An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Our Lady’s College
Drogheda, County Louth
Roll number: 63850F
Date of inspection: 24 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s College, Drogheda, Co Louth. 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 inspectors reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and relevant staff.
Our Lady’s College, Greenhills is an all girls’ secondary school. The curricular programmes on offer in the school are the Junior Certificate (JC), the Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate established (LC). German is offered in all curricular programmes except the LCA.
In Our Lady’s College first-year students are offered a choice between German and French. This choice is made prior to entry. The numbers of students taking German have declined in the junior cycle by approximately fifty per cent over the last three years. It was reported that this is mainly due to a change in the way the language is offered. Up to recently a taster programme for languages was provided in first year. Students chose to study German having already had a chance to sample it. The fact that students must choose which language they will study prior to entry seems to have had a negative impact on the numbers taking the language. The Board of Studies in the school is currently reviewing subject options. The significant decline in the numbers of students taking German is a cause for concern. It is recommended that the German department develops a strategy to actively promote the subject and that due consideration be given to reintroducing a taster programme for modern languages.
The number of students in the school not taking any modern language has risen dramatically in the last three years. While it is clear that the school recommends students take a language, it is very important that parents and students are fully informed of the consequences of not studying any modern language in terms of access to third-level courses. It is also important that parents and students realise that learning another language is of intrinsic value and helps to enhance an awareness of the culture of fellow Europeans. While it is acknowledged that effort is made to encourage all students to study one modern language, it is important that this situation be kept under review. It is recommended that consideration be given to drawing up a modern language policy strategy in the school that would encompass the school’s position on languages offered and actively seek to address the issue of falling numbers.
There is good whole-school support in terms of resources for German. The school has many resources, such as books, CDs, magazines, DVDs, to support the teaching and learning of German. There is no annual budget. However these resources are purchased by the school on request from the German department. At the moment resources are mainly stored in individual teachers’ base classrooms. It is recommended that a full inventory of resources be made and included in the planning documentation. This will ensure that all members of the German department are aware of the resources available and will in turn inform planning for use of such resources.
There is a good time allocation for the subject. This is commendable. First-year students have three class periods of German. The provision for German in second and third year is four class periods and in TY and fifth year that is extended to five class periods. In sixth year the allocation is five class periods per week. On the day of the evaluation a significant number of senior cycle students arrived up to seven minutes late for class after their morning break. This represented twenty per cent of the tuition time for German on that day. The loss of tuition time for all students in that class was a cause for concern. Issues surrounding punctuality after morning break need to be addressed by the school.
The first-year German class is mixed ability. In all other years division of classes has occurred and in some cases there are three German classes running concurrently. This has allowed the formation of smaller class groups. Management is to be commended for this support for the students and for the language. Where class groups are divided it is essential that the criteria for such divisions be decided in advance and recorded. It is recommended that the mixed-ability ethos be retained in the junior cycle classes as there is a common syllabus for German at that level. A mixed-ability ethos will help students to remain motivated and increase their self-confidence which is vital when learning to speak a foreign language.
There are three base classrooms available for German. These were well-decorated. Posters, maps and student work were on display. This is very good practice and enhances the learning environment. It was noted that the partition dividing one of the base classrooms from another classroom was broken. This essentially means that noise can transfer easily between the classrooms. While it is acknowledged that this classroom is rotated each year across different subject areas, it is recommended that, resources permitting, the partition be fixed. In another base classroom it was noted that the DVD player was placed very high up necessitating the use of a chair to access it. It is recommended that for safety reasons the DVD player be placed lower down on the wall.
The German department comprises a group of six very committed teachers. Some members have accrued valuable experience as examiners in the oral and written components of the certificate examinations. Others have attended seminars and conferences pertaining to the teaching and learning of German. Such dedication is highly commended and benefits students. One member of the German department holds an individual membership of the German teachers’ association, Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands (GDI), is held. It is recommended that in view of the numbers of teachers of German a group membership of the GDI be acquired. Membership of the teachers’ association has many benefits and it is important that all members of staff avail of these benefits.
The German department includes some new members of staff this year. Given the considerable experience of some of the members of the German department it is recommended that a mentoring system for new members of the department be established. While it was evident that there was good informal collaboration within the department, it is vital for formal structures to be in place to ensure support for new teachers. In view of the very good practice observed in the course of the evaluation it is recommended that consideration be given to introducing peer lesson visits as part of this mentoring process.
The provision of co-curricular activities to support German is excellent. A German language exchange and work-experience programme in Germany is available to students. There is a strong tradition of debating in the school. In interaction with students who participate in such activities the benefits both personally and academically to the students were striking. Staff and students are to be highly commended for their dedication and commitment to co-curricular activities.
Short-term planning for all lessons observed was excellent. Individual planning documentation was presented in advance of lessons. This detailed lesson content, use of resources, student tasks and homework which would be set. The level of attention to detail in short-term planning is to be highly commended. All resources required for teaching and learning were prepared in advance and to a very high standard.
Long-term planning was also presented in the course of the evaluation. This was good and included information on curricular content in all years. It was noted that the plans were drawn up by individual teachers for their specific class groups. In general it is better if common plans are drawn up for each year group especially for junior cycle. It is recommended that these plans be developed further to include details of intended student learning outcomes. Student learning outcomes should be specified in terms of the skills of language acquisition, that is, what is expected of the learner in terms of aural and reading comprehension and in terms of written and oral production. Long-term planning should also take into account the differentiated needs and the learning styles of the students.
A data projector and laptop are among the newest resources available to the German department. In light of this it would be appropriate to develop a plan for the integration of information and communications technology (ICT) and German.
The plan for German in TY is impressive. This plan outlines information on aims, objectives, content, teaching methodologies, resources, assessment, cross-curricular links and evaluation of the German programme. Particularly commendable is the fact that evaluation of German in TY will include student input and suggestions. It is recommended that procedures for how this might be done be included in the plans. For example, student questionnaires might be used. There are good ideas noted for developing cross-curricular links with other subject areas. It is suggested that these be elaborated upon further to include specific activities and content.
The German department meets formally twice a year. In between times a lot of informal meetings and effective cooperation take place. It is recommended that an additional formal meeting be scheduled, if possible. It is strongly recommended that where a new teacher takes over a class, or part of a class, that arrangements be made for the transfer of essential information about what students have covered and what specific needs they have. This will help smooth such transitions for both students and staff.
A variety of effective teaching methodologies was employed. The integration of the skills of language acquisition, that is, reading, writing, speaking and listening was evident in all lessons observed. This is good practice as it allows for the reinforcement of the language. Pair work was used in a number of lessons observed. This is good practice. It is recommended that when doing pair-work advance preparation of the activity be done by the teacher with the class as a whole. This will involve the teacher modelling the activity with students and then students carrying out the activity in the global class setting. This will ensure students are confident about completing the task when they work in pairs.
The skill of listening was developed in all lessons. This is good practice and to be commended. It is recommended that when teaching this essential skill of language acquisition that pre-listening and post-listening activities be done. Pre-listening activities could include brain storming and/or anticipating answers and vocabulary. As a minimum, students must be given sufficient time to read the listening comprehension questions. This will give them an understanding of what is required in the task. Post-listening activities should encompass follow-up activities where students are given the opportunity to analyse their mistakes and listen to the tape/CD again.
Teacher use of the target language was excellent. German was used as the medium of communication to manage learning activities and to explain new vocabulary or expressions. This is to be highly commended. Student use of the target language was overall good. In interaction with the inspector students showed good levels of comprehension and were able to respond appropriately. It is recommended that students be given more opportunity to use the target language in the course of lessons. It is strongly recommended that lessons begin with short oral interactions based on familiar topics such as weather, school life and hobbies. This use of ritual and repetition of the familiar will go along way to building the students’ confidence in the use of the target language.
ICT and other technologies were integrated into some of the lessons observed. This is to be highly commended. A laptop and data projector were used to display grammatical information and vocabulary. In a lesson observed students read out their diary entries in German while fellow students videoed these presentations. This is very good practice. It is recommended that further opportunities be explored for the integration of ICT and German.
Lesson content in all lessons was well chosen and matched the requirements of the syllabus. In general the pace of lessons was good and teacher input was balanced with a number of student activities. Materials such as photocopies of tasks and vocabulary were used effectively to support teaching and learning. It is recommended that due care be taken not to overuse such materials as it can lead to a situation where students feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of materials being given to them. It is recommended that the amount of photocopies be limited and a small amount of new vocabulary and phrases is focused upon to ensure the consolidation of learning.
Traditional seating arrangements were used in most of the lessons observed. During group work in one lesson it was noted that students changed from sitting in rows to a more communicative setting where students were able to face one another. This is very good practice and facilitates student-student interaction. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes and different types of seating arrangements be organised. It was noted in the course of lesson observation that newcomer students sat alone or apart from the rest of the students. It is recommended that strategies such as pair and group work and asking students to sit in groups be built in to reduce this sense of isolation. Newcomer students could thus be encouraged to participate in the lesson and communicate with fellow class mates. This would enhance their sense of belonging to a class.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was very good. Class control was sensitively maintained and students were encouraged to participate. Student-teacher interactions were of a positive nature and students were praised. Where errors occurred students were encouraged to reflect on what the correct answer might be. This is very good practice. Teachers and students are to be commended for the productive learning environment that was in evidence.
A variety of types of assessment is used to ascertain students’ progress in German. These range from questioning in class, short tests to oral and written homework as well as formal examinations. Records of assignments and tests are kept. This is good practice. It is recommended that in the course of lessons students be regularly assessed on activities they are doing. It is necessary to be aware of how students are getting on at each particular task before proceeding to further activities. This type of in-class assessment will inform teaching.
Our Lady’s College has developed a good homework policy. In the course of the evaluation a number of students’ journals were checked. Students of German receive oral and aural homework on a regular basis. This is duly recorded by the students in the journal. It was noted that the space in the journal for parents’ weekly signature is not being used. It is recommended that ways of addressing this be sought, as the journal is a vital form of communication between the school and parents and it would be useful for parents to see what homework is being assigned to the students. A sample of copybooks was inspected. Best practice was observed where corrections of work were signed and dated. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes. It was also noted that some students are encouraged to email their homework to their teacher. This is very good up-to-date practice.
Regarding the correction of student errors it was observed that students rarely follow up on mistakes made. It is recommended that students be given an opportunity to review their errors in class time and to correct them. This would allow teachers to give time to individual students to explain errors and strategies for improvement to them. This would enhance the learning process. It is recommended that the approaches of assessment for learning (AfL) be adopted. Further information on the approach of AfL can be obtained at website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) 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 teacher of German and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008