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In recent years, the discussion about the eight year duration of education at grammar schools (G8) has been raging throughout Germany. After the rapid introduction of the G8 in some federal states, some are now returning to the old nine-year system. The accusations against G8 are that the children are under enormous pressure to perform, are sitting studying at home until late in the evening and no longer have free time.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, the eight-year education course was not prescribed to the schools and they were left alone to decide implementation. High schools, which aspired to eight years of education, had to present a concept that clearly set out how to solve the real problems of implementation. It was only when the concept convinced the ministry that the implementation could begin and that important additional resources in the form of teaching hours and financial support could be deployed.
Our concept in its first version was developed in one year of intensive study of the topic. The key points of our deliberations were:
(1) There must be a balance between learning and relaxation.
(2) We need a support concept that is more focused than before on the diversity of children.
(3) All children must be supported.
Through several surveys at different points in time in the corresponding years, we have repeatedly informed ourselves about the status of implementation and dealt with the results in meetings with interested parents, in conferences and working groups. Many aspects worked from the beginning but in some places we had to follow up several times. We do not hide the fact that an idea may have been good, but in the end, it was not as successful as we had originally assumed. In the meantime, we have further developed our concept and further improved it regarding our original intentions. In particular, we wanted to bring more calm into everyday teaching.
The decision to extend lessons from 45 to 55 minutes was a decisive step on the way to more rest and thus to a better learning intensity. (The fact that it took 55 minutes and not 60 minutes was due to the connection to the transport companies.) This means that the teaching week for our G8 students at the orientation level looks like this:
An AG can be visited either on Tuesdays or Thursdays or both days. For the orientation level, the school day begins with a soft start during which the children gradually arrive at school. We have found that our students also perform their tasks at very different speeds. Because we have no homework in the lower classes, those who still have something to do can go to the classrooms and finish their work there (under supervision). The library is also open, where children can browse. If they want to play or just want to talk, they can stay in the schoolyard or go to the games room. As soon as the break hall is ready, another room is available.
This is followed by a first joint working phase of at least 25 minutes. The students receive work materials which they are supposed to work on silently. This form of work is linked to the main subjects. The respective teacher is in the classroom and can give help or answer questions. The combination of this and a soft start has proven very successful in recent years. I am sure that it will support our efforts to have a calmer course of instruction.
It was mentioned above that there are no homework in our all-day school, at least in grades 5 to 9. Our promise is that when the children arrive home, they are done with their schoolwork – apart from learning vocabulary, reading or practicing for examinations. In surveys, we check the implementation from time to time. It is becoming apparent that we can keep our promise with a large number of students. Where it doesn’t work, we search together with the children and parents for the causes and adapt. Of course, because practice is also the master for us, the practice phases are shifted to the lessons. Each subject is given additional time at the normal time of instruction. Recognize that our German language skills have declined. This is not a bad thing at first, because it opens up scope for funding programmes. We provide four hours of extra lessons for all those who need this support.
Our lunch break is 55 minutes. The children come to eat one after the other in the cafeteria, which is operated by a caterer.
Our canteen dinner, consisting of a main course and dessert, is freshly cooked. The children can choose between two menus, one of which is vegetarian and the costs are billed monthly. Afterwards, it’s time to hang out, play or just rest. The children can play outdoors, play in the school café, stay in the library or play together in the newly furnished playroom. Increasingly, there are lunch offers, such as a football school league, that the children can join, but do not have to. Two AG afternoons are scheduled in our weekly timetable. The children of the orientation level take part in at least one AG offer. We want them to experience school more and more as a habitat. Of course, learning is first and foremost. But school is more. The working groups are important times of meeting without performance expectations, which are reflected in grades.