An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Moate Community School
Moate, County Westmeath
Roll number: 91501L
Date of inspection: 26 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Moate Community School, Co. Westmeath. 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 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.
There is good provision for modern languages in Moate Community School. German, French and Spanish are on offer to students in first year. In the present system students are advised to take a modern language in the junior cycle and must choose this language before they enter the school. At the time of the inspection a ‘taster’ programme for incoming first-year students had been organised. Pupils in sixth class were invited into the school on a number of afternoons and had opportunities to attend classes which were tailor-made for them in each of the three languages and in other optional subjects. This is an example of excellent practice as it not only assists in-coming students in making very important choices but also serves as a most effective induction into secondary school life. Management and staff are to be highly commended for their planning and commitment in the delivery of such a programme.
The numbers of students taking German in the school are relatively low and this is a cause for concern. It is hoped that the introduction of the ‘taster’ programme for sixth-class pupils may help to redress this. It is suggested that the situation be reviewed regularly and that management and staff discuss ways in which a more even distribution of numbers across all the languages on offer might be achieved
The time allocation for the subject is very good and is in line with syllabus requirements. Classes in the junior cycle and in transition year are allocated four class periods per week. In senior cycle the classes are allocated five class periods per week. In general classes are allocated single class periods. However in some instances double periods have been allocated in both junior and senior cycles. It is recommended that where possible single class periods be allocated to German. Language learning is maximised where students have daily contact with the language and for shorter periods of time.
The subject is well resourced in terms of human resources. The German department is comprised of well qualified and experienced teachers. Teachers are committed to keeping contact with the target language and undertake regular visits to Germany. Members of the German department have been involved in the correction of state examinations in the subject. This provides most useful insights into the examination system and ultimately contributes to effective examination preparation in the classroom. Such commitment to professional development is laudable. At present, the German department does not have membership of the GDI (German Teachers Association). Membership of the subject association provides a most useful way of keeping informed about events and issues relating to all aspects of German teaching and learning. It is strongly recommended that membership of the GDI be sought on behalf of the German team at the earliest date possible.
German is well resourced in terms of material resources. There is no official budget for the subject; however, funding is made available when and if required. Teachers have access to tapes, CDs, books and magazines. Additional resources include posters, maps and photographs of German speaking countries. It is recommended that an inventory of resources be undertaken on an annual basis. This list of resources and how and when they will be used should then be included in planning documentation. It is also recommended that some teacher-specific resources relating to language teaching methodology be included in the acquisition of resources.
Activities are organised to support the teaching and learning of German. Students are taken to see German films, multilingual table quizzes have been organised and learners also get the opportunity to taste German food. All such activities serve to broaden the learners’ knowledge and understanding of the subject and are evidence of teachers’ commitment to enhancing the learning process.
German classes are taught in a ‘base’ classroom. This room was very well decorated on the day of the inspection and provides a good learning environment. Maps of Germany, posters and authentic materials were on display. A large, colourful poster containing information about the forthcoming world cup formed a very impressive display. In addition, creative student work was displayed. Ensuring that student work is evident in classrooms is very good practice as it provides the learners with a sense of ownership of their learning.
The school is actively engaged in whole school planning and the development of subject departments forms part of the overall school planning process. Subject departments are scheduled for meetings throughout the year and it was noted that teachers of modern languages meet as a group as well as in individual language groups. This is very effective practice as it provides a useful forum for all language teachers to share ideas and information on best practice. Minutes of departmental meetings are kept and there is very good liaison between the subject coordinators and members of the senior management team. This is excellent practice as it ensures a flow of communication between subject groups and management and any issues that arise are dealt with promptly.
Yearly plans have been developed for German. These include background information on the subject, references to teaching methodologies and general information about resources. The plans outline what themes and grammar topics will be covered in each term for each year. It is recommended that these plans be developed to include specific learning outcomes and also to include information on the integration of the language skills as a core teaching methodology. In general the yearly plans should be seen as a work in progress and as an evolving process which is reviewed regularly.
The plan for German in the Transition Year Programme (TYP) gives details of cultural components, for example film and project work, which will be dealt with in the course of the year. This is good practice as the TYP provides a wonderful opportunity for learners to develop a greater knowledge of the target country’s culture. The plans also state that there is an emphasis in the course of this year on intensive oral practice and vocabulary building. This is commendable. It is recommended that the plan for German in TYP be developed to include the themes which will be covered in the course of the year.
Learners of German currently have no access to ICT facilities in the school. It is suggested that plans for the integration of ICT and language learning be developed. These could include plans with short-term objectives, such as allowing students to produce some written homework on computer and to carry out research on selected German websites. It is suggested that a long-term plan for the use of ICT in the teaching of German also be drawn up and that, resources permitting, language students have access to the ICT facilities in the school.
Individual lessons were very well planned. Lesson objectives were clear and handouts, photocopies and other resources to support teaching and learning were well prepared in advance. In some cases individual lesson plans were presented in the course of the evaluation. In one instance it was noted that, written in a class plan, was the sentence: “Praise will be used wherever possible”. Planning in this manner to acknowledge students’ efforts and to encourage them is an example of best practice.
In the lessons observed the content which formed the basis for the learning experience was in general very good and always matched the requirements of the syllabus. In a senior-cycle lesson the theme of food and drink was dealt with. In another lesson visited students discussed the issues and problems related to drugs. Choosing themes which are pertinent to students’ own lives is effective and provides for more interesting lesson content. In one instance, prescribed material for the Leaving Certificate oral examination was covered in class. This related to the theme of Christmas. It is recommended that where material relates directly to seasonal events it should be used at the appropriate time of the year. This will help to make it more realistic for the learners who will then be able to draw on current personal experiences.
The skill of listening was taught particularly well in the course of one of the lessons observed. Students were thoroughly prepared in advance for the listening comprehension task which had been assigned to them. Pre-listening activities included focusing on the relevant questions and anticipating what vocabulary might be required to understand the tape. This type of work done in advance of comprehension exercises is very effective as it activates previous knowledge and ensures that the learner is prepared for the task. It is recommended that pre-listening activities be done in advance of all listening comprehension exercises. This ensures that this very important skill of language acquisition is taught and not simply tested. The teacher moved around the classroom while the tape was playing. This is good practice as the teacher is fully informed of how students are managing the task. It is suggested that at the end of a period of listening learners engage in some post-listening exercises. This will enable students to discover any errors that they have made and will consolidate learning.
In the classes observed the use of the target language was generally good. German was used to good effect to manage and progress classroom activities. On occasions students were offered synonyms in the target language to help them understand new vocabulary. It is recommended that this good practice be used in all classes and that the use of translation be minimised where possible. Using the target language provides an enhanced linguistic environment for the learners and enriches the learning experience. Students were asked to read and answer questions in German. In some instances dialogues were used to encourage the use of the target language. It is recommended when dialogues are used in lessons that the learners be given the opportunity to act these out in the form of role plays in front of the class. Where it was necessary to correct student pronunciation, this was done with sensitivity and in an unobtrusive manner. It is good practice to focus on student pronunciation and on helping students to understand why they may have made a mistake, for example where transference from English may occur.
Active teaching methodologies were used in some of the classes observed. For example in one lesson the learners were divided into pairs to carry out a task which involved putting parts of a dialogue in the correct order. In another lesson observed students were asked to contribute vocabulary and expressions relating to the theme of drugs, which the teacher then wrote on the whiteboard. Students also had dictionaries in class which facilitated independent learning. All activities which encourage autonomous learning are to be commended. It is recommended that the use of active teaching methodologies be extended to all classes.
Some classes comprise learners taking German at both higher and ordinary level for the state examinations. In these classes learning tasks were very well differentiated to match the needs of the individual learners. Different materials and handouts were prepared accordingly and students were assigned tasks appropriate to their level. In the course of such lessons time was taken to advise students on an individual basis. Giving individual attention to students in this manner is laudable and assists students to learn at their own pace.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was positive and conducive to learning. The good rapport between students and teachers was evident in all of the classes visited. Discipline was very well maintained. Students were always addressed by name and courtesy and respect were the hallmarks of all interactions. Students and teachers alike are to be commended for the positive learning environment that they create.
Assessment of student learning and reporting learners’ progress form an important aspect of the teaching and learning in Moate Community School. Students are assessed on a very regular basis and formal reports are issued to parents/guardians four times in the course of the school year. The school management is to be commended for putting structures in place that ensure such regularity of reporting to parents. This is indicative of the school’s commitment to ensuring strong links between staff and the parent body.
Homework is assigned regularly and there was evidence in students’ copybooks that many assignments were completed throughout the year. In general this work was carefully corrected, signed and dated. Useful comments were written at the end of assignments. It is suggested that this good practice be extended to all student assignments so that the learners receive feedback on their work and have a clear understanding of how to progress. Further information on this assessment for learning approach, is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie. In the case of junior-cycle classes it is recommended that a small amount of written productive homework be done in copy books on a regular basis. This is preferable to writing exercises into workbooks or past examination papers, as having such work in one location will assist students when they wish to revise. This work should then be corrected as outlined above.
Formal examinations take place at Christmas and in the summer. It is recommended that the four skills of language acquisition: reading, listening, writing and speaking be tested in all years of both junior and senior cycles. Very good records of assessment are kept and this is commendable practice.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The ‘taster’ programme for the pupils of sixth class is very beneficial.
Subject department planning is underway. There is a good time provision for meetings, and there are very good links with senior management.
Yearly schemes of work have been prepared. These are topic based and include references to the syllabus. The schemes of work could be enhanced by specifying learning outcomes and planning for the integration for the skills of language acquisition
Lesson content was good and appropriate to the needs of the learners.
In some classes active teaching methodologies were used to good effect. This could be built upon to include active teaching methodologies in all classes.
Good rapport between teachers and students was in evidence in all classes and a very good atmosphere prevailed in all the lessons observed.
Assessment and formal examinations take place on a regular basis and the practice of reporting to parents four times a year is highly commendable.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A review of existing resources should be taken with a view to updating them.
It would be useful if planning work included some development in the area of ICT in the learning of German.
Assessment in German should include oral, aural, written and reading components in both junior and senior cycles.
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.