Planning the Teaching Unit
2. Didactic Analysis
2.1. Finding a Topic
2.2. Project-Oriented Learning
2.3. Speaking - A Complex Skill
Documentation of the Teaching Unit
1. Methodical Analysis
2. Project Work in Action
I am a teacher who strongly believes in the idea of teaching a second language as early as possible. I am a teacher who is often surprised about how well students understand the foreign language and how easily they get used to me speaking to them in the foreign language, only with the help of facial expressions and gestures and without ever using their mother tongue. However, I am also a teacher who feels that while giving a lot of linguistic input to the students, they do not give back an equally high amount of linguistic output.
So after getting to know my new third grade students, we started the school year off with a project that would encourage them to talk more in the foreign language and not just be the recipients of it. And what better way than doing a theater project?
In the following paper I would like to introduce this project in more detail. In the beginning, I will show how the teaching unit was planned taking into consideration the school and class situation, the topic in general and findings about project work and the skill of speaking. After that, my focus is on documenting the teaching unit. Finally, I will give a review of the theater project by looking into what went well, what did not and whether or not the goal to develop oral language production was achieved.
Planning the Teaching Unit
The school is located in the southern part of the county Heilbronn in ####.
The school consists of a Grund- and Werkrealschule that have recently developed into a Gemeinschaftsschule. Another part of the school center is the ####. Together with the #### and #### the #### is one of the educational centers in the township. 458 students from #### and the neighboring towns and villages come here every day, 253 of them go to primary school and 205 to secondary school. In primary education, there are three classes per grade level (except first grade), in secondary education two classes per grade level (except fifth and sixth grade). There are 37 teachers working at the Gemeinschaftsschule.
Class 3 consists of 22 students, 11 girls and 11 boys. The classroom is in the upper level of the primary school building and has a square floor layout which allows for multiple different seating arrangements. For different social forms, the classroom offers a reading corner, two separate group tables, and two computers. With permission of the teacher, the students are also allowed to work in the hallway where extra tables and chairs are available. The students work very well with a partner or in groups.
In general, the students try to help each other out and have a high level of social competence. Most students are friends outside of school as well. For discipline in the classroom, many students need to be reminded of classroom rules to avoid a high level of noise.
Especially ####, who likes to comment on everything said and done in the classroom, needs to be admonished to remember school rules.
#### who has an attention deficit disorder sits at a single table close to the board. This way, most distractions in the classroom are behind him and he can focus on the teacher. The teacher, on the other hand, can more easily remind him of the task at hand and pass out worksheets to him first, for example, so that he has more time to get started.
The teacher trainee teaches mathematics and English in class 3 and sees the class four days a week, which makes it possible to integrate the English language into everyday school life. According to the schedule, class 3 has two English lessons per week (Mondays from 11:10 to 11:55 and Thursdays 7:40 to 8:30) but is taught mathematics through the medium of English on Thursdays in a one language only (immersion) approach.
Many students in class 3 have a bilingual background (e.g. Albanian, Turkish) and therefore are used to listening to and speaking different languages. Most of the students are open to the foreign language and participate highly motivated during the lessons. Students like ####, ####, ####, ####, and #### who quickly understand the teacher’s statements occasionally translate into German for students who have not caught the meaning yet. ####, a student who seems rather unmotivated and who tends to give up easily when he does not understand a word, can profit from this kind of help.
Days on which the teacher trainee teaches the class (Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays) start with the Good Morning Song. Then the News Reporter presents the news. The News Reporter is a student of the class who - dressed up in a shirt and tie and equipped with a microphone - changes the date board (depending on the day this includes season, day, month, and date) and announces the date. After that she/he updates the weather board and dresses Froggy (a magnetic “doll” on the board) accordingly. The whole class repeats date and weather and thanks their classmate for the presentation by applauding her/him at the end. The lesson finishes with the Goodbye Song.
Birthday children in the class are celebrated by singing an English birthday song. They are allowed to wear a special hat during class time and pick a little present from a special box.
These rituals that are all carried out in the foreign language help the children learn the language through meaning in everyday school life and show them that the language can be part of their own individual lives.
2. Didactic Analysis
The methods of teaching English as a foreign language are closely connected to the language acquisition of the mother tongue and follow the principle of “understanding listening” and “meaningful speaking” (Ministerium fuer Kultus, Jugend und Sport BadenWuerttemberg 2004: 73). Especially during the first two years of elementary education, children receive a high level of language input that leads to the building of hypotheses about language structures which finally result in language production. Students’ utterances are repeated in the correct way (“motherese”) which ensures a positive understanding of mistakes and a worry-free learning atmosphere.
Monolingualism is a very important aspect in this process. The teacher is a language model. To develop a positive attitude towards the foreign language, themes and topics out of the children’s everyday life are used to create meaningful interaction (Ministerium fuer Kultus, Jugend und Sport Baden-Wuerttemberg 2004: 68). Holistic, activity-oriented tasks that activate all learning channels help to reach this goal (ibid.: 72).
Foreign language education follows a spiral form (Ministerium fuer Kultus, Jugend und Sport Baden-Wuerttemberg 2004: 72). Already acquired knowledge is used to connect it to new topics in order to create a better associaton and, as a result, a much more successful storage in the long-term memory.
The teaching unit “Spooky School” follows this spiral form in various ways. First of all, the students accompanied Froggy in a previous teaching unit when he went to school. They got to know the character as someone who is very much like them and so they are eager to find out about his new adventures that are very similar to adventures the students might have in their own lives.
Another part of the teaching unit that is familiar to the students is the tradition of celebrating Halloween, either by themselves or through their classmates’ stories. They recognize it as part of their lives. The Baden-Wuerttemberg state standards mention an interdependence between language and world knowledge: “Already acquired world knowledge, that has been broadened in other subjects, is an important key for children to unlock language and language allows them in turn to expand their world knowledge.” (Ministerium fuer Kultus, Jugend und Sport Baden-Wuerttemberg 2004: 68; translated by the author).
The teaching unit “Spooky School” is basically divided into two parts: Firstly, the students get to know the book “Froggy’s Halloween” (Jonathan London) and deal more closely with the tradition of Halloween and, secondly, they use the acquired knowledge, the learned vocabulary, rhymes and songs, and the story as an inspiration to create a play in a project-oriented classroom setting.1
2.1. Finding a Topic
Intercultural competence is one of the major underlying goals of teaching a foreign language (Mueller-Hartmann / Schocker-v. Ditfurth 2007: 18). Today’s children need this competence in order to live a successful life, especially children in Europe where meeting people from other cultures and getting in touch with other languages is not only a reality due to the many countries that are nestled together on one continent (contrary to North America, for instance) but also strongly supported by economic and political decisions such as the European Union and open borders. Holidays and festivities celebrated in other countries are a good starting point to discover both differences and similarities between different cultures and people.
The time of year was right to talk about Halloween and a great way of doing so was by listening to another Froggy story, the story “Froggy’s Halloween”, in which Froggy has trouble deciding on a costume to wear for Halloween. He gets so occupied by the thought of whether he should be a zombie, a football player, a vampire, or another figure that he cannot focus on the lesson in school until his teacher ends his daydreaming. Eventually, he wakes up one day and decides to be a prince on Halloween. He goes trick-or-treating with his friends and gets a kiss from his friend Frogilina. They finally get to a witch’s house and ask for candy. When returning home that night, Froggy discovers that his sword has torn a hole in his candy bag and all the candy he collected that night is lost. His mom treats him to a bowl of chocolate covered flies.
Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). “On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.”2
When new immigrants came to America, they brought these traditions along. In the late 19th century, “Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money”2. This tradition is well-known as trick-or-treating.
Today Halloween is a big holiday in the USA. According to the HISTORY website, “one quarter of all the candy sold annually is purchased for Halloween” and “72% of adult Americans report handing out candy on Halloween”3.
Germans, by contrast, are much more reluctant when it comes to celebrating Halloween. The Frankfurter Rundschau headlines on its website that “Germans are not in the mood for Halloween” (October 25, 2013). The article shows a survey that states how only 36 percent of Germans like Halloween and 84 percent spend no money or less than 20 Euro on it.4 One reason might be that carnival, a festival celebrated in February where people dress up as well and in some German areas even go trick-or-treating, is much more established and people see no need in celebrating another similar holiday.
While the start of the teaching unit was very much focused on the holiday of Halloween, I wanted to provide a more open thematic base to the students. Because Halloween is very much associated with the church as well, I decided that I would put the focus of the teaching unit on the “spooky” part of this holiday, thus paying respect to the different cultural and religious backgrounds my students have.
“Spooky School” as the title of this teaching unit would allow the students to integrate everything they had learned while listening to the story “Froggy’s Halloween” and to find out more about the different aspects of this holiday. It would furthermore give them the opportunity to be free in their choice of creating their own theater play. Putting the setting of the play into a school opened up completely new ways of looking at familiar surroundings. It was only logical that the setting should be in a school because the project work would happen at school as well.
2.2. Project-Oriented Learning
One main objective of this teaching unit was to develop oral language production5. Because speaking is one of the most complex skills to acquire in language learning6, I needed to find a way to motivate my students to speak. I noticed that the students in my class worked better in groups or with a partner than alone and that they liked to present their work results in front of the class. They seemed to yearn for interaction with their peers which is why I decided to work with them on creating a theater play as a good way to use the students’ interests. Playing theater is very familiar to the students, since pretending to be someone else and using their imagination is a typical children’s free time activity. The most important reason for choosing to play theater with my students was, however, that it was a great way to speak in a meaningful and productive way. The students would be able to leave their passive role as recipients of the foreign language and instead be active actors.
Brem’s (2005) guideline to have “as much structure as necessary, as much freedom as possible” (15; translated by the author) when creating theater plays was followed to make sure this teaching unit was project-oriented. The following table shows five criteria of project-oriented learning (according to Emer/Lenzen 2008) and how they were implemented in the teaching unit “Spooky School”.
Criteria of Project-Oriented Learning Implementation in the Teaching Unit Cross-Curricular The students have already been acquainted with theater, as a form of the fine arts, in their German lessons. During the time of the teaching unit, the class went on a class trip to the Heilbronn Theater. The class had also listened to and written spooky German stories during a “Spooky Reading Night” at school.
1 A more detailed overview of the teaching unit can be found in the table on page 12.
2 In: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween (last viewed von November 13, 2013)
3 In: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/interactives/halloween-by-the-numbers (last viewed on November 13, 2013)
4 In: http://www.fr-online.de/panorama/halloween-deutsche-haben-kaum-lust-auf-halloween,1472782,24784 676.html (last viewed on November 13, 2013)
5 A closer look at objectives of this teaching unit in accordance with the Baden-Wuerttemberg state standards is given in “2.4. Curriculum”, page 9.
6 This will be discussed in more detail in “2.3. Speaking - a Complex Skill”, page 8.
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- Staatliches Seminar für Didaktik und Lehrerbildung (Grund- und Hauptschulen) Heilbronn
- englisch english halloween spooky school theater project third grade speaking froggy books froggy froggy's halloween jonathan london