01 April 2013 @ 09:51 pm
Book challenge  

Phillipp Möller - Isch geh Schulhof
A book about someone who studied adult education and works as a substitute teacher at a primary school in one of Berlin's poorest, most ethnically diverse and violent areas, his students, his struggles, failures and successes.
Another lower-class-zoo book. I worked with similar children, their fates are heartbreaking, though their lower-class second language acquired German does sound funny sometimes it feels uncomfortable to poke fun at them. They really don't know any better. Their lives are filled with neglect, loneliness, abuse, and deprivation, so a lack of grammatical correctness can be permitted under these circumstances, surely? Still, the book is entertaining to read especially for the school politics and recognisable classroom situations, though the occasionally very sanctimonious preachiness of the author does get old. He keeps saying he is no expert - which isn't entirely true - and then goes on to complain about his burnt-out, overworked, overtaxed co-workers as though it were a personal failure rather than a political failure that put them in that position. So, mixed feelings about this one, but entertaining enough to keep me reading. Bremen and Berlin have very similar school politics with staffing decisions and the release of official position numbers being delayed until seconds before the beginning of the holidays, untrained substitute teachers being employed instead of real teachers to cut costs, class sizes increased to unmanageable numbers, school reforms being employed frequently and haphazardly without any realistic plans being made as to their concrete implementation. It's a nightmare, and it's somehow good to see that this city is not alone in its chaos.
Current Mood: content
Current Location: Germany, Bremen
12 June 2007 @ 06:23 pm
DAZ class  
Today was my first DAZ class. I LOVED Ulla's class. When I was there, ten of the children were there, four from Russia, one from the Netherlands, one from Indonesia, two from China, one from Turkey and one from Poland.

The children were all lovely, if a bit too lively at times, and more open-minded and open to teachers than any class I have ever seen. They seem very much at ease, they clearly enjoy being in that class, being together, and they clearly love Ulla a lot. I regretted almost instantly that I only did one lesson with them, as teaching them also more or less worked by itself. Although they were all a bit too lively at the beginning because they'd celebrated the birthday of one of their classmates in the break before and had been the subjects of a teaching experiment before that, the atmosphere in that class is so great that I'd have loved to stay there and talk to them some more rather than go back to the stuffed rooms at the uni.

We read a text on a marriage together. Since it was a Turkish story that pretty much made Selin's day as she from Turkey and was able to explain a lot on the background of Nasreddin Hodja stories to the class very well and relate a few anecdotes. As an intro to the lesson I asked them whether they'd been to a wedding, and thankfully, they all had been. When I asked whether someone wanted to say something about the wedding they'd been to, they all eagerly told me in my language, which is, in many cases, their third language, about their experiences at their relatives weddings in countries I only know from the Atlas and which they used to live in.
These children are so much more experienced than me. 
Tags: ,
Current Mood: cheerful
19 April 2007 @ 08:27 am
A Piece of Reality  

This is a part of the transcript I had to do for one of my courses in German. The sequence I transcribed was from a science class students between the age of ten and eleven are attending.

They're learning how electricity works, the lesson before this one they'd built their own switch. Here, the task of the day is introduced to them, and they are supposed to explain how the (rather crude) electric device they're facing works.

The transcript )

The browser slightly messes up the table, though.

I feel like Professor Higgins, only that phonetic transcriptions are far more interesting than transcribing what class 4b has to say on the subject of electricity, really.

You should see the discussions sparked by those transcripts, too. Last week, we had a ninety minute discussion about a dialogue of four lines, about one word ("Blank" = shiny, clean, not isulated). There were huge arguments about how the inflections and intonations one child used reflects upon her personality, grasp of more abstract concepts, and her nature in general. It was a bit ridiculous and didn't have a lot to do with linguistics. At all. The class is supposed to be an advanced seminar in linguistics, though.

That is mainly because most people in that class think that linguistic is a spreading disease and have no clue about grammar. When a girl gave an explanation of what was really happening in the passage we were discussing, she was looked at like an alien.

I like her.
Tags: ,
13 April 2007 @ 11:14 am
"Because you have no clue at all."  
My favourite seminar this semester is Teaching German as a Second Language. Doing just that, teaching German to students who have just arrived in Germany from all over the world, is about the most challenging thing I can imagine, and what Ulla Jones, our teacher who also teaches German as a Second Language at a grammar school in Hamburg tells us the most interesting and the most shocking things about the students and the German government's educational policy.

Courses for German as a Second language have not been offered in schools that long. The German government realised only in the mid-eighties that the young, male workers who'd come over from Italy, then from Poland, and, increasingly, from Turkey would not, in fact go back, that lots of them had married and indeed had the curious notion that children might be a good idea.
In those days, compulsory attendance did not apply to the children of immigrants. Thus, there were loads of children born and raised in families with a German proficiency of various degrees of fossilization.

The families also had the strange notion of sending their children to school.

How utterly unforseeable!

Suddenly, the school had a new situation on their hands. Or rather, they didn't. Those students who did not speak the language were just put into the regular classes and did not receive any instructions in the langauge whatsoever. Immersion in it's truest form. Of course not very good for the students, but who cares. Back in my student days we had one or two people in my class who did not speak German, and they learned it within a year, from scratch. Their German was pretty good at the end of that, however.

Curiously, this trend continued, and suddenly there were classes with a great percentage of students who did not speak German as a first language. What to do, what to do... well, their problem, so, nothing. There were very early tentative beginnings to introduce learning German for those students into Germany's curriculi, but that was a painfully slow process that hasn't really progressed a lot during the last thirty years.

It has in Hamburg, because Ms Jones and associates would just go and introduce changes, like introductory classes with the main purpose of learning the language before being sent to the regular classes after reaching European proficiency level B2 ("Independent user"). When there was a change in government and the new Schulsenator would express his surprise at their practices they would just look at him with wide-eyed surprise,
"What do you mean? We've always done things this way!" - and be left alone.
What is shocking about this is that that back door was the only way of introducing changes, whenever they'd tried the regular way they'd been informed that there was neither the demand (!) nor the money for it.

It would also be easy if there was good material to rely on, but there is not. There are a few books, but they are all not that convincing, so you have to devise most of the material you use yourself.

It would be easy if most students in those classes would speak the same language or were roughly at the same level. This is not the case. Most groups are so absolutely diverse that there is little hope of simply going and learning the student's native language and thus being able to teach them better. Doesn't work like that at all. Ulla, our teacher, told us how she often ends up setting very different tasks, eg. having a group read a text and summarise it, having one listen to a CD and do a few exercises on comprehension, and another group copy out words to learn the alphabet. SO challenging! I'd love that. It's language teaching to the extreme!

It would be easy if the authorities would even so much as acknowledge that students arriving who do not speak German are a problem. They don't. In most of our Ländern, there are no programs that enable students to learn the language properly before they attend regular classes. Since the realisation dawned that this might become necessary and because they do it in Sweden there are tentative beginnings of proper integration, but that's still in very early stages in most Ländern except for Bavaria, and, curiously, Hamburg (Yay!! For once!!), who are a few baby steps ahead.

In addition, most students who do arrive here do not because there parents woke up one morning and thought that it might be just a splendid idea to buy a cozy house in Germany and send their kids to school in this country while learning the language. They often come from rather dramatic backgrounds and do not appreciate the fact that they suddenly find themselves in a strange country where no one speaks their language at all.

"We have a lot of students whose young, Eastern European mothers came to Germany and married a much, much older man. Imagine your mother had  moved to another country to marry someone who could be your grandfather. How highly motivated would you be to learn German?"

In Ulla's class, there are really people from all over the world (just imagine how interesting classes with these kids must be! Just imagine the Geography lessons!), and most of them did not want to come to Germany. Most of them did not really have a great childhood, most of them miss their homes, their friends, their families terribly. They are confused, lonely, and not exactly made to feel welcome. Everything theories suggest on language acquisition suggests that it is a miracle if these kids learn anything at all due to the "affective filter".
Some also experienced huge difficulties with actually leaving their country. She told us that she'd once talked to an ex-student who's now doing his German A-levels about a couple of young Russian students who'd just arrived.

"This is what I do not understand. They knew five years ahead. How early did you know?"

"Oh, maybe seven, eight years before we left?"

"But if you knew eight years ago that you'd come to Germany, then why didn't you learn German?"

"Because you have no clue at all, Ms Jones."

And they did know, but not all of the family members were really supposed to. The boy she talked to had merely overheard his parents making plans when he wasn't supposed to.
In his very rural part of Russia (I don't know where, exactly, sadly), people they'd known had made plans to leave. Their children were kidnapped and their money and property was stolen when word got out. The student's family was not keen on similar reactions.
So the parents did make plans, and sold their furniture one by one, and the house, and told everybody they'd move to the city, and then, two days before boarding the plane, the children were told to pack their suitcases and say goodbye to their grandmother and their cat, because they were leaving for Germany, for good. There was absolutely no question of going and learning German, it would be far too suspicious.  The student and his family arrived in Germany in 2002. 

And the unsupportive attitude of our government really makes me livid. Of course it's more or less everybody's own responsibility to learn a language, you can't force people to, but to learn they should be offered courses. Otherwise, HOW can you expect people to be able to speak the language?? Open University courses expensive, and most of our new arrivals aren't exactly rich.

A lot of students who do not speak the language properly are still being sent to the Hauptschule (third of Germany's three secondary school forms, very low prestige, education with minimal requirements and a very low chance of employment after finishing, general public's attitude being "The school the stupid people go to") because teachers claim they have a language learning disability or a general sort of speech impediment. It's not, it's  no opportunity to learn the language properly and language fossilization.

They have introduced tests what, two years ago? that test if they do in their mother tongue. If they don't, they're being sent back to other school forms.

It's absolutely ridiculous.
Tags: ,
Current Location: Hamburg
Current Mood: predatory