An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Muckross Park College
Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60710
Date of inspection: 8 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dominican College, Muckross Park. 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 subject teachers. 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.
There is a total enrolment of 667 girls in Muckross Park College and enrolment figures show the numbers for first year are steadily increasing from year to year. The study of a modern language is optional at both junior and senior cycle in Muckross Park. In this context, it is commendable that the number of students not taking a modern language is very small. Currently, first-year students are offered French and German and students are facilitated in studying both languages. Students, in the main, choose one language and continue with that language throughout their schooling. The academic year 2008/2009 will see the introduction of Spanish as a further language option. School management is commended for its commitment to language provision forming a central strand of the school curriculum and for the diversity of its language provision.
German will continue to be offered to all incoming first years and students are encouraged to take German. In relation to uptake of German, the fact that the numbers remain at a constant sustainable level is as a result of active promotion of the subject within the school and of presentations to parents of incoming first years. A compelling reason for the promotion and retention of German on the curriculum is the excellent results in German in the state examinations. The fact that Muckross Park students of German were quarter-finalists in 2004 and winners in 2005 of the German Teachers Association (GDI) inter-school debating competition and that individual students have been regular recipients of scholarships awarded by the German government are also examples of the successful outcomes in the learning of the language.
The allocation of time to German is good with five periods allocated in first, second and third year, three periods in Transition Year (TY) and five periods in fifth year and sixth year. Language options are frequently paralleled with practical subjects and therefore are assigned one double period. While concerns were articulated by the German teachers in relation to the use of double periods for language learning, the teachers demonstrated an awareness of the need for additional planning and preparation to optimise the learning for students in an extended block of time. Regular contact with the target language at frequent intervals of time is the optimum for language learning and it is recommended where possible and feasible within the constraints of timetabling.
The German teachers are allocated to classes on a rotational basis and in accordance with school and student needs. The German teachers are involved with their subject association. The board of management facilitates attendance of teachers at in-service, when available, and financial support is made available for attendance at relevant courses. School management responds positively to requests for additional resources and materials as finance and budget allows. A range of resources is available for the teaching and learning of German. These resources include class sets of books, magazines, DVDs, authentic materials downloaded from internet and lists of useful websites. Access to the computer room is facilitated as the timetable and availability allow. There is also access to data projectors, internet and e-mail. Both senior management and the German teachers acknowledged the usefulness of further in-service in the area of information and communication technology (ICT). Attendance at available in-service would help to consolidate the integration of ICT into the learning and teaching of German.
The co-curricular and extra-curricular activities available to students of German are excellent and attendance of students at suitable cultural events is factored into the schedule of work across the year. Every effort is made for students of German to attend events and exhibitions organised by the Goethe Institute. This would not be possible without the commitment, enthusiasm and knowledge of the language and culture of the target language community on the part of the German teachers. Teachers aim to impart their own enthusiasm for the language and all things German and encourage contact with German outside the classroom. The school does not have an exchange programme but provides advice and information about available exchange and home visit programmes. There has been a high uptake of exchange and home stay options and those who cannot travel to the target language country are encouraged to pursue language courses offered by the Goethe Institute and Euro languages colleges. A language and adventure weekend in Donegal forms an important part of the school’s extra-curricular programme for German and German Christmas carols also form part of the yearly calendar of events.
As already mentioned, senior cycle students of German are involved in the interschool debating competition. This engagement is an extremely enriching experience for all aspects of language learning, not only for the team but for the whole class group who contribute to the research on topics and the preparation for speeches. Senior cycle students of German are also encouraged to prepare the project option for the German oral in the state examinations. This is undertaken in fifth year and perfected in sixth year. This option provides students with the opportunity to follow their own interests and to deepen their knowledge of German. They use books, the internet and personal contacts with Germany and Germans to research their chosen topic. All class groups have attended German film screenings. Students are then encouraged to avail of the option to speak about a German film viewed as part of their oral assessment for the Leaving Certificate. This is commendable.
The school has been involved with the school development planning initiative and formal subject planning meetings for all subjects are facilitated twice a year. Agendas are set for such meetings, determined in part by the principal or by concerns expressed by the teachers themselves and minutes are kept of these meetings. Recent issues addressed by the German teachers include storage space to facilitate the sharing of resources and the changing context for languages and the future of languages. In this context, consideration should be given to convening an annual meeting of all modern language teachers which would promote collaboration and sharing of experiences across the languages personnel as well as bringing an additional cohesion to language planning into the future.
The planning documentation made available had all the elements of good planning. The textbooks are outlined and chosen on the basis of achieving the behavioural objectives as outlined in the syllabus. These textbooks are augmented with authentic up-to-date materials from other sources, such as German newspapers, magazines, film and internet. The inclusion of such choice of material is praiseworthy and helps to ensure that acquisition of language skills has real-life validity. At junior cycle, detailed plans for each year group were outlined in terms of themes, learning objectives, linguistic structures and skills development. These related to the chapters in the textbook which cover the content of lessons. Teaching methods and strategies to support learners also form part of the planning documents and revision. Support and reinforcement are integral to the way in which the German teachers work. This approach is highly commended.
The German plan for TY has a modular thematic approach and focuses not only on consolidating students’ language skills but also on expanding on students’ cultural awareness of German speaking countries. Each module involves all aspects of language learning. Particularly commendable is the inclusion of a module of literature, a module of Music and the use of film to encourage and stimulate interest. In this way, the emphasis is very much on accessing authentic materials from a range of multi-media sources. This helps to raise the profile of German and to foster a love of German. The initiative of TY students teaching German to students of fifth and sixth class in feeder primary schools is particularly commendable. The fact that peers teach learners new to the language of German will also help to counter the perception that German is more difficult than other languages. The TY trip to Poland also contributes to language and cultural awareness. While acknowledging the need for flexibility due to the nature of TY commitments and activities, it is important to ensure completion of the planned range of modules in German.
The aim of senior cycle German, as articulated in the planning documentation, is to build on the linguistic competence of junior cycle, giving students a thorough knowledge of and love for the German language and culture and heightening their awareness of language in general. All basic language skills are fostered and teaching methods deployed are in keeping with the communicative approach and recommended guidelines for the implementation of the syllabus. The recorded aim is to use the target language as much as possible in the classroom and this was observed being implemented in practice. The way in which the plan for senior cycle German contains a review conducted at the end of fifth year and also at the end of sixth year. This provides the opportunity to ascertain progress achieved to date and to introduce revisions or amendments required to reach targets set and is commended as very good practice.
The teachers are commended for the work completed to date in planning. It is recommended that the German teachers build on this good work by presenting the content of the current preamble in terms of the mission statement and the aims and objectives for the subject, as well as incorporating into the plan a list for each year group of desired learning outcomes. These have already been articulated for third year and TY in terms of ‘can-do’ statements. It is important that the planning documentation accurately records for the wider school community the richness of the learning experiences provided for students by the German teachers.
All teachers have their own base classroom and in the German classrooms a very authentic German learning environment was created through the use of maps of German speaking countries, German postcard collections and charts of grammatical items and posters which students could draw upon in the course of lessons. Dictionaries and German books were also available in the German classrooms and the library. The display of student work in the classrooms contributed to the learning environment and affirmed student work, and created a print-rich and authentic environment. The most important resource for the language classroom is the teacher who has the linguistic and socio-cultural competence to effectively model the target language and community. This was achieved competently by the German teachers in Muckross Park and the German world created for students was effectively maintained throughout lessons.
There was exemplary use of the target language as the main language of instruction, interaction and communications by both teacher and students. Grammatical items were also explained in clear and simple German. The students demonstrated very accurate use of the language as the teacher gathered oral responses from students. When students were uncertain, they expressed this in German. Student interventions or “Zwischenbemerkungen” were also expressed in German. Junior cycle lessons opened with the day and date in the target language and the teachers’ natural authentic and idiomatic German ensured good accuracy in pronunciation on the part of students. First-year students were well accustomed to hearing and using the target language even at this early stage in their language learning which is commendable. Care should be taken to ensure corresponding grammatical accuracy at all times. The use of synonyms in the target language to broaden the vocabulary base of students was effective and ensured adherence to the target language. When answering, teachers required students to use full sentences, which was appropriate to the stage of learning of the students and the confidence of the particular class group.
In lessons observed, good links were clearly established with the content of previous lessons and teachers referred to work completed the previous day. The explicit sharing of the learning objectives for a lesson or sequence of lessons by the German teachers, although not observed on the day of the inspection, also contributes to this very good practice. The pace and structure of lessons ensured that students were well prepared for the tasks and could draw on knowledge and previous learning. When gathering student responses, it may sometimes be more effective and economical to record these electronically on computer or manually on a flip chart to ensure they are readily available on the next day. The emphasis on focussed preparation for the state examinations was appropriate to the time of the year. The approach taken was systematic which suited both the lesson content and the examination preparation.
The integration of language awareness was affected with skill and ease and did not intrude on the flow of the lesson content. The way in which the perfect tense was integrated into an exercise ensured accuracy of answering as well as comprehension on the part of students. The introduction of a new element of grammar was introduced seamlessly at the end of a lesson observed. Vocabulary items were presented with synonyms in the target language, an effective strategy to broaden the vocabulary base of students. The manner in which teachers presented new material logically and systematically facilitated student engagement and understanding. Students were encouraged to note new items carefully into note books. Teachers should also ensure, when working with the class group in plenary sessions, that items or stimuli are large enough to be clearly visible to all students.
There was excellent rapport between students and teachers at all times, characterised by mutual respect, and a relaxed yet focussed atmosphere of learning prevailed. Students clearly enjoyed their learning. Appropriate work sheets had been prepared to ensure not only application to task but success in the task assigned. Some small points raised by students were simply and clearly explained. The use of pair work served to consolidate learning, in that in pairs students could practise the same structures used by the teacher and could pose questions as well as provide answers. Students were encouraged to incorporate the new items of vocabulary into their piece of written work and some small weaknesses in their previous piece of written work were highlighted to ensure the same errors would not reoccur. Students were reminded of previous inaccuracies in a positive supportive way.
Each department has a homework policy and records are kept of regular completion of homework, which are carefully monitored. Individual copies examined highlighted how the German teachers specifically identified what each student had to work on. Correction and associated annotations were in German and grades also accompanied the corrections. Each class teacher also carries out regular formative assessments and tests and formal in-school examinations take place at Christmas and in the summer. These include written, aural and oral assessments. The deployment of an external examiner for the students’ ‘mock’ orals in German was found to be extremely beneficial to the students who were given feedback by the examiner. Parents are kept informed of student progress through regular communication, and formal reports are issued twice yearly.
On completion of a unit of work or theme, students are tested on their assimilation of the linguistic skills, structures and grammatical and lexical items. Students are also encouraged to identify individual areas of difficulty, following which appropriate reinforcement material is supplied by the teacher in the form of additional practice tasks or further reading. Students are encouraged in independent learning; for example, at the end of the year students form small groups and each group undertakes a unit of work and prepares work sheets for each other and identifies areas of importance and/or difficulty. This focus on independent learning is very good practice.
In first-year copies examined, there was good use of visual aids and pictures to stimulate and facilitate student learning and internalisation of structures. Colour was also used effectively to reinforce learning. Students’ notebooks were well kept, showing attention to detail, a systematic approach and care and neatness, vital at this early stage of learning to establish patterns for future successful learning. In second and third year copies, there was evidence of structures being practised initially in isolation and then integrated into short pieces of writing. This resulted in an accurate use of the structure. In senior cycle students’ folders of work, there was evidence of regular practice of linguistic structures and therefore development of accurate use of a range of structures, such as conjunctions with subsequent word-order changes, relative pronouns, verbs used in the perfect tense and in the passive mode. Improvements made on previous exercises were in evidence demonstrating consistent progress in learning. The students demonstrated an ability to express quite complex thoughts in their written work examined. There was a good range of structures and some very idiomatic and authentic expressions. The written work also showed frequent practice in writing on a number of relevant themes.
There is portfolio type assessment in line with the philosophy and guidelines for TY. Assessment and homework take the form of presentation and projects at the end of each topic. Students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and homework includes research, project work and presentations. Mini-orals take place before Christmas and summer examinations.
Most of the students attempt higher-level German and a few take the subject at ordinary level. Achievement at both levels is consistently high and of excellent standard. The common syllabus and the small senior groups facilitate the teaching of both levels together and the high attainment at both levels.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
§ There are compelling reasons for the promotion and retention of German on the curriculum which include: the excellent results in German in the state examinations; the school’s achievements in the German Teachers Association (GDI) inter-school debating competition; and the fact that individual students of German have been regular recipients of scholarships awarded by the German government.
§ The co-curricular and extra-curricular activities available to students of German are excellent and attendance of students at suitable cultural events is factored into the schedule of work across the year.
§ In the German classrooms a very authentic German learning environment was created which students could draw upon in the course of lessons.
· There was exemplary use of the target language as the main language of instruction, interaction and communications by both teacher and students. Grammatical items were also explained in clear and simple German.
· The pace and structure of lessons ensured that students were well prepared for the tasks and could draw on knowledge and previous learning. The sharing of the learning objectives with students contributes to the very good practice of promoting learner autonomy.
· There was excellent rapport between students and teachers at all times, characterised by mutual respect and a relaxed yet focussed atmosphere of learning. Students clearly enjoyed their learning.
· Most of the students attempt higher level German and a few take the subject at ordinary level. Achievement at both levels is consistently high and of excellent standard.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that consideration be given to convening an annual meeting of all modern language teachers which would promote collaboration and sharing of experiences across the languages, as well as bringing an additional cohesion to language planning into the future.
· Regular contact with the target language at frequent intervals of time is the optimum for language learning and it is recommended, where possible and feasible within the constraints of timetabling.
· It is recommended that the German teachers build on the good work completed to date in the planning for German by presenting the content of the current preamble in terms of the mission statement and the aims and objectives for the subject, as well as incorporating a list for each year group of desired learning outcomes into the plan.
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