An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Coolmine Community School
Clonsilla, Dublin 15
Roll number: 91315O
Date of inspection: 25 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coolmine Community School. 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 two days 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 relevant staff. 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.
A wide range of foreign languages is on offer in Coolmine Community School. French, German and Spanish are offered in all years and in all curricular programmes. In the Transition Year (TY) programme, Japanese and Russian are also offered. School management is to be highly commended for providing this range of foreign languages.
Incoming first-year students are assessed prior to entry into the school. Based on these assessments students are banded into two large groups: the A and B bands. First-year students are provided with the opportunity to study two languages from a possible three: French, German and Spanish. These students are assigned two languages based on the availability of teaching personnel in the school. Ideally students should have open access to the three languages. As part of the overall taster programme, first-year students study two modern languages for the full academic year. At the end of first year, students make subject choices for second year. The students predominantly choose at this point to continue studying only one modern language. It is commendable that there is a taster programme. However, it is recommended that its length be reviewed. The rationale for this is two fold. Firstly students generally have made up their mind regarding subject choice within a shorter time frame than a year. Secondly the allocation of two lesson periods in German for the entire year in first year is relatively small and could be increased if the taster programme were shorter.
The numbers of students taking German in the school has declined in the recent past. It was reported that since the introduction of a third modern language in the curriculum that fewer students are taking German. A number of first-year students who have significant difficulties in languages do not continue their studies of modern languages after the first mid-term. It was reported that the number of students not studying any modern language in junior cycle is very small.
All class groups taking German are mixed ability within the aforementioned A and B bands. The mixed-ability nature of class groups also extends to senior cycle. This essentially means that no higher-level and ordinary-level classes are provided for students of German at Leaving Certificate level. It is recommended that this be reviewed. The very wide range of ability of the students within the one class grouping in senior cycle may militate against student attainment.
There are issues regarding the timetabling of German throughout the school that are not in line with best practice for language teaching. From second year on, all class groups have double periods due to the fact that German is timetabled concurrently with practical subjects, necessitating such time allocation. While it is laudable that management’s priority is to offer as wide a range of subjects as possible and to accommodate as many students’ choices as possible, single periods provide students with more regular contact with the language and therefore are preferable. It is acknowledged that the pupil-teacher ratio in the majority of the German classes, in particular in senior cycle, is favourable and this is praiseworthy.
The distribution of the double class periods in some classes is a cause for concern. One second-year class has a double lesson on a Thursday and a Friday and no classes in German on any other day. A third-year group has a double period during the last two periods on Friday and first two periods on Monday morning only. This makes frequent assignment of homework difficult and raises issues around continuity of learning. This aspect of timetabling needs to be reviewed urgently.
Teachers are classroom based. All classrooms where German is taught contained print-rich environments. A lot of student work was on display. This is good practice as it encourages the students to take ownership of their learning environment. The school has a large bank of resources to support the teaching and learning of German. Teachers have a vast array of handouts and materials to use depending on what themes form the basis for lesson content. There are also DVDs, novels, tapes, and CDs available. Some resources are located in a common storage area and some in individual teachers’ classrooms. It is recommended that a comprehensive list of resources be compiled and added to the planning documentation for German. There is no official budget for the German department. However, school management supports the acquisition of materials when required. This is laudable. It was reported that one of the CD players in use was not fully functional. It is recommended that this be replaced as soon as funding permits. Some further useful resources may also be downloaded from http://www.cilt.co.uk/.
In the past, the German department organised co-curricular activities such as trips to see German films or participation in debating competitions. This is commendable. In the current year, there have been no extra-curricular or co-curricular activities associated with German. It is suggested that some activities, which would not be resource intensive but would serve to raise the profile of the language in the school, be considered. Such activities could include organising quizzes or language poster competitions. It would be useful to delegate responsibility for such activities to the students themselves.
The school is engaged in school development planning and a school development planning co-ordinator is in place. There are good structures in place to promote the planning process. Management are to be commended for this. Subject department meetings are held about six times a year. Minutes of the meetings held by the German department are kept and key decisions are recorded. This is effective practice. There is very good collaboration between members of the German department on a formal and informal basis. This is commendable.
A subject plan for German was presented in the course of the evaluation. This plan refers to syllabus aims and objectives and outlines the themes to be covered in all years. It is recommended that the plan be developed further to include intended learner outcomes, the development of the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing and the methodologies in use. As previously mentioned, all German classes are mixed ability and contain a broad spectrum of ability. It is recommended that planning for mixed ability be made a priority when reviewing the subject plan. There is a particular need to plan for differentiated student learning outcomes and differentiated assessment to accommodate the needs of all learners taking German.
It is whole-school policy to review students’ results in the Leaving Certificate examinations and compare these results with the national averages. The school management and the German department are to be highly commended for engaging in this informative and reflective practice. When serious issues regarding uptake and attainment of students in these examinations emerge, it is strongly recommended that these issues inform all aspects of subject department planning.
Teacher use of the target language was very good. In some lessons instructions issued in German were automatically translated into English. This is less effective practice as students will not make an effort to understand the target language. It is recommended that instructional language which is used every day in the classroom not be translated into English. This will serve to enhance student comprehension.
In some lessons student use of the target language was promoted through group and pair work. These are very effective strategies to maximise student use of German and are to be commended. However students need more opportunity to develop the oral skill in the course of lessons. The balance between teacher and student talk should be considered when planning lessons and more opportunities for the learners to interact with one another should be provided. It is recommended that lessons begin with a short amount of general conversation about familiar daily routines or activities. Beginning lessons with general conversation every day allows for repetition and increases students’ self confidence. It is a proven strategy to enhance student use of the target language.
Errors in students’ pronunciation were corrected with sensitivity in some lessons and this is good practice. In a minority of lessons, students’ errors in pronunciation, grammar and expression were not addressed and students received no developmental feedback. It is recommended that a few common errors be compiled by the teacher and explained in the global setting. Students should then be given the opportunity to repeat the correct version. This practice would lead to effective learning outcomes for the students.
The skill of listening was formally developed in a minority of lessons. Students were asked to listen to an extract and answer comprehension questions. The answers were then corrected. It is recommended that post-listening exercises be incorporated into the development of the skill of listening. It is recommended that the listening comprehension be played again in the post-listening phase and after correction has taken place. This will allow learners to hear the words or expressions which they missed or got wrong. This practice will ensure that students learn from the activity. The development of the skill of listening should be more frequent, especially in junior cycle lessons. The listening comprehension component of the Junior Certificate examination accounts for 44% of the examination. This percentage or more should be reflected in lesson time throughout junior cycle. Bearing in mind that, for practical purposes, it is a skill which is quite difficult for students to receive and do homework in, it is essential that more lesson time than was seen in the course of the inspection be devoted to the development of this crucial skill.
Lesson content was well supported by the use of supplementary materials. The German department is to be commended for the development of materials and for not relying overly on textbooks. In one instance, a handout designed for students contained spelling errors (umlauts were missing from certain words). It is recommended that due care be taken when preparing handouts to ensure correct spelling. Given the very good linguistic competence of the German department, this should not pose a problem.
The subject matter in all lessons was good and appropriate to the needs of the learners. Themes covered included food, friendship, school and family. In one lesson students studied themes related to a German film which the students had seen. This is most praiseworthy. Student engagement in all lessons was very good.
The classroom atmosphere in the lessons observed was very good. Student-teacher rapport was very laudable and the nature of interactions was at all times very positive. In some lessons students were praised highly. This is very good practice and has a motivating influence on the learners. Discipline in all lessons was excellent. Staff and students alike are to be commended for the very positive learning environment that was evident in the course of the evaluation.
Formal assessment takes place three times a year for classes which are not taking the certificate examinations. Reports are sent to parents in November, January and in the summer. There is common assessment in junior cycle for students of German. This is good practice. The skills of reading, writing and listening are assessed formally in junior cycle. It is recommended that students’ oral skills also be formally assessed. This could take the form of a small number of questions to students in the course of a lesson. Given the favourable pupil teacher ratio in the majority of German classes, this should be quite manageable. Students taking the Junior Certificate do not sit mock examinations. These students have formal assessments at Christmas. As there is a long time between Christmas and the certificate examinations in June, it is recommended that this be reviewed. Excellent individual teacher records of assessment are maintained.
In senior cycle, there is no common assessment policy for students of German in fifth year. As both fifth-year classes are mixed ability, this should be reviewed. At the time of the inspection, Leaving Certificate students had just completed written mock examinations. While it was proposed to hold mock oral examinations, no formal arrangements had yet been made. In the Leaving Certificate examination, the oral assessment accounts for twenty-five per cent of the total marks at higher level. This is a significant percentage of the marks. It is important therefore that students receive formal oral assessments prior to the certificate examinations, in order to ensure that any weaknesses or areas for development of the oral skill are ascertained. In view of the expertise within the German department regarding oral assessment in the certificate examinations, the developmental feedback students would receive would be very beneficial.
Homework was both assigned and requested in the majority of lessons, but not in all. A sample of students’ journals was viewed and homework is not always recorded by students. Students should be encouraged to record homework. It is recommended that homework be assigned in all German lessons. A sample of copybooks was inspected in the course of the evaluation. There was evidence that these are monitored and corrected. In some cases students had completed a lot of written work. Best practice was seen where students were given written developmental feedback which indicated areas for improvement. It is recommended that students be required by their teachers to follow up on errors made. This will ensure good learning outcomes for the students. The principles of assessment for learning (AfL) should be adopted by the German department. Further information on AfL can be obtained at the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at http://www.ncca.ie/.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management provides for a wide range of foreign languages.
· The pupil-teacher ratio in the majority of the German classes, in particular in senior cycle, is favourable.
· The school has a large bank of resources to support the teaching and learning of German.
· Subject department meetings are held regularly and minutes of the meetings are recorded. There is very good collaboration between members of the German department on a formal and informal basis.
· The classroom atmosphere in the lessons observed was very good. In some lessons students were praised highly. Discipline in all lessons was excellent.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The length of taster programme in first year and the provision of mixed-ability classes in senior cycle should be reviewed.
· It is recommended that the allocation of double periods and the distribution of these, in the timetabling for German, be reviewed.
· It is recommended that the subject department plan for German be developed to include student learning outcomes and information on teaching methodologies in use. The plan should be informed
by the mixed-ability nature of the classes and the need for differentiation in all aspects of teaching and learning.
· More time should be allocated to the formal development of the skill of listening, in junior cycle, and activities in the post-listening phase should be developed to consolidate learning.
· Formal oral assessment should be introduced in junior cycle. The principles of AfL should be adopted by the German department to ensure good learning outcomes for students.
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, June 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Japanese is also offered as a Leaving Certificate Subject. Pupils attend classes in the school outside normal timetabled hours. Japanese is studied as an extra subject.
All faulty equipment is replaced as soon as a request is made. CD player has been replaced.
‘Mock’ orals for Leaving Certificate pupils did take place subsequent to the inspection. It had been indicated to the Inspector that a trainee teacher from Germany would be conducting these orals.
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 length of the taster programme is under review. A sub-committee was set up by the Board of Management on 12 November 2008 to consider our Exploratory Year. Work is ongoing.
Provision of streamed classes at Senior Cycle would be a major change for the school. The Board of Management was very surprised with this recommendation. All our option classes at Senior Cycle are mixed ability. Some popular options are being banded in the coming year to allow for Team Teaching at Senior Cycle. However, there is only one German class in next year’s Fifth Year due to change in pupil/teacher ratio. This will be a mixed ability class.
Allocation of two double periods for option subjects in Second Year has been reviewed. Where the majority of Option Subjects timetabled at a particular time are practical subjects, woodwork, metalwork, art, home economics for example, double periods are very beneficial and will continue. However, for non-practical subjects [including all languages] we have allocated one double and two single periods. We will evaluate this change at the end of next year.
The German department have taken recommendations regarding learning outcomes, differentiated teaching, and more oral work on board.
We are reorganising the timing and content of our Third Year assessments in the coming year. Our formal assessment will take place in February 2010 when a more relevant examination can be set for the Third Year pupils in all subjects. The recommendation of the German Inspector informed Staff discussion when our current arrangements were reviewed.