Project aims to ease transition between high school, college level German
ANN ARBOR—”Sprechen Sie Deutsche?” Monika Dressler, University of Michigan lecturer in Germanic languages and literature, is hoping more students will soon be answering “Ja,” as she is working with Michigan high school German teachers and guidance counselors to identify more effective methods of teaching students the German language.
Dressler heads the Whitaker Articulation Project, designed to better coordinate high school German language instruction with the University’s German curriculum.
“We want to ease the transition between high school and U-M German courses for incoming students,” Dressler says. “We would like students to get the most out of language learning at U-M.”
Dressler and her colleagues believe that if students place higher as they enter the University, they will be able to complete their language requirements faster, leaving them more time to continue with upper level language courses.
“The key to a successful transition,” Dressler adds, “is to let high school German teachers and students know what to expect at the college level.”
The project is financed by a $25,000 Gilbert R. Whitaker grant for the Improvement of Teaching. Dressler was one of only three U-M faculty to receive the special award last year. She says the grant has made it possible to establish contact with and to conduct extensive research on high school German language programs throughout Michigan. A portion of this grant is allotted to the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, which will conduct similar research about its French program.
Dressler, who also teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses, trains graduate student instructors, and directs the Beginning Language Program, finds this work significant and exciting. She has devoted much of this winter semester to the project and hopes to complete it this summer and next fall.
“With help from an earlier grant, we conducted research on how ready high school students were for college German,” Dressler explains. “We were dismayed to find that almost half were being placed into review courses and that many of those students were not continuing on with German at U-M because of frustration with low placement.”
The team took this as the investigative starting point of the current project.
In conjunction with the first Whitaker grant, the U-M German department invited 30 high school German teachers from around the state to an on-campus workshop and brainstorming session last spring.
“We asked them what U-M could do to assist in the transition; we discussed placement testing and recent changes in our language program,” Dressler says. The workshop drew teachers from Holland, Saginaw and Lansing as well as from southeastern Michigan.
“The results were great. The teachers were enthusiastic about the possibility of a better relationship between our institution and theirs, and enormously helpful in suggesting improvements.”
Such suggestions included creating a departmental Web site accessible to high school students, bringing more high school students to campus, and increasing communication between U-M and the high schools. U-M German department faculty also offered to make presentations to boards of education considering elimination of foreign language programs.
One significant outcome of the workshop was the creation of three outreach teams to visit schools. Each focuses on one German-related topic, from conversational German to mathematical/scientific German to music, Mozart and German. The teams bring U-M faculty, lecturers and graduate students to Michigan high school German classes as guest instructors. They also provide guidance counselors with information about the U-M German program.
Dressler and her colleagues will work with high schools to monitor the success of curricular changes and to create a newsletter and resource book for high school German teachers. They will also devise more sophisticated ways of tracking student registration patterns and placement, and will organize a second workshop in the fall.
“We will eventually create a video that we can send to high schools around the state, so that high school students and parents are better informed about U-M’s German and French programs,” Dressler says. “But for right now, I’m just thrilled that our project might have a significant effect on the future direction of foreign language instruction on campus and in high schools throughout Michigan.”