An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Our Lady’s Bower
Retreat Road, Athlone, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63210P
Date of inspection: 3 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s Bower Secondary School, 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 inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspectors reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy 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 Our Lady’s Bower and is one of two modern languages taught in this voluntary secondary school for girls. It features in all programmes on offer in the school: Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Transition Year and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
Prior to entry, first year students are invited to attend both an open evening and an induction morning with their parents to inform themselves of subject options and to meet the staff. Students are asked to indicate their modern language preference by choosing from a subject options list. All junior-cycle students are required to study at least one modern language but there is also the possibility of studying two. In recent years, the staff has taken proactive steps to increase the number of students opting to study German. As a result, the number of students wishing to take German at junior cycle has increased. It is laudable that the staff has taken the initiative to safeguard the long tradition of the provision of German in the school.
The time allocated to the teaching of German is in line with syllabus requirements. Classes in the junior cycle are allocated four classes per week. Transition year receives two class periods. In the senior cycle students are taught five class periods per week. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme offers students who have not taken German in the course of their junior cycle an opportunity of taking the language ab initio. It is commendable that students be afforded every opportunity to study modern languages. Examination of the timetable has shown that a good effort has been made to spread periods evenly across time slots and days of the week. However, in the current academic year one sixth year class has two double periods per week. It is recommended that, where possible, languages be taught in single periods rather than double periods as students derive most benefit from regular contact with and continuity in the language.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources. At the time of the evaluation one permanent member of staff and one substitute teacher were responsible for the teaching of German in the school. Teachers attend in-service courses and maintain contact with the target language country. The teachers are members of the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (German Teachers’ Association). The German department also has a wide variety of material resources. The staff has access to data projectors, lap-tops, TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, and CD players. There is a language laboratory, which is used predominantly by the teachers of modern languages. German magazines and books are available to students. A German notice-board is situated outside the language laboratory with information on home stay programmes and student exchanges. A poster with „10 Gründe für das Deutschlernen” (10 reasons for learning German) is strategically placed on this notice-board also. Encouraging students to avail of such exchange programmes is praiseworthy. It is recommended that this active support of German be extended to raise the profile of the subject in the school as a whole. For example, displays of students’ work and pictures of those who have won scholarships from the German Embassy could be exhibited for the whole school population to see. This would create a greater awareness of German activities throughout the whole school population and would serve to raise the profile of the subject.
Due to the size and very wide-spread layout of the campus, it is not possible, at present, to assign classrooms to teachers of German. Consequently, for the most part, teachers work out of student base rooms where it is can be difficult to create a supportive, print-rich learning environment. Another consequence of the layout of the campus is that it is difficult for lessons to begin on time, as was witnessed in the course in the evaluation. (It was necessary for teachers to drive from one building to another because of the distance involved). It is hoped that this situation will be redressed when the new school building is completed. It is suggested that at that stage teacher-based classrooms would afford a more suitable learning environment.
There was very good evidence of the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of German. This was used with good effect to support the teaching of German. There is a designated computer room in the school and all German classes have access to computers and on-line facilities. A list of websites useful for the teaching and learning of German is displayed in the room.
At present there is no annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, on request to management, funds will be made available for the purchase of resources. It is recommended that German teachers not only utilise this money to update some of the books in the language laboratory but also to purchase a selection of books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies. Ensuring that teachers have such material available can only serve to enhance the learning experience of students. It is also recommended that an inventory of all existing resources be taken. This should be included in the subject department plans.
The teaching of German is supported by a wide range of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities in the school. At Christmas teachers brought in German food for a German „Kaffee und Kuchen” experience (coffee and cake). Students have also had opportunities to see some German films. Junior-cycle students were brought to exhibitions organised by the Goethe Institut and to an art exhibition by German artist Albrecht Dürer. These efforts to promote German actively in a co- and cross-curricular way are recognised and highly commended.
Our Lady’s Bower is involved in the School Development Planning process and there is evidence of planning both at an individual teacher level and at a department level. German teachers meet formally three times per year to discuss matters relating to the subject. It is recommended that, as part of a move towards more structured planning and as part of the process of School Development Planning, teachers of German should develop collaboratively a more detailed plan of the subject. This would enable teachers to work together on various issues of interest to the German department including schedules of work, resources, the co-ordination of assessment strategies and desired learning outcomes. The plan could also provide a clear outline as to what is to be covered in every year. For example, in line with syllabus requirements, topics should be covered using a thematic approach, which, ideally, would integrate all skills involved in language learning. Each theme could be examined under the following six key areas: listening comprehension, oral production, written production, reading comprehension, cultural awareness and grammar.
Reference should also be made to approaches to mixed-ability teaching in junior cycle and to some strategies as to how one could raise the profile of the language in the school and make the language more attractive to students. The plan should be seen as flexible ‘work-in-progress’ rather than something ‘set in stone’ and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an on-going basis.
All lessons observed were well prepared and in line with syllabus requirements. Some teachers presented individual lesson plans. In all classes, good advance preparation ensured that lessons were clearly structured and appropriately timed.
In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. A strong rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions and classroom management was very good. In all the lessons observed there was a secure, work-oriented learning atmosphere and the nature of student-teacher interactions was positive. This is laudable as it allows for an engagement and interaction that respects the contribution of each student.
In most classes the purpose of the lesson was clear and explicitly stated. Best practice was observed where there were clear objectives stated at the beginning of the class and the learning objectives were shared with the students at the outset. This provides clarity and focus for learners as it communicates a clear expectation of what the learners will be required to know at the end of the class. 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.
In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured, appropriately paced and the necessary resources were used to good effect. The lesson content was appropriate to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. For example in a junior-cycle lesson observed lesson content was devoted to themes such as the students’ birthdays, months of the year, seasons and pets. In a senior cycle lesson observed, lesson content revolved around activities one might engage in while on holidays. This was done with the aim of enabling students to use the past tense. Choosing lesson content which interests the students is at the core of the communicative method of teaching languages and is very good practice.
The lessons were well prepared and appropriate handouts and answer templates were provided to the students. The pace of the lessons was such that the students were kept on-task at all times and the students were evidently engaged with the subject matter. This was commendable. It was also observed that different teaching strategies were employed by the teachers in their classes. An example of good practice witnessed in a junior-cycle lesson was the use of games to motivate, enthuse and challenge students while teaching a poem about the seasons. All this was done in the target language and students interacted confidently and competently whilst playing the game.
German was used effectively as the language of classroom management. The students were visibly accustomed to, and comfortable with, this use of the target language. In some lessons visited classroom instructions as well as grammatical terminology that could have been understood in German were at times given in English. It is advisable that a conscious effort be made to avoid translation. Whilst the use of the target language in the lessons was overall very good, in some lessons students’ errors in pronunciation were not corrected. It is recommended that some dedicated pronunciation exercises be done in the course of lessons. This will further enhance the student use of the target language in the classroom.
Information and communications technology (ICT) was used to very good effect in one senior class visited. An excellent Power-Point presentation with „Wer wird Millionär?”(Who wants to be a millionaire?) as its theme was used to revise grammar. Gap sentences in German were presented and, in groups, students had to choose the correct missing answer from a choice of four possibilities. The group with the most correct answers was declared „Millionär”. The level of advance preparation for this lesson was most commendable. This type of exercise could usefully be extended to include deliberation on the students’ part as to why certain answers were incorrect. Giving students the opportunity to reflect on their own errors enables the learners to engage in independent and autonomous learning and aids the learning process.
In one junior-cycle lesson the students were presented with an authentic text taken from a German magazine and asked to give the general ‘gist’ of what was written. This type of global translation exercise is good as it demands that the learner adopt an inductive approach to a text. In the same lesson, best practice was observed whereby the integration of skills featured in the teaching methodology. Having completed a comprehension task students were asked to answer a section of a previous Junior Certificate listening comprehension. This integration of skills is very commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. However, it is recommended that, during the practice of listening skills, post-listening activities should be exploited to consolidate learning. An example of this would be to examine errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, to replay the tape. This provides further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. It is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard in the course of Junior Certificate Aural examinations.
There is, at present, no homework policy for the school. However, this area of school development planning is currently being addressed by management and staff. The homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic engaged with during the lesson. There was evidence to indicate that teachers are monitoring copybooks. There were some very good examples where teachers provided formative assessment to students. Such good practice should be extended and should also include areas of commendation and suggested areas of improvement. There should also be learning opportunities provided to students in the form of follow-up on their homework errors and omissions. Further information on this approach, Assessment for Learning (AfL), can be obtained on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie
Ongoing assessment is done through class questioning, the setting of homework and end of topic examinations. Formal assessments take place for non-examination years at Christmas and in summer. Examination years sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Teachers assess students in the different skills of language acquisition and at the end of learning units students are encouraged to focus on what they have learned by using ‘can do’ statements. There is also a breakdown of marks provided in each of the skills so that students can see where they are performing optimally and in what areas they require extra work. This good practice is praiseworthy.
In Transition Year students had completed relatively few written assignments. This is partly due to the fact that Transition Year students are involved in many other activities (play, mini-company, drama, etc.) and it is often difficult to assemble a full cohort of students. It is recommended that teachers assign work for assessment, give students a date by which they must submit this work and expect that students will submit their assignments by the due date. This should be done on a regular basis to provide continuity in the subject for Transition year students. This will make students responsible for their own learning and will prepare them for ‘real life’ experiences.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is good whole school support in terms of time allocation and the commitment to German as a language in the school.
Subject department planning takes place on an ongoing basis and yearly plans have been developed. These can be further developed along the basis of themes which will be covered in lessons and should include information on specific learner outcomes.
The use of ICT in the teaching of German is to be commended.
The content of all lessons observed was very appropriate to students’ needs and a wide variety of methodologies and teaching strategies were observed.
The use of the target language in the classroom was very good. In order to further enhance the student use of the target language, it is recommended that some dedicated pronunciation exercises be done.
Student engagement in classroom activities was overall very good and in some instances excellent.
Homework is assigned to the majority of students on a regular basis. It is suggested that this good practice be incorporated into a homework schedule for students who follow the Transition Year Programme.
Students’ work is carefully assessed and good records of such assessment are kept.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended, where possible, that languages be taught in single periods rather than double periods as students derive the most benefit from regular contact and continuity in a language.
Common yearly schemes of work should be developed across the German department.
It is recommended that the Assessment for Learning approach be adopted in order to encourage learner autonomy and ownership of the learning process.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.