An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Saint Mary’s Secondary School
Ballina, County Mayo
Roll number: 64520M
Date of inspection: 14 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mary’s 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 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.
German is one of three modern languages taught in this Catholic, all girls’ secondary school and there is a long tradition for its provision in the school. The study of a modern language is mandatory and senior management is to be commended for this support for modern languages forming a central strand of the school’s curriculum. German features in the following programmes on offer in the school: Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students are, generally, taught in mixed-ability groupings. However, it may occur that some examination year groups are split in order to provide higher and ordinary level classes.
St. Mary’s Secondary School operates a very successful transfer programme for all in-coming first years. Initially, a transfer team consisting of the guidance counsellor, home-school-community liaison (HSCL) officer, school chaplain and first-year year head visit the feeder schools with the school’s prospectus. Following that, parents attend a series of information nights which include information on learning styles, multiple intelligences and general school policies and expectations. Subsequent to the school assessment tests, the resource teacher meets parents on an individual basis to discuss students’ performance and to provide initial career and subject advice. This well-structured approach to the transition from primary to post-primary school is commendable.
There is adequate provision for German on the school timetable, in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. It was noted during the course of the inspection that first year and TY students received only two periods of modern languages per week. Senior management stated that, subsequent to a review of modern language provision, it had been decided to provide three periods of German per week for all first years for the coming academic year. This ongoing commitment and support from management with regard to modern languages is laudable. Whilst acknowledging timetabling restraints in TY – given the breadth of the curriculum on offer to students – it is, nonetheless, recommended that school management review TY language provision with a view to increasing it from two to three periods per week.
All students with special educational needs have access to a modern European language and they are actively encouraged to take a language. This is most commendable. In fact, only a very small number of students with identified special learning needs are exempt from studying either French or German.
All classes are allocated one double period of German per week, whilst the remainder of the allocation is in single periods. The allocation of single periods at regular intervals throughout the week is best practice, as ongoing contact with the target language is of optimum benefit for students. It is recommended, therefore, that school management, in collaboration with the German department, review the practice of allocating double periods for German.
There are four teachers of German in the school, one of whom is currently on approved job-sharing and is working exclusively in their other subject area. The teachers are graduates in German and are established in their careers. The German department renews membership of the German Teachers’ Association the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI) on an annual basis. This membership is paid for by the board of management. The management authorities are to be commended for the support they afford to teachers’ continuous professional development. Teachers reported having attended GDI conferences as well as local regional meetings. The German team is also experienced in the correction of State written examinations and some teachers have been employed as Assistant Examiners in the State oral examinations. This is laudable as it contributes to the expertise of the German teaching team.
Despite the lack of dedicated teacher-based classrooms there were some commendable displays of maps, posters and samples of students’ work on the walls. Some of the posters included work on vocabulary and the German school system. Such displays are to be commended as a very useful strategy to enable students to assimilate, over time, what they have been learning as well as to give them insights into German life and culture.
There is no formal budget for German. However, on request funds are made available for resources. It is recommended that the German department conduct an inventory on available resources in an effort to ascertain what new resources are required. This up-dating of resources should be done on a regular basis.
German teachers have access to a range of audio-visual equipment to support the teaching of the language in the school. All teachers have their own CD players and tape recorders, while video recorders and DVD players are also available. To date, information and communication technologies (ICT) have not been used to any great extent to support the teaching and learning of German. Difficulty of access to the computer room was cited as the main reason why teachers do not actively use ICT as a teaching tool. The German department also articulated that training in PowerPoint and the operation of data projectors was a stated need. It is recommended that school management should look to providing the modern languages department with a portable data projector and lap top to enable teachers to embrace the integration ICT in the teaching and learning of German. Provision for training as part of continuous professional development (CPD) should also be sought for teachers in the area of ICT.
Teachers are very active in facilitating involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Activities such as the organisation of poster competitions, the showing of German films in class and visits to German films in the local cinema have been arranged for students to date. Teachers also spoke of their liaison with the Home Economics department to organise food-tasting events in German cooking for TY students. This is to be commended as such planned cross-curricular activity is a feature of the TY programme. The dedication and commitment of the German department in providing for such activities is acknowledged and lauded. The school has, in the past, participated in private school exchanges to Heppenheim (outside Heidelberg) and are currently involved in setting up an exchange programme with a new school outside Munich. Participation in such activities is to be commended as it enhances the enjoyment of language learning and contributes to maintaining a high profile for German in the school. It is recommended that consideration be given to further promoting the use of co-curricular activities through the running of events such as a German day or week, German „Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake) or the organisation of a German quiz for junior classes. Such a quiz could be devised by TY students, thus consolidating their knowledge and use of German question forms in an authentic context.
St. Mary’s Secondary School is involved in the school development planning process and has had external facilitation in planning. Formal subject planning has been initiated in the school with minutes of formal meetings retained by the principal and teachers. This is good practice and to be commended. It is suggested that a brief note also be kept of any decisions taken at informal meetings. In this way the time and effort given by teachers to informal meetings can be acknowledged.
A detailed department plan for the teaching and learning of German in St. Mary’s Secondary School was made available on the day of the inspection. This included: a German department mission statement, aims and objectives, student access to the subject, classroom organisation, a list of resources available to teachers and access to German by students with special educational needs. Teachers are to be commended for the level of reflection and work involved in developing planning for the teaching and learning of the subject to date. As a means of building on this good work and advancing the process towards the stage of self-review, teachers should include in their plan: a list of desired learning outcomes for each year group; outline the necessary linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to achieve these outcomes; planning for mixed-ability teaching. The planning for the use of more active methodologies should also be included.
There was evidence of careful preparation for the lessons observed on the day of the inspection with the advance readiness of worksheets, photocopies and relevant equipment.
The five class groups visited during the course of the inspection included two junior and three senior classes. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. The classroom atmosphere, as observed, was conducive to learning. Classroom interactions were characterised by mutual respect and students were purposeful and committed in their work at all times. The good rapport observed is commendable, as it allows for interactions that respect the contribution of each student. Inspection activities further included the monitoring of student work and interaction with students.
A range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, the integration of drawing, pair-work and brainstorming. It was clear that students were accustomed to pair work and the organisation into pairs was effected efficiently. Roles were distributed in the target language. The choice of methodology and theme was appropriate to the age and interests of the groups in question.
Some commendable use of the target language was observed in classrooms. The students seemed accustomed to the use of the target language as the language of classroom management. Students were encouraged to develop their utterances to the fullest. However, whilst the use of the target language in classes was very good overall, it is advised that teachers remain mindful that they are the only model of the target language community that students have access to. It is recommended, therefore, that teachers should avail of CPD to ensure ongoing contact with the target language community. It is essential that teachers emphasise pronunciation as an important element of language learning, both in terms of their own linguistic competence and in the development of that of their learners. Where there are deficits in teachers’ pronunciation it is advised that they should use appropriate audio resources to correctly model the target language for their students. Best practice was observed at junior cycle where tips were given to students as to the gender of nouns and drilling activities were employed to model learners’ pronunciation in German. Intonation and pronunciation were practiced while new vocabulary was being introduced. This practice is praiseworthy, as it makes students more aware that this has the potential for making the language easier to understand and, ultimately, to make them more effective communicators.
The purpose of all lessons was clear and was either explicitly stated or was implicit, in that the topic was continued from a previous lesson. In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. The lesson content was appropriate to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. Best practice was observed at senior cycle, where the theme of hobbies and free-time activities was developed through a series of varied activities and a range of teaching strategies. At junior cycle language awareness was integrated through the use of grammar tips around the prepositions taking the accusative case or dative case. These were consolidated and practiced by using ‘semaphore German’, where the teacher had a range of non-verbal gestures to signal to and involve the students in deciding what preposition took what case.
There was very good work observed in establishing and reinforcing the learning in relation to the lesson content. At senior cycle, for example, attention was paid to various techniques and strategies that should be employed when attempting to answer examination questions. The pace of each lesson observed was challenging and the students remained on task at all times. The observed work on vocabulary acquisition and language awareness over a number of lessons was very good. At junior cycle, students recorded new words and verbs in a systematic way and in some lessons there was good oral preparatory work done on homework assignments. This was praiseworthy.
The thematic integration of language skills observed a number of lessons is good practice. It is recommended that this be extended to all classes to incorporate all four language skills, oral production, reading comprehension, aural comprehension and written production, in so far as possible. During the practice of listening skills teachers should also be aware of post-listening activities which can be readily employed. An example of this would be to replay the tape exercise having looked at mistakes, as this is reinforcement and consolidation of learning. It is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard in both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate aural examinations. It is also recommended that when conducting listening exercises, one should focus on the process and not just the product of listening. In other words, rather than asking who had a question right the question should be who had the question wrong. This examination of student errors also affords the student an opportunity to engage in independent and autonomous learning as it allows them to actively participate in their own learning process.
Individual lessons were well prepared and appropriate handouts and answer templates were provided to the students. This high standard of preparation is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly. Very good use was made of the whiteboard in all lessons. This was commendable.
Student progress in St. Mary’s Secondary School is assessed in a variety of ways. These include question and answer sessions, the setting and correction of homework, class tests and end of term examinations.
The school has a homework policy. Student folders were organised and handouts and notes from teachers on various themes for the Leaving Certificate were also filed in a systematic manner. A review of student copybooks revealed evidence of homework being assigned, corrected and, in many instances, comments were included. This is commendable practice as the inclusion of a comment can be both appropriately affirming and informing. It was noted that, in some copybooks, letters and written exercises were given content and expression marks. These were written along the margin and clearly indicated exactly where marks were being gained or lost. This is good practice and should be extended to include all copybooks, particularly those of examination students.
Common assessment currently takes place in first year only. School management plans to develop this and extend it throughout the whole school over the coming years. This is praiseworthy. Students’ aural competencies are assessed on a regular basis. The German department ensures that students’ oral proficiency is fostered and it engages in the practice of embedding target language skills from junior cycle upwards. This is commendable. At senior cycle, Leaving Certificate students are afforded opportunities to be assessed orally in preparation for their oral examination. However, it is recommended that a formal oral component be administered to all students as part of the assessment process. It should not only be restricted to senior level. Instead, it 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 school engages in the commendable practice of analysing the State examination results in each subject. Contact with parents concerning student progress is maintained through the use of the school journal, phone calls where necessary, school reports and annual parent-teacher meetings.
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 and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.