An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Ballyroan Dublin 16
Roll number: 60342R
Date of inspection: 8 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éanna. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Coláiste Éanna is an all boys’ school with 428 students. The study of a modern European language is mandatory to Leaving Certificate. Students choose their subjects on entry into first year. The school offers a choice between French and Spanish and the trend in the past few years points to a decline in the number of students taking French. Management and staff need to review this trend and explore ways in which it might be reversed. Classes are mixed ability in junior cycle and the allocation of teachers to classes and levels remains the prerogative of management. While acknowledging this prerogative it is recommended that as many teachers as possible be afforded the opportunity to teach to all levels, in order to extend the pool of experience and expertise available within the subject department.
There is good whole school support and provision for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. French is timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week in line with best practice which advocates ongoing contact with the target language. There is however, a need to review the provision for students with special educational needs (SEN) who are taking French for Junior Certificate as they are currently withdrawn from one period of French each week for learning support.
There are currently five teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. Most teachers have availed of the inservice provided for teachers of French in recent years and some have availed of inservice in France. Some teachers also reported being nominal members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). It is recommended that teachers avail of all opportunities for continuing professional development both in Ireland and France and that teachers disseminate among their colleagues information gathered at meetings or seminars.
There are designated CD players for the members of the French department and easy access to VCR and DVD players to support teaching and learning. The department also receives an annual budget of approximately €200 for the purchase of additional resources. Any further resources needed are provided on request to management. All classrooms are wired for broadband and there are currently two data projectors available for use. Teachers reported using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to download resources and to enable students research projects. It is suggested that with the greater availability of ICT hardware envisaged for the forthcoming school year, teachers further progress their use of ICT as a teaching tool in the language class.
Classrooms are currently student-based. While there were displays of students’ work in French in some of the classrooms visited, there was generally an absence of visual stimuli to support the teaching and learning of the language and culture of France. It is recommended that, with the advent of teacher-based classrooms in the forthcoming academic year, a print-rich environment be developed in all language-learning classrooms to include maps, posters, samples of students’ work and key linguistic structures and expressions.
Co-curricular activities have in the past included the preparation of a French lunch by Transition Year students and visits to the art gallery as part of a module on French artists. Past activities have also included trips to the cinema and visits from French Theatre for Schools companies. The provision of co- and extra-curricular activities is a very effective way of creating enjoyable language learning experiences for students and raising the profile of French in the school. To this end it is recommended that students be afforded the opportunity to engage in co-curricular activities, some of which could be prepared and co-ordinated by TY students. The organisation of such activities could create genuine learning experiences for TY students in addition to promoting language learning as an enjoyable activity for all students of French. Raising the profile of French in this manner may also contribute to halting or reversing the current decline in uptake of the language.
Teachers in Coláiste Éanna are currently engaged in subject planning as part of the whole school development planning initiative. They meet formally twice yearly and informally throughout the year. There is a subject co-ordinator for French, a position which is rotated between meetings. Teachers do not currently set a formal agenda and the updating of planning documentation serves as the record of such meetings. In the interests of continuity and the optimum organisation of the subject planning process it is suggested that the position of subject co-ordinator be rotated on an annual or biennial basis, that an agenda be set and minutes be taken of all formal meetings. A record of key decisions taken at informal meetings could also be considered.
Schemes of work submitted by some teachers on the day of the inspection indicated commendable individual commitment to subject planning. Teachers reported that work was in progress in the area of developing a collaborative whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French. While the work completed to date is acknowledged, it is suggested that a more systematic approach would further facilitate the advancement of the process. It is thus recommended that, as a means of advancing the subject planning process, teachers collaborate to draw up a series of desired learning outcomes for each year group in the form of ‘can do’ statements. The linguistic strategies and methodologies to support such outcomes should also be included. This approach, which involves building up students’ transferable skills, avoids the danger of the teaching and learning of French becoming textbook or topic bound. It will also help teachers evaluate the effectiveness of their methodologies in supporting learning.
There is currently no Transition Year (TY) plan for the teaching and learning of French. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order to be compliant with the circular M1/00 on the writing of an annual TY plan. When drawing up a plan it is suggested that consideration be given to introducing new ways of learning, for example aspects of learner autonomy as recommended in the TY guidelines.
There was evidence of good preparation for the individual lessons observed with the advance readiness of audiovisual equipment, photocopied materials including the preparation of templates and sample answers appropriate for relevant classes and the time of year.
The evaluation involved the observation of five lessons, two at junior cycle, one TY and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
There was some use of the target language by teachers in all of the lessons observed. However, as the lesson progressed, many teachers reverted to interacting with the students in English. Teachers need to remain mindful of the importance of maintaining ongoing interaction in the target language, in order to support aural and oral skills development and to heighten awareness among students of French as a living language. To this end it is recommended that the use of the target language be extended in all lessons and that students be provided with the linguistic strategies needed to ask questions, make requests or express difficulties in the target language.
The content of the lessons observed was appropriate to the interests and abilities of the students. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills in most instances including the teaching of grammatical structures, which was well integrated into the body of some lessons. This approach is good practice as progress in one skill area should support overall skills development. There were some instances, however, where there was a need to place greater emphasis on the development of oral and written competencies. Listening texts were used in most lessons, to support new learning or as examination preparation. When playing a listening text it is important that it is played in its entirety the first time in order to facilitate a global understanding of the text. Teachers should also keep in mind that the exploitation and benefits of a text may differ depending on whether it is used as a teaching tool, examination preparation or as a testing instrument. Where a lengthy reading or listening text is to be used as a teaching tool it is suggested that it could be abridged in order to facilitate optimum engagement and comprehension on the part of all students.
There was good attention to pronunciation in some lessons where students read short sentences aloud and identified the key sounds. This approach to pronunciation is to be commended as the use of short sentences facilitated the specific task of reading for pronunciation rather than comprehension. It is suggested that all students repeat the key sounds once they have been identified by the individual students and where relevant that a quick pronunciation drill precede exercises which involve reading aloud. When engaging students in reading aloud it is important also to remain mindful of the purpose of the exercise. If reading is for comprehension purposes it is preferable that the teacher read the text aloud; students, when reading aloud, tend to focus on their performance in relation to pronunciation and may lose the meaning.
Cultural awareness including current affairs was very adeptly integrated into some lessons. This is to be commended. It is important that teachers keep up to date with the language and culture of the country and integrate this knowledge into their work in the classroom as a means of enriching the language learning experience for their students.
Some of the methodologies used focused on examination preparation which was appropriate for the class group and time of the year. In other lessons however, it is suggested that teachers move out more from the text book and examination mode to provide students with a broad range of learning experiences to enhance their progress and interest in language learning as a means of communication. Question and answer sessions were successfully used in some lessons to recap on previous learning. However, there were some instances where question and answer sessions were too lengthy and in other instances became the overriding methodology of the lesson. In order to be fully effective in engaging all students in the learning process it is important to vary the methodologies used in the lesson and to maintain an appropriate balance between teacher-directed and student-centred activities. The use of short focused pair or group work activities whereby students both ask and answer questions would provide one such variation and, at the same time, facilitate better time management. Greater use of student-based activities would also engage students more effectively in their own learning.
Students’ responses, in many of the lessons observed, indicated a good understanding of the work being carried out and there were many examples of students’ willingness to communicate. However, some students were reticent about speaking in the target language. Greater emphasis on the development of oral skills through the use of the target language for classroom interaction and through the use of student-based tasks should increase students’ confidence and competence. Better student engagement might also help resolve the classroom management difficulties observed in some lessons.
A variety of techniques is used to monitor student progress. They include question and answer sessions, homework and regular testing of students. A review of copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected and a comment included in most instances. This is good practice as a means of providing ongoing feedback to students on their work and progress. It is recommended that these practices be extended to all class groups.
Students in Coláiste Éanna currently have five formal assessments annually, at Halloween, Christmas, February, Easter and summer. Teachers reported that students sit common tests where appropriate and that they include an aural and oral component at all levels. Sixth year students are given a formal oral examination prior to their Leaving Certificate oral examination. Senior management and staff are to be commended for their ongoing vigilance in relation to the monitoring of student progress.
Contact with parents is maintained through the reports which are sent out following all formal assessments. There are also annual parent-teacher meetings 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 and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.