An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Christian Brothers’ College
Sidney Hill, Wellington Road, Cork
Roll number: 62520C
Date of inspection: 4 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers’ College. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Christian Brothers’ College is a single-sex, private school, catering for 792 boys. The school offers the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate to its students and German features in all programmes on offer. This is commendable.
Modern languages have a high profile and are mandatory in the school. It is laudable that school management facilitates open access to the study of one or more languages and timetables them in accordance with effective practice.
All classes are mixed ability in nature, with the exception of fourth year (TY) where a system of banding is in place. It is recommended that the German department, in collaboration with school management, consider the necessity of such an arrangement given the fact that all other classes are mixed-ability ones.
It is most commendable that the school has a policy in operation that covers the professional development of teachers and encourages the concept of life-long learning. The policy applies to all teachers in the school and includes in-service, funding for ongoing professional development and the payment of teacher association fees. This is exemplary practice.
There are currently three teachers involved in the delivery of German to students in the school. Teachers are committed to their subject and were very willing to engage with the inspection process. The German department reported they have had good access to a variety of material resources including TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, DVD and CD players. German magazines and books are also available to students. The availability of information and communication technologies (ICT) was also evident on the day and each year group area in the schools has its own dedicated ICT room. This is praiseworthy. However, there is no dedicated room for German in the school and most classrooms observed were bare and devoid of stimulating visual material. Therefore, it is recommended that a specialist base classroom for German, or indeed modern languages, be established in an effort to provide students with a print-rich learning environment.
There is a strong tradition for the subject in the school and most teachers are in continuous contact with Germany and German-speaking countries. A wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is organised for students on a regular basis. Individual exchanges and homestays are commonplace and are facilitated by the school. There are annual ski-trips to Austria and during TY international students are welcomed to the school and partake in school life. The school’s board of management has also procured a foreign language assistant (FLA) from Siegen in Germany on a private basis for early 2008. Whilst all this pro-active encouragement and facilitation of varied experiences in the German language is praiseworthy, it is recommended that the school engage with the Department of Education and Science run FLA programme to avoid unnecessary expenditure. It is also recommended that the German department could further extend the profile of the subject in the whole-school population. Activities such as debating and the organisation of a ‘Modern European Languages Week’ could be useful strategies to do this.
The school is engaged in school-development planning and subject departments have been formed. Regular subject-department planning meetings take place throughout the year. There are formal meetings with set agendas and minutes are taken. As a result, there is a co-ordinated and holistic approach to the delivery of the subject throughout the school. This is commendable. There is a subject co-ordinator and selection for this was by seniority. It is suggested that the co-ordinator’s position should be rotated to provide everyone on the team with appropriate expertise and to share the workload. There is also evidence of good planning at an individual level. It is praiseworthy that a strong commitment to the subject and a collaborative ethos among team members exists.
Folders containing a variety of resources, as well as the subject-department plan for German, were presented during the course of the evaluation. Schemes of work are theme based and outline the lesson content that is to be followed during the year. In addition, lists of effective methodologies, and sample assessments are included and reference is made to culturally-diverse students and students with special educational needs. This is laudable.
In order to develop planning for German even further, it is recommended that the department structures its planning in the following manner: learning outcomes for each year group should be specified to provide clarity about what exactly students should be able to do in mixed-ability settings and these learner outcomes should be specified in terms of the acquisition of the skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking. Suggestions as to how one could best achieve this can be gleaned from www.sess.ie and www.slss.ie. An evaluation of approaches and strategies employed, as is evident in the TY plan, should be included. They should be reflected upon on an ongoing basis. There should also be planning for the integration for ICT.
Individual planning for lessons was evident in the preparation of handouts and answer templates for students, the utilisation of appropriate resources and in the structured nature of lessons.
Five class groups were visited in the course of the evaluation. Classroom management was uniformly good and a positive and pleasant atmosphere prevailed in all lessons observed. The interactions between teachers and students were characterised by mutual respect and students were engaged and purposeful in their work. Teachers have high expectations of their students appropriate to their abilities and learning styles. It was clear from students’ interactions with the teacher and inspector that students are learning.
Some excellent use of the target language was observed. At senior cycle, some students’ competencies in German were outstanding and the accuracy of some answers very good. Students’ tasks were designed to promote authentic communication and this has clearly benefited the teaching and learning of German in some classes. It is suggested that these activities could be further enhanced if the learners were given the opportunity to interact with one another and ask each other the questions. This would maximise the opportunity for students’ participation in class and reduce an over-emphasis on teacher talk. Whilst this use of the target language was commendable, in other cases there was scope for the development of strategies that would promote the use of German to a greater extent. It is recommended that these strategies be consolidated and embedded for all learners. It is further recommended that rather than using translation into English to explain words and phrases, teachers should employ a number of strategies, such as the use of synonyms, facial expressions and gestures, to communicate with students.
ICT integration was evident in some classes on the day and was utilised to good effect. Particularly noteworthy was a ‘live link ‘observed at junior cycle. Students were divided into teams and had to compete against each other to discover blanks in a conversation around ordering food. The enthusiasm with which the students entered into the competition was praiseworthy. Given the availability and accessibility of ICT in the school, it is recommended that efforts to promote its wider use be undertaken.
Lesson content was in line with syllabus requirements in all of the classes visited. For example, in senior cycle, the theme of Germany and stereotypes formed the basis of one lesson. In most of the lessons observed learning was well supported through the use of the white board, textbooks, and tape recorders. The thematic approach that was adopted by most teachers facilitated the effective integration of various teaching methodologies. This was particularly evident at junior cycle, where students were asked to act out a role-play around ordering food in a ‘Schnellimbiss’. It is thus recommended that methodologies should be extended to incorporate more active learning methodologies based on the interests of the students.
There was very good integration of language awareness and cultural awareness as observed during the evaluation. This is laudable. Since the integration of language skills was not observed on the day, it is recommended that teachers resolve to incorporate all four language skills into their lessons on a daily basis, in line with good practice. It is also suggested that teachers state the learning objectives in each lesson to focus students on the task at hand and to enhance their awareness of what exactly they will be learning in a given lesson.
Appropriate homework is set for all classes as observed and, in some copybooks, homework tasks are regularly corrected and dated. Overall, the standard of presentation was quite good. Copybooks were generally well maintained and an appropriate range of exercises was observed. Notes in some were a useful learning aid. The German department is aware of the principles of Assessment for Learning (AfL) and formative feedback is provided to some students in their copybooks. It is recommended that this practice be consolidated and replicated across the department.
All examinations include an aural component and oral assessments are given at senior cycle. Although oral production forms the basis of informal class assessment, it is recommended that a formal oral component be a part of every examination for every student. Common assessment is in place for all year groups except TY students. This is laudable.
In an effort to promote autonomous learning, it is recommended that an ‘over correction’ of mistakes by teachers should be avoided. For example, mistakes could be highlighted in the margins or underlined to place the onus then on students to follow up on their mistakes. It was noted during the course of the inspection that, in some classes, students were asked to provide oral accounts of stories the students had read. This is praiseworthy and it is recommended that students are regularly given tasks, in written or oral form, which require them to manipulate their knowledge of the target language.
There is a full-staff review of State examination results each September. In this context, it is recommended that, in order to allow all students to experience success at Junior Certificate level German, students should be advised to attempt the examination level appropriate to their specific ability.
Communication with parents is maintained through formal written reports, parent-teacher meetings and the school journal.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.