Yesterday I visited a German Gymnasium (academic high school) that offers a German-English bilingual program. It was difficult to arrange because the school year is drawing to a close, but I am grateful to Robin Kiso at the Helene-Lange-Gymnasium for letting me visit. To make it more challenging, my visit occurred just as a storm was rolling through Hamburg and I am thankful the guesthouse provides an umbrella or I would have been soaked upon arrival.
The class I visited was German history, taught in English. This is interesting from the outset since Alberta Bilingual Schools switched away from teaching Social Studies in German because of the difficulty of terminology and the lack of resources. Herr Kiso remarks that terminology is sometimes an issue, but he will use the German terms when it makes sense. Regarding resources, bilingual programs are now common enough in German that publishers are creating specific resources, so I observed that the students had textbooks to accompany their lessons. However, Herr Kiso remarked that he often used other resources, which was evident from his lesson, where he used One Note software and an LCD projection set up to bring visual elements to his lesson. When asked, he noted that he uses technology more than most teachers, which has also been my observation in other schools. The students themselves don’t have access to a computer in the classroom and a sign in the hallway indicated that cell phones should be stowed away and unseen.
The lesson on the first German nation-state started with a picture prompt of the Reichstag. The German educational system values the ability for students to express themselves verbally and that was evident from the time the students spent discussing what they felt the building’s architecture represented, first with a partner and then as a whole class. Since this was a double class, they easily spent 30 minutes expressing their opinions in English. The students are very strong and were able to use precise vocabulary such as “intimidating”, “shows pride”, “minimalist”. Herr Kiso made a point of giving a thumbs up to effective use of vocabulary and reusing the same terms when he spoke to reinforce their meaning. These are all points I tell my students about building academic language skills in the second language classroom. The lesson further involved opportunities to make linkages between students’ current knowledge and opinions about democracy with facts about the first nation-state, which allowed them to draw conclusions about how democratic or non-democratic it was and how aspects of that government and society led to a later constitution that Hitler was able to exploit when he got into power.
Overall, the visit was very interesting. It differed from other school visits I have made in that the link between content and language theory was strongly exhibited in practice and I look forward to another opportunity to visit this school and others in future research visits.