An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Lucan, Co Dublin
Roll number: 60264A
Date of inspection: 12 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Phádraig. 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 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.
Coláiste Phádraig is a voluntary secondary school with a total enrolment of 587 students. The school offers a comprehensive range of curricular programmes to its students including the Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TYP), Leaving Certificate (Established) Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). It is commendable that German is offered in the majority of these programmes.
German and French are the modern languages on offer in the school. Prior to entry to the school, incoming first-year students choose two subjects from the following: Metalwork (Materials and Technology), Materials Technology (Wood), French, German or Technical Drawing. It is commendable that students may opt to do two languages although in reality very few students do so. French is the more popular choice of modern language. However in the past year a very noticeable increase in the numbers of students taking German in first year has taken place. In the course of the evaluation school personnel attributed this increase in numbers to presentations made at an information evening for parents of incoming students. Ensuring that parents and students are fully informed regarding subject options is effective practice and to be commended.
It was noted in the course of the evaluation that a very large number of students (approximately 35% of all students) do not study any modern language. While it is acknowledged that sustained and successful efforts have been made by the German department to increase the uptake in German, it is recommended that an analysis of general student uptake of modern languages be carried out. Such an analysis will provide valuable insights into the reasons why students are opting, or not, to do modern languages. It would also be useful if a whole school policy for language learning could be developed.
In general the time allocation for German is good and in line with national norms. In junior cycle four periods a week are allocated to the teaching of the subject. In senior cycle students are taught German for five class periods per week. In TYP ‘Language Studies’ is allocated three periods per week. There is in fact no dedicated allocation of time to German in TYP. At present the cohort of students in the TYP ‘language studies’ class comprises three distinct groups: students who have studied French only, students who have studied German only and students who have studied no modern language at all. In practice, very little language content can be taught in a regular or continuous fashion given the previous experience of language learning of the student cohort. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed immediately as it is not conducive to any form of continuity of language learning between the junior and senior cycles.
The German department comprises two qualified teachers both of whom have spent extended periods of time in the country of the target language. The teachers are members of the German teachers’ association and have in the past attended in-service courses in Ireland and in Germany. Such commitment to professional development is most laudable.
German is well resourced. There is no allocated budget for the subject. However resources are provided by the school management authorities on a needs basis. There are books, tapes, films and magazines available to support the teaching and learning of German. The school also has a very fine multi media ICT language laboratory. This is a very useful resource and is made available to all students of German. It is recommended that a full inventory of all existing resources be taken and included in the planning documentation.
The school is engaged in school development planning and subject departments have been formed. Subject department planning meetings take place as part of staff meetings. In addition the German department meets informally on a regular basis. There is very good collaboration between members of the German department. At the time of the inspection there was no subject convenor for German. It is recommended that a convenor for the subject be appointed.
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 in the course of the year. In order to develop these plans it is suggested that the learning outcomes be specified. This will provide clarity about what exactly students should be able to do at the end of a unit of learning. It is also suggested that the learner outcomes be specified in terms of the acquisition of the skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking.
Lesson content in all lessons observed was chosen in accordance with the needs of the learners and was appropriate to the requirements of the relevant syllabus. In junior cycle revision of themes such as hobbies and family were chosen. In senior cycle the theme of the world of work formed the basis for lesson content. It was particularly noteworthy that where possible cultural components were included in the lesson content. For example in senior cycle students learned about the typical German Christmas traditions and were shown typical German Christmas food. The inclusion of cultural awareness in lessons is very good practice. Choosing lesson content that is of interest to the learners and in line with the syllabus is also laudable.
Generally the pace of lessons was good and students were engaged in learning activities. These activities were changed at suitable intervals in the lesson to ensure that student interest was maintained. This is to be commended. However in one lesson observed it was noted that the pace of the lesson was unduly slow. Some delay in progression was caused due to difficulties finding the correct location of the chosen listening text on the audio cassette. It is recommended that the tape counter which is part of the tape recorder/ CD player in use in the school be used to ensure ready access to the listening comprehension passages. This will help to ensure a swifter pace in the lesson.
A variety of good handouts and materials was used effectively to support the teaching and learning of German in the lessons observed. In senior cycle carefully chosen materials on the theme of part-time work were used. The relevant handout included vocabulary, short reading texts and a wide variety of questions. Using materials to supplement textbooks provides for good teaching and learning and is most praiseworthy. It was noted that in junior cycle the students’ textbook contains a form of spelling no longer in use in German. The new German orthography was officially adopted in all German speaking countries in 1998 and is the only spelling acceptable in the state examinations in Ireland. In light of this it is recommended that the choice of textbook in junior cycle be reviewed immediately.
In general effective teaching methodologies were used. Particularly good efforts were made to ensure that the skills of language acquisition were integrated. In senior cycle students were asked questions orally about Christmas. This was followed by reading a text on the same theme and then finally the learners listened to a listening comprehension from a previous state examination relating to Christmas markets in Germany. This integrated approach ensured that learning was reinforced throughout the lesson and is to be commended.
Various approaches were used to the development of the skill of listening. In some lessons students read and practised vocabulary that they were about to hear on the tape. This is effective as a pre-listening activity. In the course of listening activities teachers did not move around the classroom. This is less than effective practice. It is recommended that monitoring of the students take place while students are completing listening exercises. This will inform teaching. This is made particularly easy by the fact that remote controls accompany the CD players in use in the school. It was noted in one instance that students listened to an extract and wrote answers to accompanying questions. However these questions were not corrected in the course of the lesson, therefore students received no immediate feedback on whether their answers were correct or not. Successful learning takes place when students receive prompt feedback. It is strongly recommended that strategies for the development of pre- and post-listening activities be developed and used in all lessons in junior and senior cycle.
The use of the target language was generally good. Consistent effort was made to communicate with the students in German. Students were asked questions in the target language and showed satisfactory comprehension. It was noted that student pronunciation in junior cycle was quite inaccurate. In order for students to learn to speak correctly it is essential that dedicated pronunciation exercises are undertaken in the course of lessons. This is particularly important when learners are beginning to learn a language. It is further recommended that student–student interaction in the classroom be increased. This will maximise the amount of time students spend speaking German and will ultimately lead to improved communication skills.
ICT was very effectively integrated in the course of a lesson observed. Students engaged most readily with a wide variety of activities in the multi media language laboratory. It was indeed impressive to see the levels of enthusiasm among the learners for this approach to learning. Students worked at their own pace and were able to choose from different types of exercises on different themes. Students received individual attention from the teacher as required. It is most laudable that this valuable resource is used to such good effect.
Discipline was sensitively maintained in all lessons observed. All interactions were characterised by mutual respect and a caring atmosphere prevailed. Students were encouraged to participate in class and to ask questions. This positive attitude created a very good learning environment and is commendable.
Assessment of student learning is carried out on a regular basis. Formal assessment is carried out at Christmas and in the summer and reports on the learners’ progress are sent to parents. Parent teacher meetings are held for all year groups. In junior cycle students are assessed in the skills of reading, writing and speaking. It is recommended that a formal oral assessment also take place in junior cycle. This would help to raise the profile of the skill. This can take the form of short classroom-based assessments.
Homework was assigned in all lessons visited. This was always appropriate to the needs of the learners and matched the lesson content. Copybooks were inspected in the course of the evaluation and it was evident that homework is assigned and monitored on a regular basis. It was noted that in some instances students do not follow up on corrections made by the teacher. It is recommended that a plan for the development of the skill of writing be developed in the German department. In this context the approach of Assessment for Learning (AfL) should be developed and students should be encouraged to follow up on their mistakes. Further information on AfL can be obtained on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.