An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Gorey Community School
Gorey, County Wexford
Roll number: 91492N
Date of inspection: 29 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gorey Community 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 and to the teachers of German. 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.
Over the years, languages have formed a central strand of the curriculum in Gorey Community School. School management is to be commended for the diversity of its language provision. Access to languages is open and on entry to the school students are given a choice of languages. Each student is encouraged to do a modern language. Those students with special education needs (SEN) are given extra support in order to accommodate all students taking a language, not least facilitated by the fact that there is a fully qualified special needs teacher in the German department. This is commendable. All LCVP students follow a Leaving Certificate language course.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning of German and the distribution of those units of time across the week are appropriate and ensure optimal regular class contact with the target language for the students of German. This is commendable. German is well provided for in terms of human resources, with five teachers currently on the staff. A good level of both linguistic and cultural competence and an awareness of how students learn were observed in the course of the inspection.
In line with the European Council of Ministers objective of “mother tongue plus two”, the school facilitates each student in acquiring competence in one modern European language and competence in a second modern language, if students choose to do so. However, the number of students choosing to pursue studies in more than one modern European language is decreasing, a noticeable trend nationally. The uptake of German remains at a sustainable number, nevertheless it will continue to be a challenge to the German department to maintain student numbers. In this context, it is recommended that the possibility of broadening access to include the learning of German later on in the student’s learning cycle should be considered. This could be achieved through the provision of an ab initio German language and culture module in Transition Year (TY).
Gorey Community School regularly applies for a language assistant and the German teachers have cooperated with the scheme over the years. School management is to be commended for this. 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. Students are also provided with opportunities to attend screening of German films as part of the co-curricular provision for the subject. The school also participates in regular exchange programmes with the target language countries. 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.
The learning and teaching observed had all the elements enshrined in the mission statement of the college, that of promoting a ‘committed school community’ and of ‘each student being cherished equally’. These elements were being implemented in practice in the lessons and classes observed.
The focus of the School Development Planning (SDP) process on teaching and learning in the school has clearly progressed collaborative planning across subject areas. The regular department meetings, facilitated by school management, add a formal dimension to the many reported informal contacts and discussions among teachers. The position of coordinator for the subject is rotated which is good practice. The fact that there are parallel class groups for German at Leaving Certificate level means there is a greater need to plan together, to collaborate on the teaching of parallel classes and to share materials and resources. While there is some evidence to suggest that the German department works as a cohesive team, the process of sharing of approaches and resources by the teachers of German, and indeed by all the modern language teachers, should be consolidated. Teamwork is a key ingredient of a school committed to the provision of a quality education experience for its students.
The schemes of work and long term planning documents made available at the time of the inspection contained many of the required elements for good planning, outlining themes and topics to be covered; planning for the systematic integration of grammatical structures; preparation for examination related tasks; acquisition and reinforcement of vocabulary: deployment of a range of resources and of sources of appropriate material. Planning documents should be expanded to include assessment of the learning objectives, with attention to attainment of learning outcomes. It would also be useful to produce an electronic version of the planning documentation to facilitate sharing with other modern language teachers and collaborative planning within the German department and across the modern languages. Therefore it is recommended that a revised single agreed planning document be produced in electronic format, which may be more readily adapted from year to year, and easily disseminated within the school community.
To date, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching of German. It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) should be addressed by school management at languages level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects. There is an annual budget for the purchase of materials and teaching aids. Locating the available resources into the one centre, such as the existing language laboratory, would allow for greater and ready access to different media, DVD, Video, as well as the integration of ICT into the language classroom. The accessibility or indeed the difficulty of accessibility of the existing language laboratory will require sustained effort on behalf of all members of the German department to organise and synchronise access and use of the language laboratory at some stage for each group.
In classes visited, the pace, content and structure of lessons were purposeful, with time being effectively used due to the good short term planning and preparation.
At present, German is offered from first to sixth year to mixed ability classes, while in the present sixth year two groups have been formed to facilitate the creation of level specific class groups. The following class groups were visited in the course of the inspection: first year, third year, TY, fifth year and sixth year. In all lessons observed, the teachers created an effective language environment for all students. The lessons observed adhered to syllabus objectives. Teachers used an integrated approach as recommended in syllabus guidelines, incorporating activities to develop linguistic skills across both receptive and productive skills. Texts were carefully chosen, to highlight cultural differences, drawing comparisons between traditions in German speaking countries and Ireland and promoting cultural awareness, one of the Leaving Certificate syllabus objectives in modern languages.
There was good consistent use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom. Even student interventions were articulated in simple German. This was particularly commendable at the stage where learners were being introduced to the language. Using the target language with learners with a restricted language base in this way demonstrates clearly how the target language can be firmly embedded in classroom management at every stage of learning. The use of the target language was integrated into lessons with ease and it was clear that students were accustomed to this approach. Care should be taken to ensure that students are supported by appropriate scaffolding strategies and recourse to translation into mother tongue is avoided, as much as possible.
Lesson timelines recorded in the course of observation demonstrate the frequency with which activities and learning focus changed. Tasks and activities were appropriate, allowed for differentiation and students applied themselves with diligence. When required to work in pairs, students were participative and interested and interacted in the main in the target language. Roles were also distributed in the target language. The organisation into work groups was affected efficiently. In one lesson observed, when students were assigned tasks in groups, students formed their own groups of choice. This is a good example of the development, in a small way, of the idea of learner autonomy which is commendable. In another lesson observed, students were referred to an internet website to access further information, independent from teacher support, which is also commendable. During the course of pair work, teachers were effective in interacting individually with students and students were affirmed yet encouraged to apply themselves to their work. It was clear that students were accustomed to pair and group work.
Lessons opened appropriately with the correction of assigned homework, completed by the students. Some lessons opened with revision and reinforcement of vocabulary and linguistic structures necessary for completion of the task of the lesson to follow. This is an effective strategy to affirm students in their learning by starting with the familiar and building confidence in their correct use of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Teacher questioning required students to use the target language in a simple and structured way. The theme of the day was then introduced and the learning objectives for the lesson were clearly communicated to the students. These were appropriate to the time of the year and the stage of learning of the students.
The process of vocabulary acquisition as observed was good and thorough. For example, students were challenged to think of alternative items of vocabulary thus broadening the lexical base of the students. The effective use of synonyms when explaining words to students is also commended. Students were attentive and applied themselves to taking notes of lexical and grammatical items. The same systematic approach was evident in the student copies examined. There was regular correction of student work and students were developing accuracy in written expression. An approach observed of integrating revision of grammar into an authentic task was commendable.
Students were both challenged and supported in their learning, teachers requiring them to use full sentences and to focus on accuracy as well as fluency. Students showed good understanding of the grammatical patterns and student ability to analyse language and to reproduce correct response was praiseworthy. Students demonstrated an awareness and understanding of sentence structure and were able to manipulate structures reasonably accurately. The pair work served to practise structures and vocabulary introduced in the text. This phase in the management of the student learning helped to ensure the internalising and embedding of the lexical and grammatical items which is commendable. Tape work was used effectively to revise the perfect tense in preparation for the written exercise for home work.
Teachers demonstrated a very good rapport with their students, were inclusive in their questioning and demonstrated sensitivity in the correction of incorrect answering. A purposeful relaxed learning environment was effectively created and sustained. The choice of methodology and theme were appropriate to the age group in question, prepared students for using the language in real life situations and thereby fostered interest and motivation. Students were accurate in their responses, were reflective of their own language production and corrected themselves and each other. They were cooperative in their learning. The teacher facilitated the learning process, where the students responded and expressed their knowledge with prompts from the teacher.
Although a language base classroom is not available, considerable efforts had been made to create a stimulating and attractive and culturally rich language learning environment. Additional resources, such as charts and diagrams to clarify and facilitate student learning, were effectively deployed. Student interest and ability to self-access additional information on the computer was also commendable. The successful integration of ICT requires not only the necessary resources but also the competence and confidence of teachers and learners alike. It is recommended that school management look at the provision of ICT training to strengthen the effective integration of ICT into the language classroom.
There is regular assessment of student progress, of student oral, aural and written competence. Progress is carefully recorded, monitored and reported. Grammatical items and vocabulary are tested frequently. Formal in-house examinations take place for all year groups. The development of common assessments for parallel class groups has already been initiated, which is commendable and is recommended. The range of assessment modes used to monitor student progress in the school includes questioning in class, regular class tests, formal school examinations and homework. There was thorough and systematic checking of homework and the noting of vocabulary into notebooks.
It is recommended that teachers ensure that the range of assessment modes used to monitor student progress in a language should include the testing across all the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, if not already in place. It is commended that the assessment of aural and oral skills are included at both junior and senior level. There was a good uptake of both ordinary and higher levels in state examinations and the attainment of students in those examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is to be commended for the diversity of its language provision. Access to languages is open and on entry to the school students are given a choice of languages.
· The allocation of time to the teaching and learning of German and the distribution of those units of time across the week are appropriate and ensure optimal regular class contact with the target language for the students of German.
· The schemes of work and long term planning documents made available at the time of the inspection contained many of the required elements for good planning.
· There was good consistent use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom. Even student interventions were articulated in simple German.
· Teachers used an integrated approach as recommended in syllabus guidelines, incorporating activities to develop linguistic skills across both receptive and productive skills.
· Teachers demonstrated a very good rapport with their students, were inclusive in their questioning and demonstrated sensitivity in the correction of incorrect answering. A purposeful relaxed learning environment was effectively created and sustained.
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 possibility of broadening access to include the learning of German later on in the student’s learning cycle should be considered. This could be achieved through the provision of an ab initio German language and culture module in Transition Year (TY).
· It is recommended that a revised single agreed planning document be produced in electronic format, which may be more readily adapted from year to year, and easily disseminated within the school community.
· The use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom should be consolidated so that it is firmly embedded in practice.
· It is recommended that school management look at the provision of ICT training to strengthen the effective integration of ICT into the language classroom.
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.