Q: What is The Classroom Connection Program?
A: The Classroom Connection Program is a classroom writing exchange designed to help students (grades 2 – 5) connect to one another as they learn about the range of cultures, geographies and people outside of their neighborhoods. Acknowledging the diversity of students in New Jersey and the unique characteristics of life in each of its 566 municipalities and 21 counties, The Classroom Connection uses letter writing and a pen-pal approach to help students to connect to each other, to the world around them and to their own hopes and dreams.
Q: What are the goals of The Classroom Connection Program?
- To encourage students to write and develop their literacy and communication skills.
- To introduce students and teachers from different schools and towns around New Jersey.
- To help students learn about what makes different places unique and special.
- To give students a chance to explore their dreams, challenges and interests in writing.
- To help students develop greater perspective and appreciation for their lives and where they live.
Q: How will classrooms be matched?
A: Teachers will register their classes on The Classroom Connection website, completing a form that provides basic demographic information. Our matching system will match classes for the same program level, grade, and size, then for diverse demographics (geographic, cultural, and/or socio-economic). Teachers will receive their match confirmation by email along with instructions for the writing project.
Q: How will the letter writing work?
A: Teachers may choose to enroll in the Full Program (3 rounds of letters or more) or the Modified Program (at least 2 rounds of letters), based on their ability to carry out the program given other demands). The program is designed to help teachers integrate the letter writing process into their planned language arts curriculum.
Q: What will students write about?
A: There are five structured topics, designed to help students gain perspective about themselves, others, and the world around them:
- About Me (This is an introductory letter: students may write about school, family, friends, hobbies, pets, favorites, general information about them, etc.)
- Places (This round asks students to write about where they live, where they may have lived before, what makes their town special, favorite places, dream travel, and more.)
- Dreams (This round asks students about their hopes and dreams: What do they want to be? How do they imagine their future? How would they make the world a better place?)
- Challenges (All kids have challenges… this round gives them a chance to write about them and to be understood.)
- Looking Forward (This round is designed to end the writing program on a positive note and give the students a chance to figure out if and how they’d like to stay connected over the summer.)
Q: What is the timeframe for the program?
A: To make the most of the connection between students and to provide enough time given competing classroom demands, enrollment begins in October and ends before the close of the school year.
- Rolling Online Enrollment October 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013
- Matches sent to partner Teachers On a rolling basis throughout the enrollment period as we have matches
- Writing begins as soon as partner teachers have connected and continues through the school year in a time frame that works for both teachers.
- Complete Writing Exchange Approximately June 10, 2014
Q: How do the letters move between classrooms?
A: Teacher of Class A begins the exchange. Once the letters in Round 1 have been written, they are collected, reviewed for general appropriateness, and then mailed in one large envelope addressed to teacher of Class B, who will then match the students to a pen pal from Class A, have them write their Round 1 letters in response, and mail them back in the same manner.
Q: What do we do if the numbers of students do not match?
A: In cases where class sizes differ by a few students, please assign enthusiastic writers more than one pen pal. This is REALLY important because every child in your partner class deserves a pen pal.
Q: Do we have to write all five rounds of letters?
A: When you register your class, you will be asked to select from the “Full Program” or “Modified Program” options. By selecting “Full Program”, you commit to complete a minimum of three rounds of letters. The “Modified Program” option commits you to complete a minimum of two rounds. You many of course, do more if your schedule allows.
Q: Are there other topics we can use instead?
A: We have selected the topics to provide students a path to reveal themselves over time from the outside in, and hope you will use these topics, however, as long as both partner teachers agree, you may add topics of your choice or any of those listed below.
- Special happening at school
- Celebration of special occasions
- Student-authored poetry exchange
- My favorite book
- What I’m learning about New Jersey this year in class
Q: How can I make this into a more interactive class project?
A: A few ideas other teachers have suggested are:
- Using SKYPE so the students may meet by video
- Arrange a meet up class trip (if you plan this we’d love to be invited!)
- Sending photos and drawing along with letters
- Having one class start a story and the other add to it, send it back and continue the story in a number of rounds
Q: How can we incorporate technology into the process?
A: The basic project ensures that no class is excluded due to a lack of technology, but if both teachers feel that technology will work between the matched classes, you are welcome to use technology vs. handwritten correspondence. You may also choose to use Skype or another video conferencing application to have the students “meet” virtually.
Q: What if the other teacher is slow to respond, or does not respond at all?
A: This is the most frustrating part of the program for us. Please remember that students are waiting for your letters on the other end of the connection. We understand that challenges in the classroom may slow down responses, and things come up, however we ask that both teachers do their best to respond to each other in a timely fashion. We will provide both email and phone contact information when you get your match– you are responsible to communicate with your partner. If timing permits, we may be able to help resolve the issue or find you a new match, but we can’t promise this. Consider carefully which level of program participation will best suit your classroom needs before registering. Thank you!
Q: What do you do if you’ve begun the process and you are not able to continue or complete the program?
A: Life happens and we understand this as adults; but because the students are expecting letters, it’s important that you notify your partner teacher promptly so that he/she may inform the students and have an opportunity to help them process the news. Please also notify us if this occurs and if possible we will try to replace the class match.