Alongside my languages degree, I have 20 years’ experience of working with individuals with special needs in several settings including special schools, where languages have been introduced to pupils in a variety of ways.
In one primary special school, pupils spent alternate terms learning French and Spanish. This learning was assisted by a selection of brightly coloured worksheets, symbols and interactive programs/websites. They would work with a partner to practise new vocabulary and act out phrases for their classmates to guess.
Themed sessions gave them the chance to sample Spanish food and have a school lunch with a distinctly Spanish feel. Some pupils with special needs have a self-imposed restrictive diet – they are fussy eaters. Yet even they tried some of the unfamiliar food on offer – perhaps enticed by an unusually strong smell or flavour?
Religious Education - The Cross Curricular Way
These pupils thrived on such cross-curricular experiences – but could this approach benefit pupils learning a language in a mainstream school too?
St Nikolaus Is Coming To Town
Taking the cross-curricular experience a step further in a mainstream school, I once watched video footage, as a PGCE student, of a school in the North of England in which pupils experienced a history lesson conducted entirely in a foreign language. A great discussion ensued as to the merits and possible pitfalls of cross-curricular teaching.
As Sarah Caldwell once said, “Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” Giving Nikolaustag celebrations a cross-curricular makeover could be the perfect opportunity to reawaken pupils’ interest in the language.
Our secondary school Nikolaustag lunchtime celebrations already had a musical, artistic, historical and culinary element but what if we were to spread those celebrations right across the curriculum and made a whole day out of them? Well, for starters, those German snacks might be recreated by students in food technology and the canteen staff could offer traditional German fare for lunch.
Cross-Curricular German Christmas Celebrations
Echoing the special school’s Diwali celebration above, a PE session might focus on learning a typical German dance, whilst music teachers could weave pieces of music by German composers into their lesson plan. Finally, after such an active and varied day, there could be an extended special assembly, with readings, carols and a chance to share what pupils have learned during the day.
Bringing Languages To Life!
Developing Nikolaustag as a cross-curricular celebration would give pupils time to delve deeper into the German nation and its people. Could such a chance to explore the key contributions of its native speakers prove crucial in reawakening our pupils’ interest in learning foreign languages beyond Key Stage 3?