An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Good Counsel College
New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63610I
Date of inspection: 31 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Good Counsel College, 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 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.
Modern languages have enjoyed a central position in the traditional, humanistic curriculum in Good Counsel, and this tradition has been carried forward into the present. Three modern languages are offered in Good Counsel: French, German and Spanish. Students are actively encouraged and motivated to learn a language, and prior to entry into the school, incoming first years choose one of these three languages. From discussions with school management and with language teachers, it is clear that languages form a central strand of the school curriculum. School management is to be commended for its contribution and leadership over the years in supporting language learning.
Within the Augustinian educational philosophy, the school aims to develop a spirit of team-work in which all students, staff and parents together strive to develop each student’s full potential: intellectual, physical, emotional, social, moral and spiritual. This educational philosophy being implemented in practice was clearly evident in the learning and teaching observed. The creation of two class groups in third-year German, where students requiring more language and learning support formed one smaller class group, is further evidence of the support for the individual in his learning. This is commendable.
Teamwork is a key ingredient of a school committed to an Augustinian philosophy of education. Members of all three language departments come together to hold joint modern language planning meetings. This is to be commended. Language teachers work collaboratively, exchanging professional dialogue, agreeing decisions regarding textbooks and assessment, and sharing both ideas and resources. A recent focus has been the integration of students with special needs. The language teachers are already engaged in a process of review and development to seek improvements in the quality of the language provision. In line with the Council of Ministers objective of each student having competence in one modern 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 has been provided by the school through an LCA module. This is commended. This could also be achieved through the provision of an ab initio language module in TY.
In relation to future development and planning, the language teachers had discussed the creation of a language block or centre, which would involve the grouping of the language teacher base rooms in the same block. This would facilitate the enhancement of language resources, the integration of ICT, DVD and other media into the language classroom and the sharing of such resources. In the context of the school’s development planning and decision making in relation to deployment of resources, school management should look at possible arrangements which might accommodate this proposal.
Good Counsel regularly applies for a language assistant and the language teachers have cooperated with the scheme over the years. Both school management and language teachers alike acknowledge the positive impact of the services of a native speaker, and representative of the target language community, in the school and classroom. The school has also cooperated with the Teacher Exchange Programme. Participation in such initiatives and programmes not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides language teachers with the necessary support for maintaining and developing their own language skills and competence. School management is to be commended for this.
The long-term and short-term planning documents made available at the time of the inspection 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. The themes, text activities and grammatical items were clearly linked to syllabus content and guidelines. Supplementary resource materials were also included. The incorporation of specific learning objectives, including skills development into the existing planning documentation would be of help in the regular monitoring of student progress. The analysis of student attainment in state examinations is a commendable practice already in place in the German department. Lesson observation provided clear evidence of good planning and preparation.
Planning also addressed the development of cultural awareness, which is an integral part of the German language syllabus. Good Counsel provides opportunities to students to avail of exchanges and trips to the target language country. Students of German also have regular access to intercultural projects and initiatives, the benefit of which is clearly in evidence in their cultural awareness. German students have been actively involved in the German debating competition. They also support the German Film Project, attending the screening of the German film and working through the accompanying pedagogical exercises. The participation of students in intercultural projects of this kind enhances the learning experience and is commendable. This happens with the personal and professional commitment of the German department.
A range of resources were drawn upon in the course of the lessons observed and these were integrated effectively. The provision of a teacher-based language room facilitated planning for and use of resources. Good use was made of the overhead projector and tape-recorder. Facilities for the integration of other media were also available. The room was well equipped with posters, charts and examples of grammatical and vocabulary items covered. As mentioned above, the integration of ICT and software for use in language teaching, and for self-access, should be explored at language department meetings in the future.
The German department consistently demanded high standards of behaviour and application of work from the students. The balance of challenge and support was in the main very well judged, which makes students work hard and yet affirms and builds on student confidence. 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 as they progress, and other forms of linguistic scaffolding provided.
Good progress in learning was evident because lessons were well structured and delivered in a lively, engaging manner at a good pace. The classroom atmosphere as observed was conducive to learning, classroom interactions were characterized by mutual respect and students were purposeful and committed in their work. This was due in no small way to the German department’s personal and professional commitment to the subject German and to the students.
The teaching observed in German lessons demonstrated a linguistic competence, a cultural awareness and an awareness of how students learn which can only be described as an optimum level of practice, and ultimately of great benefit to the students. There was consistent use of the target language, albeit interspersed with recourse to mother tongue. Students were clearly accustomed to hearing the target language. The use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the German classroom should be consolidated and firmly embedded in practice.
In the lessons observed, the learners were afforded many opportunities to use the target language in spoken and in written form. Students demonstrated a keen awareness and understanding of sentence structure and were able to manipulate structures accurately and with ease. On completion of a task undertaken during the lesson, the solution was distributed. This elicited questions from students, which showed their level of language awareness. In the phase of the class, where there was an appropriate emphasis on formal grammar, this impression was reinforced. When questioned on work previously covered, students responded with accuracy and confidence. Learners strived to achieve accuracy of both spoken and written expression at all times in their classroom participation. Examination of student written work also demonstrated this being achieved for the most part.
Initially the learning was teacher directed and then an activity designed for the students to make the content of the authentic text more accessible to the learner was introduced. What resulted was the achievement of a balance between language acquisition and engagement with the content and meaning of the text. This is to be commended. Difficult vocabulary was explained and noted, introduced not in isolation but rather embedded in sentences to facilitate understanding and retention. Care should be taken when introducing new vocabulary to present the definite article simultaneously, as a matter of course.
There was an appropriate focus on the development of examination strategies in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate class groups observed. In one lesson observed, there was an excellent example of the development of strategies for listening and of identifying key elements of the message. To follow on the listening exercise, students were required to fill in a gapped test based on the content of the listening, reinforcing the learning and awareness of structures. This provided the basis for the written homework assigned, which was an examination related written task. A systematic approach to the building of student linguistic competence was evident in the lessons observed and in the student copies examined.
In line with the stated aim of development of student learning and learner autonomy, students, when presented with topical extracts from newspapers for homework, were given a choice of text. Another example of the encouragement of learner autonomy was the practice of asking an individual student to write a diary entry for a particular day. The promotion of independent learning is to be commended. The European Language Portfolio is recommended as an aid to planning, assessment and learner autonomy in language learning.
A focus on self-evaluation and a capacity for reflecting upon student performance and participation, as well as teaching practice was clearly demonstrated by the German department. Discussions in the course of the inspection bear witness to this.
Students demonstrated reasonable accuracy in pronunciation and intonation. In written work, there was a corresponding focus on accuracy. In oral responses, students were encouraged to use full sentences. Insistence on accuracy in student responses resulted in accurate expression on the part of students and the development of a distinct language awareness of how structures of the language work. Students in their interactions with the inspector demonstrated a good level of knowledge of language covered and responded with confidence. Student responses demonstrated not only an understanding of the lesson content but also a striving towards improvement.
There is regular assessment of student progress, of student oral, aural and written competence. Progress is carefully recorded, monitored and reported. Formal in-house examinations take place for all year groups. The German department has a planned and systematic approach to the assessment of student progress. Homework is assigned and corrected regularly.
Grammatical items and vocabulary are tested frequently. 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.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ Modern languages form a central strand of the school curriculum. School management is to be commended for its contribution to supporting language learning.
§ Teamwork is a key ingredient of a school committed to an Augustinian philosophy of education. Members of all three language departments come together to hold joint modern language planning meetings. This is to be commended.
§ The long-term and short-term planning documents made available at the time of the inspection contained all the required elements for good planning.
§ Students of German have regular access to intercultural projects and initiatives, the benefit of which is clearly in evidence in their cultural awareness.
§ In the lessons observed, the learners were afforded many opportunities to use the target language in spoken and in written form. Students demonstrated a keen awareness and understanding of sentence structure and were able to manipulate structures accurately and with ease.
§ Lessons were well structured and delivered in a lively, engaging manner at a good pace, and there was clear evidence of an optimal level of linguistic competence, cultural awareness and an awareness of how students learn.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
§ In the context of the school’s development planning and decision making in relation to deployment of resources, school management should look at possible arrangements which might accommodate the creation of a language block.
§ The integration of ICT and software for use in language teaching, and for self-access, should be explored at language department meetings in the future.
§ The use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the German classroom should be consolidated, and the practice of providing translation to learners should be gradually decreased, as students progress in their learning.
§ It is recommended that specific learning outcomes be included in planning documentation and the range of assessment modes used to monitor student progress in a language should include the testing across all the skills.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teacher of German, the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.