An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
O’Donovan Rossa Street
Thurles County Tipperary
Roll number: 65450W
Date of inspection: 13 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS Thurles. 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 the 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 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.
CBS Thurles is a boys’ secondary school with a total enrolment of 546 students. The school offers the following programmes: Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Commendably, German features in all of these.
German is one of two modern languages taught in the school. A year-long taster programme is in operation in the school, at the end of which, students must choose three subjects out of an options’ pool of six subjects. An open choice system facilitates a student-centred approach to option subjects and this is commendable. Nonetheless, throughout first year, French is allocated three periods per week, whereas German is allocated two periods per week. It is recommended that the current provision for German be re-examined in an effort to provide for the equal status of both languages on the curriculum. Single periods should be allocated to languages, where possible, in an effort to sustain continuity with the language.
It was noted during the course of the evaluation that whilst German proves to be a popular subject at junior cycle, a significant number of students at senior cycle do not study any modern language. While it is acknowledged that sustained and successful efforts have been made by the German department to increase the uptake in German, it is recommended that an analysis of general student uptake of modern languages at senior cycle be carried out. Such an analysis should provide valuable insights into the reasons why students are opting to choose, or not to choose, modern languages. It would also be useful if a whole-school policy for language learning could be developed.
There is no official budget for the department but requests for resources are regularly met. The base classroom for German is brightly decorated and displays of students’ work are regularly changed. Both teachers are members of the Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (German teachers’ association) and school management is to be commended for paying membership of the organisation. The school repeatedly applies for a foreign language assistant (FLA) through the Department of Education and Science scheme and an assistant will be in place this coming academic year. School management is to be highly commended for its progressive approach in building a most effective information and communication technologies’ (ICT) infrastructure throughout the school. In order to take full advantage of this investment the board of management has agreed to fund specialised training for all staff in the near future. This is most praiseworthy.
The German department is very committed to the subject in the school and has attempted to raise the profile of the subject through school tours and exchanges. Significantly, an exchange with a school in Iserlohn has been in operation in the school and students have had opportunities to travel to Germany as part of individual exchanges or as part of a school exchange. This is laudable. Co-curricular activities such as projects and the viewing of German films are a regular occurrence during the year for students. A Schwarzes Brett (noticeboard) is visible on the corridor outside the base German classroom with students’ work displayed. This good practice is commended. It is also recognised that exchanges and trips to German-speaking countries can only be organised with the commitment and goodwill of all those involved. The department is encouraged to extend these activities to raise the profile of the subject even further throughout the whole-school community.
Whole-school planning is well established in the school and has been extended to subject-department planning. Commendably, a subject co-ordinator for German has been appointed. Minutes of meetings are kept and decisions are recorded and filed. This is good practice. Whilst the German department members work together in a collaborative fashion and share expertise, it is suggested that this role should rotate between the teachers.
A subject plan for German was presented for evaluation as well as numerous folders of resources suitable for the different year groups studying German in the school. Commendably, a copy of the European Languages Portfolio was included in resources viewed. A very good structure is in place for organising these resources. From discussions with school management and the German department it is evident that a culture of review operates in the school. The TY plan has been reviewed recently and school policies are reviewed on a regular basis. This is praiseworthy.
As a means of building on the good work done to date, the following recommendations are made: first, an inventory of all resources should be compiled and resources should be updated to include suitable texts to further teachers’ professional development, particularly in the area of mixed-ability teaching. Websites such as www.cilt.co.uk could prove very successful in this regard. Secondly, it is recommended that the yearly plans for German be developed to include specific learning outcomes in the acquisition of the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the context of mixed-ability teaching. The European Language Portfolio could be used for this purpose and as an aid to planning assessment and learner autonomy in language learning. Finally, active methodologies should be planned for to accommodate students’ different learning styles.
There was evidence of good teaching and learning in German in all lessons observed. A commendable atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed and teachers knew students by name. Students’ engagement and participation in classroom activities were at all times focused, with a noticeable enthusiasm when actively involved in learning puzzles and paired tasks or group work. The content of the lessons was sufficiently challenging and was suited to students’ ability levels. Teachers employed a variety of teaching methodologies to engage students and the pace of lessons was generally very good. There was an appropriate examination focus for those students presenting for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations.
The whiteboard was used effectively to note vocabulary and new phrases. Other resources such as the overhead projector, data projector and computer were employed most effectively in classes visited.
Commendably, a thematic approach ensured the integration of most core language skills. Oral practice, related to the relevant theme, formed part of every lesson seen and prepared the way for the development of other skills. Activities included teacher input, group work, student-to-student interactions, one-to-one oral questioning, responses to reading-comprehension questions, vocabulary introduction and consolidation using aural practice, pair work and the completion of a crossword puzzle.
The use of visual prompts was effective not only as a way of successfully engaging students whose preferred learning style responds more immediately to visual stimuli, but also to generate more authentic target language use in the classroom. In one particular senior cycle lesson, an excellent example of teaching through, and to, the different intelligences was seen where students practised the theme of Ausziehen in different ways, including oral practice, a listening comprehension, differentiated group work and written production. Such active use of learning methodologies acknowledges that students learn in different ways. It was obvious that students responded well to being purposefully engaged in the learning process. It is recommended that effective active methodologies such as these be continued and expanded across the department.
Teachers’ use of the target language for classroom management was very good, which is to be commended. Appropriate attention was paid to grammar and pronunciation. While all teachers’ instructions were in the target language, it is suggested that a more extensive use of the target language be promoted at junior cycle, for the purposes of general classroom communication. At senior cycle, classroom dialogue in the target language was lively and productive. This is praiseworthy.
Effort was made to ensure the integration of the skills of language acquisition. Good practice was observed where junior cycle students were asked to pretend to be the weatherman using the actual weather report for the day created as a live link using ICT. This topic was then extended to the consolidation of vocabulary based on the environment. In addition, a short crossword puzzle was used to check the comprehension and spelling of related words. The follow up to this exercise involved teacher led questions to the students, thus encouraging further oral work. Students were then assigned a written exercise about the topic as homework. This integrated approach is effective as it ensures that learning is consolidated.
Listening comprehension activities were used in some lessons observed. It is recommended that all language skills be integrated in each lesson, particularly the use of listening comprehensions. Listening comprehensions are useful as learners need to be immersed in the target language. It is important that such activities are not used merely to test comprehension. Listening is a skill that must be taught. For example, in one lesson students were provided with a pre-listening exercise. In advance of a listening exercise students were given some warm-up exercises such as practising relevant vocabulary. This is good practice. Post-listening exercises should also be employed to consolidate listening skills. It is recommended that this effective practice be extended to all lessons.
In most lessons observed there was evidence of teacher circulation. This is very necessary as it provides information about the learners’ ability to do the exercise and thus informs teaching strategies.
A whole-school homework policy is being developed on a phased basis, starting from first year upwards. The German department has already developed a policy for first-year, second-year and third-year students. The good work done to date in this area is commended.
Students’ progress is monitored in a variety of ways: through informal questioning in lessons, correction of homework and summative assessment procedures. TY project work in German was visible throughout the school building. School management is to be praised for employing, through the board of management, a native German speaker to conduct external oral assessment with senior cycle students presenting for the Leaving Certificate. Whilst it is commendable that formal oral assessment is a part of senior cycle German, it is recommended that a formal oral assessment component be introduced at junior cycle for all in-house examinations. Junior cycle orals should occur in-house and need not be examined externally.
Homework was assigned in all classes visited and was related to lesson content. This is sound practice. From the sample of copies viewed, it is evident that quite detailed and informative feedback is being provided to some students. Commendably, copybooks are dated. In some copybooks, the good practice of underlining mistakes and encouraging students to self-correct was noted. It is recommended that this be replicated and extended to all class groups. In other instances, common errors were highlighted in class. Again this is good practice. To develop this further, the correction of common errors could be visually reinforced to consolidate learning and cater for visual learners. Whilst some students followed up on their corrections, this was not commonplace. Therefore, it is recommended that all students are strongly encouraged to follow up on their errors through correction exercises.
Very good practice was noted in copybooks where students were assigned written exercises on topics such as hobbies or their families, for example. This type of exercise allows students to manipulate their language skills in free-expression contexts. It is recommended that this type of exercise be assigned whenever possible.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Commendably, German features in all programmes on offer in the school.
· School management is to be highly commended for its progressive approach in building a most effective information and communication technologies’ (ICT) infrastructure throughout the school.
· A commendable atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed and teachers knew students by name.
· Oral practice, related to the relevant theme, formed part of every lesson seen and prepared the way for the development of other skills.
· Very good practice was noted in copybooks where students were assigned written exercises on topics such as hobbies or their families, for example. This type of exercise allows students to manipulate their language skills in free-expression contexts.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the current provision for German be re-examined in an effort to provide for the equal status of both languages on the curriculum. Single periods should be allocated to languages, where possible, in an effort to sustain continuity with the language.
· Subject plans should be further developed as outlined.
· It is recommended that all language skills be integrated in each lesson, particularly the use of listening comprehensions.
· A formal oral assessment component should be introduced at junior cycle for all in-house examinations.
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.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Subject meetings to look at Recommendations and Implement same – ongoing.