An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Roll number: 61860V
Date of inspection: 12 and 13 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 Dominican Convent Wicklow, conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation. 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 school management and the teachers of German. The inspector reviewed school and subject 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.
School management is commended for maintaining the long established tradition of languages forming a central strand of the school curriculum in Dominican Convent Wicklow. Students are actively encouraged to learn a language and have the possibility of studying two languages from the outset. On entry to the school, students are firstly introduced to the learning of French and German as core subjects. At the end of first year, students make a choice of one or two languages from the blocks of optional subjects to add to their core of nine subjects. However, in line with national trends fewer students than heretofore are opting to continue with the learning of more than one modern language. An alternative possibility for the school could be that prior to entry into the school, incoming first years choose one of three languages, French, German or Spanish. Pursuing the Council of Ministers objective, of each student having competence in one language and partial competence in a second modern language, the possibility of broadening access to include a second language later on in the student’s learning cycle could be continued. At present, modules of Japanese and Spanish are provided in the Transition Year curriculum and ab initio Spanish in fifth year.
It is of concern that of the seventy-eight students who all began learning the German language in first year last year, only fourteen students opted to continue with German into second year. The poor choice of textbook, which has now been addressed, and the enthusiasm of students for French were mentioned by the German teachers as contributing factors. In the current school year, one hundred and twenty-one first-year students are learning German, where there are four class groups studying the language. The German department needs to make concerted efforts to increase the level of uptake and the numbers continuing with German to ensure sustainable viable numbers for the continuation of the subject into both junior and senior cycle. The absence of adequate contact with German in Transition Year (TY) is a factor which may be contributing to a lower uptake in the language at senior cycle. There are two groups of twelve students each in sixth year, with one group of twenty-one formed in fifth year.
Given the importance of regular and sustained encounters with a modern language, it is desirable that students engage with a language at frequent intervals across the week to ensure continuity and effective progress. In this regard, the allocation of lesson periods and the distribution of those units of time across the week at junior cycle are optimal. School management is commended for this. There are single periods assigned to most classes with the exception of fifth and sixth years classes, which are allocated double periods, when timetabled alongside practical subjects.
The Transition Year is obligatory for all students. All seventy-five current TY students are provided with five parallel slots for modern languages and students taking both languages at junior cycle are facilitated in the continuation of their studies in the language and culture of German and French. However, the provision of German on a modular basis with less than two hours contact time per week may not be sufficient to ensure retention of the language skills and competence observed at junior cycle. This factor has been recognised and identified in subject review meetings by the German teachers and brought to the attention of school management to be reviewed for the coming year.
In relation to future development and planning, school management should look to the introduction of a meeting involving the teachers in the whole language area on an annual basis. In this way, a whole school approach to the planning for and the implementation of the language curriculum can be both fostered and developed. This may help to ensure a cohesive approach to language learning and teaching in the school and would help inform school management when curricular changes and decisions in relation to language provision need to be made.
Participation in the Language Assistant Scheme and the provision of a German student exchange programme have been features of the provision for German in the past. Such participation not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides language teachers with opportunities to maintain and develop their own language skills and competence. The re-activation of the German exchange scheme on a biennial basis is recommended. Membership of the German Teachers’ Association and attendance at in-service seminars would also be helpful in supporting continuous professional development of German teachers.
School management facilitates planning at subject level. Subject department meetings are held at least three times a year. School documentation provides evidence that the German language teachers have begun to engage in a process of review in agreeing decisions regarding textbooks, acquisition of resources and common assessments, as well as seeking improvements in the quality of the language provision. However, while planning documentation suggests that a level of collaboration and systematic review is being developed among teachers, the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the German teachers are working more independently than collaboratively. The fact that parallel class groups are so much a feature of the provision, makes the need to plan together and to share resources and good practice all the more crucial. It is recommended that the German teachers develop and consolidate approaches to working as a cohesive team and school management should be proactive in facilitating and supporting this. At a whole school level, subject planning characterised by teamwork should continue to be a focus of the school development planning process.
Although a language base classroom is generally not available, efforts had been made to create a stimulating and culturally rich language learning environment. Additional resources, such as charts and diagrams to clarify and facilitate student learning, were effectively deployed. A language laboratory, where the equipment has become largely defunct, is available but would require considerable updating and investment to provide a multimedia facility which would meet the needs of the modern language learning classroom. Taking cognisance of the existing building and the accompanying spread of classrooms, school management should look at possible arrangements which might accommodate the grouping of language teacher base rooms in the same area. Locating the available resources into the one area would facilitate the sharing of language resources and allow for greater and ready access to different media, including DVD, Video, as well as the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the language classroom. To date, ICT has not been used to any great extent to support the teaching of German. Training in ICT has been provided by school management, which is commendable. The integration of ICT and software for use in language teaching should be explored at language department meetings in the future.
Planning documentation for German was made available at the time of the inspection. The long term German planning documents contained all the required elements for good planning, outlining themes and topics to be covered: planning for the systematic integration of grammatical structures; preparation for examination related tasks; acquisition and reinforcement of vocabulary; deployment of resources and development of cultural awareness. This is commendable practice. The themes, text activities and grammatical items were clearly linked to syllabus content and guidelines, supplementary resource materials were also included. In the context, where the German cohort of learners is mixed ability, the inclusion of specific learning objectives, incorporating skills development tailored to particular students or student groups would enhance the existing planning documentation. These could be presented in the form of simple ‘can do’ statements. This would also facilitate the regular monitoring of student progress and would be in line with the school’s educational philosophy of developing personal growth and responsibility in its students. The aims and objectives for the teaching of German were also clearly presented in the planning documentation. The specific aims of fostering interest and motivation for the German language should be incorporated into planning documentation and reflected in classroom practice.
Individual short term lesson planning documents were presented, outlining objectives, methodologies and resources to be deployed. In general, the theme and learning objectives for the lesson were clearly communicated to the students and sometimes recorded on the blackboard for students in the lessons observed. Lessons were well-planned and prepared by all teachers. This is to be commended as it facilitates the learning process greatly.
The most important resource for any language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target language, community and culture. German is well provided for in terms of human resources, with three teachers currently on the staff. The level of linguistic and cultural competence observed in the course of the inspection was good in the main, with some isolated examples of errors occurring. In planning lesson content, the gender of words requires checking in advance to ensure accuracy and correctness when first introducing vocabulary items. Care should also be taken when introducing new vocabulary to present the definite article simultaneously, as a matter of course. In this way, preparation can help to ensure the achievement of accurate language acquisition on the part of students. The effective use of synonyms when explaining words to students, thus broadening the vocabulary base of the students, is also recommended.
Good teaching and learning were observed. Generally, lessons opened with the routine integration of the date, day and time in the target language. There followed a short correction of homework and checking of previously learning and understanding. There was sensitive correction of student errors. Teachers encouraged both participation of individual students as well as a group approach to the development and refinement of linguistic structures and pronunciation. The textbook was effectively supplemented with additional activities and resources. On one occasion, the introduction of real food items also contributed to student engagement with the lesson content. In the main, time was deployed effectively by the teachers to stimulate and reinforce learning. Activities, at times, could have been completed at a more challenging pace. On some occasions, the meticulous work in establishing and reinforcing the learning in relation to the lesson content impeded the pace of the lesson. Given the reality of small numbers in class groups, the expectation would be to cover more material or cover material more quickly and incorporate more practice on structures and more active engagement of students.
Some of the approaches and methodologies deployed by the German teachers to create an effective learning environment for German included: active learning methodologies, such as pair work and group work; integration and practice of grammar; systematic vocabulary acquisition; practice of oral work and the use of games. This resulted in the achievement of a balance between language acquisition and engagement with the content and meaning of the text or topic. The focus on learning by doing should be extended to all lessons and class groups. Students need to actively use the new language acquired and need to be encouraged in their own use of the target languages and provided with opportunities to build on their confidence.
There was reasonable use of the target language as the language of instruction and communication with students throughout the lessons observed. Some opportunities to further embed the target language as the language of communication in the classroom were not availed of, and this could be achieved without much effort by both teachers and students alike. Students should be given the instructions in relation to tasks in German, with support in mother tongue only when required. It was evident that students were not accustomed to hearing and using the target language consistently. The students themselves should be encouraged at all times to use German when carrying out simple transactions and making incidental remarks. The importance of maximising student exposure to the target language cannot be understated, and it is recommended that the use of the target language as the means of communication and instruction in the language classroom be extended and firmly embedded in practice.
Some lessons were observed to be conducted bilingually, and at times, learners were provided with too much support in the form of translation of new material. While acknowledging the need for judicious recourse to mother tongue, the practice of providing translation to learners should be gradually decreased and other forms of linguistic scaffolding provided, some of which were observed. For example, students demonstrated reasonably good development of strategies to guess meaning, through drawing on the statistical data and diagrams, which made the cultural content presented in the target language more accessible. Another example observed involved students being effectively engaged with a lotto game, reinforcing practice with listening to and using numbers correctly. Teachers are to be commended for the innovative and stimulating approaches deployed.
In lesson observation at senior cycle, the theme and learning objectives for the lesson were clearly communicated to the students. This is good practice and to be commended. The content of the lesson was appropriate to the student level of ability and stage of language learning and appropriately timed to coincide with actual work experience of the students. The integrated approach to language teaching observed, in line with syllabus objectives and guidelines, is also to be commended, and should be extended to all lessons. There was effective work observed in integrating the different aspects of language, grammar, vocabulary acquisition and pronunciation. The process as observed was very good. The emphasis in the approach and content for TY was also appropriate, where the focus was on developing in tandem the language and culture of the target language community. The comparison with Ireland was also in line with syllabus and programme objectives.
Student teacher interactions were characterised by respect and an excellent rapport between students and teacher was in evidence at all times. The teaching strategies deployed by the teachers helped to accommodate different learning styles and abilities. Students were reasonably accurate in their answering and demonstrated a good awareness of sentence structure and linguistic items. Students, in their interactions with the inspector, demonstrated an adequate level of knowledge of language covered. However, student responses lacked confidence and students found it difficult to apply their knowledge and skills independent of teacher support. The introduction of individual student portfolios of work and the use of the European Language Portfolio may be of benefit in this regard. Support for the individual student in her learning and attaining her full potential, as articulated in the school’s educational philosophy, was evident in the learning and teaching observed. In consolidating the implementation in practice of the school’s educational philosophy, the development of student responsibility and initiative in relation to her own learning should be pursued.
The attention on the teachers’ part to the quality and standard of students work was evident: classroom interventions, recording of notes and vocabulary and organisation of written class and homework were carefully monitored in most instances. Homework is assigned and corrected regularly. The student work examined was neatly presented by students, systematically organised and demonstrated regular assignment and correction of homework. In the course of the examination of student copy books and work books, the regular practice of grammatical structures was clearly in evidence. There were some good examples of practice in letter-writing and preparation of examination tasks. The teachers demanded high standards of behavior and application of work from the students. They were inclusive in their questioning and students were at all times affirmed yet encouraged to apply themselves to their work. Sensitivity in the correction of errors was also demonstrated.
There is regular assessment of student progress, of student oral, aural and written competence. Progress is carefully recorded, monitored and reported. Grammatical items and vocabulary are tested frequently. A monthly report system has been introduced which shows a commendable development of formative assessment modes. Formal in-house examinations take place for all year groups. The development of common assessments for parallel class groups has already been initiated, which is commendable and is recommended. Care should be taken to avoid translation exercises in written assessments. The nature and type of tasks set for the Junior Certificate are the appropriate models for assessment across the skills. It is recommended that the range of assessment modes used to monitor student progress in a language should include the testing across all the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, if not already in place. It is recommended that the assessment of aural and oral skills be included at both junior and senior level.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made: