An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Ballinteer, Dublin 16
Roll Number: 61010U
Date of inspection: 11 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Wesley 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 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, the modern languages coordinator and to the teachers of German. 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.
Three modern languages, German, French and Spanish are available on the curriculum in the college and students choose one on entry into first year. The study of a modern language is compulsory at junior cycle, unless a student has a particular learning or special need which precludes the study of an additional language. Students in the main do not study more than one modern language in junior cycle. However, option blocks for senior cycle are constructed in such a way as to provide students with the opportunity to take a second modern language, if they so wish.
The numbers in German are currently at a constant level, however, the growth in interest in Spanish has had an impact on the uptake of German. Student numbers are at a sustainable level but the college will need to continue its efforts to maintain those numbers opting for German. In the context of the school’s development planning in relation to curriculum, school management together with the German department should continue and consolidate the excellence of the provision to ensure the continuing uptake of the German. The provision of “Schnupperstunden” or taster lessons in German to 6th class pupils in the main feeder primary schools may help continue to ensure sustainable numbers for German.
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. There are at present two teachers of German in Wesley College. Teachers of German are supported by the board of management in attending available in-service courses, and membership of the German teachers association is funded by the board. Members of staff are also encouraged and supported in pursuing further studies and degrees.
The college has been involved in subject planning and will be supported by SDPI in the coming year in focusing on formative assessment. Subject planning is an ongoing activity with time allocated by school management for this purpose. Minutes of meetings are kept and the agenda is decided by the members of the modern languages department and also items for discussion can be included on the request of school management. There is a modern languages coordinator, an SDP post. The co-curricular and extra-curricular activities associated with modern languages, as well as intercultural projects, involve co-operation across a number of subject departments including, for example, the English and Irish language departments through debating. The college has participated in the German language assistant scheme in 2004/2005 which has worked very well.
The board of management allocates a budget for modern languages for the acquisition of resources for the language classroom, including books, posters, DVDs and other materials. There are a number of core language rooms available for the modern language provision, including specialist language rooms and ICT rooms. Excellent audio, visual and ICT facilities are available. The ICT provision includes on-line PCs in all classrooms, access to two computer rooms, a data projector in the main German language room, TV, internal and external e-mail access for all teachers and students. All of these resources are used extensively. The developments in the college in this area are highly commended. So embedded is the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of German that the German department will represent the modern languages department to form part of a working group of staff to act as the core team in the initial stages of the training and establishment of the college’s virtual learning environment.
Wesley College and the German department in particular offer a variety of student activities to complement the academic work in the classroom. These activities include: interschool debating; participation in the German film project; the organisation and facilitation of a student exchange programme; and school trips to the target language country. In a coordinated effort from the modern languages department, first year students in the current year were given the opportunity to travel to Cologne, Paris or Barcelona depending on the European language being studied. Debating in modern languages is developing in earnest in the college with the formation of German and French debating teams. Notable too is the willingness of the Wesley College students to get involved at different levels, for fun, for competition, for pride in their school. Participation in such initiatives and programmes not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides students with opportunities for development and to contribute to the college as a whole.
The planning documentation made available at the time of the inspection included all the required elements of good planning. The plans are outlined on a year-by-year basis, covering content for junior cycle, for TY and for senior cycle, in line with syllabus objectives and content. In September 2006, parents received a number of documents referred to as Junior Certificate Curriculum and Senior Cycle Curriculum Summaries. The Curriculum Summary is published to assist both students and parents and serves as a guide to the topics and themes being covered in subjects throughout a given year. The summaries for the modern languages outline agreed common aims, objectives and approaches in line with the syllabus and delineate subject content to be covered. The German Summary for Junior Certificate is meticulous in identifying and organising a comprehensive overview of the curriculum content for each year: the topics to be covered; lexical and grammatical items; the communicative objectives to be achieved; the learning strategies; and learning outcomes, in terms of what the student will be doing and able to do. This is exemplary and highly commended.
The German Summary for senior cycle initially outlines the agreed aims and objectives for modern languages at senior cycle, followed by the subject specific overview of themes and topics to be covered, the development of language and cultural awareness, grammatical accuracy and vocabulary acquisition, as recommended in syllabus guidelines, as well as developing strategies for the application of skills and knowledge in the examination context. The document is, as it states, a curriculum summary. However, the planning documentation would benefit from the recording of the full richness of the linguistic and cultural provision which students of the German language experience. The inclusion of the range of methodologies, resources and activities to be deployed, as observed in practice in the course of the evaluation, would enhance the excellent existing planning documentation. It would also provide an opportunity to record for the wider school community the breadth and the quality of the learning experiences provided for language learners by the German teachers.
The TY documentation is in line with the philosophy of the TY and builds on the basis of junior cycle, introducing the concept of developing independent learning and research in readiness for the more mature and demanding curriculum for leaving Certificate, as well as the difference in approach which is adopted at senior level. This is commendable. Further development of the draft TY plan should also take cognisance of the recommendation made above.
A comprehensive inventory of German resources, such as text books, resources materials, DVDs, useful internet sites of interest to students of German, was made available at the time of the evaluation. It is commendable that the German teachers do not depend on the text book as the main resource for teaching, but rather access recent texts from the internet, TV and other media and devise accompanying worksheets, ensuring the authenticity of texts, effective integration of both language and cultural awareness and up-to-date and relevant lesson materials. The decision not to use a specific text book at senior cycle requires a lot of work in selecting appropriate materials, devising and designing accompanying exercises and ensuring the systematic building on student linguistic competence on the part of the German teachers. This level of commitment to both students and subject is highly commendable.
The materials produced by the German department are not only innovative and creative but also student-friendly and reinforce learning in a very unique way to the learners in the college. The Essential German Vocabulary for Junior Certificate is a useful publication produced by the German teachers and teaching materials for use in senior cycle, for example, on German politics were examined at the time of the evaluation. The on-line German-Irish football quiz is also an example of innovation and motivation for learners.
College documentation also records the range of co-curricular in-school activities to complement and augment the learning in the classroom. These include activities such as the German lunch day in the school canteen, contributions to the college’s Green week, a German article in every edition of the college’s student magazine, a German breakfast for senior students, German DVD and magazine lending library, as well as out-of-school activities such as the inter-school debating competition, organisation of staff trips to Germany, as well as opportunities for students to visit the target language country. Visits to Germany form a regular part of the first year calendar for the students of German. There is also comprehensive planning documentation for the planned implementation and organisation of a school exchange programme with a school in Munich.
Excellent short-term planning was evidenced in the lessons observed which contributed to the excellent pace and structure to the lessons and the enjoyment and engagement of students with the lesson content.
The following class groups were visited in the course of the inspection: third year, second year, first year and sixth year.
There was exemplary use of the target language as the language of communication and instruction in the classroom. Students were presented with clear and constant use of the language at every phase within lessons. All teacher interventions in the target language were woven naturally into the interactions in the classroom. Students heard and used a lot of German. New items of vocabulary were explained through the use of synonyms, thus broadening out the vocabulary base of the students and minimising recourse to mother tongue support. When a listening exercise was introduced, simple questions were set in German. The exercise prepared students for examination tasks yet remained in the target language. Teachers paid excellent attention to pronunciation, a skill which is so vital at every phase of student learning and is to be commended. The use of the target language for all classroom interactions was notable, for example, instructions for pair and group work were conducted in German and students were at ease in seeking clarification and in interacting with each other in the target language.
An attractive and effective learning environment had been created for the students with wide ranging stimuli, charts, posters and authentic materials. Students, for example, follow the success of a real Cologne Ice-hockey team and updates on their matches are posted up in the German room on a weekly basis. This provides a very real dimension of interest to young people. In every way, audio, visual and multi media stimulation was provided with excerpts from real German television news to the latest pop song. There were useful phrases for classroom interactions displayed on the walls for student reference. Examples of student work were also displayed. The reinforcement of student learning through the use of visual and aural stimuli and through the use of ICT was exemplary and contributed to students internalising their learning in the target language. Students’ enjoyment and engagement in their learning was palpable and contributed in no small way to the success of that learning. In a first year lesson observed, ICT was used effectively and there was good use of the interactive white board available in the specialist German language room. The effective integration of ICT into the language learning classroom is to be commended.
Very effective work in the integration of skills was observed in the course of the evaluation. Skills development in the areas of speaking, listening, writing and reading was excellent. In a senior cycle lesson observed, the lesson opened with recap of vocabulary for weather and environment which was the subject of the first activity, a listening exercise, a video presentation of the news from the day before. This exercise also focused on preparation for examination techniques, appropriate to the time of the year. The gathering in advance of any difficult vocabulary, as well as the visual stimulus of the television, helped the students in understanding the authentic and therefore relatively complex listening material of the news. The questions to be answered were in German and structured in such a way to allow focused listening and identification of simple facts, figures and key lexical items and phrases. Students demonstrated good understanding and finely tuned development of listening skills. The same listening text was then used for reading comprehension. The initial superficial understanding of the isolated facts and figures required for the listening comprehension was followed by a more intensive global understanding of the news items. The methodologies, as observed, were excellent, retained students’ interest, challenged students to develop their skills further and revised and reinforced material already covered. On-line references were given to the students for self-access in their own time. This is commendable as it serves to develop learner autonomy and independence
Lesson timelines recorded in the course of the evaluation illustrate very clearly the frequency with which activities changed and the integrated nature of the learning activities. The use of vocabulary cards observed in a lesson with a second year group was both informative and innovative. Students had to assign new words into their own individual card system. This resulted in students being actively engaged while acquiring new vocabulary. There was a further example of actively engaging students in lesson content when students were individually asked to seek the correct answer on the computer which was presented for the class on the data projector. Students were attentive and engaged enthusiastically with the activity. In all lessons, it was clear that students were accustomed to pair and group work.
On an occasion, the development of language awareness and grammatical structures was integrated into the listening activity. The simple questions and the appropriacy of the linguistic level of the text allowed for an additional focus on grammar, in particular the place of the verb. On another occasion, revision began with vocabulary items, which students then used in sentences in the accusative and this was followed with an exercise matching pictures with appropriate sentences. The building on student accuracy was very effectively achieved in this way. Where a lesson was focusing on the revision of vocabulary to do with animals, a relevant theme for the junior certificate, students were required to identify the animal and to name it in German, together with the definite article. This is essential for accurate acquisition and retention of lexical items and is excellent practice.
In all lessons observed, the aim of the lesson was shared with the group at the beginning of the lesson. Some lessons closed with some pair work where students applied their learning in interviewing each other. Other lessons closed with fun activity, such as an up-to-date song relating to Berlin, fun yet relevant to the age group in question. On another occasion, the lesson finished with a fun and lively video clip. The inclusion of such items would not be possible without the thorough preparation on the part of the German teachers, in accessing relevant clips and in setting up the required resources for their inclusion in the lessons.
Students were questioned and were competent in answering correctly. Where a question proved to be particularly challenging, teachers were quick to intervene with support to maintain lesson momentum and student confidence. Where required, teachers demonstrated sensitive correction of incorrect answering, of particular importance at the stage of learning and the time of the year with junior certificate imminent. Student work examined showed accurate use of simple German structures, as well as good range of vocabulary and variety in the type of sentence structure, from simple to quite complex. Annotations from teachers were helpful, accurate and consistent. In the main, students demonstrated very accurate use of German and very authentic language use. The good practice of promoting independent use of dictionaries is commended. In this way students become independent of teacher support and begin at this early stage to take responsibility for their own learning.
A very positive classroom atmosphere and stimulating learning environment were experienced at the time of the evaluation. The German teachers demonstrated not only a linguistic competence to effectively model the target language country and community but also a pedagogical competence and an awareness of how learners learn.
Examination of uptake of Higher Level in German in State Examinations and of attainment in those examinations demonstrates the extent to which the objectives of the syllabus are successfully being achieved in the teaching and learning of German. The results of State Examinations are analysed annually by the modern languages department and by the German department and the results of this analysis inform review and planning. This is an example of good practice.
Teachers hold regular class tests, mid term examinations are class based and there are whole school examinations at Christmas and at the end of the year. All skills in the languages are tested through a variety of assessment modes, oral questioning, aural testing and written examinations of reading comprehension and writing. Students of German sit common tests, where applicable. All students from first year onwards have an oral test which is good practice.
The college has a study and homework document which is disseminated to all parents and students and there is a teacher guide for the implementation of the college policy. Parents are kept informed of student progress through parent-teacher meetings, school journal entries and by contact by phone and in person.
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:
· In the context of the school’s development planning in relation to curriculum, school management together with the German department should continue to ensure sustainable uptake of German.
· Planning documentation should reflect the full richness of the linguistic and cultural provision which students of the German language experience. The inclusion of the range of methodologies, resources and activities to be deployed, as observed in practice in the course of the evaluation, would record for the wider school community the breadth and the quality of the learning experiences provided for language learners by the German teachers.
· It is recommended that the German department consolidate their mechanisms of review and evaluation to ensure sustaining the excellence of the practice observed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, with the modern languages coordinator and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.