An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Manor House School
Raheny, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60300B
Date of inspection: 16 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Manor House School, Raheny, Dublin 5. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in German and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and relevant staff. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Manor House School is an all-girls secondary school with an enrolment of 802 students. The school offers the following curricular programmes: the Junior Certificate (JC), the Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the established Leaving Certificate (LC). German is offered in each of these programmes.
In Manor House School there is good provision for modern European languages. German, French and Spanish are offered in both the junior and senior cycles. Prior to entry in first year students select which of these languages they would like to study. In junior cycle all students must study at least one modern language although students have the possibility of studying two modern languages. In senior cycle subject options are generated by student choice and students can also take two languages. The range of choice is commendable.
In the last decade the numbers of students taking German had declined and there is currently no class group taking German for the Leaving Certificate in June 2008. However in junior cycle this situation has been reversed and the uptake for German has now increased significantly. This is due to the proactive approach of the German department who have sought to raise the profile of the language through liaison with feeder primary schools and presentations at parents’ information evenings. The commitment to improving the uptake of German is most laudable.
The school operates a complicated timetable. The school day ends at a different time on four out of the five days. On three out of the five days lessons and breaks commence at different times. This leads to a lot of confusion. On the day of the evaluation a significant number of senior cycle students arrived seven minutes late for class after their morning break. This represents twenty per cent of the tuition time for German on that day. The loss of tuition time for all students in that class was a cause for concern. It is recommended that the school operates a timetable where, in so far as possible, lessons and breaks begin and end at the same time each day.
German is taught in two base classrooms. These rooms are very well decorated with maps, posters and colourful student work. Outside one of the base classrooms is a dedicated language wall where useful information relating to modern languages is on display. Creating such a learning environment is commendable.
Many activities to support the teaching and learning of German are organised. Students are brought to see German films in the Irish Film Institute. A range of events is organised for the European Day of Languages in September each year. Quizzes and German food tasting activities take place. This year a trip to Germany is planned. Providing students with a range of activities such as these is to be commended.
The German department is well resourced. A variety of books, tapes, DVDs, CDs and sets of class readers and dictionaries are available to support the teaching and learning of the language. One of the base classrooms is equipped with an interactive whiteboard. There are three computer rooms in the school. Currently in German only the TY students have access to the computer rooms. It is recommended that where feasible this access be extended to other class groups as the integration of information and communications technology (ICT) into the teaching of German has great potential to enhance the learning of the subject.
Members of the German department are very committed to continuous professional development. They have regular contact with German-speaking countries. The German department holds membership of the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (German Teachers’ Association) and teachers attend meetings of the association. A member of the German department has up-skilled in the use of the interactive whiteboard and the integration of ICT into the curriculum. Such commitment to professional development is most laudable.
Subject department planning is well established in Manor House. The school has engaged with members of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) who have provided in-service to the staff. Modern language teachers work together on planning issues. This is good practice. Formal planning meetings are held twice a term. Agendas for planning meetings are set and minutes are recorded. Issues arising are communicated to senior management. This is praiseworthy. At present there is no coordinator for German. Tasks are shared among members of the team. It is recommended that a coordinator be appointed on a rotating basis.
The long term plans for German are good. The thematic content to be covered by each year group is set out by the term. Student learning outcomes are referred to but not detailed. It is recommended that these plans be further developed to include student learning outcomes in terms of the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. The plans for German in TY ab initio and advanced (i.e. those students who have reached junior certificate standard) adhere to the guidelines and ethos of the programme. The plans for project work and cross curricular activities are impressive.
The individual lessons observed were well planned. Expected/intended student learning outcomes had been thought out and the principles underpinning the communicative approach to language teaching informed lesson planning. Materials were well prepared in advance of lessons. This is praiseworthy.
A variety of effective teaching methodologies was used in the lessons observed. In junior cycle, students worked in pairs on a game that involved using numbers in German. Students’ level of engagement with this activity was praiseworthy. A learner-centred approach was taken in lessons. Students studied themes of interest to them. In senior cycle students were talking about their forthcoming trip to Germany. In junior cycle students made a calendar of all their fellow classmates’ birthdays in German. This learner-centred approach on the part of the German department is at the core of the communicative method of modern language teaching and is to be highly commended.
Good efforts were made to integrate the skills of language acquisition in some of the lessons observed. For example students listened to a tape recording of a dialogue in German. This was then followed by reading and writing tasks. Integrating the skills of language acquisition helps to consolidate learning and is best practice. It is recommended that this be extended to all lessons.
In a lesson observed students were assigned the task of listening comprehension. It was noted that students had difficulty understanding the text of the dialogue. It is recommended that all listening comprehension tasks be preceded by pre-listening activities. These may include brain-storming activities, vocabulary exercises or predictive work on questions. Including such activities at the outset ensures that students experience a greater degree of success in completing aural comprehension tasks.
The use of the target language was generally very good. German was used for classroom management and students readily understood instructions in German. It is recommended that increased opportunities be provided for the learners to interact with one another in German. There is benefit to be gained from maximising the amount of time the students spend speaking the language. It is also recommended that some dedicated pronunciation exercises be undertaken whereby students get the opportunity to practise specific sounds in the language. This will enhance communicative competence.
Student learning was well supported through the use of supplementary materials in particular handouts. These were well made out and contained a variety of exercises. The board was also used to support teaching and learning. In the course of lesson observation some grammatical errors were made on the board. It is recommended that due care be taken when writing German to comply with the rules of German grammar, particularly when the material is likely to influence learners.
Cultural awareness was well developed in some of the lessons visited. In senior cycle students learned about the famous Oktoberfest. The map was used effectively to talk about the province of Bavaria. In junior cycle students watched a short video about Hamburg. The integration of cultural awareness in the teaching and learning of German is a key requirement of the syllabus and is praiseworthy.
ICT was very well integrated into classroom activities in a junior cycle lesson observed. The interactive whiteboard was used effectively to display vocabulary. Students were asked to match vocabulary to pictures. This worked well and was completed entirely in the target language. Using this technology, students were also shown how to use previous certificate examination papers in conjunction with a CD ROM. This was most effective in that it enabled students to receive valuable training around how best to prepare for certificate examinations.
A great emphasis is placed on the organisation of students’ work. Learners have separate copybooks for vocabulary, grammar notes and homework. These are all kept in a most orderly fashion. This arrangement affords students good possibilities for autonomous learning as it was observed that they used these copybooks to look up vocabulary in the course of lessons. Insisting upon and encouraging well-organised student work is excellent practice.
The management of learning activities was very good. When students were given tasks to complete in the course of lessons teachers circulated to assist the learners. This is effective practice. Good discipline was maintained at all times and students were on task. It was noted that all students wear identity badges at all times. This is very good practice. The teacher-student rapport was very good and students were affirmed regularly.
Formal assessment for first, second and fifth year students occurs in the summer and for examination classes at Christmas and in the spring. Reports are sent home to parents/guardians twice a year for all year groups. In German the four skills of language acquisition are tested formally. This is in line with best practice. It was noted that students are informed of the criteria by which their formal assessments are corrected. This is commendable.
A parent-teacher meeting is held for all year groups with the exception of TY. It is recommended that a parent-teacher meeting be included for the parents/guardians of students taking this programme. In TY students are assessed regularly orally, aurally and on written production. Students are also required to complete projects. Students receive a certificate written in German on completion of the year. This is to be commended.
Students are assessed informally on a regular basis. Particularly noteworthy is the manner in which students’ aural homework is assessed at the beginning of lessons. Students’ knowledge of vocabulary is monitored thoroughly. This is exemplary practice. Students have test copybooks which are held in the classroom for use in the course of lessons. Students are encouraged to correct short vocabulary tests themselves. This allows the learners to self evaluate. This is one of the key principles in the approach of assessment for learning (AfL) and is excellent practice.
The school has a homework policy. In the lessons observed students were assigned appropriate homework in line with lesson content. Homework was written on the board and this was duly recorded in students’ homework journal. This is effective. A sample of copybooks was inspected in the course of the evaluation. Students receive comprehensive feedback on written work submitted. It is recommended that the approaches of AfL be further developed and that students be required to follow up on errors they have made. This will consolidate the learning process.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The German department has been proactive in raising the profile of German and the number of students taking German in junior cycle in the school is now increasing.
· The commitment of members of the German department to continuous professional development and to the provision of co-curricular activities is strong.
· The German department meets formally and informally on a regular basis and there is very good collaboration between members of the team.
· A wide range of teaching methodologies was used to good effect. The integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of German was very good.
· Great emphasis is placed on the development of effective language learning strategies among the learners.
· There was a very good student-teacher rapport evident in all lessons visited.
· Regular formal and informal assessment of all the skills of language acquisition takes place.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the issues surrounding timekeeping in the school in general be reviewed.
· Long-term planning documentation needs to be developed to include information on student learning outcomes in terms of the skills of language acquisition.
· The use of the target language in the classroom needs to be extended to include more student–student interaction.
· It is recommended that the approaches of assessment for learning be further developed and that students be required to follow up on errors they have made.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.