An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
St. Mac Dara’s Community College
Templeogue, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 70260V
Date of inspection: 11 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mac Dara’s Community College 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and the 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.
German is one of five modern languages taught in St. Mac Dara’s Community College and, this academic year, features in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes. In circumstances where there are sufficient numbers of Transition Year (TY) students who have studied German to the Junior Certificate, a TY German class is, generally, formed. This is laudable practice as it provides students with continuity in the language.
Commendably, the study of a modern language is mandatory to Junior Certificate. School management is praised for its support for languages in the curriculum. At Junior Certificate, German remains a popular optional subject despite students having to choose their modern language prior to entry without access to a taster programme. It is suggested that school management, in conjunction with the modern language department should consider the feasibility of introducing a taster programme in order to enable students make a more informed decision regarding their modern language choice. Given the number of languages on offer in the school, it is also recommended that management explore ways of optimising the uptake of modern languages at senior cycle.
Students with additional educational needs also have access to a modern language. This is praiseworthy.
In line with exemplary practice, all first-year and third-year German students are allocated single periods for the teaching and learning of the language and all classes are mixed ability in nature. However, examination of the timetable has shown that sixth-year students receive tuition in the form of three double periods. This is far from ideal practice. It is desirable that students engage with German on a daily basis to ensure continuity and effective progress. Therefore, it is recommended that school management address this issue for the coming academic year.
Due to the operation of a ten-period day, with each period being of thirty-five minutes duration, there is a significant shortfall in the allocation of time for German in second, third and fifth years. The time allocated does not follow best practice recommended for the teaching of the syllabus content. The timetable should be reviewed and appropriate time allocated for the teaching and learning of German for these year groups.
There are two teachers of German in St. Mac Dara’s Community College, both of whom are graduates in the subject. It is commendable that the school pays membership of teacher association fees. Teachers of German are encouraged to avail of the school’s support for continued professional development and to renew their membership of the German teachers’ association, Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI) in the coming academic year. Maintaining contact with professional bodies in order to develop and enhance the teaching and learning of German is to be encouraged. It is also recommended that the school apply for a foreign language assistant under the Department of Education and Science scheme.
Commendably, St. Mac Dara’s Community College provides access to students to travel abroad to Germany on a regular basis. A range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is also provided by the German department to support the teaching and learning of the language. For example, students have had opportunities to see German films; the German department organises a traditional German breakfast for students; and exchanges with German families are strongly encouraged. In addition, the modern languages department organises a modern language table quiz and modern language postcard competition. Worthy of note, also, is the vibrant celebration of German activities in the school through the display of posters and photographs on walls throughout the school building. These efforts to promote German are recognised and commended as they help to maintain the profile of German throughout the whole school population.
The school is engaged with the whole school planning process and modern foreign language planning has been established. A good structure for planning is in place and it is evident that teachers work collaboratively within the department.
As part of the whole-school planning process the modern language department has developed templates outlining the broad aims for the teaching of languages in the school at both junior and senior cycles, whilst allowing for ‘flexibility’ to cater for the various styles and approaches of teachers. Commendably, its aspiration is to define desired learning outcomes and to focus on language skills’ acquisition.
At senior cycle this template is divided into the following areas: the concept or topic to be learned, the linguistic skills required together with the specific language tasks requiring completion and the vocabulary and structures that are to be learned. A simplified and abridged version was prepared for the junior cycle.
Whilst this level of detail is praiseworthy, it is recommended that to further consolidate, extend and enhance the planning work done to date the following should be considered: the modern-language department should plan for updating and extending resources, where possible, including planning for the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the teaching and learning of languages; and the primary focus of forward planning should be learner outcomes stated in practical terms in the context of mixed-ability teaching.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed, some to better effect than others. This encompassed teachers’ planning and classroom practice, deployment of available resources and positive student-teacher relationships observed. Lesson content was coherent, appropriate to the students’ interests and ability as observed and was in line with syllabus requirements. Students came prepared for lessons and, for the most part, were demonstrably purposeful in their learning. Some students were quite enthusiastic about the German language and culture. This is commendable. To further focus students on their learning, it is recommended that the desired learning outcomes of each lesson be provided to students at the start of the lesson so that students and teachers can evaluate progress. The lesson’s closure phase should ensure that the outcomes have been achieved.
Commendably, base classrooms are provided for German. Students display their own work and this creates a stimulating learning environment. Resources were effectively employed, in particular the whiteboard to note new vocabulary. It is suggested that the whiteboard be also utilised, whenever possible, to accommodate the learning styles of more visually oriented learners.
A thematic approach to language acquisition as recommended in syllabus guidelines was used to good effect. Language skills were integrated well, in particular listening skills. In one lesson a pre-listening activity was integrated to aid students in their comprehension of the exercise. This is laudable. It is suggested that, where possible, all language skills should be incorporated into all lessons and pre-listening, as well as post-listening exercises should be employed.
The teachers circulated among students in all lessons and in all cases students benefited from this support and attention as individual guidance, assistance and feedback were provided to students where required.
Pair work was evident in some classes visited and was effective when employed. The use of such learner-centred and active methodologies is praiseworthy. Whilst acknowledging and commending the use of active methodologies, lessons were, in the main, teacher-led and in some classes teachers relied heavily on textbooks or workbooks. It is recommended that teachers supplement textbook material with other authentic target language material that is of interest to students. The implementation of student-centred teaching strategies should be developed for all year groups and extended to all lessons, where feasible. It is also recommended that, from first year upwards, further strategies be employed to further develop and embed the use of German as the medium of communication in the classroom.
Given the context of the Leaving Certificate examination orals being in progress, disruption in those classes was kept to a minimum and learning activities were conducted and managed very well. Students were allowed to discuss, in pairs, the experience of their oral examination. This was particularly relevant to their needs and provided them with genuine contexts for communication in German. Commendably, students were also provided with differentiated worksheets. Relevant vocabulary was written on the board and further consolidation exercises took place. This is good practice.
Whilst teachers are aware of the importance of target language usage in the classroom, they must also remain mindful of the fact that the comprehension of target language utterances need not always be checked by translation. Rather, the use of mime, gesture or other synonyms may aid the comprehension of lexical items and in that way automatic translation of vocabulary can be avoided.
In the broader terms of teaching and learning, allowing a number of students to leave the classroom to go to the toilet proved to be a distraction and interrupted learning in the particular class.
A whole-school approach exists to homework and policies and procedures have been developed by the school. Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level and a range of assessment modes is deployed. Formal and informal tests are a regular occurrence and formative and summative assessment is conducted on an on-going basis. Commendably, an aggregate mark for project work is incorporated into TY students’ final assessment mark at the end of the year. This is good practice.
From the sample of copybooks observed, it was evident that most copybooks are monitored on a regular basis and some, particularly at senior cycle, were very thoroughly corrected. The provision of formative feedback to students was evident in a minority of copybooks observed. It is, therefore, recommended that the good practice of providing detailed feedback should be replicated and extended across the department. The laudable practice of applying marking schemes to written exercises was evident in some copybooks, particularly at senior cycle. This is commendable practice and it is recommended that it be extended to all exercises, where feasible. The standard of work observed in copybooks was good. It is suggested that teachers sign and date copybooks when correcting exercises.
The German department is, admirably, aware of Assessment for Learning (AfL) principles and, to date, have made some efforts to incorporate them. Hence, it is recommended that additional AfL principles be adopted in order to further develop assessment procedures. For example, in an effort to further promote learner autonomy, it is recommended that peer assessment could be utilised. Students should also be encouraged to follow up on their corrections. It is also recommended that students be given sufficient opportunities in their homework exercises to apply the language skills acquired during the lesson to less structured situations through the provision of more free writing exercises.
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.
Published October 2008