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Elementary School Curriculum. Seventh Year: Sixth and Seventh Grades: German

by Fannie J. Harfelin - 1907

The introduction of German into the seventh year of the elementary school makes it possible, if the work is continued through the five high school years, to build up a more thorough course in a foreign language than is generally given before the college period.

The introduction of German into the seventh year of the elementary school makes it possible, if the work is continued through the five high school years, to build up a more thorough course in a foreign language than is generally given before the college period. In a discussion of language teaching we are apt to give much consideration to the relative merits of the methods that emphasize reading or speaking. We argue sometimes that our geographically isolated position does not seem to make a speaking knowledge of a foreign language of the first importance, and that the limited time which is given to the subject in the secondary school period can be spent to better advantage if the stress is laid upon the acquisition of a reading knowledge of the language. Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark have taken the lead in demanding that the immediate aim of foreign language teaching should be to enable the learner to understand speech in the foreign idiom and to use it as a direct instrument of thought. Their methods are the natural results of this aim. Obviously the demand for a speaking knowledge, because language is essentially and primarily speech, calls for a method that gives prominence to oral exercises. An examination of the lesson programs of these countries will show that a longer time is given to the study of modern' languages than in our secondary schools. In a hohere Tochterschule, in Germany, for instance, the last six years of a ten-year course include French, and English is taken up in the seventh year and carried on through the tenth. Students of these reform methods abroad are agreed that the results compensate for the time and effort put into the teaching. May we not, then, in a course of six years devoted to German approximate these larger aims and correspondingly more thorough methods, and try to build up step by step a facility not only to understand and read, but to speak the foreign language?

If our aim is to teach the pupil to speak German, the spoken idiom will be the basis of all instruction and oral exercises in the form of question and answer will form the backbone of the course. But it is not possible at the beginning to exclude the mother tongue entirely. Explanations involving grammatical difficulties will have to be given in English. Our aim, however, obliges us to introduce systematically as much German as the pupils can be taught to understand, and to use the mother tongue as a means of interpretation more rarely as the class advances. The meaning of strange words and phrases may be suggested in a number of ways without translation. For example, Ich bin gross, klein; Ich arbette, singe, spiele, may be explained by gestures or by carrying out the action indicated by the verb. Pictures, too, are a valuable means of connecting ideas with the objects or actions they represent. And as the vocabulary of the class increases, paraphrasing can be made to reveal the sense of a difficult word or construction. By using the foreign language in the class room, by avoiding the English equivalent wherever it can be done without loss of time, by stimulating the pupils through a series of well graded exercises to use German in asking as well as answering questions, we shall aim in this course to develop gradually and thoroughly an oral and written command of the foreign language.

The conditions for such work in our school are from the viewpoint of numbers favorable. The two classes contain respectively twenty-two and thirteen pupils whose average age lies between twelve and thirteen years. Four periods of thirty minutes each are given to German each week. Perhaps the only drawback on the part of the class is their scant formal knowledge of English grammar.

In order to focus the attention of the class upon one thing as often as possible the first four weeks of the course this year were spent in building up a working vocabulary of the objects in the classroom. No textbooks were used. It is a period when the children learn to interpret the new sounds and are led to overcome hesitancy in their reproduction. In the first lesson the chalk was held up with the words, die Kreide. That was repeated slowly and distinctly. And then, with gestures to indicate what was said, the sentence, Das ist die Kreide, was given. Was ist das? Das ist die Kreide. The question asked and answered by the teacher was easily understood and then we were ready for class work. The children answered the question individually and together. Soon they could not only reply, Das ist das Bild, das Biich, das Madchen, der Stukl, der Tisch, der Knabe, die Tinte, die Tafel, but they could also ask each other the names of the various objects they had learned. In every lesson, exercises in hearing and oral reproduction were combined with writing and reading of what was written.

As the words and sentences were understood and repeated by the class, they were written on the board and made the basis of short oral drills in spelling. Each new word was spelled first by the teacher and then by the class until the children were familiar with the alphabet. Such oral spelling, taken up in different ways, was a daily exercise. It kept the class on the alert for mistakes and tended to develop care and increasing accuracy in the written work.

The prominence given to a, correct enunciation was one of the chief features of the first months of the work. With each Word that presented a new sound, a careful drill in pronunciation was given. The children were trained at first to notice differences in the sound values of vowels and the place and manner of their production. They learned to distinguish between the English word "rose" with the tendency of the vowel to become a dipth-thong, and the German die Rose with its clearer and purer vowel. Any sound in a word that caused any difficulty was isolated and practiced in class until it was correctly given. If, as it happened occasionally, it was impossible for a pupil to give the correct reproduction, another, quicker of ear and of imitation-was permitted to teach it before the next lesson. It was always interesting to notice in such a case how anxiously the young teacher followed the efforts of his charge. As the stock of words increased exercises in grouping words containing the same sounds together were undertaken from time to time. Only the guttural R caused any real difficulty. After the customary attempts at reproduction by each pupil, a few volunteered to give the sound, but their very carefully trilled R's were heard to be different from the sound produced by the vibration of the uvula. The children were quite satisfied to know that the trilled R was equally acceptable and correct. In such an elementary course in phonetics as this, all technical terms were avoided. Our chief aim was to impress upon the class that they were not speaking German unless they reproduced carefully and exactly the correct German sounds. Good habits of articulation, once started, must be well watched throughout the work. It will not do to relax one's care after the first few months, for the children are very ready to fall back upon easier methods if they are permitted to do so. It would not be amiss to stop at any time during the instruction to give the necessary drill in pronunciation, and the children should be encouraged to take up their share of the work in criticizing each other's mistakes.

To pass to the question of teaching vocabulary—whenever a new word is first met, we connect it at once in as many ways as possible with the old material. For instance, the adjective fleissig was applied to all the people in the Holzel Fruh-lingsbild. Questions of the teacher brought the answers: Anna ist fteissig. Sie arbeitet. Karl ist nicht fleissig. Er spielt. Die Mutter und der Voter sind ouch fteissig. Die Grossmutter und der Grossvater arbeiten. Sie sind fteissig. If this is done and every child in the class has been called upon to use the new word himself, if the oral impression is supplemented by the visual through board work, it is safe to assume that it will not be one of a number of words to be learned by heart at home, but rather that it has become the mental property of the child before he enters it in its appropriate list in the exercise book.

If such oral work is not to grow monotonous and lead to halfhearted, listless answers on the part of the few, quick reaction to the questions is necessary. Every pupil must be made to feel that it will be his turn to ask or answer the next question, or write the given sentence on the board. Chorus work, which is a great time-saver besides helping to launch the more timid ones upon efforts made alone, often imparts life to a lesson and makes each pupil feel that he is contributing his share to the work. Any device that will stimulate interest and enthusiasm and make the class feel that they are working together is permissible. The children go for example before the picture they are studying and repeat the conversation of the last ten minutes until they forfeit the right to go on through a mistake discovered by the other members of the class. Or, a pupil may ask a question and choose some member of the class to answer it. Anything, which suggests a game to them, is apt to be entered into heartily. The verb sein, which was taught in the following manner after the class knew about twenty adjectives, kept every child busy either writing on the board or answering.


Only the leading questions are suggested in this short outline. Each one calling for a definite form is quickly put to a number of children and the adjectives are varied to suit individual cases. The questions of the teacher alternate with those of the pupils. During this time, the verb is written on the board sentence after sentence until the present tense is complete. When the class has acquired some familiarity with the application of these verb forms, several of the best pupils may be called upon to come before the class and give the whole tense. They indicate by gestures whether they are speaking, speaking to, or speaking of a person, and whether they mean one or more than one. This exercise necessitates the teaching of person and number, entirely new work in grammar for the class. As soon as all the children know these forms, the drill grows more rapid and expressions like, Ich bin acht Jahre alt, Ich bin noch nicht gross, Ich bin nicht mehr Jung, are at once conjugated. No one will dispute that the pupil gains by this means a better understanding of and a surer grasp upon the use of these forms than if he had been furnished at the outset with the paradigm for conjugation.

The book best adapted to the kind of oral work we do is Newson's First German Book of the Alge-Rippman series. These books are built upon the Holzel pictures for the purpose of developing connected work in conversation and written exercises. They develop slowly and progressively the rules of grammar which serve as a means of systematizing the knowledge that is gained. As a result of our four weeks' work based upon object showing, we were able to pass over the first few lessons of the textbook quite easily. Our talks were now upon the first of the series of pictures, the Fruhlingsbild. The old material was worked in wherever possible and an effort was made to keep all the vocabulary of the class in use. The picture was of much greater interest to the children than one would have imagined. It seemed to stimulate them and did much to make our work more spontaneous and natural. It was of great service too in facilitating the acquisition of a vocabulary. Whenever there was any hesitancy in the recollection of a word a pointing to the object in the picture in connection with which it was learned, served generally to recall it.

The use of verbs like haben, singen, spielen, arbeiten, schwim-men, springen, ftiegen, at first only in the third person singular and plural, called for the plural form of nouns. By dividing these into four classes: (1) those that remain unchanged in the plural or simply modify the vowel (2) those that add e, or modify the vowel and add e (3) those that modify the vowel and add er, (4) those that add n or en, the way is easily prepared for the weak and the strong declensions. During this time preliminary exercises frequently consisted in asking the children to give the singular and plural forms of nouns as they pointed to the objects in the picture; or nouns were named by the teacher and the whole class would say: Einzahl, das Buch, Mehrzahl, die Bucker. Questions like: Was tut der Vogel? Was tun die Vogel? Was tun die Ente? Was tun die Entenl brought the answers:

Einzahl                                          Mehrzahl

Der Vogel flieg t                            Die Vogel flieg en

Die Ente n schwimm t.                  Die Ente n schwimm en.

These sentences written on the board in this form served to visualize the changes, which the nouns and verbs undergo. As soon as the class understood what was wanted they were ready to add materially to the stock of examples. As we slowly developed the declension of nouns, case by case, we added to the use of the definite and indefinite articles, the interrogative, demonstrative, and possessive adjectives. The aim, that the pupils acquire a habit in the use of the correct forms, rather than let the recollection of the rule lead to its faltering application, was constantly kept in mind. The pupils' efforts to use as many of the new forms as possible were always encouraged by the teacher. This gave them increased confidence in their power to use the new language and helped to give life to the class work. After the development of the nominative and accusative singular, the genitive was taught in the following manner. The pupils learned by means of the picture,

Die Baume des Waldes sind Tannen.

Der Schnee des Berges ist weiss.

Die Blumen des Gartens sind schon.

Das Fenster des Hauses ist offen.

Der Name des Kindes ist Anna.

Der Name des Madckens ist Marie.

Die Farbe des Groses ist grun

It was called to their attention through questioning that all the nouns used with des are masculine and neuter. This led them to deduce the rule for the formation of the genitive of masculine and neuter nouns. After the children have been called upon to give more examples the teacher can vary the exercises by means of such questions as: Welche Baume sind Tannen? Welche Blumen sind schon? Ist die Tur des Hauses zu? Sind die Bluten des Baumes rot? Good examples have meanwhile been written on the board by various pupils. All have contributed to the work, for in answer to the command, Noch einmal, die ganze Klasse, all participated. The class is now ready for a short written exercise, which may take the form of a number of sentences written from memory, or the answering of questions put by the teacher, or of a simple dictation. Thus, analysis and induction form the basis of grammatical instruction.

The question of the teacher leads to the independent observation of the rule on the part of the pupil. However, the primary object of such grammar teaching is not that the pupils shall be able to recollect rules and exceptions, but rather that he shall at any moment be able to use the right inflection or construction without conscious effort. Paradigm work in declension was attempted only after the pupils had gained some fluency in the use of the cases. In this way, the children acquire the right attitude towards the language: it is to be talked rather than talked about in the rules and exceptions of grammar.

During the period of declension teaching, the homework was largely upon the formation of sentences involving the use of each single case as it was developed. To give facility in the use of the genitive of the possessive pronoun, sentences like these were given:

Hier ist das Buch meines Freundes.

Dort ist das Bild meiner Freundin.

Der Garten meines Onkels ist nicht gross.

Ich habe das Buch meines Vaters

Ich sehe das Haus meiner Xante.

The class then wrote out all the forms, each time making a complete sentence in this manner:

Hier ist das Buch meines Freundes.

Hier ist das Buch deines Freundes etc.

The nouns may be varied as,

Ich habe die Tinte meiner Lehrerin.

Du hast das Heft deines Bruders.

Sometimes questions calling for the use of the different cases were answered, or blanks for personal and inflectional endings were filled in. Later on, paradigm declensions were called for, with a sentence to illustrate the use of each case. The homework must of course be closely connected with the work in the classroom. Careful preparation and constant drill there must have preceded the attempt to do the work at home. Children like to do what they feel they can do. Care and accuracy are encouraged by giving them work they are capable of doing well. Finally, it is important that the home assignment be as definitely stated as though it consisted of the next twenty sentences to translate.

During the first few months, not much memory work was attempted. From time to time, however, work in conversation that could be used in a dialogue was memorized. Thus, for example, two boys represented Karl and Heinrich, and two or three girls Marie, Luise and Anna. Karl and Heinrich began, Unser Onkel Hans ist auch euer Onkel, and the sister’s reply, Ja, und unsere Tante ist auch euere Tante. The brothers continue, Unsere Eltern sind auch euere Eltern. Ihr habt wie wir einen Grossvater und eine Grossmutter u.s.w. Or to give practice in the use of the polite form some of the children would be Herr and Frau Braun, while one or more of the others address them in this fashion: Herr Braun, or Frau Braun, or Herr und Frau Braun, Sie haben ein Haus und einen Garten. Sie haben Enten und Entchen. Hire Kinder sind brav. Sie sind gluck-lich." The children were not too old to enjoy this form of "make-believe." They liked to represent the different people in the picture in conversation and at times suggested changes that added materially to the interest of these dialogues. As the class, progressed proverbs and a few selections from the poetry in the textbook were committed to memory. Shortly before Christmas, the class learned to recite and sing O Tannenbaum. A small, wooden Christmas tree, very evidently made-in-Germany, was the subject of an introductory conversation lesson to give the vocabulary of the poem. Although they had been told that it was not necessary to learn the poem unless they liked it well enough to do, so the whole class with two exceptions knew the first verse before we started to sing it. To impart the right atmosphere at the time, a short account in English of how Christmas is spent in Germany was given.

From the beginning of the course, the classroom language of the teacher was used as a means of giving added practice in hearing and using German and of increasing the vocabulary of the class. To the commands: Gehe an die Tafel, Hore zu, Seize dich, Passe auf, Sprecht leise, Offnet die Hefte, Schliesst die Bucher, Legt die Federn nieder, the children were taught to reply in the first person singular or plural in answer to the question. Was tust du? Was tut ihr? Even though the class cannot always answer in German, it is obvious that asking the questions in that language will tend towards a growing familiarity with the spoken word and help to create a habit for the use of the correct forms. Children learn to understand such questions as Warum sagen wir—Ich habe einen Hund, aber, Ich habe ein Buch? or, Warum haben wir hier in alien Fallen der Mehrzahl die Endungen? if the effort in that direction is made slowly and systematically by the teacher. In this manner, we pave the way for the gradual exclusion of the mother tongue during the language lesson.

In order to give each pupil the necessary practice in hearing, speaking, writing, and reading the new forms, progress is necessarily very slow. By the end of the year the pupils have studied only the Fruhlings and Sommerbild, work covering twenty-nine lessons of the text-book and involving the following grammatical knowledge: declension of nouns, conjugation of the present tense and imperative mode of the various types of verbs, governance of the common prepositions, the use of the possessive and personal pronouns, the predicative and attributative use of the adjectives, a practical acquaintance with cardinals and ordinals, and the use of the most common adverbs. Their knowledge of word order is limited to that in principal propositions and their vocabulary amounts to about five hundred words. And yet, such a method has its apparent advantages. The self-activity of the pupil is stimulated to an appreciable degree. He finds his rules through his own strength and independent reflection and forms his own examples. He gains a gradual but thorough acquaintance with and a feeling for forms. From day to day, he is taught to apply what he has learned in a practical way in the schoolroom conversation. No attempt is made to teach all the grammar in one or two years. That is perhaps the greatest advantage of a course, which permits the pursuit of such methods. If the pupil receives a thorough grounding in practice combined with theory through the use of a carefully graded series of books, it will insure on his part such a knowledge of the language as will induce him to go on with the study by himself if he is obliged to drop it in school after three or four years.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 8 Number 4, 1907, p. 334-343
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9974, Date Accessed: 10/18/2021 1:14:31 AM

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