An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Saint Mary’s Secondary School
Glasnevin, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60770P
Date of inspection: 23 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Mary’s Secondary School, Glasnevin. 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 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 subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Mary’s is an all girls secondary school with an enrolment of 654 students. The school offers a comprehensive range of curricular programmes including Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TY), Leaving Certificate (Established) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). It is commendable that German is offered in all the programmes.
The school offers German, French and Spanish throughout junior and senior cycles. It is to the school’s credit that three modern languages are on offer. Currently, incoming first-year students undergo assessment procedures and are banded accordingly. The first band of students takes French and German in the junior cycle. It is laudable that a sizeable cohort of students takes two modern languages at this level. It is equally praiseworthy that all students, including students with special educational needs, take at least one modern language.
A curriculum review is currently underway in the school and a ‘taster’ programme for first-year students is likely to be introduced in the next academic year. This will give students the opportunity to make fully informed decisions regarding subject and language choice and this progressive move is to be welcomed. Inevitably this will bring considerable changes in the uptake of languages. It is recommended that due consideration be given to the implications of such changes, in particular in the area of human resources.
The time allocation for German is very good. Four periods a week are allocated to the subject in the junior cycle. In TY there has recently been an increase in allocation from two periods per week to four. This has reportedly had a very beneficial effect on the teaching of the language. In the senior cycle students have five class periods per week. In addition this year extra human resources have been deployed to facilitate the formation of an extra leaving certificate class for students taking the subject at ordinary level. This is proving most beneficial to the students concerned who are receiving intensive tuition in the language. The school management authorities are to be commended for the provision of this extra class.
The German team comprises three qualified teachers. The teachers have spent extended periods of time in the countries of the target language and are most committed to professional development. A school membership of the GDI (German Teachers’ Association) has been funded by the school management and teachers have in the past attended the annual conference and workshops run by the association. In addition, members of the German team act as oral and written examiners for the state examinations. Such commitment to professional development is commendable.
There is no official budget for the provision of resources to support the teaching and learning of German. Resources are purchased on a needs basis. Considerable investment has been made over the past year in the provision of CD players for all languages. There are books, videos, DVDs, tapes and magazines available. At present there is no dedicated area to store resources. It is suggested that it would be useful if an area could be found where all resources for German can be held. It is recommended that some extra reading material, such as easy readers and short novels be acquired if resources permit.
Students are classroom based. This essentially means that it is very difficult to display maps and posters relating to the target language countries on walls. Another disadvantage of the present arrangement is that CD players, books and copybooks have to be carried from room to room. This can prove quite difficult. It is recommended that, resources permitting, consideration be given to introducing base classrooms for teachers.
Many activities have been organised to support the teaching and learning of German. For the past number of years students have availed of school trips to Germany. These trips have been very popular with the students and have raised the profile of the subject in the school. The students have in the past had links with the German department of Dublin City University (DCU) and had the opportunity to take part in cultural awareness activities. Forging links with third level institutions brings many benefits to second-level students. Each year the language departments in the school work together to organise activities for the European day of languages in September. Students are brought to the cinema to view German films. Engaging in a wide range of co- curricular activities such as those outlined greatly enhances the provision for the language and is highly commendable.
The school is actively engaged in development planning and subject departments have been established. The German team meets very regularly on a formal and informal basis. There was evidence of good collaboration within the team. At formal meetings agendas are followed and records are kept of issues discussed and decisions taken. This is very good practice. Teachers meet informally in their own time to discuss the day to day issues pertaining to the teaching of German in the school.
Yearly plans have been developed and were presented in the course of the evaluation. The plans outline the themes that are covered with all year groups. The themes chosen follow the requirements of the syllabus. It is recommended that these plans be further developed to include specific learning outcomes relating to each of the skills of language acquisition. The yearly plan for TY includes project-based activities and the development of cultural awareness through songs and films. This is indicative of appropriate planning in the context of this particular programme.
Some elements of ICT are integrated into the teaching of German in certain year groups. It is recommended that a plan for the inclusion of ICT in the teaching and learning of German be drafted. This plan could include the possibilities of enhancing the teaching and learning of the language through the use of appropriate internet sites and software packages.
Lessons observed were uniformly well paced and were characterised by enthusiasm and energy. Good advance preparation meant that activities were clearly structured and the appropriate methodologies were used. In all of the lessons observed learning was well supported through the use of CD players, the blackboard, photographs and handouts. A wide variety of well thought out handouts contributed most effectively to the teaching and learning processes in all lessons. It was noted that students were well able to carry out the tasks assigned to them on the handouts. This was an indication of the appropriateness of the exercises.
The lesson content was very good and appropriate to the needs of the learners. For example, in some senior-cycle teaching observed students were practising a role play which forms part of the prescribed Leaving Certificate material. In another instance, students studied the theme of health and fitness. In junior cycle, students were observed learning to describe their families. In order to introduce this topic, photographs of The Simpsons (from the popular television show) were used. Students reacted most positively and with interest to this. In another junior-cycle lesson students learned the vocabulary relating to having a birthday party. Choosing lesson content based on the interests of the students and in line with syllabus requirements is most praiseworthy.
The use of the target language was excellent. German was used effortlessly in all lessons to interact with the students. This was done on a variety of levels, for example to issue typical classroom instructions, to introduce new topics and to explain new vocabulary. It was clear from the learners’ reactions that this was commonplace and that they understood quite advanced levels of communication in the target language. Many learners were well able to interact in German. This was evidenced by their classroom contributions and in their interaction with the inspector. To enhance the use of German, it is suggested that strategies to increase the level of student –student interaction be developed. The excellent and consistent use of the target language is undoubtedly contributing to a high level of proficiency in the learners and is to be very highly commended.
A variety of effective methodologies was witnessed in the course of the evaluation. Pair work was used in all lessons to very good effect. For example in a senior-cycle lesson students were asked to work in pairs to put words in the correct order to form a sentence. This exercise formed very good scaffolding for oral work which was done later in the lesson. In another senior-cycle lesson the learners worked well in pairs to answer the question Wie bleibt man fit und gesund? (How does one stay fit and healthy?). A very good effort was made to integrate the skills of language acquisition. For example in a junior-cycle lesson students practised the ‘modal’ verbs, müssen (to have to) and wollen (to want to). Students were then asked to speak about what they would need for a party using these verbs. This was followed by writing and listening exercises on the same topic. Integrating the skills of listening, speaking and writing and interweaving grammatical awareness at the same time is an example of excellent practice.
The development of a number of very good language learning strategies was in evidence in some of the lessons observed. Rituals were used to good effect. For example at the beginning of a senior-cycle lesson students were asked general questions about themselves and what they had done at the weekend. This was obviously common practice. Regularly beginning lessons with short German conversations is very good practice. In a junior-cycle lesson students sang the happy birthday song in German. This ritual is a further example of good practice. Student use of idioms was also encouraged to good effect. For example a senior cycle class had been given a list of idiomatic expressions which they could employ whatever theme was being studied. As a result students were well able to produce very idiomatic German. This is an example of excellent practice.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons visited was very good. Student teacher rapport was excellent. This rapport was characterised by mutual respect and students were encouraged at all times to contribute to the lesson. Errors were corrected in a most sensitive manner and it was evident that students felt a strong sense of security in the classroom. Teaching was carried out in a pleasant, good-humoured and professional manner. Staff and students are to be commended for creating an atmosphere that is most conducive to learning.
Student learning is formally assessed at Christmas and in the summer. Reports of students’ achievement in these formal assessments are issued to parents. Parent-teacher meetings are held for all year groups on an annual basis. The skills of reading and writing are always formally assessed in junior and senior cycles. In addition oral and aural assessments take place in the senior cycle. It is recommended that formal oral and aural assessments be administered in the junior cycle. The aural component of the Junior Certificate examination accounts for 43.5 % of the total marks. It is therefore essential that students are accustomed to formal aural tests. Equally these tests will provide useful feedback to the teachers which will in turn inform teaching practice.
The German department has developed its own homework policy. This document outlines practice and procedures for the administration of homework in the German lessons. This is good practice. Appropriate homework was assigned in all lessons. This was carefully explained to the learners to ensure that they would be able to complete it. Inspection of student copybooks revealed that written homework is thoroughly corrected on a regular basis. Positive and affirming comments were written at the end of students’ exercises. This is good practice. It is recommended that students be required to follow up on a limited number of mistakes. It is suggested that some time be allocated to this activity in the course of lessons which would allow teachers explain to individual students the nature of their errors. Further details on assessment for learning (AfL) are available on the website of National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie
Student notebooks and copybooks revealed a high level of organisation. The learners had vocabulary notebooks where all new words and phrases were recorded. In the senior cycle students had large folders of carefully organised learning materials which were filed according to each section of the course. It was evident that students were trained in these organisational skills. In some classes students are allocated marks for maintaining their materials in an organised manner. This is an example of excellent practice. Encouraging students to develop organisational skills greatly enhances the learning process and is to be highly commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
There is very good provision for languages. It is highly commendable that all students in the school study a modern language in the junior cycle
There is a good time allocation for the teaching of German
The school is actively engaged in development planning and a subject departmental structure has been established
Yearly plans for the teaching and learning of German have been drafted. Individual lessons were very well planned
All lessons were well structured and paced. Lesson content was very good and in line with syllabus requirements
The use of the target language in the lessons observed was uniformly excellent
The teaching methodologies employed were most effective and appropriate to successful language learning
The classroom atmosphere was uniformly very good and student-teacher rapport was excellent
Formal assessment takes place at Christmas and summer
The German department has established a German homework policy
The organisation of students’ copybooks and notebooks is highly commendable.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
In light of the possible introduction of a taster programme for first-year students, it is recommended that the full implications for human resources be considered
It is suggested that suitable storage space for German resources be found
Due consideration should be given to the provision of base classrooms for German
Yearly plans should be developed to include specific learning outcomes in the skills of language acquisition
A plan for the integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of German should be developed
Teaching strategies to increase the level of student –student interaction in the classroom should be developed
It is recommended that oral and aural skills always be formally assessed in the junior cycle
The approach of assessment for learning (AfL) should be developed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Consideration of implications for German teachers upon possible introduction of taster programme for 1st year.
Provision of storage cupboards for German department for equipment.
Time availability to be provided for further planning at Department level.