An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of German

REPORT

 

St. Louis Community School

Kiltimagh, County Mayo

Roll number: 91494R

 

Date of inspection: 5 October 2007

Date of issue of report:   21 February 2008

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Louis 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 the 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

St. Louis Community School is a co-educational post-primary school offering the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate established, Transition Year (TY), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) as well as Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses to the wider local community. This level of programme provision is praiseworthy.

 

Prior to entry, first-year students and their parents are provided with information regarding the subject choices available to them in the school. There is also an open night for both parents and students to attend after which students are requested to make their subject choices. Subject option bands are then formed utilising the first four subject option preferences indicated by students.

 

Whilst a modern foreign language is not compulsory in the school the structuring of the subject option bands might make it possible to study two modern European languages. However, this is usually not the case. In fact, a number of students are choosing not to study any modern language for their Junior Certificate. It would be useful if an analysis of students’ uptake of modern languages were carried out to provide valuable insights into the reasons why students are opting to choose, or not to choose, modern languages as a subject for their Junior Certificate. In conjunction with this, it is recommended that a whole-school policy for language learning should be developed which would outline school management’s rationale behind the position of languages on the school’s curriculum.

 

German is one of three modern languages taught in St. Louis Community School. Although there is a tradition for the provision of the subject in the school, German does not feature on the first-year curriculum this academic year. Instead, German features in second and third year of the junior cycle, Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate established. It is recommended that, since both the LCA and LCVP necessitate the fulfilment of language requirements, German should be offered to students completing those programmes on a rotational basis with the other modern languages. For example, German could be offered to LCA students this year, French the next and Spanish the year after. In that way, all languages would be seen to have equal status on all programmes on offer in the school. It is also recommended that a ‘taster programme’ should be offered to junior cycle students in the area of modern languages. 

 

During the course of the inspection, it was noted that examination-year groups receive less tuition time than non-examination groups. The difference is approximately ten to fifteen minutes. This is due to the allocation of double periods to those specific year groups before lunch, when the school operates a thirty-five minute class period system. After lunch the school operates a forty- minute class period system. The recommendations here are twofold: firstly, the allocation of single class periods is recommended as it allows regular and sustained class contact time with the target language; secondly, there should be a more equal distribution of class periods across the week so that periods are distributed both before and after lunch for all year groups.

 

There is one small, base classroom for German containing vibrant, useful and imaginative visual stimuli displayed on the walls. This represents good practice, since the creation of a stimulating and creative learning environment benefits teaching and learning. Such good practice should be universal. For the benefit of peripatetic German teachers, consideration should be given to the establishment of a larger designated German room where resources, audio-visual material and equipment, a laptop and data projector could be stored. German teachers could be timetabled for such a room during the course of the week. This recommendation is made in the context of rooms being made available to Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) students and the observed spare occupancy of some classrooms on the day of the inspection.

 

It is commendable that it is school policy to pay teachers’ association fees and management should encourage the German teachers to become members of their professional association the GDI (Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands). There is no specific subject budget for German, however funds are made available on request and each requisition is judged on its own merits. It is recommended that the department should update their resources and purchase teaching and learning aids.

 

The German department has access to a variety of material resources including TV, video recorders, tape recorders, overhead projectors, data projectors and a computer room. TY students are timetabled for classes in the computer room and this access to information and communication technology (ICT) is commendable. It is recommended that the German department consider how to best integrate ICT into the language classroom on a regular basis for all students.

 

Teachers facilitate involvement in co-curricular activities such as student exchanges and tours to Germany. School management applies for a foreign language assistant (FLA) on an annual basis. The facilitation of such contacts is most laudable as it helps bring the target language and its culture to life for students. Teachers spoke of their intention to organise food-tasting events and to facilitate TY students in compiling a school magazine in German for students. These activities are commendable as they complement the teaching and learning of German and provide students with opportunities to use their German in meaningful ways. Students are also brought to see German films regularly and the German department liaises with the art department on a regular basis. Participation in cross-curricular activities is to be commended also as it enhances the enjoyment of language learning and contributes to maintaining a high profile for German in the school. 

 

Whilst acknowledging these efforts to actively promote German in a co-curricular and cross-curricular way, it is recommended that further efforts are made to raise the profile of German throughout the whole-school population.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

St. Louis Community School has engaged in whole-school planning. The school is now in a subject-department-planning phase and school management facilitates formal meetings for this purpose. A subject plan for German was presented for evaluation. There is a positive, collaborative ethos in the German department. It is recommended that planning for German continue in conjunction with the other modern foreign language teachers as a unified modern-foreign-languages department.

 

A range of syllabus related topics, appropriate to the interests and needs of the students, as observed, was included in the plan. Individual folders of resources were also made available on the day of the inspection and there were separate resource folders for each year group. Specific reference was made to planning for cross-curricular links. This is good practice. There was evidence of long-term and short-term planning with some very detailed individual class plans presented. However it is suggested 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 documentation should also contain elements of evaluation of delivery of the plan, which can, in turn, be utilised to further enhance the planning process in the department.

 

As students are taught in mixed-ability settings, strategies for differentiation are outlined in individual-planning documentation with specific reference to JCSP students. This planning for the specific needs of students is laudable and should be extended to include strategies for differentiation encompassing the needs of all students.

 

Planning at an individual level is good and some individual lesson plans were exemplary. Appropriate supplementary material and worksheets were prepared for students. The German department was conscious of its responsibility to its learners in covering the examination syllabus, as well as fostering continued interest and motivation to learn. This is commendable.

 

The TY plan for German is very detailed, well thought out and offers a very good range of learning experiences to students in adherence to the principles and spirit of the TY programme. It is planned that students will work in collaborative projects, such as a German magazine, and independent learning and creativity are prioritised. This is praiseworthy.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of students’ 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. Best practice was observed where the objective of the lesson was explicitly shared with the learners at the outset to very good effect. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes.

 

All lessons were conducted competently and confidently. There was a positive learning atmosphere observed, particularly at senior cycle. Classroom management was effective and a good rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions. Students’ contributions were welcomed in all lessons. This is laudable. Seating arrangements were conventional. However, in one lesson observed, thoughtful arrangement ensured that students with particular needs were strategically placed to maximise learning opportunities and facilitate teacher observation.

 

A range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, the use of video, pair work, Keyword posters and the use of worksheets in class. In general, the pace of lessons observed was good. Where the pace lagged all planned activities were not completed. Exemplary practice was observed where there were timely changes in activity which kept students engaged and challenged at all times.

 

The choice of a video snippet at senior cycle was particularly suitable for the students as observed. As a direct result of the video chosen there was purposeful and commendable involvement of students in the lesson.

 

There was some commendable use of the target language observed. It is worthy of note that, at times, students spontaneously asked questions and responded to teacher queries in German. This is praiseworthy. Nevertheless, it is highly desirable that teachers further develop appropriate strategies to promote the target language for the purposes of all communication in the language classroom.

 

There was a very good example of pair work undertaken at senior cycle. Whilst acknowledging the small class size and the part that played in the facilitation of the pair-work exercise, it is recommended that pair work and other active methodologies be extended to all lessons on a regular basis.

 

An integrated approach to the three components of the syllabus, communicative proficiency, language awareness and cultural awareness was used to good effect in a senior cycle grouping observed. An excerpt from the film Lola Rennt was shown to the students. There was an obvious link to work already covered, and this was revised predominantly through individual, oral questioning of the students. The use of a worksheet, based on what they had viewed, extended their learning to further develop linguistic, aural and cultural awareness skills. In their oral responses, students demonstrated a willingness and ability to communicate and used reasonably correct German. Drilling and imitation activities observed proved to be 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 language skills was observed at both junior and senior cycle and is good practice. Best practice was observed where students worked on the preparation of a dialogue, in pairs, on the theme Wohnort (where I live), in particular about life in the country versus life in the city. They were then asked to transcribe their notes in dialogue form and then read it out. Students were affirmed and sensitively corrected if they had made errors. It was laudable that students were asked their opinion about who had it better: the person in the country or city. A listening comprehension about a German city was then played and students had English questions to answer for oral correction in class. A pre-listening exercise in preparation for the listening test had already been completed previously in another lesson, so students were capable of understanding the challenging vocabulary it contained. All this is of great benefit to learners and such good practice on the integration of language skills should be extended to all lessons.

Assessment

 

Teachers use a range of assessment modes to assess students’ learning that are compatible with the aims and objectives of the German syllabus. The outcomes of assessments are used to chart students’ progress and to assist in the identification of students who may be experiencing difficulties. This is good practice. 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. It is further recommended that TY students should be assessed in all four language skills on a formal basis.

 

Appropriate homework was assigned to the students as observed. Best practice was observed where preparatory work was done on the homework both orally and written with particular reference to the JCSP Keyword Approach. This is of benefit to learners and such good practice could be replicated across the department. During the inspection it was also noted that differentiated assignments were given to students at both senior and junior cycle. This is commendable practice.

 

Homework was assigned in most classes and is regularly and conscientiously corrected. The dating of assignments is also commended since progress can be more easily tracked both by students and teachers. In the best samples of homework seen, there was an emphasis on assessment for learning (AfL), and students were given positive and helpful feedback. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all students’ work.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         German is one of three modern languages taught in St. Louis Community School and whilst a modern foreign language is not compulsory in the school the structuring of the subject option bands might make it possible to study two modern European languages.

·         Teachers facilitate involvement in co-curricular activities such as student exchanges and tours to Germany.

·         As students are taught in mixed-ability settings, strategies for differentiation are outlined in individual-planning documentation with specific reference to JCSP students.

·         Planning at an individual level is good and some individual lesson plans were exemplary.

·         A range of methodologies was evident on the day of the inspection including the use of teacher-directed learning, the use of video, pair work, Keyword posters and the use of worksheets in class.

·         The thematic integration of language skills was observed at both junior and senior cycle and is good practice.

·         Teachers use a range of assessment modes to assess students’ learning that are compatible with the aims and objectives of the German syllabus.

·         Best practice was observed where preparatory work was done on the homework both orally and written with particular reference to the JCSP Keyword Approach.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It is recommended that a whole-school policy for language learning should be developed which would outline school management’s rationale behind the position of languages on the school’s curriculum.

·         German should be offered to students completing LCA and LCVP on a rotational basis with the other modern foreign languages.

·         It is recommended that a ‘taster programme’ should be offered to junior cycle students in the area of modern languages. 

·         Planning for German should continue in conjunction with the other modern-foreign-language teachers as a unified modern foreign languages department.

·         Pair work and other active methodologies should be extended to all lessons on a regular basis.

·         It is recommended that a formal oral assessment component 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. It is further recommended that TY students should be assessed in all four language skills on a formal basis.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.

 

 

All recommendations will be implemented as a means of reinforcing the good teaching practice as observed re. paragraph 7 of report, the school has applied for and urgently requires replacement classrooms for those demolished in 2002/2003.  This would facilitate the implementation of many of the recommendations of the DES.