An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Saint Muredach’s College
Sligo Road, Ballina, County Mayo
Roll number: 64510J
Date of inspection: 15 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Muredach’s College. 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 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 and French are the modern languages on offer in the junior and senior cycles in St. Muredach’s College. While German and French are optional subjects open to all students the study of a modern language to Junior Certificate is not mandatory. Pupils may choose to study both modern languages if they so wish. However, the number of students who avail of this is very small.
Subject choice is made before the students enter St. Muredach’s College. Prior to entry, first-year students are invited to attend an open evening with their parents to inform themselves of subject options and to meet the staff. Students also have the opportunity to attend the school for a day’s ‘induction’. Whilst on campus they receive instruction in a variety of subjects including languages. This is good practice.
In the recent past, the number of students choosing to study German has fluctuated. It was reported by the German department that, the number of students choosing to study German had been on a par with the number of students choosing to study French when there was a year-long ‘taster programme’ in operation for all subjects. This was the practice in the school until 2003, when the ‘taster programme’ was abolished as a result of timetabling pressure. Whilst acknowledging the timetabling constraints at play, it is recommended that German be included in a ‘taster’ programme for both modern languages. This will facilitate a fully informed decision regarding the choice of a modern language. Students will have an opportunity to experience the language for a designated period of time and will gain insights into the process of learning a new language.
In line with good practice, 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. However, during the course of the evaluation it was noted that, at present, not all students opt to study a modern language. As a result of subject banding options, a relatively high number of boys in senior cycle have chosen not to take a modern language. Whilst acknowledging socio-economic factors and the tradition of students to attend colleges or courses which may not necessarily have a language requirement, this is a matter of concern. From discussions with senior management, it appears that the present subject option bands may be impacting negatively on the uptake of modern foreign languages in the school. It is recommended, therefore, that management should re-examine subject-option banding in light of the importance of modern languages in the curriculum.
In junior cycle the timetable makes adequate provision for the delivery of German, in that three periods are assigned to German. Generally, it is advisable that four periods are assigned to classes in second and third year. It is recommended, therefore, that management address this issue for the coming year. At senior cycle there is good provision for the subject and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. There are single periods assigned to all classes and this is commendable.
The teaching of German is carried out by a dedicated and committed team of experienced teachers. There is good evidence to suggest that the teachers work as a cohesive team and adopt a collaborative approach to the teaching and learning of their subject. The German teachers are members of the German Teachers’ Association (GDI) and attend in-service courses whenever they are offered. In-service courses on teaching students with special educational needs in the mainstream post-primary classroom and courses in the target language country have also been attended. Training for mixed-ability teaching was a stated need of the German department in the subject department plan. Therefore, it is recommended that school management examine the possibility of providing such training as part of the German department’s continuous professional development or, alternatively, as part of a whole-school approach to mixed-ability teaching. The Second Level Support Service (SLSS) or the Special Education Support Service (SESS) have facilitators in this area.
The German department has access to a variety of material resources including tape recorders, TVs and video recorders. There is no specific budget for the subject, however, funds are made available by the school management to enable teachers to purchase resources. School management is to be commended for the recent purchase of a data projector for the German department. The German department currently has a wide range of personal resources such as tapes, DVDs, videos, books and magazines which they have bought themselves. In line with best practice, the German department is planning a theme-based inventory for the coming academic year. New resources are purchased on an ongoing basis and include the German football magazine „Kicker”. Updating resources in this manner is very commendable and an example of best practice. It is recommended that, where funds are available, the German teachers should apply to management for money to purchase school copies of resources they have found useful.
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. One of the classrooms provided an excellent example of just how visually stimulating and print rich a learning environment can be. Examples of students’ work and projects were on display on the walls, including maps of Germany. The flags of many German states were displayed in an innovative manner on the ceiling of the room. In both classrooms a class set of German dictionaries was readily available for students. These strategies are praiseworthy as they provide for a motivating learning environment and they allow students to take ownership of their learning.
Co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of German are part of the programme for the language. Students are given opportunities to see German films and to cook and taste German food. Through a ‘school-twinning-email-initiative’, students will be encouraged to have pen pals from a German school. It is hoped that this will evolve over the coming years into an exchange programme. The organisation of such contacts is most laudable as it helps bring the language and culture to life. Further co-curricular and cross-curricular activities could be organised in the school in conjunction with the other modern language teachers. For example, German students could actively participate in a programme for International Languages Day which could include poetry or song competitions. The school could also enter the GDI debating competition. These efforts would support awareness of German throughout the whole school population and would serve to further enhance the provision of the subject.
St. Muredach’s College has an established school-development planning process. Senior management has emphasised subject department planning and subject departments have been established. The teachers of German and French have joined together to form the Modern Languages department. This is good practice as it allows teachers the opportunity to plan and discuss issues pertaining to the development of languages in the school. There is very good evidence of planning both at an individual level and at a department level. 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 teachers.
An advanced subject department plan for German was available for inspection. This is an extensive document and includes much background information on German in the school including: a detailed Transition Year (TY) plan, a list of effective teaching methodologies, a list of available resources, downloads from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website on Assessment for Learning (AfL) and how to best support students with special educational needs. Other planning documentation outlines yearly schemes of work for German. These yearly schemes are theme based for every year and, in line with best practice, refer to specific learning outcomes for each year group. These, in turn, are linked to the methodologies which will best achieve the desired outcomes. This level of planning is most praiseworthy. It is advised that the German department should ensure that all skills are included in the learning outcomes for each year group.
The personal commitment of the German teachers to their students and to their subject is also acknowledged and commended. The German teachers take commendable cognisance of planning for differentiated teaching and learning and incorporating active methodologies. For example, one of the learning outcomes for junior cycle is to enable students to ‘talk about their pets’. This outcome is achieved partly through concrete, activity-based learning in that students make a finger puppet of their favourite animal and must talk about it. This planning for active methodologies in the classroom facilitates all learners, enhances self-esteem and builds on success and motivation.
Now that information and technology (ICT) equipment is available to the German department as a resource, it is recommended that the teaching team plan for its integration into the teaching and learning of German. It is also recommended that teachers draft a plan specifically for the ‘taster programme’ when it is re-introduced.
The quality of individual short-term planning was very good and the German department was conscious of its responsibility to its learners in covering all aspects of the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. All lessons observed were very well-prepared and in line with syllabus requirements. Individual lesson plans were presented on the day.
Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. The lesson content, the choice of methodology and themes were appropriate to the age and interests of the students, as observed, and was in line with syllabus requirements. Students benefited from a high level of support and attention from their teachers. In all lessons teachers circulated among the students providing individual guidance, assistance and feedback where needed. The comfortable manner in which teachers moved among, and interacted with, students showed the existence of a very positive working atmosphere. Students remained on-task and focused at all times and displayed a very high level of engagement both at senior-cycle and junior cycle level. A thematic approach to language acquisition recommended in syllabus guidelines was used to very good effect and there was an obvious link to work already covered. In their oral responses, students demonstrated an ability to communicate and used reasonably correct German. Senior students were engaged in their learning and applied themselves to the various tasks set with diligence. This is praiseworthy.
In all classes the purpose of the lesson was clear and explicitly stated. This provides clarity and focus for the lesson and also provides a good focus for learners as it communicates a clear expectation of what the learners will be required to know at the end of the class.
Each lesson was very well prepared and appropriate handouts and answer templates were provided to the students. Teachers were very aware of the level of ability of their classes and challenged them appropriately. At junior cycle differentiated teaching and learning was observed in that differentiated worksheets were presented to students. This high standard of preparation is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly. Effective teaching strategies were evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, brainstorming, word searches, ICT integration and pair work. The organisation into pairs was effected efficiently and it was clear that students were accustomed to this type of work. Roles were distributed in the target language on most occasions. At junior cycle, students are assigned German names from first year onwards and this strategy lends itself well to an authentic atmosphere in the classroom.
For the most part, German is being used effectively as the language of classroom management. Indeed, at junior cycle students spontaneously responded with internalised German vocabulary in answer to teacher-generated questions on the topic of fashion. It is evident that teachers make a conscious effort to avoid an over-reliance on translation in class and use English judiciously. This is commendable. However, it is recommended that the German teachers develop strategies to consolidate and firmly embed the target language for students at all stages in their language learning.
ICT was used to excellent effect in senior cycle. A Power-Point presentation was used to develop the theme of „Stereotypen” (stereotypes). The planned activities ran into each other in an effortless fashion, students worked at a challenging pace and grammatical structures were practiced in a communicative manner. This is very commendable. Students were highly motivated and actively engaged in a paired writing comprehension exercise. Humorous cartoons were used to illustrate stereotypical behaviours and prejudices and, in pairs, students had to match various statements to the cartoons. The exercise generated discussion around the topic as students attempted to decipher both the cartoon and the German statement. At the end of the lesson, students were asked to complete any three exercises from a possible five as their homework exercise. This level of autonomy is commendable and it is recommended that this practice be extended to other classes.
The four language skills, oral production, written production, aural comprehension and reading comprehension, were integrated to good effect in some lessons observed. This is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. It is recommended that efforts are made to incorporate all four skills into each lesson.
It is advised that, during the practice of listening skills, post-listening activities should be exploited to consolidate learning. An example of this would be, in conjunction with students, to pick out idioms or phrases which would be beneficial for future listening comprehension exercises or indeed for future written and oral production. Alternatively, having looked at mistakes, the teacher could re-play tape exercises to provide further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. During the inspection, it was noted that due consideration was also given to pronunciation. This is beneficial to aural comprehension, as focused oral production can improve aural skills.
Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level and a range of assessment modes is deployed. Formative and summative assessment is conducted on an on-going basis. Formal assessments take place for all non-examination years at Christmas and at the end of the school year. ‘Mock’ examinations are also held for examination-year students. Assessments such as regular homework, oral questioning, vocabulary tests and the use of structured worksheets are designed to facilitate consolidation of learning and to give students confidence and experience to further their learning.
The German department is to be commended on its ‘reflective practitioner’ approach to assessment. The subject department plan states: ‘One of the central aims of assessment is that pupils will learn from their mistakes. Teachers of German assess pupils in order to determine their progress and to reflect on the effectiveness of their own teaching.’ The German teachers are also planning for common ‘in-house’ assessment to occur at Christmas and at end of year. This is good practice.
Project work is an important element of TY German and students must complete research on a syllabus related theme during the final term. This is commendable practice. Oral assessment is confined to senior cycle. Therefore, it is recommended that a formal oral assessment component be introduced at junior cycle to provide students with an opportunity to experience oral assessment at an earlier stage in their experience of the language.
The school has a formal homework policy. Students of German are given homework on a very regular basis. Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance. There was very good evidence to indicate that teachers are regularly monitoring copybooks. German stickers are used to good effect to provide positive reinforcement for students and to actively motivate them. Some very good examples of teachers providing formative assessment to students included providing detailed notes for students which highlighted areas of commendation and suggested areas for improvement. Such good practice should be extended to all students and the German department is encouraged to plan for, and develop, consistency in the type of formative feedback provided to students.
It was noted that learning opportunities were also provided to students in the form of follow-up on their homework errors and omissions. Students are actively encouraged to write out their corrections. This is very good practice and in line with AfL approaches promoted by the NCCA. Additional insights as to how one could further develop such a model could include pre-correction exercises whereby students are encouraged to read over their work before they hand it up for correction. This would encourage student ownership of the learning process and, ultimately, help students to identify their shortcomings and develop their strengths. Consideration could also be given to underlining errors as opposed to continually providing the correct solution in copybooks. This would encourage students to think about why something is incorrect and form their own conclusions.
A record is kept of all results and these are communicated to parents at parent-teacher meetings or they are posted home to parents. The German department performs an informal annual analysis of student outcomes based on the Leaving Certificate results with particular reference to national norms in relation to the various subject departments. This is commendable practice.
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.