“My biggest hope is to make learning so powerful and memorable, that students can look for solutions to real problems.” – Jennifer Verschoor, Argentina
Have you ever tried to have a conversation in a language that you were just learning (or didn’t know at all), with someone who also didn’t know the language? If so, it was most likely a little awkward, probably scary, and you may not have done much talking at all.This is the exact scenario that educator Jennifer Verschoor set up for her English students. Verschoor and Brazilian educator Ana María Menezes paired up students from their respective classrooms with the goal of speaking together in English (rather than their native Spanish and Portuguese).
“The objective of the project, which we called ‘Hello, there!,’ was for students to learn as much as they could about the other students and the places where they lived,” says Verschoor. “At the end of four weeks, each student would write a report to their teacher about what they had learned.”
”Hello, there!” was one of Vershoor’s many project-based language lessons, all intended to bring the world into her classroom through the use of technology, which she sees as a “must have” for classrooms of the 21st century.
“Technology should be ubiquitous in education,” she says. “Every school should make technology a priority by adding computer science into their curriculum. Our challenge and struggle is empowering our teachers to use technology as a tool and to help engage students’ success. Let’s never forget that a motivated and innovative teacher is the most valuable resource we have in the classroom.“
Hear, hear! Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Jennifer Verschoor.
What inspired you to become an educator?
One day after school, I was wondering how to earn some money to pay for my driving lessons. There was a sign stuck on an electricity post asking for English teachers at a private institute near my house. At that time, I was attending a bilingual school in Buenos Aires and thought that they might be interested in hiring me.
My first ESL class was given to a group of adults who wanted to improve their speaking skills. I had no idea how to teach because I was finishing my high school studies at that time. Immediately I fell in love with the idea of becoming a language facilitator to help people learn a foreign language.
After this experience, I decided to become a teacher. Several of my teachers in primary school were an inspiration. I was nine years old when my family moved to Buenos Aires. We always spoke in Spanish at home, but I never thought we could write in Spanish. My Spanish written level was very weak compared to my classmates. All my teachers helped me overcome my difficulties and guided me to excel as quickly as possible.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
Back in 2007, I decided it was high time to innovate and to be creative. I joined a vibrant online community of practice (CoP) called the Webheads in Action created by Vance Stevens.
Webheads in Action is comprised of teachers and learners who, for well over a decade now, have engaged one another in frequent collaboration serving to enhance the learning and knowledge of all concerned. This is achieved through constant exchange of ideas, not only about teaching, but also on the use of the Internet to provide opportunities for learning through appropriate application of freely available Web 2.0 tools in personal learning networks (PLNs).
Many teachers from around the world have had to overcome several obstacles to be able to innovate and I realized how alike we all are. This vibrant community of teachers was the first stepping stone to many innovative projects. Some webheads were using blogs with their students. I had neither the Internet nor computers at school, but I was determined to bring the world into my classroom.
It was quite hard to convince the school heads about the importance of collaborating and sharing with other schools worldwide because they were worried about online safety. I decided it was time to create my first blog connecting my students with teenagers from different parts of the world. This was a turning point in my career because my online project was selected for a scholarship to attend the WorldCALL conference in Fukuoka, Japan.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
I feel passionate about innovation and technology because education is a life-long process. Schools striving to help students become global citizens should prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century. With the cultural impact of globalization and technological innovation, educators must focus on using technology to leverage student-centered learning.
Last year I was teaching English at a bilingual school in Buenos Aires and wondered how students can best learn language in a meaningful way. There was a need for purposeful change and innovation.
It was with this in mind that last year, together with Ana María Menezes from Brazil, I carried out an international project to connect students from Argentina with students from Brazil. The idea was to have 18 Brazilian students paired up with 24 students from Argentina to communicate over the duration of four weeks.
We divided our students according to their nationalities, one Brazilian and two Argentinians, without following any specific criteria.
In our case, we had students from different countries, from different social and cultural backgrounds, with a historical rivalry in football. Therefore, we needed to moderate this experience with care. Our role during the project was to have all students join an Edmodo group, divide them into small groups randomly and observe their conversation. The students’ messages would not be corrected by us beforehand — the objective was not accuracy, but instead to develop a conversation in English. As moderators, we would try to facilitate interaction among students.
Another space we prepared was a collaborative wiki which would host the final reports and whatever we decided to make public. Although their communication was private, we opted to make the final reports public for several reasons. First, we wanted students to be able to read each other’s reports, and in this way, learn from each other. Second, the wiki link could be shared with parents. And third, other teachers would be able to see a little bit of what our project was about.
We also decided to develop two rubrics to help students understand what was expected of them during the two phases of the project: participation and final report. Based on our extensive experience as online and face-to-face teachers, we believe building rubrics for projects can make the evaluation process clear and transparent, as well as describe the levels of quality from excellent to poor so that students themselves are able to evaluate their own work. On that account, we brainstormed and discussed different criteria we found relevant for this specific project and how to share them with our students.
Before starting the project, we showed our students the rubrics, discussed the criteria and answered their questions. Their biggest worry was about their partner being silent: “What if my partner doesn’t answer?” We calmed them down by reaffirming we would be guiding them throughout the whole project and that all of them would have to write a final report. Taking that into account, all students, Brazilians and Argentinians, would need to develop conversations in order to complete the final task: the written report.
What’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
We face several problems in education. First of all, teachers are not viewed as role models by our society. Some of the biggest obstacles are the lack of innovation and creativity.
Society is changing fast and education is following far behind. We are in a transition era as educators. It´s hard for teachers to move away from their comfort zone, and to furnish students with the necessary instruments to thrive in a globalized world by exploiting free sources and resources for genuine interaction. Students need to take ownership in their learning process, if not they will never develop different abilities.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
As an educator, my biggest hope is to make learning so powerful and memorable, that students can look for solutions to real problems. If schools implement project-based learning, students will learn how to work in groups, collaborate, share and communicate with students from other countries.
About Jennifer Verschoor
ICT Teacher and Teacher Trainer
St. George´s College North
Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Blog URL:jenniferverschoor.pbworks.com
- Birthplace: Argentina
- Educational background:A. in Virtual Environments
- Website I check every day:microsoft.com/en-us/education
- Favorite childhood memory: Listening to the stories from my grandparents from Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland.
- Favorite book: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, Ph.D.
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype, Office Mix, Minecraft, Sway and OneNote.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? If you never chase your dreams, you will never follow them.