Teachers of bilingual students cooperate on educational aids

Adult students, who have to learn a Nordic language, are facing almost the same challenges as their teachers. This common challenge resulted in a Nordplus project and the outcome was improved teaching material and higher competencies.

How do I give my students knowledge about what it takes to learn a new language? You see, it requires a lot more than just words and grammar. Søren Lindskrog wanted to solve this problem. He is a language teacher at Copenhagen’s adult educational center (KVUC), engaged in international work and a passionate language teacher.

“There is a massive need for teaching in Danish as a second language and it rarely progresses as quickly as both students and teachers would like,” says Søren Lindskrog.

He dreamt about higher professional academic standards and better theory-based tools when teaching bilingual students. At the same time, KVUC is facing intense pressure from new students while, at the same time, the number of refugees is increasing rapidly.

“In Denmark, KVUC has the highest concentration of teachers of bilingual students, we also have the largest number of students, so instead of searching for new knowledge in Denmark I had the Idea of a Nordic collaborative project,” says Søren Lindskrog.

It was a good decision. Schools in both Norway and Sweden accepted his invitation. A project application to Nordplus was sent and today – two years later – language teachers at the institutions involved have a new tool kit, higher levels of professionalism in the field and, not least, a common awareness of what is useful when it comes to students learning a Nordic language.

Management has to commit itself

In Norway, the results from the project have been taken a step further. Headmaster Björg Haugland, Oslo VO Sinsen (School of Oslo) is very happy about the project.

“Academically, it was a fantastic project and we have benefitted greatly from the results, “says Björg Haugland.

The project “Second Language in the Nordic countries”, as she and the other participants of the project named it in the end, also gave the school in Oslo an extra push in the direction of national expertise in that field.

“The participants have been really good at sharing knowledge and methods with each other – both across participating countries, but also internally here in Norway,” says Björg Haugland.

As headmaster, she witnessed a clear effect, because the methods could be implemented concretely in the teacher’s classes – and they were.

“It is absolutely crucial that a project suits the school’s identity and that the Board sets aside time and resources. That is the first condition for success,” says the headmaster.

Søren Lindskrog completely agrees.

“Management has to be involved from the beginning and there has to be the necessary decision-making competence from the project participants – otherwise, no progress will be made,” he says.

Tangible benefits

Both Søren Lindskrog and Björg Haugland point out that this project has been particularly rewarding. Both have experience with other international projects, where cultural differences, different organisational structures, divergence in educational methods and standards have all made it difficult to develop anything concrete.

“In the Nordic countries, we have the same perception of what a meeting is, how we summarise and how we implement new tools. That allows us to get on with the academic work,” says Søren Lindskrog.

Therefore, perhaps the project could be concluded with a large, joint conference.

“Teachers of second languages at smaller institutions often constitute a small group and they have a massive need to get out and meet other academic colleagues. It is my belief that this is one of the reasons behind the huge interest,” says Søren Lindskrog.

Everyday challenges

To bring the new knowledge to life, it needs to be taken out into the classrooms and, at the conference, all the new tools were presented. Many of the teachers from KVUC participated and at KVUC, it has become evident to Søren Lindskrog that the project has provided a much stronger common academic space. The same is true of Oslo VO Sinsen (School of Oslo). Here, Heidi Gretland teaches in Norwegian as a second language. She was one of the participants in the project and she still uses the tools on a daily basis.

“Our bilingual students typically lack both vocabulary and a knowledge of context and expressions, and this is where the new tools are a great help” says Heidi Gretland.
Previously, it was often difficult for her to find the academic spaces that worked with this type of learning process so, for Heidi Gretland, it was a god-send to be able to work with these problems on a pan-Nordic basis,

”I have been involved with international projects for 12 years and this is definitely where I have learned the most,” she says.

And she does not keep her knowledge to herself. Quite the contrary. Firstly, she got approximately 60 colleagues at the School of Oslo back on to the school bench and she and her colleagues developed a course together that is now being offered to teachers all over Norway. The course is not restricted solely to language teachers.

“Pretty much any subject can benefit from the methods. Irrespective of whether you teach history or mathematics,” says the language teacher.

You see, it is all about the way in which the students learn, and here, a thinking card is one of the fundamental elements of the toolbox.

Thinking cards are showing the way

During the project, 35 concrete tools/methods were developed which teachers can bring into play. One of them is eight thinking cards that help with cognitive thinking. The cards visualise eight methods to split words and events into systems.

“The students are given the cards and they then have to determine which cards match a certain situation,” she explains.

The methods used by teachers are, for instance, designed to teach the students how to use Mindmap, when they have to understand expressions and systematise their vocabulary. One course can be composed so the students will first read a short story. That could, for example, be the short story “At dræbe et barn” (To kill a child), which is about a car accident.

"That opens up a dialogue about cause, effect and consequences – and, at the same time it generates a lot of conversation in which you have to distinguish between present, future and past tense,” says Heidi Gretland.

These methods ensure that the students are more able to remember which words fit certain situations. It is a process that takes a long time and one that requires a lot of repetition.

“After a year, we are seeing the effect, and I can both hear and see that it is working,” she says.