Multilingualism as a field of action in intercultural school development. An intervention study at primary schools. (MIKS) (Individual project)

Introduction

Multilingualism is a basic condition in all aspects of school life. The teaching of German as a second and academic language is therefore an important task, while, in addition, all other languages that children bring with them to school are a resource that can be used for learning. When children are encouraged to make use of their home languages during lessons, it can be beneficial for everyone involved. The school’s job of teaching and providing support in German can be meaningfully complemented by including children’s multilingual experiences.

In this regard, the MIKS project developed, tested and scientifically evaluated a concept for teacher professionalisation and school development. The leading research question was: How can a teaching staff be successfully supported to recognise the multilingualism in their own school as a resource and to use it for language teaching and formal learning in productive ways?

Previous research findings on teacher professionalism and school development guided the design of the MIKS concept. Carried out over a period of 1.5 school years in three primary schools, it included the transfer of knowledge (psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic foundations), trial phases in lessons (via the implementation of multilingual teaching approaches), and guided reflection exercises concerning the experiences and beliefs of participating staff. Staff were thereby supported in integrating constructive approaches to multilingualism into their normal school routines.

What was investigated and how?

In the three primary schools, lessons were observed and interviews carried out with teachers and principals. Extensive field notes were taken during the internal training sessions and reflection days in the schools. In order to capture the effects of the measure, questionnaire surveys were conducted prior to and following completion of the intervention. Staff from the three project schools, as well as from three comparison schools, took part in this survey, which included topics on knowledge, beliefs and strategies in the field of language education and multilingualism.

Bathroom door in a MIKS project school

Results

A number of quality criteria concerning the content und methods of a professionalisation and school development concept for the incorporation of multilingualism in schools and the classroom emerged in this intervention study:

  • Teaching and support staff can understand the effects of multilingual socialisation on the linguistic, cognitive and socio-emotional development of children and young people from a psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspective.
  • Working on an overall language concept for the school brings together different areas of language education: multilingual didactics, the teaching of German as a second and academic language, literacy teaching, heritage language teaching and foreign languages.
  • Strategies for school and curriculum development facilitate the institutionalisation of long-term plans for the incorporation of multilingualism in school and in the classroom.

Innovation is most likely to take place when all those involved have new and positive experiences with multilingualism at school and in the classroom.

What does this mean for educational practice?

Even small steps in school development led to new practical experiences among the participating staff teams. Together with pupils and parents, they made family languages visible and audible throughout their schools. They also tried out new practical approaches in their lessons, taking into consideration languages that they themselves do not understand. The teachers’ sense of self-efficacy in the area of multilingualism rose considerably in the participating schools, meaning that, upon completion of the intervention, the teachers believed in their ability to include and deal with pupils’ languages in a constructive way.