An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré
Corville Road, Roscrea, County Tipperary
Roll number: 76069P
Date of inspection: 10 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Phobal, 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 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 one of three modern languages on offer in Coláiste Phobal, Roscrea, and it features in Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and Transition Year (TY) programmes. The school operates a nine-period day with each class period of thirty-five minutes duration. During the inspection, 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 indicated that it would be seeking additional resources to address the matter and would soon hope to be in a position to make adjustment to the timetable for future years. While it is acknowledged that the school is addressing this matter, it is recommended that the terms and conditions of Circular M29/95 be complied with.
Prior to entry, first-year students are invited to attend an open evening with their parents to inform themselves of subject options and to meet the staff. Students also have the opportunity to attend the school for a day’s ‘induction’. Here, they attend for one day and receive four periods of instruction. Generally, instruction confines itself to practical subjects with modern language classes also on offer in the language laboratory. This is good practice. A ‘Taster Programme’ in French and German is currently in operation for all first-year students. This student-centred approach to subject choice is commendable, as a ‘Taster Programme’ enables students to make an informed decision about their modern language choice for Junior Certificate.
There are six first-year class groupings and these are all mixed-ability classes. This is commendable. However, a system of banding is in operation from second year onwards at junior cycle in the core subjects Irish, English and Mathematics. There are four ‘higher mixed-ability’ groupings and two ‘lower mixed-ability groupings’ in those subjects. Management reported that there would be flexible movement between and among the ‘higher’ groupings with regard to subject-level selection. ‘Lower’ groupings, however, would be advised not to attempt higher-level papers. It is strongly recommended, that school management re-consider this system of student allocation to groupings.
Over the last number of years the number of students choosing to study German has remained fairly constant, and it remains a popular choice. However, it was noted that, at present, not all students opt to study a modern language. As a result of subject banding options, a relatively high number of boys in the school have chosen not to take a modern language. Whilst acknowledging the socio-economic factors and the tradition of students to attend colleges or courses which may not necessarily have a language requirement, this is a matter of concern. From discussions with senior management, it appears that the present subject option bands are impacting negatively on the uptake of modern foreign languages in the school. There is also a need to address issues related to gender imbalance in subject uptake. It is recommended, therefore, that management should re-examine subject-option banding in light of the importance of modern languages in the curriculum and the reported high priority management places on them.
Further to this, when making subject choice decisions, all relevant factors should be taken into account and students should be encouraged to take a modern language at the level best suited to their needs. Care should be taken to ensure that students opting out of modern languages are fully aware of the implications of their decision. Although the school guidance team provides comprehensive advice for students, modern language teachers should be active participants in the delivery of information to students regarding subject choice and its implications.
Overall, the timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. However, the distribution of class periods across the week is uneven. There are single periods assigned to all first-year classes and this is commendable. Nonetheless, double periods are assigned to all other year groups with sixth year students receiving tuition in the form of two double periods and two single periods. This is not ideal. 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. It is recommended that management address this issue for the coming year.
In TY, students receive three to four periods of modern languages per week. There are two TY classes and these are timetabled concurrently. Irrespective of their modern language choice to Junior Certificate, TY students must study both French and German throughout the year. On the one hand this is unsatisfactory, as there is little continuity with their chosen modern language. For example, students are expected to study one language pre-Christmas and then the other post-Christmas. It is recommended that senior management, in conjunction with the TY co-ordinator and the German department, examine this issue in the hope of arriving at an in-school solution best suited to the needs and requirements of the students.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently three German teachers on staff. All are graduates in German. There is a subject co-ordinator and two of the German teaching team is a member of the „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers Association). The German department has access to a variety of material resources including tape recorders, TVs and video recorders. The main German classroom has examples of students’ work and projects on display on the walls, including maps of Germany. This is praiseworthy as it provides for a stimulating learning environment and allows students to take ownership of their learning. Not all German teachers have a base room. Therefore, in order to provide the German department with best access to resources, it is recommended that management equip the main German classroom with all available resources. A rota system could then operate, whereby, when the room is free, other German teachers could utilise it to best effect.
There is an annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, senior management, at times, allocates this budget to the purchase of items other than German materials or teaching resources. For example, last year’s budget was spent by management on the purchase of CD players for use during State examinations. It is recommended that management allow the German department access to this budget to purchase resources necessary for the teaching and learning of German. For example, books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies such as active methodologies, mixed-ability teaching or the integration of language learning could be purchased.
Five of the six first-year class groupings have been assigned to one teacher. This is, perhaps, not an ideal working model. It is recommended that consideration be given to the potential of all teachers to teach the entire range of levels of German on offer in the school. If class groupings are rotated amongst the teachers there will be a chance for active collaboration, it would facilitate the build-up and sharing of expertise and the situation of resident ‘expert’ would be avoided.
Management and staff should consider ways in which the profile of German could be raised in the whole-school population. Whilst acknowledging the co-curricular activities already organised by the German department, it is recommended that further activities, such as support for the International Day of Languages or debating could be organised to involve and promote the use of German. Senior management stated that they would actively support the encouragement of participation in exchange programmes and school tours to German-speaking countries. This is commendable.
Coláiste Phobal, Roscrea is involved in the school development planning process and there is some evidence of planning. School management articulated that planning at a department level has yet to take place and that this will be the next focus for school planning. It is recommended that, as part of a move towards more structured planning and as part of the process of school development planning, teachers of German should collaboratively develop a detailed plan of the subject. The plan could provide a clear outline as to what is to be covered in every year. For example, in line with syllabus requirements, topics should be covered using a thematic approach, which would integrate all skills involved in language learning. Each theme could be examined under the following six key areas: listening comprehension, oral production, written production, reading comprehension, cultural awareness and grammar. The themes could be further broken down into lessons structured around an integration of these skills, which could contain a wide range of teaching and learning activities. These, in turn, should be integrated in a meaningful way to facilitate and reinforce student learning. Reference should also be made to approaches to mixed-ability teaching in junior cycle and to some strategies as to how one could better plan for Transition Year. The plan should be seen as a flexible ‘work-in-progress’ rather than something ‘set in stone’ and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an ongoing basis. The European Language Portfolio could be used as an aid to planning, assessment and learner autonomy in language learning.
To date, information and communication technology (ICT) has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching of German. Teachers articulated training in ICT to be a stated need for the German department. It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) should be addressed by school management at languages level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects.
All lessons observed were well prepared and in line with syllabus requirements. Some teachers presented individual lesson plans. In all classes, good advance preparation ensured that lessons were clearly structured and appropriately timed.
Inspection activities included the observation of five classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. Different teaching strategies were employed by the teachers in their classes. Best practice was observed where the lesson content and the teaching strategies employed were appropriately geared to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. For example, in one junior-cycle lesson the consolidation of previous knowledge, „Haustiere” (pets), was used as a starting point. This good practice was very beneficial in anchoring the students and focusing them on the task at hand. Students then progressed to solving jumbled-up words on the same topic and, finally, they spelled out the correct forms of the words orally.
A good rapport was evident in classroom interactions, classroom management was uniformly good and an atmosphere of concentration was strong in almost all cases. In senior classes, lesson pace was set by teacher talk rather than by student activity or questioning. For example, pair work was observed in one lesson only. A balance between teacher talk and student response or activity is required so that optimum learning and student engagement with the learning process can take place. Best practice was observed where there was a variety of tasks used, based on the topic being taught, to ensure student attention. Where teachers made a good effort to present material in an interesting way, students were engaged in the learning process. In order to maximise student engagement, it is recommended that further consideration be given to appropriate tasks and a variety of active methodologies to ensure the students are motivated and on task at all times.
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 junior cycle, spontaneous student-teacher interactions in German were observed. This is laudable. Whilst the use of the target language in classes was very good overall, it is recommended that, in junior-cycle lessons, due consideration be given to pronunciation. This should include work on students’ pronunciation and the alphabet. Best practice was observed, in one junior-cycle lesson where tips for distinguishing between the letters ‘a’ and ‘e’ were given to students. These letters are particularly problematic for students and the tips given were, indeed, very useful. Teachers are the only model of the target language community that students have access to, therefore, it is recommended that teachers avail of opportunities to upskill themselves as part of their CPD. The importance of teacher pronunciation cannot be understated – as, ultimately, inaccurate pronunciation leads to ineffective communication. Therefore, it is essential that teachers emphasise this very important element of language learning, both in terms of their own linguistic competence and in the development of that of their learners.
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.
The four main skills (oral production, aural comprehension, reading and writing) took place to good effect in some classes observed. This integration of skills should be extended to all classes. An example of best practice was observed in junior cycle where the theme of holidays was exploited to good effect by the use of oral work. Through the use of a listening comprehension task on the same topic, aural skills were successfully integrated. This integration of skills is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. The listening comprehension was, in turn, productively exploited to highlight aspects of cultural differences between Germany and Ireland. This, too, is very good practice. However, it is recommended that, during the practice of listening skills post-listening activities should be exploited to provide further reinforcement and consolidation of learning. An example of this would be to examine errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, to replay the tape exercise. This is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard both on Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate aural examinations. Also, where opportunities present themselves to expose students to various dialects and accents in German these should be exploited as they make explicit linguistic diversity and often stimulate learners’ interest in language issues, such as variety.
There is, at present, no formal homework policy for the school. It is recommended that management and staff should address this issue as part of school development planning. Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic engaged with during the lesson. There was evidence to indicate that teachers are monitoring copybooks and the good practice of signing and dating work is to be commended. There were some very good examples where teachers provided formative assessment to students. Such good practice should be extended to all copybooks and should also include areas of commendation and suggested areas for improvement. Best practice was observed where students were asked to examine and re-write their corrected work and this, in turn, was corrected again. This is praiseworthy, as it provides students with learning opportunities, in the form of follow-up on their homework errors. This examination of student errors facilitates independent and autonomous learning as well as allowing students to actively participate in their own learning process. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) promotes Assessment for Learning (AfL) on its website (www.ncca.ie) and this could provide teachers with useful insights as to how one could develop such a model as part of subject department planning. It is recommended, therefore, that an AfL approach be adopted by the German department.
A range of assessment modes is deployed. Ongoing assessment is done through class questioning, the setting of homework and end of topic examinations. Formal assessments take place for almost all non-examination years at Christmas and end of year. Examination years sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Teachers assess students in using various modes of assessment for example, project work is included as part of end of year reports for some classes. Second-year and fifth-year German students are encouraged to participate in the Euro Languages scholarships for Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) schools. First-year students are also examined orally, on an on-going basis, during class periods. It is recommended that this good practice of assessment in oral production be incorporated into all mid-term and end-of-year assessment for all students.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The process was a positive experience and we feel that recommendations are a constructive way of improving the provision of German within the school.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection