An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Sandford Park School,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60640C
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sandford Park School, Dublin, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the provision for modern languages, with particular emphasis on the 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 their teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with school management and the teacher of German. The inspector reviewed school and subject planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teacher.
Modern languages form a central strand of the school curriculum and school management is to be commended for its support for languages. Students learn both French and Spanish in first year. At the beginning of second year, all students continue with the learning of French as part of their core curriculum and Spanish is offered within the option blocks in second year. In this way, students can opt to pursue the study of one or two modern languages, if they so wish, and about fifty percent of students choose to continue with two modern languages. This is a commendable achievement of the EU Council of Ministers objective of “mother tongue plus two”. School management, through this provision, ensures that matriculation language requirements to third level can be met by all students. No student is denied access to the study of a modern language and students with special educational needs are provided with additional specialist learning support in their chosen language. This is commendable.
Since 2004 German has not been included in the option blocks offered to first-year students on entry to the school. A decision to phase out German was taken in that year and to introduce Spanish in its place. However, students who had previously committed to German are facilitated in continuing to study it through to the leaving Certificate. In the current school year, there is just one small TY class group studying German, the final year group to have been offered German on entry to the school. There are no students studying German in fifth and sixth year. A range of difficulties had impacted on the uptake in German and had created uncertainty relating to the sustainability of German. These included: changes in personnel due to retirement and illness; the ensuing uncertainty and instability created with the difficulties in teacher recruitment and the provision of Spanish in feeder primary schools. The small number of hours available in German has militated against the retention of a German teacher from year to year and this in turn has militated against any increase in uptake.
Spanish has emerged as the main second foreign language in the school, with German being gradually phased out as Spanish progresses from junior to senior cycle. While the numbers studying German have decreased considerably, there is still some demand from parents for German and school management is exploring ways of maintaining the language as an option on the curriculum into the future. The present TY students should be encouraged to continue with their study of German onto Leaving Certificate and should be supported in achieving this objective throughout their TY. There are six students in TY continuing with German from junior cycle.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning in TY German is satisfactory and the distribution of the lesson periods across the week is optimal, as it allows for regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress particularly in the mixed-ability setting which pertains. Regular trips to Germany over the years have been a feature of the provision for German and, in recent years, there has also been a cross-curricular focus to the educational trips to Germany: one trip to Berlin had a History and Art focus, while another to the Rheinland had a focus on Geography and German language.
School management is to be commended for the diversity of its language provision. Sandford Park has been involved in the post-primary languages initiative put in place to promote the diversification of language provision. Japanese and Russian are offered in TY and students can continue with Japanese on to Leaving Certificate. Latin is also offered as an additional language for interested students. The school is forward-looking in currently examining the possibilities of the introduction of Chinese into the curriculum. The impetus for such diversity lies in the international nature of the school’s student cohort, as well as school management’s unquestionable commitment to respect for cultural diversity, as articulated in the school’s mission statement and educational philosophy.
There are also a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities provided by the school to enrich and augment student learning and experiences in all languages. A cross-curricular languages day has been organised in recent years, where the school has sought to expand student experience of language learning across the curriculum. This is excellent practice and is to be commended. Form teachers were encouraged to start the day by taking the register in a foreign language. Many teachers devoted all or part of their class to a language-related topic on the day. For example, fifth-year History students learnt about France between the wars, English students learnt about loan words from various languages in English, Music students learnt about the use of foreign language terminology in Music and its effect on the reading of Music. The library put on a display of books and magazines in foreign languages and student project work was displayed around the school. A special languages assembly was held with performances in four languages: a Spanish, French and Japanese song, a Russian poem and a speech in French by the principal. Language teachers co-operated with the canteen staff to devise a menu representative of the main languages taught in the school. School management is to be commended for facilitating the organisation of such activities and the staff is commended for its commitment to the organisation of these activities.
The creation of an authentic, attractive and stimulating language learning environment in the decoration and equipping of the language classrooms also contributes to student enjoyment in the learning of the language. School management is commended for the provision of language base classrooms which enable the teachers to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic and stimulating multi-media resources. There is a French room, a German and Spanish room and a French and History room. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) laboratory room is available on a booking basis and classrooms contain data projectors and interactive whiteboards. There are also ICT facilities for students in the laboratory and in the library. Each student has a password for access to computers to facilitate independent learning. The fact that members of the special needs department have specialist expertise in modern languages contributes a unique dimension to the language provision in the school, whereby materials and activities are specifically designed to support students in their learning of a modern language. This is highly commended.
The school has participated in the Language Assistant scheme over the years and this has worked well in both French and German for the school. Both school management and language teachers alike acknowledge the positive impact of the native speaker and the representative of the target language community in the school and classroom. Participation in such schemes also provides language teachers with the necessary support for maintaining and developing their own language skills and competence.
The board of management supports and promotes the attendance of language teachers at available in-service which is commendable. Teachers are encouraged to attend courses in Education Centres, seminars offered by subject associations and summer courses abroad. The school facilitates attendance at such seminars and funds the contributions to subject associations and travel to conferences. The school has an induction programme in place for new teachers.
The school has been involved in School Development Planning (SDP) and has progressed in subject planning. A coordinator for modern languages is in place and this has helped to ensure a collaborative approach to modern language provision, including acquisition and deployment of resources, common approaches to assessment and the integration of ICT. The teachers of modern languages meet as a languages group at the beginning of each term, and there is a meeting arranged for each subject once a week which learning support personnel may also attend. The agenda is set by the modern languages or subject coordinator, minutes are kept and items such as text books, common assessment and resources are discussed.
There is a subject plan for German in TY, and the planning documentation examined at the time of the evaluation has all the required elements of good planning. The mission statement of the school was re-articulated in the planning documentation and the specific aims and objectives for German were seen to be implemented in practice. Planning documentation was detailed, systematic and had an appropriate emphasis on the development of student competence across the skills and the development of both cultural and language awareness, in line with syllabus objectives at senior cycle. The objective of fostering learner autonomy was appropriate and in line with the philosophy of TY, and the fact that students can access computers to pursue their own self-directed learning facilitates further development of this objective. The planning documents include a comprehensive list of resources for German, including DVDs and worksheets.
In the double TY German lesson observed, there was positive student interaction and participation in an atmosphere that was work-oriented and learner-friendly. A thematic approach was used and the teaching of the different language skills was integrated, in line with syllabus objectives and recommended approach. There was some use of the target language as the language of communication and instruction and where this occurred, the use of the target language was competent and natural. The lesson began with an interesting and relevant information sheet on the school system in Germany which was a pre-reading exercise prior to the main topic of the lesson, the German school system. While the key terms relating to the school system were presented in German, the full content of the reading text would have benefited students more in the target language. The use of English by the teacher should be gradually decreased so that the main language of instruction and communication is the target language. Students were competent in understanding sentences and instructions in German and the use of German should be consolidated and firmly embedded in practice. The amount of mother-tongue support should be reduced gradually to decrease the students’ dependency on teacher support through providing translation and assistance in the mother tongue.
The subsequent texts, presented by the teacher in electronic and paper format, were appropriate to the students’ stage of learning and were accompanied by well-designed exercises and tasks for the students. There was excellent integration of ICT throughout the phases of the lesson which motivated and held student interest. A German corner in the room with displays of student work and authentic materials contributed to the creation of an authentic language environment. This could be augmented with a German notice board displaying recent news items, sporting events of interest to the students and up-to-date music and DVD references. The provision of integrated and interlinked exercises and activities to reinforce learning was effective and affirming of student effort. This resulted in a sense of learning and achievement on the part of students. Students demonstrated an understanding and awareness of how the structures of the language worked. Students applied themselves to their work, were participative and should be encouraged to communicate more in German with their teacher and each other. This could be achieved incrementally over time, building on student confidence in their oral competence.
There were some good examples of systematic work on vocabulary acquisition. During the listening activity, students showed good comprehension and accuracy in their answering. Students’ pronunciation was also good. Homework was set and there was clarity of direction to the different phases in the lesson. The teacher is encouraged to share more explicitly the aim of the lesson and to require the students to evaluate whether the objective of the lesson had been achieved. This will help to ensure that each student is challenged to perform to the best of his ability.
Students were competent and confident in interaction with the inspector. When students had to apply their knowledge and understanding, they used the vocabulary and structures correctly in sentences. There was very good affirmation of student effort and excellent rapport between students and teacher and between students.
The use of both formative and summative forms of assessment is commendable. Ongoing assessment of learner performance through classroom activities, monitoring of homework, class tests and formal school examinations facilitates the improvement of student performance and informs decisions in relation to learning. The modes of assessment cater for the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Project work with a cross-curricular focus forms part of the TY programme for German and TY students have produced projects relating to music, sport and the arts in Germany. These projects were effectively designed for visual and oral presentation. This is commendable. Good homework habits are encouraged.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is to be commended for the diversity of language provision and for maintaining languages as a central strand of the school curriculum.
· There are a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities provided by the school to enrich and augment student learning and experiences in languages.
· School management is commended for the provision of language base classrooms which enable the teachers to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic and stimulating multi-media resources.
· Students are provided with additional specialist learning support in their chosen language which adds a unique dimension to the language provision in the school.
· There is a subject plan for German in TY and the planning documentation examined at the time of the evaluation has all the required elements of good planning.
· A thematic approach was used and the teaching of the different language skills was integrated, in line with syllabus objectives and recommended approach.
· There was some use of the target language as the language of communication and instruction and where this occurred, the use of the target language was competent and natural.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The use of English should be gradually decreased so that the main language of instruction and communication is the target language of German.
· Students should be encouraged to communicate more in German with their teacher and each other.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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 September 2008