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Promoting international-mindedness through learning communities

Peter McDonald, the PYP Coordinator for year 3 to 6 at Radford College in Canberra, Australia

Peter McDonald, the PYP Coordinator for year 3 to 6 at Radford College in Canberra, Australia

This article shows how students can develop deeper intercultural understanding through literature and technology.

International-mindedness is central to the philosophy, beliefs and values of the International Baccalaureate, forming the basis of the mission statement to develop “caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect” (Making the PYP happen, 2009). What a wonderful aspiration! But, what does this look like and how do we facilitate the types of experiences our students require for them to build this understanding and way of being?

The manifestation of the 10 attributes of the learner profile expresses the characteristics of what we believe an internationally-minded person to be, how they act and how they feel. These attributes, when explored through a lens of multilingualism, intercultural understanding and global engagement, allow students and teachers to support the development of “active, compassionate, lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right” (Making the PYP happen, 2009).

Over the past several years at Radford College, we have built a strong friendship with the teachers and students of Fatunaba Community School in Dare, Timor Leste. This year our relationship has grown further in the classrooms of the Junior School, supporting the year 6 Sharing the planet unit of inquiry and creating a link between our year 1 classes via Skype.

A year 6 teacher used the book The Miracle of the Fish, a joint collaboration between the students of Fatunaba School and Radford College, as a tool to facilitate international-mindedness in her classroom. The book, written in the local Timorese language of Tetum, provided year 6 students with an authentic opportunity to examine the similarities and differences of schooling, day-to-day life, history and culture between Timor Leste and Australia. Building learning engagements around The Miracle of the Fish, the students developed an appreciation for the complexities of language learning, drawing on a range of higher order text decoding strategies to create their own narratives using the images of the story. Our students established a rich intercultural understanding of our nearest neighbours, learning about the history and day-to-day realities of education for children in Timor Leste.

Similarly in year 1, teachers facilitated a wonderful link between the students of Fatunaba and Radford, enabling our year 1 students to ask questions and engage globally with the Timorese students through Skype. For the students of both schools, it was an exciting experience to speak with children of another country, to see what each school looked like, and to show off a little bit in front of their new friends!

Reflecting on these learning engagements, we have been reassured of the rich and diverse opportunities literature can provide our students. Building on our experiences, we have developed a greater commitment to not only providing dual language texts for mother tongue students, but also to exposing all of our learners to a range foreign language texts for investigation to support inquiry. We have learned, most significantly, that these types of texts can greatly support the visual inferential reasoning of reluctant or struggling readers, and in some instances, enabling students to lead their peers, fostering a new love of literature and learning.

We have challenged our teachers to include our joint collaboration with Fatunaba school into more of their units of inquiry, inspiring students to write, create and share their ideas with children from around the world. In the future we hope to further enhance our global learning partnership with Fatunaba and other Timorese schools, seeking to find new ways technology can assist our students in developing intercultural awareness and international mindedness.

With a focus on international-mindedness, the Primary Years Programme provides students with a strong background to become globally aware and active citizens. The PYP promotes learning communities where students and teachers can develop deeper understandings of language and culture, engage globally, and facilitate conversations that create an intercultural awareness and lasting respect for others.

Peter holds a bachelor and master of education and is currently undertaking postgraduate study into primary mathematics education through the University of Western Sydney. With several years experience teaching both internationally and within Australia, Peter is a passionate advocate for the PYP.

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