An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School
St Patrick’s Close, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60660I
Date of inspection: 6 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School. 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; a response was not received from the board.
St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School is a co-educational school with 129 students. French is a core subject at both junior and senior cycle. School management is commended for the importance they attribute to learning a modern European language. Classes are mixed ability throughout.
There is good whole school support and provision for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes are timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. This is in line with best practice which advocates ongoing contact with the target language.
The French department is a single-teacher department. Given the absence of colleagues it is recommended that contacts be maintained with other teachers of French for the purpose of sharing good practice and ensuring continuous professional development. This could be achieved by applying for scholarships and courses for teachers of French to renew themselves linguistically and to enhance their teaching. These include scholarships to France in the summer months and a range of workshops and courses provided by the French Teachers’ Association and the local education centres.
The classroom for the teaching and learning of French is teacher based and contains displays of maps, posters and samples of students’ work. The creation of a stimulating environment is good practice, as it supports and affirms students in their learning and also promotes cultural awareness, which is an important aspect of language learning. It is suggested that as the year progresses the print-rich environment be extended to include the charting of classroom language, key expressions and grammatical structures.
The French department has good access to resources, which are provided on request to management. There are designated CD/cassette recorders and easy access to televisions, VCR and DVD players. Supplementary materials for use in class include some books, videos and DVDs. The school is in the process of adding to its bank of materials for use in class. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used for downloading materials and for researching projects with Transition Year students. It is recommended that the use of ICT as a tool for teaching and learning be extended to all year groups.
Some involvement in co-curricular activities was reported including trips to the Alliance Française, listening to French music and French cuisine. The promotion of co-curricular activities is commended as it provides enjoyable language learning experiences for students. While there are currently no formal links with French schools, the members of the French department reported that they are planning a visit to a French-speaking country for 2008. The school is currently benefiting from the assistantship scheme to support the teaching and learning of French, both within the classroom and with small groups of students. The presence of a French assistant in the school should be utilised to initiate contacts with France and to further extend co-curricular activities for all year groups. It also offers the French department a valuable opportunity to maintain ongoing linguistic proficiency and to develop very useful resources through the taping of texts.
St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School is currently engaged in whole school development planning. There is one formal planning day each year focusing on some aspect of whole school planning, such as teaching methodologies or issues relating to school policies. As part of the subject planning process all teachers submit a long-term subject plan or yearly scheme of work to the principal.
A review of the subject plan for French indicates that a lot of work has been completed in the area of subject development planning, setting out the work to be covered with each year group. It is recommended that, as part of ongoing subject planning, the French department build on the good work completed to date by focusing on the development of transferable skills and learning outcomes, in line with syllabus recommendations, rather than describing the planned programme in terms of the textbook.
There was evidence of good planning and preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and relevant supplementary materials. There was also evidence of careful planning for, and a collaborative approach to, the lessons supported by the assistantship service.
Inspection activities included the observation of three lessons, two at junior cycle, and one at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
The target language was used by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. This is to be commended. However, there were some instances where a tendency to revert to English and to use translation as a methodology was noted. While it is important to support students in their learning it is recommended that alternatives to translation be considered rather than automatically translating. For example, the use of flash cards or gestures can provide easy and often enjoyable ways of introducing new vocabulary in French. In this way students will be both challenged and supported in their understanding and learning of the language. Students should also be encouraged to interact in simple French. Supports such as the display of key expressions and reinforcement through the work of the assistantship service should facilitate progress in extending the use of French in the classroom. To this end it is also very important that the work of the assistantship service is conducted entirely in the target language.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced and the content was appropriate to the abilities and interests of the students. They began with the correction of homework and the consolidation of previously learned material. This is good practice. However, there is a need to remain mindful that the time spent on recapping on previous learning should not be disproportionate to the amount of time devoted to new learning.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills and there were some good examples of grammar being integrated into the body of the lesson. In some lessons the use of a preparatory exercise to support students’ comprehension of a listening text was also noted and is commended. It is suggested that this good work be extended by further exploiting the listening text to support the development of oral skills, for example through the use of interactive tasks. Elements of cultural awareness were also integrated into many of the lessons observed. This is good practice as knowledge of the life and culture of the country is an important component of successful language learning.
The board was effectively used to support learning while the strategy of colour-coding the different grammatical points in students’ copies is also commended.
There were some examples of students working in pairs asking questions of each other. The use of pair work is good practice as it engages all the students at the same time and promotes active and independent learning. It is suggested that the benefits of the pair-work tasks observed be furthered by getting the students to report back their partners’ answers instead of merely repeating their own answers. In this way they can progress their learning by moving from the use of the first person to the third person.
Most lessons were predominantly teacher directed with question and answer sessions as the main methodology used. While this is a valuable teaching strategy and was carried out to good effect, it is recommended that a greater variety of methodologies generating more active learning by students be employed. For example, students should be afforded more opportunities to engage in short focused interactive work in pairs or small groups.
There was good classroom management throughout and students were well behaved, applying themselves to the work in hand. Interaction with the inspector revealed some students to be more responsive than others. However, the above-mentioned recommendations about extending the use of the target language and increased student engagement in active learning should help students become more confident and competent language learners.
Student progress is assessed in a variety of ways, including homework tests and formal examinations. All students sit formal examinations in November and certificate examination students have mock examinations in the second term. All other students have end of year examinations. An aural component is included in all examinations while the practice of oral assessments is currently being introduced for both senior and junior cycle students. This will be initiated through the work of the assistantship service in the current year. The introduction of an oral assessment for all students is to be commended and should contribute to oral skills development throughout.
A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected with comments included. This is commended as it keeps students informed of their progress on an ongoing basis. Some student copies were fuller and more organised than others. Students should be reminded of the importance and benefits of collating their work and organising it in a systematic way for ease of referral.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the school journal which is signed nightly by parents of junior cycle students and weekly by parents of senior cycle students. The journals are checked by the form teachers during registration time. Parents receive reports following on school examinations and also attend annual parent teacher meetings.
A review of examination results suggests that teachers remain attentive to the uptake of levels to ensure that students are choosing the level which is most appropriate to their ability.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time, timetabling and the provision of resources.
· The French department has actively embraced the subject planning process through the development of plans for each year group.
· The target language was used by the teacher in all of the lessons observed.
· A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills.
· Good collaboration was observed between the French department and the assistantship service
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· As part of future subject planning, the French department should plan for the development of transferable skills and learning outcomes, in line with syllabus recommendations
· Through the work of the assistantship service in promoting oral skills development, students should be encouraged to interact more in the target language.
· Alternative strategies should be considered in situations where translation is used to support comprehension.
· Greater use should be made of student based activities, including pair and group work, in all lessons.
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.