is the first volume of a new two-part KS3 German course, complete with
Teacher Books, audio CDs, differentiated Foundation and Higher Workbooks
and OxBox CD-ROMs. There is also an integrated video drama that runs as a
roter Faden throughout the course, aiming to present language that is
relevant to students and to provide an insight into life in the
German-speaking world. The materials sent to ISMLA comprised the pupil
book 1, plus uncorrected sample material for the Teacher Book 1 and for
pupil book 2.
Writing a review of this sort makes me think - yet again - about the place
and value of text-books in secondary school modern language teaching and
learning. It seems I'm not alone in my musings. On Linguanet in July 2011,
one correspondent wondered if 'harking back to a rigid structured course
provided by someone else' was at all the thing to be doing these days. The
correspondent added that 'many good teachers end up with what is
effectively their own "structured" course anyway. The sum total of all
his/her found and adapted resources'.
This has much to commend it - if you happen to be experienced enough and
confident that you have resources which will work. However, the point of
course books isn't simply to convey language to pupils. They can also give
teachers direction, guidance and structure. Furthermore, they can help
mediate and regulate the handling of material in situations where more
than one individual is involved in the teaching of a group.
There does come a point where a teacher wants to mobilise his or her
experience and place at pupils' disposal exactly the material which he or
she deems pertinent to their needs. It is one of the truly independent
aspects of working in an independent school: the leeway to do things in
the way that you, as an individual professional, see as best. This works
fine as long as everyone (teachers and pupils) turns up to more or less
every lesson. Nonetheless, in the case of long-term illness or other
absence on either side, the material you've so carefully compiled can tend
just to sit there, on blog, Internet site or mounds of sheets of paper. It
remains insufficiently worked through and explained, or just not
understood at all - of potential rather than actual value.
In short, you do need a book, not least as a PR tool. Families are keen to
see at home what is going on in their child's newly-adopted subject. A
suitably-chosen course book can do that job at the expense of minimum
effort from the teacher. There are certain essentials to look for in such
a text, some age-old, others more modern (I'm going, incidentally, on the
assumption that we are talking about a course intended for year 9
beginners in German):
* does the book set German-speaking countries in context? does it
emphasise the diversity of the language area in which German is spoken,
avoiding the solecism of seeing 'Germany' as the only home of 'German'?
* does the book include real (or nearly real) dialogue, via either audio
or video supplementary material, that sounds as if it's uttered for an
authentic purpose, beyond 'text-book world'? can the learner really follow
that dialogue? are there transcripts? is the dialogue well judged enough
to introduce new material that is just beyond but satisfyingly near to the
learner's existing horizon of expectations, allowing a sense of manageable
progress but avoiding the stress of overload?
* does the book include more than just cursory vocabulary lists? does it
understand that learners of German and particularly those taking it as a
second foreign language need an intensive diet of words (NB: Zoom Deutsch
is conceived as taking two or three school years to complete)?
* does the book truly acknowledge the fact that its target audience are
learning German in a school, with all the practical and institutional
considerations that this entails? with this in mind, does it give centre
stage early on to the type of German words and expressions teachers
habitually say to pupils at an early stage of their learning? does it give
guidance on how to use a dictionary? is ICT broached?
* does the book take grammar seriously? does it resume both in the course
units and in a reference section at the end of each book what has been
covered, providing not just explanations but exercises too?
* does the course incorporate somewhere the sorts of drill and
reinforcement work that will genuinely fit in as homework? is it
manageable? can you imagine setting the drills in the book as classwork
and homework when you are absent?
* does the course capitalise in the earliest stages on the fact that
learners can deduce quite a lot about German vocabulary from their
existing knowledge of English, via cognates?
* does the course encourage the learner to formulate his or her own rules,
on the basis of the analysis of examples and exceptions?
Having only one part of the course to review doesn't enable me to answer
definitively whether Zoom Deutsch conquers all of these challenges. I
haven't had the opportunity to road-test the audio and video materials -
in particular the 'video drama'. But the signs are extremely positive, and
the headings above are all tackled (the one about 'German-speaking
countries' is covered early and with particular care). The transcripts of
the video drama, set among teenagers in Berlin, suggest that this feature
will provide much of the colour, interest and variety of lexis that would
be missing if one concentrated on following the units alone.
The German alphabet and pronunciation are handled thoroughly early on,
with the unexpected (but, on reflection, perfectly obvious) move of
including an illustration of a German computer keyboard, emphasising that
it is different from what a British user would expect. There are useful
rule-formulation exercises; one early example asks the learner to work out
from a set of written examples how to explain the German formation of the
numbers from 13 to 19. It sounds trivial (or, again, obvious); but it is
an instance of making processes of learning transparent – ‘metalearning’,
if you will.
This sort of activity pays attention to one of the most important things
that needs to happen in a modern languages classroom: the clear embedding
of meaning and the inculcation of confidence in the learner as to how to
move forward even with only limited language resources behind him or her.
Similarly, work on the use of a dictionary recognises the importance of
knowing how to use reference tools when Controlled Assessment exercises in
Writing are being done.
Not all the vocabulary lists convince me. When I come across a unit called
'Meine Familie', I want to see all the German words for family-members.
But sections like 'Meine Schule' are clear enough and steer the right sort
of course between day-to-day practicality as homework tools and the desire
It takes time to work out how useful any course is, but Zoom Deutsch 1 has
the advantage of being set up with what looks like a realistic awareness
of the type of environment in which it is going to be used. You get the
sense that teachers and pupils will be happy using the course to make
progress. Above all, there is enough spareness about the first book to
allow a teacher to introduce his or her own interests and approach.
Traditionally, things get more complicated when one gets on to the second
and third years of a German course (particularly if these happen to be
GCSE years). The opening book of the course certainly makes an auspicious