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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Correspondence Match: Addressing Three Levels of Communication

Panelist: Global Issues in the Classroom


I first want to say that I'm honored to be here on the 20th Anniversary of World Wise Schools. As you'll see it's played a significant role in my professional career and I'm grateful for that. My name is David Donaldson. I am the Director of Education at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF located in New York City, and what I'm going to be talking to you about today is mostly about Correspondence Match, and my experience as a Volunteer with Correspondence Match when I served in Slovakia in 1998. So it has been a while, I just aged myself, but it was a powerful experience and I hope to elaborate on that.

First I want to talk a little bit about the reach of Peace Corps. Every Volunteer here, or anyone who's met a Volunteer, knows that there are numerous stories that Peace Corps Volunteers often share, whether or not you want to hear them. [Laughter] Recently I was fortunate enough to visit Kyrgyzstan and see some UNICEF sites. I flew into a very rural area, very poor area called the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan . And I was visiting community-based kindergartens. Not only was I impressed by the work of the Kyrgyzstan people and the schools and UNICEF's work, but also with some of the things I heard.

Like in many cultures they are collectivists, so community is a very important piece. So part of that is we sat down for dinner with my Kyrgyz colleagues, and we were all toasting thanks to everyone, and there were about 15 people, so it was an interesting and long bunch of toasts. In one toast a gentleman stood up. He knew that my colleague and I were from the United States and he went on, acknowledged UNICEF. But then he spent most of his time talking about the U.S. government's work with Peace Corps, and he didn't know that I had been a Volunteer, but he went into great detail about how Peace Corps Volunteers are impacting the country there and how meaningful that is to know that Americans care about the people and that they're listening to the community and working with the community and then that they are in the most remote areas. I felt that was not only meaningful, but also very telling, that Peace Corps is not only well known here but also in very remote regions such as the Batken Region.

One thing I learned as I studied elementary and special ed., and I was a teacher myself, one thing that I learned through those experiences is that the youth voice is the most important thing. Most of us, I would say all of us, are here because of our students. And in this case I was working on some New York City students a couple of months ago and we were doing an activity, a carousel activity where students rotate around the classroom and answer questions on chart paper and then they rotate again.

One of the questions I posted was: Do you think it's important that teachers discuss global issues in the classroom? And this is what one of the students said.

After seeing this quote [Refers to quote on screen] I wanted to steal it because I thought this was a really a powerful statement. And it told me as someone as a former educator, former classroom teacher, that bringing global education in the classroom is not only important because it is the right thing to do, but it's also because our students want to know what's going on in the world, and it's their right to know what's going on in the world because those are their peers.

With that in mind, Peace Corps, as you have probably guessed: I'm biased, has impacted my life in many ways, particularly World Wise Schools. When I graduated from undergrad with an elementary and special ed. degree we did not discuss global issues, or multi-cultural issues, and those are two things that need to be a part of pre-service education. What I did learn is that Peace Corps helped provide those skills to me when I arrived in-country, and World Wise Schools in particular.

So not only as a Peace Corps Volunteer but then when I returned, as a Returned Volunteer I participated in Speakers Match as well, and then bringing global issues, not always World Wise Schools resources, but what it did was it told me that global issues are extremely important to bring to the classroom. I was fortunate enough to work here and help to develop some of the resources here, and then now with my role at the U.S. Fund, which we have a similar program, I learned that for programs like ours to be successful we need to work together. And that's something that World Wise Schools and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF are really working hard to do, as well as other nonprofits.

So let me take you back to 1998. I'm not really sure what was going on in 1998, but I know I was leaving for Slovakia . And I didn't know where Slovakia was, sad to say, but I can tell you almost anything about Slovakia now. This was the town that I lived in Detva, and Detva was a small community in central Slovakia, about 15,000 people. [Refering to images on screen] Different cultural aspects, you'll see in the one picture more structured-type Russian style, Soviet style apartments, complexes, and then pre-war type homes, and then something that is very special to the Detvan people is their heritage.

What I learned when I actually got to my school, which is there [showing pictures], is they're actually cutting-edge. They were really doing things beyond what I had studied in school. They were using more hands-on methodologies; they were working with an Open Society Institute, a George Soros-funded initiative, and they had made a commitment to bring student-centered approaches to their school. So they were looking to me to help with that, and I of course said, "Yeah, sure I can do that, I read about it." But really what helped me bring those student-centered approaches to the classroom was Correspondence Match and connecting with the classroom, and I connected with a classroom in South Carolina .

When I was reflecting on this, and I actually spoke to the teacher I connected with prior to coming here, she's also my sister, so that was an easy call. But my sister had been doing this since 1989 when it started, and she's still doing it, so she's really an expert, she should actually be here, not me. When I was talking to her about Correspondence Match, we really identified many of the strengths it brought to both of our students.

What I thought about when preparing for this presentation is that Correspondence Match allows for some very important things. It's student-centered, teacher autonomy also very important as many of you would probably agree, it allows for student voice, active engagement throughout the activity, and then differentiation. Let me explain a little bit more about that.

When I was thinking about this I saw Correspondence Match on three different levels. One level is not necessarily higher or better than the other, or more profound than the other, it's really based on the student's interest and needs and where they are in their learning process. So I saw the primary level of communication being more of "Hi, how are you," and "what's your name," very common things at the beginning of the process. So as we allowed students more freedom and they became more comfortable, many of the students gravitated towards the secondary level of communication which involved more of "What are you studying in school? What do you think about X topic or a current event?" And then as they became even more comfortable, students went to this third level. Now, granted, there weren't as many students at this tertiary level but once again its really based on the student right, so if a student was at the primary level and ended up at the secondary level that's fabulous because that could be a huge leap for that particular student.

So at the tertiary level you have students questioning one another, questioning policy, driving their own context of the conversation. So a much deeper communication style, and having this tool of World Wise Schools allowed us to come back to voice, student voice. This is student-generated topics, student-generated ideas. I acted, as well as my sister, as more of a facilitator. Now everybody's experience is a little bit different, but I found that for me, acting as a facilitator there was much more engagement and gain in student understanding.

Lastly I'll end with another quote from this middle school student. Similar idea but in this particular case I asked about what does global citizenship mean to you? And this particular child said this [Refers to quote on screen]. So in closing, I just want to thank World Wise Schools and particularly Peace Corps for these opportunities that they provide, not only educators but also Volunteers. 

About the Author

David Donaldson

David Donaldson shares his experiences utilizing Coverdell World Wise Schools’ resources, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Slovakia and as an educator.