I’ve lost count of the number of exchange visits I organised in the twenty-six years I worked in secondary education in the UK as a teacher of French, German and Spanish. I was always the main teacher of German and was the one to arrange the German exchange.
Normally, we would go to the German school for one day and then the rest of the time, whilst our German hosts were at school we would go out on trips. They would do the same when we were in England.
A special exchange
One year I did something a little bit different. I took over a small group. We flew instead of going the whole way by coach or minibus. Once there, we didn’t go on excursions but the students had lessons with me all day. We were preparing for their forthcoming GCSE and concentrating on the oral exam. It’s amazing how much you can pack into six hours a day.
Improvements all round
We put about half a term’s work into a week. We practised hundreds of role play situations. We went through each student’s personal conversation. We practised telling stories. We also did a little reading and writing. Because they were surrounded by German once they’d left my classroom the listening took care of itself. Also, that continuous contact with the language really reinforced what we’d been doing in class. Some of them even carried on practising with their exchange partner in the afternoons and evenings.
Of course, it was quite tedious being with me in a classroom all day. So, once a day they would go and join a lesson in the German school. Sport, music, maths and English worked well. They were less reliant on a deep understanding of German.
We also had one social event in the evening. There was a weekend included in our visit so they went on excursions with their host families then.
It certainly wasn’t all hard work.
Not just about language
Naturally they noticed other things. Exchange really is a good name for this type of trip. The exchange of ideas is so important. They really loved the school day that ran form 7.45 a.m. unit 1.10 p.m. However I should add here that the research tells us that you should not expect young people aged roughly 14-23 to function very well before 10.00 a.m. or even 11.00 a.m.
They also liked the answer there to the British comprehensive system. Three types of school were housed on one site: roughly equivalent to our old grammar schools, technical high schools and secondary moderns. However, a much higher proportion of the population in Germany went to the grammar school and a much smaller to the secondary modern. As these schools shared accommodation they also shared some staff, some buildings, the school bus and such activities as the school fete or the Christmas concert. My students thought this was a good idea.
I was surprised, however, that they missed their school uniform.
“It’s difficulty deciding what to wear in the mornings,” said one.
“I really like going home and getting changed,” said another.
It’ always a little unfair that only those who can afford to go can go. Some of course choose not to go for other reasons. Yet the whole class benefitted. I had twelve out of twenty students with me. When we got back, the twelve who’d been with me were so improved that they raised expectations for the others. Their new skills and knowledge rubbed off when we did pair work.