An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
The King’s Hospital
Roll number: 60272W
Date of inspection: 21 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in The King’s Hospital. 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, academic head 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.
The King’s Hospital is a large co-educational day and boarding school situated in Palmerstown, Dublin 20. French is one of three modern languages taught in the school. On entry to the school, all students must choose one language from French, German or Spanish in first year. Students have the option of taking up a second modern language in second year. Such provision is commendable as is the inclusive practice of offering open access to all languages to students of all abilities including those with special educational needs.
Students are taught in mixed ability groups in junior cycle. Time allocation to French is good with four periods per week in first and second year respectively. In the current academic year, one group of third year students has five periods while two other third-year classes have four periods per week. All classes are single periods of forty minutes duration and this is in line with best practice as students derive optimum benefit from regular contact with the target language. Transition Year is mandatory in the school and three periods per week have been allocated to French. In senior cycle, all of the four class groups in sixth year have five single periods. These classes are timetabled concurrently in order to facilitate student movement between higher and ordinary level. In fifth year, although it was reported that French is offered in two separate option lines, all four class groups are timetabled concurrently. This may be placing unnecessary constraints on the timetable. Students are allocated three single and one double period. This arrangement is not ideal in that there are no French lessons for fifth-year students between period 1 on Wednesday and periods 4/5 on Saturday. Consideration should be given to placing French in an options pool similar to the present system in sixth year, where French is allocated single periods. In senior cycle, school management allocates teachers, on a rotating basis, to class groups of different levels. This is commendable practice as it allows all teachers to keep in touch with teaching the Leaving Certificate syllabus at both ordinary and higher level.
All teachers of French have studied the language to degree level and their range of teaching experience varies from two to twenty years. They are members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and individual teachers have availed of professional development courses in France and in Ireland. This is commendable as it is important that language teachers keep abreast of current best teaching and linguistic practice. Two Higher Diploma in Education students teach French in the school at present. They receive substantial professional support from their mentor, from the head of modern languages and from the academic head.
A dual system of teacher-based and student-based rooms is in operation in the school. As it is not possible to allocate individual rooms to all teachers, rooms are assigned on a seniority basis. Some teachers of French work in their own rooms in which a supportive language-learning environment has been created through displays of student work, posters and key communicative phrases. The effectiveness of the language classrooms would be enhanced by the addition of a large map of France, prominently displayed. For those who teach in student-based rooms, it is recognised that it is very difficult to provide the necessary visual stimuli to enhance the teaching of the language. Perhaps, in the next academic year it may be possible to assign newer members of the department to the language classrooms of more senior colleagues when these rooms are not occupied. In this way, all students and teachers could benefit from the print-rich, supportive atmosphere of a specialist modern language room.
A good range of co- curricular activities complements the teaching and learning of French in the school. For example, junior-cycle students have enjoyed a typical French Breakfast and have participated in some cross-curricular projects in collaboration with the Geography department. The French Theatre for Schools group has performed for Transition Year students while some senior students participate in the inter-schools French debating competition, Les Joutes Oratoires and the table quiz organised by the FTA. It is suggested that some occasional school-based activities such as inter-class table quizzes, poster competitions in the target language or a French Day, which could, perhaps, be organised with the help of Transition Year students. Such activities would further enhance both the teaching of the language and cultural awareness as well as promoting student interest in using French in an enjoyable way. Consideration could also be given to the idea of setting up an e-mail or cultural exchange programme with a school in France or in a French speaking country.
The French team has compiled a commendable amount of extra resources to support their teaching. These resources include educational videos, DVDs of suitable French films, colourful magazines and a good selection of novels and short stories in the school library. The department has an annual budget, although the amount is not necessarily specified. Funds are available for the purchase of supplementary materials. All teachers have individual tape recorders and CD players, and access to television sets and DVD players in the classrooms.
It was reported that up to now, ICT has been used in a limited way to download material to support the teaching of French. Broadband is available throughout the school and teachers have access to five computers in the staff room. It is recommended that teachers research suitable language websites in order to access authentic, appropriate material for use in the classroom. The portal site www.french.ie which has been created specifically for teachers of French in Ireland, is worthy of particular attention. It carries worksheets, games, up-to-date articles and themed dossiers which are very useful in supplementing textbooks. In addition, there is an online forum where teachers can share ideas, advice or concerns relating to the teaching of French. Students have access to one fully equipped computer room and to computers in the school library. Plans for the installation of a second computer room and a new computer assisted language learning (CALL) laboratory are at an advanced stage. As many students are boarders, they will have the opportunity to use the school’s ICT equipment to the full. They need to be advised, therefore, on how to make optimum use of computers to facilitate independent learning in French.
The school is actively involved in the school development planning process. Subject departments were established ten years ago and the position of head of modern languages is a special duties post. All heads of subject departments meet monthly with the academic council, which is composed of three assistant heads. This is very good practice. In addition, formal meetings of all teachers of French take place once a month. An agreed agenda is drawn up, minutes kept and a written record of the issues discussed is submitted to the academic head. Such a comprehensive, structured system of consultation ensures that all members of the team are involved in collaborative planning. It was noted that an ethos of collegiality and co-operation permeates the French department.
A full folder of documents pertaining to modern languages was made available on the day of inspection. Informative subject planning documentation was included. The well-presented, long-term subject plans listed the general and communicative aims, specific objectives for each year group and an inventory of supplementary language resources. The common plan for the teaching and learning of French and German in Transition Year contained specific details on content and methodologies. All teachers have copies of, and work to, the subject plan for the various year groups. Ongoing monitoring of the subject plan is essential in order to ensure that activities and methodologies relate directly to the learning objectives.
As previously mentioned, junior cycle and Transition Year students are taught in mixed ability groups in both junior and senior cycle. While this is fully in line with NCCA guidelines on language teaching, it is recognised that working with mixed ability classes, makes substantial demands on teachers. It can be challenging to plan for the needs of students with varying levels of ability. A mixed-ability seminar was held in the school a number of years ago. As many teachers of French were not members of The King’s Hospital staff at that time, it is suggested, that the scope of some future departmental meetings be broadened to enable teachers of modern languages to share their experience, knowledge and best teaching practice. It would be helpful to document some effective teaching and learning strategies for differentiated learning in mixed ability groups. Advice and support on planning, preparation, approaches and teaching strategies suitable for mixed-ability classes may be obtained from the Second Level Support Service (01-2365021) or www.slss.ie In anticipation of the installation of new ICT facilities, it is recommended that the French team draw up a plan for the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of the language to include training for teachers in how to use interactive language software.
In terms of teacher short-term planning, all lessons observed were well prepared and were presented in a competent and confident manner. Teachers had prepared audio equipment, video, photocopied handouts, worksheets and flash cards. Such advance preparation ensured a high level of teacher readiness.
There was a logical structure and clear progression to each lesson observed. Topics were well chosen and subjects relevant to young people, such as career options and leisure interests, succeeded in stimulating interest. It is recommended that the theme of the lesson and some key phrases be written on the board at the start of class as this measure helps to focus student attention from the outset. A variety of learning activities ensured that the work moved along at an appropriate pace. All teachers displayed an excellent ability to impart knowledge, allied to a lively and enthusiastic teaching style.
The large white boards were used to good effect by all teachers and on a number of occasions, new phrases which had been heard on tape were written up to reinforce retention. In a junior cycle class students prepared for the aural component of the Junior Certificate examination, answering questions in English, as required. They were, however, continually reminded by the teacher of the French phrases they had heard on tape. Key words and idiomatic phrases were extracted and used to broaden and develop students’ vocabulary. This is an excellent language teaching strategy and is one that is worth employing in all lessons. The board could also be usefully employed to collate student ideas and opinions in a “brainstorming” session. Colourful visual stimuli such as flash cards and video clips were integrated effectively into some lessons.
Examples of good teaching methodologies were seen in all classes. For instance, a pair work session on Les Loisirs worked well in a senior cycle class where the teacher circulated freely, listened attentively to the student dialogues and offered help when needed. In another class an exercise on Après le Bac was observed where students were asked to discuss with their peer what they would like to do on leaving school. Students had been given the necessary key phrases on a handout the previous day, had learned them as homework and were able to use them effectively to express their opinions. Such timed pair work sessions are invaluable for affording students the opportunity to speak French. This exercise was followed by a short video extract, in which young people from three francophone countries spoke about their career choices. Students viewed the video clip a number of times before completing a written questionnaire. This structure was a very good example of smooth progression from one element of the lesson to another and the skilful integration of the four skills of language learning - speaking, listening, reading and writing.
A further example of good practice was seen in another senior cycle class where the topic for discussion was sport and pastimes. A good blend of activities, including general and directed questioning and a short listening comprehension on roller-skating in France encouraged maximum student participation and interaction. The topic was skilfully exploited in the context of the students’ own experience in the school where all first years are obliged to participate in a team sport such as rugby, hockey or basketball. Students responded well to questioning and were keen and well able to articulate their views, in French, on the merits or otherwise of sport. Following a lively discussion, key phrases were agreed and written on the board. Students were then instructed to write a short passage entitled Tout le Monde Devrait Pratiquer Un Sport, as homework. The brisk pace and good continuity ensured that students remained focused and interested throughout the lesson period.
When opportunities arise, efforts should be made to integrate elements of cultural awareness into lessons, particularly when teaching topics that readily lend themselves to this.
Use of the target language was exemplary. All teachers displayed a very high level of linguistic competence and were comfortable speaking French to their students. The register of language that was used was appropriate to the needs and the ability of the different class groups. Through the imaginative use of gestures, facial expressions and synonyms teachers avoided having to resort to English. The commitment of the French team to use the target language for instruction, for classroom management and for communication was impressive and is highly commended. It was obvious that students were accustomed to hearing and using French in the classroom and that they have benefited considerably from such ongoing exposure. Many students were able to respond to and interact with ease, in French, with their teacher. In all lessons observed, it was noted that teachers paid careful attention to correct pronunciation and intonation, and correction, when required, was skilful and sensitive. The revision and continual use of the French alphabet with all year groups will help to sustain correct pronunciation
The teaching of French is carried out in The King’s Hospital with dedication and a clear understanding of the needs of students. A high degree of learner motivation and engagement was noted in all classes observed. Purposeful teacher movement around the classroom ensured that students remained on task. Learning activities were competently managed in a warm, positive and productive atmosphere. Classroom management skills were excellent and students were focused and hard-working. In all classes, teachers praised, encouraged and motivated their students and displayed a keen interest in their progress.
Student progress is carefully and regularly monitored by teachers. The school operates a comprehensive system of assessment including questioning in class, regular class tests, projects, monthly effort marks, formal school examinations and homework.
Formal in-house examinations take place at Christmas for third, fifth and sixth-year students. First, second and Transition Year students receive assessments based on the term’s work. All non-state examination classes sit formal examinations in summer and third and sixth-year students sit “mock” examinations in February. All results are sent to parents or guardians and all students also receive a general, non-academic report at Easter.
All year groups sit common written and aural assessments in French. This is commendable practice as it helps to standardise the teaching and assessing of the language in the school. Oral proficiency is tested formally in senior cycle and informally in junior cycle. This too is an excellent assessment strategy as it highlights the importance of the spoken language from the outset and it consolidates and validates the ongoing use of French in the classroom. Teachers are to be commended for their initiative in this regard. Prior to the Leaving Certificate, sixth-year students sit a “mock” oral examination which is administered by a teacher of French other than their own. This is an excellent strategy to motivate students to take the exercise seriously.
The school has developed a policy regarding the analysis of student outcomes in state examinations. On receipt of results, management and subject departments analyse student achievement in the various subjects and vis-à-vis national norms. This is commendable as such analysis serves to inform school and subject department policy and practice.
Inspection of student copies showed that homework has been assigned and corrected. Some students had well-maintained vocabulary copies which they use as a reference and revision aid. The frequent monitoring and correction of student work, accompanied by individually focused positive, written feedback is recommended for all year groups.
In interactions with the inspector, students in all classes were courteous and co-operative and many demonstrated a high level of competency in French.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and academic head and with the teachers of French at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.