An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of German

REPORT

 

Meánscoil na mBráithre

Ennistymon, County Clare

Roll number: 61940T

 

Date of inspection: 19 September 2007

Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil na mBráithre. 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

German is the only modern language taught in Meánscoil na mBráithre and there is a very good tradition for the provision of the subject in the school. Teachers are keen to promote links with local German families and business people and native German guest speakers have been invited to the school on a regular basis. The facilitation of such contacts is most laudable as it helps bring the target language and its culture to life for students.

 

German features in all programmes on offer:  Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY) Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. The timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. All lessons are allocated single periods. The allocation of single class periods is commendable as it allows regular and sustained class contact time with the target language.

 

German is a compulsory subject and school management is to be commended for its support for a modern language forming a central strand of the curriculum. All German classes at junior cycle are of mixed ability. At senior cycle classes are banded around higher and ordinary level with movement between classes, where possible. Students decide what level to take after a collaborative consultation process with teachers and parents. This is good practice. Students with special educational needs have access to German and there is a strong sense of pastoral care which is evident in the help provided for these students during class time. This provision for access to a modern language for such students is praiseworthy.

 

In the ongoing context of a proposed amalgamation, management is to be commended for its co-operation with other local schools in providing a ‘shared’ curriculum. This local consultation about planning for shared resources has quite a tradition in the school. For example, French is offered in the local girls’ secondary school and has been timetabled at the same time as German in Meánscoil na mBráithre for a number of years. This is to facilitate those students from either school, who enrol after first year, who have not studied the language on offer in the school they attend. This vision for the future is commendable.

 

The teaching of German is carried out by a dedicated team of teachers. School management is to be commended on its policy to pay fees for the German teachers’ association, Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI). Some German teachers have attended the Clare Education Centre for information and communication technologies (ICT) training. Members of the German team have acted as oral examiners for the Leaving Certificate examinations. This provides a very valuable insight into the development of the skill of oral production in a foreign language. Such commitment to ongoing professional development is praiseworthy and benefits teachers and students alike.

 

The school engages in the commendable practice of regularly applying for a foreign language assistant (FLA). Indeed, an FLA was assigned to the school as recently as the previous academic year.

 

The German department reported that it has had good access to audio-visual equipment and ICT. The school is broadband enabled and there is a designated computer room in the school where classes have access to computers and on-line facilities. Access to the computer room is by a ‘booking’ process, whereby teachers book the room at available timeslots. It is commendable that students have access to computer facilities during their lunch break also. The integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of German was noted during the course of the evaluation and is highly commended. While it is reported that the acquisition of appropriate textbooks is challenging, it is important to be mindful that the easy availability of ICT within the school goes some way towards meeting these difficulties. The teaching of the senior cycle is rotated where possible.

Because of infrastructural constraints, there is no dedicated classroom for the teaching and learning of German. There is no annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, on request to management, funds will be made available for the purchase of resources. It is suggested that this money could be used, not only to up-date resources, but also, to purchase a selection of books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies such as mixed-ability teaching. Sites such as www.cilt.co.uk could prove very successful in helping teachers to build a useful bank of on-line resources for their own use, or aid them in purchasing suitable texts to further their professional development.

 

In the past Meánscoil na mBráithre has provided access for students to travel abroad to Germany and Austria, but opportunities have not been presented to students of late. Nevertheless, a range of co-curricular and some extracurricular activities is provided by the German department to support the teaching and learning of the language. The German department organises a traditional Frankfurter Tag (German sausage tasting) each year for students. Students have also had opportunities to see German videos. In addition, the school participates in the European Languages Day as well as organising Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) for students of German. These efforts to promote German are recognised and commended as they help to maintain the profile of German in the school. 

 

Whilst acknowledging that such activities can only take place with the goodwill and generosity of those involved, it is recommended, however, that the German department, with support of school management, should make a concerted effort to further raise the profile of the subject throughout the whole school population. Co-curricular and cross-curricular activities such as poetry or song competitions could be organised and the school could also enter the GDI debating competition. School management reported it is willing to pursue the possibility of school tours to Germany and to foster links with other schools in German-speaking countries. Opportunities through www.etwinning.com could be explored in the wider school context as well as specifically for German. These efforts could begin to create an even greater awareness of German throughout the whole-school population and would serve to further enhance the provision of the subject.

 

Planning and preparation

 

Meánscoil na mBráithre, Ennistymon is involved in the school development planning process and there is evidence of German department planning. Formal department planning meetings are facilitated at the beginning of the school year and while ‘mock’ examinations are taking place. Informal planning meetings occur on a needs basis. Targets for progress from year to year are addressed in a general way in planning documentation. General communicative tasks to be achieved, in line with syllabus guidelines and objectives, are outlined and this is to be commended. In addition, references to teaching students with special educational needs as well as cross-curricular planning are included in the plan. There is a separate TY plan which lists active methodologies for use in the classroom. Cultural awareness and links to useful websites are also documented. It is good that the rich educational opportunities that the programme offers, including cross-curricular themes and independent learning are referenced.

 

There is a co-ordinator for German and it is recommended that this position should rotate amongst all German teachers in the school. Formal records of meetings and agenda should be kept so that progress can be mapped.

 

Whilst the German department is commended for the initial planning undertaken, it is recommended that a more detailed plan of the subject be drawn up. This plan should include: a thematic approach to language teaching and learning, planning for the integration of all language skills in every lesson and a statement of desired learning outcomes incorporating how best to achieve these with each class group. It is also desirable to include a list of methodologies, taking into consideration the broad category of learning styles that applies in any mixed-ability setting at junior or senior cycle. There should be a strong emphasis on active learning methodologies and the department should document effective differentiation strategies. Planning documentation should be regarded as flexible and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an on-going basis.

 

There was clear evidence of short-term planning as almost all lessons observed were well prepared as is evident by their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Examples included the preparation of pair-work exercises for students and the preparation of a PowerPoint presentation. This is praiseworthy.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Inspection activities included the observation of six classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. In all lessons observed, classroom management was effective and a good rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions. Students benefited from a high level of support and attention from their teachers. Some teachers circulated among the students providing individual guidance, assistance and feedback where needed. This is good practice. Students were engaged in their work and teachers gave varied and appropriate encouragement. This is laudable as it allows for engagement and interaction that respect the contribution of each student.

 

In general, lessons were well prepared and appropriate handouts, learning aids and answer templates were provided to students. A range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, a PowerPoint presentation, question and answer sessions and pair work. Best practice was observed where the pace of lessons was challenging and there was a variety of learning activities organised for the students. Where the whiteboard was used as a teaching and learning tool, for example, to note vocabulary and new phrases, this was done effectively. It is recommended that teachers remain cognisant of the fact that the whiteboard can prove very useful in supporting language learning, particularly for those students who are visual learners, and should be utilised regularly for that purpose.

 

There was some commendable use of the target language observed. Indeed, at senior cycle students spontaneously responded humorously in answer to teacher-generated questions. It is evident that most teachers make an effort to avoid an over-reliance on translation in class and this is commendable. However, it is recommended that the German teachers develop strategies to consolidate and firmly embed the target language for students at all stages in their language learning. In this way the more linguistically able students will benefit from the challenge of authentic communication in the target language, while those who are less proficient will have the linguistic strategies necessary to indicate such difficulties. Teachers should also avail of opportunities to up skill themselves linguistically as part of their continuing professional development (CPD).

 

ICT was used to good effect in junior cycle. A PowerPoint presentation was used to introduce the city of Berlin and subsequent planned learning activities ran into each other in an effortless fashion. Students worked at a challenging pace and written production was integrated in an authentic manner. This integration of ICT alongside the consolidation of other skills is very commendable. It is recommended that this type of ICT integration be extended to all classes so that all students learning German could benefit.

 

An integrated approach to the three broad components of the syllabus, communicative proficiency, language awareness and cultural awareness was used to good effect in two junior cycle groupings observed. There was an obvious link to work already covered and learning was then extended to develop linguistic, written and cultural awareness skills. In their oral responses, students demonstrated an ability to communicate and used reasonably correct German. Overall, students’ drilling and imitation activities observed proved to be very successful in modelling learners’ pronunciation in German. Indeed, this is beneficial to aural comprehension also, as focused oral production can improve aural skills.

 

The thematic integration of lesson topics as observed is good practice. Some of the four language skills were integrated to good effect in a number of lessons observed. This is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. It is recommended, however, that concerted efforts be made to incorporate all four skills into each lesson.

 

Although pair work was observed during one lesson at senior cycle, overall, there was a lack of active methodologies and active student-learning strategies in use. It is recommended that active learning methodologies be adopted in classroom practice to encourage learner independence and autonomy.

 

 

Assessment

 

A variety of assessment modes is used to assess students’ competence and progress. Students are very regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level to give students confidence and experience to further their learning. This is commendable. Examination classes also sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Reports, through a report notebook system, are issued to parents and guardians regarding students’ progress. It is commendable that students are assessed regularly on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

 

Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic engaged with during the lesson. Best practice was observed where homework was prepared orally in class. From observation of students’ copybooks, it was evident that some teachers provided good support to students in their written exercises.

 

Whilst there was evidence that assigned work was corrected regularly in class, there were limited examples of correction or formative assessment being provided to some students in their copybooks. The school is familiar with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) Assessment for Learning (AfL). Therefore, it is strongly recommended that copybooks be monitored on a regular basis and that AfL principles be put into practice on a regular and sustained basis to encourage learner autonomy. This will serve as an aid to students in identifying shortcomings and developing their strengths. The good practice of encouraging students to re-write their corrections and learn from their errors could also be incorporated.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The facilitation of contacts with native German speakers is most laudable as it helps bring the target language and its culture to life for students.

·         German is a compulsory subject and school management is to be commended for its support for a modern language which forms a central strand of the curriculum.

·         The German department reported that it had good access to audio-visual equipment and information and communication technologies (ICT).

·         School management is to be commended on its policy to pay fees for the GDI.

·         A range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, a PowerPoint presentation, question and answer sessions and pair work.

·         A variety of assessment modes is used to assess students’ competence and progress.

·         Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic engaged with during the lesson. Best practice was observed where homework was prepared orally in class.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         German teachers should develop strategies to consolidate and firmly embed the target language for students at all stages in their language learning.

·         It is recommended that ICT integration should be extended to all classes so that all students learning German could benefit.

·         Teachers should also avail of opportunities to up skill themselves linguistically as part of their continuing professional development (CPD).

·         It is strongly recommended that copybooks be monitored on a regular basis and that AfL principles be put into practice on a regular and sustained basis to encourage learner autonomy.

 

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.