Language diversity in the classroom

For young people from a migration background, the years spent at school are a decisive factor in their mastery of both languages. However, teachers confronted with pupils from a multiplicity of linguistic environments have to face a novel didactic challenge: They must deal with different biographies of language learning, a diverse assortment of heritage languages /languages of origin, and a heterogeneous level of linguistic competence in German. The Rhine-Ruhr agglomeration is an ideal laboratory for delving into such a problem with speakers from a great diversity of languages, a school system comprising all kinds of languages and types of schools and a large number of universities, which are invariably the locus of teacher training and didactic research.

Special Tuition for Pupils from a Migration Background (Gülşah Mavruk, Dr. Claudia Benholz), which has been offered at UDE for the last forty years, has by now acquired an exemplary status for similar measures throughout the Federal ­Republic of Germany. It forms the basis of research into the problems encountered in all kinds of school subjects, for compiling quantitative data in pilot studies and for empirical exam papers, Bachelor’s or Master’s theses in the area of migration and multilingualism. Gülşah Mavruk is currently working on a doctoral thesis on the topic of Teaching internships as part of teacher training for developing specific concepts adapted to the teaching of German as a second language, which is based on the example of the Special Tuition for children and young people with a migration background at the UDE.

Another project serving as a model for teacher training is ProDaZ – German as a second language in all subjects (Dr. Claudia Benholz). Since its ­inception in 2010, funded by the Mercator Foundation and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (MIWF), this project’s aim has been to develop a concept for teacher training comprising a set of interdisciplinary modules on specialist and linguistic learning under multilingual conditions. Being a project addressing theoretical as well as practical issues, it is conducted in close cooperation between our university and numerous schools in the region. Various didactic specialists at UDE collaborate to investigate the specific demands pupils face in a variety of subject areas, putting particular emphasis on linguistic and cultural heterogeneity and social inequality. By drawing on both quantitative and qualitative methods, the project examines the interaction between specialist and linguistic learning, the relevance and benefit of linguistic competence for learning a diversity of subjects at school level and the empirical efficacy remedial courses have in this context. ProDaZ is in the process of establishing an online-based centre of competence devoted to the topics of multi­lingualism, language development, language competence diagnosis and language enhancement. Together with Prof. Büchter from Didactics of Mathematics, Dr. Benholz is conducting an empirical Inquiry into the inter­action between ­linguistic and conceptual features in mathematical tests experienced by multilingual pupils. This project is being funded for fifteen months by QUA-LiS NRW (Quality and Support Agency – federal Institute for Schooling). In Didactics of History (Prof. Markus Bernhardt), Mareike-C. Wickner, M.Ed, is working on the project ­“Understood, yes, but also conceptualised?” An empirical inquiry into conceptual learning by pupils in history lessons.

The acquisition of the language of instruction at school is a particular problem faced by multilingual children and young people. In order to ensure equal opportunities for all pupils participating in the school system, teachers must possess a level of linguistic awareness when designing their lessons. But how are trainee teachers actually to be prepared for teaching in multilingual classes? The Problem-based peer tutorial for the module on German as a second language (Prof. Katja Cantone-Altıntaş, Prof. Heike Roll, Anna ­Pineker; funded for the duration from 10/2013 to 12/2015 by the Mercator Institute for Language Training and German as a Second Language) is designed to support trainee teachers in viewing multilingualism as an opportunity rather than a problem. This kind of training is organised in the form of student tutorials, which are partly offered online. They are intended to serve as a platform for reflecting upon the basic requirements in the module for German as a second language and as a model of discursive peer learning. After the termination of the project, the collection of exercises, the platform and the concept for training the ­tutors will be made available to other universities.

Even the distribution of pupils among the various types of schools in the general education sector cannot quite conceal the increasing heterogeneity in the classrooms: The divergences in terms of maturity, individual gifts, competencies and gender-specific interests, languages of origin/heritage languages and language skills in German, the parents’ educational level and the learning background of lateral entry pupils – all of these factors have to be made allowances for by means of an individually differentiated teaching approach. Prof. Maria Eisenmann (Department of Anglophone Studies) is therefore conducting research in the area of Differentiation, individual­isation and learner autonomy in the teaching of English. In 2013 she chaired the working group on the ­topic of Differentiation and individualisation in foreign and second language teaching at the 25th Congress of the German Society for Foreign [and Second] Language Research (DGFF) at the University of Augsburg as well as the section on Individualisation, differentiation, heterogeneity, ­inclusion at the second E & M Federal Congress “Teaching English in the global age. Standard­isation and teacher training” on 21/22 March 2014 at Goethe University Frankfurt/Main.

Prof. Daniel Reimann, professor of Didactics of the two Romance languages taught at school ­level, i. e. French and Spanish, is engaged in (mostly interdisciplinary) projects  investigating three aspects of the topic of integration and multilingualism at school level which have been neglected in research in didactics in recent years: firstly, the relevance of cognitive psychology for multilingualism at school level; secondly, migration-based multilingualism in foreign language classes, and thirdly, the question of how far the challenge of multilingualism can be positively used as an instrument of individual performance enhancement in the German National Foreign Language Competition. In Prof. Reimann’s projects the Ruhr District again serves as an urban model for investigating multilingualism resulting from migration. The projects include themes such as Attitudes vis-a-vis the languages of origin/heritage languages in the teaching of French and Spanish as a foreign language (with Prof. Katja Cantone-Altıntaş, Laura Di Venanzio and Paul Haller), Languages of origin/heritage languages and teaching German as a foreign/second language (French-Spanish) – implementing teaching methods (with Maren Siems and Dr. Claudia Benholz), Language of origin/heritage language in multilingual didactics: Exemplary case studies in the Ruhr area (with Prof. ­Judith Visser, University of Bochum), Reading processes in multilingual learning biographies (with Prof. Elizabeth von Stockhausen and Chiara ­Reali, Department of Psychology).

Another project in the field of Spanish as a Foreign Language, but addressed to children of pre-school age, is Multilingualism as child’s play (Prof. Katja Cantone-Altıntaş), in which a ­bilingual German-Spanish experiment at nursery school level is scientifically monitored and evaluated.

2014 saw the beginning of the BMBF interdisciplinary project Writing in various school subjects at lower secondary level with special reference to Turkish: An empirical study on the effectiveness ­of concepts for enhancing writing skills in school subjects and in teaching Turkish as a language of origin/heritage language (under the direction of Prof. Heike Roll, German as a Second/Foreign Language). Various researchers from the Faculty of Humanities are contributing to this effort: Prof. Markus Bernhardt (History), Dr. Melanie Beese and Dr. Claudia Benholz (German as a Second/Foreign Language), Dr. Işıl Uluçam-­Wegmann (Turkish Studies). The topic under ­investigation here is the interrelation between subject competencies and writing skills in both Turkish and German among pupils in grades ­7 and 8 at comprehensive schools. The general aim is to ­develop writing skills for specific textual genres with a view to improving the ability to communicate both in general terms as well as in special subject areas.

Several projects are devoted to stimulating the creative impetus of (mostly multilingual) pupils, including Language improvement through fairy tales (Dr. Andrea Schäfer, German as a Second/Foreign Language, and Ilse Brall). Its purpose is to evolve a scientifically grounded as well as practicable method for pre-school and primary school level children by which fairy tales can be used to further their linguistic and cultural competence.

The project Narrating, writing, monitoring – writing workshops as part of all-day school curricula (Prof. Heike Roll, Ina Lammers, German as a Second/Foreign Language) addresses pupils at secondary school level. In these writing workshops pupils are encouraged to write and publish texts on a subject of their own choice by following their creative impulse. In this process pupils of lower grades are assisted by 9th and 10th graders who have undergone some training as writing coaches. The participants’ language skills will be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis. Finally, the project Language through art (Dorota Ogonska, Prof. Heike Roll, Dr. Andrea Schäfer, Prof. em.­ Rupprecht S. Baur, Dr. Karen Mohr, Folkwang Museum Essen) is jointly run by the Department of German as a Second/Foreign Language at UDE and the Education and Communication Department of Folkwang Museum; it has been funded by Stiftung Mercator since 2011. The project aims at leading children and young people into cultural education with interdisciplinary educational offerings, linking school and extracurricular learning. The focus is on a holistic improvement of the participants’ ability to express themselves through the artistic-aesthetic engagement in the museum; this is combined with an intensive ­didactic and linguistic preparation and evaluation of their experiences at their respective schools. The project also takes into account the pupils’ different languages and cultures of origin.

Different cultures, different religions: The research project Dialogue and denominational ­religious instruction within the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area is part of the international joint project Religion and Dialogue in Modern Societies (BMBF), in which partners from Sweden, Norway, England and the city of Hamburg are participating. Prof. Thorsten Knauth, Department of Protestant Theology and Interreligious ­Learning (AiL), leads the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area section of the project with the assistance of Katharina Karp. The project’s purpose is to investigate the contextual preconditions and conditions at school required for fostering a dialogical way of dealing with religion and cultural diversity. In case studies the experiences, attitudes and interpretive templates of actors from a variety of cultural, religious and social backgrounds will be documented in order to find dialogical concepts for religious learning in a heterogeneous setting. The study is based on an international comparison.