Having attended the last four inspirational Goethe German Summer Schools during the January school break in various locations in Australia, I decided to apply for a scholarship to undertake a further Foreign Language Teaching Methodology seminar in Germany. The Goethe Institut is responsible globally for maintaining German language and culture. Having found a suitable course relevant to my current teaching as a Stage 1 German teacher, I approached my school and requested their support for my attendance at a 2 week PD course in Germany.
The course ‘Early Language Learning for Learners of German as a Foreign Language’, was held in Schwäbisch Hall, near Stuttgart, and it alone was worth 1500 Euros. This included billeted accommodation, some meals and an exorbitant cultural activity component. I paid my own airfare as well as some additional associated costs, such as rail travel and general living expenses.
The course itself exceeded all expectations. I found myself amongst an incredible group of 20 passionate early childhood educators from 15 nations – from five continents. We were fully immersed in German, 24 hours a day, furthering our language skills and understanding of the German culture and people. The included, all encompassing cultural component was a fantastic surprise that I was not fully aware of. It was a truly holistic experience. Our days spent in the Goethe Institut, with educational leaders from all over Germany, facilitated worthwhile workshops that explored and expanded on our own teaching and learning. We revisited the principles of early foreign language learning and development. We explored current new theories that could enhance and improve our own teaching practices. We developed new modules that were relevant and realistic to our own contexts. It was hands on and relevant. This already has had a direct benefit for my students. My head was spinning. The networking with like minded professionals stimulated lots of creative and combined thinking. It has already informed and guided my programming in delivering the curriculum during Semester 2.
The cultural component included theatre, gallery, film, restaurant and beergarden visits, an international evening, exploring the cities of Heidelberg and Nurnberg and joining in during a public viewing of a ‘Die Mannschaft’ soccer match during Euro 2016 with 3000 crazy fans. We also sang in an International Choir at the Goethe lnstitut! And then there were the offers from publishing houses for 50% reduction on prices for educational materials! Bookshops became popular haunts at lunchtimes, looking for great resources to take home. A 10kg carton of books was subsequently sent home.
We created a Facebook page where we now share and collaborate ideas, successes and at times, failures for a laugh. A highlight was visiting a Forest Kindergarten and spending a day with the educators and children. Again, I was amazed at the limitless learning that was happening outdoors. Children being in charge of their own learning, taking risks, knowing their limits and exploring their interests. There are over 1000 of these Kindergartens in Germany, very successful and highly sought after by parents as an alternative for their children (although now very mainstream). Inquiry based outdoor learning is something to consider in our environments, where our children almost suffer from nature deficit disorder. And here too, I was confronted by the reality in Germany of the masses of refugee children that are now being integrated into local schools. I observed two young Syrian and Afghani girls, trying to make sense of their new
world, despite their lack of German language skills. It was wonderful to see the sparkle in their eyes, and a sense of freedom as they were playing so freely with the local children. It brought tears to my eyes, how they were included and accepted. In Germany, the State run Education Departments run separate language classes until children are proficient enough to enter mainstream classes. They have realised that mere immersion simply does not work for early language development and continued progress. For success in future education, language mastery is critical and this is now taught through direct explicit instruction.
I lived and breathed German and Germany. It was a remarkable experience. I feel incredibly fortunate and thankful to the Goethe lnstitut in Australia as well as SCAS for the encouragement and support. My classroom teaching has already been impacted by my new learning – something I have already shared with my facilitators and new teacher friends in Germany and around the world. I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity like this to, go for it!
Stage 1 German Teacher
St Columba Anglican School
This article was originally published in the Modern Language Teachers Association of NSW November 2016 edition of its publication Accents.