The aim of this article is to share my own story of my everyday challenges and problems that I face teaching English for secondary students at Kovel Gymnasium, a typical Ukrainian school in a small town of Kovel in the north-west of Ukraine. At the same time I would like to highlight how implementation of eTwinning into the school curriculum and my everyday classes helps me to deal with most of these problems and solve the most challenging issues in my classroom.
The most discouraging thing about education nowadays is students’ lack of motivation to learning. I am striving to motivate my students and engage them in learning as I stick to the viewpoint of most cognitive psychologists about how important motivation is to one's success in life. I realize that it is not easy to promote motivation until students are actively engaged in what they do. Having involved my students into eTwinning projects I noticed how collaborative learning and sharing raise their interest to learning. For example, a project offered to a group of students will prompt a full range of responses related to motivation, such as excitement, enthusiasm and engagement.
Another challenge in my classroom is the fact that most students do not own proper computer skills. It is not surprising as the majority of Ukrainian schools are not technically equipped, have poor Internet access/speed and computer classrooms are used only for ICT lessons. I fully realize that the digital age impacts today’s generation because children have been growing up with technology. Nowadays technology is advancing at such a rate that traditional ways of teaching and learning are not pushing students to their full potential. By using IT properly in the classroom, teaching and learning are enhanced and given a new dimension. Involving my students into eTwinning projects and encouraging them to learn about how to use effective web 2.tools, I see how they develop computer skills. Even using stereotypical cell phone and the mobile Internet, the process of learning becomes more motivating and interactive for students. Using technology while working on eTwinning projects children learn by doing, researching, and receiving feedback. This helps students to become passionate about what they are learning.
As my observation of Ukrainian school education (regarding rural and small town areas) shows, the older version of a student needs to be upgraded. It’s no longer enough for a modern student to own a basic level of literacy. Being able to find information is still useful, but knowing how to evaluate it, apply it, and be able to use knowledge in practice is what’s essential. As we move further into the 21st century, we realize what skills students need to be competitive in today’s society. Even though my school is in a distant area of Ukraine, there’s still an urgent task for me to start encouraging thinkers and innovators who are able to work in teams and generate new ideas. Gradually involving my students into eTwinning projects, I notice how they are changing and how eTwinning helps them to develop important 21st century skills. Participating in eTwinning projects my students learn more about other people and diversity, and they are coming to understand that not everyone learns and thinks in the same way. I feel excited about it, because I do not want to fit my students into the same box. I encourage my students to be keen participants in the class discussion, to practice leadership skills, to be able to express their viewpoints clearly and try to impact our school and class community bringing positive changes and improving our lives.
The most challenging task for me as a teacher is to adapt eTwinning activities into my lesson plan. Although my students have become accustomed to new technologies and are always eager to learn new skills, there's not always time to work on eTwinning activities at my lessons because we should follow the curriculum and very little time is left for extra activities. However, I try to fit eTwinning activities into my lessons even if eTwinning project and my lesson topic cover different aspects. I explain my students that in the real life we also do not deal with the same or similar challenges, so they need to react quickly to the changes. It also fosters their curiosity and enhances their creativity and imagination. In this way I try to connect eTwinning activities and my lesson topic. At the same time eTwinning activities can reinforce what we learn at the lesson. One quick example. While we were reviewing with students how to write stories, we had the online meeting (it was included into our project plan “Grandma's Stories in 2080”) with Shelly Sanchez Terrell, an e-learning specialist, consultant and innovator who shared her experience how to write exciting stories and gave some useful tips on effective storytelling. This meeting was a virtual bridge between “the world in here” and “the world out there”, the real world of real lives. What I appreciate about eTwinning projects is the fact that they help to develop my students’ social skills. Through collaborative activities in the project children also improve interpersonal skills to interact appropriately with others. Participation in the project activities enables them to respond to people in a positive way fostering their tolerance and empathy. Their teamwork skills are refined and they have social influence.
To sum up, project-based learning helps my students to apply what they learn to real-life experiences and provides an all-around enriching education.