As two English teachers , we like the idea of connecting our students together to help them improve their English language and make new friends at the same time. We believe that using zoom sessions on the internet can be the best way to do that. Our students can hear, see and interact with each other easily and effectively.
Therefore, we decided to write our reflections of this wonderful experience from our different points of view.
by Erica Napoli (in Milan)….
I am proud to be part of the Hands Up Project as one of the volunteer teachers for the Gaza Strip learners because this has offered me the opportunity to meet lovely people and feel more like a learner than a teacher.
In fact, whatever you may assume a teacher must be, this experience is a very distinctive one. The fact that those smiling kids live in danger and constantly have the sense of fear and death makes them different from any typical Italian or European teen; the experience of teaching is not only related to practice in a foreign language but also to sharing a sense of humanity. As much as this may sound strange, I hadn’t reckoned on how much this could impact on me and my class.
For this reason, I want to share with you something about the four classes we had during the last two months (instead of the scheduled six due to the bomb attacks which happened in the middle of this period)
The first lesson with Inas’ class, together with my 12-year-olds’ class, was conducted by Nick who gave the kids some instructions about making up a story starting with the letters of their names. This was a task that my students loved to prepare and share in the second lesson.
The first meeting though was something of mess, at least from my point of view in my class. As a matter of fact my students had just come back from a week’s school trip so I had not had the time to get them prepared for their first online shared lesson experience. They jumped in and out of the camera-range, all talking together, making comments, showing a lot of chaotic interest and being over-excited. But at the end of this first session, my class was enthusiastic and we all had the feeling of having made new friends. We spent some time talking about Gaza and Palestine, looking at a map to see where they are located. My students were shocked to know about how difficult life in Palestine can become, always being afraid of bombs. However, they were all conscious of having experienced joy and found happiness in small acts like sending each other little hearts, shaped with their fingers framing their face.
By thinking of how to improve our lesson technically, the kids realised that some rules need to be followed in front of the camera. Specifically, they noticed that the Palestinian students were more used to staying in front of the camera, speaking one at a time, pausing and repeating, drawing big signs to make everything clearer. This kind of feedback after the lesson was a way to become aware of how powerful English is as a lingua franca and at the same time how our culture can influence our way of speaking. Despite the fact that my students are only 12 they show an understanding of this point and become more respectful towards the others. So for example, during the second meeting they were expected to prepare a presentation about their country and habits. My students noticed how their assumptions about being teens could be different, so when they were preparing a quiz for the girls of Palestine they started wondering what it was best to ask. For example, my class assumed that kids in Gaza can have the same opportunity to travel as they have. Discovering that they are kids just like them, who have the same ideas of beauty or love but a different concept of freedom, can be enlightening when you are only twelve. Maybe this can help you become less selfish and more aware of others when growing up.
Therefore, I had the impression that this way of working in class in connection with Gaza has not only been a great opportunity to improve their way of speaking and listening, but also an opportunity to broaden their horizons. They truly realised that they have a different culture due to the fact that they live in a different place, but also they have the same feelings and share the same desire to have fun, to be accepted by the others. In other words they saw what it is to be friends.
Finally, I think that the person who has learned most from this experience so far is me: I’ve noticed how kids do not have to overcome barriers in order to reach a common ground and they also minimise cultural impact; they simply act naturally, giving the best examples of communication.
By Inas Younis Shurrab (In Khan Younis)….
Connecting students through live sessions on the internet can affect them in many ways. It benefits their personality development, their language acquisition and their knowledge improvement. All of these things can widen their gazes to learn more quickly.
When Mr. Nick Bilbrough , the founder of the Hands Up project, posted on facebook about a teacher in Italy and her students who want to connect with a group of the same age from Gaza , I didn’t hesitate to ask him to connect me and my English Club students. Mr. Nick agreed and organised our first meeting. The next day I told my students about that and they were very happy and excited. For them, it was the first time to have such an experience.
The First live meeting via zoom: (12th March ,2019)
Mr. Nick was the host of this session . He started it by introducing both groups to each other . He showed us some nice things he has from Palestine and Italy and we were very happy to see them . Then , he made a wonderful activity with students to enhance the four skills of learning English . The idea of the activity was to write your name in the middle of a piece of paper then to draw some pictures starting with the first letter of your name. After that ,you have to write a short story using the names of these pictures. He did a model with his name , Nick, then he asked our students to do the same at home as a homework before the next session.
The Second meeting:(28th March,2019)
I and Erica , agreed on the time of the next session. It was really a fantastic one as we and our students enjoyed a lot .The students were working all the week to draw their pictures and to write their stories. Erica suggested having a vote to decide the best story. The students of both groups started by showing their names and pictures and asking the other group to guess the names of the pictures. Then they started reading their stories to each other. Actually , all the stories were great. We voted for the best story and Lama , one of my students , won.
At the end, my friend, Erica decided to send Lama and her friends a parcel from Italy . It was a surprise for us and the girls were very happy.
The Third session (30th of April,2019)
On this session , Erica and I decided to tell each other about the customs and the sites of our countries . I divided my students into groups then I asked each group to prepare some pictures and information about something from our country , i.e , the famous places , the food, the traditional clothes etc.
When we met at the agreed time ,we had another exciting zoom session. We presented our country to them and we showed them our traditional dress and dance, the dabka. They were very happy to see it. Then our Italian friends made a nice quiz for us to find out about their lovely country , Italy and their city , Milan . We learned a lot from this session and my students wished to visit Italy one day as it seems fascinating to them.
The fourth session: (the 3rd of May)
We had a long time before we arranged this session as we couldn’t find a suitable time for it and we both were busy. Erica told me that they really wanted to see our winning play in the Hands Up Project Remote Theatre competition, “The Play of the Play”. I asked my students to be ready for that.
We met on Tuesday , and I was nervous as I was late for joining Erica. There was a problem in the internet connection in my school but we fixed it at the end. Also, some of my students were late for the meeting , although I asked them to come on time. Therefore , Erica started to do some vocabulary activities with us , she asked us to guess the meaning of some words and we guessed most of them .
Then she did another useful activity with both groups as she asked them to write as many words as possible related to a word she gave them .They wrote about homework , holiday and summer. After they finished , they counted the number of words they wrote . Every time the other group had more words.
The third activity was to show my students a picture of from a book and to ask them to describe this picture to their friends in Italy . The other group have to draw this picture from the description they hear. My girls enjoyed these activities a lot .
At the end of this session , my students performed their play live through zoom and they liked it a lot.
Developing the skills of students is an important aim to achieve during the school year . And finding new ways to do that by using the 21st century modern technology is even more important .
My students’ experience with the live sessions of our kind Italian friends was really unforgettable for me and for them. We spent many enjoyable hours communicating and practicing English .
This experience also helped us a lot to learn more vocabulary to express our culture and customs. We never thought before to talk about these things using only English.
I hope that our meetings will never stop . And I wish to continue this wonderful partnership with this lovely group from Italy.
Thanks Italy and thank you Erica and your lovely class.
At the end , from the depth of my heart , I thank Mr. Nick Bilbrough for such meeting to help our students practice and learn English . Also , I want to thank him for all the things he does to make the voice of the Palestinian children louder and louder.