An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
St James Street, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61550G
Date of inspection: 11 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS, Kilkenny. 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.
German is well provided for in CBS Kilkenny and is one of three modern languages taught in this voluntary secondary school for boys. Both from the documentation made available and from discussions in the course of the inspection, it is clear that modern languages are a priority in CBS Kilkenny. School management is to be commended for its support for modern languages forming a central strand of the curriculum. Students are actively encouraged to choose a modern language. A two week ‘Taster Programme’ in two modern languages, French and German, is offered to incoming first-year students prior to their making a choice. On completion of the two weeks, students are required to indicate their modern language preference, French or German. This is commendable as it allows students to make a more informed decision about their language choice. Students, for whom a modern language may not be appropriate at the time of entry to the school, are provided with an opportunity to study Spanish ab initio in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). This is commendable practice.
The formation of class groupings is based on a banding system. This enables the formation of two parallel groupings for languages, a higher-level grouping and a mixed-ability grouping. Students are encouraged, if possible and feasible, to take higher level but may take ordinary level in their Junior Certificate. Examination of the timetable has shown that a good effort has been made to spread periods fairly across time slots and days of the week. Given the importance of regular and sustained encounters with a modern language, it is desirable that students engage with a language at frequent intervals across the week to ensure continuity and effective progress. There are single periods assigned to most classes with the exception of fifth and sixth years classes, which are allocated double periods. To achieve the demands of the Junior Certificate syllabus in three class periods a week is a challenge. In the context of optimising class contact time, it is recommended that school management address the question of allocation of time, more particularly at junior cycle, for the coming year.
The most important resource for any language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target language, community and culture. German is well provided for in terms of human resources, with three teachers currently on the staff. A good level of both linguistic and cultural competence and an awareness of how students learn were observed in the course of the inspection.
The fact that there are parallel class groups means there is a greater need to plan together and to share resources. There is good evidence to suggest that the department works as a cohesive team. Teachers share materials and resources and collaborate on the teaching of parallel classes. There is an annual budget for the purchase of materials and teaching aids. Within the overall context of whole school planning, it is valuable that there is a German base classroom assigned to the teaching of German. The availability of a language base room provides an opportunity to further support and promote the sharing of resources. Locating the available resources into the one centre may also allow for greater and ready access to different media, DVD, Video, as well as the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the language classroom. To date, ICT has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching of German. In discussion with inspectors, teachers articulated training in ICT to be a stated need for the German department. It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) should be addressed by school management at languages level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects.
CBS Kilkenny provides access for Transition Year (TY) students to travel to Germany each year as part of their TY programme. This opportunity to travel to Germany is to be commended as it complements the teaching and learning of German and provides students with first-hand cultural experiences.
Planning documentation provided by school management outlined the position of languages within the curriculum provision of the school. As mentioned above, the school’s position and support in relation to modern language provision underpins the work of the language teachers. A subject planning meeting is facilitated by school management at the beginning of the school year as part of the School Development Planning process. School management should consider broadening this out to the introduction of collaborative planning across languages.
The German teachers have developed an agreed programme of work for each year group, while at the same time respecting and acknowledging both different teaching and learning styles. The aims articulated in the German teachers’ planning documentation were being implemented in practice in the lessons observed. For example, implementation of the aim of ensuring that students can use and speak the target language was clearly in evidence from first to sixth year. The creation of a sense of discovery or adventure in acquiring a new language, another stated aim, was very much in evidence in the junior cycle lessons observed. All lessons observed were well prepared as seen from their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Examples included the preparation of handouts for students and the preparation of differentiated questions for a text being used in class. Targets for progress from year to year were addressed in a general way in planning documentation. The communicative tasks to be achieved were outlined, as were the grammatical items required to complete these functions. This is in line with syllabus guidelines and objectives and is to be commended.
Planning for the two ability groupings requires appropriately different emphases and focus. In this context, the need to reach a balance between encouragement and challenge in mixed-ability groupings was acknowledged by teachers in discussion with inspectors. It is recommended that planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle be reflected in revised documentation. Teachers were conscious of their responsibility to their learners in covering all aspects of the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. The need for the development of particular strategies and approaches with certificate examination groups had also been taken into account. This is to be commended. The achievement of standards and the development of a work ethic of commitment and application were also objectives recorded in planning documentation. The personal commitment of the German teachers to their students and to their subject is acknowledged and commended.
This subject inspection report may provide a timely opportunity for the teachers of German to review planning documentation. Therefore it is recommended that a revised single agreed planning document be produced in electronic format, which may be more readily adapted from year to year, and easily disseminated within the school community. Wider access would also promote the stated aim of the development of learner autonomy and self evaluation. The incorporation of more specific learning outcomes for each year group or class group would help in this regard. For example, the plan could specify achievable learning objectives. This could be in the form of simple differentiated ‘will do’ or ‘can do’ statements, which make it clear to the student what specific targets they must achieve.
The six class groups visited in the course of the inspection included: first year (two groups), second year, third year, fifth year and sixth year. In all lessons observed, the teachers, through clarity of direction, choice of material and attention to oral and written accuracy, created a language environment in which all students could learn. The classroom atmosphere as observed was conducive to learning, classroom interactions were characterised by mutual respect and students were in the main purposeful and committed in their work.
The use of the target language German as the main language of instruction and communication was clearly in evidence. This was particularly effective with learners at the stage where they were being introduced to the language and who had, therefore, a restricted language base, as it demonstrated clearly how the target language can be firmly embedded in the classroom at every stage of learning. Students, even at this early stage in learning, were encouraged to answer with full sentences. This was particularly commendable. It was evident that students were well used to German being the language of communication and instruction on a daily basis. There was judicious recourse to English, particularly in lessons with a concentration on examination preparation. In senior classes, the use of the formal register „Sie” is to be commended, as it allows for practice for the German oral examinations and simulates the true cultural reality of social interaction in the target language. It is recommended that the use of the target language be consolidated and firmly embedded in practice for students at all stages in their language learning.
A wide range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, the integration of games, a ‘hot-seat’ type interview, pair-work and group-work. The organisation into work groups was affected efficiently. It was clear that students were accustomed to pair and group work. Roles were distributed in the target language on most occasions. Teachers were attentive to individual learners, as well as managing the work of the group. The choice of methodology and theme was appropriate to the age and interests of the groups in question. The use of an e-mail message, for example, as comprehension and as a basis for the homework task was particularly commendable, as it prepares students for using the language in real life situations, and fosters interest and motivation. The integration of games into the language classroom, as observed, is an effective means of sustaining motivation and achieving the objective of enjoyment of learning, and is an example of excellent practice.
Lessons were well-planned and prepared by all teachers. This high standard of preparation is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly. The theme of the lessons observed at senior cycle had an appropriate examination focus for the time of the school year. There was evidence of detailed and well thought out planning, where appropriate work sheets to focus students on accuracy and language awareness had been developed. On some occasions, the meticulous work in establishing and reinforcing the learning in relation to the lesson content impeded the pace of the lesson. The lesson activities observed were thorough, systematic and effective. The activities, however at times, could have been completed at a more challenging pace.
The revision work observed at junior cycle in preparation for an examination task was appropriate and effective. The focus initially was on individual vocabulary items, which both encouraged and reassured the learners, which was necessary and well judged for the group in question. This is commendable. Lesson timelines recorded in the course of lesson observation demonstrate the variety of activities deployed in revising the particular theme. The introduction of some restriction on the time allocated to each task, in particular to the group work, may have been more appropriate, at this time so close to the Junior Certificate examination. The variety of tasks assigned was designed to facilitate the development across the receptive and productive skills. Learners demonstrated more developed competences in the receptive skills of listening and reading. Where student utterances occurred, these oral interventions were affirmed and students were encouraged in their use of the target language.
The work on vocabulary acquisition observed over a number of lessons was very good. Students recorded in a systematic way, and both intonation and pronunciation were practised while the vocabulary was being introduced. The use of a base text book provided structure and a systematic approach to the acquisition of lexis and grammar. Care should be taken that all students systematically record all new lexical items introduced in the course of the lesson. The use of the whiteboard or overhead projector is recommended in this regard. There was some good work observed in the use of synonyms to broaden out the vocabulary base of students.
An example of an integrated approach to language acquisition recommended in syllabus guidelines was used to good effect in senior cycle. There was an obvious link to work already covered, and the learning was then broadened out to develop students’ linguistic skills. In their oral responses, students demonstrated an ability to communicate and used reasonably correct German. It was commendable to see their independent use of dictionaries while engaged in pair work. Students were also encouraged to consult their own notebooks, in checking, for example, lists of verbs. This shows the development of a systematic approach for students to organizing their own learning and is commendable. The lesson observed was characterised by variety, yet with an unequivocal clarity of goal and direction. It was clear that students were developing their competence across the skills.
The integration of literary texts is one of the stated objectives of the Leaving Certificate syllabus, providing excellent insights into the target language community and culture. The integration of an authentic literary story into one lesson observed was commendable and was achieved in a simple and effective way. The text was carefully chosen, thematically linked to the previous exercise observed and included a variety of useful yet accessible linguistic structures. This is commendable. As previously observed, an accompanying written exercise had been prepared, on this occasion at two levels of difficulty, for students preparing for two levels of examination in the language. Senior students were engaged in their learning, applied themselves to tasks set with diligence and demonstrated a striving for improvement. There was a good range of activity and variety in approach, where students worked individually on a text, in pairs on the accompanying worksheet and then responded to teacher questioning as class group. This approach is in line with syllabus guidelines and is to be commended.
When putting questions to the whole class group, especially in the context of a mixed-ability grouping, it is important to allow adequate time for student reflection and to integrate student responses and interventions into the lesson content, ensuring the whole class has also benefited from the exercise. It is recommended that mechanisms be developed by which student interventions can be affirmed, sensitively corrected and integrated into the learning for all students.
It was clear in the junior cycle lessons observed that a level of enjoyment of learning had been attained and was being sustained. Students not only understood the new linguistic structures acquired, but they were able to apply them correctly in different and new situations. This impression was reinforced when the inspector interacted with students. In interaction with the inspector, students at senior cycle were reflective, correct in their answering and demonstrated a clear understanding of sentence structure and grammatical rules. Students required some guidance in articulating their awareness of language structures and seemed to be dependent on teacher support. It is recommended, particularly at senior cycle, to further develop strategies which would promote independence from teacher support and learner autonomy. Examples were observed where students were encouraged to be reflective in their learning and to note differences in vocabulary between written and oral texts. The work observed at junior cycle promoting independent learning, as exemplified by the interview spotlight, should be continued into senior cycle. ICT is particularly effective in the development of independent learning and in sustaining motivation for all levels of ability. Students could also be given advice as to how they could, successfully, use computers to support the learning of German at home and how to access authentic German sites.
Where teacher base classrooms were available, students’ work was displayed on the walls to very good effect. This not only affords students ownership of their learning environment but provides learners with valuable visual stimulation. This is very laudable as it reinforces visually what the students are learning aurally. Colourful maps of Germany were displayed in the base classrooms and this provided an integration of cultural awareness and a geographical knowledge of the target language country. The presentation of such colourful, authentic material is to be praised as it greatly enhances the learning process.
Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level. Assessment such as regular homework, vocabulary tests and testing of grammatical items are designed to facilitate consolidation of learning and to give students confidence and experience to further their learning, as articulated in planning documentation. The timing of the first year test in November gives students time to establish a work pattern in the language which is commendable. Students are assessed at the beginning of fifth year prior to being allocated to the class group most appropriate for them.
Homework was assigned at the end of all classes observed and instructions given by the teacher were clear and concise. It was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic covered. There was a range of syllabus related work evident in copies seen and there was evidence to indicate that teachers are monitoring copybooks. There was some evidence of formative assessment and the good practice of correcting and dating work and writing evaluative comments on work is to be commended. However, students should also be presented with further learning opportunities in the form of follow up on their homework errors, as the examination of student errors affords the student to reflect on their learning and allows them to actively participate in their own learning process.
A range of assessment modes is deployed. Ongoing assessment is done through class questioning, the setting of homework and end-of-topic examinations. Formal assessments take place for all non-examination years at Christmas and summer. Examination years sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Teachers assess students in the different skills of language acquisition, with a project work included as part of summer examination results for some classes.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· School management is to be commended for its support for modern languages forming a central strand of the curriculum.
· The German department works as a cohesive team, sharing materials and resources and collaborating on the teaching of parallel class groups. This is commendable.
· The German teachers have developed an agreed programme of work for each year group and the aims articulated in the German teachers’ planning documentation were being implemented in practice in the lessons observed.
· There was evidence of detailed and well thought out planning.
· Some of the effective teaching approaches deployed included: an integrated approach to language acquisition; the integration of literary texts; systematic vocabulary acquisition, pair-work and group-work and the integration of games.
· To date, ICT has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching of German.
· There was consistent use of the target language as the language of instruction and communication in the German classrooms.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In the context of optimising class contact time, it is recommended that school management for the coming year address the question of the allocation of time, more particularly at junior cycle, and the distribution of units of time across the week.
· It is recommended that a revised single agreed planning document be produced by the German department in electronic format, which may be more readily adapted from year to year, and easily disseminated within the school community. The plan should specify achievable learning objectives for each class group.
· It is recommended that the use of the target language be consolidated and firmly embedded in practice for students at all stages in their language learning.
· Care should be taken in ensuring the most appropriate pace for lessons.
· ICT should be integrated into language learning and used for the development of independent learning and in sustaining motivation. It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) be addressed by school management
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.