An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Castlecomer Road, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 61570M
Date of inspection: 12 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN GERMAN
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilkenny 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 acting principal, the acting deputy-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.
At the time of the evaluation, Kilkenny College had a total enrolment of 812 students, with 446 male and 366 female students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational programme (LCVP). Day students form one third of the student cohort, while boarders form two thirds of the student cohort. There is an international dimension to the college as a number of students from European and other countries spend a term or longer in the school. It is praiseworthy that languages form a central strand of the school’s curriculum. French is timetabled as a core language for all students in junior cycle and students can avail of the opportunity to pursue the study of a second modern language, German.
All first year students follow a taster programme in German for the year through the provision of one period per week. At the end of first year, if students choose to continue with the study of German, it is as a second modern language. In line with national trends, there are now fewer students studying more than one modern language, particularly to Leaving Certificate level. School management is urged to explore strategies for increasing the uptake of German. If the situation continues, whereby a student can only choose German as a second modern language, these numbers will not increase. It is suggested that senior management consider offering a modern language as part of the core junior cycle curriculum so that students could choose either French or German. This would provide students with a more open choice in relation to their language of preference.
Currently, from the six class groups of first year, approximately twenty students continue with the study of German onto second and third year. At the time of the evaluation, there were twenty students in second year and eighteen students in third year. The numbers at senior cycle were very small with six students in TY, three students in fifth year and four students in sixth year. School management is commended for its commitment to the continued presence of German on the curriculum and for creating a class group even in the context of such small numbers. Over time, this may not be sustainable. A review of the way in which modern languages are offered in the school is therefore recommended to enable the continuation of German on the curriculum.
Kilkenny College was the inaugural winner of the Austrian Embassy Essay Competition and the college students have been regular recipients of German scholarships awarded on the basis of the highest Junior Certificate results achieved in German. These, together with the consistently good examination results and the availability of competent and experienced personnel to teach the language, are compelling reasons for the retention of the subject on the school’s curriculum.
The school operates a fortnightly timetable. In the main, the time allocation to German is good. Four periods are allocated per week in second and third year. The allocation in TY is particularly good with seven periods available over the two week period. Both fifth and sixth year have five periods of German per week. Periods are of thirty-five to forty minutes duration. The allocation of periods comprises single and double periods, as German forms part of an option band with practical subjects which require double periods. In effect, this restricts contact with the language, in some cases, to two occasions during the week. The optimum for young language learners is regular contact with the target language at frequent intervals throughout the week. The placing of German as one of two core languages would alleviate this difficulty.
There are four qualified teachers of German and teachers are assigned to classes to ensure continuity from year to year and from junior into senior cycle. Teachers have engaged with available professional development through attendance at German Teachers’ Association seminars and courses run by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), on areas such as methodologies in language teaching and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the German language classroom. The benefit of regular attendance by the German teachers at available in-service was clearly in evidence in the range of authentic materials used and the lessons observed.
The provision of teacher-based classrooms by school management facilitates the creation of an authentic and stimulating German environment. In the German classrooms visited, the walls were attractively decorated with charts, posters and student work. Locating a German notice board in a central area may help to promote the language and associated activities. There is access to DVD and CD players and TV in the specialist German rooms. While an up-to-date multi-media room has recently been installed in the school for languages, access to the multimedia room is restricted. A more open and equitable access to the multi-media room should be put in place. The integration of ICT technology at base classroom level is recommended as resources and planning allow. This would facilitate the more ready integration of technology in to the language learning classroom on a daily basis.
The co-curricular provision which enriches the language learning experience of students is very good, with involvement with inter-school debating in German, attendance at screenings of German films suitable for young learners, information on language exchanges and opportunities for the celebration of languages at school assemblies.
A co-ordinator for German has been nominated based on seniority. Opportunities for subject planning are integrated into the school year and minutes of planning meetings are kept. Records of planning meetings include such items for discussion as common schemes of work, common assessments and examinations, textbooks and, on occasions, matters to do with individual students. Planning for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and events also forms part of these planning meetings. There is a subject plan for German and common schemes of work for each year group form part of the plan. Also included in planning documentation are syllabus documents, NCCA publications, examination papers and website and other references.
The planning documents examined had all the elements of good planning. The German plan opens with a statement of the college’s mission statement which aspires to enabling each student to realise their own potential and worth. Students are also encouraged to make a positive contribution to school life. The specific objectives for German include maximising the use of the target language, equipping students with skills, linguistic and pedagogical, skills of communication and also with a critical awareness of how language is organised. Praiseworthy objectives such as the acquisition of effective strategies for language learning and the development of learner autonomy are also included. These objectives are supported through the assessment mechanisms and systematic recording and monitoring of performance and attainment. Effective teaching methodologies, resources including ICT and access to the multi-media room are also included. The work completed to date is highly commended.
The German plan also shows that the German teachers follow a common plan for each year group. The yearly scheme of work is itemised in terms of themes, elaborated with linguistic and grammatical structures as well as resources and assessment strategies. The use of common assessments is of particular importance in the parallel first year groups. The content of Christmas and summer examinations is also discussed, agreed and recorded. The inclusion of student outcomes in terms of ‘can-do’ statements is particularly praiseworthy. The TY plan is appropriate and in line with the recommended approach to TY. The emphases within the content of the TY plan are on project work, work experience and the world of work and film modules.
To enhance the existing planning documentation and the planning process, it is recommended that a section which would address some overarching language issues be included in the German plan. This section should address issues such as a language policy for the school, procedures for the sharing of methodologies and approaches among teachers, the integration of ICT into teaching and learning, promoting oral competence of students and the uptake of German in the school.
Teaching and learning
The most important resource for the modern language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target-language country and community. This was the case in Kilkenny College and was also reflected in the accuracy of expression, idiom and pronunciation of the students. The use of the target language by the German teachers as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom was, in the main, very good and firmly embedded in practice. In the course of lessons, students heard a lot of German, understood a lot and a German world was effectively created and sustained. It was good to observe teachers deploying different means of supporting students in their understanding and learning, such as through the use of synonyms in broadening the vocabulary base of students, thus avoiding the use of translation. The use of gestures and drawing on the contents of the room, such as maps and charts, were also effective strategies to ensure understanding and to ensure that valuable time is not lost translating vocabulary observed in the course of the evaluation. Displaying a chart of useful phrases for classroom interaction or of prompts for posing questions in German would provide students with immediate visual support to communicate in German for all classroom interactions.
Teachers used an integrated approach in line with syllabus guidelines, incorporated a range of activities into lessons and the integration of skills was effective in reinforcing learning for students. Teachers demonstrated a pedagogical awareness of the way learners learn. For example, a pre-listening exercise had been designed to attune students to the content of the listening text and to allow time for them to recall relevant vocabulary and language. The use of “realia” served as a stimulating introduction to a new theme in another lesson, as did the use of a crossword to reinforce the necessary vocabulary. On another occasion, two sets of differentiated worksheets had been designed to accommodate the mix of ability in the group. The classroom management and management of the ability range were excellent. Questions set were appropriate and accessible to the learners. While students were attending to a particular task, teachers circulated giving useful individual support to students. The time for silent reading was also an effective strategy which allowed students time to absorb the content of the text. Language awareness was integrated with ease, for example, students demonstrated a clear understanding and knowledge of prepositions and their effect on surrounding linguistic items. The approaches adopted by teachers are commended.
Lessons were well structured and careful preparation ensured an appropriate pace to lessons. The work with students was thorough and teachers were skilful in drawing out students in their contributions to lessons. Lesson content was appropriate and teachers used authentic texts which were both interesting, from a content point-of-view, and linguistically accessible. Seeking the students’ own views on a particular theme also served to motivate students. At senior cycle, for example, students articulated very well their own career aspirations in idiomatic and natural German. Students were very accurate and used full sentences in their responses and interventions which is good practice. It is important as students’ progress in the learning of the language, that teachers at all times demand full sentences, not only isolated lexical items, as responses from students. The theme of the TY lesson observed was work experience and this was appropriate to the year group, while a similar theme, that of career direction and guidance, was presented at a more adult level for the leaving certificate group. Teachers used the formal form in addressing the students which is appropriate for this age group. Good preparation for state examinations was also observed.
Lesson objectives were shared orally with students and in some lessons, recorded on the board This provides clarity of direction and also promotes learner autonomy, an objective articulated in planning documentation. To build on the good practice observed, it is recommended that students themselves should be required to check the attainment of those objectives, particularly at senior cycle.
There was excellent rapport between students and teachers and a pleasant and friendly classroom atmosphere prevailed. There was a good work ethic and students applied themselves with diligence to tasks assigned, to recording new vocabulary and to volunteering answers. The independent use of dictionaries was also observed. There was sensitive correction of student errors. However, students need to engage more actively in using the language themselves. Creating occasions on a daily basis where students are required to generate spontaneous and communicative language is recommended to build students confidence in their own use of the target language. Assigning a paper free day whereby students would have no recourse to the written word would stimulate discussion and interaction in German.
It is good that a range of assessment modes is employed by the teachers in their ongoing formative assessment procedures. Continuous assessment through classroom activities and homework and practical and oral tests form part of the assessment procedures. There is no formal school homework policy, therefore subject teachers are responsible for monitoring of homework assignment. Examination of student copybooks indicates regular correction of home work with teacher annotation. Students have formal examinations at Christmas and summer. Oral assessment forms part of all formal examinations which is a very good preparation for Leaving Certificate. Communication with parents and reporting on students’ progress and learning is regular and systematic. Information evenings and parent-teacher meetings are held.
The uptake of German in the state examinations is almost exclusively at higher level for both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. Student attainment in German in the state examinations at both levels is consistently high.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The provision of teacher-based classrooms by school management facilitates the creation of an authentic and stimulating German environment.
· The German planning documents examined had all the elements of good planning and the work completed to date is highly commended.
· The use of the target language by the German teachers as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom was, in the main, very good and an authentic
German world was effectively created and sustained.
· Teachers demonstrated a commendable awareness of the way learners learn, incorporating a range of activities into lessons which were effective in encouraging student participation and
in reinforcing learning for students.
· Lesson content was appropriate and teachers used authentic texts which were both interesting from a content point-of-view and linguistically accessible.
· Student attainment in German in the state examinations at both higher and ordinary level is consistently high.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is suggested that senior management consider offering a modern language as part of the core junior cycle curriculum so that students choose either French or German. This would
provide students with a more open choice in relation to their language of preference.
· It is recommended that a more open and equitable access to the recently installed multi-media room for modern languages should be put in place.
· To build on the practice observed, it is recommended that teachers should further promote learner autonomy, an objective articulated in planning documentation.
· Creating occasions on a daily basis where students are required to generate spontaneous and communicative language is recommended to build students’ confidence in their own
use of the target language.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German and with the acting principal and the acting deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published April 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomed the report and is working through the recommendations.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Form 1 students now have 4 periods of German per fortnight as part of a taster programme. This is an improvement although still not equal with French. An open choice between French and German as the language of first and second preference can be investigated as the teaching staff has facility in both languages.
The up-to-date multi-media room is accessible for German classes this year.
The school has provided a laptop for use in the main German classroom.