An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Saint Columba’s College
Whitechurch, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60320H
Date of inspection: 16 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Columba’s College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in French 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 principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Columba’s College is a co-educational school with a total of 283 students. The study of a modern European language is compulsory for all students. French forms part of the core curriculum in junior cycle. Students can also choose to study Spanish as a second modern European language. Setting is used to allocate students to different class groupings.
There is good provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes are spread throughout the week ensuring regular contact with the target language. This practice is to be commended as regular contact with the target language is of optimum benefit for students learning a foreign language.
There are five teachers of French. Each teacher is a graduate of French and by the end of the current academic year all will have experienced teaching the subject to state examination level. Certificate examination classes are generally assigned to experienced teachers, while the allocation of class groupings is agreed at French departmental meetings. School management spoke of a strong belief in and support for the continuous professional development of teachers. This is evidenced in the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). Teachers also correspond with the French Cultural Services for the purpose of acquiring new materials.
Most teachers have their own base classrooms and there were displays of maps, posters, charts of grammar rules and samples of students’ work on the walls. In one classroom there was a very impressive display of French cinema posters, which had been downloaded from the internet. The creation of a print-rich environment is to be commended as it exposes the students to many aspects of French life and culture. It can also provide affirmation for students’ work through the display of their projects. It is suggested that the print-rich environment be further extended to include charts of useful expressions, question forms or key points to remember, which students can assimilate over time. There were some classrooms where the students’ work was not displayed to its full potential. It is suggested that, in greater recognition of student effort, projects should be made more visible by backing them on coloured paper for display on white walls.
A good range of audio-visual equipment is available to support the teaching and learning of French in the school. Classrooms are equipped with tape recorders, televisions and video/DVD players. Overhead projectors and screens are also available to teachers. Material resources available include teachers’ books, worksheets and flashcards. There is an annual budget for the purchase of materials which is administered by the head of department. This is good practice and to be commended.
The school has a computer room, available on a booking system. While not observed on the day of the inspection, teachers reported using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with some class groups. Some software programmes for French have been installed on the college network and some of the web-based activities available on the internet are regularly used by both teachers and students. Students are also able to access the web for homework assignments. The members of the French department are to be commended for their willingness to embrace the new technologies for the teaching and learning of French.
Teachers facilitate co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. Some junior cycle students have enjoyed partaking in a French breakfast of coffee and croissants as part of a theme day in the school. Senior cycle students attend French films in the Irish Film Institute and film evenings are also organised. They have also participated in French language quizzes. Transition Year students stage an annual language play. Students have, in the past, travelled to France on school tours. This is to be commended and encouraged as good co-curricular support ensures that French maintains its profile within the school. It is suggested that consideration be given to extending co-curricular activities to include an annual quiz for first years. This could be devised and organised by Transition Year students. This would benefit students linguistically and also promote language learning as an enjoyable experience.
St Columba’s College has been actively involved in the school development planning process with the development and ongoing review of a whole school plan. Any changes are ratified annually by the Board of Management, the Board of Fellows and the staff.
Subject departments are also actively involved in development planning. Formal meetings take place at the beginning and end of each term, while teachers meet informally on an ongoing basis. There is a head of department structure. This is a voluntary position which currently is not rotated. The head of department organises meetings, sets the agenda and records any decisions taken.
Comprehensive long-term plans for the teaching and learning of French were made available on the day of the inspection. Desired learning outcomes were identified for the students in different year groups and in many cases the linguistic strategies to support such learning were also included. A sheet of resources available in the school library and the purpose for which they could be used had also been prepared as part of subject planning. Teachers are to be commended for the work completed to date on collaborative subject planning, which is at an advanced stage of the process. In order to further advance the process towards the stage of self-review, it is recommended that teachers include in their planning the school context, the methodologies used and the challenges for the teaching and learning of French in the future. This would help teachers, in time, to review the effectiveness of their work in light of desired learning outcomes.
Plans for the teaching and learning of French in Transition Year included the use of interactive programmes facilitating students to work at their own pace. This approach, providing different learning opportunities for the students, is to be commended. It is a very good means of responding to the guidelines for Transition Year which promote the value of self-directed learning. It is suggested that teachers continue to build on this good practice by exploring further ways of promoting learner autonomy among Transition Year students which would in turn help them with their studies at senior cycle.
There was evidence of good short-term preparation for all the lessons observed with the advance readiness of worksheets, overhead transparencies and relevant audio-visual equipment.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior level and two at senior level. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
The choice of lesson content was appropriate for the various ages and levels of the students concerned. Lessons were well structured and had a clear purpose. This is to be commended as a well structured lesson facilitates a constructive learning environment. In some instances the plan for the lesson was explained to students at the beginning of the lesson. This is good practice as it involves students in the collaborative work of the lesson from the outset and promotes responsibility for their own learning.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all lessons observed. There were also some good examples of students making efforts to interact with the teacher in the target language. This is to be commended. In order to further encourage and support this good practice among all students, consideration, as mentioned above, should be given to charting the relevant linguistic strategies for classroom interaction on the walls and promote their use at all times. There were some occasions, however, where there was too easy recourse to translation and students were not challenged sufficiently to understand in French. While acknowledging the need to support students of all abilities in the language learning process, teachers are encouraged to think of alternative ways to translation as a teaching strategy.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills and there were some good examples of grammatical structures being taught in context. This is good practice, in line with syllabus requirements. Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous learning and to consolidate the input of new material. There was good use of the board or the overhead projector in most lessons to link oral and written production.
There was good attention to pronunciation in many of the lessons observed through the practice of pronunciation drills or the sensitive correction of student errors. This is to be commended as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language acquisition. However, it is important to ensure that the students, when corrected, are given the opportunity to consolidate their learning by repeating the corrected version. There was similar attention to the correct use of the French alphabet in some lessons observed. This is also to be commended and it is suggested that, where relevant, this practice be extended to all lessons.
While teachers reported using pair or group work on a regular basis in their lessons, most of the methodologies observed on the day of the inspection involved whole class teaching. There were occasions in some lessons where the methodology used placed all the responsibility for work on the teacher and consequently did not always maintain the full attention of all students. In other instances the slow pace of the lesson facilitated a degree of passivity from students. While acknowledging that it is important to respond to the different abilities in a class grouping, attention to the pace and to the variety of methodologies used in the lesson should result in more active student engagement. It is recommended that greater balance between whole class teaching and active student engagement through the use of short focused activities would enhance the teaching and learning experience for both students and teachers.
There were some good examples of cultural awareness being integrated into the body of the lesson. This is to be commended and promoted as knowledge of the culture enhances the learning of the language.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a positive learning environment throughout. Students were well behaved in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Interaction with the students showed them to be willing to communicate in the target language and there was evidence of many enthusiastic learners of the language.
Student progress in St Columba’s College is monitored in a variety of ways. These include question and answer sessions, the setting and correction of homework, class tests and end of term examinations. According to college policy, students at junior cycle must be assigned written or oral work at the end of each lesson which must be corrected in the next lesson. Students at senior cycle must be assigned work at least three times weekly. There was evidence of this policy being implemented in the classes visited.
A review of student copies revealed evidence of homework being assigned and corrected and constructive comments included. This is good practice and to be commended. There was also evidence that students received a significant number of handouts to support their learning. Some student copies and folders were very well laid out and organised for ease of referral. Others were less systematic in their organisation. It is important that students are made aware of the value of a well ordered copy or folder and where appropriate encouraged to organise their work accordingly.
Students are formally monitored each week on the basis of effort and progress and these grades are reviewed by senior members of staff. They also have regular class tests.
Students sit internal school examinations at the end of each term. All examinations include an aural component and students from third year onwards also have an oral assessment. Some teachers include an oral assessment for first and second year students also. This is to be commended.
There was good evidence throughout of student learning and progress. Student responses in class indicated a good understanding of the lesson content and there was evidence of ongoing language learning in the work carried out in the lesson and in their copies. There was generally good engagement with the work of the lesson and any tasks given. This was evidenced in students’ interactions throughout.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is good whole school support and provision for the teaching and learning of French in the allocation of time, timetabling and the provision of resources.
The members of the French department have been actively engaged in subject planning and are at an advanced stage in the process.
The target language was effectively used as the language of instruction and communication.
Good integration of the different language skills, in accordance with syllabus guidelines, was observed in all lessons.
There was good evidence of student learning and potential.
There was evidence that teachers have embraced the new technologies for the teaching and learning of French.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that attention be paid to ensuring an ongoing balance between whole class teaching and active student engagement through the use of individual, pair or group work tasks.
It is recommended that alternative strategies to translation be considered in order to promote greater opportunities for using the target language in the lesson.
As part of ongoing subject planning, teachers should consider building on the good practice already in place by exploring ways of further promoting learner autonomy in Transition Year and underpinning work in senior cycle.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of French and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.