The Mercator Institute wants to improve language education. To achieve this objective, it researches and develops concepts, tools and measures for language education, trains teachers and educators and prepares knowledge about language education specifically for non-academic actors. These activities are intended to benefit children and young people from disadvantaged families in particular, while at the same time helping to reduce social inequality.
Researching language education
The Mercator Institute follows a benefit-inspired and applied understanding of research: it is dedicated to exploring current and socially relevant questions of language education from nursery school to the point of transition into work. Thus, topics are researched that are based on questions and challenges in practice and educational policy. The results are also intended to provide concrete benefits for work in educational institutions, for example by evaluating methods for learning to read and write or support concepts. The Mercator Institute cooperates with other universities and non-university research institutions and acquires third-party funding. The project teams are made up of researchers from different areas of empirical educational research, such as linguistics, various didactic disciplines, psychology and educational science. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are used in the research projects.
In terms of content, the Mercator Institute's research is devoted on the one hand to language learning and development processes. This includes, in particular, competences in reading and writing, but also in speaking and listening. The researchers pay special attention to children and young people who lack the skills they need to achieve educational success and participate in society. On the other hand, there is a focus on teaching research, which deals with how language knowledge and competences can be taught and acquired in the classroom. Here, the focus is also on questions that arise due to heterogeneous learning groups, such as how to deal with individual and societal multilingualism. The third research focus is on teacher training and professionalization. This area deals with the competences that teachers need for effective language teaching.
Research projects also develop concrete concepts of language education and support and evaluate their use in practice, such as instruments for language-sensitive teaching or support concepts for reading and writing.
Within the framework of EdToolS, the Mercator Institute is investigating the use of digital writing tools in subject-matter teaching at secondary level. With the empirically supported results, it wants to help students use them profitably in text production (focus: classroom research).
The aim of the COLD project is to investigate the professional competences of teachers in schools and adult education when teaching German as a second language in linguistically heterogeneous learning groups (focus: teacher training and professionalization).
Developing concepts, measures and tools
Translating language education into concrete strategies and concepts is a complex challenge. The Mercator Institute cooperates with federal and state ministries as well as with partners from science and practice to jointly develop solutions for the implementation of language education. It advises educational stakeholders on the basis of scientific findings on development and implementation processes, for example on the design of curricula or the implementation of language education concepts. In so doing, it wishes to contribute to initiating systemic changes aimed at achieving universal language education across all educational stages and institutions.
In the initiative Transfer of Language Education, Reading and Writing Support (BiSS-Transfer), concepts for language education, reading and writing support are transferred to up to 2,700 schools and nurseries nationwide on a science-based basis.
Training and staff development for educators
In order for teachers to be able to stimulate and support children and adolescents in their language and content learning development in the best possible way, they must be qualified for language education in increasingly heterogeneous learning groups. In order to support teachers in this task, the Mercator Institute is committed to anchoring language education in all phases of teacher training: during university studies, practical teacher training and staff development.
Since the amendment of the Teacher Training Act (LABG) in 2009, the module German for students of migrant origin (German as a second language module) has been compulsory for all teacher training students in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Mercator Institute is responsible for the teaching programme at the University of Cologne with approximately 1,600 students per semester. For the staff development of educators in nurseries, schools and adult education, the Mercator Institute cooperates with institutions on a regional and state-wide level to develop and implement staff development concepts.
Due to limited time resources and the great demand for further training, educational professionals are increasingly asking for training that they can take at a time that suits them. The Mercator Institute is therefore also developing digital learning opportunities that combine independent learning with digital materials and face-to-face events.
Making knowledge available
Many different stakeholders are responsible for language education: the organizations that run child and youth welfare services; nurseries and schools; and the ministries and authorities at the local and state level. Through its publications and events, the Mercator Institute promotes the transfer of good practice and scientific findings to education policymakers, education authorities and the educational institutions themselves. In addition, it serves as a point of contact for the media. Current research into topical and socially relevant questions of language education is analysed and then made available in a variety of formats – from short basic knowledge and fact checks to detailed studies and expert reports.
In the project Development of a Reference Vocabulary for Schools, researchers are developing an annotated vocabulary, based on the criteria of linguistics and language teaching, in the form of a web-based application.