The Basics of
Sister Class Exchanges
Sister classes engage in two kinds of exchanges:
- culture packages of maps, photos, audio and videotapes, memorabilia;
- joint collaborative projects, which may best be described as "long-distance
In addition to sharing monthly culture packages, ORILLAS teachers and
their students plan and jointly execute collaborative projects that involve
interdependent, cooperative activity in small groups at both sites. Teachers
design these projects to complement and extend their standard curriculum
activities, whether in language arts, science, math or social studies.
Experience has shown that collaborative projects fall into four major
- Shared Student Publications. Classroom journalism and publishing
are among the most common collaborative projects. Everyone involved
has clearly defined roles. Students are "reporters" when
they write articles for local newsletters; "editors" while
revising and polishing their writing; and "correspondents"
when they send finished articles for inclusion in the school newspaper
produced by their distant sister class. In some cases, two sister
classes decide to plan and publish a single newsletter by establishing
a "joint editorial board." Students from both classes form
a panel to make the innumerable decisions which go into a successful
journalistic product, ranging from the title of the newspaper and
the topics that reporters will cover in both classes, to the final
stages of production involving artwork, layout and printing. This
project can be enriched by inviting reporters and editors from community
newspapers to offer professional advice to students, and by organizing
field trips to local newspaper offices.
Investigations. The second type of collaborative project can take
many forms, but one of the most popular and illustrative is the "comparative
community survey". Here, the Sister Classes pick a theme of common
interest. This theme is usually a controversial one that confronts
and challenges the students' respective communities (for example,
homelessness, drug abuse, or the depletion of the ozone layer resulting
from industrial pollution). The classes nominate and together evaluate
various items for inclusion in a joint community survey that taps
public opinion on their chosen theme. Items are selected which provide
both quantifiable data and open-ended reactions. When the survey is
completed, the sister class teachers help students to analyze the
results and to craft a report on their community's stance toward the
controversial theme. These reports are then shared between sister
classes. The spirit of the comparative community survey is to "Think
Globally and Act Locally", and the project often leads to joint
community actions initiated by teachers and students.
The goal of this
activity, like other comparative investigations, is to develop students'
critical inquiry skills. As community "self-portraits" are
shared, sister classes begin to compare and contrast their communities
and worldviews, so often taken for granted. This same impulse drives
other collaborative projects which fall under this category, such
as joint science investigations, contrastive geography projects, and
dual "slide/tape" shows.
- Folklore Compendiums and
Oral Histories. In the third category of collaborative projects are
collections of folklore and community narratives. These projects often
involve numerous sister classes, since the more wide-ranging and diverse
the participation, the richer the final product. Folklore compendiums
can include collections of proverbs, children's rhymes and riddles,
fables and folktales, and lullabies and songs. Folklore collections
are really intergenerational studies, since students often "go
straight to the source" by consulting with parents, grandparents
and other relatives in their extended families. Comparative oral histories
take a slightly different approach. To complete these collaborative
projects, the sister classmates (armed with tape recorders and notebooks)
arrange to interview key community figures on agreed-upon themes,
such as "What was school like for parents and grandparents?"
or other topics relating to local community heritage.
Projects. Cross-cultural learning such as constantly occurs in the
ORILLAS network will always challenge us to discover new techniques,
approaches and organizing metaphors which help us plan classroom activities
to meet our educational goals. As we saw above, the "metaphor"
of student journalism provides teachers and students with a rich and
complex set of roles that can be harnessed to foster writing skills
development. But other organizing metaphors hold great promise for
reaching specific curricular goals.
Among the new metaphors
which ORILLAS teachers are exploring to promote their students' social
perspective-taking skills is the metaphor of *students and teachers
as cross-cultural anthropologists*. Here, students in different sister
classes are paired and alternately play the roles of anthropologist
and cultural informant. Each student anthropologist questions her
or his distant informant on a specific culturally significant theme,
and gradually they develop a thematic narrative; then they switch
roles to explore the same theme in the other sister class setting.
Finally, all the sister classmates share the resulting narratives
on a range of themes, and a sound basis is created for genuine cross-cultural
Our experience in ORILLAS has shown that (1) shared publications, (2)
comparative investigations, and (3) folklore collections are the kinds
of collaborative projects which are common to nearly every sister class
exchange. Yet, as the final example illustrates, a hallmark of our network
is (4) the on-going, experimental search by ORILLAS teachers for new organizing
metaphors and related classroom activities that explore the learning potential
of long-distance sister classes.