Literacy meets diversity through Skype in the Classroom

Smiling students hold up their projects in front of a display depicting a video Skype call with a teacher.

Literacy is the backbone of success and one of the most important educational initiatives that educators strive to weave into every lesson. When the students in one class might have reading levels that vary up to six years apart, teachers must be nimble in how they engage their classroom. And when everyone meets within the same four walls every day, it can be a challenge to find authentic and diverse reasons to reach out and read.

How, then, does a teacher from a rural part of the United States get help from a teacher in Indonesia? Or an author from Australia? Or a Holocaust survivor from Poland? Educators can join Skype in the Classroom for free through the Microsoft Educator Community. This community has become a virtual learning network for educators to meet other educators, classrooms and experts throughout the world. These experiences provide authentic engagement for students, which, with direction from an educator, can promote a true purpose for literary tasks.

Every year, Skype in the Classroom celebrates literacy globally in honor of World Read Aloud Day (February 16th this year) and World Book Day (March 2nd), working with hundreds of guest speakers, including authors, illustrators, and literacy partners. The goal is to inspire students to grow up as readers and become engaged citizens of the global world.

A panel from 'Dream Jumper,' a graphic novel by Greg Grunberg and Lucas Turnbloom, depicting a boy in silhouette saying, 'Here we go.'
A panel from ‘Dream Jumper,’ a graphic novel by Greg Grunberg and Lucas Turnbloom. Classes can see it come to life on Jan. 23.

 

This year will be extra special as we kick things off early with Scholastic, for Teach Graphix Week (January 23rd-27th), to highlight the power of graphic novels. During the week, teachers can sign up through Skype in the Classroom to have a Skype call with an author of a graphic novel. In the United States, there’s even a Sweepstakes contest to win a Graphix Library for a classroom. We will continue with more events for the month of February.

Connecting with authors is just one of the many experiences that help broaden students’ minds and imaginations. Karey Killian, a teacher-librarian from a rural town in Pennsylvania, and her class connected through Skype with a teacher from Indonesia. As the conversation got going, she realized it may have been the first time her students had spoken to a Muslim person. “It helped build bridges for students, to know the world around them in a kinder way than the way we sometimes see the world through our media,” she said. The innate curiosity born from this connection is often enough for students to start researching and reading about cultures on their own. Improved literary is a natural consequence of such authentic connection.

Educators who want to help their students experience other cultures from around the world are utilizing Skype for social and emotional learning. Julie Hembree, a teacher-librarian from Washington State, has sent books to underprivileged students for many years. Students fundraised money for the postage and collected gently used books to send to classrooms in several African countries. The response from students was overwhelming.  They began asking if they could write a letter, draw a picture, or share something with their African classmates – all stemming from the powerful desire to share the love of reading.

A girl faces away from the camera as she speaks to a teacher through Skype.

Below are some special literacy events for this year. There are more than 200 authors participating by offering free virtual visits in classrooms.

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

Kimberly West is a professional learning specialist and educational consultant working with school districts across the United States. Her current work is centered on redefining what teaching and learning looks like in the modern classroom, and the vital role technology plays in equalizing access to education for all students. She is a National Board Certified K-12 educator in her 18th year of teaching both students and teachers.