Following my first article in the Neurolanguage Collective Magazine (Edition 1), I would like to write more extensively on a major educational project which we do in our school here in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. This project is called Connecting Classes. But before digging deeply into the nature of the programme, allow me first to write an introduction to shed some light on the importance of such projects in the educational operation.
Education has always been vital for the survival and success of individuals and societies. It is undoubtedly the most powerful agent which can be used to change the world. Through education, a lot of societies and nations have had great effects on other nations and have also had the honour to be in leading positions. On top of the educational process are wise leaders who inspire other leaders and learners as well.
In the past, teachers were the only source of knowledge. Teachers used to supply learners with the needed information. Technology did not have any role in the educational process. Moreover, students did not exert any additional effort. Now the direct effect of teachers, or educational leaders, is very limited but significant. This is where educational supplementary programmes such as Connecting Classes come in, to bridge a great gap and to ‘engage the pupils’ interest and to prompt them to develop their thinking’ (Churches, 2012: 38) skills.
Why Connecting Classes?
In an increasingly interconnected and multicultural world, it has become necessary to bring global issues to life for young learners and to promote a mutual respect and deep understanding of cultural differences. This global project aims to increase interaction between students in two countries to raise cultural awareness and to enhance students’ working skills through cooperative learning and creativity.
In a cooperative learning technique, young learners work worldwide via Connecting Classes to become global citizens who are aware of international issues. Cooperative learning is an essential skill needed for students to discover and contribute positively to a global society and a demanding global market. Cooperative learning in classrooms has ‘become an important way of practicing constructivist educational approaches that attribute importance to discover learning and construe learning as a social activity’ (De Lisi, et al., cited in Efe and Efe, 2011: 187).
This global programme requires people who are able to think outside the box. Teachers, or coaches, running this programme are expected to have a minimum level of innovation to inspire young learners because ‘a teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron’ (Mann, cited in Calderbank, 2012: 48).
Cooperative learning is an instructional approach that employs a wide range of motivational techniques and creates a better learning atmosphere for young people. Through cooperative learning, students develop a variety of leadership skills. Many theorists believe that the leaders’ role is to create other leaders and not followers. Therefore, cooperative learning is a good chance to develop these leadership skills.
Cooperative efforts within a team result in a higher degree of accomplishment by all students involved. Each student has a specific leading role to do. Students usually help each other to achieve a common goal. Low achievers can accomplish a lot in working cooperatively which is not the case when receiving their teacher’s instructions in a traditional teaching strategy.
Cooperative learning also develops students’ social skills. Students usually tend to work competitively and not collaboratively. Competition has always been valued over cooperation. In teamwork, students become aware of the need for positive social interaction and better communication within the team. ‘Positive effects of cooperative learning have been consistently found on such diverse outcomes as self-esteem, intergroup relations, acceptance of academically handicapped students, attitudes toward school, and ability to work cooperatively’ (Slavin, 1991: 71).
Cooperative learning is also helpful for students who are anxious of working under pressure. In individual or competitive learning, teachers might ‘point the finger at’ … [some students] ‘in particular’ (Bate, 2001: 12) and blame them whereas in project-based learning teachers help students achieve their tasks with less or even negligible anxiety. Big tasks are distributed among team members, and each one of the members will be responsible for a small task.
Cooperative learning also increases students’ motivation to learn. It helps students complete a certain task and encourages a positive attitude towards school subjects. Moreover, it improves friendly relationships among peers, reinforces self-confidence in students, and ‘creates a pleasant relaxed atmosphere in the classroom’ (Calderbank, 2012: 16). Cooperative learning also helps students in getting better results by thinking critically and innovatively.
For cooperative learning to be effective, it has to be a planned process, not a haphazard operation. Therefore, there should be wise educational leadership, innovative approaches, a healthy school culture, much motivation, a clear strategy and a team of educators.
More Details About the Project
Now let me go more deeply and describe how the Connecting Classes’ Project works. A cluster of schools (5 schools) were formed here in Riyadh and another cluster (3 schools) was also established in the city of Bradford in England. School coordinators in Riyadh elected me to be the cluster coordinator. The same thing happened in Bradford, so the schools there elected a coordinator as well.
The first step for us here in Riyadh was meeting our partners in Bradford, so we invited them to Riyadh in an attempt to know each other much better and to break the ice. Together we did some short meetings in the form of workshops and we did many brainstorming sessions. We discussed the general headlines, and we agreed to exchange cultural projects between our pupils. Cultural subjects may include each country’s traditions, folklore, traditional cuisine, costumes, just to name some.
When the Bradford team travelled back home, we started applying the project with our students. I chose three classes to work with whereas some other colleagues in the same cluster chose single classes. The same idea was done in Bradford, England. Each class sat together under the supervision of a coach and they produced amazing pieces of writing plus photos showing their culture.
After about two months, students finished doing their project, so the school coordinators in Riyadh emailed me their students’ projects and I forwarded the projects to the cluster coordinator in Bradford, who also forwarded the projects to the teachers in Bradford. The same thing took place from Bradford to Riyadh. Finally, students in the two countries read about the other country’s cultural and discovered the beauty in that culture.
From my side, I organize a couple of trips for my students to the UK to meet with our partner school. Students enjoyed knowing their partners and they had much fun there.
Now we are looking forward to building more partnerships with many other schools worldwide. So please, dear readers, if you are interested write to me on the following email to discuss things more deeply and to start some new partnerships:
Mazen Bsat: firstname.lastname@example.org
Neurolanguage Coach, International Coordinator, & Teacher
Najd National Schools/International Program, Riyadh