An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Confey Community College
Leixlip, County Kildare
Roll number: 70691C
Date of inspection: 17 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Confey Community 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 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Confey Community College is a post-primary school catering for boys and girls. It has a total enrolment of 561 students and serves a very wide catchment area. The school offers a wide range of programmes including Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TYP), Leaving Certificate Established (LCE), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). German is offered in all these programmes. It is to the school’s credit that such a wide range of programmes is on offer to cater for the needs of all the students.
In the past German was a compulsory subject in the school. This situation has changed and incoming students are now offered a choice of modern languages. Students can choose French or German. It is also possible to do both although very few students choose to do so. Over a number of years the numbers of students taking German has declined. This is a cause for concern among members of the German department. Good initiative has been taken by teachers to promote the language. For example teachers have taught classes in the feeder primary schools on a voluntary basis. This has been successful. It is recommended that the German department review the situation on a regular basis and continue to promote the subject in what ever way they deem appropriate.
There is good whole school support for German. The time allocation for the subject is in line with national norms. Four class periods are allocated to German in the first two years of the junior cycle and in the TYP. In senior cycle and in the third year of the junior cycle students have five class periods per week. All lessons are single class periods. This is good practice as it affords the students the opportunity to have regular contact with the language.
A wide and varied range of resources is available to support the teaching and learning of German. These include books, novels, films, DVDs, tapes, CD ROMs, magazines and games. In addition a set of German dictionaries for class use has been purchased. This is a most useful resource. There is no official budget for the subject. Funds are made available as required. The German department is constantly renewing and updating resources. This is good practice. It is suggested that consideration be given to acquiring resources which relate to modern language teaching methodologies. There is very good provision of ICT resources in the school. These include two computer rooms, laptops, an LCD projector, software and broadband internet access. Students of German have good access to these resources and are given the opportunity to carry out research on dedicated German websites. This is most laudable.
The German department holds membership of the German Teachers’ Association and teachers regularly attend seminars and courses in Ireland and in Germany. Teachers have also corrected state examinations. Such commitment to continuous professional development is highly commended. It was also noted that members of the German department are committed to innovation and to trying new ideas. The progressive approach to the development of teaching and learning strategies is to be highly commended.
The range of co-curricular activities to support the subject is very good. In the past a very successful school exchange was organised. Exchanges provide the learners with valuable opportunities to experience the language and culture of the country at first hand. Activities are organised as part of international languages day. There is also a designated German day in the course of the school year. Students are taken to the Irish Film Institute to see German films. Other activities to support the teaching and learning of the language include visits to the Goethe Institute and inviting guest speakers in to the school to address the students on matters related to German. In the current academic year students of the TYP were brought to Berlin. All of the effort that is involved in the organisation of these co-curricular activities is acknowledged and is highly commended.
The German lessons are held in base classrooms. These were decorated to the highest standard. A very good level of student project work was displayed in these rooms. This consisted of colourful posters on different themes. Displaying students’ work is very effective and gives the students a sense of ownership of their learning environment. Maps, photographs and grammar charts were also on display. Enhancing the classroom environment in this manner is to be commended.
The school is actively engaged in development planning and subject departments are very well established. There is a convenor appointed for German. This position rotates among members of the German team. This is very good practice. There is very good collaboration between members of the German team on both formal and informal levels. Staff share ideas and resources. Regular planning meetings are held. Agendas are drawn up in advance of these meetings, minutes are kept and decisions are recorded.
Work is in progress on a long term plan. A subject plan has been produced; a diagnostic window outlining what is working well and what areas need attention has also been developed. This is effective practice. Very good individual and yearly plans were presented. These plans were theme based and included a very comprehensive list of resources. It is most useful to include this list in planning documentation. It is recommended that the yearly plans be developed to include specific learner outcomes. This will establish clearly what exactly is expected of a learner at the end of a unit of learning.
There was evidence of very good collaboration between the German department and the Learning Support department in the planning for the teaching and learning of the language. Students in need of learning support are provided with additional lessons in German. Very good software has been purchased by the school and is being used by the learning support teacher to help students of German. The interface between the German and Learning Support departments as was witnessed in the course of the inspection is an example of excellent practice and is of enormous benefit to the students.
Lesson content in all lessons was good. Many themes were covered in the lessons visited. In junior cycle students learned to talk about pocket money. Also in junior cycle students were asked to talk in the past tense about what they had done in their holidays. In senior cycle the theme of work was discussed and students were asked to talk about their future work plans. Ensuring that lesson content is learner centred is at the core of the communicative approach to language teaching and is most praiseworthy.
Different teaching methodologies were witnessed in the course of the inspection. Good effort was made to ensure the integration of the skills of language acquisition. For example, in junior cycle students were asked to listen to a dialogue on the theme of pocket money. The learners were then given pair work activities based on the same theme. The follow up to this pair work exercise involved teacher led questions to the students thus encouraging further oral work. Students were then assigned a written exercise about pocket money. This integrated approach is very effective as it ensures that the learning is consolidated.
Listening comprehension activities were used in all lessons observed. This is useful as learners need to be immersed in the target language. It is important that such activities are not used merely to test listening comprehension. Listening is a skill which must be taught. For example in some lessons students were provided with pre- and post-listening exercises. In advance of a listening exercise students were given some warm-up exercises such as practising relevant vocabulary. The post listening exercises involved students being required to complete a cloze test. This is very good practice. In some lessons observed there was evidence of teacher circulation. This is very necessary as it provides information about the learners’ ability to do the exercise and thus informs teaching strategies. It is recommended that this effective practice be extended to all lessons.
The use of the target language was generally very good. In some lessons all communication was carried out in German. This is very good practice as it ensures a rich linguistic environment for the students. It was noted that in one classroom common phrases that are likely to be used in the course of a lesson were on display on the wall. This provides a very useful visual aid for the learners and is laudable. In order to enhance the use of the target language students were given opportunities to interact with one another. This is effective practice as it maximises student talk time and enhances their communicative competence. In interaction with the inspector students showed evidence of good comprehension of the spoken word and in general were able to respond in German.
Project work is used very well in the teaching and learning of German. For example, a senior cycle class planned a trip to Berlin. These students purchased their airline tickets on line, booked accommodation and researched activities to undertake while in Germany. After the trip the students made impressive posters which were on display in the classroom. In junior cycle students are allocated time to make their own language learning materials. These are then kept in folders in the classroom and used in the lessons. In the course of the evaluation these materials were viewed. For example, students had made a picture and vocabulary matching game. All the cards were beautifully laminated and made to a very high standard. These different projects reveal a commitment to active language teaching methodologies and are examples of excellent practice.
The classroom atmosphere in the lessons observed was very good. Students engaged readily with tasks and were motivated and enthusiastic. It was clear that students felt secure in the learning environment and were comfortable asking questions. Classroom interactions were characterised by mutual respect and students were always addressed by name. Creating a positive learning environment is to be commended and enhances the learning process.
A variety of methods of assessmemt is in use to record and monitor the progress of students in German. Homework is assigned in all lessons. This is always linked directly to classwork. There is a homework policy in place and if students do not complete homework a note is written in their journal. Formal assessment takes place at Christmas and in the summer term. Parents receive written reports about the learners’ progress following these examinations. There is also a parent teacher meeting for each year group. Formal assessment comprises written aural and oral tests. This is very good practice as it ensures that progress in all skills of language acquisition is monitored.
In the course of the evaluation students’ copybooks were inspected. In general these were very well corrected and students were given valuable feedback. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes. In this context it is also recommended that a plan be put in place to develop the skill of writing among the students. This would involve students completing written tasks on a regular basis and this work being corrected. Students should be encouraged to follow up on these mistakes to ensure that learning takes place. It was also noted in some copybooks that students receive motivational stickers in German for good work. This is very effective as students respond well to praise and encouragement.
It was noted that in junior cycle a most successful self-assessment project is taking place. Students are given various themes for example ‘ICT and German’. When the learners have completed an activity relevant to the themes they write their name on a poster on the wall. Some examples of such activities were students creating their own word searches in German or making a small poster related to a German politician. Such forms of self assessment are excellent and could be extended to all classes.
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 and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.