Title Zoom Deutsch 1
Author Corinna Schickler/Marcus Waltl/Chalin Malz
Publisher Oxford University Press, 2011
ISBN ISBN 978 019 912770 2
Reviewer Geoffrey Plow
   

This 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 for comprehensiveness.
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 start.