An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Loreto Secondary School,
Grange’s Road, Kilkenny
Roll Number: 61580P
Date of inspection: 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Kilkenny. 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 to the teachers of German. 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 an enrolment of 774 girls in Loreto Secondary School, Kilkenny. The school offers Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate, as well as the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). From discussions with school management and with language teachers, it is clear that there is an awareness of the importance of learning a modern language. Languages form a central strand of the school curriculum, and school management is to be commended for its contribution to supporting language learning.
All students take German and French in first year and continued study of a modern language is mandatory from first year onwards, with most students taking French at junior cycle. A very small number of students do not study a modern language due to their special educational needs. While students can continue with both languages, most students do not take more than one language. In 2006, out of a first-year student cohort of 135, sixteen students opted to continue with the study of German in second year, while twenty continued with it the previous year. While student numbers for German are at a sustainable level, school management, together with the German teachers, will need to continue their efforts to maintain those numbers opting for German. At senior cycle, students are given an open choice in relation to their language of study. LCA has just been introduced and Spanish was considered the most useful language for that particular grouping. The diversity of the school’s modern language provision is commendable.
The provision for modern languages in the timetable is as follows: French, which is part of the core curriculum, appears on two option lines to facilitate students taking two languages. In second and third year, there are four periods per week allocated to German, in TY three periods and at senior cycle five periods, three single and one double. The LCA group has three single periods allocated to their modern language. However, in first year, while there are four periods allocated to French per week, there are only two periods allocated to German. A review and a re-balancing of the number of lesson periods in first year is recommended, to ensure an adequate number of periods are allocated to the study of both modern languages, French and German. The provision of additional tuition time to German in the crucial first year may also help to ensure sustainable numbers for German at junior cycle and also into senior cycle.
Teachers are allocated to classes based on their qualifications, experience and curricular needs, and the teachers of German are allocated Leaving and Junior Certificate classes on a rotational basis. The German language teachers have a base classroom which is available to both teachers. This is commendable, as the provision of a language base room optimises the integration of resources, including Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The provision of one base classroom for German is working well, providing a rich language environment for the learners. A range of resources is available for the teaching of German, including books, authentic texts, DVDs, CDs, as well as good access to ICT. ICT is used for the production of grammar exercises, quizzes, cultural and authentic texts and project work.
The co-curricular activities in place allow co-operation with other subjects areas, including the Art, Home Economics, Geography and History departments. The inclusion of cross-curricular links and interdisciplinary aspects to the teaching and learning in German is to be commended. This is particularly relevant to both the content and approach recommended for Transition Year. There is a visit planned to Vienna in 2007/2008. The school regularly applies for a language assistant and the language teachers have cooperated with the scheme over the years. The school will receive a German Assistant in 2007/2008. Both school management and language teachers alike acknowledge the positive impact of the native speaker, and representative of the target language community, in the school and classroom.
Teachers are facilitated in attending available in-service and are members of the German Teachers Association. All subject departments can apply to the board of management for a budget for the subject on an annual basis. This facilitates the acquisition of resources for the language classroom, including books, posters, DVDs and other materials which is commendable.
An effective subject plan for the teaching and learning of German is in place and all the elements of good planning were included in the planning documentation made available at the time of the inspection. The German plan opened with the mission statement for the language department, which promotes motivation for language learning and communication in the language. This is commendable. The specific aims of fostering interest in and motivation for language learning were particularly in evidence in the lessons observed. Long-term planning was informed by the curriculum, was fully in line with syllabus guidelines and demonstrated a level of reflection on the part of the German teachers. The planning documentation also included a catalogue of resources and strategies for use for students with learning difficulties.
The planning documentation for German correctly began with aims and objectives for the subject, and appropriately sub-divided these into objectives for junior and senior cycle. For example, at junior cycle, the encouragement of group work was included to promote student interaction and use of the target language. At junior cycle, there was awareness on the part of the German teachers of how essential it is to speak the language from the beginning and to ensure that oral competence forms a central part of language acquisition from the outset. To establish such core strategies for the learning of the language is a praiseworthy objective for young language learners. At senior cycle, students were encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning in terms of organisation, planning and reflection, which is a commendable objective. The inclusion of learning outcomes, in terms of “can do” statements, would develop this objective further and is therefore recommended. Particularly commendable was the explicit objective of encouraging students to aim for the highest level appropriate to their ability.
Structures within the school facilitate a collaborative approach by teachers to subject planning. There is no specific coordinator for the subject; however, both German teachers work well together. There is a German planning meeting at the beginning of the year and also at regular intervals throughout the year. The German department also meets regularly with the learning support team and resource teachers who keep teachers informed of difficulties being experienced by students. Classroom activities are planned in such a way as to ensure that students can experience success, while at the same time acquiring language in a fun and relaxed manner. Lesson timelines recorded in the course of the inspection demonstrate that this was being implemented in practice.
The aims and objectives as outlined in planning documentation were being achieved in the lessons observed. A good range of methodologies was observed at the time of the evaluation. It would augment and complete the existing planning documentation to include and record the range of methodologies to be deployed in delivering the syllabus. Good short-term planning was observed as evidenced by the pace and structure of the lessons. A good range of resources was integrated into the lessons. This range could be broadened to enrich the learning experience for students. In this context, the reinforcement of student learning through integrating the use of ICT into classroom activities is recommended. ICT provides an effective means of including all students and can lead to building on student confidence and on oral fluency in preparation for the Leaving Certificate oral examination. The integration of ICT and regular access to ICT are particularly effective in developing independent learning of language skills and in sustaining motivation for learning. The use of computer assisted language learning packages for class use and for self-access is recommended.
Some of the approaches and methodologies deployed by the German teachers to create an effective, stimulating learning environment for German included: active learning methodologies such as pair work/group work; effective integration of grammar; systematic vocabulary acquisition; consistent use of the target language; the practice of oral work; the use of games and authentic texts. In all lessons observed, a balance between language acquisition and engagement with the content was achieved.
Students heard and used a lot of German in their language lessons. There was consistent use of the target language, with judicious recourse to mother tongue and translation of lexical and other items. A range of active and interactive learning strategies was deployed to maximise participation and learning. Each student was required to participate. Progression in learning was evident where students were presented with individual lexical items, which they then used in phrases, before progressing to the construction of sentences. The approach ensured accuracy and provided opportunities to effectively integrate grammar revision. The students were competent in completing sentences and in using vocabulary items in the accusative case.
When introducing new vocabulary items, teachers presented the definite article as a matter of course which is essential and is commendable. Teachers reinforced the learning of the vocabulary through good use of chorus or repetition in unison. It was commendable to observe the way in which students checked in their dictionaries when uncertain in relation to vocabulary. The use of German synonyms, for example, “produzieren” for “erzeugen” is recommended, in particular at senior cycle, when broadening the vocabulary base of students.
In most lessons observed, the objective of the learning was communicated to the students from the outset and fulfilled. Students were accustomed to pair and group work and a relaxed but purposeful working atmosphere prevailed while students completed the tasks assigned. The teachers interacted with students individually and in pairs, ensuring completion of the task. On some occasions, further linguistic and lexical scaffolding for students integrated in a simple way in the working language of German could have been provided. The display of useful phrases for classroom interactions on the walls for student reference may help in this regard. Examples of previous student work could also be displayed. Nevertheless, students were actively affirmed and encouraged in their learning throughout the lessons. The focus was on the students learning by doing and using the language.
There was good integration of skills throughout the lessons observed in line with syllabus guidelines. The teachers directed the learning initially, then followed this with the integration of learning activities. For example, the deployment of an authentic game appropriate to the level and age of the group to augment the learning in the topic and to stimulate interest was particularly effective. It was accessible and enjoyable for students, and the activity designed for the students made the content of the authentic text all the more accessible to the learner. The students heard and used a lot of German in playing the game. Similarly, in another lesson observed, the use of a quiz in small groups served to motivate and engage students and to consolidate learning. The theme of the lesson had an appropriate cultural awareness dimension to the lesson content in line with TY recommendations.
The focus in some lessons was on examination preparation which was appropriate to the time of the evaluation: tasks were well thought out, thorough and systematic. Students demonstrated good understanding of the topics being revised. Tape work was exploited well to stimulate interest and homework exercises assigned were designed to consolidate the oral and aural practice of the lesson. Students were accurate in their responses in the course of lessons and in interaction with the inspector. The students were quietly self-assured in being well able to understand and to analyse language, and demonstrated a keen awareness of how the language works.
Assessment in German takes into account class participation and written class tests at the end of each topic. A review of what students have learnt across the four skills is conducted on a regular basis and there was an appropriate focus on the four skills in assessment at both junior and senior level. Regular tests are given to classes on completion of topics. Results of these are included in Christmas and Easter reports. In this way, the school succeeds in combining both formative and summative modes of assessment which is commendable. All years have an agreed common syllabus which is examined with an agreed common paper set at an appropriate level for the formal summer examinations.
Reports are issued three times a year at Easter, Christmas and summer time. Aural and oral examinations form integral parts of these examinations, which is commendable practice. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are held once a year and there is regular contact with parents as necessary and requested.
A draft homework policy exists and each subject department has their own policy. The care and attention afforded to each individual student is clear in the quality of the correction and the accompanying annotations included in student work. There was a good uptake of higher level in state examinations and the attainment of students in those examinations at both levels was good.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Languages form a central strand of the school curriculum, and school management is to be commended for its contribution to supporting language learning.
· An effective subject plan for the teaching and learning of German is in place. Long-term planning is informed by the curriculum, is fully in line with syllabus guidelines and demonstrates a level of reflection on the part of teachers.
· There was consistent use of the target language in the lessons observed and students heard and used a lot of German in their language lessons.
· A range of active and interactive learning strategies was deployed to maximise participation and learning and there was good integration of skills throughout the lessons observed.
· Tape work was exploited well to stimulate interest, and homework exercises assigned were designed to consolidate the oral and aural practice of the lessons.
· The school combines both formative and summative modes of assessment, which is a commendable practice.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A review and a re-balancing of the number of periods allocated to the study of both French and German is recommended. The provision of additional tuition time to German in the crucial first year may also help to ensure sustainable numbers for German at junior cycle and also into senior cycle.
· It is recommended that the range of methodologies observed at the time of the evaluation be included in the existing planning documentation to record the richness of the learning experiences provided for learners in delivering the syllabus.
· The inclusion of learning outcomes, in terms of “can do” statements, would develop the objective of students taking responsibility for their own learning further and is therefore recommended.
· The use of German synonyms is recommended, in particular at senior cycle, when broadening the vocabulary base of students.
· The provision of visual linguistic support for students to maintain lesson momentum and student confidence is recommended. This could take the form of simple wall charts of verbs or useful classroom language phrases.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, with the modern languages coordinator and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.