What is it about?

Students’ lack of school success often lies in the differences between the language used at home and the ‘school language’ they are required to use at school. A better insight into the domains in which the school language register is used can yield important information for classroom practice. A framework was drawn up in which five domains are distinguished where specific problems might be located: language-internal aspects (mastery of vocabulary, grammar, etc.), literacy (reading and writing skills), interaction (interpersonal communication skills), learning (content-related organizational and studying skills), and presentation (explanatory skills). To test the viability of this framework and how it might be used to better address the problems encountered by teachers in the classroom, two studies were carried out. In the first - top-down - study, six experts from different European countries were asked to reflect on the domains framework. In order to diagnose the problems encountered in the domains distinguished, a survey was conducted among 58 secondary-school teachers spread over 30 cities in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany). After the discussion of the outcomes of the studies and the survey, the practical relevance of the school language framework and new opportunities for teacher training are addressed.

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Why is it important?

The aim of this paper is to investigate how this situation could be remedied, first of all by identifying the specific competences required and subsequently ascertaining the gap between the level of mastery required (and therefore tacitly assumed in everyday practice) and the level of mastery actually found among most plurilingual students. To investigate this, this paper focuses on teachers in German secondary schools teaching classes with students from diverse linguistic backgrounds. An inventory is made of the kind of school language competences that teachers feel students need in order to be successful at school. Teachers are confronted with and recognize diversity in language competences and thus are able to indicate what the differences are between the required competence level and the average competence level actually found in their classrooms. If these differences are large, teachers and students are likely to experience problems. The lesson content presented in the school language register will only partly be understood by the pupils, and as a result their chances of academic success may be greatly reduced.

Perspectives

Schools can no longer expect all students to come to school with the same kind of educational preparation and the same preconditions. This has consequences for school curricula development and for teaching practice. Schools need to include the explicit teaching of language features and competences specific for the school context across all subjects

Peter Broeder
Tilburg University

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This page is a summary of: More willingly to school: tools for teachers to cope with linguistically diverse classrooms, Intercultural Education, May 2015, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2015.1048095.
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