An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Roll number: 63880O
Date of inspection: 22 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Rís, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 teacher. The inspector reviewed school 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 relevant staff.
Coláiste Rís is a co-educational post-primary school with an enrolment of 494 students. The school offers the following curricular programmes: the Junior Certificate (JC), the Transition Year (TY) programme and the established Leaving Certificate (LC). German is offered in each of these programmes.
First-year students are offered a broad range of optional subjects. Choices regarding these subjects are made prior to entry to the school. Every effort is made to accommodate students’ choices. It is recommended that the school considers the introduction of a ‘taster’ programme in first year to ensure that students make a fully informed choice regarding subject options.
German and French are the modern languages on offer in Coláiste Rís. The study of a modern language is not compulsory in junior cycle. Approximately thirty per cent of students in junior cycle do not study any modern language. This is relatively high. In senior cycle the numbers of students not taking a modern language reaches fifty per cent. This is very high and well above the national average. While it is acknowledged that the management authorities wish to afford students a broad choice of subjects, it is important to ensure that students and parents realise that not opting for a modern language will preclude them from certain higher-level options when they leave school. It is also important that parents and students realise that learning another language is of intrinsic value and helps to enhance an awareness of the culture of fellow Europeans. It is recommended that the uptake of modern languages in the school be reviewed and that teachers of German and French work collaboratively to address the low numbers of students taking the subjects.
A large number of good resources to support the teaching and learning of German are available. These include books, CDs, films, magazines and tapes. There is a computer in the classroom. Students of German have access to the computer room. There is no official budget for allocation of resources. Instead, the subject department submits a request according to the need for resources and the purchase of necessary resources is sanctioned accordingly by the school management.
The school has recently changed to providing subject-based classrooms and this is working very well. German lessons are held in a base classroom. At the time of the evaluation, the classroom was well-decorated with maps and posters. There was a display of student work. Creating a colourful and appropriate learning environment such as this is to be commended.
The German department holds membership of the Gesellschaft Deutschlehrer Irlands (German Teachers’ Association). The teacher attends courses provided by the association and more recently has attended summer courses on teaching methodology organised by the Goethe Institute. Such commitment to professional development is most praiseworthy.
The time allocation for German is good. Classes in the junior cycle receive four class periods per week. In TY the allocation is three class periods a week. In fifth year there is a very generous allocation of six lessons per week and the sixth-year class have five classes weekly. The first-year German lessons are all timetabled as last or second last class in the day. It would be preferable if possible to have some morning classes assigned to first-year German students in future. It was noted that all years (with the exception of TY) have double lessons of German. This is essentially because German is tied in an option band with practical subjects which necessitate double periods. Single periods are more conducive to language learning and are best practice. While it is acknowledged that there are constraints on the timetable it is recommended that every effort be made to allocate more single class periods to German.
Subject department planning is established in the school. The teachers of German and French work together as a modern languages department. This is good practice. Formal departmental planning meetings take place twice a year. Informal meetings take place twice or three times a year. Agendas for these meetings are usually set by the school management. At present minutes of these meetings are not kept. It is recommended that formal minutes of decisions taken be recorded and kept for future reference in line with best practice.
The plans for German in TY included many references to cross-curricular activities. This is good practice and in line with the spirit of TY. It is recommended that the plans for German in TY be developed further using the section two of the document provided by the Transition Year Support Service (TYSS), Writing the Transition Year Programme, which relates to writing plans for individual subjects or modules in the programme.
The yearly plans for the teaching of German in junior and senior cycle were presented in the course of the evaluation. These were theme based which is good practice. It is recommended that the plans be developed to include specific learning outcomes. The learning outcomes, that is, what the learner should know at the end of a unit of learning, need to be specified in terms of the skills of language acquisition (reading, writing, speaking and listening). The plans should state what the learner will be able to understand (listen and read) and produce (orally and in writing) in relation to each theme studied. The yearly plans for German should be further developed to include information on teaching methodologies appropriate to the communicative method of teaching languages.
Lesson content was theme based and in line with
syllabus guidelines. Themes such as sport and talking about where one lives
formed the content of the lessons observed. It was noted that all themes are
studied on the basis of comparing and contrasting life in
Teacher use of the target language was very good in the lessons observed. Most students readily understood classroom instructions. At the beginning of lessons students were asked for the day and date in the target language. Establishing rituals such as this is good practice. It is recommended that this activity at the beginning of lessons be extended so that students can build on their use of the target language. Beginning with the familiar and gradually increasing the amount students say will enhance their use of the target language enormously. Students will grow in confidence if given more opportunities to use German. It is also recommended that more opportunities for student–student interaction be provided in the course of lessons.
In some lessons the skills of language acquisition were integrated to good effect. In junior cycle students were required to read a text, listen to questions asked in German related to the text and then reply in the target language using the vocabulary and structures they had just read. Integrating the skills of language acquisition is in line with best practice and to be commended.
The skill of listening was developed in all lessons through teacher use of the target language. This skill was also developed through the use of tapes/CDs. In a lesson observed an extract by a native speaker was played for the students. It was evident that the learners had a lot of difficulty in comprehending the extract. In order to circumvent such difficulties it is recommended that pre-listening activities such as brain storming and predictive work be carried out in advance.
In some lessons observed the pace was a little slow and insufficient new material was covered. It is recommended that, in planning for individual lessons, cognisance be taken of specific learning outcomes and that a certain amount of new material be presented in all lessons.
Handouts were used in all lessons. These were clear and legible. It was noted that in some lessons the content of the handouts related to sporting events that occurred in previous years and therefore was out of date. It is recommended that when preparing handouts up-to-date materials should be used. This will render the learning process more meaningful to the students.
Different methodologies were used in the lessons observed. In senior cycle students worked in groups. This was effective. In junior cycle students were asked to work in pairs to identify the names of different countries in German. Pair work is a very effective methodology in a language classroom. However some students chose to work alone. A useful way of enhancing this activity is to distribute one activity sheet per group of two students. This ensures that the learners work together. In a lesson observed students were encouraged to use dictionaries to look up vocabulary. It was clear students were accustomed to using dictionaries. This emphasis on autonomous learning is very good practice.
Teacher circulation was used very effectively to help individual students complete tasks that were assigned to them in the course of lessons. This allowed for a differentiated approach to students’ needs and is exemplary practice.
The classroom atmosphere was very good in all lessons. Students were encouraged and affirmed appropriately. The nature of student–teacher interactions was very positive. Teacher–student rapport was clearly good. This is highly commendable.
Formal assessment occurs four times per year. Students are assessed at each of the two mid-terms, at Christmas and in the summer. In German junior-cycle students are assessed in the skills of reading, writing and listening. It is recommended that these students also be assessed orally. Such an assessment could be very short and done in class time. It is important to conduct oral assessment at this level as it raises the profile of this important skill. In senior cycle students are assessed in all skills. This is very effective practice. Very good records of student assessments are kept. This is most praiseworthy.
At the start of most lessons observed the students’ copybooks were monitored to see whether the homework tasks assigned from the previous lessons had been completed. This is good practice. However, the relevant homework was not always referred to, or corrected, at the level of the whole class. It is recommended that homework from the previous lesson be dealt with at the start of lessons as it provides a useful link between lessons.
A sample of copybooks, containing both homework and classwork, was inspected in the course of the evaluation. It was clear that students need help with the organisation of their work. It is recommended that a separate copybook be kept for vocabulary and grammar. Such a dedicated copybook will provide a useful source of reference for students and therefore enhance the learning process.
Students’ extended written assignments are thoroughly corrected by their teacher. It was reported by the German department that common errors are addressed with the class once the students’ work has been returned. This is to be commended. The present method of correcting involves the correct form of words or grammar being inserted into students’ exercises. It is recommended that when correcting students’ work certain errors be merely underlined. Students should be required to think about why something is wrong and given the opportunity to come up with the correct version. This is particularly true of recurring errors. In addition learners should be required to follow up on mistakes. It is recommended that the approach of assessment for learning (AfL) be adopted. A clear distinction between summative and formative assessment needs to be made to ensure the consolidation of learning. Very useful information on AfL can be found at the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There are good resources to support the teaching and learning of German. The provision of a base classroom for the subject is good. This room is well decorated and provides an appropriate learning environment for students.
· Subject department planning has been established. The modern language department holds regular planning meetings.
· Cultural awareness was well integrated in lessons observed. This is good practice and in line with syllabus requirements.
· The classroom atmosphere was good in all lessons observed. Students were affirmed and the nature of student-teacher interactions was positive.
· Very good records of summative assessments are kept.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that consideration be given to the introduction of a ‘taster’ programme that includes German in first year.
· The numbers of students taking a modern language are low. It is recommended that the uptake of modern languages in the school be reviewed and that teachers of German and French work collaboratively to address the low numbers of students taking the subject.
· The yearly plans for German should be developed to include specific learner outcomes and information on teaching methodologies appropriate to the communicative method of teaching languages.
· It is recommended that students be given increased opportunities to use the target language in the classroom.
· The pace of some lessons needs to be increased so as to ensure sufficient new material is covered in each lesson.
· The approaches of assessment for learning should be developed. The distinction between formative and summative assessment needs to be made and students should be required to follow up on mistakes.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of German and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.