Key features of the Berlin bilingual education programme

The bilingual education programme attended by the participants in this study is characterised by the following key features.

Status of the programme. The bilingual programme established at the Ernst-Adolf-Eschke Schule in Berlin in September 2001 was approved of by the Berlin Senate with the status of a Schulversuch (‘pilot programme’) for the years 2001-2008. It was to cover the period of 6 school years regular primary education comprises in Berlin, plus the extension of the first school year by an additional year. The programme was set up in close collaboration between the school, the parents’ association, and the concomitant research team.[1]

Placement. Following our distinction of bilingual education options elaborated in chapter 1, the programme established in Berlin belongs to the type of educational measures offered within the bounds of special schools for deaf children.

Bilingual conception and status of the languages on the curriculum. By attributing an equal status to DGS and German, the Berlin bilingual education programme is clearly footed on the basic tenets of sign bilingual education discussed in section 1.3.1. Two key features of the programme[2] adopted from the Hamburg programme were the use of the team- teaching method and the inclusion of a separate subject DGS/Deaf Studies on the curriculum. The bilingual team- teaching method applied in this programme implied that 15 hours per week classes were taught in collaboration by the deaf and the hearing teachers (cf. Table 1.3 above). The students were instructed in DGS by the deaf teacher and in spoken German and LBG (Lautsprachbegleitendes Gebarden, i.e. Signed German) or LUG (Lautsprachunterstutzendes Gebarden, i.e. sign supported German) by the hearing teacher. In line with the advantages attributed to the use of a language policy characterised by the one person-one language principle, Gunther and Hennies (2011: 1, our transl.) highlight the role attributed to the two teachers when they state that “... the teachers represented linguo-cultural integration and identification figures for the languages they represented respectively.”

Owing to the status attributed to DGS qua base language a continuous bilin- guality and moving between the languages in the students’ communicative interactions, also beyond the team- teaching classes, was another characteristic of the bilingual approach adopted. The students’ awareness about the contrasting properties of the languages was enhanced through contrastive teaching (Gunther & Hennies 2011: 147).

Another feature of this programme was the explicit promotion of written language skills, with a focus on text level processes, an approach also adopted from the first German bilingual education programme implemented in Hamburg (Gunther et al. 2004: 231f.; Gunther & Hennies 2011: 147). This means that while children were taught the target grammar of German, it was not formal correctness but the ability to produce and comprehend narrative structures that lay at the centre of the teaching. Crucially, special attention was paid to the work with age adequate texts. As for the promotion of spoken language skills, more attention was paid to the development of these skills in Berlin than it had been the case in Hamburg.

  • [1] According to Gunther and Hennies (2011: 1), the Hamburg experience served as a model (commonly referred to as HamburgerModell, ‘Hamburg model’) for educational conceptions includingsign language in Germany. What made this experience attractive was that it was complementedby sound research, undertaken in close collaboration with the teaching personnel involved, andthat it was based on a scientific-pedagogical concept developed at a time when such a conceptwas unavailable in the country (see also Plaza-Pust 2016). The Swedish model was not used as abasis for the bilingual conception because the bilingual development was conceived of sequentially in that model.
  • [2] The main tenets of the Berlin bilingual education model are summarised in a document published by the Arbeitskreis Bilinguale Erziehung (cf. Arbeitsgruppe "Bilinguale Erziehung und Bil-dung in Berlin” 2011/2001). Three reports were presented to the Berlin Senate, documenting themain characteristics and outcomes of the bilingual experience.
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