An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
The High School
Rathgar, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60670L
Date of inspection: 9 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the High School, Rathgar. 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 principal and German teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The long tradition of the teaching of languages in the High School is being maintained and German is one of three modern European languages offered. The school has a policy statement on modern languages and students are strongly encouraged to pursue the study of a modern language and are well informed in relation to requirements of languages for entry into some third-level institutions or courses. In line with the stated objectives of the European Union (EU) Council of Ministers of “mother tongue plus two”, students are provided with a choice of language, French or German, on entry to the school and students can access a further language later on in their schooling. In Transition Year (TY) for example, Spanish is introduced and can be continued onto Leaving Certificate. It is possible to study more than one language if a student so wishes, indeed, it is possible to study all three. Through the diversity of its language provision, the High School is fulfilling its mission statement, endeavouring “to meet its founding objectives of preparing students for the demands of business and professional life, and of attaining high academic standards in the broad range of disciplines required for third-level education.”
There are comprehensive subject choice forms for each key stage in the students’ learning in relation to subject options. The quality and clarity of the subject choice documents are praiseworthy. The TY options have a built-in flexibility in relation to languages. Continuity in the student’s chosen language is ensured while at the same time the introduction to a new modern language is possible. This is commendable. The uptake of German is on the decrease and the German department is encouraged to explore strategies to ensure the continued sustainable uptake of German. These could include celebrating the good achievement in German; promoting the language through co-curricular activities and at information evenings for parents and providing taster lessons in German to pupils in feeder primary schools in the vicinity. There are three qualified teachers of German. The allocation of teachers to classes is decided on the basis of qualifications, continuity and school and student needs.
The allocation of time to German is good and is in line with syllabus guidelines and recommendations. The distribution of those units of time is determined in part by the fact that German forms one of the choices in an option block with practical subjects. This almost invariably involves the allocation of one double period per week. While frequent regular contact with the target language is the optimum for language acquisition, a double period can be usefully deployed in languages, especially at senior cycle. There was an awareness among the German teachers of the level of thought and planning of activities required to sustain language learning for an eighty minute period in the conduct of double lessons. This is commendable.
Teachers of modern languages have their own base classroom and this facilitates the integration of a range of resources, the storing of resources and the ease of access to these resources. CDs, DVDs, class sets of books and dictionaries are all available for German. The sharing of available resources among the German teachers is also important and is recommended, particularly in the context of rotation of available classes and year groups, or in the context of two teachers sharing a class group which pertained at the time of the inspection. Planning documents record the intention to expand on the available material resources to include sources from the internet, German television and the acquisition of further software specific to language learning.
The specialist language room is currently being updated. Computer software for language learning was also available and observed in use. The integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into language teaching and learning has been a recent focus of languages meetings. A paper was tabled for discussion relating to establishing links with schools in the target language countries of Spain, France, Germany and Austria. Establishing e-mail contact could then promote exchange visits and cross-curricular activity or projects. This is commendable.
The co-curricular activities which are a feature of the German provision in the High School are an important element in providing a German reality for students’ language learning and which augment the learning of German outside the classroom. Debating, attendance at German film screenings and at Goethe Institute exhibitions all contribute to hearing, seeing and living the German language. The school offers the possibilities of language exchange programmes to students or facilitates the attendance of individual students at language courses both in target language countries and at home. School trips have also been organised and one is planned for the coming year to Berlin. These are opportunities to develop students’ language and cultural awareness and are highly commended. The school has also successfully cooperated with the language assistant scheme in the past. Participation in such schemes and programmes also provides teachers with the essential contact with the target language to ensure their own upskilling in terms of linguistic and socio-cultural competence. The board of governors facilitates teachers’ attendance at modern language in-service training, when available.
Subject planning meetings are facilitated three times a year. It is commendable that meetings for modern languages are convened. The idea of having an overarching languages meeting works well as there is an overlap in the teachers across the languages. The fact that the modern languages teachers meet as a group brings cohesion to the provision for languages and promotes a collaborative approach across the languages. The coordination of modern languages is assigned as a post of responsibility and is carried out efficiently and effectively. In consultation with other colleagues, the coordinator draws up the agenda for subject meetings. The principal sometimes tables a paper such as the recent one on formative assessment for discussion in subject meetings; individual teachers also propose items for inclusion and minutes are kept of the decisions and issues. This is very good practice. The minutes of modern languages meetings examined record the topics and issues discussed, including TY assessment, text books, co-curricular activities, the timing of language exchanges, establishing e-mail contacts, organisational matters to do with trips abroad, student ability and uptake of languages. The minutes of the meetings examined show the extent to which issues are identified, discussed, addressed and reviewed.
The subject plan for German has all the elements of good planning. The aims recorded in the languages plan are in line with syllabus objectives and guidelines and were being implemented in practice. An integrated approach is taken to planning, with course content outlined in terms of themes to be explored. There is also planning for the integration of key skills and for the integration of a range of resources into teaching and learning. Learner-centred methodologies are also planned for and employed. Planning for the use of authentic materials and the aim of using the target language as the main language of instruction and communication is clearly articulated in documentation.
The TY plan for modern languages is commendable and is in line with the recommended approach for TY and its underlying philosophy. TY offers two possible courses in German, a continuation course for those students who have studied the language from first year and an ab initio foundation course for Leaving Certificate or for use in later work and life. This helps to fulfil the objective of the school’s mission statement. The vocational orientation both of the ab initio course and the continuation course should perhaps be strengthened, with the inclusion of a Business German module. Portfolio assessment is also recommended. The European Language Portfolio (ELP) could provide the role model for such development.
The work completed to date in the area of planning is praiseworthy. In reviewing and developing the plans further, some small changes in relation to the presentation and sequence of the different elements contained in the plan would enhance the existing document. The document should start with the school mission statement and the aims of the modern language syllabus. This should be followed by the curriculum content and the resources with which the curriculum will be delivered, including ICT, audio-visual as well as written or print materials or literature. To accurately reflect the quality of the learning experiences provided for language learners, the methodologies to be deployed are also recorded. In relation to assessment, the timeframe and modes of assessment are outlined and this should also include an analysis of state examination results from year to year. A recommendation of the Subject Inspection of French report of 2006, to articulate student learning outcomes in terms of “can-do” statements which show clearly what learners will be able to do as a result of their learning and the linguistic competencies acquired to support this learning, should be acted upon by the modern languages’ department. This would complete and enhance the planning document to a commendable standard.
The most important resource for the language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target language and has adequate socio-cultural knowledge and awareness of the target language community. A high standard of linguistic and socio-cultural competence was observed and, where appropriate, this was effectively augmented through the integration of ICT, German television or audio recording to create an authentic German environment. There was good use of the target language by teachers in most of the lessons observed. Teachers need to be conscious of creating and sustaining a German world for the class contact time available to students. When teacher direction or presentation occurs in English, the learning environment of German which had been created is lost to the learners and has to be recreated. In this context, the use of the target language as the main language of communication and instruction should be firmly embedded in practice.
A good quality of teaching and learning was evident in almost all lessons observed; indeed, the level of teacher commitment and student engagement was excellent in a number of instances. The most effective lessons opened with the sharing of the objective of the lesson with students and these lessons were characterised by clarity of direction and good pace and structure. The sharing of the learning objective could be brought one step further by checking with students if the learning objective had been achieved at the end of the lesson or sequence of lessons. Over time, this will contribute to learner autonomy and the fostering of students taking responsibility for their own learning.
Where the task and lesson purpose were explained well and links were made with previous work covered, students engaged well and applied themselves with diligence to the task. There was an example, where clarity of direction was lacking and students tended to be more restless or inattentive. On this occasion, the use of language learning software with students in the computer room was a timely and effective intervention to engage students and optimise the learning opportunities. Good short-term preparation also contributed to effective lesson structure.
The focus of some lessons was devoted to the generation of authentic oral language on the part of students. This is very good practice. For example, students related the content of a picture story in clear simple German, appropriate to the task and their stage of learning. Students demonstrated good mastery of structures and a sound knowledge of vocabulary required for completion of the exercise or understanding of the lesson and text content. On another occasion, where the lesson content appropriately was focussing on reinforcement of structure and preparation for examinations, students showed good grammatical accuracy and knowledge of the verb forms being revised. An attractive learning environment had been created in the language rooms with posters, student work and charts and maps. Students could refer to the display of charts and posters on the wall when completing tasks and exercises. There was effective use of answering in unison and individually.
At least part of each lesson observed involved reinforcing some elements of language awareness and use of linguistic structures with students. This was, in the main, effective and grammar was presented systematically and logically and exemplified in a simple manner. Some exemplary work in the organisation of student workbooks and note-taking was noted and this practice should be extended to all class groups. Teachers demonstrated a pedagogical competence and awareness of how learners learn and how to engage students and bring them to a readiness to grasp the meaning of texts and linguistic structures. The skilful use of opposites helped ensure that adjectives were learnt in pairs. The use of synonyms in broadening out the vocabulary base of students and in avoiding recourse to the mother tongue was praiseworthy and should be extended to all lessons. Translation as a strategy to support learners should be replaced by alternative forms of linguistic scaffolding, such as the use of visual stimuli, German “realia” and specifically designed work sheets.
The teaching strategies deployed by the teachers showed an understanding of their student needs and a commitment to student progress in their language learning. It was commendable to observe the integration of a literary text in German in the form of a short poem, which was accessible and clear and well within the scope of the learners. Students were able to relate the poem to their own experience, thereby bringing in a dimension of personal response which helps to internalise the learning. Also commendable was the introduction of a Goethe poem to the music of Schubert. Unfortunately, pressure of time meant that the potential of the exercise for student engagement and enjoyment could not be adequately exploited. Teachers should always try to ensure adherence to the planned structure and focus of the lesson.
German students sit formal in-house examinations and these include an aural and oral component which is praiseworthy. Reports are forwarded to parents twice yearly as well as ongoing contact with parents being facilitated throughout the year. Assessment modes include class tests, in-house examinations and assessment across the four skills with oral assessment from first year onwards. This is very good practice.
There is regular assigning and monitoring of homework. The emphasis in the correction of student work is on improvement, with constructive annotated feedback being given to students. There was practise of a good range of structures in evidence in the student work examined. Students moved from practising linguistic structures in isolated sentences to applying the same structure within a letter or piece of writing. This is good practice. The student notebooks examined demonstrated the breadth of the themes covered, particularly at senior cycle and the richness of the learning experiences provided to students. There was evidence of some use of translation exercises in student copies which should be replaced with authentic, communicative linguistic tasks and exercises. The uptake of higher-level German in state examinations is high and the attainment at both levels is good in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Students are strongly encouraged to pursue the study of a modern language and are provided with a choice of language, French or German, on entry to the school and students can access a further language, Spanish, later on in their schooling.
· Teachers of modern languages have their own base classroom and this facilitates the integration of a range of resources, the storing of resources and the ease of access to these resources.
· The co-curricular activities which are a feature of the German provision in the High School are an important element in providing a German reality for students’ language learning and augment the learning of German outside the classroom.
· The coordination of modern languages is carried out efficiently and effectively. The fact that the modern languages teachers meet as a group brings cohesion to the provision for languages and promotes a collaborative approach across the languages.
· A good quality of teaching and learning was evident in almost all lessons observed. The most effective lessons opened with the sharing of the objective of the lesson with students and these lessons were characterised by clarity of direction and good pace and structure.
· The uptake of higher-level German in state examinations is high and the attainment at both levels is good in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The sharing of available resources among the German teachers is recommended, particularly in the context of rotation of classes and year groups.
· To enhance and complete the German subject plan, student learning outcomes should be articulated in terms of “can-do” statements which show clearly what learners will be able to do as a result of their learning and the linguistic competencies acquired to support this learning.
· Teachers need to be conscious of creating and sustaining for students a German world for the class contact time available to students. In this context, the use of the target language as the main language of communication and instruction should be firmly embedded in practice.
· Translation as a strategy to support learners should be replaced by alternative forms of linguistic scaffolding. The use of synonyms in broadening out the vocabulary base of students and in avoiding recourse to the mother tongue was praiseworthy and should be extended to all lessons.
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 2008