An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
De La Salle College
St Mantan’s Road, Wicklow
Roll number: 61850S
Date of inspection: 10 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN GERMAN
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Wicklow. 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 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 German teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
There is a total enrolment of 396 students in De La Salle College Wicklow. Modern languages form a central strand of the school’s curriculum. At present, the study of a modern language is core junior cycle and it is good practice that each student has access to a choice of modern languages and can continue to follow a course of study in the chosen language up to Leaving Certificate, if appropriate. Class formation is based on mixed ability and students with special educational needs are integrated and supported well in their language learning. Following a review of Transition Year (TY), all students now study a module in Spanish as part of the TY programme. The diversity of the college’s language provision is praiseworthy.
Students make a choice between French or German prior to entry to the college. It is encouraging that over twenty students chose to study German in the group which will be transferring into second year in the coming academic year. While the numbers opting for German are currently at a sustainable level, senior management and the German department need to remain vigilant in relation to the number of incoming first years who choose German, particularly in order to ensure sufficient numbers in senior cycle and in the context of the forthcoming amalgamation with another school, when the choice of languages may be broader. The possibility of TY students of German engaging in taster lessons in German with the main feeder primary school was discussed at the time of the evaluation and should be explored by school management. This is recommended as a worthwhile intervention to support uptake of German among incoming first years, where the pupils can experience the learning of the new language from their peers prior to making their language choice on entry. Further information in relation to ‘An Early Experience in German’ project can be found at www.mlpsi.ie by clicking on the primary/secondary link.
The time allocation to German is good. Four periods are assigned to German in first, second and third year. Four periods are assigned in TY which is particularly good and five periods in fifth and sixth year. The allocation of single periods and the distribution of those lessons periods across the week allow for regular and frequent contact with the target language which is optimal. The provision of a teacher-based specialist classroom facilitates the integration of a range of resources. There was good use of the room and walls to create an authentic and interesting German environment with displays of German pictures, posters and student work. The resource could be better utilised to display, for example, charts of useful language for classroom communication and displays of student work from first year to sixth year. Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are now available in base classrooms and classrooms have broadband wireless access, with portable laptops and data projectors available to teachers. The college plans to phase in more rooms with fully equipped ICT resources as time and resources allow. This will ease the integration of software and video or internet links of authentic German material into the classroom and into the teaching and learning of the language for the learners of today. It is recommended that the German department incrementally build on the ICT and multi-media resources, including DVDs and satellite TV in the college. This preparatory work should coincide with the provision of the planned new amalgamated school.
Exchanges with schools in Germany have been a feature of the provision for German in the college in the past. In line with national trends, the demand for school exchanges has decreased considerably. The provision of information to students and parents on a regular basis in relation to German courses in Ireland and in German-speaking countries is recommended. The use of a notice board in the German classroom or elsewhere in the college would provide a means of regularly informing and updating students on courses and possibilities for the students to gain experience of the language outside of the classroom. The college’s planned trip to Berlin is commended and will provide students with opportunities to experience German in the target language country and to engage in cross-curricular activities involving research into, for example, aspects of History, Art or Geography. The development of inter-school activities in relation to German is also recommended, including activities such as inter-school debating, attendance at screenings of German films suitable for young learners and cultural or intercultural celebrations.
The board of management supports and promotes the attendance at available in-service which is commendable. The German department has engaged in continuing professional development over the years, through membership of the German Teachers Association, attendance at subject-specific seminars, through engagement in further academic studies and in whole-school in-service at school level. The college has not availed of a German language assistant. Participation in the modern language assistant programme can be of great benefit to the students. It 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 encouraged to consider participation with the scheme.
The college has been has been supported by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in progressing subject planning and subject planning is an ongoing activity facilitated by school management for this purpose. Senior management also designates the time when the TY students are on work experience to subject planning. This is an effective use of time. There is a meeting of the teachers of all the modern languages together once a year which promotes review and evaluation and cohesion across the language teachers, French, German and Spanish. Minutes of meetings are kept and the agenda is agreed between the members of the modern languages departments, the school planning co-ordinator and senior management. More recently, collaborative subject-planning meetings were held between the two schools in preparation for the planned amalgamation. This is a very good example of effective forward planning and is commended.
In the context of the overall planning processes in the college, subject plans are constantly being updated and revisited for further development. The German plan is reviewed at the first meeting of the German department each year and appropriate changes are made. Co-ordination should ensure that additional material is also presented in electronic format. As the German department is a one-teacher department, there is the one co-ordinator for German and there are subject meetings once a term which are held with the principal or deputy-principal. The German planning documentation examined at the time of the evaluation had all the required elements of planning. However, the existing planning documentation requires further development and detail. The schemes of work for each year group, made available and examined at the time of the evaluation, were informed by the relevant syllabus and outlined the topics and themes to be covered, as well as providing a list of available resources. The plan should also include the accompanying grammatical structures, lexical items and references to aspects of German life and culture relating to the themes. The plan would also benefit from the inclusion of desirable learning outcomes for each student group, articulated in ‘can do” statements.
The general aims and objectives for German as outlined in the planning documentation were being achieved in the lessons observed. A range of methodologies was observed at the time of the evaluation. The inclusion of the range of methodologies to be deployed in delivering the syllabus would augment and complement the German plan.
The programme for German in TY allows for the continuing upkeep of students’ linguistic skills and knowledge, as well as the development of cultural awareness. However, the TY plan is in need of review to bring it in line with the philosophy of TY. The identification of modules, such as Business German, Landeskunde and oral skills, in the plan would provide opportunities for an innovative approach in the TY classroom. Project work, such as the production of a magazine, diary or brochure, and the completion of portfolio items are some suggestions for innovative learning projects in the target language. These would involve independent research on the part of the students and would allow for students to take responsibility for their own learning in working on a project as well as presenting the project. The focus on learning outcomes mentioned above should also be included.
Senior cycle planning was appropriately based on the syllabus documents. In developing the plan further, the focus needs to be on the most effective methodologies for syllabus delivery and planning for mixed-ability teaching in the context where students attempting both ordinary and higher levels are accommodated optimally. Good short-term planning was observed as evidenced by the pace and structure of the lessons. A good range of resources was integrated into the lessons. Planning for the integration of a broader range of resources, which would enrich the learning experience for students, should also be addressed in the subject plan.
There was very good classroom management in the lessons observed with good rapport between students and teacher and students showed a very good work ethic. Both good linguistic competence and an awareness of how learners learn were demonstrated on the part of the German department in the lessons observed. This is very good practice. In the main, there was a good structure to lessons and the approach adopted was effective. However, lessons were not always characterised by clarity of direction. Best practice was seen where the learning objectives were shared with students. On these occasions, the purpose of the lesson or of the tasks set was clear from the outset. Communicating the learning objectives and requiring students to check attainment of those objectives is recommended to ensure clarity and to promote learner autonomy.
There was good use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom by the teacher. However, more active use of the target language on the part of students would be desirable. In the communicative classroom of today, spontaneous oral production on the part of students is essential on a daily basis. Students were observed working in pairs. When assigned tasks, students worked well but they did not carry out the task as a group. It was clear that their preference was to work independently. While this can be a strength in the context of examination preparation, group and pair work should be integrated as a matter of daily routine so that interaction and communication are naturally extensions of student learning. Activities to stimulate oral production and further opportunities for students to use the target language need to be created and are therefore recommended.
The integration of language awareness was carried out with ease and skill and available charts and posters on display were drawn upon for clarification and elaboration, where necessary. When the opportunity arose to integrate a grammatical item of accuracy, this was done skilfully. Students applied themselves to tasks with diligence and demonstrated praiseworthy commitment to task completion. At senior cycle, the group consisted of a combination of students striving for higher level and students pursuing ordinary level. As tasks were assigned to students, the need for differentiated worksheets to accommodate both levels became more obvious. Increased use of ICT resources is recommended to consolidate the strategies for differentiation employed.
Good strategies for reinforcement of learning were employed, appropriate in the mixed-ability context which pertained. Reference was made to material previously covered and the use of repetition in unison was effective in refining pronunciation and correct intonation, especially at junior cycle. There was judicious use of translation to support learners. The strategy of referring to German material on the wall also observed was more effective than the use of translation. The strategy of deploying opposites, whereby students had to find the matching opposite, to assist with retention of time phrases was effective and worked well.
The German department adopted an integrated approach in line with guidelines for syllabus implementation and the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing were developed in an integrated way. A task to the same theme was generally completed as written homework. The spontaneity which characterised the approach observed and the use of short interventions were innovative strategies which both motivated and aroused the interest of learners. The introduction of an intercultural element and the integration of cultural awareness happened as part of this in an unobtrusive way.
Students were accurate in their use of language and engaged well with classroom activities. As already mentioned, while students were competent and showed good knowledge and understanding, students needed to be more participative and active. Students demonstrated good accuracy and fluency in interaction with the inspector. The TY students demonstrated competence and interest and, while the lesson content was appropriate, the approach taken could be more innovative in line with the philosophy of TY. It was noted that students were more active participants in their own learning at the early stage of language acquisition. The importance of retaining this purposeful application and engagement in communicative interaction as students progress in their learning and to more complex structures should be given appropriate attention and priority in subject planning.
The college has a written homework policy and homework was assigned and corrected as a matter of course, forming an integral part of lesson structure. Homework was checked and students were affirmed for completion of their work and correction of student errors was conducted sensitively.
There is continuous monitoring of student progress and regular communication with parents. Parents are kept informed through the use of the school journal by teachers and students, through regular reports on student progress and through parent-teacher meetings. Parallel procedures for both formative and summative assessment of student progress are in place. Recording and reporting procedures on student progress are well documented and implemented. There is consistency in the rate of uptake of higher and ordinary levels in Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations and attainment is consistently good at both levels. An analysis of student attainment in state examinations is conducted annually by senior management which informs review and planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Modern languages form a central strand of the college’s curriculum and the diversity of the college’s language provision is praiseworthy.
· The provision of a teacher-based specialist classroom facilitates the integration of a range of resources and the creation of an authentic and interesting German environment
with displays of German pictures, posters and student work.
· The German planning documentation examined at the time of the evaluation had all the required elements of planning.
· There was very good classroom management in the lessons observed with excellent rapport between students and teacher and students showed a very good work ethic.
· There was good use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the classroom by the teacher.
· The German department adopted an integrated approach in line with syllabus guidelines, good strategies for reinforcement of learning were employed, and the use of short interventions
motivated the interest of learners.
· Students were accurate in their use of language, showed good knowledge and understanding, and engaged well with classroom activities.
· There is consistency in the rate of uptake of higher and ordinary levels in Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations and attainment is consistently good at both levels.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The possibility of TY students of German engaging in taster lessons in German with the main feeder primary school should be explored by school management.
· The German department should incrementally build on the ICT and multi-media resources for German, including DVDs and satellite TV, in the college.
· The German plan requires further development and detail, incorporating grammatical structures, lexical items and references to aspects of German life and culture relating to the
themes, as well as student learning outcomes.
· Activities to stimulate oral production and further opportunities for students to use the target language should be created.
· Increased use of ICT resources is recommended to consolidate the strategies for differentiation employed.
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 February 2010