In late 2017 and early 2018 teachers from Ørestad Skole attended some training we ran in Copenhagen on meeting the needs of international new arrivals in mainstream classrooms. The purpose of this training was to help Copenhagen schools start a journey away from placing new arrivals in a new arrival (or reception) class for up to two years and to start placing pupils in mainstream classes on arrival.
Nine months later I was delighted to attend a workshop at the inspiring Konference om nyankomne og flersprogede elever (Conference on new arrivals and multilingual pupils) organised by Line Svendsen (Copenhagen’s Inclusion and Integration Consultant) and her colleagues in Copenhagen. The workshop was run by the DSA (Danish as an additional language) team at Ørestad and they explained the fantastic practice they have introduced in their school.
The team consists of the co-ordinator, Sus Billesø, and four colleagues. Each of these five teachers has just five hours a week for their DSA role. They organise support for their pupils and the other teachers in the school. They have introduced effective admission and induction systems, advised on and modelled effective classroom practice. They are very clear about their roles. They say “Vi kan ikke trylle” – we can’t do magic, but they to do try to “inspirer”- inspire.
I really wanted to see it in practice. So in early February, just twelve months after our training had finished, I visited Ørestad.
The school is housed in a wonderful new building over seven levels and above a library. The classrooms have glass walls and wide corridors that act as additional learning areas. There is an outdoor learning area on each floor. Everywhere, in and out of classrooms are pupils from many different countries learning together, 45% of them in a language, Danish, that is not their first language. Every month at least one new pupil with no Danish at all joins the school. Pupils are expected to use all of their languages. Translanguaging- switching between languages to enhance your learning- is encouraged.
What did I see? There is an induction system with multiple buddies. It is seen as an honour to help a new arrivals. Most pupils want to do it and to include the new arrival in their class. What else happens. All lessons have language objectives because the curriculum is seen as a device for learning for Danish. There is a consistent teaching and learning cycle: experience – reconstruction – transformation – construction – reflection. There is high level of student autonomy alongside clear responsibilities, which yields high degrees of motivation among students.
I can sum up the effectiveness of what I saw with story about a Grade 1 (Year 2 in English terms) mathematics lesson in which pupils worked with the teacher for twenty minutes in the classroom before going into the wide corridor to make up questions leading to answers to numbers on paper cups knocked over by their soft pellet guns. I saw glee as pupils fired the pellet guns, engagement with making up number questions and a Pakistani girl, new to Danish and in the school for just six weeks, completely included, confidently joining in and using her emerging Danish to help her group complete the task. Just to underline the point, from zero Danish to playing a full part in mathematics in Danish in six weeks. It was hugely impressive and showed that the presentation I had seen in September is what is happening now in Ørestad Skole. It really is worth a visit.