An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Loreto Secondary School
Spawell Road, Wexford
Roll number: 63660A
Date of inspection: 7 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN GERMAN
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Wexford. 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 the German teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Loreto Secondary School has an enrolment of 700 girls. All students study German in first year. In second year, students can choose to continue with the study of German which is then offered in one of the option bands. The uptake of German remains at a good sustainable level. The enthusiasm and commitment of the German teachers for their subject has contributed to the encouraging numbers of students choosing German. It is evident that students have responded with reciprocal enthusiasm and interest. For example, around fifty percent of the second-year group that will be entering third year in the coming school year has opted to continue with German. There are four teachers of German, three of whom teach the subject at both junior and senior cycle. Teachers are assigned to classes on a rotational basis which provides the teachers with experience of teaching all relevant levels at junior and senior cycle.
The time allocation to German is good and the distribution of the class periods across the week is optimal, facilitating contact with the target language at regular intervals. There are three periods allocated to German in first year and four periods in second and third year. At senior cycle, three periods are allocated to German in the optional Transition Year (TY) programme and five periods are allocated in fifth and sixth year. Class formation for German is on the basis of mixed ability in first, second and third year. In line with the recommended approach to TY, fourth-year groups are also of mixed ability and this is good practice. Evidence of the German teachers’ commitment to enhancing their approaches in the language classroom is that they have engaged in in-service in strategies for mixed-ability teaching. Where numbers allow at Leaving Certificate level, concurrent class groups are formed to facilitate the creation of ordinary and higher-level groups. Senior management is commended for facilitating attendance at continuing professional development (CPD) and for the concurrent timetabling, where possible.
Classrooms are mainly teacher based and, even on the occasion where a teacher did not have a base classroom, the German teachers created an attractive and interesting German learning environment with posters, maps and charts. The range of texts used also contributed to the authenticity of the German environment created. The teachers of German made considerable efforts to integrate a range of resources and media into their classroom and to deploy an integrated approach to their teaching of German. There is a computer room which the German teachers can access. However, access is restricted by demand, by timetabling and by the fact that the room only accommodates a maximum of twenty-four students. In the context of infrastructural planning, the board of management should examine the possibility of installing information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in base classrooms or should consider the creation of a multi-media language room.
The planning documentation examined at the time of the evaluation was very well presented and contained all the elements of good planning. The German plan opens with linking the mission statement of the school with the teaching and learning objectives for the subject. The quality of the German plan indicates that it was drawn up on the basis of reflection and review by the practitioners in the classroom. The plan elaborates the curriculum content for each year group and details: the themes and topics to be covered; the linguistic structures; assessment procedures; textbooks and the range of resources available to the department. In this context, it is recommended that the department draw up an inventory of existing resources for inclusion in the plan, as well as researching for the future, useful ICT software and websites. The plan also outlines strategies for effective classroom management and methodologies for effective language learning. The inclusion of learning outcomes expressed in terms of can-do statements would provide teachers with a useful checklist to monitor achievement of the learning objectives and is therefore recommended.
There is a nominated liaison teacher for German, a role which is rotated. Subject planning meetings are facilitated by school management at the beginning and end of the year and once a term. Minutes of planning meeting examined indicated a high level of professional dialogue and collaboration among the German teaching team. Items on the agenda for planning meetings included such relevant topics as mixed-ability teaching, strategies for classroom behaviour management, arrangements for formative assessment, as well as an annual review of the German plan to date. Text books are regularly reviewed and discussed, annual budgetary expenditure is also decided upon and recent purchases include a class set of novels for TY German. A welcome development for encouraging independent student learning is the location of a new library for senior students of German in one of the German teacher-based classrooms. The possibility of introducing a modular course in German for TY was explored by the German teachers, to include suitable modules such as the study of a German novel, German films, and up-to date magazines. A further module could focus on spontaneous oral production. The teachers of German are encouraged to pursue the idea of a modular approach which might allow for team-teaching or for the delivery of a particular module by a teacher with expertise in that area.
Cross-curricular links with other subjects are outlined in the subject plan. So too is the co-curricular provision for German, which includes attendance at German film screenings, German Christmas carol singing and visiting speakers in relation to German culture. These activities exemplify the learning experiences outside of the classroom and enrich the provision for students.
The quality of teaching observed was good. The German department demonstrated both linguistic and pedagogical competence and the ability to effectively create a German world for its students. The German teacher-based classrooms, where available, were very authentically decorated, giving a real feel for the target language country’s customs and culture. On the occasions when the use of German was not sustained throughout, valuable time was lost through having to re-establish the authentic German environment of the target language. On another occasion, the background to a new theme was explained through English instead of simple German. Teachers should use the target language throughout each lesson and devise alternative strategies to translation to support student learning. Where unfamiliar items of vocabulary were noted on the board and translated, the use of synonyms in simple German is recommended.
Lessons were well structured and integrated the development of the different skills as recommended in syllabus guidelines. The lessons observed were characterised by clarity of direction and purpose and the explicit sharing of the learning objectives, observed in most lessons, should be extended to all. Lessons opened with the correction of homework and homework was assigned at the close of lessons. The engaging and lively approach of the teachers observed in some lessons motivated the learners. For example, on one occasion the lesson opened with the students singing a song in German while the teacher circulated correcting and checking homework. The singing of the song and the repetition of words in unison worked well and helped with the accuracy of pronunciation and intonation. On another occasion, the lesson opened with pair work where students discussed and asked each other questions relating to the theme of the lesson. Students applied themselves with diligence and in plenary, demonstrated accurate use of sentences. Affirming students’ prior learning in this way was both motivating and reassuring for the students.
A range of methodologies was employed by teachers and effective strategies to cater for the mix of abilities were observed. Activities and tasks, which included group and pair work, were thorough and varied to reinforce learning. Strategies to allow for the consistent use of the target language were also deployed in some instances and these should be strengthened, where appropriate. Exercises designed to develop focused listening were effective and a useful strategy to reinforce numbers was observed. To promote language awareness, an integrated approach to grammar was employed and grammatical items were effectively addressed. For example, preparation for letter-writing included succinct and successful revision of the perfect tense. Prior to completion of a task, a grammatical item was written up on the board and students were reminded of the word-order rule which applied. The students were attentive and diligent and demonstrated engagement with tasks and classroom activities.
The students heard a lot of German but could have used more themselves. While some good opportunities were created for students to interact in the language, further strategies to promote the spontaneous production of oral language by the students are recommended. Oral production needs to be practised every day and occasions and opportunities created for the generation of sentences which build on student confidence and fluency.
Students of Loreto Secondary School Wexford have been regular recipients of German scholarships awarded on the basis of Junior Certificate results and students have also been awarded prizes and scholarships by the Austrian embassy. The uptake of higher level at both Junior and Leaving Certificate is consistently high and the attainment of students in German at both ordinary and higher level in Junior and Leaving Certificate is excellent.
Assessment is regular, affirmative and formative. The school’s homework policy is implemented consistently by the German department. Students are assessed in the first place through regular assignment and correction of homework. In-house examinations at Christmas and summer and pre-certificate examinations involve assessment across a range of skills, including aural and oral, as well as written assessment. There are also regular end-of-topic and vocabulary tests. Portfolio assessment forms part of the assessment in TY. Students and parents receive regular reports on student progress, both oral and written. Parents are well informed in relation to matters relating to curriculum choices through parent-teacher meetings and information evenings.
Students were accurate in their answering. In student notebooks examined, there was evidence of useful handouts and work sheets to practise difficult structures. The use of colour coding in junior cycle note books and copybooks was an effective means of helping students in organising their learning. However, the practice of assigning to first years sentences to be translated as homework should be discontinued. Student work had been annotated with correction of errors, with grades assigned and constructive and instructional comments. The objective of formative assessment was being implemented in practice by the German department. The TY work examined included interesting tasks such as a film review. In senior cycle copybooks, there was evidence of different written exercises on a range of relevant themes.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The planning documentation examined at the time of the evaluation contained all the elements of good planning and indicated a high level of professional dialogue and
collaboration among the German teaching team.
· The German department demonstrated both linguistic and pedagogical competence and the ability to effectively create a German world for its students. The German
teacher-based classrooms, where available, were very authentically decorated, giving a real feel for the target language country’s customs and culture.
· Affirming students’ prior learning was both motivating and reassuring for the students. The engaging and lively approach of the teachers observed in some lessons
motivated the learners.
· A range of methodologies was employed by teachers and effective strategies to cater for the mix of abilities were observed.
· Assessment is regular, affirmative and formative.
· The uptake of higher level at both Junior and Leaving Certificate is consistently high and the attainment of students in German at both ordinary and higher level in
Junior and Leaving Certificate is excellent.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In the context of infrastructural planning, the board of management should examine the possibility of installing information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in
base classrooms or should consider the creation of a multi-media language room.
· Identifying students’ learning outcomes, expressed in terms of can-do statements, is recommended for inclusion in the German plan. This would provide teachers with a
useful checklist to monitor achievement of the learning objectives.
· While some good opportunities were created for students to interact in the language, further strategies to promote the spontaneous production of oral language by the students
· It is recommended that teachers devise strategies to firmly embed the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom.
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 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board is pleased to note the very positive affirmation in the report of the work and commitment of the German Department in the school.
The German teachers and the principal are appreciative of the professional and caring approach adopted by the inspector before and during her visit to the school.
The school is surprised, however, that it took 10 months from the date of inspection (7 November 2008) to issue the Draft Report for Factual Verification (9 September 2009). It is felt that this delay had the effect of lessening the significance of the report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The strategies recommended in the report in relation to classroom teaching will be carefully considered for adoption by the German teachers.
The school has been dealing with the Building Unit of the Department of Education and Science (DES) for close on 13 years at this stage in an attempt to secure a major refurbishment and extension that will provide modern facilities for students and staff. While the school will continue its efforts in this regard, it is to be clearly understood that the responsibility for the inadequacy of the ICT facilities and the lack of a multi-media language room rests firmly with the DES.