Have you ever wanted your students to participate in a language and cultural exchange program that connects them to the world? You are in luck because there is a program that does just that! This program is called Global Classmates and it is run by the non-profit organization Kizuna Across Cultures (KAC) which was actually co-founded by a group of former JETs and Japanese! As a fifth year ALT working at a senior high school on the outskirts of Tokyo, I have had the privilege of experiencing this program firsthand and I am excited that I have this opportunity to share my personal perspective on using Global Classmates at my school.
How does this program work? Basically, a class of Japanese high school students studying English is partnered up with a class of U.S. high school students studying Japanese. For 6 months the two classes engage in online cultural exchange by making posts, exchanging comments, photos and videos on a secure education-based online platform called Schoology. Schoology is very similar to Facebook in terms of its presentation and features. Students write about various topics such as school life, food and hobbies in both English and Japanese. They read each others’ posts and write comments on them and this leads to interaction and communication. In addition to the online discussions, there are two other components to the program: Omiyage Exchange and Video Koshien. Omiyage Exchange is a gift exchange between the partner schools. Students buy and send gifts such as snacks and small cultural items. My students this year received a lot of Halloween themed goods, which they really enjoyed. For Video Koshien, students create a short video around a theme and they compete against other schools’ videos. This is a great way for students to show off their creative side. In short, Global Classmates is a program that aims to build friendships and foster intercultural understanding.
This program has had such a positive impact on my students in so many ways. The three main areas are: (1) improved language and communication skills, (2) heightened motivation, and (3) increased confidence. Firstly, the students’ language and communication skills improved because they were both actively receiving and producing language i.e. both input and output. They were also applying and utilizing what they had learned in their English classes, which consolidated their language knowledge. Secondly, the students’ motivation rose because they were interacting with a real audience using authentic language. This was seen in the students’ desire to express themselves and convey their thoughts to their online classmates. Lastly, the students’ confidence increased over time as they realized that making mistakes is OK and became more comfortable with using the language.
These points can be illustrated in an example of one student who initially struggled with English but was able to improve their skills and become motivated and confident through this program. In the beginning, the student found it hard to compose even the most basic sentences. The student had previously attempted Eiken grade 3 but was not able to pass the written and listening stage. During class the student would frequently ask for my assistance and I would have to guide them in producing the words, phrases and sentences to get their point across. However, towards the end of the program, there was a clear improvement in all aspects. The student had become more competent and confident enough to compose more sentences on their own before asking for help. The student’s increased motivation was reflected in the fact that, by the end of the program, they had made the most number of posts and comments. Out of all my students, this student had grown the most and I was both proud and pleased to have seen that.
Global Classmates has not only had a positive impact on my students but also has made my time on JET a more rewarding experience. Through assisting them during class time and reading their posts and comments, I was able to get to know my students much better and this made my bond with them much stronger. Furthermore, being involved in this program has improved my relationship with my JTE (who spearheaded the program) and other teachers through communication, cooperation and teamwork. Finally, I was able to learn what it takes to run a successful online exchange program and the skills and knowledge I gained is something that I hope to apply in my post-JET career. In conclusion, I highly recommend Global Classmates to anyone who values intercultural understanding and aspires their students to build global friendships in this interconnected world.
Kizuna Across Cultures (KAC) will begin accepting applications in early 2020 for Global Classmates, their virtual cultural and language exchange program for high school students. Engage your students in active learning and give them an opportunity to enjoy communicating in English with their peers from abroad!
If you’d like to receive an application once they become available, fill out this simple form: https://forms.gle/