An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford
Roll number: 63570W
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Bríde, Enniscorthy. 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 two days 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; a response was not received from the board.
Coláiste Bríde has a total enrolment of 755 girls. The school offers the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Modern languages form a central strand of the school curriculum and management is to be commended for its support for languages. The study of a modern language is compulsory; with the result that all students take a modern language and that no student is denied the opportunity to study a foreign language. Students learn both French and German in first year and, at the beginning of second year, the choice of French or German is offered and students can opt to pursue the study of one or two modern languages. At senior cycle, students indicate their subject choice preferences and subject blocks are formed on that basis to reflect student preference and wishes. Ab-initio Spanish is provided for all students in TY, and Japanese is also available for students. Students can now continue with Japanese onto Leaving Certificate. The diversity of language provision is commendable.
At present, all first years are studying German; in second year, 125 out of a cohort of 149 students study German and, in third year, 110 students out of a cohort of 143 study German. At senior cycle, about fifty percent of all students continue with German to Leaving Certificate level. The factors which contribute to the continued high uptake of German include: judicious choice of text books; the organisation and collaboration which characterises the preparation and planning for the subject; the enthusiasm for and interest in the subject of the teachers themselves which are then engendered by the teachers in the students. The range of co-curricular activities to augment student learning also is a contributing factor.
There are four teachers of German on the staff of Coláiste Bríde, all of whom are qualified to teach all year groups and levels. The German teachers try to ensure that students have as positive an experience of learning the language as possible. The class groups are formed on a mixed-ability basis in junior cycle and class groups are divided according to level in fifth and sixth year. This system works well for both students and teachers and attainment at both levels bears witness to this. There is consultation on the formation of parallel groups in senior cycle.
The creation of an authentic, attractive and stimulating German environment in the decoration and equipping of the German classrooms also contributes to student enjoyment in the learning of the language. School management is commended for the provision of German base classrooms which enables the teachers to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic, stimulating, multi-media resources. It allows for the display of student work and linguistic structures and lexical items which are useful for daily classroom interactions and management. The German department is proactive in accessing up-to-date resources to enrich their teaching. These include integrating clips from German satellite television, having timetabled access to the computer room for the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the language classroom. This facilitates the presentation of teacher-designed exercises and authentic texts such as poems, as well as recent on-line texts of a topical nature. The school should consider the provision of a data projector to further consolidate the integration of ICT into the language classrooms. Resources are applied for by the German department and whatever is required is provided by school management.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning in German is, in the main, satisfactory with four single periods in second and third year, three in TY and four or five in fifth year and five in sixth year. However, in the case of first year, where three single periods are allocated, and in the case of fifth year, where it can happen that there is one period less than the recommended time allocation for syllabus completion, teachers have to work hard to ensure a good standard is reached in the time available. This is particularly challenging given the mixed-ability setting at junior cycle and diversity of student ability in both junior and senior cycle. It is recommended that this time allocation be reviewed in the context of school management’s decision-making in relation to timetabling. The distribution of the lesson periods across the week is optimal, as it allows for regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress particularly in the mixed-ability setting which pertains.
There are a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to enrich and augment student learning and experiences in the language. There have always been regular visits to the target language countries. The school trip to Germany not only develops student cultural awareness but also provides an opportunity to incorporate linguistic development through assigning a range of language tasks to be completed while in the target language country. Teachers are to be commended for this. The school organises social events such as German breakfasts, where there is cooperation with other subject departments, including Home Economics and Music. Other examples of such activities include students attending the “Fairy Tales from Germany” in Enniscorthy library and the theatre for young people. The idea of an international language day provided both students and parents with the opportunity to experience at first hand the potential of the quality of the learning experiences in modern languages. The school has been guest to exchange students and, at present, is investigating the possibility of e-twinning with a German school.
Both school management and language teachers alike acknowledge the positive impact of the native speaker and representative of the target language community in the school and classroom. The school regularly applies for participation in the language assistant scheme and the language teachers have cooperated with the scheme over the years. There is currently a language assistant working with the German department. Participation in such initiatives and programmes not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides language teachers with the necessary support for maintaining and developing their own language skills and competence. School management is to be commended for facilitating participation in such schemes. When available, the German teachers attend specific in-service for German and for language teaching. The board of management supports and promotes the attendance at available in-service which is commendable. The school has a praiseworthy induction programme in place for new teachers.
Coláiste Bríde has engaged with School Development Planning and also has progressed in the area of subject planning. The culture of planning and review is being nurtured by school management. The German language teachers work collaboratively, agreeing decisions regarding textbooks and assessment, exchanging professional dialogue and sharing both ideas and resources. A recent focus has been the support for students with special educational needs in the language classroom. A focus on self-evaluation and a capacity for reflecting upon student performance and participation as well as teaching practice was clearly demonstrated by the German department. Discussions in the course of the inspection illustrate the extent to which language teachers are already engaged in a process of review and development to seek improvements in the quality of the language provision.
The German teachers have regular meetings in which they address planning matters and their implementation, evaluation and review. The coordination of the German language department is highly commended for providing professional and pedagogical leadership. The agenda for meetings is set by the subject teachers and issues which are of current relevance to the school and to languages are included on the agenda for such meetings. The German teachers are supportive of one another and liaise with resource teachers and teachers of other subject areas in cross-curricular planning and in the promotion of language learning.
There is a long-term plan for German and the planning documentation made available and examined at the time of the evaluation was exemplary. The mission statement of the school was re-articulated in the planning documentation and the specific aims and objectives for German were being implemented in practice. Planning documentation is meticulous in its detail and has an appropriate emphasis on student learning and outcomes. Regular analysis conducted by the German department of the results from state examinations informs review and evaluation. In terms of targets for student attainment, there is as much emphasis on the attainment at ordinary level as at higher level. In the context of the diversity of student ability, this is not only appropriate but highly commendable. Students with special educational needs and learning difficulties are also catered for in the context of this plan.
The planning documents include a comprehensive list of resources for German, DVDs and worksheets. The library houses a dedicated shelf of short novels in German for students and, at the time of the evaluation, a class set of student dictionaries was on order. All posters, wall maps of Germany and classroom language phrases are carefully laminated before display on classroom walls. German bunting and themed flash cards are some other examples of the resources available. Authentic, up-to-date and relevant materials and news items are collected for display on the German notice board.
The German plan also outlines the curriculum content for each year group, with specific learning outcomes and communicative objectives. Schemes of work are comprehensive and are outlined thematically, with an overview of themes to be covered. In the TY plan for German there is an overview of curriculum content by term and across the skills and with an emphasis on learner outcomes. The programme for German in TY allows for the continuing up-keep of students’ linguistic skills and knowledge, as well as the development of cultural awareness and independence and taking responsibility for their own learning in working on a project as well as presentation of the project. This is in line with the philosophy and approach recommended for TY. The senior cycle schemes of work include themes and topics, as well as linguistic and grammatical components and development objectives across the four skills as well as learner outcomes. A list of useful websites for learners is also included.
The term readiness for teaching in the context of languages refers in the first place to the linguistic competence and socio-cultural competence of the language teacher, as well as pedagogical competence and awareness of how learners learn. The German teachers in Coláiste Bride demonstrated an excellent level of teacher readiness, with an ability to effectively model the target language and community and a capacity to mediate linguistic structures and meaning in a way which empowered and enabled their students in their language learning. The quality of the teaching and learning observed in the course of the evaluation was excellent. Teaching was thorough, systematic and provided good linguistic scaffolding for the learners, which was adapted to learning style and ability. There was competent and very natural use of the target language where students heard and used a lot of the target language. Where lessons were conducted bilingually, the amount of mother-tongue support should be reduced gradually to decrease the students’ dependency on the teacher providing translation and assistance in the mother tongue.
The German department aims to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and encourage good student engagement. In the lessons observed, there was positive student interaction and participation in an atmosphere that was work-oriented and learner-friendly. Teachers set out to present language in interesting and relevant contexts, to present and practise tasks with a clear purpose and with a focus on the development of accuracy and fluency in the target language. Their teaching was characterised by clarity of direction and, at every stage in the lesson, students understood where they were in the sequence of activities. Some teachers shared the objective of the lesson with students and this good practice should be extended to all lessons.
Varied teaching methodologies were explored and were the cornerstone of the department’s effectiveness. Teachers deployed a range of methodologies and integrated the teaching of the different language skills, in line with syllabus objectives and recommended approach. The most effective lessons contained many phases in learning which consolidated the experience for the learners. This required careful preparation of materials to be distributed and the range and variety of worksheets prepared by the teachers was excellent. There was good use of pair work and role-play where students applied new structures in their own dialogues or in the completion of tasks. It was commendable to see the integration of literary items into lessons. One lesson ended with a competitive game in groups, which provided great enjoyment for the class.
There was systematic work on the effective acquisition of vocabulary and the good practice of introducing the definite articles together with vocabulary items was noted. In one case, students’ knowledge of vocabulary was tested and this activity served as an effective pre-listening exercise. The teachers deployed different means of testing vocabulary, such as seeking synonyms, and should look to decrease the use of translation as a means of testing comprehension and knowledge. As already mentioned, this will gradually reduce students’ dependency on such support. There was effective use of flash cards observed to revise and introduce individual vocabulary items to the same theme. This work on the acquisition and reinforcement of vocabulary was very good.
The classroom environment was attractive and usefully exploited to contextualise and visualise the learning. Teachers used some good methods to exploit the visual in reinforcing words and meaning. However, care should be taken to ensure that the writing is large enough for clarity anywhere in the classroom. The integration of ICT would help in this regard. At present, ICT is used in the main for research both by teachers and students. Access to the computer room should be pursued and utilised to further integrate ICT into language learning and teaching.
Grammatical work was integrated well. The use of a dictation exercise was very effective in developing students’ accuracy, pronunciation and competence to correctly identify errors of spelling, capitalisation and endings which are critical for the correct use of German. Grammar and grammatical structures were also presented to students in a systematic manner, with lists of regular and irregular verbs, separable and modal verbs. The development of listening strategies for examinations which ensured listening with intention and attention was also observed. While examination format dictates that listening questions are in English, follow-up questions were formulated in German to ensure practice of the newly acquired lexical items in German, thereby reinforcing the learning and bringing the medium of instruction back to the target language.
Students were competent and confident in interaction with the inspector. When students had to apply their knowledge and understanding, they used the vocabulary and structures correctly in sentences. Students demonstrated good mastery of the structures required for the completion of tasks and there was excellent development of the awareness of how the structure of the language worked. Students were affirmed in their efforts and there was an excellent student-teacher relationship in evidence. The correction and checking of completed homework was thorough, with high expectations of the class group. There was a sense of mutual respect and cooperative effort in learning.
There was very good affirmation of student effort and excellent rapport between students and teachers and between students. Teachers, in the main, required students to answer in full sentences. This is good practice and particularly commendable at an early stage of learning. The tendency for students at times to respond with single word responses is perhaps natural and appropriate in the context observed, but teachers should ensure that when and where possible, that students respond with full yet simple sentences.
The use of both formative and summative forms of assessment is commendable. Teachers conduct frequent classroom tests and there are in-house examinations twice a year. Teachers collaborate on assessment practice and set common assessments. Frequent tests at the end of a unit or theme are also a feature of assessment. Ongoing assessment of learner performance through classroom activities, monitoring of homework, class tests and formal school examinations facilitates the improvement of student performance and informs decisions in relation to learning. The results of state examinations are examined by the German department and inform and form part of the review and evaluation within the planning process. Both uptake and attainment at higher and ordinary level is consistently high from year to year.
One of the aims of the German department’s homework policy is to encourage self-directed learning, to promote learning of concepts and to help students to organise their own learning and ultimately to foster positive study skills. Examination of student folders and copies illustrates the way the German teachers organise the learning for their students. Exercises designed by the teachers were well thought out and useful in structuring for students their revision and retention of both linguistic and lexical items. This consolidation of student learning helps to ensure student confidence particularly for students working towards ordinary level. There is regular setting and correction of homework and useful, helpful commentary and annotation helped students in understanding errors and making progress. In the student copies examined, there was a variety of exercise types: drill type exercises; sentences to develop accuracy in applying rules of word-order and use of verbs. These exercises were also presented thematically and there was thorough work on each junior cycle theme. While the content of the written exercise was, in the main, appropriate to the theme and level of the lesson, the use of translation as a strategy to reinforce learning in homework should be avoided.
At senior cycle, the content of student work in folders was well structured. The organisation had a two-fold structure, by theme or topic and by individual skill, whether listening, reading, speaking or writing. Exercises were assigned and corrected regularly and contributed to the development of student accuracy and fluency.
Parents are kept informed through the use of the school journal by teachers and students, though regular reports on student progress and through parent-teacher meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is to be commended for the diversity of language provision and for maintaining languages as a central strand of the school curriculum.
· School management is also commended for the provision of German base classrooms which enables the teachers to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic and stimulating multi-media resources.
· There are a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities which enrich and augment student learning and experiences in the language.
· The German language teachers work collaboratively, agreeing decisions regarding textbooks and assessment, exchanging professional dialogue and sharing both ideas and resources.
· There is a long-term plan for German and the planning documentation made available and examined at the time of the evaluation was exemplary.
· The quality of the teaching and learning observed in the course of the evaluation was excellent. Teachers deployed a range of methodologies and integrated the teaching of the different language skills, in line with syllabus objectives.
· Students demonstrated good mastery of the structures required for the completion of tasks and there was excellent development of the awareness of how the structure of the language worked.
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 time allocation to German in first year and in fifth year, be reviewed in the context of school management’s decision-making in relation to timetabling.
· Where lessons were conducted bilingually, the amount of mother-tongue support should be reduced gradually to decrease the students’ dependency on teacher support in providing translation and assistance in the mother tongue. Alternative strategies to translation when ensuring student learning and understanding should be explored.
· The possibilities for further integration of ICT into language learning and teaching should be pursued.
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.