An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Newpark Comprehensive School,
Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 81001I
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Newpark Comprehensive School, Blackrock, County Dublin. 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 school management and the teachers of German. The inspector reviewed school and subject 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 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.
Newpark Comprehensive School has a total enrolment of 784 students. The school offers a range of subjects and programmes to its students: the Junior Certificate; the Transition Year (TY) programme; the established Leaving Certificate; the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). School management is to be commended for its support for languages. Modern languages are considered core to the curriculum on offer in the school and most of the 784 students study one modern language. There is a large modern languages department with ten language teachers. On entry to the school, students opt for the study of French or German. All students who study a modern language in junior cycle are expected to carry that language into senior cycle. Students with special educational needs (SEN) are not required to follow a modern language course. However, those SEN students who do take on the study of a modern language are given additional language support in small groups or individually. This is commendable.
For the last eleven years, the school has operated a European Section with the assistance of the French Government, the Department of Education and Science and the board of management. Students in the European Section are provided with a unique opportunity to study French intensively and to pursue a significant portion of their second-level education through the medium of French. It is of particular relevance and interest to students who have previous knowledge of French, whose families are partially or wholly French and to students who have a particular interest in languages.
The enhanced profile of French in the school may be a factor which has impacted on the uptake of German. The uptake of German among the current first years was disappointingly low at thirteen students, while the numbers from second year to sixth year who opted for German have remained constant in recent years at around twenty to twenty-five students. This development will require careful monitoring and attention on the part of school management and the German department, in order to ensure continued sustainable numbers in future years. Ab initio German is available to students of Transition Year (TY), an option provided where students can acquire partial competence in a second modern language.
The school has a policy of mixed ability at junior cycle and in TY. In fifth and sixth year, the classes are concurrently timetabled to allow for banding into higher and ordinary levels. The fact that there are three teachers of German enables the creation of an ordinary and higher-level group in fifth and sixth year, if necessary. The allocation of time to the teaching and learning in German is appropriate, and the optimal distribution of the lesson periods across the week allows for regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress. The aim of school management is to provide continuity and a spread of classes across the week, which is commendable.
The school has benefited from its participation in the German language assistant scheme as recently as the school year 2006/2007. The effective mentoring and monitoring of the integration of the language assistant into the school ensured that the language assistant worked well for the students and the school. Both school management and language teachers acknowledge the positive impact of the native speaker and representative of the target language community in the school and classroom. Participation in such initiatives and programmes not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides language teachers with the necessary support for maintaining and developing their own language skills and competence. School management is to be commended for facilitating participation in such schemes.
All language teachers have their own base classrooms. These language classrooms are located in the same area or corridor, thereby creating a sense of a language block or centre. This is a good innovation. The German notice board, also located in the same area, keeps students updated on topical issues and stories from Germany and other target language countries of relevance and interest to young people. This would not be possible without the commitment and effort of the German teachers to the regular upkeep of the notice board. Students are also encouraged to contribute. In this way, the German notice board is an innovative and effective means of maintaining student interest in the subject. School management is commended for the provision of base classrooms which enables the German teachers to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic and stimulating multi-media resources. An interactive whiteboard is available in one German room in the languages area, which can be accessed by German and French teachers. The provision of a language specialist or multi-media room is planned for the new building, when this becomes available.
Commendable also is the provision of a work room for language teachers, which is an ideal central storage area for language resources. This facilitates the efficient storing of resources, the sharing of good practice and is ideal for the correction of homework and for preparation. The availability of the languages workroom results in professional dialogue between the modern language teachers and the German teachers. There is internet access in this room and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is also used for planning, development of materials and worksheets and downloading of recent topical items and texts. The collaboration across the modern languages is noteworthy. This contributes an additional cohesion to the modern language provision.
There are a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to enrich student learning and experiences in German. These activities include participation in the German film project and participation in the annual school’s languages day. A German breakfast also features on the school’s calendar. When available, the German teachers attend specific in-service for German and for language teaching. The board of management positively encourages participation in continuous professional development (CPD) when available and membership of the subject association is paid by school management. Teachers involved in pursuing further study are facilitated by the board through cover when sitting examinations or attending courses or through some financial support. The school facilitates attendance at seminars and conferences which contribute to language teachers’ CPD and language expertise.
The school has participated in School Development Planning (SDP) and time is allocated by school management for regular planning meetings. The German teachers meet formally three to four times a year and informally on a regular basis. In relation to the formal subject meetings, the principal suggests the agenda for the meeting and minutes are kept. There is a coordinator for German. This position is currently not rotated between the other German teachers. Rotating the coordination position on the basis of a two-year term would allow the incumbent time to identify and work on areas for development, and to strengthen collaboration and the sharing of good practice. While acknowledging that both collaboration and sharing of good practice are already firmly established, this is something the school should consider.
The planning documentation made available at the time of the evaluation contained all the elements of good planning. There is an introduction which sets out the school’s mission statement and the specific purpose and aims of the German department. This is praiseworthy as it places the work of the department in the context of the school’s overall provision for its cohort of students. The aims were articulated as follows: to develop academic abilities and practical skills and student capacity to deal with logical processes; to foster participation in and enjoyment of creative, artistic and sporting activities; to foster sensitivity to the needs of others and a sense of community. These aims were observed to be achieved and implemented in practice. In line with the above objective, methodologies deployed promoted interactive learning and group skills. Autonomous learning is also encouraged in students and the European Language Portfolio (ELP) is used by language teachers to foster learner autonomy.
The long-term plan for German outlines the provision for the subject, the curriculum content, an inventory of resources, lists of useful websites and stock lists for each language classroom. The effective integration of ICT is addressed and there is a schedule for the use of ICT in language learning. The areas of assessment, record keeping, the co-curricular and extra-curricular provision and teacher CPD are also included. The planning documentation also records the principles for class formation and teachers have developed strategies for differentiation and integration of all abilities and learning styles. These too are gathered and recorded in the plan. The work completed in this area is commendable. Students with special educational needs are catered for in different ways; for example, less detail is required in answering in the context of the linguistic tasks and exercises. As part of SDP, school management is looking at promoting and providing an assessment for learning in-service at school level.
The yearly schemes of work are organised along the categories of topics, grammatical items, methodologies, resources and learning outcomes. The approach endorsed in planning documentation is thematic with integration of the different language skills, as recommended in syllabus guidelines. Assessment and testing are also included as are textbooks and course materials. The TY aims, content and development of the German ab initio language module are also outlined where the emphasis is on research into cultural and intercultural aspects of the language, as well as the development of simple linguistic competence in German. This facilitates students, who have already attained a competence in one modern European language, in acquiring partial competence in a second modern language. TY German students have access to the computer room once a week.
Individual short term lesson planning documents were presented, outlining objectives, methodologies and resources to be deployed. The advance preparation of photocopied materials and the readiness of audio equipment and ICT resources indicated good individual preparation for all the lessons observed.
In all lessons observed, a stimulating language environment was created and a balance between language acquisition and engagement with the content of the lesson was achieved. The German teachers used the communicative approach, in line with syllabus guidelines and recommended approach. Some of the methodologies deployed by the teachers to create an effective learning environment for German included: active learning methodologies such as pair work and group work; effective integration of grammar; systematic vocabulary acquisition; consistent use of the target language; practice of oral work; the use of songs and other activities. The focus on learning by doing, reflected in planning, was clearly in evidence in the lessons observed. For example, in lessons observed, students were engaged with activities which involved moving about the room and in being interactive and active. The lesson content was most appropriate to the age and interests of the learners and their stage of learning. The emphasis throughout the lessons on learning by doing is to be commended and was successful in its outcomes.
A range of resources, including ICT and other media for use in language teaching, was drawn upon in the course of the lessons observed and these were integrated effectively. As mentioned earlier, the provision of a teacher-based language room facilitated the optimal deployment of resources. Excellent use was made of the classroom environment to display language for classroom interaction, student work, verb or grammatical charts.
There was good use of the target language. For example, where a listening exercise was conducted and corrected in German, this ensured maintenance of the target language milieu. Students, in participating in their lessons, were afforded ample opportunities to use the target language. On one occasion, where the lesson was conducted bilingually, while efforts were made to maintain instruction in the target language, incidental remarks and comments occurred in English. Such “Zwischenbemerkungen” could quite readily be conducted in German. Effective use was made of synonyms in German, to introduce new vocabulary and to broaden the vocabulary base of the students. It is important when introducing new vocabulary to provide the definite article, and therefore gender, as a matter of course. Teachers should ensure at all times that the gender of the noun is provided and learnt by students simultaneously. The presentation of adjectives in pairs of opposites was another strategy which was effective for the learners and avoided the need for the use of translation.
The teachers of German have placed an emphasis on learner autonomy, as indicated in planning documentation. This was working effectively, and in class groups visited, there was evidence of a very good work ethic, of highly motivated and interested students and evidence of independence from teacher support. In one lesson observed, the learning and the conduct of the lesson were student led. The use of the interactive whiteboard was effectively demonstrated, while students engaged enthusiastically with the lesson. Students were both self-assured and participative in their learning. Noteworthy was the willingness of students to participate and to express themselves in the target language. This does not come about without the consistent support and encouragement of the teachers. The German teachers have achieved a commitment to learning and to the subject which is a credit to the students and teachers alike.
The structure and pace of lessons were good. Some lessons began with reinforcement of simple language structures, such as the day, date and weather, and students were asked simple questions about the theme of the lesson. Students responded well and errors were sensitively corrected. Another introductory task observed was both innovative and effective as a motivating and interesting lead-in to the content of the lesson. While students did some preliminary work on the text presented, teachers circulated and helped students individually. In the main, teachers shared the objective of the lesson with their students. Teaching was characterised by clarity of direction and, at every stage in the lesson, students understood where they were in the sequence of activities. In line with the objective of developing learner autonomy, students themselves should be asked to ascertain whether the learning objective has been achieved.
Students were engaged in different learning activities. These included: focused questioning of individual named students; creating dialogues in pairs or small groups and developing strategies to guess meaning in different language contexts. Students were accurate in their answering. Students should always be required to respond with full sentences, appropriate to their stage of learning. Students demonstrated knowledge of a good range of vocabulary and good accuracy in sentence structure; for example, correct word-order in relation to the placing of temporal adverbs, and good pronunciation. During group and pair work, students were cooperative in their learning and students of varying abilities supported each other in their pair work. Differentiated worksheets were distributed within the mixed-ability context which is commendable. Homework was carefully prepared and clarity in relation to what was expected was achieved.
There was very good affirmation of student effort and excellent rapport between students and teachers and between students.
Assessment is continuous and takes into consideration class participation, homework and project work, as well as class tests and formal school examinations. Students are assessed in languages across the four skills with oral, aural and written modes of assessment deployed. Assessment forms part of the planning documentation for German. It is commendable that the testing of oral skills are included from first year onwards, in that oral examinations are conducted for first and second years and for fifth and sixth years.
Each department has a subject specific homework policy. Parents are kept informed of student progress through the student journal and through record slips as part of the positive behaviour policy and through parent-teacher meetings. All students are encouraged to have a hard back notebook to record and maintain class notes. Although some very well organised student notebooks and work-books were examined in the course of the inspection, strategies to promote better student organisation of their work and note books should be explored and communicated to all students. In the student copies examined, there was evidence of a good range of exercise types. Students are assigned exercises and tasks to systematically practise structures and apply newly acquired linguistic structures in new contexts. There is also simple repetition and reinforcement built into the exercises. Annotations and corrections were regularly carried out by teachers. More careful monitoring of student follow-up on corrections is also recommended.
The results of the State Examinations are analysed at the early September planning meetings, and as many students as possible are encouraged to take the language at higher level in State Examinations. Attainment at both higher and ordinary levels is very good.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is strong support for languages by management in the school. Languages form a central strand of the school curriculum and most students study one modern language.
· Base classrooms are provided which enables the German teachers to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic and stimulating multi-media resources.
· The provision of a work room for language teachers, which is an ideal central storage area for language resources, contributes to the cohesion of the modern language provision.
· The planning documentation made available at the time of the evaluation contained all the elements of good planning including topics, grammatical items, methodologies, resources and learning outcomes.
· The methodologies deployed by the teachers ensured the creation of an effective learning environment for German.
· The target language was the main language of instruction and communication in lessons.
· The objective of developing learner autonomy and the use of the ELP is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The uptake of German in first year should be carefully monitored by school management and the German department, to ensure continued sustainable numbers in future years.
· When sharing the objective of lessons with students, it is recommended that students themselves should be asked to ascertain whether the learning objective has been achieved.
· More careful monitoring of student follow-up on corrections is recommended. Strategies to promote better student organisation of their work and note books should be explored and communicated to all students.
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 Board of Management of Newpark Comprehensive School acknowledges the very positive report received in the German subject inspection. It particularly notes the affirmation of the good planning untaken by the teachers and the methodologies employed ensuring an effective learning environment.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board will in consultation with management and the German teachers examine ways to address the recommendations and especially the issue of the uptake of students studying German and with regard to that, have organized for the co-ordination of German to speak at the induction meeting for new first year parents.