An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Blackrock, Co. Dublin
Roll number: 60081P
Date of inspection: 19 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rockford Manor. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Rockford Manor is an all girls’ school with an enrolment of 352 students. The study of a modern European language to Leaving Certificate is mandatory for all students apart from those with special educational needs (SEN) who have been granted an official exemption from Irish. All students take French at junior cycle. Students also study German in first year and have the option of continuing both languages through to junior and Leaving Certificate. Senior management is to be commended for affording students the option of studying two languages. Classes are mixed ability at junior cycle.
There is good whole-school support and provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes at junior cycle are timetabled in single periods and students in senior cycle have one double and three single periods for French. This is to be commended as regular contact with the language facilitates optimum progress.
There are four teachers of French in the school. They are all graduates in the subject and reported engaging in continued professional development through attendance at available inservice, courses in the Alliance Française and regular visits to France. Teachers are to be commended for their pursuit of available professional development in their subject area. School management is also to be commended for its promotion of inservice and professional development by releasing teachers for relevant training, supporting membership of the subject associations and, where possible, making timetabling arrangements for teachers pursuing postgraduate studies which are of benefit to the school.
Classrooms are student based. Nevertheless there were displays of maps, posters, framed pictures of classic French photographs and samples of students’ work in many of the classrooms visited. A list of useful websites for French was also posted up on the walls of some classrooms. The creation of a print rich environment is to be commended as a means of promoting students’ interest in the language, life and culture of France. In order to further support student learning, it is suggested that teachers also consider posting up key expressions or useful grammatical structures which can be assimilated over time.
Teachers have their own CD / cassette players and can access other audio-visual equipment when needed. An annual budget of €250 is allocated to each subject department for the purchase of resources to support teaching and learning. This budget is used by the members of the French department for the purchase of videos, DVDs, magazines and novels. Teachers operate a library system, whereby students can borrow French novels. The French department has recently been allocated the use of a small resource room in which to store materials. This is to be commended as it facilitates the organisation and sharing of resources.
Access to the two computer rooms in the school is on a booking basis, but according to the teachers, there is good flexibility with advance notice. The school is currently in the process of purchasing data projectors. Teachers reported using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the language class to revise grammar and to develop cultural awareness. Transition Year students have also used ICT to complete projects on different French regions. Teachers are to be commended for embracing ICT as a tool for the teaching and learning of French.
Co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French have included the organisation of school trips to Paris and working with a French school in Le Mans as part of a Comenius Action project co-ordinated by Léargas. The school has also participated in a Comenius related project which involved an exchange with the same French school. Cross-curricular activities are promoted in Transition Year where students, communicating in the target language, prepare French dishes. Links with the music department have also been fostered through the choice of French song for choral festivals and as part of the Junior Certificate programme. Participation in such co-and cross-curricular activities is good practice, as it provides students with the opportunity of experiencing the language in authentic and enjoyable contexts. It is suggested that this good work be further extended whereby students might be encouraged to engage in French related activities as membership of a French club, table quizzes or a French breakfast for junior cycle students. Such activities could be co-ordinated by Transition Year students as part of their TY programme. In this way, TY students could engage in active learning experiences, while at the same time promoting language learning for all as an enjoyable activity.
Rockford Manor has been actively engaged in the school development planning process since the outset with initial emphasis on whole school issues such as policies and programmes. The current focus is on teaching and learning. There are at least four meetings each year for collaborative subject planning, two in the first term and one in each of the following two terms. Subject planning documentation for each department is saved on to CD thus facilitating ongoing development and updating of documentation. Senior management is to be commended for facilitating opportunities for advancing the collaborative subject planning process. There is a co-ordinator for French. This is a voluntary post which is rotated among all members of the French department. Minutes are recorded of each meeting. This is good practice and to be commended.
Planning documentation submitted on the day of the inspection indicates that members of the French department have been actively engaged in subject development planning and are currently at an advanced stage of the process. The subject plan for French is clearly presented, stating the aims, objectives, context and resources for the teaching and learning of the subject. The plan also lists the provision for students with special educational needs and for international students who have not previously studied French. Senior management and the members of the French department are to be commended for their support of these students.
Comprehensive long-term plans for the teaching and learning of French for each year group were also submitted outlining curriculum content, methodologies, homework and proposed assessments. Teachers of French are to be commended for the high quality of the work they have completed to date in the area of subject planning. As a means of further enhancing the subject development planning process and facilitating self-evaluation, it is suggested that the curriculum content be redefined in terms of desired learning outcomes with the focus on building up a range of transferable skills which are not text-book or topic bound. The linguistic strategies needed to support such learning should also be included.
The subject plan for the teaching and learning of French in Transition Year (TY) suggests that its aims and objectives are in keeping with the TY guidelines. This is to be commended. As a means of further enriching the Transition Year programme for the teaching and learning of French, it is suggested that some opportunities for self-directed learning be afforded to students. The European Language Portfolio might serve as a useful resource for supporting such an approach. The earlier mentioned involvement of TY students in promoting co-curricular activities might also provide opportunities in this regard.
There was evidence of careful preparation with the advance readiness of audio-visual equipment and photocopied materials to support the teaching and learning in the lessons observed.
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 lesson content was appropriate for the various ages and levels of the students concerned. Lessons were well structured, appropriately paced and had a clear purpose. They generally began with the correction of homework or quick revision before moving into the body of the lesson. This is to be commended as a well-ordered lesson contributes to a positive learning environment. In some instances, a lesson plan was outlined on the board. This is also commendable practice as it involves students as active partners in the learning process. It is suggested that this good practice be extended to all lessons and consideration given to redefining it in terms of a proposed learning outcome for the lesson.
A thematic approach was used in all lessons observed. This is good practice as it facilitates the integration of the different language skills in line with syllabus requirements.
The target language was well used by the teachers in all of the lessons observed. This is good practice. There was also evidence in some lessons of students making good efforts to interact with the teacher and with fellow students in the target language. This is to be commended. It is recommended that this good practice be further progressed by giving all students the necessary strategies for classroom interaction in the target language. As mentioned earlier, key expressions could be displayed on the walls of the classrooms or displayed in a prominent place in students’ copies for ease of reference and assimilation.
Good attention to pronunciation was evident in some of the lessons inspected and students were observed to read aloud in a competent and confident manner. This is to be commended as correct pronunciation enhances students’ confidence and proficiency when learning a foreign language. It is recommended that, where relevant, regular pronunciation drills should be integrated into lessons. It is also important to ensure that, when pronunciation is corrected, students are given the opportunity to internalise the correction by repeating the corrected version.
Visual supports were effectively used to introduce new vocabulary and consolidate previous learning, while the use of song proved a fun way of reinforcing grammatical structures. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to promote language learning as an enjoyable experience. Video was used as a resource for teaching and learning in some of the lessons observed. This is also to be commended an enjoyable means of presenting material to students. The use of preparatory activities prior to the showing of the video supported the learner’s comprehension thereby facilitating optimum benefit from the material presented. This is good practice.
Group-work was used in some lessons and students were observed using the target language while engaging in the activity. The effective use of pair or group work is to be commended, as it engages all the students at the same time and promotes collaboration and active and independent learning. In some instances students were given a choice of tasks. While the element of choice is commendable in promoting learner autonomy, it is important to ensure that students do not spend too much time choosing the activity to the detriment of the desired learning outcome.
Interaction with the students showed them to have a good understanding of the target language and a general willingness to communicate. They engaged well with the teacher and with their peers when involved in pair or group tasks. Good classroom management contributed to positive learning environment and there was evidence of mutual respect between teachers and students.
Student progress is monitored through questioning in class, assigning and correcting homework, class tests and formal school examinations. Rockford Manor has drafted a homework policy and is due to present it to the board of management for ratification in the near future. A review of student copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected. Some copies had very detailed corrections and comments included. This is to be commended as an effective means of affirming and informing student progress. It is recommended that this practice be extended, as there were some instances where it was not clear if the work completed in the copies was class or home-work.
Students sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. First and second year students also have continuous assessment, a mark for which is included in their bi-annual results. All formal assessments include an aural component. Transition Year students are awarded credits for French on the basis of an oral examination, while fifth year students have an oral component included in their end of year examination. Sixth year students sit a mock oral examination. The inclusion of an aural and oral component is good practice and to be commended. It is suggested that teachers consider introducing a simple oral assessment for junior cycle students in order to build up their oral confidence and competence. A review of student attainment at ordinary level in the Junior Certificate examinations suggests that students be further encouraged to aim towards their full potential in the uptake of levels.
Contact with parents is maintained through the school reports which are sent home twice yearly and parent teacher meetings which are held annually for each year group.
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 French and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.