Evaluation of our bilingual Program

In the following, we cite: Steinlen, A. & Piske, Th. (2018). Final report for the Platanus School in Berlin: Scientific support in the 2016/17 school year.

Introduction

The chair for foreign language teaching of Prof. Thorsten Piske at the FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg was asked by the Platanus School in Berlin to evaluate the school’s bilingual program.
To this end, Dr. Anja Steinlen, Eva Wimmer and Florian Menzke undertook diagnostic language tests in all Platanus classes and observations of the teaching and the co-curricular enrichment program at the beginning and at the end of the 2016/2017 school year.
The purpose of the investigations was to document the linguistic performance of pupils at the Platanus School in Berlin.
With this data, it is possible to longitudinally record the linguistic development of the children’s English and German in individual school years.
Also, on the basis of cross-sectional analyses, the course of the linguistic development can be documented from the end of Class 1 to Class 7.
(p. 6)

Description of school and sample

More precisely, the school takes the form of a so-called “partial immersion program”: The subject of German is taught in all school years through the medium of German; at primary level (Classes 1-4), the subjects of mathematics, PSE and music (depending on the class teacher) are delivered in English or German, meaning that approximately 50% of lesson time is offered in the new language of English.
Sports is taught in German and art is taught in English; however, an English or German educator is often present.
The bilingual program of the Platanus School Berlin is characterised by the following aspects, which go beyond what is offered in other bilingual programs:

  • Team teaching often takes places in classes, that is, in these lessons, learning is led by English-English, German-German or English-German teams. Native English speakers from various English-speaking countries teach subjects in English.
  • The Platanus school in Berlin operates as a dedicated full-day school, in which extra-curricular activities (i.e., breaks, lunchtime, the lunchtime band, study times, class lessons/council, activity groups, holiday program, before-and-after school club etc.) are offered and supported all week not only by German, but also by English speaking educators.
    The Platanus School in Berlin is preceded by a bilingual kindergarten, which is attended by many of the children.
  • At the time of the report, the bilingual concept was being implemented up to the end of Class 7, but is gradually being extended to higher year groups with a view to allowing students to thoroughly develop their foreign language skills throughout their entire time at the school. (pp. 7-8)
  • In the 2016/17 school year, a total of 42 teachers were working at the school, 20 of whom had an English-speaking background. 228 students attended the school in that school year, Classes 1-4 were double-entry while Classes 5-7 were single-entry.(p. 8)

    The sample comprises a total of 228 pupils, of whom 55% are girls and 45% are boys. The proportion of multilingual students who speak a language or several languages other than German at home (see PISA and IGLU for similar definitions of the multilingualism) is 36%. In these families, the family language/s is mostly used plus German, as the questionnaires show (see Section 4.1).
    Approximately 30 family languages were named by the parents (Classes 1 and 2) or by the pupils (Classes 3-7), including Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Finnish, French, Greek, Gujrathi, Hindi, Indonesian, Icelandic, Kazakh, Lithuanian, Mongolian, Dutch, Persian, Turkish, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Serbian, Spanish, Thai, Czech, Turkish, Twi, Ukrainian and Vietnamese, whereby English forms the most frequently represented family language (see Table 1). (p.10)

    Summary of the results (pp. 42-43)

    Cognitive tests

  • Overall, the results of the cognitive tests on non-verbal intelligence and attention/concentration display, as an average, age-appropriate values.

  • German tests

  • On average, performance in German in terms of reading and writing at all year groups generally develops in accordance with age, although 50% of the teaching is given in English, extra-curricular activities are supported by English-speaking teachers and educators, and in some classes English class teachers and English-speaking teams are deployed.
  • Conversely, this means that both the teaching of German and the teaching of subjects in German are of a very high standard.
  • Furthermore, language acquisition is not a “one way street”, meaning that pupils transfer the concepts and learning content acquired in English (pertaining to reading and writing, for example) to their German.

  • English tests

  • The performance of pupils in the English tests (reading, writing, receptive grammar and vocabulary skills) are generally to be classified as being better than that of comparable pupils in other bilingual primary schools operating on a partially immersive basis; in some cases, the performance advantage is up to one year.
  • Alongside the immersion approach with its methodical-didactical principles such as contextualisation, the close integration of language and action, the working-out of meaning and clarity, this is primarily a result of the mother-tongue level of the teachers and educators (often native English speakers), the team teaching, the extra-curricular activities (which are also be supported by English-speaking educators), of the respectful manner in which pupils are treated and of the strong focus on reading and writing activities across all stages of learning.

  • Observations in the classroom and in the co-curricular enrichment program

  • Overall, both the lessons and the co-curricular enrichment program are characterised by a high degree of interactivity. Lessons are topical and differentiated to suit the various age groups. The large range of different activities helps the pupils to access new content.
  • The good implementation of the team teaching, the use of open teaching concepts (e.g. learning stations), which encourage pupils to engage in independent study (autonomous learning) and a curriculum aimed at developing reading and writing in the foreign language, all made a positive impression.
  • The observations not only show a generally positive and anxiety-free learning environment, but teachers and educators who, regardless of their background, understand how to adequately support and challenge their pupils in all subjects and at all levels.

  • For parents

  • Please maintain a positive culture of conversation at home (in the family language), this means:
    – a lot of talking to each other and
    – a lot of reading aloud and encouraging the children to read.
  • As parents, you do not need not to speak/practise German/English at home with your child, if this is not your family language.
  • Please use your family language/s, so that your child does not lose this.
  • It is an important part of his or her identity, even if they respond to you in a different language (usually the local language, this being German).

  • Note from the school: the parents of the children who attend our school, can find the complete final report and the presentation from the parents’ information evenings in January and May 2018 in the Platanus “Schulweb” Intranet.

    Where do we go from here?

    In May 2018, the diagnostic language tests will be continued anew with Classes 3-5, as the statistical analysis and the generalisability of the results requires a sample of at least 100 pupils per year group.
    This was particularly evident in the comparison of the test results with regard to the linguistic background of the pupils (Sections 4.3.3. and 4.4.5).
    This will also allow the concept employed by the Platanus School in Berlin to be made accessible to a wider audience. (p. 41)


    Note from the school: the evaluations of the diagnostic language tests from May 2018 are to be expected in the first half of 2019.

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