An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Drumcollogher, County Limerick
Roll number: 71850B
Date of inspection: 26 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Hazelwood 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher.
The new vocational school campus, Hazelwood College, was established in 2002. Hazelwood College offers the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) to 466 second-level students. It also offers Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses to thirty-seven students, with sixty-six adult and continuing education students also using the campus. The school draws students from a very large catchment area. The principal reported that although the former vocational school had resources allocated, based on a disadvantaged status, the new campus has not been designated a disadvantaged school under DEIS.
German is one of two modern languages taught in Hazelwood College and features in all programmes on offer in the school. It was introduced, ab initio, fifteen years ago as part of the old Senior Certificate and has been on the curriculum since. Initially, German featured solely on the LCA curriculum, but, with its success and popularity and with the extension of the school’s facilities, German was made available across the curriculum. This initial confinement of German to LCA has, perhaps, led to a perception that German is an ‘easy’ subject and the cohort of students who choose German has a very wide range of ability. During the evaluation, senior management articulated that they are also considering the introduction of Spanish as a subject option in the near future. It is commendable that management would like to offer the widest possible choice of modern languages to students. However, before introducing further modern languages, it is recommended that management, in conjunction with the modern language teachers, formulate a language policy outlining the position of languages within the school’s curriculum. This policy document should also have as its focus the status of modern languages in the school, in particular German. It should have a specific emphasis on the delivery of German in the school, the equality of access to the subject through subject choice and in the provision of the subject. The particular demands of mixed-ability teaching should be addressed in this document also and the levels of in-school and in-service support to help cope with wide ranges of ability should be outlined.
Prospective second-level students and their parents are reasonably well-informed about the programmes and subjects that the school offers. There is an information evening for in-coming first-year students, generally before Christmas, and students are invited to an ‘open day’ where they can see the campus first-hand. In recent years the guidance counsellor has visited the primary schools in the area. Prior to entry, students are asked to indicate their modern language preference by choosing from a subject options list. All junior-cycle students are required to study at least one modern language. While acknowledging that all efforts are made to provide students with opportunities to study a modern language some difficulties have arisen this year with the timetabling of German. Senior management has acknowledged the necessity to review the subject options procedure for incoming first-year students. It is recommended that senior management review this as soon as possible. The German department should be an active participant in the delivery of information regarding subject choice and care should be taken to ensure that students opting for German are fully aware of the demands of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate courses. These are significantly more demanding than for LCA. As part of this review process, it is also recommended that a ‘Taster Programme’ be re-introduced whereby students can access a variety of subjects, including German.
The time allocated to the teaching of German is in line with syllabus requirements. Classes in junior cycle are allocated four periods per week. Transition year receives two class periods. In senior cycle, students are taught six class periods per week. Examination of the timetable has shown that an effort has been made to spread periods fairly across time slots and days of the week. However, in the current academic year, first-year students have two periods of German on the same day and students in Transition Year receive their tuition once a week in a double period. This is not ideal. Given the importance of regular and sustained encounters with a modern language, it is desirable that students engage with a language at frequent intervals across the week to ensure continuity and effective progress. Therefore, it is recommended that management undertake a review of the timetabling of German to address this issue.
There is one fully qualified German teacher in the school who attends in-service courses and maintains contact with the target language country. The teacher also is a member of Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (German Teachers’ Association). The German department has access to a wide variety of material resources including TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, CD and DVD players and SMART Telecom broadband. There is a designated multi-media room in the school and all German classes have access to computers and on-line facilities. There was very good evidence of the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of German to support the teaching of the subject. It is suggested that sites such as www.cilt.co.uk could prove very successful in helping build a useful bank of on-line resources. While there is no specific budget allocated to German, on request to management, funds are made available for the purchase of resources or teaching aids. It is recommended that the German department utilise this money to purchase some German books and magazines.
The teaching of German is supported by co-curricular and cross-curricular activities in the school. At Christmas, LCA students, as part of their task, held a German food tasting event. A ‘Languages Day’ is being considered by the modern language teachers. Students have had regular opportunities to see German films and junior-cycle students are encouraged to acquire pen-pals. These efforts to actively promote German in a co-curricular and cross-curricular way are recognised and commended. However, it is recommended that this active support of German be extended to raise the profile of the subject as a whole in the school. For example, displays of students’ work could be put on view throughout the school building and students could be encouraged to participate in exchange programmes. This would create a greater awareness of German throughout the whole school population and would serve to further enhance the provision of the subject. It is recommended that the staff takes proactive steps to increase the number of students opting to study German and safeguard the long tradition of the provision of German in the school.
Modern language teachers are facilitated to meet formally approximately twice a year with informal meetings taking place as required. Minutes of formal meetings are retained and this documentation was reviewed during the course of the inspection.
Work on a long-term plan for German is ongoing. In this context, the department has developed a ‘German Subject Plan’ and this plan includes a description of the aims and objectives, planning for students with special educational needs and schemes of work. Targets for progress from year to year were addressed in a general way in planning documentation. The communicative tasks to be achieved were outlined, the theme of cultural awareness was also incorporated, as were the grammatical items required to complete these functions. This is in line with syllabus guidelines and objectives and is to be commended. Included as a stated aim in the plan was the desire to increase target language usage and ‘student speak’ in the classroom. It is recommended to plan for the use of a variety of methodologies such as group work, pair work, and role-play, might encourage a greater oral response from students. Planned pair work and group work can be especially effective for rehearsing short dialogues and for practising question and answer routines. It is a less text-based approach and lends itself readily to the generation of spontaneous oral language. It is also recommended that time should be spent in planning and implementing a policy for using more of the target language in class, from first year upwards.
Classes are in mixed-ability groupings and, in this context, the need to reach a balance between encouragement and challenge in mixed-ability groupings was acknowledged. In lessons observed, there was evidence of short-term planning for differentiation and this is praiseworthy. However, it is recommended that planning for mixed-ability teaching in junior and senior cycle be formalised and reflected in the revised documentation.
All lessons observed were well prepared as evidenced by their structured nature and the preparation of material for use in class. Examples included the preparation of handouts for students and the preparation of a gap-test for a song being played in class. Indeed, there is a large bank of resources available for junior-cycle students.
Inspection activities included the observation of three classes, the monitoring of student work and interaction with students in each class. The three class groups visited in the course of the inspection included two junior and one senior. In all cases, lessons were conducted competently and confidently. The classroom atmosphere, as observed, was conducive to learning. Classroom interactions were characterised by mutual respect and students were purposeful and committed in their work. This is commendable, as it allows for interactions that respect the contribution of each student.
At junior cycle the purpose of the lesson was clear and explicitly stated. This sharing of the learning objectives is laudable as it provided clarity and focus for the lesson. It also provided a good focus for learners, in that it communicated a clear expectation of what the learners would be required to know at the end of the class. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes, so that both teacher and students can assess whether the objectives have been achieved at the end of each lesson.
Some commendable use of the target language was observed in classrooms. At junior cycle, the teacher mimed the meaning of a word in order to avoid direct translation. This is excellent practice and should be extended to all classes. However, classroom instructions and transactional communications were done almost exclusively through English. The tendency to rely on translation to check students’ comprehension should be avoided. Instead, students should be encouraged to ask – in German – for clarification or explanation when they need it. It is possible for the target language to be firmly embedded in the classroom management at every stage of learning and there should only be judicious recourse to English. It is recommended, then, that the use of the target language be consolidated and firmly embedded in practice for students at all stages in their language learning. It is also recommended that, an almost ‘reflex-translation’ of classroom language, and an over-reliance on translation to introduce new vocabulary items be strictly avoided. Instead, an effort should be made to use either exaggerated gestures or alternative, known vocabulary to assist students in their comprehension.
In all classes observed, the lessons were well-structured and the necessary resources were used to good effect. The lesson content was appropriate to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. The lessons were well-prepared and appropriate handouts were distributed to the students. The pace of the lessons was such that the students were kept on-task at all times and the students were evidently engaged with the subject matter. This was commendable. The lesson content was appropriately geared to the needs and interests of students and was in line with syllabus requirements. Best practice was observed at junior cycle, where the differences between city and country life were illustrated through the use of song. A gap-test was distributed to all students and each had to fill in the missing words in the song as the tape was being played. The theme was further exploited, in that, prepared sentences describing either city or country life were stuck, in an ad hoc manner, on the whiteboard. The students then had to organise the sentences under two headings: „Stadtleben” or „Landleben” (city or country life). This is good practice in that it encourages oral production and discrimination and should be extended to all classes.
Information and communications technology (ICT) was used to very good effect at senior cycle. All of the listening comprehensions from the textbook have been downloaded onto the computer terminals for use in class. Using individual headphones attached to each computer, students had the opportunity to listen to a taped interview and complete a comprehension exercise. Each student had control over the pace of the conversation and had the opportunity to replay the tape should the need arise. This good practice is commendable as it gives learners some degree of control over the lesson, in that they are empowered to personalise the content. They are able to bring something of themselves to the task, which is similar to listening in the real world and allows them to take an active part in the listening task.
Listening skills were integrated very well at junior cycle. However, it is recommended that when attempting to assess the extent of understanding that has been achieved one should focus on the process and not the product of listening. In other words, rather than asking who had a question right the question should be who had the question wrong. Wrong answers are more informative than right ones in a diagnostic sense: the main aim of a listening lesson should be to identify listening problems and put them right. This examination of student errors also affords the student an opportunity to engage in independent and autonomous learning as it allows them to actively participate in their own learning process.
Students’ work in German is assessed regularly. Homework is set regularly and monitored, though not always graded. Assessment and grading are more usually carried out in the marking of class tests. These grades and progress records are kept and are used in the annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group, and in the writing of reports. Formal assessments take place for all non-examination class groups at Christmas and at the end of year. Assessment is held at regular intervals in the school year and written reports on students’ progress are sent home in accordance with the school assessment procedure. Furthermore, examination students sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Ongoing assessment is done through class questioning, the setting of homework and end of topic examinations and a range of assessment modes is deployed. This regular deployment of assessment modes is good, however, it is recommended that an oral component of assessment be introduced at both junior and senior cycle. Not only will this serve to raise the profile of oral skills, but it will also give all students the opportunity to build on success, as even weaker students should be able to produce answers to three or four questions geared to their specific level. This would also afford the learners good practice and preparation for the Leaving Certificate examinations and is an excellent strategy to promote confidence.
Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to the topic engaged with during the lesson. There was evidence to indicate that copybooks were monitored regularly and corrections were very thorough. There were some very good examples of formative assessment being provided to students. Such good practice should be extended to all students and include areas of commendation and suggested areas for improvement. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) promotes Assessment for Learning (AfL) on its website (www.ncca.ie) and this could give the German Department useful insights as to how one could proceed with such a model. It is recommended, therefore, that an AfL approach is adopted to help students identify shortcomings and develop strengths. This AfL approach should extend to all and students should be given the opportunity to study their own mistakes. This could either take the form of a pre-correction exercise, whereby students would check their work for errors before they hand it up to the teacher for correction, or a post-correction exercise, such as writing out the correct form of a number of mistakes they have made.
Communication with parents is maintained in a number of ways. School reports are issued following formal examinations. Students are required to note their homework in their school diary, but this can also be used for communication between teachers and parents. For example, it can include notes from parents outlining reasons for absences or permission to leave the school during the school day. This record book is monitored on a daily basis and parents are also required to sign the student diary each week. Parents receive regular letters providing information about school events. Furthermore parent teacher meetings are convened for all year groupings.
Students are well-prepared for assessments and examinations. The outcomes clearly reflect the preparation and input of students at all levels. Students are encouraged to take German at the highest level in the State Examinations. Decisions regarding levels are taken at the latest possible opportunity in order to best address the needs of students. An analysis of student outcomes based on results is used to inform the department with regard to planning and review. This is commendable.
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 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.