An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Loreto Abbey Secondary School
Dalkey, County Dublin
Roll number: 60130C
Date of inspection: 21 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN GERMAN
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Abbey Secondary School, Dalkey, Co Dublin. 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 the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the German 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.
Loreto Abbey Secondary School , Dalkey has an enrolment of 617 students. Languages form a central strand of the curriculum and the school also has an international dimension to its cohort of students. Students from different European countries, including Germany, come for a term or a year to study in the school. The language provision in the college is diverse and senior management reported full satisfaction on the part of students and parents in relation to the language choice options offered. On entry into the school, students have access to French as a core subject and choose between Spanish and German and all students study two languages during first year. In second year, students can choose to continue with French or German or Spanish from a range of subjects in option blocks from which they choose three subjects. Therefore, students can choose to study two languages if they wish.
While the cohort of students wishing to study Spanish is growing, the numbers opting for German are at a sustainable level. The uptake of German will be supported through the planned initiative, whereby TY students of German from Loreto Abbey will engage in taster lessons in the adjacent Loreto feeder primary school, where pupils can experience the learning of the new language among their peers. Further information in relation to ‘An Early Experience in German’ project can be found at www.mlpsi.ie by clicking on the primary/secondary link, where suitable materials for such an initiative are available.
The time allocation to German is good, as is the distribution of the lesson periods across the week. This allows for regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress, particularly in the mixed-ability setting which pertains. The policy of mixed-ability class formation is good practice. The way in which lessons were planned so that they provided for the mix of student abilities in the classrooms was effective. The fact that German is in an option band with practical subjects, requiring one double period in the week, necessitates the allocation of one double period at both junior and senior cycle to German. While this undoubtedly requires detailed preparation on the part of the language teacher, it also provides opportunities for creativity in lesson design which both stimulate and engage students actively in their language learning for that amount of time.
The provision of a specialist German room has enabled the creation of an attractive and authentic German learning environment for students of the language. It also facilitates the integration of a range of resources such as information and communication technologies (ICT), DVDs, charts, display of student work and the use of visual stimuli on an ongoing basis. The provision of a language base classroom for each language teacher is commended. The clustering of those base classrooms along the same corridor facilitates cooperation and collaboration across the modern language teachers. Senior management is commended for facilitating such arrangements. The sharing of resources is also being promoted and developed. The modern languages department has a common storage area containing dictionaries, textbooks, a range of handouts and worksheets, as well as CDs and DVDs. The annual modern languages budget allows for purchase of magazines, art materials and posters from target language countries.
Good ICT resources were available including a specialist ICT room, a lecture theatre with data-projection facilities, as well as a language laboratory. All language classes have access to these facilities. Students are encouraged to use the ICT facilities available to them in the school library and useful websites have been listed in the subject plans for ease of reference. These initiatives serve to promote and support the development of learner autonomy and independent learning. Staff has computer and internet access in the staff work area and a member of staff has been assigned to assist in ICT training support.
The range of co-curricular activities, both internal and external to the school, relating to German is extensive. These include attendance at screenings of German films suitable for young learners, at concerts and other German cultural events, as well as participation in inter-school debating. German customs and festivals are celebrated throughout the school year; the making of Easter eggs, Christmas decorations and traditional Christmas baking are all features of the school’s German calendar. Students are also encouraged to go on language exchanges to Germany, to attend languages colleges in the Summer and the school organises a trip to the target language country during TY. When planning for a German language trip, the more explicit inclusion of a cross-curricular and interdisciplinary dimension to the tour, such as linking Weimar to History or Geography to a trip to the Rheinland, should be considered. Links with schools in Germany have also been established and are maintained through regular contact. The use of e-mailing and tele-or video-conferencing are communication channels which could be exploited more in the future for such links.
The German department has been active in the Gesellshaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI) and has attended regular in-service both in the Germany and in Ireland. Generic in-service courses in relation to education and developing pedagogical competence which enhance teaching and learning have also been attended. In the past year, the board of management has ratified the Staff Professional Development policy. This is commendable.
There is a convenor of modern languages as well as one for German. The fact that the modern languages teachers convene to discuss issues pertaining to languages in general is a support to the one-teacher German department. There are currently two convenors for the modern languages group. The languages coordination role is fulfilled on a rotational basis and this allows all teachers the opportunity to gain invaluable organisational experience. Formal planning meetings are facilitated by school management at least twice a year. The modern languages department meets to evaluate the different elements of the language policy annually, based on present and future needs. This encourages support and cooperation among the modern languages teachers. Agenda items can be suggested by the principal and by members of the department. Minutes of meetings are kept, decisions are recorded and work ensuing is agreed and divided out among teachers.
The German plan for 2008-2009 opens with the overarching aims and objectives for German; the development of cultural awareness and the development of the necessary linguistic skills to enable students to communicate competently through the target language. The further study of the language and its culture is promoted and students of German are encouraged to participate in social and cultural activities involving the use of the target language. These are commendable aims and the objectives as outlined in the plan were observed being implemented in practice. The plan also contains the syllabus objectives for junior and senior cycle, tailored to the school and student cohort. The plan details student access to the subject, class formation, homework guidelines across the languages and the planning for the integration of students with special educational needs (SEN), when applicable. Cross-curricular planning is also a feature which is praiseworthy, involving film studies, inter-school debating and cooperation with other subject departments, such as Art, History, ICT and Music.
There is a yearly plan for each year group for German. Planning was laid out in terms of topics and themes, lexical items and linguistic structures to be covered to realise the behavioural objectives of the syllabus. It was noteworthy that students’ comments and views were incorporated and taken in to account in planning. The German plan for TY has been outlined using the Transition Unit template designed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The content and approach of the German plan is very good and is in line with the recommended approach for TY.
The quality of teaching in German was excellent. A stimulating German learning environment was effectively created and sustained throughout lessons. The German classroom was very authentically decorated, giving a real feel for the target language country’s customs and culture. Items of craft work and art work completed by the students themselves were on display. Exemplary use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom was observed and both teacher and students used German almost exclusively in the course of lessons. Frequently used phrases of classroom language were also clearly on display in the classroom. Students responded to the teacher’s engaging approach and enthusiasm with interest and reciprocal enthusiasm. In one lesson observed, students worked in groups on a board game. The rules were explained in German and the students continued to communicate in German while playing the game. It was a fun activity which had the effect of creating opportunities for spontaneous oral production on the part of students.
Lessons observed were characterised by clarity of direction and purpose. At senior cycle, objectives of the lesson were clearly communicated to the students. Lessons were very well structured, time was used well and reinforcement of learning was systematic and thorough. Tasks were effectively interlinked and developed the skills of listening, speaking and writing in an integrated way. This is in line with recommended guidelines for syllabus delivery and was very effective. Themes chosen were appropriate to the syllabus and to the age groups in question. Learning was at all times purposeful and meaningful.
The approach adopted in the teaching was both creative and student-centred. The integration of a range of material resources and a range of activities, which included individual, pair and plenary work, all contributed to the thoroughness of the teaching and to student interest and learning. This resulted in students speaking, discussing and writing German throughout lessons observed. Tasks assigned were realistic and appropriately challenging, and, due to skilful preparation, students were immediately able to perform the tasks or complete the exercises assigned. Where appropriate, students were encouraged to use their dictionaries to check unfamiliar vocabulary, thus developing students’ capacity to take responsibility for their own learning.
The range of methodologies observed was many faceted and incorporated active learning methodologies. Games, German film and song were introduced which fitted with the theme of the particular lesson. Pivotal to the success of the activities was the linguistic ability of the German teacher to effectively model the target language and community, as well as the experience and the pedagogical competence demonstrated. A finely tuned understanding of how language learners learn was demonstrated. On one occasion, when a short clip from a German film was played and the background to the film was given by the teacher in simple clear German, students were captivated by the content and context of the German film, as presented. In another lesson, very good preparation for Leaving Certificate role play was observed, whereby the role play was acted out which brought clarity of meaning to the use of language. The students then engaged in piecing together the different elements of the role play in pairs. Grammatical structures were woven into the content of the lesson effortlessly in an integrated way.
There was excellent student-teacher rapport. Students applied themselves with diligence and demonstrated a good understanding and awareness of how the structures of the language worked. When students worked in small groups, they had the opportunity to pose as well as to answer questions and were active in their learning. On completion of the group work, new vocabulary was assimilated and any errors were corrected sensitively. The use of synonyms in broadening the vocabulary base of the students was effective. Students demonstrated accuracy in oral expression and confidence in their interactions in German. Students’ written work examined in the course of the evaluation indicated clear progress in accuracy and fluency in the language. In the main, students of German take the higher level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and the attainment at both levels has been consistently high with most students achieving an A, B, or C grade.
The school has a clearly elaborated and agreed homework policy. Ongoing formative assessment is a feature of the assessment procedures in the school. The influence of the school’s recent engagement with assessment for learning (AfL) as a result of a whole-school training activity was in evidence in the way in which student work was assigned and corrected by the German department. Student work was carefully annotated and students were attentive in completing corrections of errors identified. Development of accuracy and progress in learning were in evidence in written work examined.
The weekly student self-assessment sheet for TY is highly commended. Learner autonomy was being developed through the TY students’ independent work on computer and also through self-assessment which forms part of the regular assessment in TY.
Students have mid-term tests and in-house examinations at Christmas and in summer. Aural and oral components form part of assessments for all year groups, the benefit of which was clearly in evidence in the student learning observed.
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 recommendation is made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.
Published January 2010