An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
La Sainte Union Secondary School
Banagher, County Offaly
Roll number: 65540A
Date of inspection: 10 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in La Sainte Union. 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 and subject teacher. The board of management of the school 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. The board of management of the school 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.
La Sainte Union is currently in the process of amalgamating with a nearby school. The amalgamation will result in a new school, to be named Banagher College – Coláiste na Sionna. In fact the present first-year students from both schools have already joined together. German is well established in La Sainte Union secondary school. It has been offered (with French) as part of the Modern Languages programme for several years. A number of years ago a taster programme for Modern Languages was introduced for all first-year students. The taster programme is working very well for German and the numbers of students taking the language have increased since its inception. The taster programme is to be highly commended as it affords students the possibility of an introduction to two modern languages and ensures that students can make a fully informed decision at the end of the programme.
Until the current academic year the taster programme lasted for the entire year and students were asked to choose which modern language(s) they wished to study for the Junior Certificate at the end of first year. This is currently under review and the taster programme may finish this year at the end of the first term. The reason for this is that students who had taken one language for the first half of the taster programme had forgotten a considerable amount of what they had learned by the time they started second year. Instead of teaching one language for one half of the year it is recommended that the four class periods per week be split evenly across the two languages. The result would be that students would have two periods of German and two of French for the duration of the taster programme. This would ensure that students would have regular contact with both languages.
The time allocation for German is very good. In junior cycle four periods a week are allocated to second and third-year classes. Fifth-year students have five class periods per week. The sixth–year German class has eight class periods per week. This extra time has been allocated to allow for the fact that the class comprises students taking the subject at both higher and ordinary level and to facilitate individual students’ needs. The school management authorities are to be commended for this generous allocation which clearly assists the students greatly as they prepare for the State Examinations.
German lessons are held in a base classroom. There is an impressive display of language learning materials available. Maps, posters, charts of German grammar are on display on the walls as well as students’ work. Uncertainty was expressed in the course of the evaluation regarding the future provision of a base classroom for German once the forthcoming amalgamation is completed. It is strongly recommended that, resources permitting, every effort should be made to retain a base classroom for the language.
The school has a wide range of resources to support the teaching and learning of German. Resources include books, videos, quizzes, puzzles, mini libraries of easy readers and many more useful materials. It is recommended that an inventory of these resources be taken and that this be included in the planning documentation. It is also recommended that some books on modern language teaching methodologies be acquired. Many useful resources can be found on the website for the National Centre for Languages at www.cilt.org.uk. It was noted in the course of the inspection that access to a DVD/video player is very restricted. The use of film or short video clips in language teaching is highly beneficial. Therefore it is recommended that, as resources permit, a DVD or video player be provided to enhance the existing resources for German.
A range of activities is provided by the German department to support the teaching and learning of German. The principal activity is a German exchange which takes place annually. This affords the learners the wonderful opportunity of spending time in the country of the target language and experiencing the culture and school life at first hand. Students are also brought to the cinema to view German films and some students have pen pals. The provision of such co-curricular activities is to be highly commended.
The school is actively engaged in school development planning. Subject departments have been established and teachers of modern languages work together. Subject departments are allocated time to meet in the course of staff days. Meetings follow an agenda and records are kept of decisions made. This is effective practice.
Subject department planning for German was made available in the course of the inspection. Details of teaching methodologies, cross curricular planning, core objectives and assessment procedures were all outlined in the planning document. It is clear from this documentation that an emphasis is put on all skills of language acquisition from the beginning of the junior cycle. This is praiseworthy. Yearly schemes of work are theme based which is in line with the syllabus requirements. It is recommended that the planning for the themes be developed to include specific learning outcomes across the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Specifying what is expected of the learner will undoubtedly enhance the planning and by extension the learning process.
The content matter of all lessons was good and in line with syllabus requirements. In the junior cycle students were learning to describe the weather in the past tense. In senior-cycle lessons the themes ranged from food, health and fashion. Students expressed interest in the topics and it was noted that very modern, up-to-date texts were used in conjunction with these themes. It is recommended that where possible that part of the classroom activities should encourage students to link the themes to their own lives. For example, students can be asked about their favourite food or what fashion magazines they read. This kind of learner centeredness is an essential corner-stone of the communicative approach to modern language teaching.
The skill of listening was developed in a most effective manner in one of the lessons observed. In the pre-listening phase students were presented with the relevant vocabulary through pictures and flashcards. Students were asked to come to the whiteboard and match the words to the pictures. This is most effective as the learners are active both physically and mentally. It was clear from the speed at which the learners completed the activity that this technique is commonly practised in the classroom. The listening comprehension exercise was then carefully explained to the students. While the students listened to the text the teacher circulated constantly among the learners to monitor progress. Teacher circulation was aided by the fact that a remote control device to control the CD player was available. This was used to great effect. In the post-listening phase students were afforded another opportunity to listen to the text and were asked to complete a gapped text while doing so. This consolidated the learning processs in a most useful manner. The development of the skill of listening as witnessed in the course of the evaluation is an example of excellent practice.
There was good continuity between the lessons observed and the previous lessons. The correction of homework at the beginning of the lessons provided this link. In the case of one senior-cycle lesson students had carried out a vocabulary exercise related to the theme of fashion. This was then followed by a reading comprehension exercise in class. The reading text was a fairly lengthy modern article about computer-generated fashion models. Length of text can be a problem for students. It is suggested that, when choosing reading texts, shorter texts can be more appropriate. It is also recommended that some part of the lesson be spent on a exploiting a limited amount of vocabulary from the text and ensuring that the learners use these words in a communicative manner.
The use of the target language in the classroom was excellent. German was used effectively to issue all classroom instructions and to manage classroom activities. Where learners were unsure of the meaning of words, synonyms in the target language were used to help them comprehend. This is most laudable as it ensures that learners are exposed to a very rich linguistic environment which mirrors the process of first-language acquisition. In interaction with the inspector the majority of students displayed good comprehension. To enhance the use of the target language some dedicated pronunciation exercises were carried out in a senior-cycle lesson. This was done effectively by writing certain letters on the board in conjunction with the phonetic alphabet. Students were then asked to supply German words which contained the particular sound. This is an example of best practice and is to be highly commended.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was very pleasant and positive. Students clearly felt a sense of security in the learning environment. Teacher-student interaction was always characterised by mutual respect. Individual students were helped in the course of the lessons. Student errors were corrected with sensitivity. Discipline was maintained to the highest standard throughout. Creating a positive caring atmosphere such as this enhances the learning environment for all students and is to be highly commended.
Student assessment takes place on a regular basis. In the junior cycle formal assessment takes place at Christmas and in summer for non-examination classes and at Christmas and February for those taking the Junior Certificate. For fifth-year students formal assessment takes place five times in the course of the academic year. Parents of these students receive five written reports on the students’ progress. The school management authorities find that this regular monitoring of students’ achievement works well. In sixth year students have formal assessment at Christmas and again in the ‘mock’ examinations. The school is to be commended for its rigorous assessment policy.
In German, students are assessed in all years on their progress in all of the skills of language acquisition. This is to be highly commended as it ensures students’ progress in each of these areas is carefully monitored and any difficulties can be addressed at an early stage. Assessing all language skills ensures a communicative approach to teaching and learning which is laudable.
The level of organisation found in students’ copybooks is to be highly commended. Students had different copybooks for oral work, written exercises and grammar notes. The high level of organisation of material was uniform across all students and classes. Ensuring that learners keep materials in order in this manner teaches them organisational skill which is a very important aspect of learning and is most praiseworthy.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
The taster programme in modern languages for first years is working well. Since its inception the number of students taking German has increased.
Good resources are available to support the teaching and learning of the subject.
The school is engaged in school development planning and subject departments have been established.
Comprehensive planning documentation for the teaching of German has been developed.
Lesson content in the lessons observed was good and in line with syllabus requirements
The use of the target language in the classroom was excellent.
Very good use was made of resources.
Classroom management skills were excellent and a very positive atmosphere conducive to learning was prevalent.
Homework is assigned and corrected on a very regular basis. All skills of language acquisition are tested formally and informally. This is in line with best practice.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that an inventory of resources be taken and included in the planning documentation.
Yearly schemes of work should be developed further to include information on the skills of language acquisition and specific learner outcomes.
It is suggested that the learner-centred approach observed be developed and that elements of lesson content be linked to the students’ everyday lives.
It is recommended that ICT be further developed in the teaching of German.
The assessment for learning approach should be enhanced to ensure the consolidation of learning.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management is very pleased with the report. It is reflective of the dedication of the staff, the hard work of the students and the support of the parents.
The Board has congratulated the students involved and the German teacher.
The Board wishes to thank the Inspector who carried out the report for her thorough and positive report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Any recommendations contained in the report will be implemented