An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of German

REPORT

 

John the Baptist Community School

Hospital, County Limerick

Roll number: 91502N

 

Date of inspection: 24 September 2007

Date of issue of report:  12 March 2008

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in John the Baptist 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teacher.   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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

John the Baptist Community School is a post-primary school catering for boys and girls. It has a total enrolment of 676 students and serves a wide catchment area. The school offers a range of programmes including Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). German is offered in all of these programmes. School management is commended for the provision of such a wide range of programmes to cater for the needs of all the students.

 

Prior to entry, first-year students are required to choose between French or German and indicate their modern language preference. All junior cycle students are required to study a modern language. This is good practice. All German classes cater for students of mixed ability and this is praiseworthy.

 

In recent times French was compulsory and German was in the ‘options’ pool of subjects. Students could experience optional subjects through a ‘taster programme’. In essence, the notion of such a programme is good as it allows students to make an informed decision around their subjects and this is commendable. However, the structure of the previous programme was such that German and French did not have the same status in the school – French was compulsory. This was coupled with the fact that since German was in an option pool with practical subjects (for example, Material Technology Wood) double periods were assigned to it. Double periods are not recommended for language learning. It is recommended; therefore, that management examine the feasibility of re-introducing a taster programme for both foreign languages to allow students to make a more informed choice about their subjects.

 

There is good whole school support for German. The time allocation for the subject is in line with syllabus requirements. Four class periods are allocated to German in junior cycle and three to TY students. These are all single class periods. In senior cycle students have five class periods per week. These consist of a double and three single periods. It is recommended that all classes are afforded single periods as it affords the students the opportunity to have regular contact with the language.

 

A wide and varied range of resources is available to support the teaching and learning of German. These include magazines, films, tapes, CDs and overhead projectors. There is no official budget for the subject. Funds are made available as required. There is very good provision for information and communication technologies (ICT) in the school. These include three computer rooms, laptops, data projector and broadband internet access. It is laudable that the German department updates resources. It is suggested that consideration be given to acquiring resources which relate to modern language teaching methodologies. This could include contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) for resources for students with specific language needs (see www.iilt.ie).

 

The German department holds membership of the German Teachers’ Association. Since school management agrees to pay for professional association membership it is recommended that the German department applies to management for re-imbursement of such fees. It was noted during the inspection that the German department is committed to innovation and to trying out new ideas. This was particularly evident in the area of ICT. This progressive approach to the development of teaching and learning strategies is to be highly commended.

 

The range of co-curricular activities to support the subject is good. In the past there have been trips to German-speaking countries. Such opportunities provide the learners with valuable first-hand experience of the German language and culture. Other activities to support the teaching and learning of the language include German films, German food tasting events, a German breakfast, and co-curricular links with LCA German also. Last year, when the foreign language assistant  (FLA) was in the school a Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) club was set up for informal German conversation sessions. The school is, at present, exploring the possibility of establishing links with a school in a German speaking country through e-twinning. The effort that is involved in the organisation of these activities is acknowledged and is commended. It is recommended that the school apply for an FLA to provide a direct link to the target culture and can be a wonderful resource in a modern foreign language classroom.

 

The German lessons are held in base classrooms. These were decorated to the highest standard. A very good level of student project work was displayed in these rooms. This consisted of colourful posters on different themes. Displaying students’ work is very effective and gives the students a sense of ownership of their learning environment. Maps, photographs and grammar charts were also on display. Enhancing the classroom environment in this manner is to be commended.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The school is engaged in school-development planning and subject departments have been formed. Regular subject-department planning meetings take place throughout the year, facilitated, in part, by the German teacher, who volunteered to take on the position of school planning co-ordinator. A modern-foreign-language department exists for the purposes of subject planning. In addition, the German and French teachers meet informally on a regular basis. Whilst all this is praiseworthy, it is, nonetheless, recommended that a joint modern foreign language plan be produced by teachers to facilitate even further this collaboration and sharing of expertise.

 

Yearly schemes of work for each of the student groups taking German were presented in the course of the evaluation. These plans were theme based and outlined the lesson content that is to be followed during the year. In addition, lists of effective methodologies and teaching strategies were included and reference was made to mixed-ability teaching and students with special educational needs. This is laudable. The evidence of planning for ICT integration is exemplary.

 

In order to develop planning for German even further, it is recommended that the modern foreign language teachers, structure their planning in the following manner: learning outcomes for each year group should be specified to provide clarity about what exactly students should be able to do in mixed-ability settings; these learner outcomes should be specified in terms of the acquisition of the skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking and, finally, an evaluation of approaches and strategies employed, as well as the tasks set and materials used, should be included and reflected upon on an ongoing basis.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Syllabus related topics such as ailments and visits to the doctor, describing one’s home and the German film Die Wilden Kerle 2 were the subject matter of lessons, which, in most cases, were very well planned and in some, were excellent. The content was in all cases stimulating, as was the learning environment, and care was taken not to overload any lesson with a high volume of material to be covered. It is suggested that the desired learning outcomes of each lesson should be stated at the start of each lesson so that students and teachers can evaluate progress. The lesson’s closure phase should ensure that the outcomes have been achieved. The lessons made good use of available resources and these were deployed well.

 

A variety of teaching strategies was employed in the lessons observed. The whiteboard was used well for illustration purposes; questioning strategies were generally used well and pair work was effectively employed in one senior cycle lesson.

 

The use of the target language for classroom communications was commendably good. During the inspection it appeared that, on the whole, students are used to hearing German. While most instructions and questions were in the target language, students should be encouraged to use the target language more for classroom communication, such as completing lesson tasks in pairs or if they need to ask what something means. As some classes are small, it is recommended that greater advantage be taken of small class size to promote and embed specific strategies that would increase and maximise the use of the target language by students in genuine communicative contexts.

 

Due emphasis was placed on integrating the skills of language acquisition. This is effective practice as it consolidates learning. An example of this was where students were asked to match pictures of houses to descriptions of them in German. This reading practice was directly followed by oral questions on the pictures. Language and cultural awareness were also integrated. Students were then asked, in pairs, to complete an answer template based on the same theme. Grammatical rules relating to the use of gender of noun and prepositions were carefully interwoven into this lesson at a later stage. This is an example of good practice. To enhance this further it is recommended that the skill of listening be incorporated into all lessons. Developing the skill of listening is paramount in the development of communicative competence.

 

The standard of preparation for all classes was very high. Worthy of particular note was the excellent integration of ICT at senior cycle. A PowerPoint presentation was used to very good effect to revise the characters and content of a German film the students had seen. The themes of love, friendship and being part of a team were further developed in conjunction with activity worksheets and oral production. The students were enthusiastic in their engagement with the themes and this was helped by the use of active learning strategies. The worksheets provided supports and some differentiation for students. This is commendable as it ensures that the learning needs of all students are being catered for.

 

The use of humour enlivened some classes and illustrative analogies helped to clarify understanding. Seating arrangements were conventional in the classrooms visited. The good practice of teacher circulation to monitor students’ work and provide support to students was a regular occurrence.

 

Classroom management was very effective and good standards of behaviour were expected in all lessons. In general, students showed enthusiasm for the subject and there was good rapport between the teacher and students observed.

 

Assessment

 

The school has a modern foreign-language homework policy. Appropriate homework is set for all classes and homework tasks are regularly corrected and dated. The standard of presentation was good. Copybooks were generally well maintained and notes in some were a useful learning aid. It is recommended that students are regularly given written tasks which require them to manipulate their knowledge of the target language.

 

An assessment schedule is provided to parents and students at the beginning of the year outlining the exact timing of assessments for each year group. This transparency is commendable. There is also a procedure for common assessments in place and this is laudable. It was reported that oral and aural assessments are an integral part of every test or examination from first year upwards. This is commendable practice. Communication is maintained with parents through formal written reports, parent-teacher meetings and the school journal.

 

The German department is aware of the principles of Assessment for Learning (AfL) and a more formative approach to feedback is being employed. Good practice was noted at senior cycle where more diagnostic feedback was being provided to students in their copybooks. It is recommended that this practice be consolidated and extended to the marking of all copybooks.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         A modern foreign-language department exists for the purposes of subject planning. In addition, the German and French teachers meet informally on a regular basis.

·         The evidence of planning for ICT integration is exemplary. Worthy of particular note was the excellent integration of ICT at senior cycle.

·         The lesson content was in all cases stimulating and care was taken not to overload any lesson with a high volume of material to be covered.

·         The good practice of teacher circulation to monitor students’ work and provide support to students was a regular occurrence.

·         The German department is aware of the principles of Assessment for Learning (AfL) and a more formative approach to feedback is being employed.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         Management is requested to examine the feasibility of re-introducing a taster programme for both foreign languages to allow students a more informed choice about their subjects.

·         A joint modern foreign-language plan should be produced by teachers to facilitate even further this collaboration and sharing of expertise.

·         Greater emphasis should be placed on the promotion and embedding of specific strategies to increase and maximise the use of the target language by students in genuine communicative contexts.

·         More diagnostic feedback should be provided to students in their copybooks.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the German teacher, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.