Where do we learn?

The classroom is traditionally the place where learning takes place. This is, of course, not true anymore. But where does learning take place in this days and age, for the children at my school, ….

  • at home?
  • outside?
  • everywhere?
  • worldwide?

The answer would have been easier for me when I was still a PYP teacher. And even as a class teacher in Germany this wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But I’m wondering where my students really think their learning takes place. I often hear them say something along these lines:

  • learning is stupid
  • i don’t want to learn
  • I hate school

Which is not what I want to hear. For them, learning means school, and school means many challenges. But what about their learning outside these four walls they call the classroom? What about the experiences that we don’t officially count as learning? Why don’t we make them more aware of this?

Learning is everywhere and can be anything: Something to take back to school and beyond next week!



Reflection on my state school experience, and the start of something new

My previous post was full of hope for many posts about my new school. But I was overwhelmed with the events at my school. Not necessarily in a bad way, but there was not a lot of freedom for me or my beliefs.

The primary school I was at was very traditional, and as I took over responsibility for English in grade 2, I was busy setting up a non-existent curriculum and trying to live with the fact that we were unrelated to anything else going on in the school. I guess it wasn’t a PYP school, and I was so used to having my own class and using a trans-disciplinary approach, that teaching in this way was rather unfulfilling and clashing with my own ideals.

During the time I was supporting class teachers, I was shocked by the amount of textbook and workbook work… the fact that first graders who were naturally so curious and excited, were quickly turned into “page-turners”, kids who wanted to be done with the phonics workbook first, or who didn’t want to be bothered at all.

I am not trying to blame anyone. I guess I could have stuck around to try and change things. But when the end of the school year approached, I was still not sure if my contract was to be extended. And so I looked for a place better suited for my educational philosophy.

In German state systems, there are primary and secondary schools, but also special (needs) education schools. The special ed schools are divided into the following categories:

  • social and emotional development
  • learning disabilities
  • hearing
  • seeing
  • language/linguistic development
  • physical disabilities
The core difference is, that class sizes are much smaller and that students are not taught to a strict curriculum, but an individual approach. Just as special ed is everywhere in this world, I assume.
When I started applying for openings, I decided to give it a go. And now I am finding myself a few hours away from my first proper school conference at a special ed school for learning disabilities.
I will be mainly placed in grade 5/6 (mixed grade) with another teacher, and taking on the main responsibility in that class for Maths and English. I will also be teaching English in grades 7, 8 and 10.
Needless to say, I’m nervous and excited. But I hope to settle in soon, to be able to stick to my belief that inquiry-based learning is the way forward and to find out how this will work in this particular school.

The German School System

I was just reading an article on the state school system in Germany on Spiegel.de, which linked to this wonderful video: Das verrückte Schul-Labyrinth (The crazy school maze)

It shows what happens when education is “Ländersache” (a state affair). In Germany, education is dealt with by the different states (Bundesländer). It is well known that education in Bavaria is more demanding and apparently better than education in Northrhine-Westphalia, where is it supposed to be more liberal. But what the video makes very clear: Different standards make mobility a problem. When parents move with their children, it can change their lives a lot.

Before I go into details here, let me explain the school system in Germany in a few words. All children attend primary school. There are no differences in primary schools. In most states, primary school ends with year 4, but in some states, e.g. Berlin, primary school ends with year 6.
This is where it gets difficult. Students have to choose a secondary school. There are usually four choices (in most states, though Bavaria does not have the Gesamtschule):

  1. Gymnasium: This is the prestigious school and requires a lot of academic work. Students usually have to be recommended to go to the Gymnasium. It is the “entrance school” to university education, at least people still see it that way. In  Bavaria, you need to have extremely good grades in Math, German, and social/home studies to be able to go to the Gymnasium. It leads to the Abitur, which is equivalent to A-levels and the German university-entrance qualification.
  2. Realschule: This is the second best. It leads to the “Realschulabschluss”, probably comparable to GCSEs in the UK. It is a job/vocational training entrance qualification. If your grades are good enough, you may apply to study at the Gymnasium for the Abitur.
  3. Hauptschule: Considered the worst of schools. They differ considerably from state to state and since the introduction of the 4th type of school, the Gesamtschule, a proper comprehensive school, it is often seen as the school without a future. The school leads to the “Hauptschulabschluss” and the “Realschulabschluss”, but the Hauptschulabschluss is considered useless in most cases now. This might be different in Bavaria, where the comprehensive schools don’t exist.
  4. Gesamtschule: A proper “General” school. Students at these schools can complete as many years as they like… finish after 9th grade and you have the “Hauptschulabschluss”, finish after 10th grade and you have the “Realschulabschluss” and finish after 12th/13th grade and you might have the Abitur.

As you can see, it is already VERY complicated.

The examples in the video are:

  1. Valerie: She goes to school in Hessen and after graduating from primary school, she gets to go to the prestigious Gymnasium. Her grades after 4 years of primary school are okay, a grade point average of 2.67, which is satisfactory in Germany. But then she moved to Munich, in Bavaria. A different state, and different rules apply. To attend the Gymnasium there, she needs a GPA of 2.33. Valerie doesn’t even qualify to go to the Realschule, because the law suggests that students go to the Hauptschule with a GPA of 2.67.
  2. Peter: He just started to learn English in 3rd grade in Cologne. But then he moved to Stuttgart, where students start learning English in first grade. Ouch!
  3. Paul: He attends the Gymnasium in Lower Saxony and is in 5th grade. When he moves to Berlin, he has to go back to primary school, as the Gymnasium usually starts at 7th grade in Berlin. (Though, I have to add here that there are quite a few Gymnasiums in Berlin that start at 5th grade!!!)

As you can see, it is difficult to move. This isn’t where it ends though…. even higher education is fundamentally different in the different states. And so is teacher education. In fact, a teacher trained in Northrhine-Westphalia or Berlin, might be asked to take a few more classes in Bavaria!

Not sure what to make of it….