An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Threadneedle Road, Galway, County Galway
Roll number: 62981P
Date of inspection: 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 20 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éinde. 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 the 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste Éinde offers the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Preparation (LCVP) programme to 572 students. Modern languages benefit from a high level of support from management and there are three modern languages on offer in the school: German, French and Spanish. There is a very good level of provision for German in the school and it features in all programmes on offer. Students are taught German in mixed-ability settings and it is school policy to encourage students, when feasible, to take the higher level in State examinations. This is praiseworthy.
The school offers a broad and balanced curriculum to all first year students. In keeping with this philosophy, a six-week ‘taster programme’ is offered to incoming first-year students on a rotational basis in all languages. This is praiseworthy as it allows students to make an informed choice about which language they choose and gives students some insights into the process of learning a new language. On completion of the ‘taster programme’, students are required to indicate their language preference. All students with special educational needs have access to a modern European language. Only a very small number of students with identified special learning needs are exempt from studying a language. Uptake of the three languages is fairly evenly distributed throughout junior cycle with two class groups studying French, one studying German and one studying Spanish currently in first year. School management is to be complimented for its appreciation of the importance of modern languages in the school’s curriculum.
The timetable makes very good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the appropriate time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. The allocation of single class periods to all year groups is commendable as it allows regular and sustained class contact time with the target language.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources. Both teachers of German are qualified to teach the subject and the German department is committed to professional development. One of the German teachers is currently involved in a Comenius partnership project with schools from Germany and Spain. Involvement in such projects is most laudable. The German department renews membership of the German Teachers’ Association the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI) on an annual basis. This membership is paid for by the board of management. The management authorities are to be commended for the support they afford to teachers’ continuous professional development.
The German department has good access to a wide variety of material resources including TV, video recorders, tape recorders and overhead projectors. There is also a computer room in the school and the building is broadband enabled. However, to date, information and communication technology (ICT) has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching and learning of German. However, one of the German teachers has a computer class with first-year students and it is praiseworthy that those students are encouraged to research aspects of German language and culture during that time. The German department stated that, in general, access to the computer room is difficult. In discussions with senior management, it emerged that management will shortly be in a position to subsidise the purchase of a lap-top and data projector for the modern languages department. This is commendable as, when implemented, this measure should further support and promote the sharing of resources as well as the integration of ICT into the language classroom.
Both teachers have dedicated classrooms. This is to be commended, particularly in the case of modern languages, where both the teachers and students can benefit from working in a subject specific environment. There were some displays of maps, posters, a notice board about German items of interest and samples of students’ work on the walls. It is suggested that this practice be further developed to include the further provision of student work and other visual stimuli. This would enable students to absorb many aspects of German language and culture and would be a means to respond to their different learning styles.
There is a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on offer. Coláiste Éinde’s German department encourages students to take part in an exchange programme on offer and through the Comenius project it is hoped that even more opportunities will present themselves. Other co-curricular opportunities available to students include: German films and videos, the experience of cooking for carnival (Fasching) with the help of the native German Higher Diploma in Education (HDip) student currently in the school and involvement in the schools’ annual Language Week. However, it is recommended that the German department support the teaching and learning of the language by providing further co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. For example, the teachers could organise food-tasting events, encourage students to participate in the GDI debating competition and through the ‘taster programme’ interesting and exciting games and songs could be presented to the students as part of the module. Such activities benefit students and enhance the provision for the subject greatly in that they help to maintain the profile of the subject throughout the whole school population.
Coláiste Éinde is actively engaged in development planning. Senior management has emphasised subject department planning and subject departments have been established. The teachers of German, French and Spanish have joined together to form a modern languages department. Teachers are facilitated to meet formally to discuss matters relating to the subject, with informal meetings taking place on the basis of need. Minutes of formal meetings are retained by the principal and teachers.
Planning documentation presented by the German teachers which was specific to German contained yearly schemes of work for each year group, a plan for the successful integration of ICT and several useful websites were listed. Aims and objectives were stated and topics and targets were outlined. References were also made to mixed-ability planning, cross curricular links and the resources underpinning the teaching and learning of German in the school. The initial planning which has been undertaken is good. Teachers are to be commended for the extent and quality of their collaborative subject planning which was simply stated and presented in a clear concise manner.
In the interests of furthering this good practice it is recommended that the desired learning outcomes for each year group be developed in terms of student competencies and specific learning outcomes in the acquisition of the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. This would enable teachers to review their methodologies in light of these outcomes. It is also suggested that a separate plan should be drawn up for the ‘taster programme’ in first year. Revised planning documentation should reflect a thematic structure and should include specific methodologies and strategies for mixed-ability teaching in both junior and senior cycle. The plan should be seen as a flexible ‘work-in-progress’ and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an ongoing basis.
There was evidence of very good preparation for all the lessons observed, with advance readiness of audio equipment, resources and photocopies.
Inspection activities included the observation of four classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students. In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. A pleasant rapport was evident in classroom interactions. Classroom management was uniformly very good and an atmosphere of concentration was strong in almost all cases.
Different teaching strategies were employed by the teachers in their classes. Best practice was observed where the lesson content and the teaching strategies employed were appropriately geared to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. For example, at senior cycle the consolidation of previous knowledge, „Gastarbeiter” (guest workers), was used as a starting point. This good practice was beneficial in anchoring the students and focusing them on the task at hand. Students then progressed to brainstorming and, through a pair- work exercise, a discussion about a poem on the same topic.
In general, lesson pace was set by teacher talk rather than by student activity or questioning. For example, pair work was observed in one lesson only. A balance between teacher talk and student response or activity is required so that optimum learning and student engagement with the learning process can take place. Best practice was observed where there was a variety of tasks used, based on the topic being taught, to ensure student attention and motivation. Where teachers made a good effort to present material in an interesting way, students were engaged in the learning process and participated well. In order to maximise student engagement and participation, it is recommended that further consideration be given to appropriate tasks and a variety of active methodologies to ensure that the abilities of all students are catered for and that students are motivated at all times.
Some commendable use of German as the language of classroom management was observed at senior cycle. For example, German was used to good effect during ‘brainstorming’ exercises and best practice was observed where efforts were made to provide students with German synonyms rather than automatically translating the vocabulary for the students. It is strongly recommended that these strategies be extended to all classes. Strategies should also be developed to consolidate and firmly embed the target language for students at all stages in their language learning. It was observed that where students were comfortable with German as the language of classroom interaction and management they could automatically respond to requests from their teacher. Appropriate attention was also paid to students’ pronunciation and pronunciation errors were highlighted and corrected by teachers in a sensitive manner. This is laudable.
Where there were clear objectives stated at the beginning of the class and the learning objectives were shared with the students at the outset clarity and focus were provided for the lesson. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes so that both teacher and students can assess whether the objectives have been achieved at the end of the lesson.
Language skills were integrated to varying degrees in the lessons observed. An example of good practice was observed at junior cycle where the theme of summer holidays was exploited to good effect by the use of oral work around the use of ‘werden’ to form the future tense. Through the use of a listening comprehension task on the same topic, aural skills were successfully integrated. This integration of skills is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. The listening comprehension was, in turn, productively exploited to incorporate questions related to the students themselves and what they will do during the holidays. A reading comprehension was included on the same topic. This, too, is good practice. However, it is recommended that, during the practice of listening skills post-listening activities should be exploited to provide further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. An example of this would be to examine errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, to replay the tape exercise. This is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard both in Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate aural examinations. It is also recommended that students should be assigned short written tasks around a theme or topic during class time. These ‘mini-paragraphs’ can be further extended and developed as homework, if appropriate.
Formal student assessment takes place on a regular basis. Annual parent teacher meetings for all year groups ensure that parents are informed of the students’ progress. Reports are issued to parents following each formal assessment. ‘Mock’ examinations are held in the second term for students taking State examinations. Common assessment is used where possible. At present students of German are always assessed in reading, writing and listening. It is strongly recommended that formal oral assessment be carried out at all levels in the junior and senior cycles. At junior cycle ‘mini orals’ can be conducted in class time.
The school has a formal homework policy with guidelines on quantity and type of homework available for each year group. This is commendable practice. Students of German are given homework on a very regular basis. In all lessons observed homework was checked. A good effort was made in the course of the lessons to ensure that students understood the homework that was being assigned. Taking time to explain what is required in a homework assignment is effective practice. On examination of students’ copybooks it was evident that written assignments were corrected on a regular basis. It was also noted that some students did follow up on their errors and omissions. This is good practice and teachers should encourage all students to correct their mistakes. It is recommended that the approach of Assessment for Learning (AfL) be adopted to ensure that consolidation of the learning process takes place. More information on AfL is available from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at http://www.ncca.ie/.
A very comprehensive student-profiling system is in operation in the school and this is monitored through the school’s year head system. In German, student progress is assessed and monitored through question and answer sessions in class, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and, of course, formal examinations. The school engages in the good practice of analysing the results of students in the State examinations. It is recommended that the German department extend this analysis of results to inform subject department planning.
There was evidence that students had a good understanding of the work being done in all of the lessons observed as evidenced in the responses to questions asked. They also applied themselves well to tasks given.
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 and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.