An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of German
Gormanston, County Meath
Roll number: 64420I
Date of inspection: 29 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in German
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Franciscan College, Gormanston, 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 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 (acting) and the German teacher.
Over the years, languages have formed a central strand of the curriculum in Franciscan College. There is an international dimension to the college’s language provision, as students from different countries attend the college as boarders. Access to languages is open and all students have the opportunity to study a modern language. On entry to the college, all first-year students participate in a taster programme in French and German for the first six weeks of term. Students are divided into two groups with each group having two periods per week in each language. Students then decide to continue with either French or German. It is good that students are given a choice of languages. Students from German-speaking countries attending the college are encouraged to participate in German language classes and their contribution not only enhances the language learning experience of the students, but also provides language teachers with the valuable support for maintaining and developing their own language skills and competence.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning in German is appropriate, and the optimal distribution of the lesson periods across the week allows for the regular and frequent contact with the target language which facilitates student learning and progress. However, because of the system whereby all students have an extended weekend break to facilitate boarders returning home once a month, German periods in second year for example, timetabled on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, are missed on these quite frequent occasions. Senior management should try to ensure that loss of tuition time in German on a regular basis is minimised.
The range of co-curricular activities relating to German is very good and enhances the language learning experience of students. Students of German have regular access to intercultural projects and initiatives, such as German film screenings suitable for young learners and participation in inter-school debating, the benefit of which was clearly in evidence both in student language and cultural awareness. The college has successfully participated with the German language assistant scheme in recent years; both school management and language teachers acknowledge the positive impact of the native speaker and representative of the target language community in the school and classroom. Students are encouraged to visit European countries and develop their knowledge of different languages and cultures.
The numbers opting for German are currently at a sustainable level, however, senior management needs to be vigilant to ensure that student numbers do not decrease. The uptake of German will continue to be supported through the provision of the taster term at the beginning of first year. Senior management, together with the German department, is encouraged to implement measures to promote uptake of German. In this context, the possibility of transition year (TY) students of German engaging in taster lessons in feeder primary schools could be explored, where the primary pupils can experience the learning of the new language. Further information in relation to ‘An Early Experience in German’ project can be found at www.mlpsi.ie by clicking on the primary/secondary link.
It is recommended that school management explores the possibility of the provision of a specialist teacher-based German room to facilitate the integration of a range of resources from different media sources, including information and communications technology (ICT), as well as allowing for the display of charts, maps, posters and student work. This would contribute to the creation of an attractive and stimulating physical German environment. The absence of technology and of the equipment to readily integrate video clips, songs and music deflected somewhat from the good quality teaching observed. Ready access to a range of media would bring the language learning experience for the students up-to-date and would respond more effectively to the way learners learn today.
The German planning folder contains all the elements required for good subject planning. The syllabus documents for junior and senior cycle are included as reference points for the programmes of work. This is commendable. The plan is an exemplar of good practice and requires only some small adjustments in content and presentation to bring this excellent, well thought-out document to completion.
The plan opens with an introduction which details the aims and objectives for the subject and for the learners of German at both junior and senior cycle. Laudable aims such as encouraging students to speak German as often as possible, maximising the use of the target language as the means of communication in the classroom, developing study skills and ways of building on student confidence are appropriately learner-centred. The objectives of enabling students to pursue some aspects of their interests through the medium of the target language and of contributing to students’ overall personal and social development are also commendable additions to the plan. These provide a relevance and overall context for the students’ engagement and ongoing participation in the language-learning process.
The plan is laid out in terms of programmes of work for each year group. These are thorough and detailed with lists of themes and topic areas to be covered, as well as the linguistic structures and the lexical items. Finally the content for the year is summarised in a statement of what learners will be able to do. This is in line with best practice and is highly commended. The subject plan also details lists of available resources, including useful websites. The inclusion of the development of examinations strategies for each stage of student learning would be appropriate. Assessment, both modes and frequency, is an area which should be covered in subject planning documentation and is therefore recommended for inclusion.
The carefully structured and integrated approach outlined in the subject department plan is in line with syllabus guidelines. Interestingly, some of the objectives articulated from the teacher perspective, such as to present language in interesting and relevant contexts, to provide a coherent approach to grammar in a communicative way and to broaden students’ awareness of life and culture in German-speaking countries, could readily be brought together to form a section entitled “methodology and approach”. The plan for transition year (TY) is in line with the philosophy of TY, ranging from consolidation of language learning achieved in junior cycle, to a focus on German film and literature and improvement of oral skills. Project work and cross-curricular work and trips are also integral components of the TY plan for German. To bring the concept of students writing a profile of themselves one step further, the use of the European Language Port-folio for TY students is recommended.
The most important resource for any language classroom is the language teacher who can model the target language community effectively. This was the case in Franciscan College. The use of German as the main language of instruction and communication was exemplary and the German world created by the teacher was effectively sustained. In line with subject planning objectives, students heard and used a lot of German. The natural idiomatic German of the teacher helped promote accuracy of pronunciation and intonation. Innovative and varied opportunities for students to use and sustain target language usage were created through classroom activities and tasks. The motivation and enthusiasm of the teacher engendered equal enthusiasm in the learners. Students demonstrated a very good work ethic and learners were active and participative.
The clarity of direction in lessons observed contributed to appropriate lesson pace and structure. The explicit sharing of lesson objectives with students, particularly at senior cycle, is recommended. This would contribute over time to the fulfilment of the objective of promoting learner autonomy. Students demonstrated a readiness to move to more independent learning. First-year students, for example, even at their early stage in learning, could readily begin to use the German alphabet in spelling and to produce full sentences in response to teacher questioning. When students were working in pairs, the teacher circulated and provided support to students individually and in small groups. There were excellent student-teacher relationships and classroom management was efficient and effective. The approach adopted in the teaching was well-structured and student-centred. Tasks were effectively interlinked and developed incrementally the skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing in an integrated way.
Some of the effective methodologies observed included the use of pre-listening exercises, tasks to ensure focussed listening, well prepared interlinked worksheets and a differentiated approach to learning. The use of synonyms in broadening out the vocabulary base of students was an effective strategy observed. There was judicious use of translation as a strategy to support learning and other strategies for linguistic scaffolding were deployed by the teacher. The integration of some simple literary texts such as poems and drama excerpts is recommended to broaden both the cultural and linguistic richness of the learning experience.
Student learning as observed and in interaction with students was very good with accuracy of expression, fluency and good pronunciation. Some good maintenance of notebooks was observed in the sample examined with systematic integration of grammatical and lexical elements. It was clear that some students required additional encouragement in the systematic maintenance of notebooks and in note-taking. At the end of the year, students in each year group from first year onwards are challenged to present themselves orally to native speakers of German who attend the boarding school. In this way, the value of integrating the representative of the target language and community is recognised and exploited by the German department. This is commendable.
Assessment practices as observed were both formative and affirmative. Homework is regularly assigned and lessons opened and closed with correction and assigning of homework. The recent change implemented in the college in relation to class formation to mixed-ability class groups is a welcome development which encourages all learners to reach their potential in learning and in language learning in particular. Assessment tasks were appropriate, relevant and students had acquired the necessary linguistic skills to complete the tasks. Student work was clearly annotated by the teacher with grades and commentary regarding its quality.
The college has an assessment policy and students sit in-house end-of-term and end-of-year examinations. The range of assessment modes employed for languages includes aural and oral assessment as well as written work. This is good practice. Students also demonstrated, in interaction with the inspector and as observed in the course of the lessons, an awareness of how the German language works. Students articulated their answers well and, while at times displaying the usual errors for their stage in learning, were commited to and confident in using the language.
An analysis of the attainment in certificate examinations shows that most students of German take the higher level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and that attainment at both levels has been consistently high.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Over the years, languages have formed a central strand of the curriculum in the college. Access to languages is open and all students have the opportunity to study a modern language.
· The range of co-curricular activities relating to German is very good and enhances the language learning experience of students.
· The German plan is an exemplar of good practice. The plan is laid out in terms of programmes of work for each year group. These are thorough and detailed with lists of themes and topic areas
to be covered, as well as the linguistic structures and the lexical items.
· Innovative and varied opportunities for students to use and sustain target language usage were created through classroom activities and tasks in the lessons observed. The motivation
and enthusiasm of the teacher engendered equal enthusiasm in the learners.
· An analysis of attainment in the certificate examinations shows that most students of German take the higher level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and the attainment at
both levels has been consistently high.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Senior management should try to ensure that loss of tuition time in German on a regular basis is kept to minimum.
· Senior management, together with the German department, is encouraged to implement measures to promote uptake of German. In this context, the possibility of TY students of
German engaging in taster lessons in feeder primary schools could be explored, where primary pupils can experience the learning of the new language.
· It is recommended that school management explores the possibility of the provision of a specialist teacher-based German room to facilitate the integration of a range of resources from
different media sources, including ICT, as well as allowing for the display of charts, maps, posters and student work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of German and with the acting deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2010