An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Convent of Mercy Strokestown
Roll number: 65100S
Date of inspection: 16 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire. 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 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.
German is one of two modern languages taught in this mixed-secondary school and there is a long tradition for the provision of the subject. The timetable makes good provision for the delivery of German, in that all classes receive the correct time allocation in line with syllabus requirements. Commendably, all junior-cycle lessons are allocated single periods. However, senior-cycle provision consists of one double period and three single periods in fifth year and two double periods and one single period in sixth year. Since German is timetabled opposite French in sixth year, it is strongly recommended that management address this issue for the next academic year and ensure single period allocation for languages to allow for regular and sustained class contact time with the target language.
German features in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is on offer in the school but offers French instead of German. It is suggested that French and German could be provided on a rotational basis to the LCVP cohort of students.
Laudably, first-year students have the opportunity to experience both French and German for a full year. This is commendable as it allows students to make a more informed decision about their language choice. On completion of first year, students are required to indicate their modern language preference either French or German. School management is to be commended for its support for modern languages as almost all students at junior cycle study either French or German. At senior cycle, students, generally, continue with their modern language after their Junior Certificate.
All German classes are of mixed ability. Students with special educational needs have access to modern languages and those who wish to continue with a language can do so. This provision for access to a modern language for such students is praiseworthy. Furthermore, there is a good gender balance in the uptake of German at both senior and junior cycles.
German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently three German teachers on staff. It is suggested that, since the school is willing to pay for membership of the GDI „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers’ Association), that teachers should apply to the board of management for their annual subscription. The German department reported that it has had access to a variety of material resources including tape recorders, CD players and a lap-top computer and data projector. While the school is broadband enabled and there is an interactive whiteboard in the school, the German department has limited access to information and communication technologies (ICT). Management reported that work on a proposed refurbishment of rooms in the main school building contains plans for a multi-media room. This will allow for a greater integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of German.
Not all German teachers have dedicated classrooms for the teaching and learning of German. Given the school context and the lack of adequate classroom space, it is suggested that in the context of planning for its future accommodation needs, consideration should be given to the timetabling of all teachers in a base classroom for German in order to provide the German department with best access to all available resources.
There is no annual budget for the purchase of materials or teaching aids. However, on request to management, funds will be made available for the purchase of resources. It is suggested that this money could be used, not only to update resources, but also, to purchase a selection of books relating to pedagogical issues and methodologies such as mixed-ability teaching. Sites such as www.cilt.co.uk or http://webgerman.com/ can be very useful in updating ICT resources and the development of new methodologies around language skills.
A variety of extracurricular, cross-curricular and co-curricular activities is organised to support the teaching and learning of German in the school, including the organisation of food-tasting events, an annual trip to the Donegal Adventure Centre where students can experience outdoor activities through German and a regular, and very successful, school exchange with the Gudewilleschule in Thedinghausen near Bremen. The exchange, which has been an almost annual occurrence since 2000, has surely contributed to the fact that German remains a popular subject option for students. Indeed, the German inspection occurred during the exchange visit and German students were present in almost all classes visited. Laudably, a German wall displays photographs of students who took part in the exchange in 2007 and those who went to Donegal.
The commitment of all those involved in the exchange, including school management and local parents, is most praiseworthy. Such activities ultimately benefit students and enhance the provision for the subject greatly in that they help to maintain the profile of the subject for the whole-school population.
While subject-department planning exists and is facilitated by senior management, it is a relatively new process in the school. Under the current management, the school actively engages with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) on a regular basis to further planning developments. This is commendable.
The position of co-ordinator of the subject department has yet to be decided. It is suggested that the attached duties and responsibilities of a subject co-ordinator should be rotated among the teachers. There is evidence of good collaboration among the German teaching team. The good practice of preparing agenda for meetings and keeping minutes is well established.
A subject-department plan was made available on the day of the inspection and admirably, the plan contains detailed information regarding the practice with regard to students with additional educational needs. Commendably, the department is aware of the importance of including all four language skills in lesson delivery and stated that they make a conscious effort to do so. Long-term and short-term planning is evident and some individual planning presented on the day of the inspection was very good.
To further enhance the work done to date, the following recommendations are made: first, the plans for German should be developed to include specific learning outcomes in the acquisition of the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the context of mixed-ability teaching and learning. Secondly, it is recommended that The European Language Portfolio could be used for this purpose and as an aid to planning assessment and learner autonomy in language learning. Finally, active methodologies should be planned to accommodate students’ different learning styles.
Since planning is a ‘work-in progress’ an evaluation of approaches and strategies employed, as well as the tasks set and materials used, should also be included and reflected upon on an ongoing basis. Planning for the integration of ICT should also be included.
Inspection activities included the observation of six classes, the monitoring of students’ work and interaction with students in each class. Lessons were well structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. In most cases, the purpose of the lessons was clear and explicitly stated with clear links to work already covered. A good rapport and a sense of mutual respect were evident in interactions and students were positively affirmed. Students were always addressed by name and they were encouraged to participate in tasks. Where teachers circulated this ensured that students received individual help when necessary. The atmosphere created in the classrooms was conducive to learning. This is good practice. To further focus students on their learning, it is recommended that the desired learning outcomes of each lesson be provided to students at the start of the lesson so that students and teachers can evaluate progress. The lesson’s closure phase should ensure that the outcomes have been achieved.
Since the evaluation took place during the German exchange visit, the target language was used in most lessons visited for genuine communicative purposes. Teachers who had visiting students in their classrooms had devised group work and short interview sessions around the native speakers. The ‘bringing to life’ of German for Irish students was tangible as was their genuine curiosity and enthusiasm about their guests. For example, at senior cycle students were placed in groups according to what apprenticeship/career they would like to pursue when they leave school. Professions such as photographer, hotelier and mechanic were discussed in groups and students ‘fed back’ to the whole class what they had found out about such occupations in Germany. A listening comprehension and reading comprehension followed and new vocabulary was noted. Work was differentiated, in that German students had to answer English questions and Irish students had to German questions. This incorporation of active methodologies coupled with an emphasis on all four language skills is very good practice and it is recommended that it be extended across the department.
Overall, teacher use of the target language was consistent and students were supported in their use of German. Good practice was observed in the area of student pronunciation where the learners were encouraged to listen to new words pronounced by native German speakers. However, it was obvious that students were often uncomfortable using German to communicate with their teachers and often spoke in English to ask questions or seek clarifications. Therefore, it is recommended, that strategies should be developed to consolidate and firmly embed the target language for students at all stages in their language learning. Students should be encouraged to maximise target language usage in the classroom and teachers should avoid an over-reliance on translation as a means of checking students’ comprehension. As teachers are the only model of the target language community that students have access to, it is also very important that teachers seek to avail of opportunities to up skill themselves as part of their continuing professional development (CPD), both in terms of their own linguistic competence and in the development of the linguistic competence of their learners.
In the majority of lessons observed, the pace was both challenging and appropriate to the students’ levels and abilities. In those lessons, students were constantly engaged in learning activities that were changed at suitable intervals to ensure that students’ interest was maintained. At junior cycle, however, the pace of one lesson observed was not conducive to learning. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers should adequately plan students’ learning tasks to ensure that students are appropriately stimulated and challenged during lessons.
The thematic integration of lesson topics as observed is good practice and true to teachers’ planning aims most of the four language skills were integrated to good effect in lessons observed. This is commendable and in line with syllabus requirements. Whilst listening skills were practised during most classes visited, it is recommended that pre-listening and post-listening activities should be exploited to consolidate learning. An example of a post-listening exercise would be to examine the errors students are making and, having looked at mistakes, replay the tape exercise. This provides further reinforcement and consolidation of learning.
Appropriate homework was assigned in all classes observed. From the sample of copybooks inspected, it was evident that copybooks are monitored and corrected on a regular basis. The signing and dating of corrected exercises is good practice and to be commended. Indeed, some teachers awarded stars or cartoon stamps for good work completed. Commendably, students are encouraged to follow-up on their corrections. Whilst feedback was observed in copybooks, it is recommended that feedback should include more detail for students, particularly with regard to areas for improvement.
Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level and a range of assessment modes is deployed. Formative and summative assessments are conducted on an ongoing basis. In keeping with best practice, all formal assessment consists of both aural and oral components as well as reading comprehension and writing skills. This is praiseworthy. The German department is also to be praised for its facilitation of a native German speaker to conduct external oral assessment with senior-cycle students presenting for the Leaving Certificate.
In the context of promoting learner autonomy, it is suggested that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) could provide some valuable information regarding Assessment for Learning (AfL) (see www.ncca.ie). These principles could be further incorporated and adopted to develop assessment procedures in the department. For example, other forms of self-assessment or peer-assessment could be utilised to optimise class-contact time.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Commendably, all junior-cycle lessons are allocated single periods.
· First-year students have the opportunity to experience both French and German for a full year.
· Students with special educational needs have access to modern languages and those who wish to continue with a language can do so.
· A variety of extracurricular, cross-curricular and co-curricular activities is organised to support the teaching and learning of German in the school.
· Since the evaluation took place during the German exchange visit, the target language was used in most lessons visited for genuine communicative purposes.
· The atmosphere created in the classrooms was conducive to learning.
· In keeping with best practice, all formal assessment consists of both aural and oral components as well as reading comprehension and writing skills.
· Commendably, students are encouraged to follow-up on their corrections.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is strongly recommended that management address the issue of double period allocation at senior cycle for the next academic year.
· Plans for German should be developed to include specific learning outcomes in the acquisition of the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the context of mixed-ability teaching and learning.
· It is very important that teachers seek to avail of opportunities to up skill themselves as part of their CPD.
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 November 2008