An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Roll number: 65320J
Date of inspection: 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel, Co Tipperary. 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 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 relevant staff. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Ardscoil na mBráithre is an all boys school situated in Clonmel. It offers the following curricular programmes: the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY) programme, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate established (LCE). German is offered in all curricular programmes with the exception of TY.
Incoming first-year students all study French as it is the core modern language on offer. Students have an option of studying German along with a number of other subjects. Recent national trends would indicate that most students only study one modern foreign language. The numbers taking German are relatively low. In addition, students make this choice before they enter first year. It is suggested that consideration be given to introducing a short ‘taster’ programme for languages in first year. This would ensure that students can make a more informed choice regarding subject options. Further information on the positive educational benefits of such a ‘taster programme’ in first year can be found in the research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
The time allocation for German in junior cycle is good. Four class periods are allocated to the subject. In senior cycle, five class periods are allocated to German. It was noted that there is no provision for German in TY. It is recommended that this situation be reviewed as a matter of urgency. It is very important that students who wish to study German to Leaving Certificate level do not lose contact with the language and would therefore be afforded the possibility of continuing the subject in TY.
Some of the class periods allocated to German are double periods. This situation occurs because German is timetabled opposite practical subjects which necessitate double classes. Assigning double periods for German inevitably means that students have less frequent contact with the language. This is not in line with best practice. It is recommended that, where possible, single periods be allocated to German to ensure that students have daily contact with the language.
There are many resources to support the teaching and learning of the language. Budget submissions are requested from all subject departments on an annual basis and official budgets are then allocated by the finance sub-committee of the board of management to individual subjects. This is evidence of good whole-school support for subject departments. The German department has a number of German films, tapes, CDs, dictionaries and library books which support the teaching and learning of the subject.
There is no base classroom for German. This essentially makes it difficult to have posters and maps on display in different classrooms. However a language room is available to all language teachers in the school. This is beneficial as posters and other materials relating to cultural awareness may be displayed on a permanent basis.
There are many co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of German in the school. Every effort is made to bring students into contact with the language outside of the classroom situation. For example, students have German pen pals and are taken to see German films or plays when there are opportunities to do so. A German day is held in the school and German visitors are invited to give talks to the students. School tours to Austria and Germany have been organised. Students have had the opportunity to take part in language exchange programmes. Staff and students alike are to be highly commended for their great enthusiasm and dedication to co-curricular activities which undoubtedly enhance the teaching and learning of the language.
It is also noteworthy that a considerable number of students have won different awards and scholarships to Germany and Austria as a result of competitions they have entered. The level of participation and success in European and language competitions is exemplary. The great commitment of staff and students is hereby acknowledged.
The school is engaged in school development planning. Subject departments have been formed and official time is allocated to subject planning. Yearly plans were provided in the course of the evaluation. These plans were theme based which is good practice and in line with syllabus requirements. The plans also contained information about differentiated teaching strategies and assessment procedures. It is recommended that these plans be developed further to include information on intended learning outcomes. This will give clear indications regarding what is expected of the learners. The intended learning outcomes should be expressed in terms of the skills of language acquisition. For example statements on what exactly the learners should be able to say, read, write and understand in relation to each theme should be included.
Individual lessons were very well planned. All necessary materials, books and audio equipment were prepared in advance. The structure of lessons was carefully planned to ensure that effective learning took place. This is to be commended.
Lesson content was very good and well supported through the use of extra materials. For example, it is particularly noteworthy that in a junior cycle lesson the learners were listening to a German song which contained a particular category of verb. Students sang the song and in this manner acquired various aspects of German grammar effortlessly. The music and words of the song had been written by older students in the school. It was evident that the learners were thoroughly enjoying the song. The use of music in language learning is most praiseworthy.
Language learning strategies were developed in all lessons observed to very good effect. For example, where students made errors they were always encouraged to work out the mistakes for themselves. This worked very well as when students were given a little time they usually produced the correct answer. This enhances the learning process in a very effective way. Students’ readiness for learning was most impressive. In all lessons observed students used vocabulary notebooks, without being prompted to do so, to record new words. It was evident that students had been trained to record vocabulary in a very systematic manner. Other strategies included the use of repetition. The learners were encouraged to repeat new words or phrases many times or, if mistakes were made, the students repeated the correct answer. The development of such strategies clearly enhanced the learning process and is to be commended.
The skill of listening was developed well in lessons observed. In junior cycle, students were asked to listen to many different extracts in German. Students were well able to answer questions on the various texts. It was noted that when the learners did not comprehend, they were given the opportunity to listen to the text again as part of the post-listening activities. This is good practice and helps to consolidate learning. It is recommended that pre-listening activities also be used to develop the skill of listening. Activities such as predictive exercises where students must anticipate or guess the answers in advance are very effective in the development of this important skill.
The use of the target language in the lessons visited was excellent. German was used for classroom management and the management of all learning activities. The use of the target language was enhanced in some lessons where students were given pair-work activities and interacted with one another. Student–student interaction is the best way to maximise the opportunities for students of speaking in German. It is also noteworthy that students were able to talk in German about what they were learning and use correct grammatical terms in the target language. In interaction with the inspector, the students were well able to comprehend and produce accurate German. Both staff and students are to be highly commended for their dedication to using German in the classroom. It clearly enhances the communicative competence of the learners.
Project work forms part of the learning activities of many of the year groups. For example in first year students are asked to read a story book in German. The learners then present a book review in project form. This is most effective as the learners are actively engaged in their own learning. A group of students who studied German to Junior Certificate level and who are currently in TY have established a remarkable German business project. These students (who have no formal German lessons) have developed and compiled a set of language learning materials suitable for teaching German in primary schools. These TY students wrote songs in the target language, made a CD and developed a colouring book and board game. The students then tried out their materials in the local primary school and actually taught German to pupils in sixth class. Such a project exemplifies the core philosophies of the TY such as active learning and cross-curricular approaches and has provided excellent learning opportunities. The success of this project has been awarded national and international recognition. Staff and students are to be commended for showing such innovation and commitment.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was very good. All student–teacher interactions were characterised by mutual respect. Students engaged very enthusiastically and were on task at all times. Where students made errors these were dealt with in a very patient and sensitive manner. Students were motivated as a stimulating environment was created for them at all times.
Students are assessed on a very regular basis. All students of German are assessed on a weekly basis. Short vocabulary tests are administered usually every Friday. Students are required to have these signed by their parents/guardians. In the more formal school assessments, all skills of language acquisition are monitored. This is very good practice as it ensures the students’ progress in reading, writing, speaking and listening is evaluated on a regular basis. Project work also forms part of assessment. This is praiseworthy.
The school has developed a set of homework guidelines. This is a comprehensive document which outlines the purpose of homework and how it will be planned and co-ordinated. It also outlines the roles of students, parents and teachers. Appropriate homework was assigned in all lessons observed. In examination of students’ copybooks it was evident that students receive very good feedback and follow up on errors they have made. Students are also encouraged to evaluate their own work. This is exemplary practice.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The School Authorities welcome the very positive report on the quality of teaching and learning of German in the High School and the recognition of the wide range of co-curricular activities that support the development of the language. They would, however, like to make the following comments and observations:
The option of providing German to TY students is subject o ongoing review and is dependent on the number of students who opt for the TY programme who have taken German up to Junior Certificate and also the availability of a qualified teacher of German. German is offered in TY for the current academic year.
German is an optional subject within the school and therefore is linked to option bands at Junior Certificate level. While every attempt is made to allocate single periods for the teaching of languages (and other subjects) this is not always possible due to student subject choices, availability of staff, room constraints, option banding (in terms of levels) and specific subject requirements including the need for double periods. These facts all contribute to subjects having double periods.
The issue of offering a “taster” programme for languages in first year is being revisited. It should be noted that this approach was tried previously and allowing students to make an informed choice did not result in an increased number of students opting for German.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
German offered to all students taking TY programme in 2007-2008.