An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Mary Immaculate Secondary School
Lisdoonvarna, County Clare
Roll number: 62000W
Date of inspection: 18 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report On the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mary Immaculate Secondary School . 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 teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School offers the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) to 195 students. German is one of two modern languages on offer in the school. There is a good level of provision for the subject and German features in all programmes on offer. All students have access to a modern language and management reported that only a very small minority, approximately one or two students in each year group with identified special learning needs, are exempt from studying a modern language. Management’s support for modern foreign languages in the school is to be commended. Students are taught German in mixed-ability settings and it is school policy to encourage students, where feasible, to take the higher level in State examinations. This is praiseworthy.
The school’s philosophy is to offer a broad and balanced curriculum to all first-year students. In keeping with this, a ‘Taster Programme’ is offered to incoming first-year students in both German and French. This is praiseworthy as it allows students to make an informed choice regarding the language that they choose to continue studying. It also gives students some insights into the process of learning a new language as well as introducing them to various cultural differences. On completion of the ‘Taster Programme’, students are required to indicate their language preference. Uptake of German is consistently high throughout the school and, at present, there is a good gender balance in the subject uptake. School management is to be complimented for its appreciation of the importance of modern languages in the school’s curriculum.
In compliance with Circular 0019/2007 and LCVP Guidelines a German course is offered to any students who do not choose a modern foreign language to Leaving Certificate level. It is recommended, however, that the few students who do require such a course are identified at the earliest possible juncture to facilitate planning for their needs and the delivery of the course.
The timetable makes very good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the appropriate time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. The allocation of single class periods to all year groups is commendable as it allows regular and sustained class contact time with the target language.
The lack of dedicated classrooms for teachers poses problems for modern foreign language teachers in that audio or visual equipment cannot be left in classrooms. Resources must be brought from one classroom to the next. Since both teachers and students can benefit from working in a subject specific environment, it is recommended, therefore, that management examine the possibility of establishing a base-language room for teachers of modern foreign languages. Some displays of maps, posters, German items of interest and samples of student work could be displayed on the walls. This would enable students to absorb many aspects of German language and culture and would be a means of responding to their different learning needs.
The German department has access to a variety of material resources including TV, video recorders, tape recorders, overhead projectors, data projectors, lap-top computers and a computer room. Although the building is broadband enabled, to date, information and communication technologies (ICT) have not been used to any great extent to support the teaching and learning of German. It is recommended that the German department consider how to best integrate ICT into the language classroom on a regular basis.
There is no annual budget for subjects in the school; however, funds are made available for resources on request. It is recommended that the department apply to management for membership of the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI), the German teachers’ association. It is important that teachers maintain membership of their professional networks as they can often provide useful information in terms of methodologies and other teaching and learning considerations.
Extracurricular activities on offer to support the teaching and learning of German include: German films and videos, the experience of cooking for Christmas with the help of the foreign language assistant (FLA) who was in the school last year, the creation of German posters for the ‘Courtesy and Consideration Week’ and this year’s ski trip to Austria. The school has also been involved in Comenius projects down through the years and these have included links with Germany. This support for German is commendable. Nevertheless, it is recommended that the German department further support the teaching and learning of the language by providing other co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Such activities benefit students and enhance the provision for the subject greatly in that they help to maintain the profile of the subject throughout the whole-school population.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School is actively engaged in school-development planning. Whilst subject departments have not, as yet, officially been established subject planning is underway and groups of teachers can request planning time for their subject areas. On occasion, the teachers of German and French have joined together informally to discuss issues pertinent to both subjects. This informal collaboration is good, particularly given the isolation of the German department. Nevertheless, planning for German in the school should be formalised. It is recommended that, in the future, formal planning could be done under the auspices of modern foreign-language planning. Such a collaborative approach would enable the sharing of expertise and avoid planning for subjects in isolation.
Planning documentation presented by the German department contained broad schemes of work for each year group consisting of long-term and short-term plans. References were also made to students with special educational needs, the development of cultural awareness, cross curricular links were stated and there was limited reference to ICT. There was also a TY plan which detailed many extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of the subject in the school.
The fact that this initial planning has been undertaken is good. However, in the interests of furthering this good practice it is recommended that the desired learning outcomes for each year group be developed in terms of student competencies and specific learning outcomes in the acquisition of the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. This would enable teachers to review their methodologies in light of these outcomes. Revised planning documentation should also reflect a thematic structure and should include specific methodologies and strategies for mixed-ability teaching in both junior and senior cycle. Specific methodologies to support the integration of ICT should also be detailed. Since evaluation is such an integral part of an effective planning process, the plan should be seen as flexible and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an ongoing basis.
There was evidence of very good preparation for all the lessons observed, with advance readiness of audio equipment, resources and photocopies.
Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of students’ work and interaction with students. In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. The purpose of the lessons was clear and all lessons were conducted competently and confidently. It is suggested that, although students were aware of the purpose of the lessons, the good practice of actually sharing the learning outcomes with them at the outset of the lesson could be expanded to all classes, thus increasing students’ ownership of their learning. A very good rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions and students were positively affirmed. This is laudable as it allows for an engagement and interaction that respects the contribution of each student.
Lessons were well prepared and in some classes appropriate handouts were provided to the students. This standard of preparation is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly. Teaching strategies evident on the day of the inspection included the use of teacher-directed learning, question and answer sessions and song. The lesson content was appropriate to the needs of students, as observed, and was in line with syllabus requirements. The pace of the lessons was such that the students were engaged in their work at all times and the students were engaged with the subject matter. This is praiseworthy.
At junior cycle, a commendable emphasis was placed on oral production. Best practice was observed at the start of one class where short, general questions were asked of individual students to review their previous knowledge about sport and hobbies. The ‘Mannschaft der Woche’ (football team of the week) ritual was the initial starting point for questioning. For example, students take it in turns to bring in a ‘team-of-the-week’ poster. They must then discuss and answer questions about their team and favourite player and other students are invited to join in also. The consolidation of previous knowledge (hobbies, favourite subjects and sport) when used as a starting point is beneficial in anchoring the students’ knowledge and focusing them on the task at hand. Allowing students to discuss topics which interest them is praiseworthy as it allows students to personalise their use of the target language in a way that suits them. This sufficiently motivated the students, as observed, for the duration of the class.
German is being used effectively as the language of classroom management and a conscious effort was made to avoid an over-reliance on English in class. This is commendable. However, since teachers are the only model of the target language community that students have access to it is recommended that the German department avail of opportunities to up-skill themselves in the target language as part of their continuing professional development (CPD).
Where the skill of listening was integrated, this was done to good effect. An example of best practice was observed at senior cycle where the use of song provided students with appropriate language awareness and cultural awareness, as well as integrating the skills of listening, writing and reading. Whilst this is good practice, it is recommended that pre-listening skills are employed to make the song or listening comprehension more accessible to all students. The nature of a pre-listening activity is dependent on the level of proficiency of the students and could include activities such as: discussing the theme of the song as part of a brainstorming session or alternatively, students could be asked to listen to the gist of the song and guess the mood of the speaker.
Although there is no base classroom for German, efforts have been made to make some classroom environments more stimulating by the display of posters and maps. In one class, there was a ‘deutsche Wand’ (German wall) with posters of relevant vocabulary items, a colourful map of Germany and pictures of German cities displayed on the walls. Examples of students’ work were put on show also. All this is very beneficial to students and worthy of note. It is recommended that this be extended to all classrooms, where possible.
Students demonstrated a good level of understanding of lesson content and responded well to questioning in the target language. At junior cycle, students were quite adept at forming the perfect past and were confident in using it. This is to be commended. Written production exercises in copybooks showed evidence of attention to detail and also that, overall, a good standard, commensurate with students’ ages and levels, has been achieved.
The school has a formal homework policy and a plan to review this during the coming year. Students of German are given homework on a very regular basis. In most lessons observed homework was checked. On examination of students’ copybooks it was evident that written assignments were corrected on a regular basis. The good practice of signing and dating work corrected is to be praised. Formative feedback was provided to students mainly in the form of the explanation of grammatical errors. It is recommended, therefore, that more diagnostic feedback be given to students to ensure that they are provided with valuable opportunities to learn from their errors. To consolidate this learning it is recommended that students follow up on their errors. This would encourage students to think about why something is incorrect.
It was also noted that translation exercises were assigned as homework on an all too regular basis. Translation exercises can, at times, be a useful mechanical exercise but provide students with little opportunity to manipulate the target language in a meaningful way. It is recommended that the approach of Assessment for Learning (AfL) be adopted to ensure that appropriate modes of homework and assessment be introduced so that consolidation of the learning process takes place. More information on assessment for learning is available from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at http://www.ncca.ie/. Student progress is assessed and monitored through question and answer sessions in class, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and formal examinations.
All examinations include an aural component and oral assessments are given at senior cycle. Students are also given extracurricular opportunities to practise for their orals through coffee mornings where informal discussions around examination topics take place. This is commendable practice. Although oral production forms the basis of some assessment, it is recommended that a formal oral component be a part of every examination for every student. Reports are sent home four times a year for first years, second years and fifth years; three times a year for third years and sixth years and twice yearly for TY students. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups.
There was evidence that most students had a good understanding of the work being done in all of the lessons observed as was evident in the responses to questions asked. They also applied themselves well to tasks given. State examination results are analysed each year and are communicated to all teachers through the annual school report.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is to be complimented for its appreciation of the importance of modern languages in the school’s curriculum. All students have access to a modern language.
· A ‘Taster Programme’ is offered to incoming first-year students in both German and French.
· Although there is no base classroom for German, efforts have been made to make some classroom environments more stimulating by the display of posters and maps.
· Students demonstrated a good level of understanding of lesson content and responded well to questioning in the target language. At junior cycle students were quite adept at forming the perfect past and were confident in using it.
· Where the skill of listening was integrated, this was done to good effect.
· Students are also given extracurricular opportunities to practise for their orals through coffee mornings where informal discussions around examination topics take place.
· All examinations include an aural component and oral assessments are given at senior cycle.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the students who require a language course to fulfil LCVP requirements are identified at the earliest possible juncture.
· A base language room should be established for teachers of modern foreign languages.
· The German department needs to consider how to best integrate ICT into the language classroom on a regular basis.
· Subject department planning should continue as modern foreign-language planning and should include areas such as planning for student outcomes, mixed-ability teaching and learning and integration of all language skills.
· It is recommended that the approach of Assessment for Learning (AfL) be adopted to ensure that appropriate modes of homework and assessment be introduced so that consolidation of the learning process takes place.
· A formal oral component should be a part of every examination for every student.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes this positive report on the teaching of German in the school.