An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Roll number: 70440A
Date of inspection: 28 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach. 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 the 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.
Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach was founded under the auspices of Carlow Vocational Education Committee to provide second-level education through Irish for the students of the area. From the start, the school authorities gave full support to modern European languages and the policy of the school that every student takes one modern language as part of the core curriculum reinforces that support. Languages are part of the core curriculum at present. The centrality of modern languages in the school curriculum is commended as well as the support of the school management for the position of languages in the curriculum.
Furthermore, every student is offered the opportunity of taking two modern languages, but, in line with the national trend, there has been a reduction in the number of students taking two languages. For many years, about half of the students chose German as an optional subject in the college, but there has been a decline in that situation for some time, especially since demand has grown for the practical subjects. For example, when in 2005 German was offered to all incoming first years, twenty-five students choose German. The teachers of German are hoping, however, that the number of students choosing German will increase again. School management is commended for creating German classes even in the context of low uptake. The strenuous effort of the teachers and management to provide German classes and to keep the subject on the college’s curriculum are praiseworthy indeed.
The low uptake in German is a constant challenge. Parents of incoming first years are consulted in relation to the choice of subjects as offered to first-years. A trial period learning the two languages, French and German, may help students and parents in their decision regarding studying a modern language. In this context, consideration should be given to the possibility of offering students an opportunity to begin studying German later in their school career, for instance, ab initio in the Transition Year.
Every effort is made to ensure that each class has the same German teacher from first year to third year, and from fifth to sixth year, in order to meet all the students’ needs from year to year and to ensure continuity of teachers. From first year to third year, students have four class-periods per week for German and fifth and sixth years have five class-periods per week. The school management is commended for the provision for German, except in the case of Transition Year, where only one class-period per week is allocated to German on the timetable. This is insufficient to maintain the standard already achieved by students in Junior Certificate. Therefore, a review of provision for Transition Year students is recommended.
Students have access to projects or cultural occasions involving German. The German teachers deserve great praise for their efforts in organising extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities for the students outside the classrooms. Such events reinforce the work done by teachers in the classroom and they afford an opportunity for students to experience German as a living language in different situations. It is recommended that the development and promotion of these events continue in the school. Carlow Vocational Education Committee offers scholarships for students to attend summer colleges for modern languages. This support is commendable. Commended also is the collaboration between Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach and other colleges under the aegis of Carlow VEC regarding events and competitions, for example, debates and question-times. A German Day is held each year for the Transition Year class; the whole focus of the school that day is on German and there are plans for extending this. Information and encouragement are provided for students to go on exchange schemes to Germany.
In so far as is practicable, language teachers in general, and teachers of German in particular, have their own class rooms. The school authorities have it as an objective to encourage study of the language by having students’ work on display on the walls of the classrooms and there was evidence of this on the day of the inspection. Resources available for the teaching of German are: textbooks, tapes, teachers’ handbooks, compact discs, tape recorders, CD players, a computer and internet access. All of these teaching-aids will be available in the new multi-media room when the building-work is finished and first-rate computer facilities will also be available. There will also be a computer in every classroom and this will reinforce the use of information and communication technology. The German department has attended training in the use of technology, so that teachers can use the new technology as a teaching-aid in their classrooms. The teachers of German are encouraged to discuss this vitally important aspect of new technology and to include the use of information and communication technology in the plan for German and in the teaching the language. It is also recommended that a list of resources be drawn up, to facilitate planning and access to resources and to consider broadening the range of resources as time goes by. With the provision of the new building, this process has already begun.
Teachers are facilitated to attend in-service courses whenever possible. Membership fees for the Association of Teachers of German are paid out of the school budget. The school took part in the language-assistant-in-the-classroom scheme and the benefit to both teachers and students was evident.
The German Department has an informal co-ordinator. This responsibility is re-allocated annually so that every teacher in turn has an opportunity to fill the role of co-ordinator. Joint planning is regularly undertaken and the school authorities facilitate this two or three times a year. When the teaching staff is working on subject-planning, teachers of the various languages get together for the discussion. This is good practice. The school policy regarding Irish promotes the teaching of a second language and a positive attitude among the students to the learning of modern languages.
The teachers have spent a lot of time and energy on a development plan for German. The objectives of the school and of the syllabus are part of that plan. The ‘correct balance between the standard of work and the pleasure derived from school-life’, as outlined in the mission statement of the college, is evident in the planning for the subject in the school. Also evident is the planning completed by the teachers to implement all the threads of the Leaving Certificate syllabus and the Junior Certificate syllabus. In accordance with the objectives of the syllabus, there was an appropriate balance between the emphasis placed on students’ fluency and their accuracy. It is recommended that language objectives and learning outcomes be included in the planning documents. That would facilitate self-assessment by the students of their own learning.
It was evident in classes observed that good short-term planning had been done. Thanks to this planning, the subject-matter of the lessons was enjoyable and suited to the students’ range of interest and ability. There also was a good balance between the four language skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing – and that enhanced the unity of the lessons observed.
The mastery of the German language among the teaching staff in Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach is recognised and commended. German was consistently used as the language of class communication and instruction. Irish was used judiciously when necessary, but little phrases of communication should always be spoken in the target language, thus establishing the use of the target language firmly in the classrooms. It was evident that the students were accustomed to the use of the target language and that they were at ease with it. Accordingly the students showed great facility in speech and communication. This practice is commended.
Effective work on vocabulary-acquisition, which was comprehensive and systematic, was observed, and the students took notes carefully in their copybooks. When rules and vocabulary were available on posters on the wall, this also proved helpful. The teachers’ methodology of using synonyms when presenting new vocabulary was good. It is recommended, however, that the gender of nouns be always ascertained when lessons are being prepared. This vocabulary work was recorded neatly and systematically by the students in the copybooks examined. It was evident that a continuous system of learning was being consolidated in the students’ work. The use of repetition to promote student learning was effective.
There was unity in the subject-matter and structure of the lessons and the pace of the lessons was good. It is recommended that the objective of the lesson be communicated to the students to encourage them to take personal responsibility for their learning. The teachers’ presentation was based on an integrated approach as recommended in the syllabus guidelines. A good range of methodologies was in use and a variety of activities was observed in the classes. The approach was varied, stimulating the students’ interest in learning the language, developing their language skills and catering for the needs of the students’ diverse abilities. This variety is commended. Pair work and group work were observed, as well as the development of reading-comprehension strategies and the use of songs as supplementary material. Work with tapes was also observed and use was made of listening-comprehension to enhance the learning. Tapes and other multi-media resources are used regularly in the German lessons.
Effective work was in train to develop language awareness. Grammar-points were explained in the context of subject-matter and comprehension. The manner in which grammar was continuously and naturally woven into their approach by the teachers of German is commended. Information on aspects of grammar was asked of the students, rather than just giving them a rule. When a point of grammar was then explained, it was clear and precise and the students could understand the grammar immediately, which is admirable. In the written work examined, there were exercises to practise and reinforce grammatical structures. The students were fairly accurate in their written work.
There was a good atmosphere in every class observed, as well as positive encouragement of all students’ efforts. The students undertook their work with enthusiasm and they took an active part in the class, for example, each student had to offer an answer until every single student was participating regularly in the class. The zeal and curiosity of the students was commendable, as well as the way they co-operated with one another. The following different aspects observed were noteworthy: the students’ self-confidence regarding their own learning and ability, their accuracy in using the language and the accurate pronunciation among the students in general. It is recommended that independent learning among the students be promoted now, because they are ready for that step forward.
There is a regular continuous assessment of the students’ learning outcomes and continuous comprehensive records are kept of the students’ results and progress. The various language skills are regularly assessed. Monthly class exams are organised and students sit internal house exams at Christmas and before the summer holidays. ‘Mock’ exams are usually held in March. All the language skills are assessed – writing, speaking, reading and listening and it is commendable that an oral exam is held from first year onwards. Two official reports are provided for parents each year. Results of State examinations are analysed each year and that information is shared with the school community. This good practice is commended. Because most of the German classes are fairly small, the teachers of German can tackle differentiated learning needs. Students are prepared for the state exams at both levels. The college has a homework policy, and its implementation was observed during the inspection.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The central position of modern languages in the school curriculum is commended, as well as the support of the school management for the position of languages in the curriculum.
· The teachers of German are highly commended for their efforts in organising a programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular events for the students outside the classrooms.
· The planning undertaken by the teachers to weave all the threads of the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate syllabuses into the overall school-plan for the subject is evident. The school objectives are part of that plan also.
· There also was evidence of good short-term planning for the classes observed.
· German was regularly used as the medium of communication and instruction in class.
· Good work on vocabulary acquisition, which was comprehensive and systematic, was observed. The teachers used good methodology in supplying synonyms when presenting new vocabulary.
· The teachers’ method of presentation was based on an integrated approach, as recommended in the syllabus guidelines. The inspector saw a good range of methodologies in use, as well as a variety of activities in the classes observed.
· Effective work was being done to develop language awareness.
· There was a good atmosphere in every class observed as well as positive encouragement of students’ efforts. The enthusiasm and curiosity of the students is commended, as well as the way they co-operated with one another.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The low uptake in German as an option is a constant challenge. It is recommended that school management consider providing a trial period learning the two languages, French and German, which may help students and parents in their decision regarding studying a modern language
· The teachers of German are encouraged to discuss the vitally important question of new technology and to include in their plan for German the use of information and communication technology in the teaching of the language.
· It is recommended that language objectives and learning outcomes be taken into account in the planning documentation.
· It is recommended that the use of the target language as a medium of class communication and instruction be firmly established in the classrooms.
· It is recommended that independent learning be promoted among the students because they are ready for it.
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.