An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Glenageary, County Dublin
Roll number: 60090Q
Date of inspection: 26 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN GERMAN
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rathdown School, 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 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 the teacher of German.
Languages form a central position in the curriculum of Rathdown School, with French, German Spanish and Latin offered. Japanese is also offered as a module in Transition Year. All students must study a modern language and have the possibility of studying more than one, and the chosen language or languages are generally studied for six years. The awareness of and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity are commendable features in Rathdown School. The regular presence of an international cohort of students also contributes to the international and intercultural dimensions of the school. The celebration of different cultures and languages is accommodated in the school’s calendar of events and in the life of the school. There are languages’ weeks and all languages are represented at assemblies through song and music. School management and staff are to be commended for this.
Currently, incoming first years choose their language or languages prior to entry to the school. German is optional and is placed in an option block with Home Economics, Business Studies, Art and Latin. The subject options are drawn up based on trends over a number of years, as well as in response to parent and student wishes. The school’s curriculum committee is currently looking at providing a taster curriculum in first year, where final choices in relation to which language students opt for will be made when students have had an experience of learning the language. This development, if undertaken, may help promote the uptake of German which is on the decrease. The German department is encouraged to explore strategies to ensure the continued sustainable uptake of German. These could include promoting the study of the language at information evenings and school events, celebrating the good examination outcomes in German and providing taster lessons in German to pupils in Rathdown Junior School and in feeder primary schools in the locality. The provision of taster lessons in German is recommended as a proactive intervention to support uptake of the language into the future.
The provision for German in terms of allocation of time and distribution of those units of time across the week is good. At junior cycle, four forty-minute periods are allocated to German, two single and one double. Three periods are allocated to German in Transition Year (TY) and five single periods are allocated in fifth and sixth year. Class formation is based on mixed ability. The small size of the German class groups allows for individual attention and facilitates pair and group work.
The commitment to the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into the language classroom is commendable and the ICT resources available are very good. There is a multi-media room with a seating arrangement which is conducive to interactive and active pair and group work in the language learning context. Students are allocated rooms on a class group basis, therefore teachers do not have specialist language rooms which would facilitate display of charts, posters and students’ work. While such displays were in evidence in the student base classrooms visited, the possibility of allowing one wall in the multi-media room to be dedicated to the display of materials for each language should be considered. A noteworthy attractive feature of using the wall space on corridors for displays and notice boards was observed by inspectors at the time of the evaluation. The provision of a languages’ notice board would help to promote individual languages and provide information in relation to co-curricular and other activities.
The co-curricular provision contributes to the language learning experience of students. Carols, a German breakfast, exchanges, participation in Goethe Institute projects and film screenings in German and inter-school debating are some of the co-curricular activities offered to students. The school regularly applies for participation in the language assistant scheme and both school management and language teachers alike acknowledge the positive impact of the native speaker and representative of the target language community in the school and classroom. Participation in such initiatives and programmes not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides language teachers with the necessary support for maintaining and developing their own language skills and competence. School management is to be commended for facilitating participation in such schemes.
There is currently only one teacher of German on the staff. The German department demonstrated a commitment to maintenance of pedagogical and linguistic skills through acting as accompanying teacher with a student scholarship group in Germany and through attendance at German teacher association seminars. In-school ongoing technical support in ICT is available to all teachers, including training on a one-to-one basis, the benefit of which was in evidence in lessons observed.
There is a long-term plan for German and the planning documentation made available and examined at the time of the evaluation had all the elements of good planning. Planning was in line with syllabus guidelines and included the specific aims and objectives for German, which were being implemented in practice. The German plan also outlines the curriculum content for each year group, with an overview of themes to be covered and the methodologies to be deployed. This is good practice and provides an opportunity to record the variety and richness of the learning experiences for students. The programme for German in Transition Year (TY) allows for the continuing up-keep of students’ linguistic skills and knowledge, as well as the development of cultural awareness. Supporting students in taking responsibility for their own learning is also a targeted aim for TY. The German department should be vigilant in reviewing the TY plan from year to year to ensure that it is delivered in practice and tailored to the needs of the specific cohort of students. The senior cycle schemes of work include themes and topics, as well as linguistic and grammatical components and development objectives across the four skills.
Dedicated folders of German materials for each year group contained a good range of resources, up-to-date authentic texts, lists of DVDs, and ICT resources to support the teaching and learning of the language. Effective integration of ICT helped students in their learning and some of the resources observed being deployed in the course of the evaluation included the use of a data projector, of on-line internet access, of video clips and songs. Where the use of video clips from the internet was observed, this worked well and stimulated student interest and engagement. However, better use could have been made of exploiting the linguistic and cultural content of the clips. ICT was also used in the preparation of differentiated worksheets. Good short term planning gave a structure and pace to the lessons observed.
The German lessons observed demonstrated effective integration of skills in line with syllabus guidelines and recommended approach. The use of the target language was exemplary and succeeded in creating and maintaining an authentic German environment for the learners. Students were also clearly accustomed to hearing and using the target language in a simple way. The use of synonyms was an effective strategy deployed to broaden the vocabulary base of students and avoided unnecessary recourse to the mother tongue. New vocabulary was introduced in context, written up on the board and the definite article was presented simultaneously. This is good practice. A range of activities was incorporated into the lessons. The use of pair and group work facilitated student learning and participation and students organised themselves for such work efficiently and with ease. A series of interlinked worksheets had been developed and the use of differentiated worksheets was particularly effective in the mixed-ability context that pertained.
Classroom management was very good and a positive enjoyable working atmosphere prevailed. There was an excellent rapport between teacher and students and the relationships were characterised by mutual respect and courtesy. The most effective lessons observed were where the learning objective was shared with the class group, thereby ensuring clarity of direction and purpose. This practice could be extended to all lessons and class groups and should include the students checking on their achievement of these objectives. Over time this would contribute to the school’s stated objective of the development of learner autonomy.
One junior cycle lesson opened with a short recap on material learned which would be tested the following week. This reinforcement was executed in a fun way, engaging students and ensuring attention and participation, essential for language learners at this early stage of learning. The use of visual stimuli within the classroom and colour coding in notebooks examined also helped students in their retention of vocabulary items. Students were correspondingly accurate in their answering. Senior cycle lessons opened well, had an appropriate focus on examination preparation and stimulated student interest. In one lesson observed, the development of selective listening skills was executed well and served to prepare students for future examination strategies. The themes chosen were appropriate and in line with syllabus objectives and in the student work examined, there was evidence of a good range of topics and texts being covered. Grammar was integrated thematically and built upon systematically. This is good practice.
In the TY lesson observed, while students were attentive, the objective of the lesson was too ambitious for the group in question and this militated against effective progress. No matter how the tasks were broken down into manageable learning outcomes and into simple German, students needed more support and linguistic scaffolding to make the set tasks more manageable. Spending time on the area of communicative oral competence, as outlined in the TY plan, and building incrementally on student confidence should be the main focus for TY lessons.
Students, in the main, were both competent and confident and should be encouraged to speak in German more independently of teacher support. The German department should explore strategies to ensure that all students actively use the target language and at least part of every lesson should be devoted to the generation of authentic oral language. This will produce more confident learners.
In interaction with the inspector, students were accurate in their answering and showed good understanding of lesson content and good skills development. In junior cycle copies, there was evidence of structures being practised initially in isolation and then integrated into short pieces of writing. This is good practice. There was evidence in senior cycle work of regular practice of linguistic structures and the development of grammatical accuracy such as conjunctions with subsequent word-order changes, relative pronouns and verbs used in the perfect tense and in the passive mode. Teacher annotations showed careful correction of student work. While translation as an exercise occurred infrequently, where it did occur, it should be replaced with alternative strategies. Structures usually were practised in individual sentences, then in a short paragraph and then in a longer piece of writing. This is commended.
Written and learning homework is given to students on a regular basis. In the lessons observed, students were well prepared for the tasks set and homework was used to reinforce learning and to develop study skills. This is a praiseworthy approach. Students are also assessed on an ongoing basis through short vocabulary tests, oral questioning, class tests on a unit of work or theme and formal examinations at Christmas and before the summer. It is commendable that students are assessed across the range of linguistic skills in these examinations, which have written, aural and oral components. In TY, students are awarded marks for participation and effort as well as academic progress. At all stages, students are encouraged to reflect on their learning, and revision exercises are provided at the end of each unit of work to aid student self-assessment.
Students of German in the main strive to undertake the higher level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate State Examinations. The attainment at both levels is consistently high.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The awareness of and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity is a commendable feature of the school and the celebration of different cultures and languages is
accommodated in the school’s calendar of events and in the life of the school.
· The commitment to the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into the language classroom is commendable and the ICT resources available are very good.
· There is a long-term plan for German and the documentation made available had all the elements of good planning. Good short-term planning gave a structure and pace
to the lessons observed.
· The use of the target language was exemplary and succeeded in creating and maintaining an authentic German environment for the learners.
· The most effective lessons observed were where the learning objective was shared with the class group, thereby ensuring clarity of direction and purpose.
· A range of activities was incorporated into the lessons and the use of pair and group work facilitated student learning and participation.
· It is commendable that students are assessed across the range of linguistic skills in formal school examinations and students at every stage are encouraged to
reflect on their learning.
· The uptake of higher-level German in both Junior and Leaving Certificate State Examinations is high and attainment is consistently good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The provision of taster lessons in German to pupils in Rathdown Junior School and feeder primary schools is recommended as a proactive intervention to support
uptake of the language into the future.
· The German department should be vigilant in reviewing the TY plan from year to year to ensure that it is delivered in practice and tailored to the needs of the specific cohort of students.
· It is recommended that at least part of every lesson should be devoted to the generation of authentic oral language to build systematically on student oral competence and
confidence. This should be the main focus for TY lessons.
· The practice of the explicit sharing of the learning objective with students should be extended to all lessons and class groups and should include the students checking on
their achievement of these objectives.
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 October 2009