A few years ago, a comment made by my oldest son set me on a journey. We were watching a movie together, one of those fast-paced, high-action movies where the world is in danger and some smart, quick-thinking and brave lead character comes to save the world. We marveled together about how exciting and important his job was and how amazing it would feel to be in a position to change the world. As we continued watching, I couldn’t stop thinking about over conversation. How was it that this character was getting all the accolades when none of his work would have been possible without the many teachers that believed in his abilities and taught him those critical skills? He couldn’t have possibly made a difference in the world unless his teachers did first. With this important realization came another: If teachers have the potential to change the world and show their students that they can too, then we need to bring the world into the classroom. Thus, my journey began.
Photo Courtesy of Kyla Cameron

I began reaching outside of my classroom walls and stretched my comfort zone. I focused on the bigger reasons we teach students to read and write: to hear their voices and leave a mark on the world. I had the opportunity to share my learning with a group of educators at a local reading council event, which was by far, one the more exciting professional development sessions I had facilitated. Why? To kick off the session, we mystery-skyped with a class in Canada to give teachers a real sense of just how powerful connecting with a class could be. Teachers eagerly engaged with the students as they asked questions to guess their location. Happily, the students won as they used their literacy and reasoning skills to guess our New York location first. As we debriefed, we talked about how powerful the experience was: the connection, the learning, the social skills, the character building and more. It would have been one thing for me to tell the teachers just how powerful (and easy!) an experience like this was, but it was quite another to engage them in it. We spent the rest of the session sharing ways to bring the world into our classroom to give students the same kinds of powerful experiences of connecting with others outside of our classroom walls. Here are some ideas for you to try:

Start with books. One of the easiest ways to connect your students with the world outside their classroom is to surround them with rich, diverse children’s literature. These books can act as windows into new worlds, widening their perspective and opening their minds to something new. Visit What We Do All Day’s blog and read '53 Books That Will Take You Around the World’

Add some technology. Use Padlet and Flipgrid to share students’ reading with other classrooms. Start by creating a Padlet wall and have students add ‘shelfies’ of the books they are reading. Share the Padlet with other classrooms or even reach out to teachers in other schools and states through social media. Ready to move to video? Have students record book talks of their favorite books to share with other classes like the example here.

Participate in a global initiative. The Global Read Aloud and The Global Kind Project are two amazing initiatives to get involved with. Each focus on reading, writing and thinking with classrooms around the build to not only build literacy skills, but to build character and empathy and understand our larger place in the world.

Connect with classrooms. Ready to connect with a classroom in a mystery skype or to learn and wonder together? Learn more about Empatico, a fantastic organization to connect classrooms together around the world. Edumatch harnesses the power of social media to foster collaborations and connection among educators around the globe. Microsoft even offers a database of educators interested in connecting with other classrooms. Start exploring!

So where will you begin? Start by expanding your own personal learning network (PLN) and learn from other educators already engaging in this kind of instruction. Then, let your students reap the same benefits as they build their own PLN by interacting with other books, ideas, students, schools and even countries through technology. Let me know what you are doing so we can collaborate!

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  1. This is wonderful, Stephanie. As I was reading your post, it reminded me that activities like this are so engaging because it involves an AUTHENTIC audience. It draws kids in. We need more of this in education. Lots more.


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