“Kreative Teamarbeit:” Creative Teamwork Enhances German Learning

 Northfield High School and Carleton College Students Collaborate to Discover German Language and Culture

31 May 2016 Posted In:
Carleton German 103 Class
Carleton German 103 ClassPhoto:

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Anton Nagy ’19 (Fairway, Kansas) logs onto his computer and signs into a Google doc. There he finds a new message. It’s in German. The past few weeks Nagy has been messaging back and forth with a Northfield high school student about recent videos they’ve seen, the culture of Berlin and other German-speaking areas, and about cats. Lots of cats. This conversation is part of his homework assignment for a beginning German course at Carleton.

This spring term, Carleton’s German Introductory 103 classes are part of a brand new collaborative project with the Northfield High School’s AP German class. The project, supported by Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE), builds bridges between the local high school and Carleton College to strengthen language education across the entire community and to enrich the students’ classroom experiences.

The collaborative educational experience focuses on getting to know Austria, Switzerland, and Berlin. Both the high school class and the college course watch and discuss short clips about the respective areas in order to increase knowledge of not only German language, but its cultural aspects as well.

The students have conversations in German with each other through a Google doc. They talk about videos they’ve watched and exchange thoughts and ideas regarding the cultural aspects of Germany. The conversations are guided by the interests of the students and enable them to use the German language to connect with each other over topics that they find intriguing. The students in the different courses benefit immensely from each other’s unique experiences inside and outside of the classroom and learn from each other and the students’ individual language and cultural skills. It is truly a collaborative effort, and fully reflects the liberal arts experience. Carleton students are thrilled to be simultaneously sharing their experiences with the community, while also learning from the students at the high school they interact with.

Juliane Schicker, visiting assistant professor of German and the leader of the project, provides her viewpoint on the entire project:

“As a professor I am extremely happy that my students are engaging so well in the online conversations on the Google docs. They write long paragraphs, ‘interrupt’ each other’s texts to engage in conversation, and raise questions that they are personally interested in. They learn about Berlin, Austria, and Switzerland in a way that I could not offer them in class. Because they watch various videos, they get different perspectives on the topic that they then share with their group. This way, students receive so much input that helps them develop ideas for their final project – a poem about any aspect of the three geographical areas.”

As far as the collaborative relationship goes, Schicker believes that the Carleton students get along well with the high school students. In a “getting to know” section that each student writes in, she has noticed that the students from both classes have found similar interests and continually talk about those interests together in German.

“Some students have to adjust to their partner’s personalities online, but I think that helps them stay flexible and find strategies to keep working productively. This way, they interact socially, even if only through the internet, and learn communicatively.”

Carleton freshman Anton Nagy has enjoyed being able to learn German using this creative and collaborative format:

“I think that through researching Switzerland, Austria, and Berlin by watching a series of videos in German we have gained valuable listening comprehension skills. More importantly, just having an educated discussion with an AP German student and another German student from Carleton is vital for learning how to proficiently use a language. In my opinion, taking in information and then using that information in a conversation is one of the hardest parts of learning a new language. This project was perfect for improving our German comprehension and writing because we could progress the conversation at our own pace. I think being able to answer other people’s questions without the stress that comes with real-time conversations in foreign languages is a perfect way to get better at conversing, because the speed in which one thinks of a response will just get better with more use.”

Schicker believes that the collaboration strengthens students’ self-awareness and self-confidence:

“The students realize they can communicate in German with a person who is not in their class. They are writing long texts that they would rarely write in class or as homework. Even though the people they are talking to are also German language learners, it feels more genuine and authentic than always being in the same classroom with the same people.”

In addition to the cooperative learning that the project affords, the collaboration enables high schoolers to get a glimpse into what college-level classes are like. As Schicker states, the project offers opportunities for high school students to step beyond their own classroom and realize that college German isn’t that scary. The transition from high school to college is often an “unknown” adventure and high school students can benefit immensely from interacting with college students through a common medium like learning a new language.

In this project, Northfield high school German students are able to discuss their classroom content, and can also learn about the interests of Carleton students and begin to discover where they may be headed in the future. In the long run, Schicker hopes that the project will increase enrollmentsin both high school and college German classes, which are integral to maintaining a global perspective and in recognizing Germany’s prominent position in world economy and trade.

The benefits of this project extend to the college students’ learning as well. College students often struggle with new languages, especially if they haven’t had any prior experience with the language they choose to study. With a requirement to study a language while at Carleton, Carleton students benefit from the high school students’ perspective on language learning.

Nagy enjoys getting to know his partners that he talks with on the Google docs, and he values the casual nature of the learning:

“All of our conversations on Google docs are very much interactive and not at all one-sided. Nobody has to carry the conversation forward; it’s all just very relaxed and fun. I got to know my partners much better just by reading what they wrote in response to some of my questions. One of my partners was very into cats, so he would weave them into every single conversation we had.”

The collaborative project builds bridges between places of higher education and K-12 institutions. This unique connection strengthens teachers, professors, and students alike and initiates a collective attitude centered on mutual learning that can benefit all participants.

For more information, visit the Carleton German Department website.