Drawing Macke-Project | Photo: (c) Goethe-Institut London
How to tackle World War I with primary pupils?
I must have had a slightly appalled look on my face when the German teacher of Leighton Academy, our PASCH school in Crewe, North England, told me that the head of his school wanted their primary students to tackle the beginning of World War I 100 years ago. Looking at my expression, he felt inclined to hastily add that he already had an idea on his mind…
Interdisciplinary learning: Combining Art, German and History
Taking an interdisciplinary work approach is not exactly part of the curricular standard at UK primary schools. However, this was the innovative idea for this year’s PASCH project at Leighton Academy, which took place from 16 to 20 June 2014 and was funded by the Goethe-Institut London.The aim of the project was to present the German expressionist August Macke to the students and at the same time to offer them an opportunity to improve their knowledge of German. The project aimed to familiarise the students with the painters’ style and subjects as well as to inspire them to produce their own creative artwork.
A team of three students from the University of Leipzig (Institute of Art Pedagogy) and their supervising Professor Andreas Wendt were invited by the Goethe-Institut London and supported Leighton Academy in the implementation of the project. Instead of being confronted with horrifying war images the students received an insight into the colourful and figurative work of August Macke, one of Germany’s most famous expressionist painters. Macke was part of the famous artist group Blauer Reiter but died fighting in the First World War in 1914. Initially, a good look of the artistic features of August Macke was taken with the pupils, before they were given the chance to apply some artistic techniques themselves. Colours, motifs and themes of Macke’s work took centre stage. Through the exploration of the painter’s biography, the students learned more about the historic circumstances. Some primary students for the first time heard that not only British artists such as the so called „war poets“ Wilfred Owen or Wilfred Gibson lost their lives in the war but also famous German artists.
Consolidating language skills
One more key feature of this German-English cooperation was to improve the students’ language proficiencies by combining art and language learning. Ca. 550 students learn German once a week at Leighton Academy. Throughout the entire project the German language was used frequently. Age-appropriate German terms were introduced, which were used in conversations with the pupils. The students were able to test, improve and consolidate their language skills. Leighton Academy is also partnered up with a school in Germany. As part of the project this partner school also focused on the life and work of August Macke, so that an exchange of results and artwork could be organized afterwards. The exhibition of the partner school’s artwork guarantees the project’s sustainability. In addition to that a website was set up that can be used as a source of inspiration for other schools. A press team consisting of four Year 6 pupils closely followed the progress of the projects by publishing, daily, these results on the website.
Nigel Pearson, German teacher at the PASCH-school, felt deeply satisfied after the project and, unambiguously, judged its great success ”Best project ever”! Posters and a set of postcards featuring selected artwork by the participants have been printed and will help to further the visibility of German in the UK and raise the profile of the Goethe-Institut. Amongst parents, the school community and hopefully also among other PASCH-schools the project will become a best practice example. We are very happy to discuss any questions and give further information regarding the project and its implementation.