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Washington Students Have Korean Connection

First-grader Elizabeth Cuevas sat in a corner of Katey Reynolds’ classroom at Washington School, reading aloud as a video camera hummed quietly.

Soon, halfway around the world, a youngster in Korea will watch and listen as Elizabeth reads:

"A mouse sat under a tree," Elizabeth begins, and then reads a story about a mouse that wants to avoid being an ingredient in a “mouse soup” being made by a weasel.

“In a short period of time, my students have gone from being passive about reading to being highly motivated,” Reynolds said. “They want to be teachers and are really excited -- and when they are excited, I am excited.”

This unusual partnership developed when Reynolds met a Korean educator, Fran Choi, while they were both in California last month at a weekend residency for doctoral students enrolled in a program run by Walden University.

“We were talking and she said her students needed help learning to read and enjoy books in English, and I said my students needed more motivation to read,” Reynolds said.

And so the international literacy project began. Reynolds said her first-grade students are choosing challenging books that are at a second-grade reading level. Only after the students can read the book fluently, and also after they have written a ‘book report’ that shows they understand the content -- only then do the students make the recording.  The video is sent via email so the Korean students there can listen and watch right away.  The report and book are boxed up and shipped to the students so that they will have interesting material to read in English.

“My kids are excited,” Reynolds said. “They are taking their books home every night and are working hard to master them. They use all the strategies in their tool boxes.  When they get stuck, they make a note and bring the problem to their small group book club so everyone can work together to figure it out.”

She said the only hangup so far is getting the actual book itself shipped to Korea in a timely manner. She said she hopes to secure a modest grant so that students in both schools can have access to a digital library such as “Reading A-Z,” an online leveled reading program.

Another lament? Korea is 10 hours ahead of Connecticut, so students aren’t in school at the same time, making Skype and such a problem.

But Reynolds is encouraged. “This has been great so far and is working out well for students here and there.”

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