B. Principles of Teaching and Learning
Waldsee’s experiential approach to learning and its immersion environment provide unusual opportunities for contextualized language learning. We are more than just a classroom in the woods – and you, as a Waldsee credit teacher, have a rich variety of resources at your disposal to encourage theme-based language learning throughout the day and throughout the village. Our goal is proficiency-oriented language instruction and assessment that provides students level-appropriate tasks to demonstrate and develop their own. Because of our unique setting and community living situation, we are able to complement and extend the language learning of the traditional school-based classroom. Our month long immersion program allows us to set high standards and devise novel approaches to meet them.
Integrated thematic approach
You and your villagers can select from a variety of themes (see section III: Planning Your Curriculum) and integrate the language learning by contextualizing the learning as soon as you step outside your classroom door – in activities, in the cabin, at meals, during evening programs, even when performing Küchendienst or Toilettendienst. Waldsee’s setting is particularly well suited to both task-based and culture-based learning and you are encouraged to orient your teaching as much as possible around specific themes. For example, a theme such as food would allow you to visit all the places at Waldsee where one can get food (Kiosk, Café, Restaurant, Gasthof) and learn the different kinds of food you would get there. The vocabulary and the language structures that are required to function in these different environments would influence the language forms and functions to be taught. Tasks that necessitate the use of all four modalities (listening, speaking, reading and writing) as well as the appropriate cultural practices would be considered in developing items for the portfolio (see section IV: Waldsee Portfolio Guidelines). We rely on the amazing creativity of our teaching staff to think of many ways to integrate and reinforce our theme-based approach.
Proficiency-oriented, not sequential grammar-oriented
Waldsee’s immersion setting frees you from having to focus on sequential textbook-driven grammar instruction. We are more interested in enabling students to function appropriately and competently using their knowledge of both language and culture. This means focusing on communicating with others in German in real-life settings regardless of one’s current language ability. Remember: there is no Grundkurs Schalter at the Hamburg train station! Both beginning and advanced villagers should leave Waldsee with level-appropriate skills that include more than just how (grammar) to say what (vocabulary). We also want them to understand when, where and why they might need to use this language and to feel prepared to cope with a variety of everyday situations should they someday find themselves boarding a plane for Frankfurt. This focus on meaningful language use for real communicative purposes permeates Waldsee’s village curriculum, including our “Die Brücke” materials.
The village-wide approach requires you to draw on the talents of the entire staff when you plan your particular course for the villagers. Don’t be afraid to approach other staff members about working with your students on specific projects or topics related to their expertise and interests. Make use of our entire village community to support students’ learning experiences. Take advantage of our arts and crafts area, the hiking trails, the waterfront, and the many other places in our village community such as the Bank, Laden, Café, Kiosk, and the Internet. See yourself and your students as part of the whole. Draw on the rich resources that abound by integrating your class projects with what villagers are already learning and doing in their Haus, at the Abendprogramm, and at mealtimes. Communicate with other staff about your projects so they can offer their assistance and ideas. Be ready to contribute to the efforts of others, particularly your Haus partner, your fellow teachers, and staff and villagers in the two-week program.
The Waldsee community is an ideal setting to advance cooperative learning. We are more interested in promoting villager language learning activities that build community rather than emphasizing competition between villagers. Pair work and group projects, as well as interaction outside of class with staff members and villagers with greater or lesser language abilities facilitate communication and learning. Everyone in the village has unique gifts and talents. It is our aim to discover them and find ways to incorporate them into the life of our village community. If we challenge ourselves, we can structure activities so that everybody wins.
Villager-Centered Learning and Village-Centered Programming
Unser Motto: “Mehr Deutsch, weniger Klassenarbeit!” The villagers are here to learn by USING the language in meaningful interaction – let them! We are coaches who model and facilitate language learning throughout the village. We want villagers to take responsibility for their own learning. We want them to become reflective, self-directed learners who are increasingly aware of how they learn best. Villager-centered programming also means that we invite villager participation in programming by working in the stores, café or the restaurant, serving as language assistants in the two week villager conversation groups, acting as a staff member for a day, participating in the Credit Council, helping to set cabin rules and discuss cabin issues in the Cabin Council, or helping to plan evening programs or interim weekend activities. Village-centered programming means we consciously create language and culture learning tasks and activities that support or enhance the life of the village community.
Authenticity of Text and Task
Waldsee offers “the next best thing to being there” and provides villagers with multiple settings for real-life communication. If you want to take some money out of the bank, you need to communicate with the banker. If you want to go to the restaurant with your friends, you’ll need to phone and make a reservation. Wherever possible, we make use of authentic text, whether it be a copy of the schedule from a train station, a short story from a German or Swiss author, a news item form the Internet, or a short audio or video clip. Choosing authentic texts and tasks for villagers to interact with and requiring them to develop projects and perform for a real audience is key to the Waldsee learning experience.