An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Athlone, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63190M
Date of inspection: 5 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in The Marist College, Athlone. 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 teacher. 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.
The modern languages offered as part of the curriculum in the Marist College, Athlone are German and French. The current academic year has seen a change in the manner in which incoming first year students are offered and ultimately choose their optional subjects. Up to 2005, students chose subjects before they entered the school. In September 2005, a ‘taster’ programme was introduced for all first-year students. This ‘taster’ programme enables the students to take both German and French. At the end of first year the students will decide which language they will continue for the remainder of their junior cycle. It is most praiseworthy that such a ‘taster’ programme is on offer and that students have the opportunity of studying two modern languages for a full academic year.
The numbers taking German throughout the school (excluding first year) are relatively low in comparison to those taking French. It can be expected that these numbers may increase given the introduction of the ‘taster’ programme. It is suggested that the ‘taster’ programme will need to be monitored and reviewed by the school management and staff over the next number of years particularly with regard to its duration and also to the human resources implications that any increase in the number of students taking the language may have.
The teaching of German is carried out with dedication and professionalism by highly experienced personnel. Great commitment to continuous professional development is noted. This was evidenced by regular attendance at in-service courses offered in the local education centres in conjunction with the Gesellschaft Deutschlehrer Irlands (German Teachers’ Association). The teacher acts as an official oral examiner for the state examinations commission each year and has more recently concentrated upskilling in the area of ICT. Such commitment to professional development is very highly commendable.
The time allocated to the teaching of German is good and in line with national norms. It is good practice that single periods are allocated to the teaching of German as this facilitates regular daily contact with the language which in turn facilitates language acquisition. It is commendable that the sixth year students have six class periods per week for the language. The school timetable is organised in such a way that first two classes in the afternoon are of thirty-five minutes duration and the last class of the day is of thirty minutes duration. It is suggested that consideration be given to increasing the length of the last class period of the day as thirty minutes is very short.
A wide range of resources is available to support the teaching and learning of German. There are many books, magazines, authentic materials, posters, tapes and CDs. There is no official budget for the subject. Resources are purchased when necessary. A most impressive array of authentic resources had been acquired by the teacher through many trips to the target language countries. It is recommended that an inventory be taken of all existing resources with a view to documenting when and how they will be used exactly and also with a view to updating them.
A dedicated classroom is available for the teaching of German. This is a spacious room which allows for group work, pair work and teacher circulation. It was noted however that one of the students’ seats was placed in such away that it is impossible to see the teacher or white board. It is recommended that this seat be permanently removed and the area be blocked so as to ensure that no student sits in a place which may ultimately impede the learning process.
The school is actively engaged in school development planning and as part of this process subject department planning is being developed. Subject department meetings are held four times in the course of the school year. This represents a supportive time allocation to the process and is to be commended.
Yearly plans and schemes of work were presented in the course of the evaluation. These plans were prepared with thoroughness and outlined many of the aspects of the programme for German across all years. The subject plan for German includes information on the content, the class work, homework and assessment to be covered in the different years. To enhance the plans, it is recommended that learning outcomes be specified in the plans. This would ensure that what the learner is to achieve in any given lesson remains the focus of planning and of the implementation of such plans. It is stated in the plans for senior cycle that a day in the week is assigned to oral and aural work. It is strongly recommended that efforts be made to plan for the integration of the skills of language acquisition. Best practice for the teaching of modern languages indicates that students learn more effectively when they practise the skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing in the same class. This approach will help to consolidate learning for the students.
In all lessons observed the pace and content were appropriate to the needs of the learners. The theme of sport formed the basis for lesson content in one of the junior-cycle lessons observed. The students found this very interesting and were given lots of opportunities to give their opinions and express their likes and preferences regarding different types of sport. In a senior cycle lesson observed, the theme of language learning formed the lesson content. Students were asked to talk about what activities they undertake when learning German. This is effective practice and in line with syllabus requirements.
A variety of effective teaching methodologies was witnessed in the course of the evaluation. In some of the classes observed particular attention was paid to integration of the skills of language acquisition. For example in a senior cycle class observed the theme of language learning was introduced to the students. The learners were initially asked to do a listening comprehension on the theme. In the course of the listening comprehension the teacher circulated in order to view the students’ work. This is good practice as it ensures that the teacher is fully aware if any individual student has difficulties. This can then inform class work and appropriate correction of this work. The listening comprehension was followed by oral work in which students were asked to use the vocabulary they had just heard on the tape. The homework assigned was a written exercise based on what had been practised aurally and orally. This is most effective practice and ensures that learning is consolidated.
The teaching of German was carried out with good regard for the differentiated levels of the students. For example in a senior cycle class observed, different tasks were assigned to students taking higher and ordinary level German in the state examinations. This was done expertly and teaching time was maximised to help all students. This class was devoted in part to teacher-led correction of mock examination papers. This was expertly done in a manner that was most helpful to the students. The learners were given very thorough feedback on their scripts and on how to make improvements. This process enabled students to see where they had made errors and how they could improve. Ensuring follow up on examinations taken by the students such as was witnessed in the course of this class is highly commendable practice.
The use of the target language in the lessons observed was generally very good. The management of classroom activities was conducted through German. In one of the lessons observed students worked in pairs in German discussing their favourite hobbies. It is suggested that opportunities for student-student interaction be extended to all classes as this maximises the opportunities for the learners to use the target language. When preparing students for pair work activities, it is recommended that the proposed activities be modelled at a whole-class level initially to ensure that all students understand what is required of them.
The development of cultural awareness was emphasised in the teaching and learning of German through out the year. A most impressive project on the Weltmeisterschaft 2006 (The World cup 2006) was on display in the classroom. Students talked very enthusiastically about the work they had done for this. Students had also done project work on Mozart, as this is the year of his 250th anniversary. It is most effective that current topics were chosen to develop cultural awareness. This is very good practice and in line with syllabus requirements.
The atmosphere in all classes was caring and discipline was sensitively maintained. Student behaviour was exemplary and mutual respect characterised all student-teacher interactions. It is particularly noteworthy that when a group of students was called out of class to attend a rugby match that the students were wished good luck by the teacher and asked where they were playing the match in German. This is characteristic of the supportive atmosphere which was evident in the classroom at all times. Such an atmosphere creates a very positive environment and is conducive to learning.
In the classes observed students engaged readily and enthusiastically with learning activities. Students asked questions to clarify aspects of lesson content and were on task at all times. It was clear from looking at recent assessments of learning at senior cycle that students were well prepared for the state examinations and were thoroughly familiar with layout and type of assessments.
Continuous assessment takes place throughout the year, on average once every four weeks. This will normally occur at the end of a unit of learning or of a chapter of a textbook. Regular assessment of student learning is in itself very good practice. Very good records were kept of these assessments, which is equally effective practice, as this will inform teaching and further learning.
Formal assessment takes place at Christmas and in the summer for all year groups. In the first and second year of the junior cycle students receive a written assessment only. It is recommended that oral and aural assessments be given in these years. This is very much in line with best practice in the communicative method of teaching where the focus is on enabling the learners to understand and produce the target language. It is important therefore that students’ listening and speaking skills be assessed.
Homework was assigned in all lessons observed. Care was taken to explain the nature of the homework assignments to be undertaken by the learners. Copies were corrected on a regular basis and useful comments were written at the end of written assignments. It is suggested that a formative approach to this type of assessment be taken and that students be asked to correct a limited number of their mistakes. This practice will ensure that the learning is consolidated. Further information on assessment for learning can be obtained at www.ncca.ie. In the junior cycle students receive regular homework. Much of this homework is based on exercises in workbooks. It is suggested that in order to build on this good practice that a small amount of written productive work be done by the students in copies. This written work should be based on the themes of the junior certificate syllabus.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
A ‘taster’ programme has been introduced this year for first year students. This enables these students to study two modern languages.
An appropriate amount of time is allocated to the teaching of German.
The teaching of the subject is carried out with dedication and professionalism.
Subject department planning is being developed in the school and time is allocated to departmental meetings.
Yearly plans have been developed for the teaching and learning of German
The lesson content in all classes observed was most appropriate to the needs of the learners
Discipline was sensitively maintained and a very good atmosphere prevailed in all the lessons observed.
Good language teaching methodologies were observed. In order to build on good practice more oral work should take place in the junior cycle with students being given a chance to interact with one another in the target language.
Homework is assigned regularly, student learning is assessed on a continuous basis and formal assessments take place at Christmas and in the summer. It would be beneficial if formal oral assessments took place in the junior cycle.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A review of existing resources should be taken with a view to updating these.
In the planning for the teaching and learning of German, emphasis should be placed on expected learner outcomes and the integration of language skills.
It is recommended that formal aural assessments take place in all years in the junior cycle.
Students should always be required to follow up on homework assignments in order to consolidate the learning process.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.