An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Saint Raphael’s College
Loughrea, County Galway
Roll number: 63070C
Date of inspection: 1 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report of the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Raphael’s College. 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 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
German is one of two modern languages taught in this mixed secondary school and there is a good tradition for the provision of the subject. It features in all programmes on offer in the school: Junior Certificate, 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.
Prior to entry, first-year students are invited to attend an open evening with their parents to inform themselves of subject options and to meet the staff. There is also an ‘open day’ for prospective students to attend and, on the day, an opportunity is presented to them to experience German through ‘mini lessons’ in the subject. This student-centred approach to subject choice is commendable. In line with best practice a ‘Taster Programme’ in languages is offered to incoming first year students. On completion of the ‘Taster Programme’, students are required to indicate their modern language preference between French and German. This is commendable as it allows students to make a more informed decision about their language choice. School management is to be commended for its support for modern languages as the choice of one modern language is mandatory at junior cycle. At senior cycle students, generally, continue with their modern language after their Junior Certificate.
All German classes are of mixed ability. Students with special educational needs have access to modern languages through the ‘Taster Programme’ on offer and those who wish to continue with a language can do so. This provision for access to a modern language for such students is praiseworthy. Furthermore, there is a good gender balance in the uptake of German at both senior and junior cycles. This is laudable.
The German department reported they have had good access to a variety of material resources including TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, CD players and a data projector. German magazines and books are also available to students. There is a designated computer room in the school and 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. However, the school operates a split campus and on-line facilities are only available in one building. Access appears too cumbersome for the German department at the moment, as it is reported to be very time-consuming to bring a class to the computer room in the other building. Management reported that work on a proposed new school building should commence within the next year, approximately, and there are plans for a multi-media room included. When these plans are realised, it is recommended to integrate information and communications technology (ICT), where possible, into the teaching and learning of German. All junior-cycle and senior-cycle students should be exposed to the benefits of information and communication technology to encourage independent and autonomous learning from an early stage.
There is a dedicated classroom for the teaching and learning of German and it contains a variety of books, posters, authentic materials and students’ own work. There is a colourful ‘Postkarte Ecke’ (postcard corner) which displays examples of students’ postcards to German speakers. German words are placed on tangible items in the room, for example, the door (die Tür). Such strategies are commendable as they provide reinforcement of new vocabulary visually and aurally as well as affording students ownership of their learning environment. 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 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 St. Raphael’s College has provided access for students to travel abroad to Germany, but opportunities have not been presented to students of late. Nevertheless, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are provided by the German department to support the teaching and learning of the language. The German department organises a traditional German breakfast each year for both junior and senior cycle students, students have had opportunities to see German videos, and parents of students are advised on exchange programmes or courses. 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. Activities such as poetry or song competitions could be organised in conjunction with the other modern language teachers, as well as a ‘Modern Languages Day’. The school could also enter the German Teachers’ Association (GDI) debating competition. School management reported it is very prepared to pursue the possibility of school tours to Germany and to foster links with other school 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.
St. Raphael’s College, Loughrea 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 informal planning meetings occur on the basis of need. 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.
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 could be done under the auspices of modern foreign language planning. Such a collaborative approach would share expertise and avoid planning for subjects in isolation. This plan should include: a thematic and integrated approach to language teaching, the statement of desired learning outcomes as well as how best to achieve these with each class group and formal planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle. Consideration should also be given to the inclusion of a variety of teaching methodologies and strategies to be used with different year groups. Planning documentation should be regarded as a ‘work-in-progress’ and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an on-going basis.
During the course of the inspection, planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle was a stated need for the German department, and indeed for the school. It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in mixed-ability teaching and differentiated learning, as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD), should be addressed by school management at languages level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects.
There was clear evidence of good short-term planning as individual lesson plans were presented on the day. All lessons observed were well prepared as evidenced by their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Examples included the preparation of handouts for students and the preparation of a PowerPoint presentation. This is praiseworthy. The German department was conscious of its responsibility to its learners in covering the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. A ‘self appraisal schedule’ which included areas such as motivation, discipline, questioning techniques and class involvement was prepared in conjunction with individual class planning. This capacity for review and self-evaluation is commendable and should be extended to all areas of planning for the subject.
Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students. The three class groups visited in the course of the inspection were all junior cycle. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently and the classroom atmosphere, as observed, was conducive to learning. In all classes observed there was a secure, work-oriented learning atmosphere and the nature of student-teacher interactions was positive. This is commendable, as it allows for interactions that respect the contribution of each student.
With the aid of an overhead, each lesson’s purpose was explicitly stated at the start of each lesson, the lessons were well-structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. This is good practice and is a useful strategy to focus students and ensure they remain on task. The pace of the lessons was such that the students were kept on-task at all times and the students were evidently engaged with the subject matter. This was commendable. The blackboard and overhead projector were used to good effect to support the teaching and learning of German. There was good integration of ICT and it was used to elicit oral production from the students during pair-work. The use of pair-work is to be commended, as it allows students the opportunity to practice their German in a ‘safe’ environment.
Some commendable but inconsistent use of the target language was observed in classrooms. For example, German was used to good effect during ‘brainstorming’ exercises on topics such as the weather and transport. However, many classroom instructions and transactional communications were conducted through English. Translation, used as a method to check students’ comprehension, should be avoided, as too, an almost ‘reflex-translation’ of vocabulary. Instead, an effort should be made to use either exaggerated gestures or alternative, known vocabulary to assist students in their comprehension. Best practice was observed where efforts were made to provide students with German synonyms during a listening comprehension exercise and it is recommended that it be extended to all classes. Strategies should be developed to consolidate and firmly embed the target language for students at all stages in their language learning. It is also recommended that due consideration be given to pronunciation. The most important resource for any language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target language community and culture. Therefore, it is very important that teachers avail of opportunities to upskill themselves as part of their CPD, both in terms of their own linguistic competence and in the development of the linguistic competence of their learners.
Student dictionaries were very prominent in some classes. However, students were not encouraged to use them. It is suggested that an emphasis be placed on dictionary usage to encourage students to actively engage with the learning process and take responsibility for their work.
Lesson topics were thematic and lessons were either a continuation or extension of previous work. Listening skills were integrated well in classes observed. An example of best practice was observed where the theme of travel was exploited to good effect by the use of oral work about methods of transport in general. Later, through the use of a listening comprehension task on the same topic, aural skills were successfully integrated. This integration of skills is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements and should be extended to all classes. However, it is recommended that, during the practice of listening skills post-listening activities should be exploited to provide further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. An example of this would be to examine errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, to replay the tape exercise. This is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard both on Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate aural examinations. It is also recommended that the development of reading and writing skills be incorporated into all classes, where possible.
The consolidation of previous knowledge (colours, methods of transport, the weather) was used as a starting point in all classes and this was very beneficial in anchoring the students’ knowledge and focusing them on the task at hand. This consolidation of learning was further developed where students in some classes were afforded the opportunity to formulate ideas orally and construct sentences aloud in preparation for the night’s homework task. This good practice is very useful and should be extended to all classes.
Whilst there is, at present, no whole-school homework policy a variety of assessment modes is regularly used to assess student competence and progress. Students are assessed at school level and at individual teacher level and assessment such as regular homework, vocabulary tests, aural tests and the testing of grammatical items are designed to facilitate consolidation of learning and to give students confidence and experience to further their learning. Formal assessments take place for all non-examination years at Christmas and summer. Examination years sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. There is a system of ‘six-week tests’ in operation for first and second year students and student-attainment records of this, and other assessment, are kept and these are communicated to parents on a regular basis. This is commendable.
Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic engaged with during the lesson. There was some very good use of homework to extend a grammar point or principle and a range of completed syllabus related work was evident in copybooks inspected. Whilst there was evidence that assigned work was corrected regularly in class, there were limited examples of correction or formative assessment being provided to students in their copybooks. The school is familiar with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA’s) 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.
The German department also ensures that students’ oral proficiency is monitored and it engages in the practice of conducting oral assessment at senior cycle. However, this is currently under review and changes to assessment procedures for junior cycle regarding oral assessment are being implemented. This is commendable, as a formal oral assessment component should be an integral element of all formal assessment as, not only does it serve to raise the profile of oral skills, it also gives all students the opportunity to build on success.
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 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.