Animation as a Catalyst for Making Global Connections

Global collaboration is an innovative teaching tool that helps prepare students to become active participants in our global community. Global collaborative projects tap into many of the existing and emerging skills and literacies required of teachers and students: listening, reading, writing, speaking, problem solving, creating, and using technology to practice digital citizenship (NETS).   In fact, collaboration is included throughout the Common Core Learning Standards. It states in both the K-5 and 6-12 standards for speaking and listening, “Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.” (CCLS, 2010)  Global collaborative projects help to meet these standards.

Many global collaborative projects currently exist that teachers can apply and participate in such as  Flat Classroom Project, iEarn, and Classroom2.0.  Teachers can also create their own global collaboration projects.  Global partnerships are about making connections with other teachers and schools to benefit all students’ learning.  These partnerships can be made through Twitter, blogs, conferences, and or even with teachers around your school district.

At this fall’s Edscape Conference (, I connected with the educational coordinator from the Japan Society in New York City to establish a partnership between students at a school in Japan and my middle school students in Rye, New York.  The global collaborative project benefits my seventh and eighth grade media literacy elective. During the semester course, I use Disney animated films to teach critical theories of gender, race, class, and age.  To broaden the unit, I add Japanese anime so students can understand how anime can be a window into other cultures around the world.  Japanese anime becomes an exciting catalyst to spark conversation and global awareness among my students in New York and the students in Japan.  The goal of this project is to expand my students’ world views of different cultures through media literacy and more specifically, anime.

Communicating. Prior to participating in the  global project with the students from Japan, I spend a week setting up the project with my students. I teach netiquette and responsible digital citizenship.  Teachers cannot assume that students know how to work together collaboratively in the classroom, let alone online.  When working with students around the world, one must take into consideration language barriers and cultural differences as well.  Teachers need to support students throughout a global project to help to facilitate successful collaboration and communication.

To help initiate a discussion about working with others, I give my students different scenarios with “sticky” small group situations, and I ask them to brainstorm positive responses.  For example,  one scenario includes a small group with one student who acts as a dictator and completes all the work while other group members take a backseat to the project. Another scenario is about miscommunication among group members.  In the third scenario one group member’s contributions are inaccurate, but the other group members do not want to hurt the student’s feelings and the work is wrong.  My own students resolve these small group situations and create positive alternatives.

Students know that when working with others, they need to be considerate of others, but they don’t know what respectful and cooperative work looks like or sounds like.  It is necessary to model for students positive communication for successful collaboration, offer guidelines, and even provide specific communication starters for students.  In Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’ Comprehension and Collaboration (Heinemann, 2009), there is a thorough list of communication starters to help students articulate respect and tolerance including, “I am glad that you brought that up. I would have never thought of that” and “I agree with what you are saying.”

Collaborating. There are three elements to the media literacy global collaborative project.  First, students participate in an introductory assignment where, individually or with a partner, they create a written blog post or digital video about themselves and the community where they live.  Students share these videos and blog posts online using the Japan Society’s  secure social networking site, “Going Global.”  This introductory “handshake” allows students to introduce themselves to the global participants and share information about their own cultural interests.  Students have the option of taking pictures of their community to include in their post to provide a visual perspective on the community where they live.  This assignment not only helps students to see the commonalities and differences among all the participants, but it also initiates inquiry and interest among students.

After the initial handshake, students view two Disney animated films and two Japanese animes.  This year students view the recent Disney princess film; Tangled (2010) and Brave (2012).  Then students view My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001), both by Hayao Miyazaki, who has been called the Walt Disney of Japanese anime. Each student is assigned a critical theory to research and write a collaborative report on a Wiki.  Students then apply the critical theory to the films and include the analysis on the Wiki page.  As an example, students collaboratively critique how gender is represented in both the Disney films and Japanese anime.

In addition to the collaborative piece with the students in Japan, I have my students collaborate with another member of our class and create a video segment discussing their critical theory applied to the Disney princess films.  We link all the videos together to create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” video montage on YouTube.  YouTube has an feature that allows teachers to insert a hyperlink into the video uploaded using the spotlight annotation tool.  Students write their own scripts based on their research and analysis, and then we spend four class periods recording the videos.  As a final step,  I upload the videos to YouTube and link the videos together.

The project has multiple layers.  Each component of the project is scaffolded for the diverse range of student abilities.  With each element of the project, I present my students with models, checklists,  and assessment rubrics so they know the project’s expectations.

Culminating. Creating a successful global collaborative project requires much planning. Clear goals and outcomes with all participants must be communicated.  A successful project is interactive, engaging, and revolves around real questions and problems.  Whether participating in an already existing global project or creating your own, global projects allow students to utilize multiple skills relevant to succeeding inside and outside of the classroom.

This article was written for and appeared first in the inaugural Literacy Special Interest Journal for ISTE.  Be sure to check out all of the intriguing literacy projects described in the journal’s first edition.  
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