An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 61680T
Date of inspection: 19 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Newbridge College, Newbridge, Co. Kildare. 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 relevant staff. 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.
Newbridge College is a private, co-educational school and has seen rapid growth in the last six years. The school has a broad curriculum and a wide range of programmes. The curricular programmes on offer include the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year Programme (TYP) the Leaving Certificate established (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). German is offered at all levels in the school.
There is good provision for German in Newbridge College. All first-year students are given the opportunity of studying German and French. At the end of first year students make a choice regarding which language(s) they will continue with. It is admirable that all students may pursue both languages throughout the junior cycle.
The time allocation for German is good. Students in first year have three periods per week. In the remainder of the junior cycle five periods a week are allocated to the subject. In the Transition Year Programme (TYP) the provision is two class periods per week which run concurrently with French. This poses a difficulty for students doing two languages who access German once a week. However this situation is under review. In senior cycle the provision is five class periods per week. Except in the case of first year, double periods are a feature of the timetable for German, because German is timetabled opposite practical subjects. It is recommended that the double-period provision in junior cycle be reviewed as it does not facilitate best practice for language teaching. Single periods are more conducive to language learning and daily contact with the language is best practice. It is therefore recommended that where possible single periods be allocated to the teaching of languages.
It was noted in the course of the inspection that one first year German class group had not been taught for two of the three periods in the week over a period of months. This arose because no qualified substitute teacher of German could be found for these class periods in spite of great efforts on the part of the management authorities to find personnel. Should this occur in future, existing teachers’ timetables could perhaps be rearranged to ensure that all German classes receive tuition.
The German department comprises a group of dedicated and committed teachers and holds a membership of the GDI (German teachers’ association). Teachers attend courses run by the GDI. Members of the German department have also upskilled in the area of special educational needs. Such commitment to continuous professional development is to be commended.
There are good resources to support the teaching and learning of German: for example, films, DVDs, posters, books, games, tapes and CDs. Every member of the German department has access to the internet and email. These facilities are used to good effect to enhance the teaching of German in the school. There was evidence that resources are updated frequently. For example in this academic year a new set of dictionaries was purchased. Ensuring that existing resources are reviewed and updated regularly is good practice.
German lessons are held in base classrooms. These were well decorated with posters of Germany, and maps of Europe and Germany. Photographs of famous buildings in Germany were also on display. In some classrooms students’ work was displayed. This is effective practice as it increases the students’ sense of ownership of the learning environment.
There are many activities to support the teaching and learning of German in the school. For example German breakfasts have been organised. Students have the opportunity of taking part in school trips to Austria and Germany. In the past an exchange has been organised with a school in Berlin. This year an email project has taken place. All such activities enhance the learning opportunities for the students and are most praiseworthy.
Subject department planning is well established in the school. The German department holds regular meetings both on a formal and an informal basis. Excellent minutes of meetings are kept. Communication between management and the German department is very good. For example the German department prepared an action plan which they submitted to the management authorities of the school to inform them of various issues relating to German in the school. This is good practice and to be commended.
A document outlining the achievements and developments in the German department since a previous visit by the inspector (December 2004) was supplied in the course of the evaluation. The work that has been undertaken as outlined in this document is impressive. For example a whole-school plan for languages will be developed and plans for the incorporation of ICT into the teaching of German are being progressed.
A subject plan for the teaching of German was presented on the day of the inspection. This is a comprehensive document outlining subject aims, information on class groupings, cross-curricular planning and assessment procedures. It is notable that the first objective mentioned under the heading ‘teaching objectives’ is that it is hoped that students will enjoy the experience of learning German. This is most laudable as learning is more effective when it is enjoyable.
The curriculum content for all class groups is outlined in the subject plan. These plans are theme based. This is good practice and in line with syllabus requirements. All skills of language acquisition are referred to as well as the grammar topics that will be covered. The German department stated that the next stage in the development of the plans will be to establish learning outcomes for each theme. This will enhance the plans and have a positive impact on teaching and learning.
Lesson content was generally very good. Students studied a range of themes in German. For example, in junior cycle themes such as hobbies, language exchanges, the school system in Germany were covered. In senior cycle topics such as careers and ideal jobs were discussed. In some instances efforts were made to ensure that the topics were dealt with in a learner-centred manner. For example, students talked about their own hobbies or their own school day. This is good practice and should be borne in mind in planning lesson content. In a lesson observed a text on the theme of ‘Mothers day’ was read. It is more suitable to approach such themes at the appropriate time of the year and not weeks after the event. Ensuring that lesson content is appropriate to the needs and interests of the learners will enhance the learning process.
Cultural components were included in some lessons. In one lesson observed students were asked to compare and contrast school life in Germany and in Ireland. This is good practice and follows the requirements of the syllabus.
In the development of the skill of listening good practice was observed where students were assigned predictive exercises in advance of listening to the German text. A sun diagram was placed on the whiteboard and students were invited to contribute vocabulary in German associated with the theme of exchange. This worked well and students were attuned to the vocabulary which they were about to hear on the CD. In order to enhance the teaching of the skill of listening it is suggested that post-listening activities be organised. As a minimum students should get the opportunity to listen to the text again and focus on any errors they may have made. This will serve to consolidate learning.
In some lessons observed the target language was used to conduct classroom activities. In some instances the management of these activities was done entirely through English or the German was followed by an English translation. This is not in line with good practice. It is recommended that the use of the target language be increased. This will necessitate giving students a list of commonly used classroom phrases and not offering an immediate translation in English. While increasing the use of the target language will require effort for the learners the dividends are huge in terms of the development of their communicative competence.
The communicative competence of learners is also enhanced through dedicated work on pronunciation. It was noted in the course of lesson observation that students’ attention was drawn to errors they had made. For example combinations of letters (ie and ei) were written on the board and the correct pronunciation was demonstrated. Drawing students’ attention globally to such errors is good practice. However to build on this good practice it is vital to give students the opportunity to practise and repeat the correct sounds. This will ensure that learning takes place. While the teacher in a classroom serves as a model for the target language it is also important to use CDs and tape recordings of native speakers as models for the students.
Individual lessons were well planned and in some instances very comprehensive lesson plans had been prepared. It is suggested that in planning for individual lessons an emphasis be placed on the integration of the skills of language acquisition i.e. reading, writing, speaking and listening.
A positive classroom atmosphere prevailed in all lessons observed. Student–teacher interactions were characterised by courtesy and firmness. There was a sense of student security evidenced by students’ readiness to ask for clarification if they did not understand any aspect of the lesson. In some lessons students were asked to reflect on whether a text was easy or difficult. This is very commendable practice as it engages the learners in reflection on learning. Students’ contributions were welcomed and classroom discipline was maintained sensitively. The German department is to be commended for its dedication in this regard.
Students are formally assessed in line with school policy on a regular basis. It is commendable that students in both junior and senior cycles are assessed in all skills of language acquisition: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Common tests are set in German. This is good practice. Parents and guardians receive reports regarding the achievement and progress of the learners. In addition a parent-teacher meeting is held for all year groups annually.
Students are also assessed by means of homework. A selection of copybooks was examined in the course of the evaluation. These showed evidence of homework assignments being completed on a regular basis in all year groups. Best practice was observed where students received individual and comprehensive feedback on written assignments. In some instances students had not received any individual feedback on written exercises in a considerable length of time. This is less than effective practice as learners need feedback in order to improve. It is recommended that the German department draw up a plan for the development of the learners’ written skill. This will include information on the type and frequency of feedback to be given to students. It is recommended that the approach of assessment for learning (AfL) be adopted by the department. Further information on this approach can be obtained from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) 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 and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.