Monday, 25 May 2015

Suspending reality in the MFL classroom

From the minute they walk into the classroom, my year 8 class know that suddenly, they are in a German speaking 'country' and they switch languages. From hearing them speaking in English in the corridor, to hearing a girl asking "um drei Uhr darf ich bitte auf die Toilette gehen?", it is clear to see that, for all intents and purposes, my classroom could be Germany! On the occasions that I forget myself and speak to them in English, they remind me that I have to wear the hat (see previous posts to see what I'm talking about) to do so, and so I do.

One might argue that it isn't real and the situation I have created in my classroom is contrived and fake, but I would argue that it is giving them a real purpose to speak in German. In any classroom, in any subject, there is a mini world going on; from carrying out mock trials in citizenship to making and letting off little rockets in physics.  I remember James Burch from St. Martins College telling us, that you have to suspend reality and we do and my pupils don't see it as being weird!  They have been taught in this way for as long as I have been teaching them and have progressed from me using many cognates and gestures to me speaking to them in more sophisticated German with hardly any gestures and they respond appropriately.

During a starter activity we were doing (we were describing a member of the class to our partners and they had to guess who was being described), one boy put his hand up and asked me, with no prompting at all, "x denkt, dass x hat braune Haare, aber ich denke, dass er hat schwarze Haare. Was ist richtig?". Ignoring the word order (we haven't looked as 'dass' in detail yet) I was bowled over. The boy hadn't even attempted to speak in English. He saw it as a natural thing to communicate with me in German and was actually seeking information he needed in order to complete the task. That was real. That was necessary. To him, that was important - just as important as it was for the girl at the start of the lesson to ask if she could go to the toilet. Although the situation was contrived and fake, the questions were real. The pupils had suspended reality and thought nothing of it.

How did we get to this point? Cognates, mimes, gestures, language mats, competition, team games, gimmicks, rewards, in fact any way I thought would get the most out of them. More important though, is the expectation that in my classroom one speaks in German and the acceptance that that does indeed take place.  By (memory) hook or by crook we do it and quite clearly it works!