An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Westport, County Mayo
Roll number: 64700O
Date of inspection: 1 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 Rice College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Rice College 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 deputy principal and subject teachers. 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.
Over the last five years Rice College has successfully introduced German as a second modern language option in response to the introduction of German into local primary schools under the Primary School’s Language Initiative. In first year, students may choose between French and German as their modern European language, having had the benefit of a six-month sampler module of both languages. This sampler system appears to be working well in the school as, it not only allows for a more informed choice, it also gives students some insights into the process of learning new languages. As yet, the study of a modern language is not obligatory to Junior Certificate. However, school management reported that it is aspiring to have the study of a modern European language mandatory to, at least, junior cycle in the near future. This appreciation of the importance of languages is commendable. Indeed, the German department is also commended on its support for the provision of German in the school, which has resulted in German becoming a popular option among students.
At present, the option of studying more than one modern language is only available to junior cycle students. However, due to the close proximity of the girls’ secondary school, senior cycle students may be accommodated in studying German on the girls’ campus. In the present fifth year, one student is studying German in this way. Unfortunately, a further group of Transition Year (TY) students could not be accommodated under this arrangement. This has resulted in them having no formal instruction in German for the year. This situation is less than optimal. Management hopes to officially extend German into the Rice College senior cycle next year. This will ensure the present situation in TY will not be repeated and will combat the relatively high percentage of students who do not choose to study any modern language at senior cycle. It is strongly recommended that management review its provision for German throughout the whole school and formalise a language policy as a matter of urgency.
During the course of the evaluation, it was noted that some students who are presenting for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are not studying a modern European language to Leaving Certificate level. As a matter of priority, it is recommended that those students who are not pursuing a modern language as a course of study to Leaving Certificate level must be provided with a module in a modern European language, so as to comply with programme requirements and LCVP Guidelines.
The provision of single periods for the teaching of German in junior cycle is good and modern languages have been allocated a generous provision of five periods per week. Students are taught in mixed-ability groups. A small number of students with identified special learning needs may be exempt from studying a modern language. One exceptional circumstance affected the timetabling of some first years this year. To better support the learning needs of students with specific learning difficulties, those students were withdrawn from German to receive extra resource hours in English during the year. This was done with parental consent. These resource hours are taught by the German teacher who also teaches English. It is acknowledged that this unexpected re-organisation and ‘re-deployment’ of the German teacher was performed in response to significant student needs. However, management is still recommended to ensure that the school’s systems for the early identification of first years with special educational needs or general literacy difficulties are reviewed and developed as necessary so as to avoid the recurrence of this.
Two teachers are involved in the delivery of German in the school. One member of the team is an active member of the German Teachers’ Association (GDI) and attends local, regional and national conferences. As the school fully supports involvement in subject associations and pays the membership fees, it is recommended that all teachers of German join their professional association to avail of peer support relating to language-teaching issues. One teacher has acted as oral examiner for the Leaving Certificate examinations, which provides a very valuable insight into the development of the skill of oral production in a foreign language. The fact that one teacher has applied to the Goethe Institut to attend a summer course this year is also praiseworthy as such commitment to ongoing professional development benefits teachers and students alike.
The German department has access to a good range of audio-visual resources. All teachers have good-quality individual tape-recorders and CD players in their classrooms while access to television sets and DVD players is also available. In the context of forward planning for the subject, it may now be an opportune time to review and catalogue existing resources with a view to acquiring some updated extra resources. While there is no departmental budget structure in operation in the school, funds are made available on request to school management. To date information and communication technology (ICT) has not been used to any great extent in the teaching and learning of the subject. Teachers reported that it was very difficult to gain access to either of the two computer rooms in the school. Management reported that it plans to equip each classroom with a computer and a data projector before December 2007. This is praiseworthy.
One teacher of German works in a designated base classroom. However, the classroom was quite bare and lacked student–generated work which would provide an excellent visual stimulus. The display of bright, colourful posters, key phrases, and student work would help to promote student interest both in the language and in the culture of Germany. It is further recommended that a large good quality map of Germany be purchased to enhance and complement the teaching of the language. The other teacher works out of a number of classrooms during the week. The teachers used the large boards in the classrooms to good effect.
The school is actively engaged in school development planning and has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Subject departments have been established and subject meetings take place on a mainly informal basis with some formal meetings in the year accommodated after staff meetings. A co-ordinator of German has been appointed. As there is already good co-operation between the French and German departments, it is suggested that a modern languages department be formed whereby issues of common interest could be discussed regularly.
A plan that refers to all year groups currently studying German in the school has been documented. The subject plan outlines the provision for the language, staffing, resources available as well as assessment procedures and general schemes of work. The units of the textbook to be studied by each year group in each year are outlined, as are general learning outcomes.
It is to be commended that the teachers have initiated general planning. However, it is recommended that, as part of a move towards more structured planning teachers of German should collaboratively develop a more detailed plan of the subject. This could include areas such as: effective teaching methodologies, thematic planning for the integration of all four language skills as outlined in syllabus guidelines and planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle. This could be done as part of modern language planning as discussion, collaboration and the sharing of best practice relating to effective teaching strategies and their implementation would be of benefit to all as similar issues, methodologies and approaches apply to both French and German. Affording subject groups the opportunity to plan their work together is effective practice.
Students of German have little access to computer facilities in the school. It is recommended that a plan for the use of ICT and language learning be drawn up by the German department. This plan could have short-term objectives, such as allowing students to produce some written homework on computer and to carry out research on selected German websites.
The individual lessons observed were well prepared and planned in line with syllabus requirements. Effective use of resources was also planned. It is recommended that resources are located in a central location which can be accessed easily by the teachers.
Four junior-cycle class groups were visited in the course of the evaluation. Classroom management was good. A positive and pleasant atmosphere was evident in all lessons observed. The majority of students directed themselves to the learning task and, when their input was required, students made a very good effort to participate.
Discipline was maintained and there was clear evidence of good student-teacher rapport. In all classes it was clear that students felt free to ask questions. These were always responded to in a most positive manner. Students were regularly affirmed and praised for their efforts. Teachers circulated in the rooms throughout the lessons and this ensured the provision of individual help in a sensitive manner. There was an example of differentiated teaching and learning observed in one lesson and this is in line with best practice. It is recommended that this should be extended to all lessons to best cater for the abilities of all students in each class. Suggestions as to how to achieve this are available from www.sess.ie and other linked websites.
In all classes visited, the pace and content of the lessons were considered to be very appropriate to the level of the students. Good advance preparation meant that classes were clearly structured. Teachers also ensured that old learning had been consolidated before introducing new vocabulary or concepts. This is good practice. It is suggested that the learning objectives of each lesson should be shared with the learners in order to focus them on the task at hand and to enhance their awareness of what exactly they will be learning in a given lesson.
Lesson content was in line with syllabus requirements in all of the classes visited. For example, in junior cycle, the theme of money and part-time jobs formed the theme of one lesson. In all of the lessons observed learning was well supported through the use of the white board, textbooks, and tape recorders. The thematic approach that was adopted by all teachers facilitated the effective integration of various teaching methodologies. However, it is recommended that these should be extended to incorporate more active learning methodologies based on the interests of the students.
In many classes observed the lessons began with a ritual. For example, it was observed that students began class with oral work with questions from the teacher reflecting the homework the students had done. In general, students answered very well. It is suggested that this activity could be further enhanced if the learners were given the opportunity to interact with one another and ask each other the questions. This would maximise the opportunity for student participation in class and reduce an over-emphasis on teacher talk.
Good efforts were made to provide the learners with opportunities to develop different skills of language acquisition. For instance, students were required to complete a listening comprehension exercise. They also engaged in reading comprehension through the use of song. In other lessons observed, the emphasis was on the development of the oral skill. It is recommended that increased efforts be made to integrate all the skills of language learning. This can be done, for example, by ensuring that after students have listened to a tape or read a text, they practise orally what they have just heard or read. These activities should then be followed up with written exercises. This integrated approach allows students the opportunity to reinforce new material and enhances the learning process.
Some excellent use of the target language was observed. However, in some cases there was scope for the development of strategies which would promote the use of the target language to a greater extent. It is recommended that rather than using translation into English to explain words and phrases, teachers should employ a number of strategies, such as the use of synonyms, facial expressions and gestures, to communicate with students. The use of dictionaries should also be encouraged in order to promote greater student autonomy. Where instructions and affirmations were given in the target language, it was clear that students had no difficulty in understanding what was said. Indeed, where German was the obvious language of communication in the classroom, students were better equipped to ask questions and to respond spontaneously to questions posed by their teacher. In keeping with best practice, the teachers of German are urged to continue to prioritise the use of German in the classroom.
Most of the topics taught during the course of the evaluation readily lend themselves to the inclusion of a cultural awareness input. Teachers are urged to use such opportunities to the full to inform their students about the way of life in Germany and other German speaking countries.
Rice College has a written whole-school policy on homework. In relation to German homework, it is recommended that short, productive tasks in the target language be assigned regularly to students. Translation exercises from German to English, for example, do little to improve students’ writing skills whereas syllabus-guided written tasks complement and consolidate classroom learning.
Students’ progress is assessed through a variety of methods, including individual questioning, checking of homework, class tests and formal in-house examinations. Records of these assessments are kept. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups and reports are issued to parents and guardians regarding students’ progress. The school journal is used to communicate with parents also and this ensures ongoing two-way contact between the school and home.
The German department sets common assessments where practicable. There was evidence of a range of syllabus related work observed in students’ copybooks. This was good as assessments and written homework provide learners with very valuable feedback on their progress and on errors which they may make. In turn, however, teachers should exercise greater care when correcting students’ work. Best practice was observed where students followed up on their mistakes and wrote out their corrections. This good practice helps to consolidate the learning process. It is recommended that this be extended so that all students would do this as part of Assessment for Learning (AfL). For further information see 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 and with the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.