An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63290Q
Date of inspection: 25 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Mullingar, 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 teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. 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 deputy principal and subject 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.
German and French are the modern languages on offer in the Loreto College. Currently all students, including those with special educational needs, have access to a modern foreign language. An inclusive languages policy such as this is to be highly commended. French is a core subject and all students take this language. First-year students have a choice between Home Economics and German. In second year a further choice is made where students are invited to choose one subject from German, Home Economics, Music and Art. At present there is an average of six students taking German in each year group. These numbers are extremely low and a cause for concern. In line with national trends in Ireland very few students are interested in taking two languages. It is recommended that the manner in which German is offered in the school be reviewed urgently. It is suggested that consideration be given to the introduction of a taster programme where students would have the possibility of making a fully informed decision regarding choice of language.
There is a good time allocation for German. Classes in the junior cycle are allocated four class periods per week. In Transition Year students have two class periods. In the senior cycle learners have five class periods per week. In all years excluding transition year double periods are assigned to the teaching of German. Single periods are preferable for language teaching. Regular contact with learners is considered best practice in language teaching. It is recommended that resources permitting single class periods be allocated to German in particular in the junior cycle.
The German department presently comprises one qualified teacher. The department has membership of the
GDI (German Teachers’ Association) and the teacher has been very actively involved in the association over a number of years. In addition serious commitment to continuous professional development has been demonstrated. The teacher has attended language teaching methodology courses both in Ireland and in Germany and has over many years up skilled in the area of ICT and German. The teacher also acts as an oral examiner for the Leaving Certificate examinations. Such commitment to professional development is most laudable. The management authorities of the school are also to be commended for support it has offered to facilitate this professional development.
There are many very useful resources available to support the teaching and learning of German. The teacher-based classroom is equipped with a television, video recorder and a DVD player. A data projector is also available on request. There is a most impressive display of books in the German room. These books are colourful and attractive and cover a wide range of literary themes especially children’s literature. They are most suitable for young learners of German. In addition there is a wide range of cassettes, films and puzzles. There was clear evidence that excellent use of these resources is made. For example, students who wish to read extra German are invited to borrow novels and story books. This is very good practice. It is suggested that it would be useful to acquire some resources which pertain to language teaching methodologies. Information on such resources is available on the website of the National Centre for Languages and Research at www.cilt.org.uk
The classroom was decorated to a very high standard. A large map of Germany and literary posters were on display. In addition there were many grammar charts displaying possessive adjectives, definite articles in the accusative and dative case. Student work was shown on the classroom walls. This is good practice as the learners feel an increased sense of ownership. Creating a learning environment such as this is to be very highly commended as it undoubtedly enhances the learning process.
Many co curricular activities are available to the students of German in the school. Students are brought to see German films and take part in the national German debating competition. The school has a long established school exchange with the Maria Ward Gymnasium in Günzburg. Students from the Loreto College have the opportunity to travel to Germany, to live with a German family and to experience the culture and school life at first hand. It is evidence of the dedication and commitment of the personnel of the German department that such an exchange is organised. The students benefit enormously from such an experience and that was evident in the class room visits.
In successive previous years students of Loreto College have been awarded scholarships by the German embassy. These are international scholarships which enable the learners to spend a three or four week period in the country and attend school there. These scholarships are awarded following an intensive interview in German. Unfortunately on the day of the inspection there was no visible evidence that students of the school had had such great achievements. It is recommended that these students be acknowledged in a formal way in the same manner that other students’ achievements are acknowledged by the school authorities.
Subject department planning has been established and the German and French teachers collaborate on matters which impact on modern languages in general. Yearly plans have been developed for the teaching of German in all years. These plans outline the themes which will be covered in the different year groups. It is recommended that the yearly plans be extended to include information on specific learner outcomes in the context of the skills of language acquisition.
Useful information on the teaching methodologies and language learning strategies to be employed was also outlined in the context of these plans. This is very good practice. Provision was also made in the plans for the use of elements of the European Languages Portfolio. Planning materials included documents containing a series of ‘can-do’ statements which learners would use when they have completed a unit of learning. The use of such portfolio material where learners have the opportunity to reflect and assess their own learning is to be highly commended.
The content of all lessons was very good. In a junior cycle lesson observed students discussed going on an exchange and school life in Germany. This was made particularly relevant to the students as they were able to talk about their own life experiences. In another lesson the learners practised describing their pets. In a senior-cycle lesson students discussed family relationships and the generation gap. Choosing lesson content that matches the interests of the students and is in line with syllabus requirements is most praiseworthy.
Literary texts were very well used in the course of one of the senior-cycle lessons observed. Students had read the beginning of a short story and written a synopsis of this as a homework exercise. The learners were well able to discuss what they had read and to interpret the meaning of the story. Every effort was made to reinforce new vocabulary and to allude to grammatical points throughout this lesson. As a final exercise students were asked to write a paragraph as though they were the narrator. The standard of literary interpretation achieved by the learners through the target language as witnessed in the course of this lesson was excellent.
A variety of effective teaching methodologies was employed. Very good attention was paid to ensuring that the skills of language acquisition were integrated. For example, in a junior-cycle lesson observed students had been assigned a listening comprehension exercise (from a previous Junior Certificate examination paper) for homework. This was corrected in the course of the lesson using the tape script and the CD of the original conversation. Although the questions assigned were in English, correction took place in German. This is very effective practice as students talked about the information in the target language. This oral activity was followed by a writing exercise. In the course of this lesson students were asked to listen, read, speak and write on the same theme. This is an example of excellent practice and ensures that learning is consolidated.
Learner autonomy was successfully developed in some lessons. For example pair work was used to good effect in a junior-cycle lesson visited. The young learners were given role play cards which had been carefully made and laminated by the teacher. The students were required to ask and answer questions about their pets. The learners were capable of describing their animals in good detail. To enhance this activity the teacher recorded each pair of learners while they carried out the task. This is very good practice. Pair work affords students the opportunity to work autonomously and is a most effective language teaching method. It is suggested that pair work activities be extended to all classes.
ICT was used effectively in some lessons observed. For example a data projector and a laptop(the personal property of the teacher) were used to display the tape script of one of the listening comprehensions of a previous junior certificate examination. These resources were also used to show a short film about Günzburg and the surrounding area. The students clearly enjoyed viewing this. It was reported that on occasion students can access ICT resources in the computer room which is adjacent to the German classroom. Incorporating ICT into the teaching and learning of German is to be commended.
The use of the target language was excellent in all lessons observed. German was used effortlessly to conduct all classroom activities and interaction. Students were clearly accustomed to hearing German and followed all instructions well. It was noted that even when dealing with complex literary texts all discussions were held in German. This is most commendable. In interaction with the inspector students were well able to speak (some to a very high level) in the target language.
Language learning strategies were used to very good effect in some of the lessons observed. In a junior cycle lesson students were reminded of the importance of knowing the gender of nouns. To assist this learning three cushions (hand made by one of the students) of different colours were held up according to the gender of the nouns. The students reacted very well to this. Associating objects and colours in this manner to assist in the learning of grammar is most praiseworthy. Effective use was also made of the grammar charts on display in the classroom. Students’ attention was drawn to one such chart to establish the correct possessive adjective. This is good practice as it encourages learners to look up information for themselves. It was noted in all lessons that as strategy to help learners answer written and oral questions students were supplied with the words and phrases they needed. While this strategy can be effective, care needs to be taken not to overuse it. In the course of the evaluation this strategy was over used and on occasion students were not allowed to answer for themselves. It is recommended that students be given more time to reflect on the answer and that the use of prompts from the teacher be reduced. It is recommended that techniques to allow autonomous learning be developed.
The atmosphere is all lessons observed was very good. Students clearly felt a strong sense of security and mutual respect characterised all classroom interactions. The learners were affirmed at every possible opportunity. Student errors were corrected with sensitivity. The very pleasant encouraging and interactive style of teaching created a very good learning environment and is laudable.
Formal assessment takes place at Christmas and in the summer for all students in the junior cycle and for fourth year students. Assessment in Transition year is done by portfolio. In fifth year students have continuous assessment from September to December. Mock examinations are held in the spring for students who will be taking the state examinations. At present students in the junior cycle are formally assessed in the skills of reading, writing and listening. Students in the senior cycle are assessed in all four skills. It is recommended that students in the junior cycle be assessed orally as well. This would serve to enhance the profile of the skill and render it important in the consciousness of the students. It is suggested that oral assessment in junior cycle should take the form of a mini oral carried out in class time. This would be particularly practical given the small numbers of students involved.
Homework is assigned in every lesson. Very good attention to the correction of homework in the lessons observed was noted. Written homework is corrected on a very frequent basis. Positive comments are written at the end of students work. This is good practice. Presently students rewrite the entire exercise taking into account errors made. It is suggested that the approach of Assessment for Learning (AfL) is adopted. This would encourage the learner to focus on a limited number of mistakes. Further information is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie
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 deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.