An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Loreto High School Beaufort,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60340N
Date of inspection: 8 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto High School, Beaufort. 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 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; a response was not received from the board.
School management is to be commended for the diversity of language provision and for maintaining languages as a central strand of the school curriculum. The uptake of German in Loreto Beaufort is currently at small numbers. The school has tried to encourage students to study German in recent years by offering a choice between French and German. However, only ten students from the full first-year cohort opted for German in one particular year and in the following year it was seven. While the numbers studying German have decreased considerably, there is still some demand from parents for German and school management is exploring ways of maintaining the language as an option. A choice of French and Spanish is now offered to incoming first years. German is offered in one of the option blocks. If a student wants to take a second modern language, it must be German. The provision of taster lessons in German to the main feeder primary school by the German teacher is commended as a worthwhile and commendable intervention to support uptake of German by incoming first years. The possibility of asking TY students of German to give taster lessons should be explored.
Although the number of students opting to study German is small, the school provides a range of resources to support the teaching and learning in German. School management is also commended for the provision of German even in the context of small class sizes. There are two qualified teachers of German in the school but the low uptake for German requires only one teacher currently. This ensures continuity and progression from year to year. The allocation of time to the language is appropriate with four class periods in junior cycle and five periods at senior cycle. As German is in the option blocks, there is one double period. Commendably strategies for the optimal use of a double lesson in language teaching and learning have been developed.
The provision of a base classroom for each language teacher facilitates the creation of an authentic, attractive and stimulating language learning environment and school management is commended for this. It enables the language teacher to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic resources. Resources such as books, DVDs and posters are applied for by the German department and whatever is required is provided by school management. The German language classroom contains a library corner where students may borrow German books and this facilitates the possibility of self-directed learning.
Students also have supervised access to computers in the library and in the computer room at lunchtime. The acquisition of suitable software for practice of linguistic and lexical items is recommended and would encourage further independent learning. This can be an effective means of integrating the different aspects of language, and independent work on the computer can lead to building on student confidence. The German department also has timetabled access to the computer room for the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the language classroom. At present, ICT is used to download authentic up-to-date materials and resources for use in lessons to enrich teaching. Planning is underway to provide training in ICT to strengthen its integration into the language classroom. This is commendable and should be pursued.
There are a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to enrich student learning and experiences in the language provided by the school. Students are encouraged to visit European countries and develop their knowledge of different languages and cultures. An exchange is being organised for TY students of German in the current year and over the years students have availed of opportunities to visit the target language countries. Students of German also have regular access to intercultural projects and initiatives, such as the German film project. Cultural activities are organised around the time of German feast days and these activities involve cross-curricular links with subject departments such as Home Economics, Music and Art. The school also appropriately celebrates the European Day of Languages. The school has participated successfully in the language assistant scheme in recent years. The benefit to students derived from participation in co-curricular activities was clearly in evidence in their cultural awareness.
The school has a modern languages notice board which displays, for example, circulars displaying why one should learn German, leaflets about exchanges and home stay programmes in Germany and useful websites for learning German. The provision of a German notice board is motivating and stimulating for students. It also displays photographs of previous recipients of German scholarships based on attainment in State Examinations in German. This facility serves to promote the language and to raise the profile of the subject in the school and is commended.
Time is allocated by school management to collaborative subject planning at regular intervals throughout the year, at least three times a year. As German is a small department, the teachers join the modern languages meetings to discuss cross-curricular topics. A German planning meeting then follows where any issues arising from the modern languages meeting can be discussed and decisions recorded. The role of subject coordination in the past was assigned as a post of responsibility and this practice is currently under review. There are also regular informal meetings to address matters which arise from time to time. Common in-house assessments are also discussed at planning meetings. These meetings also facilitate sharing of resources and expertise.
There is a long-term plan for German and the planning documentation made available and examined at the time of the evaluation was very good. The introduction to the German plan appropriately opens with the objectives for the subject. These are in line with the school’s mission statement and are in line with syllabus guidelines and requirements. Communicative objectives ensure that learners acquire skills and knowledge that learners are likely to need, want or expect to use. The emphasis placed on student use of the target language at every stage and level of their learning in the German plan is commendable. Learners are encouraged to participate in activities in the target language both within and outside the classroom. The articulation of student outcomes in terms of “can do” statements is very good practice. There is also a commendable focus in planning documentation on the development of learner autonomy and awareness of the student’s responsibility for her own learning. Students with special educational needs (SEN) are catered for in planning documentation through the development of additional work sheets or differentiated task sheets for individual students.
The German plan also outlines the curriculum content for each year group, and the schemes of work are outlined thematically, with an overview of themes to be covered. In the TY plan for German there is an overview of curriculum content by term and across the skills and with an emphasis on learning outcomes. Teaching and learning strategies are also included in line with the philosophy and approach recommended for TY. The senior cycle schemes of work include themes and topics, as well as linguistic and grammatical components and development objectives across the four skills. The planning documents include a comprehensive list of resources for German, including books, DVDs and worksheets.
The German teachers attend specific in-service for German and for language teaching, when it is available. The board of management supports and promotes the attendance at available in-service and this is commendable.
The quality of the teaching and learning observed in the course of the evaluation was very good. A range of methodologies were deployed and the teaching of the different language skills were integrated, in line with syllabus objectives. Imaginative use was made of the charts, posters and materials on display in the classroom. Use of work sheets, quiz games and pair and group work reinforced learning and ensured that students were actively engaged in learning activities. There was exemplary use of the target language by teacher and students. Students responded to teacher questioning with full sentences and this is good practice. Any questions from students were expressed in German and student queries were responded to in German. Students were observed to interact with each other in German, were accustomed to spelling lexical items in German and were actively engaged in tasks assigned.
The systematic work on vocabulary acquisition was good. When introducing new items of vocabulary, for example, adjectives were presented with the relevant opposite ensuring retention of both adjectives. Students were required to pronounce, spell and record the newly acquired words correctly and simultaneously. Such strategies reinforced the learning and consolidated the experience for the learners. The use of German synonyms in broadening out the vocabulary base for students was commendable, particularly for learners at an early stage of language learning.
Lessons observed were interactive and the range of activities integrated into lessons contributed to good lesson pace and student participation in lessons. This required careful preparation of materials to be distributed and the range and variety of worksheets prepared by the teacher was excellent. Themes chosen were appropriate to student interest, age and stage of learning. There was good use of pair work and role-play where students applied new structures in their own dialogues or in the completion of tasks. Pair work activity was useful to ensure further practice of the linguistic structures. Students demonstrated a thorough knowledge of grammatical structures, good mastery of the structures required for the completion of tasks and their level of language awareness contributed to accuracy in language use.
The most effective lessons contained many phases in learning, for example a pre-listening exercise observed activated students latent knowledge and facilitated student understanding. While students completed the listening exercise, the teacher moved among the students checking accuracy of answering and interacting individually with students. One lesson ended with a competitive game in groups, which provided great enjoyment for the class. The learning environment was attractive and a good work ethic was demonstrated by students, who were both cooperative and diligent. There was very good rapport between students and teachers.
The primary purpose of assessment is firstly formative in Loreto High School Beaufort; for example, an assessment based on the student’s work over a term is sent to third and sixth year parents, as well as assessments based on in-house and mock examinations. Regular class tests and parent-teacher meetings keep parents informed of student progress. Students are encouraged to view errors and the correction of errors as a necessary step in their language learning and students are expected to engage with assessment feedback so that they gain maximum benefit. The assigning and correction of homework was regular, systematic and thorough, and in line with school policy.
The German department undertakes a systematic analysis of results in the State Examination. The uptake at Higher Level at both junior and senior cycle is very high and attainment is also consistently high in Higher Level at both Junior and Leaving Certificate. Students of German have been regular recipients of German scholarships awarded on the basis of Higher Level Junior Certificate results over a number of years. The loss of such an excellent source of learning and teaching from the curriculum would be regrettable.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is to be commended for the diversity of language provision and for maintaining languages as a central strand of the school curriculum. School management is also commended for the provision of German even in the context of small class sizes.
· The provision of a language base classroom enables the teacher to create a learning environment which can model the target language country and give immediate access to a range of authentic resources.
· There are a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities which enrich and augment student learning and experiences in the language. The provision of a German notice board is motivating and stimulating for students.
· There is a long-term plan for German and the planning documentation made available and examined at the time of the evaluation was very good.
· The quality of the teaching and learning observed in the course of the evaluation was excellent.
· There was exemplary use of the target language by teacher and students demonstrated good mastery of the structures required for the completion of tasks.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that further strategies to promote the continuation of German on the curriculum be explored. The possibility of deploying TY students to give lessons in the main feeder primary schools should be examined.
· The good planning documentation should be augmented by the inclusion of the range of methodologies actually used. The learning outcomes recorded in planning documentation should be expanded to include can-do statements for each stage of learning.
· The very good teaching observed should be continued and consolidated.
· Learner autonomy should be further developed with students taking more responsibility for their own learning.
· The possibilities for further integration of ICT into language learning and teaching should be pursued.
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.
Published January 2009