An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Synge Street CBS
Synge Street, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60470D
Date of inspection: 16 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Synge Street CBS. 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.
Synge Street CBS is an all boys’ secondary school with 283 students. Students choose their subjects on entry into first year. The study of a modern European language is mandatory for all students except for those who opt to follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). The school does not offer the study of a modern language as part of this programme. Students are taught in mixed-ability groups. There is good provision for French with the allocation of time and timetabling in line with best practice. This is to be commended.
There are two teachers of French in the school. Each is a graduate of French and each has availed of the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of French in recent years. Teachers also reported having attended inservice training for teachers of French in Ireland or France and having gone to annual French Teachers’ Association conferences.
Classrooms in Synge Street CBS are teacher based and there were some displays of maps, posters and samples of students’ work on the walls of all classrooms visited. This is good practice as a means of providing affirmation for students and creating a print-rich environment to enhance their learning about French life and culture. It is recommended that this practice be extended to include key expressions, grammar points and aspects of cultural awareness.
A range of audio-visual equipment is available on a booking system to support the teaching of the language in the school. Teachers have their own designated CD players and overhead projectors. Resources are made available on request and it was reported that representations are currently being made to the Board of Management for the allocation of budgets for subject departments.
There is one computer room which can be booked in advance and five data projectors. The school is also in the process of developing a multimedia room. All classrooms are connected to broadband and a recent corporate donation of computers means that there will shortly be one computer installed in each classroom. Given the wealth of resources available on the internet to support the teaching and learning of modern languages it is recommended that consideration be given to embracing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a tool in the French class.
There was evidence of some involvement in co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. Students have attended French films in the past and performances by one of the French theatre for schools companies. The school is also working on building up links with a French school with a view to organising an exchange programme in the future. This is to be commended. It is recommended that the use of co-curricular activities be extended to include activities such as inter-class quizzes, French breakfasts or French days, as strong co-curricular support ensures that French maintains a high profile within the school.
The school has benefited from the French language assistantship scheme this year. This resource has been deployed to work with small groups. It was reported that there has been very good co-operation and collaboration by all concerned in the operation of the scheme and that it has proved a great success for students. Teachers have also reported availing of the opportunity for some “recyclage linguistique”.
Synge Street CBS is currently involved in the school development planning process. The school has already had one half-day’s inservice from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and are due to have another half day later in the school year. The current emphasis is on whole school issues which have implications for curricular planning.
Time has been allocated by management for formal subject planning. Teachers reported having approximately five formal subject meetings in the academic year, records of which are kept. Records are also kept of any significant decisions taken when meeting informally. This is good practice and to be commended.
Subject plans for the teaching and learning of French were submitted on the day of the inspection. A review of the documentation suggested a very advanced level of planning by the members of the French department, moving towards the stage of self-review and planning strategies to support the future of French as a modern European language taught in the school. All documentation was highly organised and filed for ease of access and referral and included documents and information from a variety of sources relating to language education. Members of the French Department are to be commended for their work and commitment to the school development planning process.
There was evidence of very good individual preparation for the lessons observed with advanced readiness of photocopying, worksheets and audiovisual 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, purposeful and appropriately paced. This is good practice as a well-structured purposeful lesson facilitates optimum progress.
There was good use of the target language in all lessons observed and there were some examples of students making great efforts to respond in the target language. This is to be commended. It is recommended that teachers should build on this willingness to communicate by giving the students the necessary strategies for simple but authentic classroom interaction such as expressing difficulty and making requests or comments in the target language. Students could design posters illustrating these key expressions. This would help them assimilate the new material and, at the same time, enhance the print-rich environment of the classroom. Authentic communication in the target language will also increase students’ awareness of French as a living language as well as improving their listening and oral comprehension and production.
Emphasis on spelling and pronunciation, as observed during some lessons, is to be commended as these are important elements of competent and confident language acquisition. However, where students make pronunciation errors, it is important that they repeat the corrected version in order to internalise the correction.
A variety of methodologies was observed. Question and answer sessions were used to good effect to engage the students, to initiate and link new and previous learning and to promote oral competencies. These were reinforced by effective use of the board to consolidate the oral and the written. There was also very good use of the visual where students were asked not only to identify objects related to the topic being studied but also to propose how they might be used. All logical answers were accepted and affirmed. This is to be commended as a means of engaging the students and developing their linguistic and creative skills. It is suggested when carrying out such activities that students’ contributions should be written up on the board in order to consolidate learning for the whole class group.
Synonyms, antonyms or alternative expressions to what had been already learned were effectively introduced in some lessons as a means of expanding the students’ range of vocabulary. It is suggested that when working on such activities students themselves should be invited to brainstorm or identify links between words. Such practice would foster in them a process of reflection and instil a confidence in their own resources. The use of pair or group work, as observed in one lesson, is another effective way of promoting independent learning. It is suggested that greater use of such active methodologies would engage all the students thus enhancing the learning of the language. It is also suggested that pair or group work be considered as a means of facilitating ongoing individual preparation for the oral examination at Leaving Certificate. Students could practise with each other what they have learned while the teacher circulates and indicates areas for correction or improvement.
Audio and video texts were effectively introduced with preparatory activities undertaken to link the content of the texts to the students’ personal experience. This is to be commended as the use of audio or visual materials, if well prepared with the students, can help maintain interest and concentration thus supporting new learning.
There were good examples of the effective integration of cultural awareness in some lessons. It is recommended that this good practice be extended as much as possible into all lessons.
Interaction with the students revealed many of them to be enthusiastic learners of the language and there was evidence of good learning and potential throughout.
Student progress was assessed through a wide variety of techniques. These included questioning in class, monitoring of homework, class tests and formal school examinations. Synge Street CBS has a homework policy written into the school journal, and there was evidence of homework being set and corrected in student copies. There were useful grammar corrections and comments included in some students’ copies. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes.
It was reported that homework was not considered high priority by many students and as a result regular tests were given as a way of ensuring learning. Some students had test folders in which all tests were filed. Included on the test sheet was a space for parents’ comments. It was reported that parents are contacted if they do not fill in their response. This is good practice and it is recommended that it be extended to all classes.
Students sit formal Christmas and summer tests and reports are sent to parents. Tests comprise an aural component for all students while senior students are given an oral assessment. This is good practice. Certificate students sit mock examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is good whole school provision and support for the teaching and learning of French in relation to the allocation of time and timetabling.
There was evidence that whole school planning for the teaching and learning of French is at an advanced stage.
There was good use of the target language by teachers in all lessons observed.
A variety of methodologies was used in the teaching and learning of French.
There was evidence of some interesting and effective initiatives to support the assessment of students’ progress.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that students be encouraged and facilitated to use the target language as much as possible in the classroom by providing them with the necessary linguistic strategies and by supporting their assimilation through the further development of a print- rich environment.
Teachers should extend their use of pair or group work as a means of engaging students and developing in them greater responsibility for their own learning.
Consideration should be given to introducing more co-curricular activities as a means of enhancing the enjoyment of language learning.
It is recommended that with the advent of the necessary resources teachers should consider embracing ICT as a teaching tool for the teaching and learning of French.
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.