An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of German
Scoil Mhuire Community School
Clane, County Kildare
Roll number: 91372D
Date of inspection: 30 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire Community School, Clane, conducted as a 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the German teachers.
It is commendable that languages form a central strand of the curriculum in Scoil Mhuire Community School. The school has a modern languages policy and it is the schoolís policy that all students have access to a modern language and that each student studies a modern language. Prior to entry to the school, students make a choice between the study of French or German. Students are given opportunities to access a second modern language later on in their learning cycle, for example ab initio in Transition Year (TY). The possibility of learning a language, including German, as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is also available to students.
Currently, sustainable numbers are opting for German from year to year. The fact that local feeder primary schools are offering French to their fifth and sixth class groups has reportedly impacted on uptake in German. In the last intake of first year, however, sufficient numbers selected German to warrant the creation of two class groups and this is encouraging. The German department is pro-active in examining ways to consolidate the uptake of German and to ensure continued sustainable numbers for the subject. A long-term action plan for German is included in the German planning documentation. One idea being explored is that TY students should visit feeder primary schools to engage in taster lessons in German, a worthwhile intervention to support uptake of German. Further information in relation to ĎAn Early Experience in Germaní project can be found at www.mlpsi.ie by clicking on the primary/secondary link.
The provision for German is very good in terms of time allocation. German is allocated four periods in first year and five periods in second and third year. At senior cycle, four periods are allocated to TY and five periods in fifth and sixth year. The optimal distribution of the lesson periods across the week allows for regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress. School management is commended for this. At senior cycle, modern languages are timetabled concurrently. This facilitates the creation of ordinary and higher level groups. While the school has a policy of mixed ability at junior cycle and in TY, the fact that there are two teachers of German enables the creation of an ordinary and higher-level group in fifth and sixth year, when appropriate. Concurrency also facilitates intercultural language activities for which all language class groups can come together, such as inter-class or inter-school debating, cross-curricular projects and cultural festivities, as well as screenings of German films suitable for young learners. The co-curricular provision enriches the language learning experience of the students and is commended.
The fact that classrooms are teacher-based allows for the creation of an authentic and stimulating German learning environment as well as the integration of a range of resources, 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. When further information and communication technology (ICT) becomes available, this will ease the inclusion and integration of video clips from the internet or from German films and German satellite TV. Technology is a wonderful means of bringing the world of the students of today into the classroom. At the moment, classes may be brought to the computer room for internet access. For example, one period per week is allocated in the computer room for students of TY to research topics independently and for the completion of interactive language exercises. This is very good. School management is urged to plan incrementally for the provision of ICT equipment in classrooms, such as data projectors, laptops and access to the schoolís intranet.
A Transition Year (TY) and fifth year trip to Germany is being considered by the German department. This will further enhance the language learning experience of its students and will provide an excellent means of promoting cross-curricular links between subjects such as History, Geography and Art. The school has benefited from its participation in the German language assistant scheme as recently as the school year 2005/2006. The effective mentoring and monitoring of the integration of the language assistant into the school ensured that the language assistant worked well for the students and the school. In the current school year, the school has applied to be part of a Comenius partnership which will promote intercultural exchange and understanding. School management is to be commended for facilitating participation in such schemes.
The participation, engagement and behaviour of students as experienced at the time of the evaluation are a credit to management and organsational structures within the school.
Subject planning for German is well advanced in Scoil Mhuire. The planning documentation is excellent and the German teachers are praised for the quality of the planning completed to date. The German plan is comprehensive, well laid out and appropriately begins with a reference to the mission statement of the school. The overarching aims and objective for the subject at junior and senior cycle are outlined, as well as the resources, methodologies, cross-curricular links and assessment modes. A detailed plan or scheme of work for each year group then follows, which includes the themes, the grammatical components and the learner outcomes to be achieved on a weekly and monthly basis across the full school year. This is very good practice.
The extent of the detail included provides an excellent check list for teachers and would also serve as a useful resource to promote learner autonomy in students. The fifth and sixth year plan is appropriately laid out in themes and effective teaching methodologies for the communicative language classroom are listed. The inclusion of learning outcomes in line with the junior cycle plan is an aspect which should be developed over time and is therefore recommended. Recording the learning outcomes by teachers or requiring the students to record the learning outcomes as part of their self-assessment across the year would help in the completion of realistic and achievable learning outcomes for students. It was good to observe the learning objectives and anticipated learning outcomes recorded in planning documentation being implemented in practice in the classroom. Both teachers of German were observed to cover the same themes in parallel second year class groups observed, and this reflected the planned programme.
There is also a dedicated Transition Year plan. The aims and objectives for German in TY are in line with the philosophy of the programme and with the recommended approach for TY. The compilation of a German magazine aimed at Junior Cycle students is an innovative and creative idea to develop linguistic skills and to motivate student interest. Having an authentic target audience for the magazine gives relevance and validity to the project. In the LCA plan, the module content is clearly laid out, and the learning outcomes and key assignments which will assess that learning are detailed.
Senior management facilitates regular German planning meetings as well as meetings of the modern languages department. This has promoted very good collaborative practices among teachers and brought cohesion to the work of language teachers. The sharing of resources was good. The position of co-ordinator for the subject is rotated and this is good practice as it allows each member of the department to develop administrational skills and can provide opportunities for development. Records of the German planning meetings illustrate the range of items discussed, such as planning of lesson content to be covered with concurrent groups, state examinations results analysis, planning of trips to the target language country, in-house and common examinations. The template provided by senior management ensures an accurate record of deliberations and decisions.
Planning documentation illustrates the German departmentís engagement with continuing professional development and has drawn upon the ongoing research work of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and other bodies to inform their teaching and learning. The future development of the subject in the school also receives attention in planning documentation. This is exemplary practice.
The quality of teaching was good overall. Lessons were well organised and were characterised by clarity of direction and purpose. Best practice was observed where the objectives of the lesson were shared explicitly with students. Sharing the objective of the lesson, with students at senior cycle particularly, helps students to focus on the purpose of the lesson from the outset and not to view the practice of linguistic structures or the creation of sentences in isolation or as an end in itself. Lessons were in the main effective in achieving their objectives. Good short-term planning provided an appropriate structure and pace to lessons and teachers effectively and systematically planned for productive use of the instructional time.
An integrated approach to language teaching was adopted in line with syllabus recommendations and skills were effectively integrated with exercises and activities which developed the skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing. There was very good use of the target language as the main language of communication and instruction in the classroom and the best practice was observed where this was consistent. The good linguistic competence of the German teachers ensured the authenticity of the German environment. Students heard and used a lot of German. †
When an effective German world is created, it is important that this be sustained throughout lessons. On one occasion, the use of translation particularly disturbed the rhythm of the lesson. The use of translation as a strategy to support students should be avoided and the use of alternative strategies needs to be consolidated. Even in the context where much of the assessment will ultimately be conducted through English, themes and exercises designed to develop examination preparation should be conducted in simple German. Effective strategies observed included the use of synonyms in broadening the vocabulary base of students and the use of charts displaying useful phrases for classroom interaction in the target language. Worksheets with guided questions and worksheets with exercises which were interlinked and handled the same theme from different perspectives were prepared in advance by the teachers. The use of such worksheets and similar preparatory homework exercises are strategies which were successfully employed to help students assimilate new material in advance of lessons and alleviated the need for translation.
Occasions to promote the spontaneous oral production of the target language were created in all lessons observed. One lesson opened with students describing the weather for that day, an activity which students could complete with ease. Another lesson involving the use of adjectives to describe peopleís attributes and qualities allowed students to apply their knowledge and skills with confidence. In order to express their opinion on a theme that interested them, students made great efforts to use the language even with some errors. With sensitive correction from the teacher, students succeeded in contributing to the discussion. Teachers demanded the use of full sentences and this is good practice. Some reticence on the part of students was observed, as is normal for their stage of learning in the language. Therefore, a focus on oral production without the support of the aural or written word is recommended on a regular basis.
Students were active in their learning when role-play and pair work were observed. Pair and group work when organised in a structured way ensures the equal participation of all students. In one lesson observed, the three minutes assigned to pair work was a good idea to get students talking. When students were given a role-play, instructions were clearly written on role-play cards and given orally in German. Students applied themselves with diligence and enjoyed role-playing in pairs and to the class group. The incorporation of silent reading was a further strategy which was useful for some students. When students were asked to read aloud, pronunciation was accurate. Students demonstrated an enjoyment of classroom activities, and were enthusiastic learners due to the enthusiasm and engagement of their teachers with the language.
Classrooms were very attractively decorated with posters and student work. Classroom management was effective and a positive friendly rapport was established between teachers and students. Student behaviour was exemplary. Students were competent and confident in interactions with the inspector and demonstrated that they were capable of independently meeting the challenge of lesson content and consistently using the target language.
Review and evaluation are an integral part of the German departmentís way of working. Records of department meetings record regular analysis of student attainment in state examinations to inform planning and review. Assessing both the learnerís attainment of desired and anticipated outcomes and the effectiveness of the lesson to lead learners to these outcomes is crucial to systematic planning. Both senior management and the German department have targeted improvement in uptake at higher level in state examinations. Analysis of the state examination results indicates an improvement in both uptake and attainment at higher level in German in 2008, with a good number of students receiving A, B and C grades and very few E grades at either level.† Students of Clane Community School have also been recipients of scholarships from the German government based on Junior Certificate results.
The assigning and correction of homework is central in assessing student progress and learning. In the sample of student copybooks examined, there was consistent annotation, commentary and the assigning of a mark or grade on the part of teachers. The very good strategy of using a German rubber stamp on copies was in evidence, appropriate to this age group and visually attractive and motivating. While progress and improvement in accuracy were noticeable due to teacher effort and careful correction, the completion of follow-through on corrections by students requires further attention. Students are assessed through in-house examinations and common examinations are used, where appropriate. Students are assessed across a range of modes, including oral and aural. Reporting to parents is systematic, regular and affirming.
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 principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2010