An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Sancta Maria College,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Roll Number: 60341P
Date of inspection: 26/27 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sancta Maria 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 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 to the teachers of German.
School management is commended for its long established tradition of languages forming a central strand of the school curriculum in Sancta Maria College. A feature of the college, as outlined in college documentation, is the diversity of its language provision. The college offered French, Italian, Spanish and German to incoming first years. This diversity of language provision is highly commended. However, in recent years the availability of such a wide range of languages, coupled with the growing demands of the junior cycle curriculum, has resulted in fewer numbers opting to take two languages and, in particular, to take German. As a result of the junior cycle curriculum review conducted by the college in 2005/2006, it was decided that if a student chose to study a second European language that language must be German. However, due to a decreasing demand for the language, German was not timetabled for first-year students in the school year 2006/2007 and it will not be offered as a language for the school year 2007/2008.
In the context of the school’s development planning and decision making in relation to curriculum, the German department together with school management should look at innovative ways and arrangements which might promote the language and make it a viable subject option on the curriculum again. Having already considered the provision of sampling in the early months of first year as part of the junior cycle review, the provision of “Schnupperstunden” or taster lessons in German to sixth class pupils in the main feeder primary schools might help to ensure viable sustainable numbers for German in first year.
The provision for languages in Transition Year (TY) also supports diversity and the fulfillment of the European Council of Ministers objective of “mother tongue plus two”, competence in one foreign language and partial competence in a second foreign language. Students who have studied more than one language at Junior Certificate level continue with these languages at core level in Transition Year. Students who have taken one language in junior cycle continue with this language and also, at present, have an opportunity to study a second language, French or German or Italian or Spanish or Japanese at modular level. The provision of assessment of languages at core level as part of the end of year assessment in TY is commended. This practice could be broadened out to encompass the ab initio languages offered at modular level, by the provision of FETAC basic or level one assessment in the relevant language. This could form part of the TY student portfolio, providing certification to document their achievements and skills development in the language over the year.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning of German and the distribution of those units of time across the week are appropriate and ensure optimal regular class contact with the target language for the students of German. This is commendable. The college curriculum is designed to fulfill the spiritual, academic and personal needs of its students leading to academic excellence and social awareness and competence. In line with the mission of the college, which is the holistic development of its students, the college has a broad range of co-curricular activities available to students of German, including interschool debating, participation in the German film project and the organisation and facilitation of a student exchange programme and school trips to the target language country. 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.
The student and teacher exchange programme with a partner school in Baden Baden has been in existence since the early 90’s and has continued on a yearly basis until 2004/05. There was also comprehensive planning documentation in relation to the implementation and organisation of the school exchange programme. The school has also participated in the Foreign Language Assistant scheme over the years. The benefit of such activities was clearly in evidence in the linguistic competence of teachers and students alike.
The planning documentation made available at the time of the inspection included all the required elements of good planning: objectives, themes, the systematic integration of grammatical structures, the development of cultural awareness, learning outcomes and assessment. The plans are outlined on a year-by-year basis, covering content for junior cycle, for TY and for senior cycle, in line with syllabus objectives and content. The maintenance of academic skills, as well as the development of skills of self-directed learning, was clearly being targeted by the course content for Transition Year. The inclusion of the range of methodologies and approaches to be deployed, as observed in practice in the course of the evaluation, would enhance the excellent existing planning documentation. It would also provide an opportunity to record for the wider school community the breadth of the learning experiences provided for language learners by the German teachers.
It is commendable that the teachers do not depend on the text book as the main resource for teaching, but rather access recent texts from the internet and devise accompanying worksheets, ensuring the authenticity of texts, effective integration of both language and cultural awareness and up-to-date and relevant lesson materials. The fact that German teachers do not use a specific text book at senior cycle requires a lot of work in selecting appropriate materials, devising and designing accompanying exercises and ensuring the systematic building on student linguistic competence. The German teachers work very closely together, collaborate and share materials, ideas and approaches and are to be commended for the level of commitment demonstrated in terms of time and expertise in achieving this and in creating an enjoyable enriched learning experience in the target language of German.
Although a language base classroom is not available, efforts had been made to create a culturally rich language learning environment. Additional resources, such as charts and diagrams to clarify and facilitate student learning, were effectively deployed in the classrooms visited. The availability of storage space in the library for German resources facilitates the sharing of resources by the teachers as well as the possibility of further supporting self-directed learning on the part of students. The development of the new facilities is to include new classrooms and specialist rooms. The creation of a multi-media language base classroom is recommended, where all resources for languages could be centrally stored and shared and which would facilitate the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into the language classroom. Teachers use ICT for class preparation but do not readily have access to ICT to integrate as a regular feature of the language classroom.
Excellent short-term planning was in evidence in the lessons observed which contributed to the excellent pace and structure to the lessons and the enjoyment and engagement of students with the lesson content.
The following class groups were visited in the course of the inspection: third year, TY, fifth year and sixth year. Throughout the lessons observed, there were excellent examples of the consistent use of the target language as the main language of communication and instruction in the classroom, which is highly commended. The most important resource for any language classroom is the teacher who can effectively model the target language, community and culture. Very good language competence, with excellent pronunciation and fluency, was observed in the course of the evaluation. Throughout the lessons, students heard and used a lot of German and each student participated and engaged with the lesson content. Instructions for the task to be set or the exercise to be completed also followed in German. For example, throughout the listening exercise observed, all remarks and comments were conducted in German, although the questions were to be answered in English, as determined by the state examination format. The language learning opportunities provided by the listening text were exploited to good effect. In this way, students’ contact with the target language within the lesson period was maximised and an effective learning environment for the language was created and sustained.
In another lesson, the introduction to the lesson was conducted in simple German, highlighting the similarities in sound and form of the star signs in German with those in English. This is an effective strategy which will be useful for students in the Junior Certificate examination. The theme of the lesson “star signs” was appropriate to the age and interests of the students. In another lesson observed, the theme of advertising was also appropriate to the Leaving Certificate syllabus and also was in tune with the interests of the students who could identify easily with the theme. Another strategy deployed by teachers involved asking one student to give a brief summary in German of the content of the paragraph just completed. This strategy worked well to reinforce and consolidate the learning for all students. This also helped to prepare the students for the homework exercise of answering the questions in written form.
The work in vocabulary acquisition as observed was also very effective. There was good use of synonyms in explaining new, unfamiliar vocabulary items, thereby avoiding the need for the use of translation. When new items of vocabulary were being introduced, they were accompanied by the definite article as a matter of course which is commendable. The worksheets prepared to accompany a reading text, for example, were well thought out with appropriate questions and tasks and presented with a glossary of difficult vocabulary items explained. On another occasion, lexical items previously covered were gathered from the students prior to the introduction of the topic of the day, which enabled students to participate and engage well with the learning.
The objective of all lessons was clearly communicated to the students from the beginning. Students were given time to read questions in silence while the listening task was being set up or the theme of the lesson was being introduced, to put the lesson content in context. A range of activities was deployed throughout lessons, including pair work. The pair work observed was organised efficiently and quietly and provided an opportunity to reinforce a grammatical structure of using the present or the future tense as well as using vocabulary which had been heard on the tape or written in the handout. The objective of the exercise ensured that students remained on task, used a wide range of lexical items, adjectives and verbs and actively manipulated grammatical structures. Students were effective in reformulating the question into the answer and demonstrating an ability to manipulate and exploit language structures and meaning. This is exemplary from the viewpoint of approach and methodology.
The integration of a range of resources to augment the learning experience was commendable. There was good use of visual stimuli to augment a listening exercise and to add interest and stimulation. In one lesson observed, there was effective deployment of a listening comprehension as practice for the Leaving Certificate examination, as well as a focus on gathering information which was to be used in a written exercise. There was a broad range of structures contained in listening exercises to expand on the students’ existing knowledge and understanding. There was good integration of cultural awareness, highlighting differences between a German city and Dublin. Teachers drew on their own personal cultural experiences of the target language country, as well as including student experiences and awareness as a result of the school’s exchange with a partner school in Germany.
Students, in responding to questions and in interaction with the inspector, were confident and accurate in their responses. Students also demonstrated good understanding of the key parts of the texts presented to them and were able to answer accurately. Teachers demanded full sentences from students thus working on development of accuracy and fluency. Students were also reasonably consistent in using the target language in their interactions with each other. There was a relaxed learning environment with relationships based on respect, care and the sustaining of an atmosphere conducive to learning.
In-house examinations take place at Christmas and summer times for first, second and fifth years. ‘Mock’ Leaving and Junior Certificate examinations are held in spring. There is assessment across the four skills in the languages. This is commendable. Certificate classes are supported in the development of study skills and habits in preparation and in revision for state examinations. Students of German are required to keep a vocabulary notebook. Student work examined demonstrates the systematic organisation and recording of both lexical and grammatical items by theme and by date. The revision of grammatical items is organised in a structured way as part of classroom activity and homework. Homework is regularly assigned, completed and corrected by teachers. The use of both formative and summative assessment forms is commendable, as is the regular communication in relation to student progress. The care and attention afforded to each individual student is clear in the quality of the correction and the accompanying annotations. There was an appropriate balance between the uptake of ordinary and higher levels and good student attainment in state examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A long established feature of the school curriculum in Sancta Maria College is the diversity of its language provision. School management is to be commended for this.
· In line with the mission of the college, Sancta Maria has a broad range of co-curricular activities available to students of German, including trips to the target language country. The breadth of the learning experiences provided for language learners by the German teachers is commended.
· The planning documentation for German included all the required elements of good planning: objectives, themes, the systematic integration of grammatical structures, the development of cultural awareness, learning outcomes and assessment.
· The German teachers work very closely together, collaborate and share materials, ideas and approaches and are to be commended for the level of commitment demonstrated.
· Throughout the lessons observed, there was excellent consistent use of the target language as the main language of communication and instruction in the classroom. In this way, an effective learning environment for the language was created and sustained for students.
· A range of activities was deployed throughout lessons, which were exemplary from the viewpoint of approach and methodology. The integration of a range of resources to augment the learning experience was also commendable.
· Students, in responding to questions and in interaction with the inspector, were confident and accurate in their responses. Students also demonstrated good understanding of the key or most important parts of the texts presented to them and were able to answer accurately.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In the context of the school’s development planning and decision making in relation to curriculum, the German department together with school management should look at arrangements to address the continuing uptake of German and to ensure viable sustainable numbers for German into the future.
· The inclusion of the range of methodologies and approaches to be deployed, as observed in practice in the course of the evaluation, would enhance the excellent existing planning documentation.
· The creation of a multi-media language base classroom is recommended, where all resources for languages could be centrally stored and shared and which would facilitate the integration of ICT into the language classroom.
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.