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Orilla a Orilla
Figueroa, Kristin Brown, and
Rivera, Technical Support
"De Orilla a Orilla" results from a long-standing and continuing interest in using critical inquiry to relate curriculum content to students' individual and collective experience and to analyze broader social issues relevant to their lives.
Distancing - Perspective with distance
How do long-distant curriculum projects differ from the kinds of project-based partnerships that might take place between two classes within the same school or with a neighboring school in the community? Greater distances bring greater differences. These differences not only bring additional perspectives which enhance a curricular project, but also provide opportunities for students to learn about one another while learning about the topic at hand.
Students face new challenges when they write to others from a distinct geographic, cultural, or linguistic reality. They can't necessarily assume that the other students share the same assumptions and background information. When people are forced to explain their lives, culture, and country to someone from another country or culture, they are forced to take a step back and re-think the world in which they live -- a process we have termed "distancing".
These exchanges not only have the ability to promote cross-cultural understanding by introducing students to people from a different culture or background, they also have the potential to force students to re-analyze their own worlds, thereby enhancing their understanding of their own lives.
For Elise and Celestin Freinet, school-to-school exchanges were not an end in themselves. Rather, partnerships between faraway classes served as the indispensable precursor to a more profound and active engagement with social realities much closer to home. These long- distance learning partnerships create a context --we might even say a pretext-- for students to collaborate more intensively with people in their own classroom and community.
"When we live very close to our surroundings and to people, we
eventually come not to see them. ... But thanks to the questions sent
from our distant colleagues, our eyes are opened. We question, we investigate,
we explore more deeply in order to respond with precise verifications
to the inexhaustible curiosity of our distant collaborators, based on
a natural motivation. This gradually leads to an awareness of our entire
geographic, historic, and human environment (Gervilliers et al., 1968/1977,
"When we live very close to our surroundings and to people, we eventually come not to see them. ... But thanks to the questions sent from our distant colleagues, our eyes are opened. We question, we investigate, we explore more deeply in order to respond with precise verifications to the inexhaustible curiosity of our distant collaborators, based on a natural motivation. This gradually leads to an awareness of our entire geographic, historic, and human environment (Gervilliers et al., 1968/1977, pp. 29-30)."
Through this activity, students could come to replace an unquestioning view of their world with a more objective, conscious and critical perspective.
"The student, because she needs to describe them, develops an awareness of the conditions of her life, of the life of her town or her neighborhood, even of her province. ... She had been living too close to these conditions and through inter-school exchanges she has distanced herself from them in order to better comprehend the conditions of her life (p. 31). "
Yet "distancing" is not the only outcome. Students also discover multiple opportunities for purposeful engagement with their day- to-day reality. According to Freinet, reflective distancing leads to social action: "Inter-school networks ... are conducive to a true cultural formation, offering to each individual several possibilities of action over his surroundings, and causing a profound engagement with human beings and with things past, present and future" (p. 15).
For the Freinets, and for us in Orillas, critical learning involves a two-fold process of reflective distancing and purposeful engagement with the physical and social world. Educational technology can play a central role acting as a catalyst for critical reflection and for linking distancing with social action.
...sharing across differences
Project coordinators work with
teachers to identify and share examples of activities which take students
beyond the traditional descriptive activities found so often in textbooks
to deeper levels of comprehension, critical inquiry and opportunities
to act on what they are learning:
These phases are drawn from the educational theories of Paulo Freire, Alma Flor Ada, and Jim Cummins, and help provide the theoretical framework for projects sponsored by "De Orilla a Orilla" (and co-sponsored with the Center for Language Minority Educational Research). Please see the graphic representation below.