An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Beneavin de la Salle College
Finglas, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60511O
Date of inspection: 7 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Beneavin de la Salle 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 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.
Beneavin de la Salle College is a Catholic Voluntary Secondary School for boys, situated in Finglas, Dublin 11. French is the only modern language taught and it features in the three programmes on offer in the school: Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate (Established) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
There is good provision for French on the school timetable, with the allocation of time in both junior and senior cycle in line with national norms. All junior cycle students have four lessons per week. In junior cycle classes a combination of banding and mixed ability operates. French is a mandatory subject for students in the upper bands while less able students do not study a modern language, but avail instead of extra tuition in English. A review of teacher timetables has shown that, with the exception of one first-year group which has all four periods of French in the afternoon, lesson periods have been evenly and fairly distributed over time slots and days of the week.
Students in senior cycle are taught in mixed-ability classes. Lessons are single periods of forty minutes duration. This provision is very satisfactory as regular contact with the target language is most beneficial to students. Although the class groups are small, it is acknowledged that the teaching of a language to students with a wide range of abilities poses difficulties, particularly at senior level where students are preparing for the Leaving Certificate. It may be helpful to seek advice and support on planning, preparation, approaches and teaching strategies suitable for mixed-ability classes from the Second Level Support Service (01-2365021) or www.slss.ie
There are three teachers of French, all of whom are recent graduates in the language. All three reported that they had benefited from spending a year in France or in a francophone country, as students of French on the Erasmus scheme. In order to sustain and nurture their existing language competency, teachers are advised to maintain regular contact with the target language community through use of the internet, television and radio, correspondence with friends and, when possible,
visits, in a personal or professional capacity, to France. It can also be beneficial to join The French Teachers’ Association (FTA) to avail of peer support and to keep up to date with developments in the teaching of the language.
The teaching and learning of French in the school has been considerably enhanced with the introduction of an exchange programme with a partner De la Salle school in Nantes. Some junior cycle students had recently returned from their first visit to France and were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their French partners. A full programme of cultural and sporting events is planned. Great credit is due to management and staff for initiating such an excellent linguistic and cultural opportunity for their students and it is hoped that this project will flourish and expand in the future. This exchange also provides opportunities to teachers of French in the school to acquire, from their colleagues in Nantes, some authentic materials such as school reports, a school prospectus, timetables, canteen menus, school yearbook and photographs. These resources, together with brochures and posters of the city, could be used effectively in all classes to promote interest in the lifestyle and culture of France. It is further suggested that some occasional in-school activities such as inter-class table quizzes and poster competitions in the target language, the viewing of a French film, food tasting or a cross-curricular project on Nantes and Dublin would enhance the teaching of the language and promote student interest in speaking French and discovering more about France.
Information and communication technology (ICT) has been used to a limited extent to support the teaching of French in the school. Teachers reported that they download material occasionally. Broadband is available in the school and teachers have access to two computers in the staff room. Teachers are advised to consult the website, www.french.ie which has been created specifically for teachers of French in Ireland. It gives free access to authentic, interesting material for use in the classroom. Downloadable worksheets, games and up-to-date articles (on football and other sports for example) are very useful to supplement textbooks. There is also an online forum on www.french.ie where teachers can share ideas or concerns relating to the teaching of French.
Teachers have their own classrooms which are bright and spacious. One classroom is also used for extra-curricular Art classes. Care needs to be taken to ensure that this room is seen primarily as a language-learning room rather than as an Art room and that Art materials do not occupy an undue amount of space in the room. All classrooms seen would benefit from some new, colourful language posters and a large map of France. Teachers have good quality, individual tape recorders or CD players. The French department has no specific budget, but funds are available to purchase extra resources on request to management.
A very good spirit of co-operation and collegiality exists among the French team. Although the teachers have been working together as a group for less than two years, they have succeeded in establishing a good working relationship and in engaging in collaborative planning. This is commendable. Teachers of French meet formally as a group once a term. Where possible, the principal attends such meetings. Teachers also meet informally as the need arises.
On the day of inspection, an agreed plan for the teaching and learning of French throughout the school was made available. This well laid-out plan contains communicative objectives, and lists the various topics, verbs and grammatical structures to be taught to each year group. This is good practice as all teachers have a coherent, sequential guide to the work to be covered in the course of the year. At future departmental meetings, it is recommended that additional issues such the choice and acquisition of updated extra resources; the use and integration of ICT to support classroom teaching and learning, strategies to ensure optimum student engagement and attainment be discussed. It would also be worth including some ideas for encouraging the use of the target language in the classroom and more active participation of students in the learning process.
Inspection activities included the observation of five lessons, two at senior level and three at junior level. There was also an opportunity for dialogue and interaction with students in all classes.
In terms of teacher short-term planning, all lessons observed were well-prepared. Teachers had prepared in advance audio equipment, overheads, photocopied handouts and worksheets and, in one instance, a good supply of pencils for student use. Such meticulous preparation ensured a high level of teacher readiness and student productivity.
It was noted that the topics chosen for classroom discussion were suited to the students’ ability and experience. In some junior-cycle classes, for example, there was a focus on school life and different activities were built around the particular theme chosen for the lesson. In senior-cycle classes, the topic was the Leaving Certificate, its possible associated stress, and on future career options. The choice of suitable topics and their exploitation through various language activities can do much to stimulate student interest and motivation.
In some lessons, good examples were seen of the smooth integration of cultural awareness into the topic. Comparisons were made between the school systems in France and in Ireland in two lessons observed. As previously mentioned, good work of this kind would be enhanced by the acquisition of some authentic material sourced from the partner school in Nantes. In these same lessons, teachers sought information and opinions about the French partner school from students who had been to Nantes. This strategy worked well and the level of general student interest and engagement was high. Other examples of good practice observed included the writing up of the day, date, time and weather on the board following a brisk question and answer session with students, at the start of the lesson, the broadening of vocabulary through the use of synonyms, good teacher movement around the classroom to ensure students remained on task, and the assignment of relevant homework based on the topic taught in class.
In lessons where an aural component was included, students were alerted in advance to a number of key words and expressions on the tape. This pre-listening activity is an example of good practice. It is recommended that, in the course of doing listening exercises, students be allowed to write in the answers with a pencil in the textbook as the copying out of questions and grids into copybooks can use up valuable teaching time and is of no educational value to students.
In a senior-cycle class, grammar work was integrated with ease into the lesson. The futur proche, for example, was revised quickly and efficiently and good clear examples of its communicative use were given to students. Most of the class period was devoted to a reading comprehension on examinations. Key phrases had been given in advance and this strategy reassured students that they did not need to understand every word of the passage in order to attempt the exercise. Reading comprehensions in senior cycle need considerable preparatory work and it would be useful to break up longer passages into more manageable sections as students can become discouraged if a text is too long and difficult.
Some instances of the effective use of French for classroom communication were observed. However, in most classes observed, English was the language used for communication, affirmation and instructions. It is acknowledged that the extent to which the target language can be used will depend on the age and ability of the group. Students of all abilities, however, can and do understand simple affirmations and instructions in the target language. If difficulties arise with understanding oral instructions in French, the use of facial expressions, gestures or writing the word or page numbers on the board will help students initially. The prominent display of key communicative phrases in the classroom will also help students. Commitment by teachers to using as much French as possible with their students will be to their mutual benefit in the long term as both the aural and oral skills of students will improve if they hear and speak French in the classroom. It is inadvisable however, to use a mixture of both English and French in the same sentence as this can be confusing for students. The ongoing use of the French alphabet in class is recommended as it is an element that is often assessed in the Junior Certificate examination. For further information, teachers are advised to consult the State Examinations Commission website www.examinations.ie where they can access the chief examiner’s report on Junior Certificate French, 2005.
In all classes, it is important that poor student pronunciation not be ignored, but corrected sensitively. Good pronunciation can be taught and reinforced through individual and group practice and through language games. Short, timed pair-work sessions which are integrated into the lesson are an effective way of promoting student oral confidence and competence. Teacher-led questioning of students is, of course, necessary and beneficial. However, in order to maintain maximum student engagement, it is essential not to devote too much time to questioning students one by one. Short dialogues and student-student question and answer sessions give them the opportunity to practise speaking French rather than just listening passively. Alternative seating arrangements could be used on occasions, especially in senior-cycle classes, to facilitate greater student interaction and communication.
In all lessons observed, and on the school corridors, students were well behaved, courteous and co-operative. They made a good attempt to respond to teacher questioning and a good rapport between students and teachers was evident. For their part, all teachers were professional and kind in their approach, affirming and encouraging their students.
The range of assessment modes used to monitor student progress in Beneavin de la Salle College includes questioning in class, regular class tests, formal school examinations and homework assignments. All teachers maintain individual records of student progress, attendance and achievement.
The school does not have an official written homework policy. In effect, teachers have their own individual homework policy. There was evidence in the students’ copybooks of work being assigned, checked and corrected. Ideally, correction of student work should be formative in nature, with a written comment to affirm progress or to point out particular difficulties in language accuracy. To ensure good progress in language acquisition, it is essential that all students be set regular, productive homework exercises in the target language. It is recommended that students be directed to keep all photocopied handouts and worksheets in a separate pocket or folder.
Students are assessed twice yearly in school-based examinations at Christmas and in summer. Third and sixth year students sit “mock” examinations in the spring when examination papers are bought in and corrected externally. A good system for the implementation of “mock” Leaving Certificate oral examinations has been put in place. Teachers exchange class groups so that students are not assessed by their own teacher. This is good practice.
Students in all year groups sit an aural test and the oral competency of fifth year students is tested in the summer examination. This arrangement is recognised as being most beneficial since students need plenty of practice in advance of the Leaving Certificate. In the past academic year, the commendable practice of setting common examinations, where feasible, was introduced.
Reports are sent to parents or guardians after all formal examinations. Parents also have the opportunity to get information on their sons’ progress at parent -teacher meetings and can arrange to meet teachers, if necessary, at other times.
In interactions with the inspector, students were polite, receptive and responsive and displayed a good understanding of the target language.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good provision for French on the school timetable.
· A strong ethos of collegiality and collaboration exists between the members of the French team.
· French is taught is specialist teacher-based classrooms. The value of these rooms as a language-learning environment would be enhanced through the display of language charts, posters and authentic materials.
· An agreed plan for the teaching and learning of French was made available and this plan could be further expanded and developed.
· There was good advance preparation for all lessons.
· An exchange programme with a partner school in Nantes is in place and this could prove to be a valuable resource for the school.
· The atmosphere in the classes observed was positive and pleasant. Students displayed a high level of courtesy and co-operation with their teachers.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· Some in-school language activities would help to promote student interest in French and in France.
· Teachers should endeavour to use the target language in the classroom.
· Students should be encouraged to speak French to the fullest extent possible, taking the age and ability level of different groups into account.
· Key communicative phrases in French could be displayed on classroom walls to help students.
· The potential of ICT in language teaching needs to be further explored and exploited.
· The integration of some active learning methodologies will help to maintain student interest and engagement.
· Short, regular, productive homework exercises in the target language should be set and checked.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal [or deputy principal 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.