This week I went to the didacta, the education fair, in Cologne. One of the things that really struck us when chatting on the bus home, was that there was so much nice stuff for the primary schools, be it the interior architecture or the available learning materials. My colleague enthused about how fantastic her son’s school was and, as much as we value our school, we wondered how come it is deemed necessary for 8 or 9 year olds to need “nice stuff” but less so when they are 10 or 11. Anybody who had seen how happy the 14 year old boys were to get a marble for a good vocab test would surely not think that they were out of the age for playing! Joking aside, however, my colleague also talked about the kids not learning anything in English: there was no grammar or formal writing excercises, she said – I must add that this was a Maths teacher. Teaching English in primary schools is still a bit of a problem here in Germany. It has been part of the curriculum since the late 1990s but there often weren’t the qualified teachers for the task and often teachers were just “put on the job” perhaps with a little “extra training”. This will mean that you will have good teachers who are enthusiastic and others who may not feel so sure about the language themselves and I believe that these people are really setting foundations for the future.
It isn’t as if the kids have no experience of the English language – they are probably not aware that they have seen or heard so much. I challenge anyone in Germany to find someone under 20 who cannot say “I love to entertain you”, the motto of Pro7, a popular TV channel. So the English lessons don’t start at school but what should start is the focusing and making the kids aware of what is around them.
My next thought was that it is then no wonder that a lot of kids experience the total culture shock when they leave their organically formed primary school envirnonment for year 5 in the “big school” – and it usually is in comparison.
Storytelling is, in actual fact, one of the methods championed in the primary didactics, as is painting and singing – all very expressive. So why are we supposed to stop after year 4? There does seem to be a slight change in mindsets, if we consider the thoughts voiced by the New London Group about the development of multiliteracies but a lot of the literature pertains to primary education.
Being creative means being productive and if we can pack language into that haptic package then it can’t be wrong, can it? Especially if the language can be connected to a successful project (be it a pretty picture or a more sophisticated film).