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Seeing the Bigger Picture:
What Students and Teachers Think About CLIL

Anke Wegner
University of Vienna

Abstract

This article presents selected results of a study on content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in Politics and Economics at secondary schools (Realschulen/kooperative Gesamtschulen) in the German federal state of Hesse. It focuses on the significance of teacher and student perspective with regard to enabling learning and education. The article brings together central aspects of instruction such as structure and content, the role of the working language, as well as the hermeneutic and didactic expertise of students, the teachers’ points of view and associated didactic perspectives.

 

Keywords: CLIL (Politics and Economics), lesson structure, students’ view, teachers’ view

1. Introduction

The article draws on results from a recently completed case study (Wegner 2011) which focuses on content and language integrated learning in Politics and Economics at secondary schools in the German state of Hesse. The subject is taught in only a small number of Realschulen (intermediate schools) and equivalent classes in cooperative comprehensive schools. There is hardly any CLIL-specific commercial teaching material available and so far no formal network has been established connecting these teachers. The teachers devise the cornerstones of their teaching, their didactic positions. The formulation of a theory for CLIL in this subject, as well as for teaching CLIL at intermediate level is in its infancy (see Wegner, 2011). For this innovative and indeed complex field of institutional teaching and learning, it seems meaningful to investigate on the one hand the teachers’ perspectives on CLIL and on the other hand the perspective of students, as they can be regarded as ‘experts’ in terms of their learning and education.1 Furthermore, as case studies, research on learner development and educational experience (Bildungsgangforschung), have revealed (see e.g. Meyer, Kunze and Trautmann 2007; Meyer 2008), teachers and students often have different views on institutional teaching and learning which are not communicated openly in class. Therefore it would also seem relevant to compare both the opinions of teachers and students on CLIL, and to analyse how these understandings could contribute to enabling learning and education.2

2. Research design

The case study addresses the role of the individual’s perspective for enabling learning and education from both teacher and student points of view. It includes interviews with teachers about their theories on CLIL in Politics and Economics, as well as a videography of classroom practice in Year 7 and Year 9, as well as follow-up interviews with teachers and groups of students about selected teaching sequences. Using these open, non-standardised research methods it was possible to capture teaching processes and give the teachers and students an opportunity to outline their own interpretations, their actions, their perspective, and to explain issues. Focusing on the perspective of the students and, by way of comparison, on that of the teachers can only succeed if there is initially a joint focus, the teaching sequence. As such, the case study uses data triangulation, as in this way the structure of the lesson and its subjective meaning can be identified. For this project, the qualitative, explorative method of reconstructive social research, the documentary method developed by Ralf Bohnsack (e.g. 2003), appears appropriate for data evaluation. It can be argued that for the advancement of school teaching and general didactics, teaching methodology and the theory of CLIL, methodically controlled explication of the subject’s perspective can be productive.

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3. Findings

The case study shows that teachers and students have rather different positions and points of view with regard to subject and language learning as well as with regard to teaching and the way it is structured. The article first briefly refers to teaching sequences and then addresses selected perspectives of teachers and students.

3.1 Content learning and the view of teachers and students

The lessons are influenced to a large extent by the teachers’ mind-sets, whereby the subject, the teaching of specialist knowledge, learning a subject, and subject-related reflection take a back seat. In such cases, bilingual teaching in Politics and Economics, just like monolingual teaching in Politics (see Sander, 2002: 39 f.; Schelle, 1995: 337 ff.) involves the mere expression of an opinion or moral reasoning, while the complexity of social reality is, to a large extent, ignored. There is little content learning either because the teachers do not recognise students’ interpretations, their needs for meaning and development goals and/or because there is a lack of formulating interpretations in the course of the lessons (for research findings on monolingual teaching see Grammes, 1998: 229; Schelle, 1995: 334; Schelle, 2003: 9). Access to and development of opportunities in the fields of sociology, law, economics, ecology and politics are hardly made possible, because teachers are not sufficiently aware of learning problems and learning opportunities.

Teachers see the goals of CLIL as: developing the individual and promoting students’ self-confidence, education in general, developing maturity, and teaching values and standards. This orientation on educative and general educational objectives, but also the fact that teachers consider teaching through a foreign language difficult, has led to the lowering of expectations as regards to subject standards and/or a situation where certain aspects of the respective subject are picked out for rather spontaneous attention.

L:

Im Fach Politik wenn es eben zu abstrakt wird, gibt es mit dem Wortschatz Probleme und Schülerinnen und Schüler haben die grammatischen Redemittel nicht, um sehr in die Tiefe zu gehen, wie man es vielleicht vom PoWi-Unterricht in der deutschen Sprache erwartet. (Jahrgang 7)

T:

In Politics, when things become too abstract, there are problems with vocabulary and students do not have the grammatical skills to address the topic in depth, as one would perhaps expect in politics lessons in the German language (Year 7)

L:

Aber die Schwerpunkte können nicht immer auf all den Dingen liegen. Man kann ich ich ärger mich manchmal, dass ich immer nur mit ’ner Taschenlampe mal hinleuchten kann und und Angebote geben kann, neugierig machen kann. (Jahrgang 9)

T:

However, the focus cannot always be on everything. You can I sometimes get annoyed that I can only shine a light on something, make offers, make someone curious. (Year 9)

However, what also becomes clear is the tension from teachers’ programmes and students’ interpretations, interests, and expectations in dealing with the subject matter of the lesson.  The students have hermeneutic expertise with regard to the relevant subject matter, and this emerges in the lessons, but even more strongly in the interviews, meaning that they have more to say than they actually articulate (see Schelle, 1995: 331), and have more to ask than they do in fact ask. By way of example, two female Year 7 students talk about three offences committed by youths and the corresponding punishment they are meant to judge in class:

Christine:   

Dazu müssten wir halt erstmal rausbekommen, wie die das in Amerika bestrafen würden und dann den Unterschied zwischen da und hier festlegen.

Anja:

Und halt wo das passiert ist, kann ja sein, dass das in England, in Russland, China, Deutschland keine Ahnung, sind war ja net dabei. Und wenn wir halt wissen, welches Land das ist (...), dann können wir halt da die Gesetze und dann können wir halt die Gesetze vergleichen.

Christine:

For that we ought first of all to find out, what punishment they would get in America and then determine the difference between there and here.

Anja:

And where it happened, could have been in England, Russia, China, Germany, God knows, we weren’t there. And when we know which country it was (...), then we can we can compare, then we can compare the laws.

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The Year 9 students likewise comment, among other things, on the fact that for an off-the-cuff discussion about the construction of a fourth runway at Frankfurt Airport they did not have essential information:

Naima:   

- Also es würde mich schon interessieren, aber ich hab keine Ahnung davon und ich weiß nicht, wie deren Finanzen und Verhältnisse stehen,  also ich kann mir ja mal ’n paar Infos holen und dann bin ich auch voll dabei -

Naima:

- Well, I would be interested, but I haven’t a clue about it and I don’t know what their financial situation is like and what sort of state they are in, so I could get hold of a bit of information and then I’ll give it my best -

For this reason, channelling efforts into getting students to understand the world and themselves, requires not only that their interpretations of meaning and need to understand be perceived and acknowledged, but also that teachers open up means of access to more complex specialist topics, because students cannot anticipate the complexity of the relevant subject matter (see Schelle, 1995: 334) and they clearly articulate this problem. Overall it emerges that support for the construction of meaning on the part of the students, the promotion of interpretation and a (more) democratic structure to the lesson would be beneficial, if, picking up Schelle’s point of view, teachers were to see themselves as “co-constructors in the drawing up of views of oneself and the world” (Schelle, 2003: 60) and if, in the students’ addressing of society, they were to see “links for the creation of a reflective understanding of oneself and the world, for the creation of an idea of society and political spheres” (Schelle, 2003: 197). For this reason, the hermeneutic expertise of teachers, their ability to perceive, interpret and diagnose students’ knowledge, ideas, and questions about meaning, and to apply this, didactically and methodically, to subject learning in a more specific, differentiated, and open way, seems to be of importance. It also seems to be important that students learn to express their concerns and their need to understand to teachers. It becomes clear that in class and to a greater extent during interviews, students articulate their own interpretations and seek to orientate within the subject matter. In addition to hermeneutic skills they also have didactic skills, e.g., by their revealing their requirements for the sound treatment of the subject matter in question and a well-founded judgement – “that we can have a high level of discussion”. The aim must be to jointly reflect on, negotiate, and in a best case scenario, balance out questions about (general and) specialist education on the one hand, and questions about meaning and development goals on the part of students on the other hand, and structure lessons in this reflexive way. This requires not only specialist discourse or an introduction to specialist discourse, but also meta-discourse and the joint, reflexive negotiation of relevant cornerstones of subject learning.

3.2 Language learning and the view of teachers and students

In Year 7, the teacher almost exclusively speaks English during lessons, yet he rarely encourages students to produce English-language output.  It emerges that in some cases Year 7 students are capable of expressing themselves competently and with ease in the target language, and they also demonstrate that they can understand what the teacher says. Furthermore, there is not only code-switching, the students predominantly use the German language and primarily indicate their relaxed attitude in the use or non-use of the target language. Overall, in Year 9 lessons, the English language dominates and there are only occasional instances of code-switching. Students express themselves fluently, flexibly and with ease in the target language and have developed an interlanguage that is accepted by the teacher. Both teachers place a focus on enabling oral communication and specifically speaking and assume that this can best be achieved by communicating in the target language. Beyond this the question of encouraging linguistic skills remains relatively open. The Year 7 teacher teaches vocabulary and phrases. He primarily emphasises using everyday language in equally everyday contexts and adds:

L:

(...) Politik für die Kinder muss einen realitätserweiternden Bezug haben, da kann man relativ viel in die in Alltagssprache runterholen runtertransformieren.

T:

(...) Politics for kids really must have some reference that expands reality, you can bring it down into everyday language quite a lot and transform it.

The Year 9 teacher, who speaks out in favour of ‘communication’ and ‘talking with one another’, hardly ever provides language tools, mends or corrects, and ignores unknown vocabulary (say in authentic texts). His guiding principle is “Keep it simple!” and he explains:

L:

Weil ich dadurch, wenn ich viel spreche, (...) auch immer einen Lernzuwachs bekomme und selber mehr Selbstsicherheit gewinne bei all diesen unsicheren Personen [Schüler], sie merken, auch die mit vielleicht Fehlern behaftete Fremdsprache kommt bei dem Empfänger an und er versteht, was ich ihm sagen möchte.

T:

Because when I talk a lot, (...) I always learn more and gain more self assurance myself, and all these insecure people [students], they realize that even when you make mistakes in a foreign language the other person understands you, and what you want to say.

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For both teachers, specific language goals, didactics and methodic orchestrations are of secondary importance. Rather the teachers emphasise the motivation and activation of the students, the need to experience success in joint communication, the situation offering an opportunity for expressing yourself in the foreign language.

Students have a different view about learning a language and using it. The students describe, in various ways but precisely, their learning difficulties, needs and expectations, and they have hermeneutic and didactic skills regarding subject knowledge communication, learning and use of language in the classroom. However, they do not articulate this in dialogue with the teachers but primarily in interviews. For example, the students in Year 7 mention their need for time to think, to look up information and be able to participate in discussions. By contrast, the students in Year 9 emphasise communication with native speakers and foreign speakers both here and abroad and grasp developing their understanding and speaking skills of different varieties of English as a particular challenge. Moreover, the students of both years find knowing and understanding relevant terms including specialist terms problematic. However, the students in Year 9 indicate that they avoid talking about more complex, specialist issues, which necessitate the use of specialist terms. In the interviews with the students it becomes evident that the teachers’ communication of specialist terms and the students’ formation of concepts is to be grasped as a central problem and central task of bilingual lessons. “The political words used are really complicated,” comments a Year 7 student. A Year 9 student adds:

Frank:   

Und vor allem sagen ist wenn man in die Politik reingeht, ist ja oft so, dass man denn auch in der Politik auch diese Fremdwörter, die man auch schon manchmal auf Deutsch nicht verstehen kann, die halt ins Englische zu übersetzen sind, ist nochmal schwerer. Deswegen wär ich nicht so direkt der Meinung, dass man das auf Englisch sagen sollte, ich mein, wenn man natürlich das Fachwissen hat, okay, aber keiner von dieser Gruppe glaub ich von uns benutzt direkt dieses Fachwissen hier, weil man’s eben nicht auf Englisch reden sprechen kann.

Frank:

And most of all I would say when you get into politics it is often the case that there are these foreign words in politics, which you cannot even understand in German, and it is even more difficult translating them into English. That’s why I don’t really think that you should say it in English, I mean, naturally if you have the specialist know-how, fair enough but I don’t believe that anyone in this group directly uses this specialist knowledge, because we can’t say it in English.

It can be assumed that the acquisition of specialist terms and concept formation constitute the core of specialist learning and education, and that the students’ specialist knowledge is essentially grouped around central terms (see Bonnet, 2004: 292 f.). My findings also show that acquiring specialist terms and concept formation particularly on the part of students is understood as a precondition for the successful and thematically differentiated discussion and reflection on specialist subjects. The students clearly emphasise the somewhat superficial treatment of complex subjects and the difficulties they experience in making sense of things.

CLIL lessons in both years are primarily focussed on the acquisition of English through speaking in a psychologically safe environment where students can experiment with language without fear of being graded. Students in both years repeatedly make it clear that they appreciate the opportunity to learn in a CLIL environment, yet in many cases they miss out on given opportunities and learning chances. This is also the case for the teachers, who only partially grasp and create opportunities for linguistic promotion: In order to support language learning, teachers also need to listen, perceive learning difficulties and problematic linguistic areas and address them in focused language instruction. This applies to all facets of the general language area, but this also applies to the promotion of academic language proficiency (see Dalton-Puffer, 2007: 282, 295) and specialist language and discussion skills. What appears central is communicating, appropriating and employing the specialist terms and the promotion of conceptual and reflective competence (see Bonnet, 2004: 282; Zydatiß, 2007: 59). I consider this to be an important integrative and educational aspect of CLIL and also the opportunity to expedite education as the discursive creation of a reflective relationship to oneself and the world (see Küster, 2003: 159).

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Finally, regarding the target language, it is a fact that teachers and students have to learn in a meta-dialogue not only to verbalise queries, needs and interests via feedback but also to balance them so that aims, programmes or spontaneous interventions can be flexibly negotiated and explored. This, from my perspective, would enable language learning and language education. At any rate, the students have more to say when it is about learning and using the target language in lessons. What needs to be balanced out, though, is how a focus on the language (which the students frequently ask for) can be proven to be feasible and sensible and when forms of “immersion” and spontaneous output by students (as preferred by teachers) are nonetheless appropriate.

3.3 Instruction and lessons from the perspectives of teachers and students

The teachers plan the lessons and generally go through them as planned. For example, the teacher in Year 7 ensures students are engaged in group work phases and role plays but also assumes that often strong guidance will be necessary.

L:

Ich glaube, zum gegenwärtigen Zeitpunkt würde die Lenkung fehlen und das würde die Stunde würde implodieren.

I:

Mmh. Wie wär das dann, Implodieren?

L:

Jeder wäre mit sich selbst beschäftigt oder mit seinem Nachbarn, zum Beispiel seinen mit ’m Zirkel zu spielen oder so ja, diese typisch schülerhaften Nettigkeiten, Stuhl wegziehen ...

T:

I believe that at the present point in time this guidance is lacking and the lesson would implode.

I:

Mmh. How would that be, imploding?

T:

Everyone is occupied with themselves, or with their neighbours, for example, playing with a compass or these typical nice things that students do, pulling chairs away ...

The teacher in Year 9 often guides the dialogue in lessons but does also venture “experiments”, such as asking the students to discuss something without his support.

L:

Mmh, ich experimentiere gerne und habe heute einfach mal geschaut, dass die Lehrerpersönlichkeit relativ stark in den Hintergrund tritt und dass die Schüler einfach mal mehr Gelegenheiten haben, dass sie sprechen können und hab das ganze Geschehen nur wenig nur wenig beeinflusst.

T:

Mmh, I like experimenting and I just make sure that the teacher’s personality is pretty much pushed into the background, and that the students simply have more opportunity to speak, and I only influenced what was happening a little, just a little.

The students accept the teachers’ planned activities and get involved in them. However, it needs to be considered that the students are experts in learning, that they not only have specific needs and interests in learning but also have hermeneutic skills regarding lesson processes and teacher actions, and that they have didactic skills relating to content and language learning and the conception and structuring of lessons. For example, students in Year 7 think about the appropriateness of topics chosen and ask for additional information; they talk about the precision and depth of processing topics compared with monolingual lessons and signal their willingness to assume didactic responsibility. Specifically, they think about addressing these issues of bilingual teaching and learning, its curricular and communicative conditions and difficulties, and discussing them with the teacher.

Felix:   

Oder auch mal was man jetzt so also in Teilen wie man jetzt so Probleme mit Lehrern redet oder nachdenkt (...). Ähm, nee, also ich war ja vorher (...) war hab ich das ja auf Deutsch gemacht, war noch nicht in Bili, (...) also jetzt ham ich hab ’n Thema praktisch doppelt gemacht, vorher ham wir das Thema viel genauer durchgenommen als jetzt. Ich find das lag an dem Englisch.

Felix:

Or that now everything is in bits – the way you talk and problems with teachers or think about things (...). Hm, well, before I was (...) well I did that in German, wasn’t in the bilingual lessons, (...) so you could say I did a topic twice. Before we went through a subject in much more depth than now. I think that was because of the English.

The students in Year 9 also discuss curricular aspects and vehemently criticise, e.g., the constant going through ecological issues, which no longer makes sense to them. They also criticise the teacher’s approach, introducing complex questions without any preparation or going into the topic in depth and having them discuss it spontaneously. What they do not say is that this method involves them being radically challenged to produce complex output, which they can hardly manage as a debate or in other substantive ways; rather like the students in Year 7, they want more information and the means to (independently) prepare themselves for a discussion based on hard facts.

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Dirk:

(...) Ich hätte nur ganz gerne ’n bisschen mehr Zeit gehabt, also da sollte man wirklich irgendwo zwei Stunden machen und (...) ausfallen lassen -

Naima:   

Aber Dirk, das machen wir eigentlich immer, also Herr Schneider schreibt was an die die Tafel, dann denken wir darüber nach und können unseren Senf dazugegeben (...) und dann kommt da nichts mehr, das macht er aber immer so, deswegen.

Dirk:

Ja, normal macht er das so, aber heute hat´s halt gefehlt -

Naima:

- Das ist halt das ist halt heute der Anfang gewesen, ne, der hat was an die Tafel geschrieben und gesagt, drüber nachdenken, so war’s.

Dirk:

(...) I would just have liked a bit more time, you really should have two periods and (...) have classes cancelled -

Naima:

But Dirk, we actually always do that, well Herr Schneider always writes something on the board, then we think about it and we can add our own ideas (...) and then nothing else is added but he always does it like that, that´s why.

Dirk:

Yes, normally he does it like that but today he left it out -

Naima:

- Well, it is just, it was just the start today, he wrote something on the board and said we should think about it, that’s how it was.

In their thinking and actions, students and teachers often misunderstand each other’s motives. Questions about teaching and learning, however, can also be used reflectively, as a didactic opportunity, for joint, productive work inside and outside the classroom. This implies a vision of joint lesson structure and development: to my mind teachers are called upon to share their views on the lessons, and communicate their own questions and concerns so that students are given greater insight into the curricular and institutional demands, and can be stimulated to discuss relevant topics with teachers. Moreover, by further focussing on student interpretations, their understandings, interests and development goals, teachers would be better placed to support student learning and development. It still seems elementary that students as experts of their learning need to be asked (see Meyer, 2008: 123). I understand the perception of students’ hermeneutic and didactic skills as a fundamental module of a flexible lesson concept in which students are challenged to assume greater responsibility for their learning, and in which teachers are called on to incorporate students’ hermeneutic and didactic competence into their teaching.

What is ultimately needed is mutual recognition, joint negotiation, joint experimentation and structuring of lessons. The reason for this is that by way of a twofold omission, i.e., articulating and expressing one’s own difficulties and insecurities, as well as interests, demands and concerns, there appears to be, at times, a danger of an institutionalised “Bermuda Triangle” emerging. There is barely any specialisation, barely any additional language practice, and only superficial encounter and exchange. More specifically a comparison of the thinking and behaviour of students and teachers reinforces that above all the nurturing of a feedback and discourse culture between the generations is both sensible and necessary, in which questions about learning and education are addressed reflectively and find a solution in a productive joint learning project.

4. Summary

The individual’s perspective is central to enabling learning and education provided this is recognised. This means that teachers and students need to take into account each other’s perspectives and they need to jointly reflect on teaching and learning demands and opportunities. Recognition and solidarity, negotiation and disagreement but also compromise and the joint acceptance of at least temporary agreements constitute relevant conditions of learning and education. This applies to CLIL as well as to subject instruction in general. It includes lessons that are flexible and open, transparent for both sides and jointly structured by teachers and students. The dialectics of guidance and self-determination remains but it must always be renegotiated and weighted to one or the other side. Finally, the focus is, above all, on advancing a discourse culture between the generations (see Meyer, 2008: 131) and making lessons more democratic.

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References

Bohnsack, R.: 2003, Rekonstruktive Sozialforschung. Einführung in qualitative Methoden. Leske + Budrich,  Opladen.

Bonnet, A.: 2004, Chemie im bilingualen Unterricht. Kompetenzerwerb durch Interaktion. Leske + Budrich, Opladen.

Dalton-Puffer, Ch.: 2007, Discourse in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Classrooms. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam.

Grammes, T.: 1998, Kommunikative Fachdidaktik: Politik, Geschichte, Recht, Wirtschaft. Leske + Budrich, Opladen.

Küster, L.: 2003, Plurale Bildung im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Interkulturelle and ästhetisch-literarische Aspekte von Bildung an Beispielen romanistischer Fachdidaktik. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main.

Meyer, M.: 2008, Unterrichtsplanung aus der Perspektive der Bildungsgangforschung, Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft (Sonderheft) 9/2008, 117-137.

Meyer, M.A./Kunze, I./Trautmann, M. (eds.): 2007, Schülerpartizipation im Englischunterricht. Eine empirische Untersuchung in der gymnasialen Oberstufe. Opladen.

Peukert, H.: 1984, Über die Zukunft von Bildung, Frankfurter Hefte, FH-Extra  6, 129-137.

Sander, W.: 2002, Politische Bildung nach der Jahrtausendwende. Perspektiven and Modernisierungsaufgaben, Aus Politik and Zeitgeschichte 45/2002, 36-44.

Schelle, C.: 1995, Schülerdiskurse über Gesellschaft. "Wenn du ein Ausländer wärst". Untersuchung zur Neuorientierung schulisch-politischer Bildungsprozesse. Wochenschau, Schwalbach/Ts.

Schelle, C.: 2003, Politisch-historischer Unterricht hermeneutisch rekonstruiert. Von den Ansprüchen Jugendlicher, sich selbst und die Welt zu verstehen. Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn.

Seel, N. M.: 2003, Psychologie des Lernens.  Ernst Reinhardt, München.

Wegner, A.: 2011, Weltgesellschaft und Subjekt. Bilingualer Sachfachunterricht an Real- und Gesamtschulen: Praxis und Perspektiven. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden.

Zydatiß, W.: 2007, Deutsch-Englische Züge in Berlin (DEZIBEL). Eine Evaluation des bilingualen Sachfachunterrichts an Gymnasien. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main.

 

1 Research studies have shown that students have sound experience and competence in analysing and interpreting classroom interaction, communication and lesson structure (see e.g. Schelle, 1995, on hermeneutic competence), and that they also have relevant ideas concerning teaching and learning and it´s performance and evolvement in class (see e.g. Meyer and Schmidt, 2000, and Meyer, Kunze, Trautmann, 2007, on didactic competence).
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2 In the following, I use the term learning to refer to an increase in knowledge, which does not necessarily include a qualitative change in cognitive schemata, whereas education (Bildung) describes a reflexive phenomenon which involves changing schemata or mental representations and which also affects the development of new ways of understanding the world and oneself (see Peukert, 1984: 19 ff.; Seel, 2003: 53 ff.).
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