An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63270K
Date of inspection: 3 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhuire. 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 teacher. 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. 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.
German is offered in all years in the junior and senior cycle in the school. First-year students are offered a choice between German and French. Generally this choice is made before they enter the school. However for the first six weeks in first year they may attend either the French or German class and make their final choice at the end of this period. This is good practice as it allows students flexibility if they find their initial choice is unsuitable.
The numbers of students studying German in the junior cycle have increased although there is no obvious reason for this. The numbers remain significantly lower than French with the ratio being one to four in favour of French. Another trend which merits comment is the fact that a total of twelve students in first year are not taking any modern language. One of the reasons cited was the increase in students entering the school who already have an exemption from Irish. It is recommended that all changes in trends such as those outlined be monitored and kept under review. The school management in consultation with all language teachers should consider the development of a languages policy which would address issues such as uptake in languages. It is also imperative that parents and students are fully informed of the consequences that not studying any modern language may have on later career options, in particular the inevitable restricted access to certain third-level institutions.
German lessons take place in a ‘base’ classroom. This is good practice as it allows for all materials pertaining to the subject to be located in one area. It also allows for posters, maps and students’ work to be displayed. This enhances the learning atmosphere. The ‘base’ classroom provided for German is very small and students have restricted space. This militates against group work which is important in a language classroom. It is recommended that, resources permitting, this room be shared with other subjects on a term or a yearly basis.
Many resources to support the teaching and learning of the subject have been obtained. The German department has cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs, books and magazines. This year a full set of class dictionaries was purchased. This is a most useful resource to have readily available. Having such a resource ensures that students learn the skills of dictionary use and develop autonomous language learning skills. To develop a rationale for the acquisition of materials, it is recommended that a complete inventory of all resources be taken with a view to ensuring that these are kept up-to-date. It is also recommended that some resources are purchased which pertain specifically to modern language teaching methodology. Very useful information on the most modern methodologies including the use of ICT in language teaching is available on www.cilt.co.uk. It is also suggested that the school membership of the GDI (German Teachers’ Association be renewed. Information relating to the German Teachers’ Professional Network is available at www.germanteachers.ie.
In the last academic year a student exchange to Germany was arranged by the German department. This was due to an initiative undertaken by the German department in conjunction with a language assistant who was working in the school. This involved a number of senior-cycle students visiting Schwedt in Germany, attending school there and living with German families. The German partner school is due to make a return visit in the course of this academic year. This has undoubtedly afforded the students of Coláiste Mhuire an opportunity to experience the language and culture of the country at first hand and has enriched their learning experience. The organisation of such a valuable co-curricular activity is to be highly commended. It is acknowledged that this involves a huge amount of dedication on the part of the German department.
The school is actively involved in school development planning and has engaged the services of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to assist it in this process. Subject departments have been established and meet on a formal basis. This is good practice and allows teachers to engage in professional dialogue and plan for the teaching and learning of their subjects. The teachers of German and French meet together as a Modern Languages department. This is very effective as it allows for a more comprehensive input when addressing issues that affect language teaching. Agendas are set for meetings and records of decisions are kept.
Individual lessons were well planned. Yearly schemes of work were presented in the course of the evaluation. The schemes of work for junior cycle outlined the resources to be used, the chapters that would be covered and information on assessment. It is recommended that these plans be developed to include information on the exact themes that will be covered in the course of the different years.
The schemes of work for senior cycle were theme based and outlined all the topics that would be covered in fifth and sixth year. The plans outlined information on the language skills that would be developed in conjunction with each theme. It is recommended that these plans be further developed to include information on specific learning outcomes. This will ensure that in planning the focus remains firmly on the learning process and on how these outcomes will be achieved.
The themes chosen for lesson content were interesting and in line with syllabus requirements. In junior cycle classes, themes such as personal descriptions and talking about illnesses were chosen. In senior cycle the theme of further study and language learning were discussed. In the majority of classes visited students understood and engaged in activities without any difficulties. However, there was some evidence of the text chosen proving very difficult for the learners and containing a lot of unknown vocabulary and phrases. It is recommended that shorter texts be chosen and that the level of the students always be carefully taken into consideration when choosing texts. It is suggested that in classes of mixed ability care is also taken to differentiate the learning activities. This is particularly relevant where students in the same class will be taking German at different levels in the State examinations.
A wide variety of teaching methodologies was in use in the course of the evaluation. Pair work was used effectively in the course of some lessons. In addition the skills of languages acquisition (listening, speaking, reading and writing) were well integrated in line with syllabus recommendations. For example in a junior cycle class visited learners were asked to read out their written homework on the theme of personal descriptions. This was then followed by a listening comprehension exercise based on the same theme. As a post-listening exercise, students were again asked to develop their oral skills by manipulating the information which had been gathered in the course of the listening activity. This is an example of best practice and should be extended to all classes.
The use of the target language was very good in all lessons and the excellent linguistic competence within the German department was evident. German was used as the means of communication at all times in the classroom. Students readily understood all instructions and were obviously accustomed to carrying out activities in German. It is recommended that, in order to build on the very good practice observed, some dedicated pronunciation activities be built into all classes. Concentrating on improving students’ pronunciation will greatly enhance the communicative skills of the learners and increase their accuracy.
The emphasis in the lessons visited was on consolidation of the learning process. This was achieved effectively by the use of a number of very good teaching techniques. For example, when a student did not know an answer to a question he was given ample opportunity to reflect and come up with a solution. This was accompanied by a number of hints from the teacher in an effort to ‘jog’ the student’s memory. This proved most beneficial as students ultimately offered a correct answer. In addition at the end of all lessons observed students were asked to close their books and were asked a series of questions based on the lesson of the day. This provided useful feedback for the teacher and the learners with regard to learning outcomes. The use of techniques such as those witnessed in the course of the evaluation is to be highly commended and contributed significantly to the consolidation of the learning process.
Project work forms part of the learning programme for all students of German. This is usually carried out in the computer room where students undertake research on dedicated websites. Examples of students’ project work were presented in the course of the evaluation. These were colourful and showed evidence of independent learning and research. Engaging students in such tasks and incorporating the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of the subject are both to be highly commended.
The atmosphere in all lessons observed was characterised by a sense of cooperation and mutual respect. Students were constantly affirmed for their contributions. It was clear from the manner in which students contributed in class that they felt a great sense of security in their learning environment. Students engaged very enthusiastically in all the activities and obviously enjoyed the classroom activities. Creating an atmosphere such as this is attributable to the professional and helpful approach of the teacher.
It is school policy that three formal examinations are held for students in all years. Reports with information on students’ progress and achievement in those examinations are sent home following each set of examinations. A parent-teacher meeting is held for every year group annually. This year, two parent-teacher meetings will be held for sixth-year students. This is laudable as it ensures a high level of contact between the school and the parents of students in their final year of post-primary education.
German assessments are held on a regular basis after each unit of learning. All skills of language acquisition are tested. Students are given short oral tests in class time, listening comprehension tests as well as tests in reading and writing. This is praiseworthy as it ensures a comprehensive assessment of the learners’ progress and will ensure that learners can be made aware of any areas for development.
Homework is assigned regularly to all class groupings in line with the commonly agreed school homework policy. This work is checked on a daily basis. Homework provides a particularly good opportunity to improve on writing skills. In the copies viewed in the course of the inspection it was noted that on occasion marks were assigned for the exercises. It is suggested that comments on how students can improve would be of more benefit to the students It is recommended that the assessment for learning approach be adopted with regard to the correction of homework. This will involve students focusing on a limited number of mistakes and correcting those as a post-writing activity. Further information on assessment for learning is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
The timetable allocation for German is good and numbers of students taking the subject have increased in recent years.
The arrangement whereby students do not finalise their choice of language until after a period of six week in first year is good.
The number not taking any modern language in first year has increased significantly.
Resources are made available for the subject when required.
The organisation of a German exchange in the school has greatly enhanced the provision for the subject.
School development planning takes place and subject departments have been established.
The lesson content was very good and in line with syllabus requirements.
The use of the target language was very good.
The atmosphere in all classes was most conducive to learning and students were affirmed at all times. The student-teacher rapport was excellent.
Students are assessed on a very regular basis. Reports on student achievement and progress are issued three times a year.
All skills of language acquisition are assessed, thus ensuring a comprehensive analysis of student progress.
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 present ‘base’ classroom which is used for German lessons be shared with other subjects.
The increase in numbers not taking any modern language in first year should be monitored carefully and kept under review.
An inventory of existing resources needs to be taken with a view to ensuring that resources are kept updated.
Yearly plans should be developed to include specific learner outcomes.
It is recommended that some dedicated pronunciation work be done to enhance the students’ oral skills.
It is suggested that an assessment for learning approach be adopted.
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.