An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Brigidine Secondary School,
Mountrath, County Laois
Roll number: 63410A
Date of inspection: 27 and 28 September 2006
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 Brigidine 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 two days 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, deputy 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.
The Brigidine secondary school is an all girls school with an enrolment of 358 students. The school is due to amalgamate in the near future with two other schools in the vicinity. The amalgamation process has begun and the staffs of all three schools work together on various committees to ensure that a successful amalgamation will take place. A comprehensive range of curricular programmes is offered by the Brigidine secondary school including the Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TY), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate established (LC). German is offered in all curricular programmes.
German and French are the two modern languages on offer in the curriculum in the school. All first-year students take both languages. This in itself is commendable practice as it ensures that learners have the opportunity to gain knowledge of two foreign languages. German becomes optional for students in second year. However French remains compulsory throughout the junior cycle. It is good that students have the possibility of taking two languages to Junior Certificate level. The arrangement as outlined whereby French is compulsory and German is optional from second year on means that German does not have the same status as French. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed and that consideration be given to alternating French and German as a core language in second year. Notwithstanding the present arrangement for language choice in second year, it must be stated that the numbers of students taking German are high relative to the national trend.
In general German is allocated a satisfactory number of class periods in line with national norms. However German is timetabled opposite Art in second and third year. This means that German is allocated double periods in those years. Double periods in the junior cycle do not optimise language teaching and learning processes. It is recommended that German be allocated single class periods where possible. In TY German is only allocated one class period per week. This is a minimal time allocation. In addition the class is composed of students who have obtained their Junior Certificate examination in the language and those who have only completed first year German. This wide diversity of attainment in this class grouping undoubtedly renders teaching difficult. It is recommended that the provision for German in TY be reviewed.
The German department comprises two members of staff. The teachers are members of the GDI (German Teachers Association) and have been actively involved in the subject association in the past. Teachers have attended in service courses in Ireland and in Germany. Members of the department have also corrected German in the state examinations. Such commitment to professional development is most laudable.
There is no official budget for the German department. Resources are purchased by the school on a needs basis. The school has many resources available to support the teaching and learning of the subject. Books, tapes, CDs, CD players, magazines and other materials have been acquired. It is recommended that up-to-date resources pertaining to modern language teaching methodology be obtained. Useful information on such resources is available on the website of the UK National Centre for Language teaching at www.cilt.org.uk.
The majority of German lessons take place in student based classrooms. There is one base language room available which must be shared across the modern languages department. The absence of base classrooms means that most of the German lessons are held in an environment where German maps, posters and student work cannot be displayed on a permanent basis. In addition it is very difficult for teachers to carry cumbersome CD players, textbooks and copy books from one room to another. It is recommended that, resources permitting, a base German classroom be made available.
Very good co-curricular activities have been organised to support the teaching and learning of German. In the past students have taken part in the national debating competition. Students are encouraged to have pen-pals. Trips to Germany have been organised in conjunction with trips to the European parliament. German cinema trips are also organised. All these co-curricular activities enhance the provision for the subject and are to be commended.
Subject department planning is underway in the school. In the initial stages the services of the school development planning initiative (SDPI) were engaged to assist in the process. Subject departments have been established and have the opportunity to meet on a formal basis. The German department meets in the context of whole staff days but also meets very regularly on an informal basis. Planning for the subject is carried out on a collaborative basis.
Yearly schemes of work were presented in the course of the evaluation. These outlined details of lesson content, methodologies, textbooks and assessments which take place in each year. It is recommended that these plans be further developed to include information on specific learner outcomes.
The composition of the TY German class as mentioned in the previous section renders planning for teaching and learning in this programme quite difficult. However the plans indicate that themes which are of interest to all students are covered in the course of the programme. In addition a very effective link is made between the plans for German and the European Studies module in TY. This is good practice.
In planning for individual lessons good use of ICT was made. For example very good vocabulary and comprehension exercises from a website were photocopied and used in the course of a lesson observed. However at present there is no plan for learners’ use of ICT in their study of German. Students of German have no access to the ICT facilities in the school. It is recommended that a plan for the integration and use of ICT in the programme for German be developed.
The content matter of all lessons observed was chosen in line with syllabus requirements and matched the needs and interests of the learners. For example, in a senior-cycle lesson observed the theme of the lesson was ‘Fernsehen’ (television). This formed part of a series of lessons under the general heading of technology, where students got the opportunity to talk in German on issues such as mobile phones and computers. In a junior-cycle lesson observed the theme chosen was ‘Das Essen’ (food). This was dealt with in a lively and interesting manner which ensured that learners remained interested throughout the lesson. Choosing lesson content that is appropriate to the interests of the learners and appropriate to syllabus guidelines is most commendable.
The use of the target language was consistently very good in all lessons visited. German was used as the means of communication at all times. All classroom instructions were issued in German and readily understood by the learners, thus indicating that this was common practice. In interaction with the inspector students were able to understand questions and reply in the target language. It is recommended that to build on this good practice some dedicated pronunciation exercises be done in class so as to ensure that students pronounce words correctly. This can be done globally before or after an exercise has been completed. It would be important to ensure that students are given time to practise correct pronunciation in class as this would consolidate learning.
In the lessons observed very good attention was paid to ensuring that the skills of language acquisition (reading, writing, speaking and listening) were integrated. In general lessons began with oral work where students were asked to come up with words or opinions associated with the various themes being studied. Then in the course of the lessons students were given the opportunity to hear short announcements or dialogues based on the themes in question. In addition the learners were given worksheets which involved writing German. Integrating the skills in this manner ensures that learners are constantly consolidating vocabulary and expressions. This is most beneficial to the learning process and is an example of best practice.
The teaching methodologies used in all lessons observed were varied and most effective. Pair work was used in all classes and it was clear that the students were accustomed to working together. The activities were well prepared and worksheets were supplied to assist the students in completing the tasks. In a senior-cycle lesson observed students were asked to fill in a mind map on the theme in question. In junior-cycle lessons observed photographs were used to very good effect to stimulate oral work.
Cultural components were used effectively to enhance lesson content in many of the lessons observed. For example, in a junior-cycle lesson students’ attention was drawn to a map of Germany and they were asked to name various parts of Germany related to different food or drink. In a senior-cycle lesson observed students were asked to listen to current authentic radio advertisements for various products which are available in Germany. Ensuring that learners develop cultural awareness in this manner is in line with the requirements of the syllabus and is most praiseworthy.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was very good. Student–teacher rapport was characterised by mutual respect. Students felt a strong sense of security and were encouraged to contribute in class. Discipline was maintained to the highest standards. Students were on task at all times and engaged well with activities. The environment created was most conducive to learning. This is highly commendable.
The school holds formal assessments twice yearly at Christmas and in summer. A common assessment is held for all students in first year. It is the German department’s policy to formally assess all skills of language acquisition. This is very effective practice as it ensures that students’ ability in reading, writing, speaking, and listening is carefully monitored. This in turn will inform teaching practice. Such a comprehensive approach to assessment of the students’ learning is to be highly commended.
Homework is assigned on a regular basis. In the course of the lessons observed care was taken to explain what was required in homework assignments. These assignments were always linked to lesson content. This is good practice. Written homework was thoroughly corrected. This was evidenced by inspection of students’ copybooks. It is suggested that students be required to follow up a number of specific errors that they have made. In this context it is recommended that the approach of assessment for learning (AfL) be adopted. Further information on this may be obtained on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 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, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.