An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Foxrock, Dublin 18
Roll number: 60240J
Date of inspection: 20 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN GERMAN
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College Foxrock. 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 the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the German teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Loreto College Foxrock has an enrolment of 671 students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) and the established Leaving Certificate programmes. Modern languages form a central strand of the school’s curriculum and students are provided with a choice of languages, with French, German and Spanish available. Students are initially offered an open choice and make their choice in relation to the chosen language of study prior to entry to the school. German is then timetabled in one of the option bands. Students may choose to study more than one language. However, in line with national trends, fewer students are choosing more than one language of study.
Currently, there are three year groups, third year, Transition Year (TY) and sixth year, which are studying German. The numbers of students studying German are quite small with ten students in third year, seven in TY and thirteen in sixth year. School management’s support for the continued provision of German is evident in its commitment to the creation of a class group even in the context of the small number of students who wish to take German as a subject. A range of factors has contributed to decreasing uptake in German over recent years; the key factor being that Spanish has emerged as the main second foreign language in the school, with the consequence that the numbers studying German has decreased considerably. There is still some demand from parents and students for German and school management with the German department is exploring ways of maintaining the language as an option on the curriculum into the future.
In recent years, educational trips with a cross-curricular focus to Germany have been organised, for example, the trips to Berlin in 2006 and 2007 have had both historical and German language and cultural aspects to them. This type of cross-curricular provision is motivating and stimulating for students and is an effective mechanism to promote and raise the profile of the subject in the school.
In this context, the possibility of TY students of German engaging in taster lessons in German to the main feeder primary school(s) should be explored. This is recommended as a worthwhile intervention where the pupils can experience the learning of the new language from their peers prior to making their language choice on entry in order to support uptake of German among incoming first years. Further information in relation to ‘An Early Experience in German’ project can be found at www.mlpsi.ie by clicking on the primary/secondary link. One of the compelling reasons for the retention of German on the curriculum is the very good results achieved by students of Loreto Foxrock in German in the state examinations over the years; indeed individual students have been recipients of scholarships awarded by the German government based on Junior Certificate results.
The allocation of time to German is, in the main, satisfactory with three single periods and one double period allocated in senior cycle, and two single periods and one double period allocated in junior cycle. The distribution of the lesson periods across the week is good, as it allows for regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress particularly in the mixed-ability setting which pertains. The present TY group has an allocation of two periods. To ensure sufficient time to maintain and develop students’ linguistic skills from junior to senior cycle, an additional period is desirable and therefore recommended.
The provision of both a multi-media room with an interactive whiteboard and a specialist German base classroom, with personal computer, CD player and data projector, allows for the creation of a stimulating and authentic German learning environment, as well as facilitating the integration of a range of resources and media. The information and communication technologies (ICT) resources available were very good and appropriate use was made of them. A budget has been allocated for the acquisition of resources for German. In the library, there is a German corner containing German literature, novellas, CDs, DVDs and magazines. This undoubtedly contributes to the articulated objective of development of learner autonomy. The school regularly applies for participation in the language assistant scheme and the language teachers have cooperated with the scheme over the years. In 2007, Loreto College Foxrock shared a language assistant with a neighbouring school which worked well.
The school has engaged with school development planning and subject planning. A number of meetings are made available to progress subject planning throughout the school year. The subject plans are continuously reviewed so that changes and improvements can be made, as necessary, to address and respond to students’ and subject needs. Coordinators for subjects are in place. Excellent comprehensive planning documentation for German was made available at the time of the evaluation. The plan was presented and viewed as a work in progress and subject to review and revision and this is commended. Planning folders also included records of German language planning review. Items recorded included the drafting of developmental targets, cataloguing of resources and suggested initiatives to increase uptake of German in first year. The German planning documentation also included a comprehensive inventory of available resources.
Yearly plans of work for junior and senior cycle, in which the curriculum content for each year group was outlined in detail, were presented in the German plan. These included dates and timeframes for the completion of topics and themes, systematic integration of linguistic structure, grammatical and lexical items and the resources to be used. The inclusion of performance targets and expected learning outcomes in the plan was noteworthy. The assessment of those learning outcomes was also detailed in the German plan, as was a learning support plan. Some students in sixth year have the benefit of one additional class of German per week which targets specific areas of difficulty in German, such as word order, spelling, the tenses and oral preparation. Also, separate differentiated work sheets are provided where necessary for students with learning difficulties. These are very valuable support for the language learners.
The plan also addressed the integration of co-curricular activities, such as the attendance at German film screenings to enrich the learning experience of students outside the classroom. Ways to link German into school community activities, such as the provision of a German breakfast, a Kaffee und Kuchen afternoon were also addressed in the plan.
Developmental targets for the coming years have been set and recorded in the subject planning documentation. These include: establishing practical links through e-mailing and tele-conferencing with a German speaking country and school and establishing contacts with German teachers in other Loreto schools to promote a collaborative approach to teaching the language. One of the developmental targets already achieved for the school year 2007/2008 was the establishment of a German notice board for information and events. The German department has begun to make effective use of the new German notice board to disseminate information, to publicise the use of German in the school and to enhance the profile of the subject in the school.
The quality of teaching observed was very good. In all lessons observed, there was very good use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication. Very good linguistic competence in the target language was demonstrated and also an understanding of how strategies for effective language acquisition should be developed in students. Instructions about tasks were given in German and students were obviously accustomed to this. At senior cycle, students understood everything that was said to them in German and responded in German with ease. The teacher used mime, gesture and synonyms effectively to demonstrate meaning and avoided unnecessary recourse to mother tongue, thereby sustaining the German environment created. It was clear that language learning was about communication, student interest and acquisition of effective strategies for learners to operate in the target language effectively.
Good short-term planning contributed to suitable lesson pace. Lessons observed were characterised by clarity of direction and purpose. In one lesson, one simple clear question sufficed to ensure that students were aware of the purpose of the lesson from the outset. On another occasion, the lesson opened with the questioning of students regarding material previously covered, prior to new material being introduced. The explicit sharing of learning objectives for the lesson or series of lessons is an effective means of ensuring student application and interest. This approach should be strengthened and consolidated to ensure that students themselves check and monitor that lesson objectives have been achieved. In this way, students will be further encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning.
The German room was an attractively decorated, stimulating German learning environment. In the course of lessons, students were reminded to refer to support material on the walls, in the form of posters and charts. The stickers and other strategies to motivate students in the target language were also used. There was sensitive correction of student errors and affirmation of student interventions in the target language. Some students at senior cycle, although engaged and diligent, were reticent in producing spontaneous oral language. Oral language needs to be practised every day and occasions created which are dedicated to student oral production without recourse to the written or aural word. Designating a “paper-free” day on a regular basis is recommended to ensure that each student becomes more confident in generating authentic oral language.
Lessons were planned so that they provided for the mix of student abilities in the classrooms and encompassed visual and student-friendly resources, such as flashcards, pictures, Power Point presentations and handouts. The policy of mixed-ability class formation is good practice. Repetition, which was built into the lesson structure, reinforced the learning where necessary. The teacher used effective strategies for supporting students in acquiring new linguistic structures and regularly checked student understanding and encouraged learner independence. Lesson content was in line with syllabus guidelines and showed an appropriate focus on language and cultural awareness as well as on linguistic skills at both junior and senior cycle. Lesson content was both accessible to the students and appropriate to the age group. The lesson content for TY included accessible literary texts in German and the teaching approach was appropriate to TY.
A range of activities was incorporated into lessons and students applied themselves to the tasks set with motivation and diligence. One lesson observed involved the reinforcement of a crucial grammatical item where students had to correctly identify the definite article for certain key words. The integration of a game and the fun approach to a potentially uninspiring topic ensured student engagement and learning. The key words were well chosen, familiar and relevant to the students’ world. All these factors contributed to the students’ enjoyment of the lesson. Learning was both active and interactive in this lesson. In other lessons, students worked in pairs and cooperated in finding the answers as efficiently as possible. Students were attentive to note taking and listened to each other when individuals were answering.
A committed and diligent work ethic prevailed with good participation and engagement on the part of students. Student copies examined were very neat and contained some very good and accurate written work and careful note-taking. Student work was clearly annotated by the teacher with grades and commentary regarding its quality. Students also demonstrated, in interaction with the inspector and as observed in the course of the lesson, an awareness of how the German language works. Students articulated their answers well and, while at times displaying the usual errors for their stage in learning, were commited to using the language. The students were well prepared for the homework task which was assigned. They had a good cultural knowledge and shared their experiences of the target language country.
Loreto College Foxrock has a written agreed homework policy and refers to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) guidelines for Assessment for Learning (AfL). In line with the school’s homework policy, a German homework plan has been developed and is implemented by the German department. Homework is regularly assigned and records of student progress are kept.
The development of class profiles is a feature of the school’s approach to monitoring of student progress. Students of German sit in-house formal examinations at Christmas and summer and short tests are conducted regularly to inform student progress. These frequently are written tests. However, the good practice of aural and oral components forming part of assessments for all year groups is well established. The regular recording or taping of student oral interventions or short tests is also suggested as a means of student self-evaluation and motivation.
The German department has devised a very useful and innovative grid for use in parent-teacher meetings. There is also one-to-one advice and feedback available to students in relation to their performance in examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
§ The German department is exploring ways of maintaining the language as an option on the curriculum into the future and developmental targets for the coming years have been
set and recorded in the subject planning documentation.
· Excellent comprehensive planning documentation for German was presented. This documentation is subject to annual review and revision.
· Good short-term planning contributed to suitable lesson pace. Lessons observed were characterised by clarity of direction and purpose.
· The provision of both a multi-media room and a specialist German base classroom allows for the creation of a stimulating and authentic German learning environment and
facilitates the integration of a range of resources and media.
· The quality of teaching observed was very good. In all lessons observed, there was very good use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication.
· Very good results have been achieved by students of Loreto College Foxrock in German in the state examinations over the years.
· Student copies examined were very neat and contained some very good and accurate written work and careful note-taking.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The possibility of students of German engaging in taster lessons in German to the main feeder primary school(s) is recommended as a worthwhile intervention to support
uptake of German among incoming first years.
· To ensure sufficient time to maintain and develop students’ linguistic skills from junior to senior cycle, an additional period is desirable and therefore recommended in TY.
· Designating a “paper-free” day on a regular basis is recommended to ensure that each student becomes more confident in generating authentic oral language.
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.
Published December 2009