An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Assumption Secondary School
Roll number: 60851P
Date of inspection: 24 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Assumption Secondary School. 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, deputy principal and subject teacher. 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.
Assumption Secondary school is a voluntary secondary school for girls. The school offers the following curricular programmes: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year Programme (TYP) and the Leaving Certificate. German is offered in all of the programmes. It is commendable that German is offered at advanced and ab initio level in the TYP. The school is committed to offering students the possibility of studying two languages in this programme. Expanding the range of students’ opportunities to study modern languages in TYP is very good practice.
There is an appropriate time allocation for German. In junior cycle students have four class periods per week. In TYP students study the language for two periods in the ab initio group and for three periods in the advanced group. In senior cycle five class periods are allocated to the teaching of the language. All German lessons are single class periods which promotes effective teaching.
French and German are the two modern languages on offer in the school. Incoming first-year students are allocated to one or other of the languages. At the beginning of the current academic year the first-year students were banded according to ability range. Students in the upper band were allocated to the German class. The present system does not allow for student choice. A committee has been formed in the school to explore the possibility of establishing a ‘taster’ programme in first year. A ‘taster’ programme which includes German and French would be beneficial for the students as it would enable them to make a more informed choice about language options.
There are many resources available to support the teaching and learning of German. Many of these have been acquired personally by the teacher in the course of visits to Germany. The school also funds the purchase of relevant materials on request. There is a variety of German books, novels, magazines, tapes, films and DVDs. There are many class sets of books and also of dictionaries. It is very useful having class sets of resources such as these. At present students of German do not have access to the ICT facilities in the school. It is important to plan for the integration of ICT into the German curriculum and according as resources in the school permit to afford access to computers to students of German.
All German lessons are taught in a base classroom. Desks are arranged in two large groups rather than the traditional row by row arrangement. This layout facilitates teacher circulation and enables students to see one another. This is most conducive to using communicative teaching methodology. This room is very well decorated with maps, posters and photographs relating to Germany. A significant amount of authentic German material is also on display in the classroom, for example German food menus and advertisements for German products. Student project work is also on show. This is good practice as it increases students’ sense of ownership of the learning environment. It was also observed that useful classroom phrases in the target languages were displayed in the room. Creating a print rich environment such as this is laudable.
The German department holds membership of the German Teachers Association and in-service courses are attended regularly. The teacher has also attended in-service courses in Germany and has administered oral examinations with the State Examinations Commission. Such commitment to continuous professional development is to be commended.
There are many cross-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of German. Links are created between Music, History and Home Economics. Earlier in this academic year a school trip was organised for senior cycle students of German. Students visited Germany and Austria. It was evident in the course of classroom visits what a wonderful motivational effect this experience was for the students. The staff and management authorities are to be commended for the organisation of such a trip which enables students to experience the life and culture of the target language countries at first hand.
The school is engaged in school development planning and as part of this process subject departments have been established. The German and French departments work together as a Modern Languages department. This is good practice as it gives all modern language teachers the opportunity to share ideas on best practice.
Yearly plans were presented in the course of the evaluation. These outlined the content to be covered with all class groups. There was also evidence of planning for cross-curricular activities and the development of cultural awareness in the course of the year. This is very good practice. It is recommended that the plans be developed to include specific learner outcomes. This will establish clearly what is expected of learners at the end of a unit of learning. The specific learner outcomes should be expressed in terms of the skills of language acquisition.
The pace of all lessons was swift and engaging. Lesson content in all lessons observed was uniformly very good. In junior cycle students learned how to talk about activities in the past tense. In senior cycle students studied a poem and in the senior cycle (beginners level) students learned how to give directions. It was impressive to see that cultural content was included in some lessons. For example photographs of buildings in Germany were used. The integration of cultural awareness in lessons is good practice and in line with syllabus requirements.
The use of the target language in the classroom was excellent. All of the lessons observed were conducted entirely through the medium of German. It was clear that the learners were used to hearing and responding in German. It was indeed impressive to see young learners able to produce accurate German voluntarily when they wished to communicate something. It was also noteworthy that grammatical explanations were made through the target language. A very successful element is the use of ritual at the beginning of all lessons. Everyday students are asked what day and date it is and what the weather is like. Many classroom phrases are used over and over again. The students are given lots of opportunity to practise and repeat both new and familiar phrases. The development and use of the target language as witnessed in the course of the evaluation is an example of best practice.
A good variety of methodologies was employed in the lessons observed. A very good effort was made to ensure that the skills of speaking, reading, writing and listening were integrated. For example in one instance students were presented with vocabulary and practised this orally. The learners were then required to do a listening exercise on the same theme. This was followed by reading the text of the listening comprehension and finally students carried out a role play. Integrating all skills of language acquisition in this manner ensures that learning is consolidated and is of great benefit to the learners. The use of active teaching methodologies was excellent. For example, in the teaching of word order two teams of eight students were invited to stand before the class. Each student was given a German word. Then the students had to arrange themselves in the correct order depending on which word they had. The remaining students were the judges of the competition. The evidence for the great success of this active methodology was the obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm on the part of the students.
The advance preparation of materials was very good. Colourful photographs and vocabulary had been laminated on white cards and students used these to do matching exercises. Handouts had been carefully prepared and enabled clear presentation. The level of attention to detail in the preparation for lessons contributed greatly to the successful learning that was evident in the course of classroom visits.
The development of language learning strategies in the course of lessons was very good. For example students were presented with a series of sentences in the past tense on the black board. The learners were then asked to recognise the difference between the regular and irregular past participles. Using this inductive approach to the teaching of grammar is very beneficial to the students as they learn to recognise patterns for themselves. Another technique to encourage learners to be reflective in their learning was used in lessons when students were asked whether they found an exercise easy or difficult. The use of language learning strategies as witnessed in the course of the inspection was most effective and is to be highly commended.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was excellent. Students were treated with respect and always called on by name. The learners were encouraged at all times and every effort on their part was treated as a welcome contribution to the lesson. It was clear that the students felt a sense of security in the classroom. The most striking feature of the classroom atmosphere was the enthusiasm and enjoyment that was evident among the learners. The positive and supportive atmosphere generated by the teacher is to be very highly commended. The students are also to be commended for their eagerness to engage in the learning process.
Formal assessment takes place twice a year for all class groups. Reports on students’ achievement and progress are sent to parents following these assessments. In German students are assessed in the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. This is very effective practice as it ensures that progress in all of the skills of language acquisition is being monitored. It also ensures that assessment reflects classroom practice which encourages the development of all the skills in both junior and senior cycles.
Project work is assigned in TYP for both the advanced and ab initio learners. Students are asked to research a topic of their choice which usually relates to some aspect of German culture. The learners are asked to present this in German and in English. Students are given appropriate websites to use for research purposes. Project based assessment in the TYP is very much in keeping with the ethos of this programme and is effective practice.
Homework is assigned regularly and always appropriate to lesson content. This is effective as learners have the opportunity to consolidate new material which has been presented to them. Homework is monitored on a regular basis. As part of the inspection process copybooks were examined. Students in senior cycle are frequently given extended writing tasks. This is good practice as it reflects what is required of the learners in the Leaving Certificate examination. It is recommended that the approach of assessment for learning (AfL) be adopted in the correction of written homework. This would involve “comment only” marking, rather than assigning a grade. In discussion with the teacher it was stated that the students prefer to receive a grade. The research suggests that “comment only” marking can be more effective. It is recommended that a student be required to follow up on a limited number of mistakes in order to ensure that they learn from their errors. Further information on AfL may found on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.