Recent LdL Experiences

Posted by asecoli - September 11, 2008

A few months ago the editor of the German didactic journal “Lernende Schule” asked me to write about experiences with LdL at school. Here is a pre-version of the article, which I wrote together with two of Jean-Pol Martin’s college students:
According to the editor, the article will probably have to be shortened, however

My interim professorship at the University of Freiburg is nearly over. My experiences with the students there were positive. With respect to the ideas of connecting knowledge and collective contruction of knowledge, the experiences in a seminar that my colleague Marion Schöner and I held as parallel courses in Eichstätt and Freiburg are interesting. The topic was the introduction the history of English. In Germany, such a course is traditionally structured the following way: Old English sound system – Middle English sound system – Old English grammar – Middle English grammar – Old English vocabulary – Middle English vocabulary. In our course, though, we depart from irregularities in Modern English and integrate questions that were actually raised by German high-school kids, e.g. „Why is the plural of child not childS, but childREN? Why is it I like, you like, but he/she/it likeS?“. In other words: we try to design our course as applied/useable/need-oriented historical linguistics. To be able to answer such questions, students are giving literature on the most important characteristics of medieval English. My Freiburg students were not very happy with this method at the beginning, while the Eichstätt students mastered these tasks without any major problems. We found out that the Eichstätt students already knew that they were expected to find solutions for questions just on the basis of a core knowledge because they knew this already from our introductory class. The Freiburg students, on the other hand, said that they would sit over several books for several hours and still not find the master solutions. Of course, they couldn’t find the solutions, because they weren’t there directly for the questions I had asked. Only after I told them that they should first just read the few basic texts and then they should have a look at the question and try to find a reasonable solution based on their newly acquired knowledge—but not for more than 5 minutes per question—, then the lessons flowed well. It also took some time until they understood that leading a session did not mean showing as many PowerPoint slides as possible on detailed aspects of medieval English, but on triggering and connecting solutions for a question. Credit was given in this seminar by way of a portfolio: students themselves selected 6 items from a list of 20 little tasks; only the task “leading a session in class” and “writing a learning biography” were compulsory. From these learning biographies I’d like to give 4 quotes:

  1. “It was definitely important to interact with class students and see that we could sometimes develop ideas together or bring together our solutions and from time to time there was the ‘Aha-Effect’.”
  2. “At the beginning of the class I found it hard to follow the learning method of the course, which included a practical use of theory that we had only learned in introduction courses and never reflected about …. However, after some lessons which were rather hard to follow the weekly preparatory work started to have its positive effect.”
  3. “When I started my studies of English language and literature, I found it strange that I would have to take courses on diachronic [= historical] linguistics. It would not occur to me why somebody who wants to become a teacher and teach their students Present Day English should study obsolete stages of the English language. …. After having completed our course, …. I think that many of the issues we discussed could prove useful for the classroom. …. I found it particularly interesting to see how, when nobody had found an answer to a particular question, venturing more or less ‘wild’ guesses often made us find the right answer together.”
  4. “I think it became obvious that in the beginning of the semester we had a lot of problems, because the type of questions that we had to deal with was totally new to most of us, but in the course of the semester we got used to them and made good progress. In the last lesson we were able to answer most of the questions without special preparation only on the basis of what we learned in the seminar. …. I am glad that I took the seminar, because I think that I really learned something useful.”

These quotes should encourage teachers not to give up LdL just because there are some initial problems.

And one more quote from a student of another seminar, relevant for LdL’s view of the teacher as a partner in the learning process. That student wrote me after the end of the semester: “You are one of the few instructors that really work in an unconventional way and that truly convey their tolerance regarding new topics to their students. I have not experienced very frequently that somebody takes his or her students so seriously. Thank you.”

Joachim Grzega

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