An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Castlerea Community School
Castlerea, County Roscommon
Roll number: 91493P
Date of inspection: 16 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castlerea 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 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 deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Castlerea Community School offers the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme to 543 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 it is school policy to encourage students, when feasible, to take the higher level in State examinations. This is praiseworthy. There was also a commendable gender balance in the lessons observed.
The school offers a broad and balanced curriculum to all first year students. Comprehensive guidance and advice are provided to students and their parents to assist them in choosing their first year subjects on enrolment day. It is management’s stated wish that first years should experience as wide a range of subjects as possible, before they make their subject option choices for second year. Meeting the needs and choices of students is the primary consideration in drawing up the subject options for both junior and senior cycles. This is commendable. In keeping with this philosophy, a year-long ‘Taster Programme’ in all optional subjects is offered to incoming first-year students. On completion of first year, students are required to indicate their subject preferences and the opportunity to experience both languages to Junior Certificate is available to students. This is praiseworthy.
The timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German and almost all classes receive the appropriate time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. First-year students receive two periods per week and LCA students receive three class periods of instruction. It is recommended that management review the time allocation to those particular year groups and examine the possibility of assigning single periods to all German classes throughout the school. The allocation of single class periods to all year groups is advisable as it allows regular and sustained class contact time with the target language.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources, with two teachers currently on staff. The German teaching team is balanced with regard to experience and one is an active member of the German Teachers’ Association Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI). A good level of both linguistic and cultural competence was observed in the course of the inspection. School management has, in the past, been supportive of teacher exchanges to Germany. One of the teachers has availed of the Goethe Institut scholarship to Germany and this commitment, by both management and staff, to the German language and culture is praiseworthy. There is evidence to suggest that the teachers work as a cohesive team.
The German department has good access to a wide variety of material resources including TV, video recorders, tape recorders, overhead projectors and a language laboratory. There is also a computer room in the school and the building is broadband enabled. However, to date, information and communication technology (ICT) has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching and learning of German. The German department stated that access to the computer room is difficult. In discussions with senior management, it emerged that management is very positively disposed towards the idea that, eventually, all teachers would have ICT equipment in their rooms. In this context, it is recommended that management examine the possibility of providing one language classroom with ICT resources. If implemented, this measure would further support and promote the sharing of resources as well as the integration of ICT into the language classroom.
Both teachers have dedicated classrooms, however, due to infrastructural issues these are shared with other teachers when not in use by the German team. Both classrooms contain a variety of visually stimulating material, including: a wall mural depicting the parts of the body, students’ project work, vocabulary posters and a notice board about German cities. A colourful map of Germany is on display in one of the classrooms and this is commendable as it provides an integration of „Landeskunde” - a geographical knowledge of the target language country.
There is, at present, no annual budget for the purchase of materials and teaching aids. However, management reported that, there is a requisition form available to teachers who wish to apply for subject department resources. It is suggested that German teachers utilise their budget to purchase school copies of videos or films on topics they have found useful in the classroom. Ensuring that all teachers have such material readily available can only serve to enhance the learning experience of students.
Castlerea Community School provides access to senior cycle students to travel abroad each year. In the past, opportunities have presented themselves to travel to Germany. Students have also had opportunities to see German films and videos. However, it is recommended that the German department support the teaching and learning of the language by providing further co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. For example, the teachers could organise food-tasting events, encourage students to participate in the GDI debating competition or organise activities around the European Day of Languages. Such activities benefit students and enhance the provision for the subject greatly in that they help to maintain the profile of the subject throughout the whole school population.
Castlerea Community School is involved in the school development planning process and there is a comprehensive subject plan for German. A range of syllabus related topics, appropriate to the interests and needs of the students, as observed, was included. Specific reference was made to cross-curricular links and effective teaching methodologies and this is good practice. A procedure for the quantity and type of homework to be assigned was detailed in the plan and at senior cycle ‘autonomous learning is encouraged’. This is commendable. This level of planning is praiseworthy. However it is recommended that planning documentation be arranged in such a way as to incorporate planning for the integration of all four language skills as outlined in syllabus guidelines. Planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle should also be reflected in revised documentation. Learning outcomes should be specifically stated for each year group and class group. The plan should be seen as a flexible ‘work-in-progress’ and should be reviewed both formally and informally on an ongoing basis.
There was clear evidence of good short-term planning as individual lesson plans were presented on the day and appropriate supplementary material and worksheets were prepared for students. The German department was conscious of its responsibility to its learners in covering all aspects of the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. This is commendable.
Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. Good quality teaching was evident in the lessons evaluated. In all classes observed, the lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. The purpose of the lessons was clear and explicitly stated and all lessons were conducted competently and confidently. Classroom management was very effective and a good rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions. Students were engaged in lessons observed and were willing to demonstrate an ability to apply their learning. In their interactions with teachers, students were positively affirmed and the teachers gave varied and appropriate encouragement to all students. This is laudable as it allows for engagement and interaction that respect the contribution of each student.
A range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, the use of brainstorming, the introduction of authentic pictures which had been downloaded from the internet and the use of worksheets in class. The pace of each lesson observed was challenging and the students remained on-task at all times. The choice of text at senior cycle was particularly suitable for the students as observed. As a direct result of the text chosen there was purposeful and commendable student involvement in the lesson.
At senior cycle, students were asked to identify the tense of verbs after completing a reading exercise. This integration of grammar in a realistic and practical manner is praiseworthy and is very similar to what is expected of students in the Leaving Certificate examination. Some students had difficulty in identifying the required tenses. It was commendable, then, that time was taken to revise and reinforce the perfect past and imperfect tenses for students with the aid of an overhead transparency used in conjunction with an overhead projector. This willingness to digress from the lesson plan to facilitate students in their learning was very good practice.
There was some commendable use of the target language observed. Nevertheless, it is highly desirable that teachers develop appropriate strategies to promote the target language for the purposes of all communication in the language classroom.
An integrated approach to the three broad components of the syllabus, communicative proficiency, language awareness and cultural awareness was used to good effect in a senior cycle grouping observed. There was an obvious link to work already covered, and the learning was then extended to develop linguistic, aural and cultural awareness skills. In their oral responses, students demonstrated an ability to communicate and used reasonably correct German. In another senior cycle grouping, students’ drilling and imitation activities observed proved to be very successful in modelling learners’ pronunciation in German. Indeed, this is beneficial to aural comprehension also, as focused oral production can improve aural skills.
The thematic integration of listening and reading skills observed at both junior and senior cycle is good practice. It is recommended, however, that this thematic integration be extended to incorporate all four language skills, oral production, reading comprehension, aural comprehension and written production, in so far as possible. During the practice of listening skills teachers should also be aware of post-listening activities which can be readily employed. An example of this would be to replay the tape exercise having looked at mistakes, as this provides reinforcement and consolidation of learning. It is also an effective method of promoting oral and aural participation and of practising key words and phrases which are frequently heard on both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate aural examinations. It is further recommended that when conducting listening exercises, one should focus on the process and not just the product of listening. In other words, wrong answers can often be more informative than right ones and it is good practice to take the time to find out where and how understanding broke down. This type of examination of student errors also affords the student an opportunity to engage in independent and autonomous learning as it allows them to actively participate in their own learning process.
A vocabulary revision test was administered at junior cycle in an active format. Previously, students had been asked to learn classroom vocabulary and this was checked by asking students to place prepared flashcards onto specific classroom objects. It is recommended that such an approach, which includes active methodologies and active student-learning strategies, be adopted in classroom practice to encourage learner independence and autonomy. The integration of ICT should also be incorporated and students could be given advice as to how they could use computers to support the learning of German at home and to access authentic German sites.
Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level. Ongoing assessment such as regular homework, vocabulary tests and oral assessment at senior cycle are designed to facilitate consolidation of learning and to give students confidence and experience to further their learning. This is commendable. Equally praiseworthy is the fact that it is department policy to use marking sheets in conjunction with formal tests administered to students. This transparency in marking is good and it allows students to see exactly the marking weight attached to each question and how the marks are allocated. However, it is recommended that a formal oral assessment component should not be restricted to senior level only. Instead, it should be an integral element of formal assessment for all class groups as, not only does it serve to raise the profile of oral skills, it also gives all students the opportunity to build on success.
Homework was assigned at the end of all classes observed and instructions given by the teachers were clear and concise. It 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 copybooks are monitored regularly. There was some evidence of formative assessment and the good practice of correcting and dating work and writing evaluative comments on work is to be commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all students’ work. It is policy at senior level to have students monitor their own progress regarding their written work and this is commendable. However, students should also be presented with further learning opportunities in the form of follow-up on their homework errors and omissions, as the examination of student errors affords the student an opportunity to engage in further independent and autonomous learning, allowing them to actively participate in their own learning process. The good practice of encouraging students to re-write their corrections and learn from their errors could also be incorporated. The National Council for Curriculum’s (NCCA) Assessment for Learning (AfL) (www.ncca.ie) could prove useful in furthering this approach to assessment.
There is a school assessment policy. Formal assessment takes place for all non-examination years at Christmas and at end of year. Examination class students sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Students are allowed opportunities for project work. A record is kept of all results and these are communicated to parents at parent-teacher meetings or they are sent home to parents. This is commendable.
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 deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.