Ellie Barnes and Cèlia Raventós
Transforming Teaching through Erasmus+
In our talk we shared our experience in our KA2 E+ project “Discovering Europe” (https://twinspace.etwinning.net/543). Discovering Europe is a three year Strategic partnership between 10 schools in Europe. This Erasmus+ project aimed to diversify the methodology used in classrooms by introducing teaching methods that foster students’ self-motivation and sense of responsibility for their own education. We started this project in September 2014 and finished in June 2017. We had funding from the EU (through the Erasmus+ program) to carry out our activities and learning meetings.
We were so happy with the results at the time of the conference, that we decided to present “Discovering Europe” in a short talk at Nile@21. We focused on how this project was helping us to move our teaching methodology towards more student-centred methods, and also on the impact the project was having on our students, our teachers and on our schools as organisations.
For this reason we involved six of our twelve and thirteen-year-old students in the talk: Mariona Vidal Milà and Laia Vidal Milà from Catalonia (Spain), and Accalia Franklin-Dewar, Hannah Straight and Maddox Hitchmough from Norwich (UK).
Through this project, we aimed to achieve real and durable changes which endure beyond project completion. The role of a teacher is cultivating children’s natural enthusiasm for learning, their curiosity and creativity. Unfortunately, we observe that after just a few years of education those qualities in our students seem to be seriously diminished. We think that we need teaching methods that will place the students in the centre of the teaching-learning process, fostering their self-motivation and sense of responsibility for their own education. In other words, we want to help them build their “learner autonomy”.
There were 10 partner schools in this project, from 10 different countries in Europe: Poland, Slovenia, The Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Italy, Finland, Romania, The UK and Catalonia (Spain). We worked together for three years (2014-2017) in this strategic partnership. We all agree that this project has helped us and our colleagues change our teaching towards more student-centred methodologies.
We concentrated our efforts on age group 11-12, because this is the age group where we observed the negative changes in motivation for learning. Students with learning difficulties or special educational needs often fail to achieve satisfactory results in traditional lessons, and many of them gradually lose motivation for learning. This sense of failure impairs their self-esteem, which adds to their problems and diminishes their chances of success in further education. We realised that we needed methods that would better suit their needs and enable them to achieve success, fostering their self-confidence.
The reasons for this loss of motivation may be related to the methodology used, which should perhaps be updated for our XXI century, digital-native students. Our students are used to making decisions about what content they access, for how long, to do what, etc, in their free time. We think we need to let them make their own choices during their learning process too, to get them more involved, and help them build their learning autonomy.
What’s more, traditional methods concentrate on teaching knowledge. This no longer fits the needs of students in terms of their further education and future employment. We realised that we have to employ methods that concentrate more on developing in our students' skills they will need after leaving school. These skills include:
- Problem-solving skills, which at this level means mostly the ability to search for information in different sources, organizing, processing and using it
- Combining knowledge and skills from different fields in order to perform a specific task
- Using ICT tools and materials in the process of learning and performing different tasks
- Using a foreign language in different situations outside the language classroom
- Using a foreign language for communication and cooperation
- Collaboration: developing team-work skills and the ability to share knowledge
- Organizational skills, like planning their own work and assessing the results of their work and the work of others
We also recognized the need for enhancing the European dimension of education we offer in our schools by working on content concerning other European countries through different subjects. We are aware that we are raising citizens of Europe, who will need to know and understand their neighbours and be aware, and appreciative of cultural diversity across Europe.
To make the required changes in our schools possible and to transform our teaching, the teachers needed to learn and practice new methods of working with students, but also to improve their own language competence and ICT skills. This serves another need: to help our students discard the notion that their education will be finished the moment they leave school.
We believe that the best way to help our students build a positive attitude towards the idea of lifelong learning is by setting a good example and showing children that learning in adult life is not only necessary and possible, but can make work and life more interesting and satisfying.
The objectives of our project were set according to the identified needs:
- Introducing and implementing learner centred and task-oriented methods of teaching, in particular webquests and PBL (project-based-learning), to create a better environment to build our students’ self motivation and learner autonomy
- Increasing the utilization of ICT tools and resources
- Expanding and improving English language teaching by:
- Introducing elements of CLIL through performing webquests in English
- Incorporating in English lessons regular activities based on cooperation and communication between children from different countries
- Enhancing the European dimension of our schools through creating and utilizing public teaching resources based on topics related to geography, history, culture and the natural environment of different European Countries.
- Heightening teacher’s level of competence in English and ICT
- Promoting the idea of lifelong learning among teachers and students
There were three types of activities in our project:
|Teach & Learn||
WQ – modified webquests2 phases
Publishing + searching + processing information with a purpose
|Connect & Play||
e-twinning platformCommunicative and collaborative activities
5 school days
One meeting in each schoolTeams
Activities: Learning modules
Guest Day – Human TowersHost families
The main group of activities, Teach&Learn, was based on an innovative method of “modified webquest”. A webquest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. The model was developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in 1995, and it is now used all over the world.
A WebQuest has 6 essential parts: introduction, task, process, resources, evaluation, and conclusion. The task is to be performed in teams, using the resources (links to information on the web) provided. At the end there is a result, which is assessed by the students and the teacher.
For the purposes of this project, we modified some aspects of the webquests, into what we call “modified webquests”. The changes were made to foster the development of learner autonomy by allowing students more power in the decisions concerning their own learning. Modified webquests engage the participating students in decision-making processes on several levels: Firstly they choose the particular topics they study. They also choose the study materials and methods of work they use to explore the topic. Finally they have control over how the product of their investigation is assessed.
Another modification was adding an extra step in the webquest process: after completing the research on the internet by choosing and gathering the information, teams of students create study materials necessary for performing the task, and then exchange them with teams from other countries. In fact, we added a second task: a product to be made by the students from other countries, using the materials created for the first task. For example: In the first task each school presents and explains about significant buildings in their country, and in the second task the other schools build models of the buildings after accessing the study materials produced by their partners. This enables students to assess each other’s work: first they assess the study materials prepared for them, and then they assess the result of the task performed with help of their materials.
The modified webquests also introduced elements of CLIL in most of our schools, because the study materials are in English and the topics the learners are examining are genuine content areas from the general curriculum. We used English for both the websites the students use as source materials and for the products they make: websites and study materials for other learners.
Through working with modified webquests, teachers of different subjects acquired the skills and knowledge necessary not only to use existing webquests, but to create new ones, tailored to their needs and goals. They also gained experience with peer-learning and learning-by-teaching, as elements of those methods are blended into modified webquests.
We had created four webquests at the time of the conference. They are now public resources which we would be very happy that other teachers use, if they think they meet their needs. You can find the work from our students under the drop down tab “Resources” in each webquest.
WQ1 – Amazing Europe (geography) http://webquestamazingeurope.weebly.com/
Topic: Basic information about partner countries, the regions and towns of partner schools.
Practical task: Creating wall displays presenting the partner’s countries and regions
WQ2 – Traditional songs of Europe (music, native language and literature) http://traditionalsongs.weebly.com/
Topic: Traditional songs of partner countries, traditional music
Practical task: Writing lyrics in student’s language to traditional songs from other countries, performing and recording the songs
WQ3 – The Art of Building (art, history, maths) http://theartofbuilding-webquest.weebly.com/
Topic: Famous buildings in partner countries, architecture
Practical task: Building model replicas of famous buildings from other countries
WQ4 – Comic (Hi)stories (history) http://historicalcomicbook.weebly.com/
Topic: Important events from history of partner countries
Practical task: Creating comics based on important events from history of other countries
During the next school year 2016-17, we worked on WQ5 and WQ6:
WQ5 – Folk Tales in puppet theatre (literature, drama, art) http://folktalesinpuppettheatre.weebly.com/
Topic: Popular folk tales of partner countries, folk, culture
Practical task: Creating puppet shows based on folk tales of partner countries
WQ6 – Treasure Hunt (natural science) http://treasurehunt-2017.weebly.com/
Topic: National parks in partner countries
Practical task: Creating posters and a tourist guide about national parks in Europe
As an example, these are the tasks for this last webquest “Treasure Hunt” about National Parks
TASK 1 (presentation)
TASK 2 (creating wall displays)
During both tasks, the students need to make decisions. For the first task, each team has to decide what they are going to present and how they are going to do it. They also have a rubric to assess their presentations before sharing them with their partner schools. The second task is also to be performed in teams. Students need to browse and choose a National Park presented by students from a partner school, and decide what information they include in their poster, and how they organise and present it.
Connect&Play is the second strand, the purpose of which was to provide communicative context for English language learning in the form of activities based on collaboration of children from different countries on the eTwinning platform. The tasks were carried out in Twinspace and they involved using one of its tools (forum, blog, wiki, file archives, image galleries, chat). Twinspace is the virtual collaborative platform of the registered Erasmus and eTwinning projects that provides communication, collaboration and editing tools. The activities we designed for this strand foster language skills and cover topics relevant to the CEFR language level A1. Children responded very positively to these activities, since they usually include real communication with children of other countries, and they are free to do them at school or at home.
Some examples of the activities in this strand are:
“Who is who?”: Students need to upload a description of themselves and a picture relevant to the description. Once all descriptions and pictures are uploaded, students match the descriptions and pictures of their school mates in the partner schools.
“Perfect holidays”: Last June, students from different countries talked about their ideal holidays in a scaffolded interview using video-conference tools. Each school agreeded on a date and time for a Skype call with another partner school. Before the date, students prepared this activity in the classroom. They thought and decided where they would like to spend their perfect holidays, what activities they would like to do, which places they would like to visit, etc… They learned how to tell others about their choices and practised with their classmates. On the set date, students were able to Skype and chat about their perfect holidays with partners from other countries. They were really excited, and highly motivated, since it was a chance to practise their foreign language in a real communicative situation. Actually, although it was not set up in the project, teachers from different schools made agreements so that their students could Skype and chat about other topics during Erasmus Club time (after the lessons).
The third type of activity is Learning Meetings. Each school hosted a learning meeting, so there were ten of them over the three school years. Meetings lasted a week (five school days) and they were an interesting and very special experience for our students. Teams of three or four students from each country, accompanied by two teachers, travelled to each host school to take part in the meeting. Students were given accommodation with host families, and attended school every day. The host students chose and prepared the activities for the learning meeting, in order to teach different aspects of their own country to the visiting students. The activities had to include collaborative work, and had to be carried out in international teams. There were a minimum of four, and a maximum of six learning modules to work through in each meeting. The modules included trips and visits to places of interest.
Students from Catalonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and The UK in Neuschwanstein Castle, during a Learning Meeting visit to Germany.
Learning meetings offered the students a perfect environment to practice their English language skills, learn about a foreign country, and get to know different people from different countries all over Europe. The children loved those meetings. They enjoyed chatting, playing, learning and having fun with other students, using their foreign language. They were also surprised at the positive results achieved from working together on the proposed activities. These meetings were mind-opening for all participants. These were some quotes from children who took part in learning meetings:
“Travelling to Poland changed my life. In that meeting I found out I was able to communicate with people from all over Europe, and learn and have fun together. It was great! I had never travelled without my family before. That experience also helped me to face hard situations.”
“It was such a great experience! This can only happen to you once in a life”
“I enjoyed teaching our lesson about human towers. The Greek students had never heard about it, and they were really impressed when they saw the photos and videos in our presentation. They really enjoyed the games and building a small tower.”
“The Finnish school was so different to ours. There was more silence. Even in the dining room. I was also surprised that children could help themselves from the trolleys and choose what and how much food they wanted. They could also choose where to sit down. I wish our school dining room was like that.”
The role of the teacher in these meetings was more like a coach than a teacher as we usually understand it. Learning meetings were also a good opportunity to learn and enjoy for the host students, especially those who hosted visiting students at home. Living with them for a week, sharing meals, games, and knowledge were unforgettable experiences for them.
Each school set a system to choose the students to take part in each meeting. Students usually gathered points for good performance in the project activities. This gave them a clear reason to do a good job in their work teams and it was highly motivating for them. A small group of students from each country attended the meetings as representatives from their school, and they brought with them the result of the work done by the whole group of students.
Left: A traditional Catalan human tower. Right: Catalan students presenting on the human towers in Germany.
Human Towers are traditionally built in festivals at many locations within Catalonia. At these festivals, several colles castelleres (groups who construct towers) often succeed in building and dismantling a tower's structure. On November 16, 2010, castells were declared by UNESCO to be amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Reflections: How did our Erasmus+ project "Discovering Europe" transform our teaching?
As Jeremy Harmer said in his plenary at NILE@21, “change is slow, until it isn’t”. In 2014 we started a slow change towards more student-centred methodologies, where the students can make decisions about their learning process, they can assess and they are the main characters in the classroom. Teachers in all our schools have now been involved in some of the activities, and they have had an experience of working on modified webquests with their learners, helping students prepare guest-day lessons, and also helping them prepare the learning modules for their own learning meetings. Students’ motivation and performance in all these activities has been much more positive than in more traditional setups, and it gave opportunities for reflexion and self-assessment, which the students responded positively to. We’re really happy with the results of this project, since we think it has contributed very positively to changes at our school, and to help us meet the needs of our XXI century students.
Follow-up: February 2019: Discovering Europe, a Success story
We're really happy and proud that Discovering Europe was selected as a "Success story" by a panel of experts from the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission. "Success stories" are finalised projects that have distinguished themselves by their impact, contribution to policy-making, innovative results and/or creative approach and can be a source of inspiration for others. The project has been marked as "success story" and also as "good practice" in the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform, a database where you can find descriptions and results of projects supported by the European Commission under the Erasmus+ Programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport, as well as its predecessor programmes.
On behalf of all our partners in this project, we'd like to thank NILE for giving us the opportunity to share this project with teachers all over Europe. It was very rewarding to get some feedback from teachers who applied successfully after Nile@21 and are now participating in their own Erasmus+ projects, which can be a great way of Transforming Teaching. We are sure teachers now participating in these projects will have as much enjoyment as we have in our own experiences with Erasmus+.