An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Terenure Dublin 6W
Roll number: 60570H
Date of inspection: 11 and 13 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Terenure 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 two days 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.
Terenure College is an all boys’ school with 718 students. The study of French is mandatory at junior cycle and in Transition Year (TY). Students can also choose to study a second language with a choice offered between German and Spanish. Students can drop French at senior cycle in favour of German or Spanish if they have already taken the language at Junior Certificate. School management is to be commended for their promotion of modern European languages as part of the school curriculum.
Students in junior cycle are taught in mixed ability groupings. Students are changed around at the end of first year for the purpose of better student integration and harmony. However, this does not affect the mixed ability nature of the new groupings. Classes for French at senior cycle are divided into higher level and ordinary level.
There is good provision for the teaching and learning of French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes at junior cycle are single periods timetabled at regular intervals throughout the week, while senior cycle classes have one double and three single periods, facilitating frequent contact with the language.
There are six teachers of French, most of whom are established in their careers. All efforts are made to ensure that teachers build up experience of teaching a full range of classes and teachers are generally rotated at senior cycle to give them the experience of teaching both ordinary and higher level. This is good practice and to be commended. Many have availed of the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of French in recent years, while some have also spent time in France as part of the teacher exchange programme. Attendance at the annual conferences of the French Teachers’ Association has also supported teachers’ continued professional development. In addition, teachers reported conversing regularly among themselves in French as a means of maintaining their linguistic fluency. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to continued professional development and to the maintenance of their own linguistic standards. School management shows its support for continued professional development by releasing all teachers wishing to avail of inservice training and by providing financial assistance to those wishing to pursue postgraduate studies. This is to be commended.
One section of a school corridor has been used to display posters and other materials relating to the school’s visits to France. This is to be commended as a means of stimulating student interest in aspects of French language, life and culture. Samples of students’ work and posters were also displayed in some classrooms, which are student based. However, there was scope for greater use of the classrooms to create a French corner displaying posters or charts of key expressions, maps and samples of students work.
A good range of audiovisual equipment is available for use by all members of staff. Teachers have their own CD players and there are designated VCR and DVD players available for use for each year group. A bank of common resources has been built up over the years to include CD’s, DVD’s video’s, word puzzles, games and other such materials. Teachers reported on their practice of sharing useful resources with colleagues. This is to be commended as the sharing of resources can also entail the sharing of good practice.
All classrooms are networked for internet use. In addition there is a computer room and a lecture hall with data projectors, available on a booking system. Teachers reported some use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) with classes. They also use ICT for downloading materials.
A broad range of co-curricular activities takes place in the school. There has been a tradition over several years of an exchange programme with a school in France, the current programme involving a French school in Lille. Several trips are also organised to France including a TY visit to Paris, a rugby trip and pilgrimages to Lourdes. This is to be commended as it provides students with many opportunities of experiencing different aspects of French life, traditions and culture. A language bursary is offered annually to the student in fifth year who makes the greatest effort at language learning. A French circle has been launched in the school to encourage and support students interested in French. Students enjoy visits from French theatre for schools companies and participate in inter-class and inter-schools quizzes and debating competitions. Teachers’ commitment to the organisation of co-curricular activities is highly commendable promoting language learning both in and outside the classroom and showing that the learning of French can be an enjoyable activity. Strong co-curricular support has helped to maintain the profile and the position of French in the school curriculum.
Terenure College has been actively engaged in the school development planning process with the different working groups involved in co-ordinating policy development. The emphasis in the current academic year is on subject planning and senior management has been engaged in meetings with the different faculties in the school to discuss issues central to the subject planning process.
The members of the French department generally meet formally three to four times annually. They reported being afforded more time for meetings in the current academic year, given the emphasis on subject planning. The position of co-ordinator for French is a special duties post. There is an agenda and decisions taken at these meetings are recorded. This is good practice and to be commended. Teachers also meet informally on a regular basis to share materials and expertise. This is also to be commended.
Subject plans and schemes of work presented on the day of the inspection indicated that teachers are engaged in planning for their work individually rather than adopting a collaborative approach to subject planning for French. It is recommended that the good work carried out to date in individual planning be integrated into a whole department plan for the teaching and learning of French. It is also recommended that, as part of collaborative subject planning, teachers develop, over time a series of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the proposed methodologies to support such outcomes. When planning for Transition Year (TY) consideration should also be given to looking at new ways of teaching and learning to support the principles underpinning the TY programme, such as promoting student independent learning.
As part of curriculum provision for students with special needs, those students who study French are allocated additional support. This is to be commended.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed and the advance readiness of audiovisual equipment and photocopying for the students.
Inspection activities included the observation of six lessons, three at junior level, one TY lesson and two at senior level. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
Lessons were, in most instances, well structured, appropriately paced and had a clear purpose. This is good practice as a well-structured lesson facilitates a constructive learning environment. In some instances however, attention needs to be paid to the pacing of the lesson which, if too slow can adversely impact on student engagement. Revision, which formed most of the lesson content observed, was appropriate for the time of year and the students concerned. However, it is suggested that, where relevant, alternative ways to the teacher directed approach observed be considered thus ensuring that students of all abilities and levels benefit to the optimum from the revision process.
In lessons where the target language was used by the teacher, it was done to good effect and is to be commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons. Students should also be provided with the necessary linguistic strategies to respond to the teacher in simple French. These linguistic strategies could be displayed in the classrooms for ease of reference and assimilation, and, at the same time enhance the print-rich environment. There were some instances where translation was in constant use and students were not challenged sufficiently to understand in French. While there is need to support the students in the language learning process, it is recommended that alternative ways to translation be used as a teaching strategy.
Pair work was used in some lessons. This is good practice and to be commended as an effective way of engaging the students and promoting active and independent learning. In some instances, prior to the activity, the students were given some useful vocabulary and expressions for interacting with their partners in French. This is to be commended as a means of encouraging and supporting the students in their efforts to communicate in the target language. It is recommended that the use of pair and group work be extended to all lessons and that students be challenged and supported to communicate in the target language.
Attention to pronunciation was observed in a number of the lessons where the target language was used. This is good practice as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language acquisition and will be best assimilated if practised regularly. It is recommended that ongoing attention to pronunciation be incorporated into the recommended extended use of the target language through the use of pronunciation drills and the correction of errors.
The different linguistic skills were effectively integrated in some of the lessons observed. This is good practice in line with syllabus guidelines. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. Some good approaches to the building up of students’ vocabulary and grammar were observed through the use of flash cards, brainstorming activities and aide-mémoires and the board was effectively used to support and consolidate this learning. There were also some good examples of the consolidation of previous learning integrated into new learning.
Aspects of cultural awareness were skilfully incorporated into the body of some lessons. This is to be commended as knowledge of the culture enhances the learning of the language.
Good classroom management was observed throughout. Teachers were affirming of student effort and the students were well behaved at all times.
There was evidence of some student engagement with the learning process in all lessons observed. Students applied themselves to the work in progress and to the tasks given and their responses suggested good comprehension of the target language in instances where it was used. However, greater use of a variety of short focused individual or group activities engaging the students and offering them opportunities for both collaborative and independent learning would lead to a more enriching teaching and language learning experience for all.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways, including question and answer sessions, homework, tests and formal examinations. The school operates a homework credit system for third and fourth year students. These are recorded in the school journal and students can request extra homework in order to gain extra credits. Commendations arising from the credit system are posted home to parents. The school is to be commended for its innovative approach to homework. Parents of first and fifth year students are issued with homework reports every half term. These reports are interspersed with Christmas examination reports, parent teacher meetings and summer reports, thus ensuring regular contact with parents in relation to student work and progress. School management and staff are to be commended for their homework policies and their ongoing contact with parents.
A review of students’ copies indicated evidence of homework being assigned and corrected in most instances with the inclusion of a mark or comment. This is good practice as a means of both affirming and informing students of their progress and should be extended to all class groups.
Students sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer and certificate examination students have mock examinations in February. Common tests are set for first year students and, on some occasions, for students in other year groups. An aural component is included in all tests. This is good practice. Transition year and senior cycle students sit an oral examination, which, with the exception of the mock certificate examinations is given in the teachers own time. Teachers are to be commended for the inclusion of an oral assessment throughout the senior cycle. As part of the whole French department assessment policy and process it is suggested that teachers remain mindful of the importance of motivating students to reach their full potential in the uptake of levels at both junior and senior cycle.
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.