An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Coláiste na Trócaire
Rathkeale County Limerick
Roll number: 76061W
Date of inspection: 2 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale. 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 teacher, 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, deputy principal and subject teacher. 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.
Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale offers the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) to 440 students. German benefits from a good level of provision and features in all programmes on offer. Students are taught German in mixed-ability settings and students are encouraged, when feasible, to take the higher level in State examinations. Students with additional educational needs also have access to the subject. This is praiseworthy. There was also a commendable gender balance in the lessons observed, particularly at junior cycle.
Currently, German is one of two modern languages on offer in the school. An ‘open-choice’ system is in operation whereby students make their subject choices prior to entry from a list of all first-year subjects on offer. Whilst open choice is praiseworthy, students should have an opportunity to experience both French and German before being required to choose which one they will study to the Junior Certificate. Therefore, it is commendable that, as part of whole-school planning, school management has already established task groups on various areas of school life, including curriculum development, with a view to incorporating a taster programme for all first year optional subjects in the near future. It is recommended, that at least for languages, a taster programme should be in operation for the coming academic year.
The time allocated to the teaching of German is in line with syllabus requirements. Classes in the junior cycle are allocated four class periods per week. Transition Year receives two class periods. In the senior cycle students are provided with five class periods per week. Examination of the timetable has shown that all classes receive one double period. However, in the current academic year one fifth-year class has two double periods per week. It is recommended that, where possible, languages should be taught in single periods rather than double periods as students derive most benefit from regular contact with, and continuity in, the language.
The timetabling arrangements for TY languages this current academic year are not ideal. The TY class observed contained students studying German and students studying French. From a class-management point of view this is unsatisfactory, as the teacher must, at times, almost simultaneously support both languages. Whilst this provides students with a certain level of continuity with their chosen modern language it also provides myriad inherent disruptions. Since two single periods are timetabled for French and two single periods are timetabled German, it is recommended that senior management concurrently timetable French and German as this would best suit the needs and requirements of the students concerned.
It is most commendable that the school encourages the professional development of teachers. Teachers may apply for funding to County Limerick Vocational Education Committee (VEC) for ongoing professional development and the school itself is praiseworthy for its payment of teacher association fees.
The German department has access to a range of resources, including a television and DVD player, cassette and CD players, a class set of dictionaries and other print material. Whilst there is no official budget, the department is free to request funds to update materials. In fact, a new computer room is being established for all teachers. Nonetheless, it is suggested that the use of incidental information and communication technologies (ICT) should be incorporated into class-based lessons as the school is broadband enabled and the German teacher has a base room.
A wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities supports and enhances the teaching and learning of the subject in the school. Activities include: the Film Fleadh in Galway, participation in the Austrian embassy essay competition, liaison with the art department and the showing of DVDs during class. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that TY students are involved in a project whereby they teach modules of German to sixth-class pupils on a rotational basis. Very strong historical links also exist between Rathkeale and the Pfalz area of Germany and, as a result, there is a very long tradition of collaboration with a neighbouring school in Askeaton in organising a school exchange to Dahn, in the Pfalz. This occurs every two years and there is good uptake among students. School management is to be commended for its subsidy of the exchange. The organisation of such trips and exchanges is laudable as students can experience the language and culture of the target language first hand and this provides both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
The school is engaged with the whole-school planning process and subject departments have been established. The good practice of preparing agenda for meetings and keeping minutes has been initiated and it is recommended that this continue as part of modern foreign-language planning in the school.
The German department’s mission statement is an inspirational poem and its underlying principle is to awaken a love for the German language and culture. Indeed, the plan itself contains broad long-term plans and specific short-term plans for the subject and contains aspirations such as enhancing students’ knowledge of the target language country, as well as themes and topics to be covered. There is a separate plan outlined for the TY programme in German and it, commendably, aims to promote active learning. It also allows students certain autonomy over what aspects of the TY curriculum they learn and how they learn them. In addition, the department analyses State examination results to inform planning. This is good practice.
To further consolidate and extend the planning work done to date the following is recommended: since the German department is a one-teacher department it is recommended that future planning continue as modern language planning; the modern language department should plan for updating and extending resources, where possible (including planning for ICT). The primary focus of forward planning should be learner outcomes stated in terms of the four language skills in the context of mixed-ability teaching.
Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of students’ work and interaction with students. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. The lesson content and themes were appropriate to the age and interests of the students, as observed, and were in line with syllabus requirements. Commendably, a base classroom is provided for German. It is laudable that students have opportunities to display their own work as this enhances the learning environment.
In lessons observed, students remained focused on their work at all times and displayed a good level of engagement both at senior and junior cycles. A thematic approach to language acquisition, as recommended in syllabus guidelines, was used to very good effect and there was an obvious link to work already covered. In their oral responses, students demonstrated an ability to communicate in the target language and used reasonably correct German. This is praiseworthy. The teacher circulated among students in most lessons visited and in all cases students benefited from support and attention from their teacher. Individual guidance, assistance and feedback were provided to students where required.
It is suggested that the objective of each lesson should be explicitly shared with students at the start of each class so as to provide a focus for the learners and to ensure that the learning targets are being addressed.
Group work was evident in most classes visited and the use of such learner-centred and active methodologies is praiseworthy. Very good practice was observed at senior cycle where initial, structured pair work facilitated whole-class work on the topic of drugs. In the same lesson, some excellent target-language usage by students was observed and, commendably, all four language skills were integrated thematically in a seamless fashion. It is laudable that a modern German song about drugs by the band Tic-Tac-Toe was used as the basis for the lesson. It is recommended that such good practice be extended to all lessons, where feasible. It is also recommended that, from first year upwards, additional strategies be employed to further develop and embed the use of German as the medium of communication in the classroom.
Access to a class-set of dictionaries was facilitated during another senior cycle class. This is praiseworthy as it promotes autonomy and allows students to manipulate language skills appropriate to their level. This was evident when a student commented accurately on a picture using vocabulary that he had looked up in the dictionary rather than the suggested key words that the teacher had written on the white board.
In that same lesson students were given a picture to discuss in pairs and then asked to write four or five sentences about it. Some key vocabulary items, including nouns and adjectives, were given to the students. This exercise was a pre-viewing task. When students completed their sentences they offered examples as part of a peer-correction exercise and class discussion. Thereafter, students viewed the beginning of the film Stille Sehnsucht (Silent Desire). Planned activities such as these, in particular the provision of key vocabulary through brainstorming or otherwise is commendable. In this particular instance it allowed students to access, what would have been otherwise a difficult film to understand in German. It is recommended that other forms of this type of activity should also be used in conjunction with other language skills.
In broader teaching and learning terms, on the day of the evaluation the inspector noted a tardiness of students arriving to classes and there was a student presence on corridors during class time. Whilst acknowledging that in-school activities such as the TY preparation for Gaisce awards and that third-year student Drumcondra Aptitude Tests were being conducted, this issue was raised by the inspector during feedback with school management. Management acknowledged the issue and stated that it was addressing it.
A school-wide homework policy is part of the code of behaviour documentation but there is also a German department policy on homework. Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level and a range of assessment modes is deployed. Formative and summative assessments are conducted on an ongoing basis. The class diary is primarily used to communicate test results in German to parents.
Commendably, all formal assessment consists of both aural and oral components as well as reading comprehension and writing skills.
From the sample of copybooks observed, it was evident that most copybooks are monitored on a regular basis and some, particularly at senior cycle, were very thoroughly corrected. This is commendable practice and it is recommended that it be extended to all copybooks. Indeed, throughout both junior and senior cycle, students’ work was impressively organised with all students having separate copybooks for vocabulary, oral work, letters, and homework. The standard of work observed in copybooks and that students produced, orally, in class demonstrated good grammatical awareness.
Whilst inviting students to come to the whiteboard and have the teacher and students analyse their homework exercises is commendable, a considerable amount of time is required to evaluate each sentence properly. The school has organised in-service on assessment with the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) and this is planned for September 2008. In this context, it is suggested that Assessment for Learning (AfL) principles be further incorporated and adopted to develop assessment procedures in the department. For example, other forms of self-assessment or peer-assessment could be utilised to optimise class-contact time. It is also recommended that students are given sufficient opportunities in their homework exercises to manipulate their own language competencies in less structured situations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· TY students are involved in a project whereby they teach modules of German to sixth-class pupils on a rotational basis. Very strong historical links also exist between Rathkeale and the Pfalz area of Germany and, as a result, there is a very long tradition of collaboration with a neighbouring school in Askeaton in organising a school exchange to Dahn, in the Pfalz.
· In lessons observed, students remained focused on their work at all times and displayed a good level of engagement both at senior and junior cycles.
· Very good practice was observed at senior cycle where structured pair work facilitated whole-class work on the topic of drugs. In the same lesson, some excellent target language usage by students was observed and, commendably, all four language skills were integrated thematically in a seamless fashion.
· Commendably, all formal assessment consists of both aural and oral components as well as reading comprehension and writing skills.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended, that at least for languages, a taster programme be in operation for the coming academic year.
· Senior management, in collaboration with the TY co-ordinator and the German and French departments, should examine the timetabling for modern languages in TY in the hope of arriving at an in-school solution best suited to the needs and requirements of the students concerned.
· From first year upwards, additional strategies should be employed to further develop and embed the use of German as the medium of communication in the classroom.
· It is suggested that Assessment for Learning (AfL) principles be incorporated and adopted to develop assessment procedures in the department.
· It is also recommended that students are given sufficient opportunities in their homework exercises to manipulate their own language competencies in less structured situations.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of German, 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.
Published September 2008