Lesson development and school development

It is a very encouraging experience in the research network “Leistung macht Schule” (Excellence in School Education) that many schools in the English as a Foreign Language project and in other subprojects are not confined to the comparatively narrow framework of individual research and development projects. Rather, they simultaneously intend to develop their whole school and its teaching practices far beyond this. This will has a direct correspondence in the work of the TEFL project: It develops best where the work in the school subject is embedded in a pedagogical orientation of the entire school and the joint will for further development in response to omnipresent social, cultural and media developments.

Transforming the classroom

In the TEFL project we work with the concept of task-based teaching. This approach can be seen as countering strongly teacher-centered designs and small-step ways of teaching. Working with complex tasks allots different roles to teachers and students and, above all, seeks to give learners responsibility for their work and learning. This ownership of successful work is primarily owed to the fact that the tasks are connected to real-life experiences and the challenges of problem-solving tasks. In this way, a high degree of personal appropriation of the task by the students is made possible.

Students’ investment

In our project this often manifests itself in a personal investment, unexpected time commitment and astonishing dedication on the part of many students, the decisive will to present something really good or excellent. Thus it may can happen, as was the case at the Regino Grammar School (the Regino-Gymnasium) in Pruem (Eifel, Germany) in a 5th grade class, that, working on the task of designing and describing her dream house, a student brought a complete, detailed multi-storey 3 D house that she had made out of paper with a lot of effort. It can even be generalized that in quite a few cases and in different modes – in written texts, in layout, in visual design elements – a distinct will is recognizable to design something aesthetically appealing.

Interest and curiosity

Other effects are interesting, too: this kind of work leads, among other things, to the students developing an otherwise rather unusual personal interest in and curiosity for the task products of their fellow students. It also often happens that the teachers are surprised, impressed and sometimes even overwhelmed in a very positive way by the results and products of their students’ work.

Internal transfer

All these effects strongly suggest that the task approach might well be extended beyond the subject of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). In fact, in the research association “Leistung macht Schule” (‘LemaS’, Excellence in School Education) the task approach in the form of a problem-solving task (the “substantial task”) is also used in mathematics and in the sciences. It is therefore only partly surprising that several schools in the TEFL project, but also from other LemaS subprojects, set out to further develop teaching and learning towards the task approach across the whole range of subjects. In concrete terms, this was reflected in the fact that we were invited by several schools to present the concept of working with complex tasks and the associated task model to the entire staff of all subject areas.

Task-based work across the curriculum

Above all, the heads of the respective schools articulated a strong desire to further develop the teaching and learning culture at their schools. This is a very productive and desirable development, especially from the point of view of the learners: When working with complex tasks, associated attitudes, experiences and strategies must also be learned and consolidated into routines. In this respect, it is very advantageous if a way of working that requires the students’ autonomy and decision-making is not only practiced by individual teachers or in one subject only. Conversely, it is not so plausible that a successful concept should remain limited to the subjects of TEFL or mathematics.

‘The Regino’ in Pruem
The Regino school building, a former Benedictine abbey

Taking the example of the Regino Gymnasium in Pruem (in the Eifel, Germany), one of ‘our’ schools in the LemaS English sub-project, one can see that working with an innovative approach in the rather limited area of one subject is particularly successful when it is embedded in broader concepts of the further development of the whole school with all its stakeholders, including parents. The school building in Pruem and its name go back to the Benedictine Abbey (founded in 751); this very long tradition and the present school’s connection with it make the question of what contemporary school-education must be like particularly urgent. More recently, the school has answered this question, among many others, by deciding to participate in the LemaS research and development project with the purpose of identifying and promoting giftedness and excellence.

School development as professional development
The teachers’ study day in ‘the Regino’ in Pruem

Above all, however, the will for constant further development is also reflected in their active work on current developments, as represented by a study day for teachers in Pruem on issues of digitalization. In my introductory talk, I outlined the central cultural, pedagogical, and didactic questions about the implications of digitization for school education.

New forms of knowledge and communication

What was and is most important to me is that digitization does not concern media ‘somehow’, but brings with it a multitude of new, substantial changes for knowledge acquisition and learning

  • new forms of knowledge in the subject, which, such as working with databases, dealing with how algorithms work and function, producing music or film digitally, using electronic reference works, etc., are fundamentally different from working in analog environments and with analog instruments;
  • a changed, broad, global and mobile access to knowledge, which affects and relativizes the knowledge monopoly of the school and the teacher;
  • new forms and ways of communicating, presenting, and making available the tasks and the results of work in the classroom, that is, ways and means of digitization that point far beyond the plight of pandemic distance learning.
Developing professional competences

If one takes these implications of the current cultural and media transformations seriously, one recognizes that a school’s will to draw its own conclusions from it and at the same time make itself fit for it is absolutely indispensable. Above all, as teachers, we ourselves must continue to learn.’ The Regino’ took this into account by dedicating the study day to fundamental questions of digitization, but at the same time working on very practical challenges such as working with the video platform MS Teams, with iPads or with the electronic blackboard in the classroom. As this study day impressively showed: lesson and school development are only possible if the teachers themselves further develop their pedagogical and didactic competencies and knowledge continuously.

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Copyright © 2018 Wolfgang Hallet