An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
†Ballyfin, County Laois
Roll number: 63440J
Date of inspection:†† 4 October 2007
Date of issue of report: †12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Patrician College, Ballyfin. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and relevant staff. 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.
Patrician College, is a secondary school with an enrolment of 343 students. The school is due to amalgamate in the near future with two other schools in the vicinity. The amalgamation process has begun and the staffs of all three schools work together on various committees to ensure that a successful amalgamation will take place.
In Patrician College German is offered in both the junior and senior cycles. Prior to entry in first year students choose one modern language from German or French. The uptake of German varies from year to year with approximately between one third and one quarter of the student cohort taking the language.
The time allocation for German is good. In junior cycle there are four class periods per week in each year. In senior cycle six class periods are allocated to the subject. This is a generous allocation and indicative of managementís support for the subject. The German department reported that they found this allocation of great benefit to the students.
German is taught is base classrooms. These rooms are very well kept and were decorated with wall maps of Germany, many vocabulary posters, newspaper articles and grammar charts. There was also signage in German on classroom items. The colourful and interesting range of materials created a positive learning environment. It is recommended that student work in German be displayed in the classroom. This will give the learners an increased sense of ownership over the learning environment and such student work can also be used as teaching materials.
There are good resources for German. Teachers and students have access to a range of books, tapes, CDs and DVDs. Overhead projectors and CD players are available in the classrooms. It is recommended that remote controls be used in conjunction with the CD players. This provides good opportunities for teacher circulation in the course of listening exercises. Members of staff have access to information and communications technology (ICT) in the staffroom. Teachers use these to access websites and provide learners with up-to-date teaching materials. At present students of German do not access the schoolís computer room. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed as ICT is a very valuable tool in the language learning process.
Members of the German department are very committed to continuous professional development. They have attended many German language and teaching methodology courses in Germany and in Ireland. The German department holds membership of the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (German Teachersí Association) and teachers attend meetings of the association. Such commitment to professional development is most laudable.
Subject department planning is established in the school and formal departmental meetings are held. The German department keeps minutes of meetings and decisions taken. There is very good collaboration within the German team and members meet regularly on an informal basis.
Individual lessons were very well planned. Comprehensive individual planning documentation was supplied during the evaluation. This detailed all activities planned for the lesson. It was evident that a lot of time had been spent on preparing handouts and worksheets. This level of planning and lesson preparation is highly commendable.
Yearly plans for German were presented on the day of the evaluation. These provided details of all the themes to be covered in the different year groups. It is recommended that these plans be developed to include specific learning outcomes. The plans should also give details of how the skills of language acquisition will be integrated in the teaching of the subject.
The use of the target language was excellent. German was used exclusively for classroom management and for presentation of new materials. It was particularly impressive to witness the manner in which complicated vocabulary was explained to students using accessible explanations and synonyms in German. Where students made errors in pronunciation these were corrected. It is recommended that students be given lots of opportunities to practise new words and phrases as this will assist their communicative competence. In many cases students were given the opportunity to work in pairs on activities which required them to use German. This maximised the use of the target language and is best practice. It is recommended that strategies which afford more possibilities for student-student interaction be extended to all lessons. Students interacted very well with the inspector and were able to comprehend and reply to questions in German in an appropriate manner.
A wide variety of excellent teaching methodologies were used in the course of the lessons observed. In one instance a brainstorming exercise was used to elicit ideas and vocabulary from the learners on the theme of racism. Many opportunities were given to learners to engage in pair work. It was evident that students were accustomed to working together. In a lesson observed students were given the opportunity to revise numbers by playing a game of bingo. The use of games in language teaching is very effective practice and to be highly commended.
A thematic approach to all lessons was evident. Interesting themes such as sport, school, computers and immigration formed the basis for lesson content. There was good continuity between lessons and students were required to recall work done in previous lessons. The thematic approach was enhanced by integration of the skills of language acquisition. The learners were required to read, listen, write and speak about the themes they were studying in all lessons observed. This is excellent practice and to be highly commended.
Opportunities for the development of learner cultural awareness were developed in some lessons. When teaching students how to state when their birthday is in German the learners were shown an authentic German birthday card. The map of Germany was then used to show where the sender of this card lived. In another lesson observed students were taught about the differences between the school systems in Ireland and Germany. Developing cultural awareness in such a fashion is exemplary practice and in line with syllabus requirements.
The skill of listening comprehension was developed in all lessons observed. Pre-listening activities such as the presentation of key vocabulary were used to increase the studentsí capacity to understand native speakers on a tape. It was particularly impressive to note the extent of teacher circulation in the course of listening comprehension exercises. Observing studentsí while they are completing such activities provides teachers with valuable feedback regarding learner performance and difficulties, which in turn informs planning and teaching. It is recommended that students be asked about any difficulties in comprehension they experienced. As part of the post-listening phase the learners should get the opportunity to hear the tape/CD again.
The classroom atmosphere was very good in all lessons. The nature of student-teacher interactions was very positive and students were affirmed in their efforts. Students were consulted about classroom tasks. When students were engaged in listening comprehension exercises they were asked if they wanted to hear the taped extract again. This is good practice as it includes the learner in the management of learning activities.
Formal assessment for examination classes takes place at the end of November and in the spring. For non-examination classes there is formal assessment in the summer. Up to Christmas these classes are assessed on a continuous basis. These students have between four and five continuous assessments in the first term. A report of student progress is sent to parents/guardians at Christmas and in the summer. In addition if a parent/guardian so wishes a progress report for any student can be issued by the school on request. This is good practice. A parent-teacher meeting is held for all year groups annually.
Students are assessed informally in German on a very regular basis. The learners are given short tests in vocabulary and grammar. The learners are required to have all such tests signed by parents/guardians. This is effective practice as it means that there is a very regular flow of information regarding the studentsí progress.
Learners are encouraged to assess their own progress and performance. In a lesson observed students were required to complete a listening comprehension exercise and then to correct it themselves. An emphasis on learner self-assessment is a most effective method in ensuring successful learning and is to be commended.
In the course of the evaluation a selection of copybooks was viewed. Studentsí homework is monitored and evaluated on a very regular basis. Studentsí written work is carefully corrected. It is recommended that errors be underlined instead of corrected for the students. This will encourage students to work out mistakes for themselves. The German department is in the process of adopting strategies related to assessment for learning (AfL). This is to be highly commended and is indicative of the progressive approach of the German department. It is recommended that in line with the AfL approach students be encouraged to follow up on errors. This will further consolidate the learning process. Information on AfL can be found on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Subject department planning has been established. There is very good formal and informal collaboration within the German department.
∑ The use of the target language in the classroom was excellent.
∑ A wide variety of teaching methodologies were used to very good effect in the lessons observed.
∑ Formal and informal assessment takes place on a regular basis.
∑ The German department is committed to using summative and formative assessment strategies.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that the long term plans for German be developed to include the intended student learning outcomes in terms of the skills of language acquisition.
∑ Plans for the integration of ICT and German should be developed.
∑ It is recommended that when developing the skill of aural comprehension that post-listening activities be carried out.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.