In School in Germany: Substitute Teachers or Flexible Class Schedule?

What happens when your teacher is sick and the planned course schedule for that particular day has to be postponed or cancelled? This question may be a no-brainer to some, yet inquiring minds want to know. With the increase in absences because of illness among the teachers due to stress (some resulting from burn-out syndrome) and other viruses that students bring to the classroom on a daily basis, it is important to find out how schools plan ahead so that the students do not fall behind in their classes.

Each school system has its own guidelines with regards to Plan B, regardless of which state or region it is located. In the United States, it is normal to find a substitute teacher taking over classes in case if illness or family emergencies. Substitute teachers are very flexible in a way that they can jump in at any time when they are needed. While some of them bring the knowledge they learned in their education programs at the university to continue teaching- picking up where the absent teacher left off, others elect not to take up the chore and decide either for study hall (meaning students have a chance to catch up on their work in other classes) or other activities. One of the substitute teachers at a junior high school I attended in Minnesota was into reading and therefore, read us many stories during the class period. While she has long since passed, she encouraged others like yours truly to pick up a book from time to time and burn through the pages.

The other plan B can be found in many schools in Germany. If one class is cancelled because of illness or other serious matter, another class takes its place, taught by the teacher.  That means if an English class taught by Mrs. Steinkreuz (for example) is cancelled because she had the stomach flu, that class is replaced by another class, such as History with Mr. Hermann, Ethics with Ms. DeJesus or even French by Madame Moiselle.  The reason for such a flexible class change is simple: Unlike the US, which runs mostly a strict schedule where courses are taught at a certain time every day and teachers have to keep to the plan, Germany’s schedule, at least on the high school level, resembles that of a college class schedule, where students elect to choose certain classes that fit their schedule. Granted that (foreign) language, history and social studies, and sciences must be in the mix, but a flexible schedule enables the student to work with their studies to ensure they have them completed at their pace, while teachers have a chance to further their planning. Some class replacements may have to do with a teacher having an extended session to watch a film, while others may be in connection with a field trip that was planned. In either case, this flexibility does have some advantages. Yet one notable disadvantage is that a sudden change in scheduling can also put the planning of both the students as well as the teacher out of alignment, which means that some topics planned for the session may have to be either postponed or even cancelled; a disadvantage for the teacher as well as some students that were eager to learn about it.

But it does not mean that schools in Germany do not have substitute teachers.  They are usually available to jump in should plan B does not work. It can consist of someone from another school, one working part time in the school system, Referendar (those teaching on a probationary basis for 1-2 years before being hired full time by the state) and the interns doing their Praxissemester (like yours truly did).  Sometimes substitute teachers can also have a positive impact in a way that they can keep the schedule in tact as much as possible while allowing the students to complete their work on their topic without missing the beat.  But as I noticed from my experience in the Praxissemester, even that combination has its limits, especially when  many teachers are absent due to stress-related issues, which will be discussed later when talking about Burn-out Syndrome, and the number of substitutes are limited, both in numbers as well as in knowledge. In the case of the interns, they require a hired staff when teaching a session, to ensure that they are not overrun by the students in class. A concept that is understandable when the intern is 22 years of age (on average) and does not know if the profession is the right one.

Keeping the pros and cons of substitute teaching and replacement sessions in mind, let’s ask the Forum about this topic:

  1. In your school, how does it work when a teacher is absent due to illness or other emergencies? Do you provide a substitute, replace a session with one from another subject or do something totally different?
  2. How have you dealt with teachers who are absent for longer periods of time due to illness, etc. (say more than 1 week)?
  3. If you had a choice between providing a substitute, replacing a session or both, which option would you choose and why?

Place your comments here or in the Files’ facebook page and share some information on how you deal with absenteeism among teachers. Sometimes your suggestions and ideas will help others in the long term. As we will eventually talk about Burn-Out Syndrome in the series, the profession can be a highly demanding job that requires teachers with nerves of steel to do the job. However even the teachers have their limits, even yours truly.

Categories: Education, Schooling in Germany, Schooling in the US | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In School in Germany: Children of Divorced Parents

Tunnel of Uncertainty

 

 

This entry starts off with a quote to keep in mind: Life is one long tunnel with uncertainty awaiting you. Run as far as you can go and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

The key to success is to have a permanent support group that is there for you whenever you need them. For children, the support group consists of family, such as parents, grandparents and siblings, but also your distant relatives. Yet suppose that is nonexistent?

Divorces have become just as popular a trend as marriage, for in the United States, an average of 3.6 couples out of 1000 people divorce every year, eclipsing the trend of 3.4 couples tying the knot out of 1000. This trend has existed since 2008, despite the parallel decrease of both rates since 2006. In Germany, 49% of married couples split up after a certain time, which is four percentage points less than its American counterpart, but five percentage points higher than the average in the European Union.  Reasons for couples splitting up much sooner have been tied to career chances, lack of future planning, the wish for no children, and in the end, irreconcilable differences.

While the strive for individuality is becoming more and more common in today’s society, the effects of a divorce can especially be felt on the children. In Germany alone, more than 100,000 children are affected by a divorce every year with 1.3 million of them living with only one parent. The psychological effects of a divorce on a child is enormous. They lose their sense of security when one parent has to leave and may never be seen again. In addition, families and circle of friends split up, thus losing contact with them. Sometimes children are the center of many legal battles between divorced parents which can result in intervention on the legal level. They feel isolated and sometimes engage in risky and sometimes destructive behavior, especially later on in life.  When one parent remarries, it can be difficult to adjust to the new partner, even if that person has children from a previous relationship.

In school, children have a sense of difficulty in handling homework and other tasks and therefore, their performance decreases. Furthermore, they can become more unfocused and agitated towards other people, including the teacher- sometimes even aggressive. Depression, anxiety and indifference follows. Surprisingly though, adolescents are more likely to process the affects of a divorce better than children ages 10 and younger. Yet without a sense of hominess and love, children of divorced parents feel like running through a long tunnel of uncertainty, with no end in sight, as seen in this picture above.

During my time at the Gymnasium, I encountered an example of a student, whose parents divorced a year earlier. He was a sixth grader with potential, yet after the parents split up, his performance, interest in the subjects and attitude towards others decreased dramatically, causing concern among his teachers. While I had a chance to work with him while team-teaching English with a colleague who is in charge of the 6th grade group, one of things that came to mind is how schools deal with students of divorced parents.

In the US, intervention is found on three different level, beginning with school counselors and peer groups on the local,  psychologists on the secondary level, who help both parents and children affected by the divorce, and the tertiary level, which involves forms of law enforcement, should the situation get out of hand.  In Germany however, according to sources, no such intervention exists, leaving the parents on their own to contend with the effects of the divorce, and teachers (many with little or no experience) to deal with the behavior of the students, most of which is that of a “one size fits all” approach, which is not a very effective approach when dealing with special cases like this one. Reason for the lack of intervention is the lack of personnel, cooperation and funding for such programs, with areas in the eastern half being the hardest hit. However such programs, like teacher and counselor training, peer programs for students and divorced parents, team teaching and even 1-1 tutoring can be effective in helping these children go through the processes and get their lives back in order, getting them used to the new situation without having their studies and social life be hindered. Without them, it is up to the teacher to help them as much as possible. Yet, as I saw and even experienced first-hand, teachers are not the wonder drug that works wonders on everybody. Their job is to present new things for students to learn and to help them learn and succeed. Therefore additional help to deal with special cases like this one are needed to alleviate the pressure on the teacher and the students.

 

This leads to the following questions for the forum concerning children of divorced parents and intervention:

1. Which school (either in the US or Europe) has a good intervention program that helps children affected by family tragedies and other events, and how does that work in comparison to the existing programs in the US?

2. Have you dealt with children of divorced parents in school? If so, how did you handle them and their parents?

3. Should schools have such an intervention program to help children like these? If so, how should it be structured? Who should take responsibility for which areas? What kind of training should teachers and counselors have?

Feel free to comment one or all of the questions in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook pages.

 

I would like to end my column with the conclusion of my intervention with my patient. When I and my colleague team-taught, we did it in a way that one of us worked with him, while the other helped the others in the group. Being a group of 23 sixth graders who had English right after lunch, it was a chore and a half, but one that reaped an enormous reward when I left at the conclusion of my practical training. That was- apart from a standing ovation- a handshake from my student with a big thanks for helping him improve on his English. Sometimes a little push combined with some individual help can go a long way, yet if there was a word of advice to give him, it would be one I got from a group of passengers whom I traveled with to Flensburg a few years ago:

Things always go upwards after hitting rock bottom.

In the end, after reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, one will see relief and normalcy just like it was before such an event. It is better to look forward than looking back and regretting the past.

 

Author’s Note:

Here are some useful links about children and divorced parents in both languages that can be useful for you, in addition to what I wrote in this entry. Two of them was courtesy of one of the professors who had dealt with this topic before and was very helpful in providing some ideas and suggestions on how to deal with cases like this. To him I give my sincere thanks. Links:

http://www.familienhandbuch.de/cms/Familienforschung%20Scheidung_und_Trennung.pdf

http://schulpsychologie.lsr-noe.gv.at/downloads/trennung_scheidung.pdf

http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2009/2009landuccin.pdf

 

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Respect

Over the weekend, as I was working on a piece for my column, a thought came across my mind as to how to define the word Respect. Respect is a term that seems to be undervalued and misunderstood more often than not, especially when you deal with different environments, such as schools, on business trips, in social gatherings and even in relationships.  Many people are of the opinion that respect has to be earned, meaning a person has to sacrifice certain things that are valuable to him/her and embrace that of others.  Yet that is not the real definition of Respect. Respect has two meanings that are different yet they seem to be related to each other.

The first meaning of respect is winning the hearts and souls of others by being successful in a certain realm, whether it is as a teacher in school, a CEO at a company or even a student in academia. It does not take much to win respect from others, and it can be easily won in no time, just as much as you lose it, if you lose your face because of scandal or a series of mishaps that degrades you in one way or another. Therefore trying to win respect from others does not necessarily define respect. Respect can be one that is earned, but it is one that is a given right, therefore the second definition:

The second meaning of respect is acknowledging and liking a person for who he/she is and what he/she does. That person whom you may try and either mock or change may come from a different background where traditions, customs and mentalities are far different than yours. Therefore it is important that these people are respected for who they are and what they do, and that changing their ways can only be possible if that person sees the need to do it. This type of respect is a given right because of the comfort zone the person is in and how he/she handles things differently. This given right unfortunately has been undermined because of external forces that are changing the way we think about our values.

Of course some changes are necessary so that we have a more harmonious environment, as we deal with issues like discrimination, environmental problems, globalization and culture identity, and politics that seem to have become sour. However, how much change is necessary in order to gain respect from others without losing one’s own identity?  I’m afraid to say that when looking at people in the hallways in school or at the university, as well as on the streets today, many of them seem to have lost their own identities as they drown in their Smartphones, streamline education to become human calculators and herds of cattle heading to the business world, and striving to earn the respect of the “society” consisting of mono-culture led by the select few. We seem to have lost the given right of respect and replaced it with the earned respect that is never to be earned without making sacrifices that will make us pay dearly in the future.

So as a little food for thought, ask yourselves this question: How do you value yourself as a person? Are you being respected by others just by the respect that is being earned or are you being respected based on who you are as a person and what you have done to make yourself  happy? Chances are one in two of us are ignoring the respect as a given right and are trying to earn respect from those who either could care less or would love to see you put away somewhere out of sight and out of mind. If you are one of them, write down a list of things are characteristic of you, followed by what the people like about you. Then ask yourself how you have changed over the past few years and whether they were for the best of worst. If the latter, then it is time to make the changes that will make you feel like yourself again.

Remember: Respect is a given right. Only when you are happy about yourself will you make others happy. And in return, the people will respect you for who you are and not by how you earn it.

My two cents on this topic.

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In School in Germany: Early School Starts

Two one-room school houses in Allamakee County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

 

It will not be long before the next school year starts in Germany, for after two months off, many states are starting their school year on August 31st; in states, such as Bavaria, they are starting even later. Parents have already begun to prepare for the Einführungsfeiern (The Induction into elementary school) for the incoming first graders, scheduled for the 30th of August (in most states), which is as sacred as Christmas Day. But that is a different story to be told at another time.

In the United States however, school has already started in most states, such as Minnesota, where I grew up being acquainted with the state’s school system and culture. This start of the school year is the first time the US is starting its school year much earlier than its European counterpart, and it is raising some questions about its effectiveness, for this early start is having a huge impact on other aspects that are typical of a summer break but are being threatened.

How and why might you ask?

Well, turning the clocks back 20 years, we see a different environment. 1994, right before becoming junior in high school in the US, we started our summer break at the beginning of June and ended it on Labor Day. Three months’ time we had, where we could travel the world to see our relatives, work a summer job to earn money for a car, participate in a summer camp, help with the crops, prepare the animals and the like for the county and state fair competitions, and just relax on the beach or on the water. Summer time was a time to meet with friends, become acquainted with new ones, experiment with love with an innocent girl or even cruise around in the car with the music cranked up to the maximum, waking the neighborhood.  It was the time when we needed some down time before we went up a level- whether it was the next grade or college. My summer was a spectacular one, as it featured fund-raising for new music uniforms for choir, golfing with friends, cruising around with bass music, and competing in the talent show, where we won on the county level but was levelled in the semi-finals at the state fair.  There is no way we can say this if we fast forward to the present.

There are probably some arguments favoring such an early start, such as stockpiling snow days so that we can use them or preparing for aptitude tests in April to compare ourselves with the European and Asian counterparts. Yet when looking at those arguments, I can counter them with the fact that we too had snow days but did not have to make up for them at any cost. And those aptitude tests to determine who is weak in math, reading and writing- studies show that they are hindering the development and own creativity of the individual. A very useful DVD entitled “Alphabet” by Erwin Wagenhofer, shows how streamlining education and enforcing the ideas onto even children have led to an increased rate in suicide, especially in Asia, where children start learning math and economics at the age of three.  While such tests, like the PISA are important to determine where we are in the world, the curriculum and the planning should not evolve around it directly. Otherwise we will have more children left behind than 20 years ago.

Baseball at Target Field in Minneapolis. Photo taken in September 2010

These early starts will indeed have a tremendous impact on the traditional past-times that we have been used to for ages. The hardest hit will be the county and state fairs, for these events, which last 1-2 weeks on the county level and 2-3 on the state level and feature a display of prized animals and products as well as concerts, will see a substantial decrease in the number of visitors. This will force organizers to consider moving them up a month, which will put pressure on farmers and their families to have them prepared for exhibit by the Fourth of July. Other events that usually happen in August, such as the Rennaissance Festival near the Twin Cities, as well as sporting events, like baseball and softball will also take a hit regarding the loss of attendants and even participants.  And lastly, for the students and the teachers, early starts mean less time to recuperate from the stressful school year behind them and especially for teachers, it means less time to upgrade their curriculum and plan for the upcoming school year. Even though most schools rely on text books, with the advancement of technology, many teachers need time to work with them and integrate them into their planning- and this in addition to their own creative brewing of activities useful for their classes.

And for what? The use of snow days AND for preparing for tests that will determine who is “dumb” and who is not?

If there are some ideas on how to deal with the two, speaking from a teacher’s point of view, my advice is to scrap the idea of early starts. Many schools in Germany have 8-11 week summer breaks which cover all of July and August. In Finnland, summer breaks are for 11 weeks from the end of May to the middle of August. Yet this is the same country that stresses individual development over tests and flexibility over stockpiling snow days.  Figure in the week breaks both countries have, and they are equivalent to the 12-13 weeks the US has off. While it would be possible to start break in mid-June, which would cover the entire time in July and August, the bottom line is that many of us cannot envision August not being the time for summer break, especially as summer reaches its peak in terms of hot weather, and most of the activities occur during that time.

So my word of advice to the school administrators in the US: look at what your European counterparts are doing for their children and look at what you are doing to your children. Scrap your obsessions of the aptitude tests and look at the individual development of the children. Look at your schedule and how it is impacting events outside the walls of the school building. And scrap the early start and reintroduce the school year starting after Labor Day.  Americans have been so used to this tradition and it does have more benefits than drawbacks, especially as far as the children are concerned….

Categories: Culture, Education, Germany/ Europe, Schooling in Germany, Schooling in the US, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tribute to Robin Williams

Somewhere on the beaches of Travemünde (in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein), where kite-flying is one of the most popular sports to find along the Baltic Sea, traces of Robin Williams will be found, either in a form of kites, or the sound of the radio with his voice on there, doing his finest impersonations, and making people very happy, laughing all day and making their day.   Yet the news of Mork being found dead in his home in California, breaking Mindy’s heart is not typical of the comedian. In fact, we are all speechless, trying to find answers as to why he left so soon- at a young age of 63, but many miles to go in his career.

Leonard Nimoy once coined his famous term while saving Krusty the Clown from jumping off the Monorail in the Simpsons (in 1998): The World needs laughter.  Logically speaking, yes- in dark times as well as in the age of euphoria, we do need some laughter to make our day. Robin ensured that we would receive it, either as an actor, a stand-up comedian, or anything that is Hollywood-related.

Yet as we pay our respects to the greatest comedian with many faces, it makes me wonder if Robin had not been not a comedian or an actor, how he would have fared out in other professions. After all, as some people become greats in their careers, others keep looking for the right fit, even in their 50s. I dug out some examples of alternative careers that one could see Robin playing a role in, in real life. Let’s take a look at some of them:

 

Doctor:  An apple a day can keep the doctor away. Yet if it is imminent, a doctor visit can chase the sickness away.  Especially for children and the elderly, doctors can cheer them up and just be plain funny, as is seen in the clip from the film, Patch Adams. Robin played the medical student doing his internship at a hospital, despite having been in a mental institute for depression at the beginning of the film. Based on a true story, the actor showed that you can (and should) have a little bit of humor when treating patients, as happiness and humor go hand-in-hand in treating and curing (almost) all illnesses. Perhaps he would have done the same as a doctor, which if it was the case, he would have been honored in a film bearing his name: Dr. Rob, or Dr. Willie, or something like that.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byPJ22JDFjI#sthash.LKivEsMU.dpuf

 

Radio Talk Show:  Closer to his role would have been a talk show host on radio. Of all the radio talk shows that exist, any show with his name on there would rake in more viewers than the Jay Leno, Rachel Madow,  David Letterman, and Rush Limbaugh shows combined. Why? No biases, no bashing celebrities. Just some humor, turning any current event scenes into something worth laughing at while driving. Jokes and impersonations of celebrities would belong to what would have been a masterpiece, had he gone into radio instead of acting. Example would be in Good Morning, Vietnam, where Williams played a radio DJ for a station in Saigon, starting off with Goooooooooooooood Mooooooooooooooooooooorning Vietnam! The best scenes from the film can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Erf2iFHG44M#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

 

PoliticianRonald Reagan would not have had a prayer in the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections. George W. Bush just would not get it in 2000 and 2004.  Sarah Palin would have been taken to the cleaners for reading her script in the Vice Presidential TV debate in 2008. Mitt Romney’s pleas for a “Return to Normalcy under Bush” would have fallen on deaf ears, had Robin Williams ran for political office, even as President, and won in the process by a landslide. It would have kept every viewer glued to the One-eyed Monster 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the social networks would have been blooming with likes and comments. Yet, as history serves itself, a promise needs to bring practice, as was seen with previous actors who ran for political office- most notably, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet the results of Williams’ run would have been more than marginal, as seen in his political satire presented by the likes of Monty Python in the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KW2jSLuHlz4#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

 

 Cook/Au Pair: I used to work for a restaurant in Iowa while in college and was taught the golden rule of food service: Always make the customer happy, no matter what. These words came from the owner who had gotten his lesson from his father, who had owned a restaurant in Minnesota for over 50 years before retiring in 2008. Could you have imagined Williams working in the restaurant business, or even as au pair had he not gone into showbusiness? Look at this scene and decide for yourself. As the father of the restaurant in Minnesota died two weeks ago and was honored yesterday for his service, I’m sure he and Williams will get along in the business in Heaven:

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAp8j4c2LGs#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

 

Teacher/Professor:  Like in the doctor role, Robin would have been honored by Hollywood in a film bearing his name, had he decided to become a professor or a teacher. Speaking from experience, a teacher has to be creative, flexible, funny and a person who provides food for thought in order to become a great and have people follow you. This was what he did, playing the role of Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, winning the hearts of his students of literature at a private college in the northeast of the US. Yet in all reality, being a professor and having such liberal thoughts, using the logo Carpe Diem to encourage students to be successful, may not be to the liking of some (conservative) universities, but to others, they would embrace him and his work in (yes, definitely imagineable), literature. Here is an example of his barbaric yawp in Dead Poet’s Society, where the Captain shows the students for the first time, the meaning of life in literature:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec8FOZvcPVM#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

 

Diplomat:  Can you imagine Robin Williams as a diplomat? If you look at a scene where Mork meets Fonz, one could say, yes. Diplomats are open-minded to different customs from different regions, willing to trade values and learn from one another. Had Williams been an ambassador to the United Nations or a US Ambassador, he would have found very successful ways to breaking down barriers, taming countries out of control and even coming up with universal solutions that everyone would have been happy with. Sometimes a smooth and good-humored person bringing a certain sort of magic to Geneva and New York makes meeting international diplomats more enjoyable and entertaining, right?

Clip:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHWXAJhmvyU#sthash.17ceEQH6.dpuf

 

We will never know which alternative role he would have taken, had he decided on calling it quits. But maybe he did not need to do that, as he made so many people laugh and made a difference in millions of lives. He helped out many who wished to become comedians and actors, yet with his passing, it will definitely be difficult to fill in his shoes, if not impossible. We will never know why Robin Williams left us so soon, as we learned a great deal from him, growing up, watching Mork and Mindy, as well as his films. As a teacher I sometimes refer to his films for guidance and ideas for classes. Others have done the same for their purposes. In either case, he will never know how many of us miss him, or let alone, as drive into the sunset, how many radio shows will play the best of him from his many films that will still continue to play in theaters. He is the man that cannot replaced.

 

Both the Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to say thank you to Robin Williams for his work and to his family and friends for making him one of a kind. He will be sorely missed but not forgotten.

 

 

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In School in Germany: Teaching Latin

There is a German saying that is stressed in the classroom at both the university as well as in school:

 

You don’t know about history unless you’ve mastered Latin.

 

Yet this argument can be encountered with that of Latin not being relevant to the curriculum:

 

Latin is dead, and so is Caesar!

 

In all the years I’ve been teaching English here in Germany, there is no subject that has been overly stressed as the language you have to master other than Latin.  What is understood by Latin is NOT in connection with Latin American dances! If you connect these two elements, then you best move down to Costa Rica or Ecuador where you can get your training in.

 

Latin is a combination of language and history into one. Language because almost every single language derives from Latin, including English and German, as well as the Romance languages, like French, Spanish and Italian. Even the alphabet was adopted from Latin. It is one of the most logical languages ever to be taught in the classroom, yet also the most difficult if you struggle with grammar.  History because Latin originated from the Roman Empire. At the peak of its powerful existence in 117 AD, all of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia were dominated by the Romans, and each culture occupied by the Empire adopted the vocabulary and the grammar rules pertaining to Latin. Even when the Empire ceased to exist in 476 AD (with the dissolving of the western  kingdom through Odoacer and the relocation of the eastern Roman capital to Constantinople in 395 AD) elements of Latin were soon integrated into the languages of the areas once conquered, without knowing the fact that the languages we speak are derived from Latin.

 

There are many reasons why Latin is important and why some schools that have not introduced it should, based on my observations during my practical training as a high school teacher in Germany. Here are some reasons:

 

1. Grammar:  The grammatical structure of each language originated from the Latin language, including some elements that exist in the English and German language.  This includes various verb forms and tenses, articles and even suffixes that even exist today, just to name a few.

 

 

 

2. Vocabulary:  No matter if it is from religion, history or even everyday use, it is certain that the majority of words we use have their origin in the Latin language. In fact, over half of our words in English come from Latin, 30 percent come from French thanks to the 1066 Norman Conquest of English, and the rest come from other languages, whose words we ended up adopting, including Spanish, German, Russian and even the Natives.

 

 

3. History:  As a general rule of thumb, all forms of history run through Rome. Latin allows a student to learn more about the history of civilization, how empires rise, fall and be conquered, how certain sports like wrestling and track had its origins in Rome, political systems that exist today were formed, how buildings and the infrastructure were formed, and how half of philosophy had its origin (the other half came from the Greek side before the Romans conquered the country).

 

 

 4. Foreign Languages:  Latin serves as a key bridge connecting foreign languages, like the Overseas Highway connecting the islands in the Florida Keys. People having the basis of Latin are more likely to pick up languages in the same family more quickly than those with no foundation. The reason is the common traits that the languages share, in particular, with vocabulary. Another reason why more Americans should pick up Spanish and Canadians should also learn French. It has nothing to do with the minorities living there or any immigrants moving to these parts.

 

 

5. Translation Skills: Latin provides students a chance to learn how to translate from one language to another, avoiding pitfalls in the process. This is important for Latin is a bridge between two languages and some words do have similarities thanks to this language.

 

 

6. Religion: While Martin Luther became the first person to translate the Bible into another language (German) in 1587, much of the text about the rise, fall and ascension of Christ are still found in Latin, and in either the Bible, forms of music, or both. Speaking from experience singing for choirs in high school and college, it is important to have a true meaning of the song when reading the lyrics in Latin. Try Kyrie, Mozart’s Requieum and Agnus Dei, and you will understand why. With Latin you can decipher the meanings as you perform this at a concert.

 

 

 

Keeping these facts in mind, the next question is when and how to learn Latin. The first answer I can give you right now: as early as possible. Schools in Germany start with Latin in the sixth grade, and students are expected to learn Latin until they graduate.  Yet given the course load students have to deal with and the degree of difficulty Latin has to offer, Latin should be given in medicinal sips until students have the basic foundation.  The best way to approach Latin is to have the class run parallel to the ancient history class at the beginning, whereby in Latin, history is provided as background information but vocabulary and grammar are in the foreground. This way students can have a grasp at the language before learning how to translate from Latin into English.

 

In Germany, as the language is more logical than English, it is especially important that students are able to translate from Latin into German without having to commit many grammar mistakes in the German language.  That is why one can expect a session to look like something I observed many times during my practical training as a teacher: Vocabulary review from last session,  History (background info) for session, dictation in Latin, new vocabulary, translation, homework- learning new vocabulary and translation.  In the end, tests that are more often than the tests in other classes. Materials in a form of book and supplemental materials are used very often, and frontal teaching (especially for vocabulary) is used almost exclusively.  Tough if you lose track or are frustrated with the language, but effective.

 

But this is one way of learning Latin, albeit it is easy to learn it that way. There are many ways Latin can be taught in the classroom. It is a question of when to start teaching it in schools that don’t have it yet.  But keep in mind: just because Latin is dead, it doesn’t mean it can exist in a different form, as seen under the various reasons why Latin should be introduced in the classroom. The danger of not introducing Latin in schools is as grave as life without bees. Without the bees, life cannot exist because they do a great deal for the food chain. Without Latin, we become too one-dimensional in our thinking.  We have seen this in the US with several schools not even having foreign languages in the classroom, which is fatal to the development of the country and its influence throughout the world.  But having such basics like Latin can open the doors to new dimensions and avert this ignorance.

 

To end this article, there is a nice German saying worth thinking about: Ich bin nicht am Ende mit meinem Latein, sondern am Anfang.  I’m not at my end with Latin but right at the beginning.  The most basics can make a big difference in the long term, especially as all roads go through Rome.

 

 

 

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In School in Germany: English Exams

 

To start off this entry, here is a question for all educators teaching foreign languages: Does your school offer foreign language proficiency exams? If so, for which grades (Germ.: Klasse) and what do these exams consist of?  For those who do not have a foreign language exam, should schools offer it and if yes, for which foreign languages and why?

As part of the European Union, it is expected that students learn at least English and French in addition to their native language. Germany is no exception as the two languages are stressed in the classroom as early as possible. And with that, tests (sometimes with certificates) are administered to test the knowledge of the foreign language as well as the skills developed during their time in school and later in college- namely, listening, reading, oral, and written. Grammar serves as a bridge connecting these skills and is only taught and tested in the classroom.

I have had the privilege to participate in every single English proficiency exam, both as an administrator as well as an observer, looking at the degree of difficulty, the structure and other elements that are either beneficial or a setback to the success of the students. In other words, I have been around the block. For teachers who are about to enter the field of foreign languages at school or at the university, and for students who are going to school or to the university in Germany, here are the exams that you will most likely expect to face while in Germany. Please keep in mind, these exams are meant to foster the development of the students and are not meant to pass or fail them, yet there are some differences that you should keep in mind, speaking from experience.

Besondere Leistungsfeststellung (BLF):  This exam was introduced in 2004 in response to the massacre that had occurred at the Guttenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt two years earlier. There, the person instigating the shooting spree (where 16 people were killed before he took his own life), left school without a degree, one of many reasons for his revenge. The massacre resulted in massive reforms in the education system and with that, the introduction of stringent requirements, including the BLF Exam. This exam can be found in Thuringia, Hesse and Saxony, but will most likely be found in other German states in the future. The BLF applies to subjects in German, Math, Science and a Foreign Language, in particular, English.  Students in the tenth grade are required to take the BLF exam and have the entire year to prepare for it through classes and other work. This includes a year of intensive English classes, where they have the opportunity to focus on current events and cultural issues and improve on their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills.  When the exam occurs close to the end of the school year, students are assigned to their examiners, and the dates are chosen by the administrators. Most of the time, they will be assigned in groups of two or three and are given 30 minutes of preparation time before the exam, as they will be given a topic to do their presentation in. These topics are sometimes based on their preferences in the class, so one can expect a presentation on US culture-related themes, for example because of their preference.

The exam is orally based and consists of three parts: The first part is small talk, where the examiner asks the students some questions about school life, their future and their favorite interests. The second part features a presentation from each student of the group of 2-3, based on the topic given for preparing. And in the third part, the students are given a scene where they play out a scene. The exam takes 30 minutes and students are given a grade in the end. That grade will represent half of the total grade for the subject for that particular year.  Judging by the observations, students taking this exam are more flexible in the first part than in the rest as they have the ability to use the vocabulary and speak freely than in the other two parts. Most mistake-prone is in the second part with the presentations, where they are forced to stick to the topic and use the vocabulary pertaining to it. Add the grammar to that and for a tenth grader, it can be very difficult if there are some areas lacking.

 

Abitur English:  Going up a notch is the Abitur exam, taken by those in the 12th or 13th grade who are on their way out of the Gymnasium and heading to college or the real world. The oral portion exam is structured like the BLF- meaning three parts with one of the parts requiring  preparation time of 30 minutes before the time of the exam. In that part, the student is given a text to prepare. This usually goes first as a way of “dumping him/her into icy cold water.” Well, it is not that cruel, but the student has  to answer the (unexpected) questions provided by the examiner that have to coincide with the text to test the reading comprehension- and with own words.  The second and third parts of the exam comprises of conversation testing listening and oral skills, with the second part focusing on current events and the third part focusing on personal questions, etc. This includes future plans, high school life and other topics dealing with one’s life.  The grade of the oral exam is combined with the grade of the written exam, which is usually given prior to the oral part. Students have a chance to choose which subject to do the Abitur, yet the final grades will influence the decision of the universities in Germany to admit or reject the applications. In other words, be aware of the Numerus Clausus when you want to apply for a degree program at the university, for if you do not have a 1,3 or better, you may not be admitted to the program of your choice.  One more thing: The Abitur Exam means A-level exams in English and are applicable in Germany.

 

UNICERT:   Developed by the Technical University of Dresden, the UNICERT exam applies to college students studying in the field of business, sciences, law and humanities. Students can receive the certificate with the grade level of I-IV, pending on which university offers what level of UNICERT certificates and what level of difficulty for languages. That means level I applies to A-B1 language niveau according to the European Language Reference, whereas level IV is up to C2 level.  For example, the University of Bayreuth (Bavaria), where I taught English for a couple years offers UNICERT up to level four, whereas the University of Halle (Saxony-Anhalt) only offers UNICERT up to level two.  The UNICERT is perhaps one of the most rigorous of exams, for in order to receive a UNICERT Certificate, students not only have to attend certain numbers of accredited English classes and pass the courses, but as soon as they obtained enough credits for the UNICERT exams, they have to achieve the highest possible score for the four-part exam, each part featuring reading comprehension, listening comprehension, oral communication, and essay writing based on a given theme.  While both reading and listening feature questions to answer, in listening comprehension, you listen to the audio clip twice before answering the questions. In oral communication, the format is the same as in the Abitur and BLF Exams- 30 minutes of preparation time with a text with possible questions to be answered followed by 30 minutes of small talk, text questions and current event questions.  Speaking from experience, while students think the UNICERT is really difficult, the teachers find preparing each and every theme for the given parts to be really difficult, for the themes must fit to the students’ field of study as well as the current events, especially if the theme suggestions are rejected, altered or accepted with reservations by other members of the language institute. But that is a different topic to be saved for a lousy day of teaching.  UNICERT exams are found at many German universities, as well as those in Austria, Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic, yet they are frowned upon as being insufficient for proof of language skills for the future jobs. That is why one will see UNICERT-accredited universities mostly in the southern half of Germany, as well as Saxony, Hesse and Berlin, but are rejected in the  northern half in states, like  Hamburg, Lower Saxony Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Schleswig-Holstein, cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, and at almost every technical university and university of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen).  But it does not mean that at these institutions where UNICERT does not exist that there are no exams to test the language proficiency of the students, as will be seen with the TOEIC.

 

TOEIC: TOEIC, which stands for the Test of International Communication is the most internationally recognized exam to be administered both in academia as well as in the business environment. It was first developed in the 1970s by the US-based Educational Testing Services and features two part: The Listening-Reading Test and the Speaking and Writing Test. The former features multiple choice questions and live conversations with people of different cultural backgrounds and speaking different dialects. The exam lasts 2 hours and a person can receive up to 900 points. The latter features 20 minutes of oral communication and 60 minutes of writing, and the person can receive up to 400 points. The exams are ordered by the institutions and as soon as the exams are completed, they are sent to the language testing center, where they are corrected and evaluated, and the certificates are sent to the institutions and/or examinees. Yet prior to the exam, preparation classes are required, where materials pertaining to TOEIC are used almost exclusively. One can present additional materials to class as long as they are relevant to the subjects that are covered for the exam. This makes the TOEIC the most centralized of exams and also the strictest, for guidelines must be met in order for the exam and the certificates to be valid. This is speaking from experience of a teacher who has a TOEIC Examiner License for over 4 years now.  Unlike UNICERT, teachers wanting to administer TOEIC must complete training at a language center and take some additional courses to update your knowledge of TOEIC. These can cost some money, but the training is worth it. TOEIC can be found at almost all the Fachhochschulen, universities that do not have UNICERT, and several business institutions. They are open for both students and adults alike, including those who are unemployed and are changing careers.

Note: TOEIC rivals the exams administered by Cambridge University and Trinity School of London as they follow similar guidelines, yet these exams can be found at the universities and institutions of continuing education (Volkshochschulen). More information about the TOEIC can be found here

 

So which exams are the toughest? Speaking from experience as a teacher, the exams can be compared to a flight of stairs a person has to go up in order to succeed. That means for students, the BLF is perhaps the easiest and the first step, whereas the UNICERT is the most difficult. Abitur and TOEIC are right in the middle. But this is in regards to the degree of difficulty that is expected. However, from the teacher’s point of view, the TOEIC is perhaps the easiest as there is little preparation time and the materials are provided. It is just a matter of following the units and ensure that you have an agenda to follow for the students in order to achieve the unit. The UNICERT is the most difficult for you need to develop the test and course curriculum yourself. While the course portion is not a problem if you are doing that individually and develop your own guidelines that fits the UNICERT requirements, when you work together with your colleagues at the university, you can run into several conflicts which can turn a harmonious relation into guerrilla warfare, which could make working together be a discord, and most times, the students taking the exam suffer in the end. But if asked which certificate would be most suitable for any job after school, then clearly the TOEIC would be the choice, for the Abitur is only a bridge to entering college and may be difficult to be accepted by the employer, and the UNICERT is restricted to Germany and the European stage.  But before proving your knowledge of a foreign language like English through certificates, it is best to work with the language so that you have enough confidence and skills mustered to pursue the Abitur, UNICERT or TOEIC. It is given that a proficiency exam, like the BLF will be given in the 10th grade. But for the others, the best way to master this success is interaction with others with native-speaker knowledge or even the native speaker him/herself. Sometimes a trip to that country for half a year will do the trick. ;-)

 

What about other foreign language proficiency exams in the schools? Apart from BLF, what other exams exist in the German Bundesländern? Place your comments here or in the Files’ facebook page or send the author a line at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Don’t forget to share your thoughts about foreign language proficiency exams in the US, as mentioned at the beginning of this article.

 

 

 

 

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Guessing Quiz Answers: Architectural History

Schoneman Park Bridge in Luverne, Minnesota. One of many bridges built by the Hewett Family. This lone Waddell truss bridge was built in 1908 by William S. Hewett

                                             Co-produced with Sister Column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

A few months ago, the Flensburg Files and sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles produced a two-article series on architectural and infrastructural history and their place in the educational curriculum, which included a Guessing Quiz for people to try out. While you can still try the quiz (click here), here are the answers you should have:

 

1.  In the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, structures made of iron melted like lava, which contributed to the destruction of hundreds of buildings made of iron and wood.  True or False?  False. Most of the houses and buildings that had existed prior to the fire were made of wood and iron. Iron had a low melting temperature which contributed to thousands of buildings to collapse in the heat of the blazing inferno that killed over 300 residents. Ironically, the city’s water tower survived the Great Fire, but the 100-foot tall structure was made of stone. It still remains today as the lone structure that had survived the fire

 

2. The Chicago School of Architecture was developed shortly after the Great Fire featuring which architects? Name three and how they contributed to architecture.  There were over a dozen well-known architects from this school, including William LeBaron Jenney (who invented the skyscraper), Louis Sullivan (who spearheaded the modernist architecture) and Frank Lloyd Wright (who invented the prairie home). A link with more architects and their contributions can be found here

3. Who created the first automobile in the world: Ransom Olds, Carl Benz or Henry Ford?

Carl Benz was the first person who created the first automobile in 1885; Ransom Olds created the first automobile dependent on gasoline in 1896; Henry Ford was the first to create the assembly line plant to create their automobile in masses in 1908. 

4. The Diesel Motor was created in ______ and is named after this German inventor?

The diesel motor was invented by Rudolf Diesel in 1893

 

5. List the following canals that were built between 1871 and 1915 in chronological order.

Panama Canal      Dortmund-Ems Canal    Danube Canal    Erie Canal   Elbe-Lübeck Canal   Baltic-North Sea Canal                            Berlin-Havelland Canal

Baltic-North Sea Canal (1887-95); Elbe-Lübeck Canal (1895- 1921); Dortmund-Ems Canal (1899); Panama Canal (1914); Erie Canal- new (1908-18); The Danube and Berlin Canals were built in the 1950s

 

6. Prairie Homes consisted of 1-2 story homes made of geometric shapes resembling circles and triangles.  True or False? Who invented the Prairie Homes (Hint: he was part of the Chicago School of Architecture).

False, rectangular and cube-shaped architecture were the features of the Prairie Homes invented by Frank Lloyd Wright.

 

7. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1878, yet Berlin received its first set of electrical lighting in this year?

Berlin received its first electrical lighting in 1884

 

8.  Which of the following bridge engineers did NOT immigrate to the US?

Seth Hewett, Lawrence Johnson, Gustav Lindenthal, John Roebling, Friedrich Voss, Wendel Bollmann

Seth Hewett and the rest of the Hewett family were born in Minnesota. William Hewett originated from Maine.

 

9. The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders emerged in the 1890s and later became a counterpart to the American Bridge Company conglomerate after the consolidation of _____ bridge builders in 1901. This School featured which family of bridge builders?

Hewett, Johnson, Bayne, Jones                      The Hewett Clan,  Alexander Bayne, Commodore Jones and Lawrence Johnson made up the Minneapolis School of Bridge Building, where over a dozen bridge building firms were located in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Hewett, Fink, King, Bayne

Voss, King, Jones, Humboldt

Hewett, Maillard, Lindenthal, Steinmann

 

10. The Rendsburg High Bridge was the first bridge in the world that used the loop trestly approach. True or False? If false, when and where was the first loop trestle approach used? (See video here)

 False. The Hastings Spiral Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota, built in 1895 by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works Company was the first structure that introduced the pigtail approach, located on the Hastings side. The bridge was replaced by Big Blue in 1951, which in turn was dismantled after Big Red opened last year.  

 

It is hoped that an extended version of the Guessing Quiz would be available for use in the classroom. That plan is still in the works and will be made available through an external source in the near future. Once it’s finished and posted, you will be informed here in the Files as well as in the Chronicles. Stay tuned.

  and

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In School in Germany: Bilingual Teaching from the School’s perspective: An interview

In the last entry on bilingual teaching  in Germany, the author discussed the benefits and drawbacks of teaching a subject in a foreign language from his own experience, as well as tips for teachers willing to and planning on teaching a bilingual class in the future. To summarize briefly, bilingual teaching can be beneficial if teachers are willing to devote the extra time needed to prepare the materials and teaching methods for each session and if students are able and willing to communicate and learn the vocabulary in a foreign language. It does not mean that it is not doable, for a subject in a foreign language has its advantages, which includes looking at aspects from another point of view and implementing the language in other fields to encourage learning through Context Language and Integrated Learning (CLIL). It just means that one needs to be creative with lesson-planning, working with the restrictions of time per session (each one has 45 minutes unless it is a block session as mentioned here), and the language competence on the part of the students.

But what about from the view of the other teachers who taught the bilingual module: what do they think of bilingual teaching in the school?  This question was one of two that I and two other colleagues at the Gymnasium (where I’m doing my Praxissemester), and one from another Gymnasium 25 kilometers away, pursued in a project we did for the university on bilingual teaching in the English language. This consisted of observing the bilingual classes in English, such as History, Geography and Music, both as a teacher (like I did in history), as well as an observer. Then the interview was conducted with the teachers to gain an insight on what they think of teaching a subject in a different language- namely in English instead of their native German language.

The interview comprised of ten questions, featuring three closed (multiple choice), one hybrid and six open-ended questions. The open-ended questions were categorized and ranked based on how often the answers came about in one way or another.  Seven teachers from the two Gymnasien participated in the interview- five from my Gymnasium and two from the other Gymnasium where my colleague did hers. Of which, four teachers were interviewed directly, whereas the remaining three completed the interview questions in writing for time and logistic reasons. None of the participants were native speakers of English, but came from the fields of history(1), sports(1), geography (1), foreign languages(1)  natural science (1) and music (2).

After tallying the data and categorizing the answers, we came to the following results, which will be summarized briefly here.

1. College Degree, Further Qualifications and Interest

While bilingual education in the English language is best suited for those whose Lehramt degree includes the lingua franca, only five of those asked actually received a degree in English; the other two did not but took additional classes to improve their English skills  for the class.  As a supplemental question, despite bilingual modules being obligatory, all but two of those asked volunteered to teach the class in English with most viewing bilingual teaching as either for the purpose of interest in learning the language and the culture of Anglo-Saxon countries or a chance to improve on their career chances, or both.

 

2. Preparation and Teaching Bilingual Classes

As a general rule, one spends twice as much time learning a subject in a foreign language than it is in his native tongue. There was no exception to the rule with regards to preparing for a bilingual class in the English language. When asked how much time it took to prepare the module in comparison to the regular classes, all seven respondants mentioned that it took much longer than normal to prepare for a class in the foreign language. Factors influencing this included what had been mentioned in the previous article: lack of education materials already published, resulting in finding alternatives to teaching the subject to the students. This included using audio/visual aid in the form of films, YouTube videos and the internet to enhance listening skills and foster discussion, as well as creating self-made materials, such as worksheets and other activities to enhance vocabulary and reading skills. Two of the respondants even required students to do presentations in English.  This promoted the variance of the teaching styles used in class- namely frontal teaching, individual and group work and demonstrations, which encouraged students to learn more on their own than having the teachers present their topic in frontal form, which is the most traditional, but sometimes one of the most boring, if students are not encouraged to participate in the discussions.

 

3. Results

This question requires some clarity in itself. Both schools offer foreign language classes that students are required to take in order to graduate. Prior to the introduction of the module by the state in 2009, they were the only two that offered bilingual classes in English and other languages, a tradition that has been around for almost 50 years and is still strong to this day. Like on the university level, students focus on skills pertaining to reading, listening, writing, grammar, oral communication, presentation and real-life situations, all of whom are tested regularily. An article on the different tests and their degree of difficulties students face will be presented in the Files soon.  These skills are implemented in the different subjects through the bilingual module with another one being developed- the ability to acquire specific vocabulary from certain subjects- a process known as Content Language and Integrated Learning (CLIL).

The question about the results for the teachers to answer featured an overall ranking of whether and how students improved their skills through the bilingual module and the grading scale in terms of the above-mentioned skills, minus presentations and real-life situations. On the scale of one to six (one being outstanding and six being worse), the overall grade average for both schools was between 2,9 and 3- equivalent to the grade of C in American standards. While grammar skills were rarely covered in the bilingual module, according to the interviews, the reading and listening skills were the strongest, while the writing skills were the weakest. Communication in English varied from group to group, making it difficult to determine how well the speaking skills were in comparision with the rest. In either case, despite having several outlyers on each end, the performance of the students in the bilingual module is the same as in a foreign language class, according to the accounts stated by the interviewees. This leads to the question of how to improve the curriculum in terms of quality so that the students and teachers can benefit more from it than what has been practiced so far after the first year of initiating the modules.

 

4. Suggestions for Improvement 

The final observations of the English bilingual modules can be found in the question of whether it makes sense to continue with the scheme and if so, what improvements could be made. While it is clear that the module program was introduced in Thuringia, and many schools are introducing them into their curriculum, if imagined that the program is not compulsory but only optional, all but one of the six respondents replied with yes, with one being omitted for technical reasons. Reasons for continuing with the bilingual educational module in the classroom include the opportunity to improve communication in English, learn new vocabulary, be flexible with teaching methods and materials, and combine the English language and the subject into one.

Yet in its current shape and form, vast improvements need to be made, according to all seven respondents. The majority (five) of the seven respondents would like to see some more English classes being offered to them so they can improve their language and communication skills before entering the classroom to teach the subject in the English language. This coincides with the observations made by the author while sitting in the classroom on several occasions and helping them improve on some aspects of the language outside of class. While some classes are available through external institutions, like the Volkshochschule (Institute of Continuing Education), more funding for programs to encourage teachers to enhance their language skills are needed in order for the bilingual module to work. The same applies to CLIL training to determine how the subject matter should be taught in the foreign language and what teaching methods are suitable for use in the classroom.  Not far behind in the suggestions include more materials that coincide with the curriculum, including worksheets and books, something that was observed from the author himself after teaching history in the English language. While teachers have the ability to be creative and produce their own worksheets, many are of the opinion that in the foreign language, more preparation time is needed for that, something that was mentioned in the interview by a couple respondents.

 

5. Fazit

After a year of teaching the module, the teachers of both schools find the bilingual classes in the English language to be worth the time and investment, for despite the fact that their handicap is not being a native speaker of English and having some difficulties in communicating in the language, thus causing some misunderstanding between the teacher and the students at times, they see the module as a win-win situation. Students in their opinion can obtain the vocabulary and other skills needed from their respective fields and implement them in future classes, or even for the exams they need to take in the 10th grade year. For them, they see the bilingual module as an opportunity for them to gather some experience and confidence in the communication in English. Yet, more support is needed in order for them to become even more successful and the students to profit from their teaching in a foreign language. This is something that was observed from my personal experience teaching the module, communicating as a native speaker of  English.  This leads to the question of whether the students have the same opinion about this as the teachers do. This will be presented in the next installment.  However……

 

6. Suggestion and support needed….

Thuringia is not the only state that offers the bilingual modules in a foreign language. Many states in Germany have already introduced bilingual education in their school curriculum, either as a whole (like in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria) or through individual schools- both private or public.  How are the subjects taught bilingually? Do you have any modules or are the classes offered in English for the whole school year? What teachers do you have for bilingual education in the school: are they native speakers, Lehramt students, etc.? And what suggestions do you have for improving the bilingual curriculum if your school has tried the bilingual curriculum for the first time, as was the case in Thuringia?

Leave your comments here or on the pages entitled The Flensburg Files or Germany! You can also contact the author of the Files, using the contact details under About the Files. Your opinions do matter for the teachers who are planning on teaching bilingual classes in a foreign language in the future.

 

The author would like to thank the participants for your useful input in the interview, as well as three assistants for helping out in the interview and questionnaires. You have been a great help. 

 

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In School in Germany: Teaching Geography

This class is the first of many in the series on topics that should be taught in US schools from the point of view of the teacher observing classes at a German school. The first topic deals with Geography.

OK fellow Americans (and especially fellow Iowans and Minnesotans), before we get started with the subject of classes that should be taught, here are a few questions that you should try and answer.

1. Peaches are an important commodity in Egypt. True or False? If false, what crops grow there?

 

2. __________, ____________, ____________, ______________and ___________ are the  minerals that can be found in Minnesota. Of which, _______________ is still being mined there in the ___________________ Iron Range

 

3. What is the capital of Palau?  aPonce          b. Melekeok      c. Koror                               d. Kauai               e. Kuala Lumpur

4. Honey is produced in Canada. True or False? If false, what is produced there?

T/F   False: ____________________________

 

5. Which country has the highest crime rate in the world? Why?

a. Mexico        b. Germany       c.  USA                 d. Russia              e. China               f. Poland

 

6. Which province in the Ukraine joined the Russian Federation earlier this year and which ones want to join?

a.: __________________; b.: ______________________________________________

 

7. The Rust Belt, consisting of the states of O___________,W___________V _____________, P____________________, and I______________ and the cities of I______________, P__________________,P _____________________,C ________________,C _____________ received its name because of what industry that existed between 1860 and ca. 1970?

a. Steel             b. Tobacco          c. Iron                   d. corn                 e. wood               f. both a&c

 

8. Rice is grown in Iowa. True or False? If false, which US state grows rice?    T/F, If false, ________________________________

 

9. Which Eastern European Countries became part of the Warsaw Pact in 1955? Hint: there are seven countries not counting Yugoslavia?

 

10. Catholicism is the predominant religion in which German states?

 

11. Albert Lea, Minnesota was named after an explorer who founded the region. True or False?    T/F

 

Do not look up the answers, but try and guess at them, either on your own or in the Comment section. The answers will be provided in a different article. Yet if you cannot answer any of the questions, then chances are you should have either visited or paid attention in Geography.  Geography is part of the curriculum in the German classroom, yet it is one of core classes that is often ignored in the classroom in other countries, or are included as a tiny fraction of the curriculum of social studies, together with history, politics, and independent living. Yet one goes by the assumption that Geography is about maps, countries and capitals. In Germany, it goes much deeper than that, as I observed in the classroom during the Praxissemester. This is what a person can expect from a Geography class:

Using a student’s guide, in this case, Diercke’s Geography book, whose volumes consists of regions, the class has an opportunity to focus on a country and its profile based on the following aspects: landscape, population, industry/economy, resources, geology, culture, societal issues, environmental issues, places of interest, and politics (governmental system and its function and flaws).  Each aspect has its own set of vocabulary words pupils need to learn, both in German as well as in English. Each one has its own graphs and diagrams, as well as certain skills pupils are expected to learn, such as presenting an aspect, analysis, comparisons of certain aspects, as well as research and presenting facts, just to name a few.  While some of these skills can be taught in other subjects, such as foreign languages as and natural and social science classes, the advantages of geography are numerous. Apart from knowing the vocabulary and the places, pupils are supposed to be prepared to know about the regions, for they can be useful for travel, any projects involving these countries, and cultural encounters with people from these countries profiled in the classroom.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look at the example of the session I sat in, with Japan.  Some of us have some knowledge about the country, apart from the Fukushima Triple Disaster of 2011 (Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Meltdown) that the Japanese have been recovering from ever since. And for some of the older generations, Japan was the champion in the electronics industry in the 1970s and 80s, mastering the Americans and Europeans before the economy took a double nosedive in the 1990s and in the mid-2000s. Yet in the session, pupils became acquainted with the Japanese industry and its ironic environmental policies, looking at the competition of the automobile industry between the Japanese and the Americans in the form of presenting a comparison and a profile of each of the automobile companies in Japan. In addition, a discussion of Japan’s secret problem of environmental pollution was presented, using the facts from Diercke and some additional materials deemed useful for the discussion. With 127 million inhabitants on a small island, whose topography comprises of 80% mountains and 20% flatlands, it is really no surprise that the country has suffered from its overpopulation, yet the topic was brand new to the students, even though it was covered previously when discussing about China, Japan’s archrival.

The class is required in the Gymnasium, yet the curriculum varies from state to state. In Thuringia, it is one year with one region, beginning with Europe. The American aspect is usually covered in the 11th grade and, pending on the Gymnasium, some aspects are offered in English, with the goal of getting the pupils acquainted with the English vocabulary. While English has become the lingua franca and is used everywhere, one could consider adding Spanish, French, and a couple Asian languages (in vocabulary terms) into the curriculum as much of the world also have countries that have at least one of the above-mentioned languages, including Latin America and Spain, where Spanish is predominant.  This way, pupils have an opportunity to be acquainted with terms rarely seen in the primary language unless translated, which loses its meaning.

This leads to the question of why geography is not offered either solely in American schools, or maybe they are being offered but only rarely. Speaking from personal experience, many schools have different sets of curriculum where Geography is placed at the bottom of the food chain, especially with regards to it being integrated into social studies. And its focus: Only North America and in particular, the United States, where the country’s history, social aspects and political systems are discussed. Current events and presenting them in writing and orally are found in these social studies classes, thus encouraging pupils to research and present their topics, yet most of the events are found in the US and Europe, and there is rarely any mentioning of countries outside the regions.  Some schools had the opportunity to be hooked up to Channel One, where news stories were presented for 20 minutes in the morning, during its heyday in the 1990s. Yet too many commercials and controversies have prompted many schools to protest or even break ties with the network, even though it still exists today after a decade of changing hands.  By introducing a year or two of Geography at least on the high school level, plus tea spoons on the lower level, it will enable pupils in American schools to be acquainted with the rest of the world and the key areas that are worth knowing about. It will save the embarrassment of not knowing some places outside the US, as I witnessed in a pair of stories worth noting:

 

1. A professor of political science at a college in Minnesota draws a map of Europe, placing the Czech Republic above Poland and Hungary in the area where Austria was located- in front of a pair of foreign exchange students from Germany who were grinning in the process. Of course this was the same professor who chose Munich and Berchtesgaden over Berlin and Interlaken over Geneva and Berne for a month-long seminar tour on Public Policy, where every capital of Europe was visited except for Austria, Poland, the Iberia region and Benelux. But that’s a side note in itself.

 

2. My best friend and his (now ex-) girlfriend meet me and my fiancée (now wife) at that time at a restaurant, where she boasted about going to Europe for a music concert. Yet when asked where exactly (which country and city), she could not answer that question- only proudly responded with “But we’re going to Europe!”

 

3. Then we had many questions and assumptions that East Germany and the Berlin Wall existed. One was wise enough to mention during a phone conversation that the reason he could not reach a relative in eastern Germany was that the East German Housing Development had blocked telephone access from America. And this was 10 years ago, I should add.

 

There are enough reasons for me (and others) to add that justify the need to offer a compulsory Geography class in American schools. While the core requirements are being introduced in the American school system, it is unknown whether Geography is part of the core. If not, then it is recommended, for the class does have its advantages, as mentioned here.  While geography contests and individual work will be stressed by those opposing the idea of teaching Geography, the main question to be asked to these people are “Are you willing to learn something about another region and the culture before encountering them, or are you willing to be ignorant and be foolish in your attempts to encounter other cultures without learning about them first?” Speaking from experience, I would rather take the safe path than one unknown and fall into several traps in the process. But that’s my opinion.

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