Und so beschreiben die Besucherinnen ihre Eindrücke:
A visit to Osnabrück.
Before describing the visit Sara and I made to Germany, let me first give a brief history of the 2 schools: Kasterlinden (Brussels) and Osnabrück (Stefan).
In Kasterlinden we started to create a bilingual/bicultural surrounding and education for the pupils 6 years ago. Ever since we're concentrated on improving materials, the methods and ourselves. In our search for information we stumbled upon SignWriting. We're using SignWriting in our classes for the second year now. It's used as the written form of VGT (Flemish sign language), and helps the children to capture the essentials of VGT. Working bilingual/bicultural at Kasterlinden also entails having Deaf co-workers in each classroom. We would prefer Deaf teachers though (with hearing co-workers ;)
Stefan works as a teacher in "Landesbildungszentrum für Hoergeschädigte Osnabrück". He has some of the older students under his wing. And as far as we've worked out, he's about the only teacher that strives for bilingual/bicultural teaching. So it isn't rare for Stefan to receive new students who have little or no communication.
We were pleased to see Stefan and most of the people working in his class use DGS -German sign language.
I hope we are right in saying we think Stefan makes the best of a bad situation.
Monday evening after a long drive on the complicated German motorways, -:s (or is the myth that women can't read maps actually true?) - we received a very warm welcome. Stefan and his colleague took us to his cosy home and we had a delicious dinner. -good thing his wife didn't shoot a cow in celebration of our arrival, Stefan and 3 vegetarians in one car ;p -
We went to Stefan's desk and looked at all the materials he has stored up there. Sara and I were astonished by the quality and quantity of what Stefan has produced over the years. We can only dream of such a variety.
Stefan told us all about the SW44 program. We have it at Kasterlinden, but we don't really use it at the moment, our computers are to advanced for the program ;) But we did see the magnificent possibilities of this program. SW that moves, can you imagine?
Another interesting discovery was Stefan's effort to fit SW sentences more compact on to a page.
Sara and I left the house with a lot of information but we were also a bit worried about our own precision in SW. How many mistakes do we and did we make?
Meeting the kids :
Tuesday morning, lessons in Osnabrück start very early. 8 o'clock is early for us, we are used to starting at about 9 in the morning. In Stefan's classroom we meet Thomas, Hanan, Funda, Linda, Ilker and Eduard.
What strikes us is the way Stefan encourages his students to ask us questions. Sometimes one of the pupils has to repeat what we said to one of his friends. Most of these children have had very little or no communication so they have to be trained at this. The kids were surprised Sara and I could write SW too : And of course we told them all about Belgium. ;) (strange how you become more of a patriot when visiting another country ;) )
Now the children were put to work. The first exercise was reading SW and writing a correct German sentence on the blackboard.
Stefan typed in a few sentences like:
-how many days in one year? In SignWriting!
-how many days in two years?
The kids would read it and write the German sentence on the board.
The boys also wrote down the answer, language and math combined - how clever of you Stefan ;).
The kids had written about 15 to 20 sentences when Stefan changed his screen from SW to written German. The students had to read and understand the German sentences because they contained an order.
-Thomas has to ask miss Kathleen to draw an elephant.
-Ilker has to ask miss Sara to draw a red crocodile.
-All the children have to wash their hands.
Then the kids had a 20 minute break.
For Stefan a ideal moment to take us to his headmaster, Herr Blumë. We think Stefan wanted us to meet him, so Herr Blumë would be faced with another point of view. Sara told him about the importance of developing a strong identity and Deaf awareness in stead of 'making' the children feel like they are 'disabled'. We wanted him to see the cultural view, not the medical one concerning Deaf people. And if we made him doubt even for a split second, we'll consider this a successful meeting. :
After the break the children had to practice math. We were amazed by the children's dedication and hard work. We watched Eduard slave away for almost 40 minutes without any help. Fantastic!
The kids were literally jumping with anticipation. More!
They didn't seem to get tired or bored. When one task is finished they go on to the next one. Eduard was given a dialogue in SW and had to write down the German sentences in his notebook. Ilker got pictures and had to make sentences in SW on the computers, using the SW44 program.
About 10 minutes later Eduard makes the same exercise but he has to form German sentences in SW. Stefan tell us this is to ascertain the difference between DGS and written German.
This school day is almost at an end. Stefan asks us to present our story of 'Goldilocks and the three bears'. And of course Sara and I are more than willing to do so.
Small theatre followed by a glance through our SW books and working with 'the SW gloves'.
Saying goodbye is never easy but we hope we'll see the kids again someday!
Sara and I go to have lunch at our hotel and Stefan takes a snooze. ;)
In the evening we meet again at his house. We take a look through what Sara and I have made so far. First in line is the file on Deafculture. Very interesting subject according to Stefan, of course he's more focused on the spelling and correctness of the SW on the pages ;)
You should know that last year when I started using SW in my classroom there was no dictionary to help me, which results in many many mistakes to be discovered by Stefan. ;)
I was a bit ashamed but concluded that we can only learn from this and improve.
We went back to Stefan's desk and saw something we wanted to take home with us immediately but we'll have to be patient for a few more months. A beautifully illustrated course on how to learn SW. Fantastic!
We ate cheese and discussed the differences between our school and the German education system. Then Stefan made this trip perfect by showing us the 'old city of Osnabrück'. And of course we talked and talked and signed ;)
Sara and I developed a great respect for Stefan and his work during our visit. We think he's very motivated and brave to be working in these conditions. We wish him all the best and hope some day Herr Blumë will wake up and magically change his mind. ;)
Thank you very much Stefan for the warm welcome, the materials and sharing your thoughts with us. We learned so much! We hope we can welcome you in Belgium one day. :
Greetings Sara and Kathleen.