An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
St. Andrew’s College
Booterstown, County Dublin
Roll number: 60650F
Date of inspection: 27 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Andrew’s College. 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 one day 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 school management and the teachers of German. The inspector reviewed school and subject 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 subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St. Andrew’s College, an interdenominational and coeducational school, was founded by the Presbyterian community of Dublin in 1894. Currently the college houses just under 1000 students and just over 100 teachers. It is a college with an international dimension. The college offers access to the International Baccalaureate to international students and to students who are the children of European Union (EU) agency staff assigned to the Greater Dublin Area. The European Annex of St. Andrew’s College provides mother tongue tuition in five different languages, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, as well as support in learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) to those students who require such support on arrival in Ireland. Since 1984, St. Andrew’s has been fully accredited by the European Council of International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. In this context, the college, and in particular subject departments, including languages, have undergone a rigorous external evaluation as part of the accreditation process. This involves the formulation of a school and subject response to the recommendations arising from such an evaluation. The process has provided an invaluable external perspective to the teachers in the college and has helped to promote a culture of self- review at school and at subject level.
The international character of St. Andrew’s College contributes to raising students’ awareness of cultural diversity: the organisation of such annual college events as the Model European Parliament and the Model United Nations are examples of the ways in which this character is achieved and sustained. Students are encouraged to visit European countries and develop their knowledge of different languages and cultures. This enhances the modern language provision and language learning experience of its students. Students of German also have regular access to intercultural projects and initiatives, the benefit of which was clearly in evidence in their cultural awareness.
Over the years, languages have formed a central strand of the college’s curriculum. School management is to be commended for the diversity of its language provision. Access to languages is open and on entry to the college students are given a choice of languages. In line with the European Council objective of “mother tongue plus two”, St. Andrew’s College facilitates each student in acquiring competence in one modern European language and partial competence in a second modern language. Students are given opportunities to access a second modern language later on in their learning cycle, for example ab initio in Transition Year (TY). Students have, on occasion, the possibility of pursuing studies in Latin and in the classical languages. The uptake of German remains at a constant sustainable number.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning of German and the distribution of those units of time across the week are appropriate and ensure optimal regular class contact with the target language for the students of German. This is commendable. It was reported in the course of the inspection that St. Andrew’s College also provides opportunities to students to avail of exchanges and trips to the target language country.
The college’s mission statement articulates the objective of creating an atmosphere “of students feeling respected and valued” and one “in which their talents, aptitudes and skills are given every opportunity to emerge and develop, and in which they can mature into happy, well-adjusted, self-confident young adults”. It was possible to observe the extent to which this educational philosophy was impacting on the individual classroom and particularly on individual learners in the German language classroom. The above elements enshrined in the mission statement of the college were observed as being implemented in practice in the school and classroom.
Curriculum planning and subject planning are facilitated by school management. In this way, teachers of individual subjects or subject groupings are encouraged to work collaboratively. This helps to promote professional dialogue and to foster consistency of practice across modern languages and may help to ensure the continued development of language learning and teaching in the college. Curriculum planning meetings also add a formal dimension to the many reported informal contacts and discussions among the language teachers.
Curriculum planning for German had been drawn up for the school year 2005-2006, and the yearly plan for the teaching of German was made available and examined at the time of the evaluation. This medium-term planning document contained most of the important elements required for such planning. The plan is detailed, informed by the relevant syllabus and outlines the topics and themes to be covered, the accompanying grammatical structures, lexical items and references to aspects of German life and culture relating to the themes. The work completed to date in this area is commendable. The curriculum plan would benefit however from the inclusion of desirable learning outcomes for each student group, articulated in ‘can do” statements. This would also help to further develop student responsibility for their own learning.
The aim of TY German is to develop in students awareness of the culture of the German speaking community, with particular reference not only to the German way of life but also, through use of authentic materials, the diversity of its cultural heritage. This is achieved through a thematic and interdisciplinary approach. This is to be commended.
There was clear evidence of short-term planning for the individual lessons observed. The level of planning contributed to the good pace of the lessons and to the preparation of appropriate materials, worksheets and availability of appropriate resources. The provision by school management of a teacher-based language classroom facilitated the availability and ready access to resources. The classroom was well resourced: there was a library of German books in one corner and a computer with internet access in another. The integration of a variety of resources and media should be strengthened in order to ensure the continued provision of a modern and challenging educational environment. The addition of technology can augment the range of resources available to language teachers in the language teaching and learning of today. The successful integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) requires not only the necessary resourcing but also the competence and confidence of teachers and learners alike. It is recommended that school management address the provision of ICT training to strengthen the effective integration of ICT into the language classroom.
In classes visited, the pace, content and structure of lessons were purposeful, with time being effectively used. Good teaching and learning were observed. A dynamic, interactive approach to the learning activities held student attention and provided varied opportunities for student participation and interaction. The lessons were presented in a coherent and confident manner, with the purpose of the lessons clearly established from the outset. Students demonstrated true engagement in and enjoyment of classroom activities. For example, in a junior cycle lesson observed, the essential tenor of the lesson was that of learning by doing. The activity deployed in the second half of the lesson was student centred and was a good example of active learning. The focus on grammatical accuracy which could have been perceived as tedious was treated in a fun way where students had to work cooperatively yet competitively as teams. They engaged enthusiastically with the activity with a definite striving for perfection. Instructions and commentary throughout the activity were conducted in the target language and in mother tongue. Opportunities to embed German as the predominant language of instruction and communication were not availed of, which could have been achieved without much effort. It is recommended that the use of target language be consolidated into the good teaching and learning observed.
There was thorough and systematic checking of homework and the noting of vocabulary into notebooks. Lessons generally opened with the distribution of corrected homework copies. This phase of the lesson was conducted bilingually, demonstrating good use of German yet interspersing the use of the target language with recourse to mother tongue. Students’ attention was drawn to errors which had occurred in the homework exercise and these were discussed whilst making good use of the board. Students applied themselves to note-taking and worked on corrections with diligence. At senior cycle, there was more focused discussion on errors and possible improvements. For example, linguistic structures were explained and applied in different ways. This is commendable as it equips learners to apply the language structures acquired in new and different situations, therefore helping students assimilate learning.
At senior cycle, there was also an appropriate focus on examination preparation for the time of the year. The initial presentation of a list of useful vocabulary for use across a number of themes and writing tasks provided students with a helpful tool for revision of vocabulary. The materials subsequently presented also ensured revision of vocabulary and structures across a range of themes. In providing translation of lexical items, students were sometimes provided with a support which they in fact did not always require. For this reason, the use of translation should be gradually decreased. Such a change in approach should be introduced incrementally and consolidated over time.
Students worked on themes in pairs or small groups. When students were asked to work in groups, students organised themselves into working groups effectively and quickly with teacher direction. In assigning group tasks, students were given a choice of theme, which develops independent learning. It was commendable to see the independence with which each group worked. Students demonstrated a commitment to task completion. The integration of skills was achieved through students having to present their work orally to the class group. Such an approach facilitates the internalisation of the linguistic structures which students can then draw upon when under examination pressure. Individual student interventions were both respected and encouraged. Students demonstrated good competence in the written and spoken language.
The approach taken for Transition Year (TY) was appropriately different. The lesson observed was directed at a beginner group with no prior knowledge of the German language. The emphasis was on developing a knowledge and awareness of German speaking countries and culture. The achievement of this objective was clearly in evidence in the course of the lesson. The methodology deployed was very much in line with the philosophy of Transition Year and the recommended approach for Transition Year. Students were required to present a project highlighting some aspect of German culture to their peers. Examples of such projects included: the use of video; a quiz inclusive of all students present; the integration of music into the lesson by students. There was good use of a range of resources including computer, CDs, internet and video. The lesson, and indeed the TY module, would benefit from the integration of a language dimension, incorporating some simple structures and lexical items into the presentations and into student learning. This would augment the cultural learning and would be well within the scope of the learners. Student interest and ability to access additional information on the computer are commendable.
In the course of the inspection, there was also an opportunity to observe students following an International Baccalaureate (IB) syllabus in German. Students listened to a challenging listening text. The nature of the text, the tasks set and the classroom activities were all in line with the objectives of the IB language syllabus. However, the level of linguistic complexity was such that the provision of differentiated work sheets would have made the text more accessible to both higher level and standard level students. This would also have lessened the need for translation of difficult items of vocabulary. Therefore it is recommended that teacher preparation should focus on the development of differentiated learning work sheets. A small class grouping by its very nature requires a greater level of teacher preparation to offset the lack of a group dynamic and interaction. Nevertheless, students were exemplary in their application to tasks and demonstrated reasonable competence in completion of the tasks. It is recommended that the target language be established as the main language of instruction and communication in the German classroom. This would help considerably to revitalise the dormant language competence of the students and optimise the use of contact time with the target language.
Student questions demonstrated a sound understanding of lesson content and learning objectives and students used the target language accurately. Students were encouraged in their use of full sentences. The learners were confident in their use of language and clearly showed an awareness of linguistic structures and were correct in their use. The student written work examined showed a good standard of accuracy. Appropriate exercises to complement and reinforce classroom learning had been provided. There was evidence of frequent practice of the key grammatical structures in German. Innovative ways to practise making the essential progression from the first to the third person were also deployed. This is commendable. The correct use of the past tense was evident in the copies examined, even at an early stage in the students’ learning of the language. The written tasks assigned required students to apply linguistic and grammatical structures in a new context. There were some excellent examples of practice in letter writing and preparation of examination tasks.
Students, in their interactions with the inspector, demonstrated a good level of knowledge of and competence in the language and responded with confidence. They also demonstrated the development of a distinct language awareness of how the structures of the language work.
There is regular assessment of student progress in student oral, aural and written competence. The testing of vocabulary and structures at the end of a unit or theme of work is a regular feature of assessment. Progress is carefully recorded, monitored and reported.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
School management is to be commended for the diversity of its language provision and for its support for languages forming a central strand of the college’s curriculum.
The process of accreditation to the European Council of International Schools has provided an invaluable external perspective to the teaching in St. Andrew’s College.
The optimum time allocation to German and the distribution of class contact time are commendable.
Students of German have regular access to intercultural projects and initiatives, the benefit of which was clearly in evidence in their cultural awareness observed.
Planning documentation for German contained most of the important elements required for such planning and they contributed to the good pace of the lessons and to the effective preparation of materials and resources.
Good teaching and learning were observed. The approach to the learning activities both motivated students and held student attention and provided varied opportunities for student participation and interaction.
Lessons were conducted bilingually, demonstrating good use of German, yet frequently interspersing the use of the target language with recourse to mother tongue.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Planning documentation would benefit from the inclusion of desirable learning outcomes, expressed in ‘can do” statements for students. This would facilitate optimum monitoring of student progress and the further development of student autonomy and responsibility for learning.
It is recommended that teacher preparation should focus on the development of differentiated learning work sheets and tasks.
It is recommended that the use of the target language be consolidated into the good teaching observed.
It is recommended that school management address the provision of ICT training to strengthen the effective integration of ICT into the language classroom.
Post-evaluation meetings were held at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.