An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60500J
Date of inspection: 1 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 Marian 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.
Marian College is predominantly an all-boys school with 420 students. There are currently 4 female students in a repeat Leaving Certificate class. The study of a modern European language is mandatory in first year and students are offered a choice between French or Spanish. Although the study of a European language is optional after first year, students are strongly encouraged to continue with the language and the evidence suggests that the majority of students take a modern European language at Junior Certificate. An increasing number of students, however, do not take a modern European language for Leaving Certificate. This is a whole-school issue which needs to be addressed and every effort should be made to encourage students to take a modern European language to Leaving Certificate.
Students are taught in mixed-ability groups in junior cycle. Senior cycle classes are divided into higher and ordinary level classes and the teaching of the different levels at senior cycle is usually rotated. This is good practice as it provides teachers with the experience of teaching to all levels.
There is good whole school support and provision for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes are allocated single periods at both junior and senior cycle thus providing regular contact with the target language. This is to be commended as ongoing contact with the target language is of optimum benefit for effective language learning.
There are three permanent teachers of French, each of whom has studied French to graduate level. They have all availed of the in-service training provided for teachers of French in recent years. Some have also attended summer inservice courses for teachers of French in Dublin City University, while others have been involved in national curriculum development for French. The school supports ongoing professional development by releasing teachers for relevant inservice and by paying the group membership of the subject associations. Both senior management and teachers are to be commended for their commitment to professional and curriculum development.
Classrooms are teacher based. There were displays of subject-specific maps, posters and students’ work on the walls. This is to be commended as a means of enhancing linguistic and cultural awareness and also of affirming students in their efforts. It is suggested that where relevant the print-rich environment be extended to include key expressions and elements of classroom language which can be assimilated over time by the students. Consideration could also be given to charting key expressions for the week or for the topic being studied to support new learning.
There is good support for the teaching and learning of French in the provision of resources. Each teacher has a designated television, video recorder, CD and cassette player. Software resources are provided on request to management. These requests are usually made at the beginning of the school year following an initial planning meeting of the French department.
Access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is work in progress with current availability of the computer room on a booking system. There are also two computers with internet access in the staffroom. These are used by the teachers of French for downloading teaching materials. The school is due to be networked for broadband at the end of the current academic year and senior management is currently researching the possibility of providing laptop computers and data projectors for all classrooms. Teachers have been given basic ICT training and it is hoped to provide additional training for members of staff once the new technologies have been installed in the school. Teachers reported using ICT with Transition Year (TY) students for the completion of certain exercises and for researching projects. This is to be commended.
Teachers reported some involvement in co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. The school has, in the past, organised language exchange programmes with French schools. However, due to a decline in interest, these exchanges have been replaced by an annual trip abroad for second-year students. This trip has included frequent visits to France. Other activities which have taken place in the past include the organisation of a French breakfast and French debates for fifth-year students. It is recommended that involvement in co-curricular activities be reactivated as active co-curricular support enhances both the learning and enjoyment of French and ensures that the subject maintains a high profile within the school.
Marian College is actively involved in the school development planning process and teachers have embraced collaborative subject planning as part of this process. Formal meetings for the purpose of subject planning take place at the beginning of each school year and on a needs basis at other times. Teachers also meet regularly on an informal basis. Subject planning also forms part of the agenda for the individual review meeting held with each member of the teaching staff at the end of the school year. There is currently no co-ordinator for French. A collegial approach is adopted for all formal meetings, which are chaired by the principal and deputy principal. The agenda for such meetings is drawn up jointly by senior management and the members of the French department and a report of all formal meetings is retained by the principal for the purposes of informing future planning and the provision of resources.
Planning documentation submitted on the day of the evaluation included plans for each year group. The plans for the junior cycle classes set out aims for each year group in the form of “will be able to do” statements. This is to be commended as such an approach facilitates the development of transferable skills and allows for variation in materials used and topics studied. It is recommended that teachers build on this good work by developing these plans in greater detail and including the necessary linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to support the achievement of these aims. The adoption of a similar approach for the teaching and learning of French at senior cycle is also recommended. Teachers should also build up and catalogue, over time, a bank of common resources for use in lessons including supplementary materials downloaded from the internet. The availability and readiness of suitable materials could also provide work for students when a teacher is absent. This would respond to the objective of preparing work for students in the event of teacher absence as outlined in the whole school plan for the current year
A copy of the Transition Year (TY) plan for the teaching and learning of French was also made available. The emphasis in the plan on developing students’ cultural, social and political awareness is to be commended. It is also suggested that consideration be given to introducing some aspects of learner autonomy which will give students the opportunity to take greater responsibility for their own learning.
The advance preparation of photocopied materials and the readiness of audio equipment indicated good individual preparation for all the lessons observed.
Inspection activities included the observation of five lessons, three at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students.
Lessons were well structured, appropriately paced and the content appropriate for the time of year and the interests and abilities of the students. In some instances, the lesson plan was written up on the board. This is good practice as it involves students from the outset. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons and framed in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as the use of the target language enhances students’ listening skills and, if used by the students, promotes the development of oral skills. There were occasions in the course of some lessons where there was automatic recourse to translation to overcome difficulties in comprehension. It is recommended that translation be used judiciously and should be a deliberately chosen method to support the students in their learning rather than an automatic response. As far as possible, teachers should use alternative strategies to support comprehension. It is also recommended that the use of the target language be further extended to include active student interaction in French by giving the students the necessary linguistic strategies to be able to express difficulties, ask questions or make requests in the target language.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of skills development in line with syllabus recommendations. There were some very good examples where the development of one skills area supported the development of the others in a very fluid manner. In some instances, however, it is suggested that opportunities be afforded within the context of this integrated approach to recap on previous learning. At the same time, teachers should ensure an appropriate balance between the revision of previous work and the input of new material. There were also some good examples of brainstorming as a preparatory activity to support new learning. This is good practice. It is suggested that, when introducing a new topic or theme, consideration be given in all lessons to the inclusion of some preparatory activities, such as brainstorming either as a class activity or in small groups, or pronunciation drills as appropriate.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to support comprehension and to consolidate learning. It is important to remember, however, to acknowledge valid answers by students as valid, even if not the answer sought by the teacher.
Pair work was effectively used in some lessons to engage the students. This is good practice as the ongoing use of short, focused pair and group work tasks actively involves the students in the work of the lesson and gives them greater responsibility for their own learning.
There was good use of song and puzzles in some lessons. This is to be commended as such activities enhance students’ enjoyment of the language learning experience, thereby increasing their motivation to learn.
There was evidence of good classroom management throughout and a positive rapport between teachers and students. The students applied themselves to the tasks given and their responses indicated a good understanding of the work carried out in the lesson. Interaction with the inspector suggested good student potential, which, in some instances, could be further enhanced with greater use of the target language and attention to pronunciation by students.
Student progress is assessed using a variety of formats. These include question and answer sessions in class, homework, class tests and formal examinations. A review of copies indicated that homework was given and corrected. It is recommended, however, that teachers avoid giving translation as a homework exercise. It is also suggested that students be encouraged to organise their copies for ease of referral at a later date.
Formal examinations take place for all classes at Christmas. Certificate examination students have mock examinations in March, while all other groups have formal examinations in the summer. Where appropriate, students sit common tests. All formal examinations include an aural component, while an oral assessment is included for students at senior cycle. Teachers also reported administering an informal oral assessment at junior cycle. The assessment of oral skills development is commendable practice and it is recommended that it be introduced where it is currently not happening. An analysis of results suggests that the uptake of levels in the certificate examinations is appropriate to the student cohort.
Contact with parents is maintained through the student journal, annual parent-teacher meetings and meetings with individual teachers, the year head, guidance counsellor or senior management as appropriate.
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.