An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Mountmellick Community College
Mountmellick, County Laois
Roll number: 91426A
Date of inspection: 8 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mountmellick Community School. 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 inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspectors reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors 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.
Subject Provision and Whole School Support
Mountmellick Community School has an enrolment of 490 students from first to fifth year. There are approximately ten feeder schools in the catchment area. The school offers the Junior Certificate, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
Prior to their entry to the school, first-year students indicate their modern language preference. The choice is between French and German. At present, not all students opt to study a modern language. The relatively high numbers of present first-year students not taking a modern language (approximately 32%) is a matter of concern. This pattern is continued and there is a relatively high percentage of students not taking a modern language in all years. It is recommended that, taking all relevant factors into account, an inclusive policy of modern language learning be adopted by the school so that all junior cycle students are strongly encouraged to take at least one modern language at the level best suited to their needs. The first-year entrants to the school not opting to take any modern language should be monitored and actively encouraged to review their choice. The consequences of not taking a modern language are manifold and include restricted access to certain third-level institutions and a limiting of awareness of one’s European identity and knowledge of other European cultures. These factors are very important in an inclusive society, which Ireland strives to create. The role of education in this cannot be underestimated. Parents and students alike must be fully informed of these consequences. The practice of allowing so many students to opt out of studying a modern language was referred to in a previous subject inspection report (October 2004). The recommendations in that report with regard to review and monitoring of the situation have to date not been acted upon. It is strongly recommended that this situation be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Incoming first-year students choose three subjects out of nine optional subjects. At present, there is no taster programme on offer. Such a programme could help them make a more informed choice. It is worth noting that the students from three feeder schools study French in sixth class and this is thought to be impacting on language choice. The vast majority of students from the feeder schools do not opt to study German. It is suggested that the way in which incoming first years make their subject choices be reviewed. In this context, it is recommended that a ‘Taster Programme’ be introduced whereby all students have access to both modern languages on offer.
Generally, the timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and all classes receive a time allocation which is in line with syllabus requirements. The distribution of class periods across the week is uneven. There are single periods assigned to most classes with the exception of a first-year and a second-year German class which are allocated double periods. The first year class group receives tuition on Mondays, Tuesdays and a double period Wednesdays. Given the importance of regular and sustained encounters with a modern language, it is desirable that students engage with German on a daily basis. This will ensure continuity and effective progress. It is therefore recommended that the timetabling be reviewed and that where possible German be allocated single class periods.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently five German teachers on staff. All are graduates in German and maintain contact with the target language country. There is a subject co-ordinator and one of the German teaching team is a member of the „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers Association). Last year a member of the teaching team was awarded a Goethe Institute scholarship to Germany and attended a language course there during the summer holidays. This commitment to professional development is recognised and highly commended.
The German department has a wide variety of material resources. The staff has access to overhead projectors, TVs, video recorders, DVD and CD players. In the two main German classrooms there are examples of students’ work and projects on display on the walls, including letters from German pen pals. German words are placed on tangible items in the room and this is commendable as it serves to reinforce new vocabulary.
At present, there is no annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, on request to management, funds are made available for the purchase of resources. It is recommended that books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies be acquired as part of the bank of resources for German. Ensuring that teachers have such material available can only serve to enhance the learning experience of students.
It is to the school’s credit that German has been maintained as a modern language on offer despite the fact that the numbers choosing the subject are relatively low. Management and staff should consider ways in which the profile of German could be raised in the school population to combat falling numbers and to extend the learning opportunities of students. This academic year the LCVP class organised an International Day of Languages and invited local primary schools to visit the school that afternoon. A typical German breakfast was served in the school, a quiz was developed related to posters on display and there were sporting activities organised that involved the use of German. The time and effort required of teachers to prepare and organise extra- and co-curricular activities is fully acknowledged and the teachers concerned are congratulated on their commitment to students. Next year presents further opportunities for students to enhance their cultural awareness as there is a school tour planned to Germany.
Planning and Preparation
Mountmellick Community School is involved in the School Development Planning process and there is evidence of planning both at an individual level and at a department level. Work on the review and updating of the whole school plan is ongoing, and many policies are already in place. On the day of the inspection, a comprehensive subject department plan for the teaching of German was made available. This plan was detailed and showed an awareness of German syllabus requirements. The plan also specified achievable learning targets for each year group. This could be enhanced if student learning outcomes were explicitly stated. Information on the teaching methodologies to be used should also be included in the plan. It would be useful if planning work also focused on how the profile of German in the school might be enhanced. It is recommended that the plan be reviewed regularly and seen as a ‘work in progress’ to be developed on an ongoing basis.
The German department has a co-ordinator and this position is rotated. There is good evidence to suggest that the department works well as a cohesive team. Teachers are facilitated to meet formally to discuss matters relating to the subject, with informal meetings taking place on a needs basis. Minutes of formal meetings are retained in the department plan. This is good practice.
All lessons observed were well prepared as evidenced by their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Examples included the preparation of colour-photocopied handouts for students, a laminated card-game for students and the use of advertisements for a junior cycle class.
Teaching and Learning
In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to very good effect. Material was presented in an interesting way, which engaged students. Very good practice was observed in a junior cycle lesson where all language learning skills (listening, reading, writing and oral production) were integrated into the lesson around the same theme: namely, the use of the verb „werden” and what one will do for the summer holidays. The technique of integrating the skills of language acquisition affords the learners the opportunity to consolidate the learning that is taking place. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes and all year groups.
A very wide range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of board games, brainstorming, pair-work and group-work. Lessons were obviously well planned and prepared by all teachers. This high standard of teaching and preparation is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly.
The lesson content was appropriately chosen to match the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. In a junior cycle class observed, students discussed in German what they had done at the weekend and what they would be doing for their summer holidays. This is effective practice as it ensures that the lesson content is learner centred. In a senior cycle class observed, the topics of part-time work and school were discussed. The students displayed interest in the topics as they were directly relevant to their lives.
Different teaching strategies were employed in the lessons observed. For example, one senior cycle class received two handouts, which allowed writing skills to be successfully developed in the course of the lesson. The consolidation of previous knowledge, „das Essen” (food), was used as a starting point for one junior cycle class and this was very beneficial in anchoring the students and focusing them on the task at hand. They then, in pairs, progressed to solving a jumbled-up dialogue on the same topic and finally, to writing their own dialogue. This use of pair-work is to be commended as it maximises students’ opportunity to practise speaking German.
The use of the target language in the class was overall very good and a concerted effort was made to interact with students in the target language before and after class. This is laudable as interactions such as these allow students the confidence of spontaneous interaction with their teachers and fellow classmates. However, in some classes there appeared to be an almost ‘reflex-translation’ of either classroom language or new vocabulary presented to students. It is recommended that an over-reliance on translation to introduce new vocabulary items be reduced and an effort to use gestures or alternative known vocabulary be made instead to assist students in their comprehension.
Student folders were well organised and copious notes on various themes for the Leaving Certificate were also filed in a very systematic way. This organisation is good and to be commended. However over-reliance on rote learning undermines the concept of learner autonomy. It is suggested that students be encouraged to develop their own essays/letters based on vocabulary and expressions which has been given to them rather than supplying the students with prepared essays.
All classes were conducted in a supportive atmosphere. Students felt comfortable enough to express themselves openly in all classes and were affirmed positively. This is highly commendable. Classroom management was uniformly good and an atmosphere of concentration was strong in all cases. In base classrooms, students’ work was displayed on the walls to very good effect. This not only affords students ownership of their learning environment but also provides learners with valuable visual stimulation. In some classrooms words for actual items or examples of classroom language were posted around the rooms. This is very laudable as it reinforces visually what the students are learning aurally. Colourful maps of Germany are displayed in the base classrooms and this provides an integration of cultural awareness and a geographical knowledge of the target language country. The presentation of such colourful, authentic material is to be praised as it greatly enhances the learning process and these are excellent strategies to achieve this.
Assessment and Achievement
The range of assessment modes in German includes questioning in class, monthly assessment, formal school examinations and homework. The formal monthly assessment serves a number of functions. It forms 50% of the Christmas exams and it is used to inform Year Heads of student progress, to identify any students who may be underperforming and also to inform parents at parent teacher meetings. These monthly assessments are currently of forty minutes’ duration (class period) and, in German, do not assess oral production. It is recommended that an oral component be introduced in both junior and senior cycle. Not only will this serve to raise the profile of oral skills, but it will also give all students the opportunity to build on success, as even students who find the language difficult should be able to produce answers to three or four questions geared to their specific level. In senior cycle, where feasible, students could be given the opportunity to have a ‘mock’ oral with a teacher who is unfamiliar to them. This would afford the learners good practice and preparation for the Leaving Certificate examinations.
Homework was assigned at the end of all classes observed and instructions given by the teacher were clear and concise. This was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic covered. There was a range of syllabus-related work evident in copies seen and there was evidence to indicate that teachers are monitoring copybooks. There was also some evidence of formative assessment and the good practice of correcting and dating work and writing evaluative comments on work is to be commended. Learning opportunities should also be provided to students in the form of follow-up on their homework errors. The approach of ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) could give teachers useful insights as to how one could proceed with such a model. It is recommended, therefore, that teachers adopt an AfL approach to encourage learner autonomy and ownership of the learning process and, ultimately, help students to identify shortcomings and develop strengths. Further information on this approach can be obtained from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie. It is strongly recommended that this good practice extend to all and that students be given the opportunity to study their own mistakes. This could either take the form of a pre-correction exercise, whereby students would check their work for errors before they hand it up to the teacher for correction, or a post-correction exercise such as writing out the correct form of a number of mistakes they have made.
Students were regularly asked to reflect on their lessons and were asked, in the target language, on numerous occasions what they found difficult or easy. This good practice of allowing students time to think about their learning experiences is most commendable as it fosters a culture of self-evaluation and autonomy in learners. Students, in their interactions with the inspector, demonstrated a good knowledge of, and competence in, the target language and responded with confidence.
Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board wishes to congratulate the Principal and staff of the German Department and students on this excellent 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
The Board will engage in a review of the current policy of giving parents/guardians and students the option of not doing any modern language. This review will involve school management, staff and parents/guardians and will be carried out in this school year.
In addition, the Board will continue to provide the necessary support and resources that will facilitate the Principal and staff in the implementation of the findings and recommendations of the inspection report.