An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of German

REPORT

 

Presentation College

Athenry, County Galway

Roll number: 62870G

 

Date of inspection: 25 February 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College Athenry, conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

German is one of two modern languages taught in Presentation College Athenry and features in the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Overall, the timetable makes very good provision for the delivery of German with regard to both the time allocation and the distribution of class periods across the week. Most classes receive single periods of instruction time and this is commendable as it is desirable that students engage with German on a daily basis to ensure continuity and effective progress.

 

Whilst the study of a modern language is not mandatory, school management has stated that it encourages all students to study a modern language until at least Junior Certificate. This support for languages in the curriculum is praiseworthy and it is to be commended that students with special educational needs (SEN) have access to, and indeed at times continue with, a language.

 

A year-long taster programme operates in the school and both teachers and school management reported that it is working very well for both students and the school. The fact that students are afforded the opportunity to experience both French and German for a significant period of time before they are required to indicate their subject preferences is most laudable. German is a very popular option for students. School management and the German department are commended on their commitment to the subject and its provision in the school. It was reported, that students who choose a language for their Junior Certificate generally continue with the subject to Leaving Certificate.

 

German is well provided for in terms of human resources and there are currently four German teachers on staff. It is commendable that the school pays for membership of the GDI „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers’ Association) and teachers regularly attend courses organised by the association. The German department has good access to a wide variety of material resources including plasma TVs, video recorders, tape recorders, and CD players. There is an annual budget for the purchase of materials and teaching aids. In addition, the board of management may, on application, sanction funds for unforeseen requirements. The department has recently submitted a request to purchase data projectors for the department and it was stated during the evaluation that they are due to arrive within the next few weeks. German magazines and books are also available to students. It is suggested that the German department should occasionally purchase class sets of publications they find useful to use with students as these can then be shared across the department.

Most teachers have base classrooms and these contain a variety of posters, authentic materials and colourful maps of Germany and German-speaking countries. In some rooms, German words are placed on tangible items in the room, for example, the television (der Fernseher). This is laudable as it serves to reinforce new vocabulary visually as well as affording students’ ownership of their learning environment. All classrooms visited are commendably stimulating. In the context of the school planning for its future accommodation needs, consideration should be given to the timetabling of all teachers in a base classroom for German in order to provide the German department with best access to all available resources.

 

Currently, classes have very limited access to computers and on-line facilities and to date, information and communication technologies (ICT) have not been used to any great extent to support the teaching and learning of German. In discussion with the inspector, teachers articulated that they are looking forward to its integration when the data projectors arrive. Whilst acknowledging that that some of the German teachers have completed a European Computer Driving License (ECDL) course, subsidised by the board of management,  it is recommended that the provision of subject-appropriate training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) be addressed by school management. ICT training at languages level ensures teachers’ expertise and familiarity with its potential to enhance learning experiences for students.

 

Presentation College Athenry, has in the past, provided access for students to travel abroad on school tours. However, in recent years there have been no opportunities presented to students to travel to German-speaking countries. Therefore, in order to complement the teaching and learning of German and provide students with first-hand cultural experiences, it is suggested that exchanges or specific language tours could be facilitated by teachers along with e-mail pen-pals, e-twinning and skype opportunities. It is also recommended that the school apply for a foreign language assistant for the next academic year.

 

Students have had regular opportunities to see German films, and TY students have completed projects about Germany as part of their European studies course. Management and staff should consider alternative ways in which the profile of German could be further raised among the whole-school population. Whilst acknowledging the co-curricular activities already organised by the German department, such as the inter-cultural quiz, it is recommended that further activities, such as an International Languages Week or debating could be organised to involve and promote the use of German.

Planning and preparation

 

The school is actively engaged in school-development planning and subject departments have been formed. There is a co-ordinator for German and this position rotates amongst all German teachers in the school. Regular subject-department planning meetings take place throughout the year and formal records of meetings and agenda are kept and progress is mapped. In addition, the German teachers meet informally on a regular basis. This is commendable practice.

 

An excellent organisational structure for the subject department exists and it contains very detailed schemes of work for each of the student groups taking German. The plan also includes documentation such as: a list of effective methodologies, a comprehensive inventory of resources available to the department and the SEN policy and its implications for the teaching of German.  The schemes of work for both junior and senior cycles are topic related, or theme based, and outline some teaching methodologies to be utilised when teaching the topic, the grammar structures that are to be introduced and any new vocabulary to be learned. The learner outcomes are most clearly and directly stated in junior cycle planning and it is recommended that TY and senior cycle planning should follow this template.

 

In order to develop planning for German even further, it is recommended that the German department should provide more detail around the acquisition of oral and aural skills. Students’ varying abilities should also be taken into account in the specification of learning outcomes for each year group and an evaluation of approaches and strategies employed, as well as the tasks set and materials used, should be included and reflected upon on an ongoing basis. Planning for the integration of ICT should also be included.

 

There level of individual planning for lessons was of a very high standard.

Teaching and learning

 

Some very good teaching and learning was observed on the day of the inspection. This encompassed teachers’ planning and classroom practice, deployment of available resources and positive student-teacher relationships observed. Lesson content was coherent, challenging and appropriate to the students’ interests and ability as observed. Students came prepared for lessons and were demonstrably purposeful in their learning. Some students were quite enthusiastic about the German language and culture. This is commendable. As a means of further focusing students on their learning, it is recommended that the desired learning outcomes of each lesson should be provided to students at the start of the lesson so that students and teachers can evaluate progress. The lesson’s closure phase should ensure that the outcomes have been achieved. The best lessons made good use of available resources and these were deployed well.

 

Most teachers are obviously aware of the necessity to use German as the medium for instruction and classroom management. Overall, their use of the target language was very good. Teachers demanded full sentences from students in their replies to questions and, in general, students’ responses suggested good comprehension of the target language and an understanding of what was taught in previous lessons. It was evident that students had been trained to record vocabulary in a very systematic manner. Other strategies included the use of repetition. Good practice was observed where the learners were encouraged to repeat new words or phrases many times or, if mistakes were made, the students repeated the correct answer. The development of such strategies clearly enhanced the learning process and is to be commended. However, the use of German as the language of instruction was not uniformly strong across the department. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers should develop further strategies to embed target language skills in classroom practice and to increase the use of the target language to extend and challenge their own, and their learners’, linguistic competencies.

 

The change of classroom activities observed ensured a lively pace was maintained and ensured that students remained focused on the specific learning tasks at hand. The department should examine the timing of lessons, as some classes ran over the designated class period.

 

A thematic approach, adopted by all teachers, allowed for the integration of language skills and the promotion of cultural awareness. Very good practice was observed at junior cycle with regard to the successful integration of listening skills and pre-listening and post-listening activities around the theme ‘Meine Stadt’ (my town). It is recommended that such good practice be replicated across the department. In conjunction with this recommendation it is advised that, where possible, the integration of all skills should be replicated across the department.

 

Most lessons were teacher centred and most of the language production was provided by the teacher. Good practice was observed at senior cycle, where a class worked on a role-play sequencing activity. There is a need for further and more active methodologies to be incorporated into lessons to respond to the differentiated needs and abilities of all students.

 

Assessment

 

A variety of assessment modes is used to assess students’ competence and progress. Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level. This is commendable. Examination classes also sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. In line with good practice, first- year students sit common examinations. It is recommended that all formal examinations contain an oral assessment component as well as written and aural components. Formal assessment is also recommended for TY students. 

 

Homework was assigned in most classes and was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to each topic engaged with during the lesson. Very good practice was observed where there was a clear and logical progression from the classroom activities to the written homework exercise assigned. The oral preparation of the written homework exercise gave students clear insights as to what was expected from them and this is praiseworthy. Students were also allowed to manipulate their language skills in that they were asked to write ten sentences about Athenry. Differentiation of outcome was allowed for, in that students could write at their own ability level. From observation of students’ copybooks, it was evident that some teachers provided good support to students in their written exercises. For example, individual worksheets are provided for some students by their teacher on particular topics covered. These worksheets are related to the students’ experiences and interests, as observed, and contain exercises of varying difficulty. This is praiseworthy.

 

Whilst there was evidence that assigned work was monitored and corrected regularly, there were limited examples of formative assessment being provided to some students in their copybooks. The school is familiar with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) Assessment for Learning (AfL). Some teachers already commendably employ AfL principles such as peer review and comment only marking. Therefore, it is recommended that those and other AfL principles be put into practice on a regular and sustained basis across the department to encourage learner autonomy. The good practice of encouraging students to re-write their corrections and learn from their errors could also be extended.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Overall, the timetable makes very good provision for the delivery of German with regard to both the time allocation and the distribution of class periods across the week.

·         Whilst the study of a modern language is not mandatory, school management has stated that it encourages all students to study a modern language until at least Junior Certificate.

·         It is to be commended that students with special educational needs (SEN) have access to, and indeed at times continue with, a language.

·         A year-long taster programme operates in the school and both teachers and school management reported that it is working very well for both the students and the school.

·         It is commendable that the school pays for membership of the GDI „Gesellschaft der Deutschlehrer Irlands” (German Teachers Association) and teachers regularly attend courses organised by the association.

·         All classrooms visited are commendably stimulating.

·         An excellent organisational structure for the subject department exists and it contains very detailed schemes of work for each of the student groups taking German.

·         Some very good teaching and learning was observed on the day of the inspection.

·         Very good practice was observed at junior cycle with regard to the successful integration of listening skills and pre-listening and post-listening activities around the theme ‘Meine Stadt’ (my town).

·         Students are regularly assessed at school level and at individual teacher level to give students confidence and experience to further their learning.

·         Some teachers already commendably employ AfL principles such as peer review and comment only marking.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         It is recommended that the provision of subject-appropriate training in ICT as part of teachers’ CPD be addressed by school management. Further planning should also include the integration of ICT and suggestions detailed in the report.

·         Management and staff should consider alternative ways in which the profile of German could be further raised among the whole-school population.

·         Since the use of German as the language of instruction was not uniformly strong across the department, it is recommended that teachers should develop further strategies to embed target language skills in classroom practice and to increase the use of the target language to extend and challenge their own, and their learners’, linguistic competencies.

·         There is a need for further and more active methodologies to be incorporated into lessons to respond to the differentiated needs and abilities of all students.

·         It is recommended that all formal examinations contain an oral assessment component as well as written and aural components. Formal assessment is also recommended for TY students. 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of German, with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 September 2008