An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Meán Scoil Muire gan Smál
Convent of Mercy Secondary School
Roscommon, County Roscommon
Roll number: 65090S
Date of inspection: 18 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Muire gan Smál, Roscommon. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
German is well provided for in Meánscoil Muire gan Smál. It is one of two modern languages taught in this voluntary secondary school for girls and there is a long tradition for the provision of the subject. It features in all programmes on offer in the school: Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Transition Year and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. The timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements.
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 indicate their modern language preference by choosing from a subject options list. Strict adherence to options is not enforced until after a parent-student night, which is held annually mid-September. Here, any difficulties with the transition into first year, subject-related queries or clarifications about subject choices and implications are discussed in an open forum. Management has reported that it is a very beneficial night to all and very well attended. This student-centred approach to subject choice is commendable. While most classes are mixed-ability classes, a system of concurrent banding allows flexible movement between classes where higher and ordinary levels are catered for. Management’s stated desire is to avoid rigid streaming at all costs. This is praiseworthy.
All junior-cycle students are required to study at least one modern language but there is also the possibility of studying two. Students sit the Drumcondra Aptitude Test prior to enrolment and are asked to indicate, on their enrolment forms, whether students have any special educational needs or require any additional help or resources. A withdrawal system is in operation, whereby students deemed in need of ‘extra help’ in English are withdrawn from either French or German on a rotational basis: every other year students are withdrawn from German to receive additional support in English. This system is good as it ensures that there are very few students who do not study any modern language.
There is also a reciprocal system in place whereby, students from Meánscoil Muire gan Smál who wish to study Spanish have the opportunity to study the subject at the local Christian Brothers’ school which is located nearby. Likewise, students from the Christian Brothers who wish to study German may attend Meánscoil Muire gan Smál. This flexible, student-centred approach to the curriculum works well for the school. Presently, there is a relatively small cohort of Meánscoil Muire gan Smál students who study Spanish. School management is to be commended for its support of modern languages, in general, in the school and it strives to accommodate all students wishing to study two modern languages to Leaving Certificate level. However, this policy should be reviewed and up-dated at regular intervals to ensure that the uptake levels of both Spanish and German are monitored.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently three German teachers on staff. Two are graduates in German with the third in possession of a language diploma from the Institute of Technology, Galway. There is a subject co-ordinator but this is not a post of responsibility. One of the German teaching team is an active member of the „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers Association). The German department has good access to a wide variety of material resources including TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, and CD players. German magazines and books are also available to students. It is recommended that German teachers take an inventory of all materials at hand and include this in their subject department planning.
All teachers have base classrooms and these contain a variety of books, posters, authentic materials and maps. In all of the rooms German words are placed on tangible items in the room, for example, the door (die Tür). This is laudable as it serves to reinforce new vocabulary visually and aurally as well as affording students ownership of their learning environment. Colourful maps of Germany are displayed in the base classrooms. This is commendable as it provides an integration of cultural awareness with a geographical knowledge of the target language country. The presentation of such colourful, authentic material is to be praised as it greatly enhances the learning process and these are excellent strategies to achieve this.
There is a designated computer room in the school and classes have access to computers and on-line facilities. To date, however, ICT has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching of German. In discussion with the inspector, teachers articulated that training in the integration of ICT methodologies into their class plans should be a stated need for the German department. It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) be addressed by school management at languages level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects.
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 utilise this money to purchase a selection of books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies such as mixed-ability teaching or the use of ICT methodologies in the classroom. Ensuring that teachers have such material available can only serve to enhance the learning experience of students. It is also recommended that teachers utilise ICT in their own professional development and sites such as www.cilt.co.uk could prove very successful in helping teachers either build a useful bank of on-line resources for their own use, or aid them in purchasing suitable texts to further their professional development.
Meánscoil Muire gan Smál provides access for Transition Year (TY) students to travel abroad each year as part of their TY programme. Opportunities have presented themselves to travel to Germany and this is to be commended as, not only does it complement the teaching and learning of German, it also provides students with first-hand cultural experiences. The school looks forward to the arrival of its German language assistant next month. Students have had regular opportunities to see German films, senior-cycle students are encouraged to participate in exchange programmes and junior-cycle students are encouraged to foster pen-pals. These efforts to actively promote German in a co-curricular and cross-curricular way are recognised and commended.
Meánscoil Muire gan Smál is involved in the school development planning process and there is some 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 principal and teachers.
The German teachers have developed an agreed programme of work for each year group. This contains general targets for progress from year to year. It is to be commended that the teachers have initiated general planning. However, 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 collaboratively develop a more detailed plan of the subject. This would, not only, 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) but would also allow for differentiated planning. The need to reach a balance between encouragement and challenge in mixed-ability groupings was acknowledged by teachers in discussion with the inspector. In this context, it is recommended that planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle be reflected in revised documentation as planning for mixed-ability groupings requires an appropriately different emphasis and focus.
There is good evidence to suggest that the German teachers work as a cohesive team. All lessons observed were well-prepared and in line with syllabus requirements. Some teachers presented individual lesson plans. Good advance preparation ensured that lessons were clearly structured and appropriately timed.
Teachers were conscious of their responsibility to their learners in covering all aspects of the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. The need for the development of particular strategies and approaches with certificate examination groups had also been taken into account. This is to be commended. The personal commitment of the German teachers to their students and to their subject is also acknowledged and commended.
Inspection activities included the observation of five classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. 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 classes 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 for the lesson and also provides a good focus for learners as it communicates a clear expectation of what they will be required to know at the end of the class. The lessons were well structured, appropriately paced and the necessary resources were used to good effect. The lesson content was very appropriately geared to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. An example of good practice observed at senior cycle was the link made between a handout on sport and hobbies and orchestrated pair-work on the same topics.
The four main skills (oral production, aural comprehension, reading and writing) took place to good effect in almost all classes observed. This integration of skills should be extended to all classes. An example of best practice was observed in junior cycle where the theme of school was exploited to good effect by the use of oral work about school in general. Later, through the use of a listening comprehension task on the same topic, aural skills were successfully integrated. This integration of skills is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. The listening comprehension was, in turn, productively exploited to highlight aspects of cultural differences between Germany and Ireland. This, too, is very good practice. However, it is recommended that, during the practice of listening skills post-listening activities should be exploited to provide further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. An example of this would be to examine errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, to replay the tape exercise. This is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard both on Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate aural examinations.
German is being used effectively as the language of classroom management. The students seemed accustomed to, and comfortable with, this use of the target language. In all classes visited classroom instructions were given in German and there was judicious usage of English. This concerted effort to use German as the language of everyday interactions allows students the confidence of spontaneous interaction with their teachers and fellow classmates. This was witnessed to good effect at senior cycle where one student asked the teacher a spontaneous question about the recent football final. Whilst the use of the target language in classes was overall very good, it is recommended that due consideration be given to pronunciation. Teachers are the only model of the target language community that students have access to, therefore, it is very important that teachers avail of opportunities to upskill themselves as part of their CPD , both in terms of their own linguistic competence and in the development of the linguistic competence of their learners.
The use of base text books provided structure and a systematic approach to the acquisition of new vocabulary and grammar. There was some good work observed in the use of synonyms and extension of nouns to broaden out the vocabulary base of students. It was also observed that different teaching strategies were employed by the teachers in their classes. For example, at junior-cycle, students were shown how to develop strategies to cope successfully with words they had not previously met. This is very good practice. For example, it was illustrated how the word „Schweinestall” was composed of two shorter nouns „Schwein(e)” and „Stall”. This technique is very useful as a starting point in equipping learners with the necessary skills and strategies required for successful language learning. It serves to enhance learners’ chances of success by equipping them with the skills to find their own way.
Whiteboards were used to good effect to support the teaching and learning of German. Oral production was an intrinsic aspect of every class observed and this is to be highly commended. It ranged from pair-work, to students offering responses to teacher questioning, to spontaneous oral production from students. Students were allowed time to formulate ideas before they spoke and this too is commendable. The use of pair-work is to be commended, as it allows less able students the opportunity to practice their German in a ‘safe’ environment with the assistance of a more able student.
At junior cycle the consolidation of previous knowledge (numbers from one to ten) was used as a starting point and this was very beneficial in anchoring the students’ knowledge and focusing them on the task at hand. This consolidation of learning was further developed at senior cycle where students were afforded the opportunity to formulate ideas orally and construct sentences aloud in preparation for the night’s homework task. This good practice is very useful, particularly for less able students, and should be extended to all classes.
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 examples of teachers providing formative assessment to students. Such good practice should be extended to all copybooks and should also include areas of commendation and suggested areas for improvement in copybooks. There should also be learning opportunities provided to students in the form of follow-up on their homework errors and omissions. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) promotes Assessment for Learning (AfL) and its website www.ncca.ie could give teachers useful insights as to how one could proceed with such a model. It is recommended, therefore, that teachers adopt an AfL approach to encourage learner autonomy and ownership of the learning process and, ultimately, help students identify shortcomings and develop strengths.
Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level and a range of assessment modes is deployed. Assessment such as regular homework, vocabulary tests and the testing of grammatical items are designed to facilitate consolidation of learning and to give students confidence and experience to further their learning. The German department also ensures that students’ oral proficiency is monitored and it engages in the practice of conducting oral assessment at both junior and senior cycles. This is commendable as, not only does it serve to raise the profile of oral skills, but, it also gives all students the opportunity to build on success.
Formal assessments take place for all non-examination years at Christmas and summer. Examination years sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations in early February. A record is kept of all results and these are communicated to parents at parent-teacher meetings or they are posted home to parents. There is an annual analysis of student outcomes based on the Leaving Certificate results. This analysis is used to inform the staff with regard to planning and review with particular reference to national norms in relation to the various subject departments.
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.