Successful collaboration between teachers is key in providing consistent and genuine bilingual classroom instruction. In the primary classroom at SIS Pfäffikon-Schwyz, children are taught in English and German on alternate days by two classroom teachers per class, a native speaker of German and a native speaker of English. I’ve been teaching in this bilingual setting with my German-speaking partner teacher, Barbara, since 2019. Throughout our team-teaching partnership, we not only improved our own language skills, but also grew as professional teachers and individuals while creating diverse and engaging learning experiences for our students.
Structure and Communication
Our Primary 3 and 4 classes are taught in English and German in two different classrooms. We have a consistent classroom management system in both classrooms and share a clipboard where homework records, behaviour inputs, major and minor assessment dates, and absences are documented. Barbara and I write homework assignments in the same places on the students’ classroom whiteboards and both classes have the same-coloured notebooks for relative subjects and come together each Friday for the “Dream Street” ceremony. At the “Dream Street” ceremony, students who have successfully completed all their homework and have been at their best behaviour get to roll a dice and advance themselves down the “Dream Street” while also completing a self-reflection of their week that they share with their parents. Barbara and I are both present to celebrate the students’ successes and also during parent meetings. Having a balanced relationship with the families and pupils is essential to ensure that we can do our best work: create an open space to collaborate and foster growth.
Uncovering Learning Goals
When planning the school year, we think about valuable experiences the children would benefit from while also harnessing our personal enthusiasm for the topics. In 2019 for example, I was adamant that the students get an opportunity to understand and explore the plight of Native Americans in the past and still today, while Barbara knew and still advocates that the children would benefit from more time in the great outdoors. Together we decided upon a class camp of outdoor tipi living. It blended both of our passions and allowed the students to get to know each other in an alternative environment. Vital social developments and many curriculum aims in science, geography, history and music were uncovered effortlessly as well. It is our aim to uncover learning goals through motivating unit themes, where the students are bound to engage. During this memorable tipi living field trip, it was interesting to see how naturally the students switched between the two languages; from English campfire songs to German hide-and-seek games.
Gaining Cultural Capital
As teaching professionals in a bilingual environment, we practice the delicate art of give and take, as all professionals do, and we gain enormous cultural capital daily. We speak with each other every morning and if a question arises regarding a pupil, their work, or their behaviour, we immediately discuss it with each other and optimise the dual perspectives. In this working environment we have the chance to be confronted with nuances that would go unnoticed in most monolingual school settings.
Article by Ingrid Stenzel and Barbara Schädler, Primary Teachers