SIS Kassel “Can ich meine water bottle upstairs holen?” Bilingual Teaching with Five-Year-Olds Sebastian Koch, Principal
“One, two, three, four, five – once I caught a fish alive – five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, then I let him go again!” These are words that can be heard in the cloakroom of our youngest students, the reception class. Ms Thornton, the English-speaking teacher of the class, expects students to line up quietly and get ready for their afternoon fruit snack. The little song is the cue for students to get ready and line up. Reception class starts at SIS Kassel with the age of five, and students usually move up to grade 1 after their early start to school life. The structure of the school day is identical to other primary school classes; school starts at 8.30 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. every day. Reception students have the same subjects as the other classes, and half of their lessons are taught in English and half in German. For our young reception class students, repetition of key phrases and clear classroom routines play a very important role. The school day usually starts with the same procedure. Every morning students are welcomed by a warm “Good morning, penguin class!” from the teacher and are expected to put their school bags, pencil cases and breakfast snacks in the same spots. These routines are “verbalised” every day and consequently easy to follow for the students. Even though the children may not understand every word Ms Thornton says, students are always able to get the gist of the message. Students Mix School Languages “Ms Thornton, can you please help me,” says Clara in the middle of the art lesson where students are creating their own Easter egg art. Clara, and the majority of the students in the class, started the school year without any or little knowledge of the English language. About seven months later Clara understands Ms Thornton’s instructions and has started to actively speak the language as well. Clara is not fluent or perfect in English (yet), but she can communicate key messages and share her thoughts and opinions. “The students are still mixing English and German,” says Ms Thornton, and sometimes, funny sentences are the result. “Can ich meine water bottle upstairs holen?” is an example of the kind of question you might have heard in class at the beginning of the school year. “It is impressive that students are picking up the language so fast and always are able to get the message across,” adds Ms Thornton. Students Assist Teachers In class, students are not only learning and hearing the target languages from their teachers, but also from fellow students. Ms Thornton confirms: “At the beginning of the school year, communication with the students in English is challenging, because most students have no prior knowledge of the language.” One method used by the teachers is enlisting the students’ assistance. In most classes there are one or two students that already have some English knowledge or speak English as their mother tongue. These students often function as the helper for the teacher and translate from one language into the other. Even though the teachers usually speak or understand the other language in which they do not teach, they have to strictly stick to their mother tongue according to the concept known as “one teacher – one language”.