An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School
Shannon, County Clare
Roll number: 81007U
Date of inspection: 8 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School. 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, deputy 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.
St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School offers the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Transition Year (TY) programme, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) to 552 second-level students. There are approximately fourteen feeder schools in the catchment area, with students coming, primarily, from the six local primary schools. German is well provided for in the school and features in all programmes on offer. The timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the appropriate time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. For example, third-year students receive an extra class period in order to allow for daily class contact with the target language. All lessons are allocated single periods and this is commendable as it allows regular and sustained class contact time with German.
Prior to entry, first-year students are required to choose between French or German and indicate their modern language preference on their application forms. All junior cycle students are required to study a modern language. This is good practice. Students are also invited to attend an open evening with their parents to inform themselves of subject options and to meet the staff. During the course of the evening prospective students are invited to participate in a German class which is taught to give students a ‘taste’ of a typical German lesson. All German classes cater for students of mixed-ability and this is praiseworthy.
At junior cycle, the number of students choosing German is increasing on an annual basis. Furthermore, there is a gender balance in the uptake of German at both senior and junior cycles. This is praiseworthy.
In terms of human resources, this academic year there are two specialist subject teachers teaching German. This is in line with best practice. There is no subject co-ordinator but the teachers collaborate and rotate co-ordination duties. The German department has good access to a wide variety of material resources including TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, lap-top computers and data projectors. German teachers also have personal copies of target language magazines and books and these are available as valuable resources to students. 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 school copies of personal books or films they have found useful in the classroom. Ensuring that all teachers have such material readily available can only serve to enhance the learning experience of students.
Teachers have base classrooms and these contain a variety of books, posters, authentic materials and students’ own work. 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.
There are three designated computer rooms in the school and all German classes have access to computers and on-line facilities. Access to the computer rooms is by a ‘booking’ process, whereby teachers book the room at available timeslots. This system appears to work well for the German department, in particular, for LCA and TY students. It is recommended that, where possible, the good practice of exposing students to on-line facilities should be extended to include all junior-cycle and senior-cycle students to encourage independent and autonomous learning from an early stage.
St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School provides access for Transition Year (TY) students to travel abroad each year as part of their TY programme. There is also a foreign trip each year for all geography students. In the past, 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. However, of late, opportunities have not presented themselves to travel to German-speaking countries. Nevertheless, a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is provided by the German department to support the teaching and learning of the language. Students have had opportunities to see German films, they are encouraged to participate in exchange programmes and TY students are involved in an emailing pen-pal scheme. The German department organises a student exchange programme to Betsdorf in Nordrhein Westfalen, on an on-going basis. This Christmas, a traditional German Christmas fair is being organised for first year students. TY students and LCA students are involved in its preparation. These efforts to promote German in a co-curricular and cross-curricular way are recognised and commended as they help to maintain the profile of German in the school. It is noted that such activities can only take place with the goodwill and generosity of the teachers involved. It is most laudable that such activities are organised for the benefit of students as such activities enhance the provision for the subject greatly. However, it is recommended that the German department, with support of school management, should make a concerted effort to further raise the profile of the subject throughout the whole school population. Co-curricular and cross-curricular activities such as poetry or song competitions could be organised in conjunction with the other modern language teachers, as well as a ‘Modern Languages Day’. The school could also enter the German Teachers’ Association (GDI) debating competition. These efforts could begin to create an even greater awareness of German throughout the whole school population and would serve to further enhance the provision of the subject.
St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School is involved in the school development planning process and there is evidence of planning both at school level and at department level. German teachers meet regularly on an informal basis to discuss planning issues and weekly meetings are facilitated by school management as part of the school development planning process. In this context, the issue of compliance with Circular M29/95 was discussed.
A high level of individual planning was in evidence. During the evaluation, teachers presented detailed schemes of work with differentiated unit plans for some levels. For example, a first year unit plan incorporated appropriate strategies for differentiation for a mixed-ability group. This is good practice and should be extended to encompass planning for each class group according to the different learning needs and ranges of ability of the students. Student-learning outcomes should also be specified. Stores of teaching resources containing authentic materials were also presented, as well as worksheets and answer templates. These were all arranged in a thematic manner. This commitment to planning is praiseworthy. It is recommended that teachers arrange their documentation in such a way as to incorporate planning for the integration of written production, oral production, aural comprehension and reading comprehension, as outlined in syllabus guidelines.
There was clear evidence of good short-term planning as individual lesson plans were presented on the day. All lessons observed were well prepared and in line with syllabus requirements as evidenced by their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Teachers were accomplished in their subject, differentiated teaching methods were utilised and there was evidence of planning for information and communication technology (ICT).
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. A review of the Leaving Certificate results is also used to inform subject department planning. This is commendable.
The four class groups visited during the course of the inspection included one junior and three senior classes. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. The classroom atmosphere, as observed, was conducive to learning. Classroom interactions were characterised by mutual respect and students were purposeful and committed in their work at all times. The good rapport observed is commendable, as it allows for interactions that respect the contribution of each student. Inspection activities further included the monitoring of student work and interaction with students.
Some commendable use of the target language was observed in classrooms. It was obvious that German is being used effectively as the language of classroom management and student-teacher interactions. Students were, at all times, encouraged to develop their utterances to the fullest. In one senior cycle lesson, during a paired writing activity a spontaneous conversation developed between the teacher and a pair of students. In another senior-cycle lesson, linguistic scaffolding was provided by the teacher for a less able student. This was all done through the target language, with the teacher initially offering simple examples to explain the past tense of a verb. As the student began to form the correct tense of the verb praise and encouragement were through German and always genuine and sincere. This is commendable. However, it is recommended that the prominent display and regular use of a dictionary should be encouraged in lessons so that this becomes a natural part of the individual student’s experience of German. During the inspection, it was noted that due consideration was also given to pronunciation. Drilling activities observed at senior cycle proved to be very successful in modelling learners’ pronunciation in German. This is praiseworthy, as it makes students more aware that this has the potential for making the language easier to understand and, ultimately, to make them more effective communicators.
Information and communications technology (ICT) was exploited to excellent effect at junior cycle to integrate all four language skills: written production, oral production, listening comprehension and reading comprehension. A Power-Point presentation on the theme „Familie” (Family) used the Simpsons to incorporate a listening exercise, a written gap test and a role play exercise incorporating reading skills. This commendable practice should be extended to all classes so that, where possible, all language skills are integrated in each lesson. In another lesson at senior cycle a listening exercise around the theme of sport was very well integrated. Tips for examination techniques were explicitly stated prior to commencement of the exercise. This is good practice. It is recommended, however, that during the practice of listening skills post-listening activities should be exploited to consolidate learning. An example of this would be to examine the errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, replay the tape exercise. This provides further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. It is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and to further practise key words and phrases which are frequently heard on Junior Certificate aural comprehension examinations.
The purpose of the lessons was clear and was either explicitly stated or was implicit, in that the topic was continued from a previous lesson. Best practice was observed where there was a clear objective stated at the beginning of the class and a sense of completion at the end. It is recommended that teachers share the learning objectives with students at the outset 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 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. Best practice was observed at senior cycle, where the theme of hobbies and free-time activities was developed through a series of varied activities and a range of teaching strategies. An initial brainstorming exercise was used to prepare for a reading comprehension. Students were asked to read aloud and then asked to respond to teacher-generated questions. Language awareness was integrated through the use of a consciousness-raising approach to the teaching of grammar. Students were required to identify, either deductively or inductively, features of the target language which would help them acquire an explicit knowledge of German grammar. This is good practice and in line with syllabus requirements.
The lessons were well prepared and appropriate handouts and answer templates were provided to the students. Authentic materials such as supermarket flyers from Germany were used to very good effect in one lesson. This high standard of preparation is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly. Good use was made of the whiteboard in most lessons. 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.
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 monitor copybooks and there were some good examples of teachers providing formative assessment to students. The good practice of encouraging students to re-write their corrections and learn from their errors was observed and this is commendable. Such good practice should be extended to all and there should be further learning opportunities provided to students in the form of pre-correction exercises 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. A schedule providing the dates of examinations is forwarded to parents. This includes the dates of Christmas tests for all class groups and ‘mock’ examinations for examination students. The German department ensures that students’ oral proficiency is fostered and it engages in the practice of embedding target language skills from first year upwards. This is commendable. However, it is recommended that a formal oral assessment component be part of all assessments for German students 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.
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. This is commendable.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.