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Bridging cultural gaps with itslearning

itslearning is a “revolution for schools”, says Monica Bjelde, winner of our Facebook 2,000 Likes competition! Monica is the lucky recipient of an itslearning backpack, USB stick, water bottle and key chain. She responded to the email that she’d won in these words, ”Wow! Thank you!! I never win, so this was definitely a big surprise!”

Gimle Lower Secondary School in Kronstad, Norway

Monica, who was the 2,000th person to like our Facebook page, has been teaching at Gimle Lower Secondary School in Kronstad, Norway since 2000. My colleague Mark and I visited her during English class to deliver a backpack full of prizes. We had a chat with her and her students about itslearning, which they use every day. Monica very generously took the time to show us some of her course dashboards and teaching materials while her students waited patiently. We were very impressed with both her teaching methods and the behavior of her students during our visit.

Monica told us that a large percentage of Gimle’s student population is multicultural; representing 25 different nations. In her class there are students from Somalia, Iraq, Palestine and Turkey. This made me wonder – how can itslearning help take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges presented at multicultural schools?

Communication

One of the challenges a multicultural school faces is communication. Gimle is making an effort to improve communication between the school and the parents of multicultural children. They want to make sure all parents feel welcome to participate in school activities, to attend parent meetings and to contact the school whenever they have questions. A platform like itslearning can be a big help with this because it lowers the threshold for communication. Parents can log in and easily email teachers and administrators. The platform even supports text message apps to remind parents of school meetings and events.

Monica told us she’s a “contact teacher”, which means that besides teaching, she is responsible for having regular meetings with students and their parents. At Gimle, parents log in to the itslearning Parent Portal to access important school news, their child’s grades, behavior remarks, absentee records, etc. They can also review weekly study plans, resources, and homework assignments. This allows them to assist their child in understanding the subject matter presented in class. At schools like Gimle, students who are struggling with a topic presented in Norwegian might benefit from an explanation from their parents in their native language.

Multicultural advantages

Monica recognizes the advantages of teaching at a multicultural school. “First and foremost, I think of a multicultural school as something positive,” she says. Newcomers to Norway and Norwegian students provide great resources for each other. It’s more interesting for teachers to teach, and students to learn about different subjects, like world religions, when there are students in class who practice religions other than Christianity. Students think it’s easier and more exciting to learn about Islam and Hinduism, for example, when they can have discussions with fellow students who have prior knowledge of and experience with the subject material. A multicultural school teaches students tolerance and openness toward other cultures, languages, religions and lifestyles.”

“On the other hand, because some of my students are in the process of learning Norwegian, I have to spend time explaining everyday words and expressions,” Monica continues. “I also spend a lot of time rewriting and rephrasing teaching materials into simpler Norwegian so that students who are struggling with the language will understand what they are reading. These students need more help than their classmates, so there is less time to help others, as I’m the only teacher among 30 students. itslearning helps me a great deal with this. I upload help pages, vocabulary lists and various links to the platform for my international students to use both in class and at home.”

Not enough time in the day

“One of my greatest challenges is having enough time to adapt my teaching materials to each student according to their individual ability levels. There isn’t enough time to teach what needs to be taught in each subject within the available teaching hours,” Monica tells us. “itslearning helps me structure the students’ school day.”

Monica has lived in both England and New Zealand and teaches English, among other subjects. “I don’t have enough time to listen to everyone read out loud each week,” she mentions. To tackle this time constraint, she creates itslearning assignments in which she asks students to record themselves reading their English lessons out loud with the itslearning built-in audio recorder. Students embed their recordings into the assignments and return them to her online. Monica listens to them when she has time and writes individual feedback within each student’s assignment file. She also records herself reading texts by Shakespeare, etc. so that students can hear proper English pronunciation.

Extending the classroom

Monica extends her classroom by administering tests and assignments online. She explains, “Students are used to taking tests on the platform and to delivering assignments that are then scanned by the itslearning plagiarism control app. I often have them start an assignment during class, save it to their itslearning sites and then continue it at home or in class the next day.”

 

Monica shows us an assessment check list which she uses to evaluate English essays.


Monica provides students with assessment criteria so they understand how assignments will be evaluated and graded. She believes it’s important for students to have an overview of their mastery of each subject, so she enters all their grades onto itslearning.

Although there are many challenges during the school day, Monica emphasizes that she thoroughly enjoys her job. “The students are invaluable, and I care for every single one of them!” she says. It’s no wonder she clicked “Like” on our Facebook page; she uses itslearning every day and it makes her teaching more efficient. “All in all, I’m pleased with itslearning. It’s a revolution for schools,” she beams.

 

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