An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Roscrea, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65410K
Date of inspection: 5 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cistercian College, Roscrea. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
German is well provided for in Cistercian College, Roscrea and is one of three modern languages taught in this privately-funded, seven-day boarding school for boys. Both from the documentation made available and from discussions during the inspection, it is clear that modern languages are a priority in the school. The study of at least one modern language to Junior Certificate is compulsory. However, most students choose to study two languages: French and German. School management is to be commended for its support for modern languages forming a central strand of the curriculum.
The formation of class groupings is based on a streaming system in first year. Thereafter a ‘flexible streaming system’ is in operation in junior cycle. This more flexible approach in second and third year is good as it enables the formation of two parallel groupings for German, a higher level grouping and a mixed-ability grouping. In the mixed-ability groupings, students are encouraged, if possible and feasible, to take higher-level but they may take ordinary-level Junior Certificate. At senior cycle, classes are of mixed ability, based on subject banding, and students can choose to study either French or German.
During the week, the school operates an eight-lesson day, each of forty minutes duration. On Saturdays there are four periods, also of forty minutes duration. It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. The school is striving to address this matter and has already made adjustment to the timetable this year. However, it is recommended that the school address compliance with Circular M29/95 as there is still a shortfall in the minimum instruction time to students.
Generally, the timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. Examination of the timetable has shown, however, that the distribution of class periods across the week is uneven. For example, Transition Year, second-year and third-year students are assigned double periods. Senior management articulated that they are in the process of reviewing time-tabling arrangements for the subject. Given the importance of regular and sustained encounters with a modern language, it is desirable that students engage with German on a daily basis, if possible, to ensure continuity and effective progress. Therefore, it is recommended that double periods should be kept to a minimum.
The senior management of Cistercian College, Roscrea stated that they strive to ‘provide the widest curriculum possible’ for students. Therefore, the college allows the option of ‘night classes’ for subject areas not facilitated by the school timetable. For example, the offer of Spanish as a Leaving Certificate subject is offered in this way. It is commendable that students be afforded every opportunity to study modern languages. There is also a system in operation in sixth year, whereby, a ‘floating period’ is assigned to languages on a rotational basis. Indeed, the ‘floating period’ had been assigned to German for this academic year. This, too, is praiseworthy as students’ learning experiences in languages can only benefit from added exposure.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently two German teachers on staff. The most important resource for any language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target language community and culture. One teacher, a native German speaker, is a trained primary-school teacher and is privately funded by the school. The other, a graduate in French and German, is the subject co-ordinator and is a member of the „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers Association). Both have a very high degree of contact with the target language country, its community and culture. This level of commitment is to be highly commended as it greatly enriches the teaching and learning of the subject. There is no annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, on request to management, funds are made available. Regarding information and communication technology (ICT), the school is well equipped and is broadband enabled. Apart from a specialist ICT room, a number of data projectors are located in specialist areas, including the German department. The use of computers is also available to students both during and after school. The staff also has access to TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, and CD players.
One German teacher works from a designated room while the other shares a room with the geography department. The base room is bright and spacious and contains a variety of books, posters, authentic materials, maps and students’ own work. The practice of displaying such material is most praiseworthy as it provides a stimulating learning environment for students. It also gives students a greater ownership of their learning environment and allows them to experience various cultural aspects ‘hands-on’. During the course of the inspection, it was observed that a notice for a „Kinoabend” (cinema evening) was placed on a general notice board alongside information about other extra-curricular activities. Indeed, a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is provided by the German department to support the teaching and learning of the language. Events such as food tasting, table quizzes, „Oktoberfest”, a traditional Christmas „Weihnachtsfest” and carol service, trips to German films and involvement in debating competitions are frequently organised. The German department organises various student exchanges to Cologne and Marienstadt, near Cologne, on an on-going basis. This year presents further opportunities for students to enhance their cultural awareness in the form of a school tour to Munich and Salzburg. This is praiseworthy as it maintains the profile of German in the school. It must be noted that such activities can only take place with the goodwill and generosity of the teachers involved. The time and effort required of teachers to prepare and organise these activities is fully acknowledged and the teachers concerned are congratulated on their commitment to students. It is most laudable that such activities are organised for the benefit of students as such activities enhance the provision for the subject greatly.
Cistercian College, Roscrea is involved in the school development planning process and there is evidence of planning both at an individual level and at a department level. The school’s position and support in relation to modern language provision underpins the work of the language teachers. A subject planning meeting is facilitated by school management at the beginning of the school year as part of the school development planning process and meetings throughout the year are also facilitated.
The German teachers have developed an agreed programme of work for each year group. This is currently under review, as the school has only recently become broadband enabled and the German department stated their desire to incorporate planning for ICT into subject planning. As part of this review, it is recommended that teachers of German formalise a more detailed plan of the subject. The plan should be seen as a flexible ‘work-in-progress’ and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an on-going basis. The European Language Portfolio could be used as an aid to planning, assessment and learner autonomy in language learning. This commitment to formalised planning would enable teachers to work together on various issues of interest to the German department including schedules of work, resources, various teaching methodologies and strategies, incorporation of an oral component of assessment, the co-ordination of other assessment strategies and desired learning outcomes. The communicative tasks to be achieved could be outlined, as too the grammatical items required in completing these tasks. Reference should also be made to approaches to mixed-ability teaching. Planning for mixed-ability groupings requires appropriately different emphases and focus, in particular, the need to reach a balance between encouragement and challenge. It is recommended that planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle be reflected in revised documentation. It is also recommended that German teachers take an inventory of all materials at hand and to include this in their subject department planning.
All lessons observed were well prepared and in line with syllabus requirements as evidenced by their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Examples included the preparation of handouts for students and preparation for the integration of ICT. Targets for progress from year to year were addressed in a general way in planning documentation. However, at senior cycle, students receive a weekly plan outlining the work to be covered and planning for geographical and cultural awareness is included on a regular basis. This is very commendable.
Teachers were conscious of their responsibility to their learners in covering all aspects of the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. The need for the development of particular strategies and approaches with certificate examination groups had also been taken into account. A review of the Leaving Certificate results is also used to inform subject department planning. This is to be commended.
Inspection activities included the observation of four classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. A strong rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions and students were positively affirmed. This is laudable as it allows for an engagement and interaction that respects the contribution of each student.
In most classes the purpose of the lesson was clear and explicitly stated. Best practice was observed where there were clear objectives stated at the beginning of the class and the learning objectives were shared with the students at the outset. This provides clarity and focus for the lesson and also provides a good focus for learners as it communicates a clear expectation of what the learners will be required to know at the end of the class. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes so that both teacher and students can assess whether the objectives have been achieved at the end of the 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. The 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. The lesson activities observed were thorough, systematic and effective. The activities, however, could have, at times, been completed at a more challenging pace. Best practice was observed where a challenging pace was maintained. For example, lesson timelines recorded during one senior-cycle lesson demonstrated a variety of activities deployed in revising the particular theme. The focus initially was on individual oral production in response to teacher-generated questions. This consolidation of previous knowledge both encouraged and reassured the learners. This is commendable. Thereafter, the learners developed their receptive skills in the form of a listening comprehension exercise. The students listened to a young native speaker, who is currently attending the school, being interviewed about his future plans. On completion, the exercise was corrected orally then, using a power-point presentation, students were asked to take down idioms and phrases useful for the oral examination. This work in preparation for an examination task was very appropriate and effective. Whilst the students were taking down the vocabulary, the teacher questioned individual students in an effort to provide reinforcement of the new phrases. The pace was such that the students were kept on-task at all times and the students were evidently engaged with the subject matter. This was commendable and it is recommended that such good practice extend to all classes.
German is being used effectively as the language of classroom management. The students seemed accustomed to, and comfortable with, this use of the target language. Indeed, at senior cycle students spontaneously asked questions of the teacher in German. It is evident that teachers make a conscious effort to avoid an over-reliance on translation in class and use English judiciously. This is commendable. During the inspection, it was noted that due consideration was also given to pronunciation. Drilling and imitation activities observed at junior cycle proved to be very successful in modelling learners’ pronunciation in German. Indeed, this is beneficial to aural comprehension also, as focused oral production can improve aural skills. This was extended even further, when, in one lesson, learners were encouraged to reflect on the accuracy of their productions. This is praiseworthy, as creating a strong link between pronunciation and communication can help increase learners’ motivation. It makes students more aware that this has the potential for making the language easier to understand and to make them more effective communicators.
The four language skills, oral production, written production, aural comprehension and reading comprehension, were integrated to good effect in all lessons observed. This is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. In junior cycle, a core-textbook was used to practice reading skills and the supplementary tape was utilised for listening comprehension. The students were asked to translate the ‘gist’ of the passage and attempts at translation were encouraged and positively affirmed. This type of global translation exercise is good as it demands the learner adopt an inductive approach to a text. In the same class, pair-work was included and students were presented with an opportunity to practice a new dialogue with a partner in a ‘safe’ environment. This integration of skills and variety of methodology is praiseworthy.
ICT was used to excellent effect in junior cycle. A Power-Point presentation incorporating a state examination’s aural comprehension was used to develop the theme of „Treffen” (arranging to meet). The planned activities ran into each other in an effortless fashion, students worked at a challenging pace and grammatical structures were practiced in a communicative manner. This is very commendable. It is recommended, however, that during the practice of listening skills post-listening activities should be exploited to consolidate learning. An example of this would be to examine the errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, replay the tape exercise. This provides further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. It is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and to further practise key words and phrases which are frequently heard on Junior Certificate Aural examinations.
Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level. A range of assessment modes is deployed. Ongoing assessment is done through class questioning, the setting of homework and end of topic examinations. Various types of formal assessment take place for all non-examination years at Christmas and end of year. Examination classes sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations.
Purposeful homework was assigned at the end of all classes observed and instructions given by the teacher were clear and concise. Homework was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic covered. There was a range of syllabus-related work evident in copybooks seen and there was evidence to indicate that teachers are monitoring copybooks on a regular basis. There was some evidence of formative assessment and the practice of correcting and dating work and writing evaluative comments on work is to be commended. Such good practice should be extended to all copybooks and should include areas of commendation and suggested areas for improvement. However, students should also be presented with further learning opportunities in the form of follow-up on their homework errors. The examination of student errors affords students an opportunity to engage in independent and autonomous learning and allows them to actively participate in their own learning process. At senior cycle, students were asked to reflect on the homework they had been previously assigned and were asked, in the target language, what they found difficult or easy about it. This good practice of allowing students time to think about their learning experiences is most commendable as it fosters a culture of evaluation and autonomy in learners.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) promotes Assessment for Learning (AfL) on its website www.ncca.ie and this could prove a useful model in informing teachers as to how one can best proceed in helping students identify shortcomings and develop strengths. It is recommended, therefore, that teachers adopt an AfL approach to help students identify shortcomings and develop strengths. This AfL approach should extend to all students, who should be given the opportunity to study their own mistakes. This could either take the form of a pre-correction exercise, whereby students would check their work for errors before they hand it up to the teacher for correction, or a post-correction exercise, such as writing out the correct form of the mistakes they have made.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Our College is a 7 day Boarding School and in order to facilitate the maximum number of subjects within the school day we have time tabled physical education for each student outside school hours but inside Boarding time table for each day. As this is a double class period for each year within the Boarding school day the school exceeds the 28 hour student class contact hours as per circular M29/95 time in school. Accordingly recommendation 1 in your report does not apply in our case.