a different way insisting on making a common product from the very beginning, not putting the different parts together at the end as we did.

In March 2008 we visited Turkey and in May we went to Romania. In Transylvania we saw the Hunyadi Castle, one of the Romanian heroes, who fought against the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans. On 9th May – the Day of Europe we had a competition between countries.

Meanwhile, it was September 2007. We all were shouting “Strike! Strike!” in the afternoons, but in the mornings, while many colleagues were at school wondering what to do, I started exploring the eTwinning site: www.etwinning.net

eTwinning began as an initiative of the European Commission in 2005. It is a non-formal-way to unable teachers to work together without responsibilities of long term relations. Its unique structure lies in the existence of free support offered to the teachers at the National and European Level. The assistance includes keeping an eye on the progress of the projects and organizing Teachers Professional Development Workshops.

eTwinniers are involved in a European-wide community of teacher practitioners who would like to give their students an experience of being in direct contact with other young people in Europe. Pupils can learn about other ideas and exchange opinions on all the topics which interest them. Teachers improve their own pedagogical skills, getting closer to their foreign partners and building a common European Identity.

I started my eTwinning project because I thought I would use it for my second Qualification Degree in teaching. Actually, I am going to use it as innovation in FLT for my First Qualification Degree.

I like the site, because the project participants have a special safe place – the Twin Space. Students can be in touch with the other project participants, write in the forum, look through the common products, upload pictures and files themselves. Each student has their responsibility while they are logged on with their own username and password.

First, I didn’t know a lot of details and decided to do a simple project with students from the 6th class, who wanted to join. The published space of the project we, Our school and our Town is: http://twinspace.etwinning.net/launcher.cfm?lang=en&cid=20829

A student, who is better than me at computers, made a logo and at the end of the school year students presented the project products in front of their parents and more and more students joined. The school received the National and later the European Quality Labels.

My first eTwinning project has had so big influence on me that I decided to do another eTwinning project: The Trees of Friendship, which is about ecology.

The Twinspace of the project is: http://my.twinspace.etwinning.net/trees?l=en

and the Twin blog is: http://friendshiptrees.blogspot.com/

There is no money for eTwinning projects, but best teachers can go to Professional development Workshops. My good work was considered and in March 2009, I received a grant to participate in a PDW in Denmark.

And next year I’ll do another eTwinning project.

At the end I would like to show you some teenagers’ thoughts about motivation:

  • My mind is my last and only frontier.
  • I say try. If we never try, we shall never succeed!
  • Be part of our community of positive people making a difference!

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