An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
The High School
Rathgar, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60670L
Date of inspection: 28 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the High 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 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 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.
The High School is a co-educational school with an enrolment of 788 students. Students make their subject choices upon entry into first year. The school offers three modern languages, French, German and Spanish. While the study of a modern European language is optional, students are encouraged to choose at least one and may study two or three if they so wish. The majority of students take French to Leaving Certificate. Classes are organised into mixed-ability groupings at junior cycle and Transition Year while at senior cycle they are divided into higher and mixed-level groupings.
There is good provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. As well as single periods, classes are allocated one double period per week and every effort is made to ensure that class contact time is spread evenly throughout the week. This practice is to be commended as regular ongoing contact with the target language is essential for students when learning a foreign language.
There are seven teachers of French. Each teacher is a graduate of French and the majority are well established in their careers. Classes are allocated, where possible, on a rotation basis. Many have availed of the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of French in recent years and some have also attended inservice courses in France. Many are members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and have attended their annual conferences. It is suggested that consideration might be given to allocating these teachers time to disseminate the outcomes of the conferences to the other members of the French department. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to ongoing professional development. Teachers also reported taking advantage of the presence of a French language assistant in the current academic year for the purposes of their own ‘recyclage linguistique’. This is to be commended.
Most teachers have their own rooms and these had displays of maps, posters and samples of students work on the walls. Some rooms had the key words and expressions needed for relevant linguistic competencies, question forms and sample answers on display, thus surrounding students with opportunities to consolidate their learning. The provision of such a print-rich environment for students is to be commended as an attractive and effective means of exposing students to many aspects of the French language and culture. It is recommended that, where possible, this practice be extended to provide optimum benefit for students.
A good range of audio-visual equipment is available to support the teaching of French in the school. Each teacher has his/her own CD player, tape recorder and overhead projector. Some classrooms have their own VCR and/or DVD player, while other teachers have access to such equipment on a booking basis. Resources provided include CDs, maps, posters and magazines. The French department is given an annual budget for the purchase of such materials. This is to be commended.
The school has two computer rooms, available on a booking system. Management also reported providing ongoing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) training for teachers over the past ten years. Management is to be commended for its commitment to supporting teachers in their need or desire for such training. Teachers are also to be commended for their willingness to embrace the new technologies, as seen during the evaluation process.
Teachers reported good involvement in co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. Some junior cycle students have enjoyed the celebration of the ‘fête des rois’ as part of their French lesson. Students attend performances given by French theatre companies for schools. They have also attended French films in the Irish Film Institute. Senior cycle students have also taken part in the quiz organised by the French Teachers’ Association. Students have, in the past, travelled to France on school tours and there is an annual rugby trip to Paris. Transition Year students also benefit from a weekend trip to Paris. Such activities are to be commended and encouraged as good co-curricular support ensures that French maintains a high profile within the school. It is suggested that consideration be given to extending co-curricular activities to include an annual quiz devised and organised by Transition Year students for first years. This would benefit students linguistically and also promote language learning as an enjoyable experience.
The High School has benefited from the allocation of a French language assistant for the current academic year. Teachers reported that this has been a very positive experience for teachers, students and the language assistant alike.
The High School has been actively involved in the school development planning process for many years. The school is currently engaged in reviewing its whole school policies for special needs, guidance and crisis response. As part of this a training seminar on special needs has recently taken place in the school.
Subject department planning is actively encouraged and supported by management as part of the school development planning process. This is reflected in the allocation of a special duties post for subject co-ordination and the ‘Common Duties Scheme’ whereby teachers are remunerated by the school for participation in curricular planning in their own time. The subject co-ordinator organises approximately five formal meetings for teachers of modern languages each year while informal meetings take place on an ongoing basis. Records are kept of all formal meetings and those for the current academic year were made available on the day of the inspection. The practice of holding regular meetings and record keeping is to be commended as it allows for optimum benefit from the subject planning process.
Subject plans for the teaching and learning of French included aims and objectives, curriculum content, proposed methodologies and resources. Teachers are to be commended for the good work done to date in the area of subject planning. It is recommended that the members of the French department build on the good work already carried out by incorporating into the plan a list for each year group of desired learning outcomes; what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning and the linguistic competencies needed to support this learning. In this way teachers will be able to move, in time, towards the process of self-review by reviewing their methodologies in light of desired learning outcomes. It is also suggested as part of individual or collaborative subject planning consideration be given to the creation of differentiated worksheets for use in mixed ability groupings.
When reviewing the Transition Year plan it is suggested that consideration be given to providing students with opportunities to become more autonomous in their learning, thus responding to the aims of the Transition Year programme whereby “educational activities undertaken should enable students to have a worthwhile and valid learning experience with emphasis given to developing study skills and self-directed learning” (TY guidelines). Reference to the European Language Portfolio may provide helpful suggestions.
There was evidence of good preparation for all the lessons inspected, with advance readiness of audio-visual equipment and students’ worksheets.
Inspection activities included the observation of eight lessons, five at junior cycle, one Transition Year group and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
A high standard of linguistic competence was observed and there was good use of the target language by teachers in most of the lessons observed. There was more limited use of French in some lessons where there was a strong dependence on translation as a means of teaching and testing comprehension and grammar. It is recommended that ways be explored to reduce this dependence on translation. For example, as evidenced in some lessons, when anticipating comprehension or grammatical difficulties teachers should consider explaining first in French and then checking whether or not students understand rather than automatically explaining in English. Teachers should also promote greater interaction in the target language in the classroom by providing students with the linguistic strategies to ask and answer questions and express difficulties in French. These linguistic strategies could be charted on the walls of the classroom, thus consolidating learning. Greater use of the target language would challenge the more able students while those experiencing difficulty in understanding would be enabled to express their need for help in French. It would also provide practice in listening and oral comprehension and production.
The content of all lessons observed was appropriate for the various ages and levels of the students. They were generally purposeful, well structured and suitably paced. There were good efforts to integrate the different language skills through the adoption of a thematic approach. This is good practice, in line with syllabus guidelines.
A variety of methodologies was observed. Question and answer sessions served to recap on work already completed and to initiate new learning. The board or overhead projector was effectively used to consolidate oral and written work. There were some good examples of grammar revision being taught in context rather than just as a drill. It is recommended that, when correcting grammatical errors, teachers should write the correct version on the board in order to help the student internalise the correction. Song was used in some lessons as an effective and enjoyable interlude to maintain student engagement while at the same time recapping on previous learning.
Pair or group work was used to good effect in some lessons. In some cases a variety of tasks all with the same learning outcomes were given to the different groups. This is to be commended as the work completed could be shared, thus building up for the students a bank of learning on the same topic. The use of pair or group work should be extended to all lessons as an effective means of engaging all of the students at the same time and promoting collaboration and independent learning. Pair or group work is also a very effective means of facilitating students to ask questions, an essential strategy for authentic communication. There were some instances where students, having been assigned a group task, continued to work as individuals. It is important to ensure that the objective of a pair or group work activity necessitates group interaction.
There were some good examples of ICT being used to extend and enhance the study of a particular topic with students actively engaged in carrying out a specific task on the internet. The integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of French is to be commended.
Aspects of cultural awareness were skilfully incorporated into some of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as knowledge of French life and culture enhances the learning of the language. The topic of cultural awareness can also provide a useful and authentic medium for students to practise asking questions in French. It is suggested that greater integration of cultural awareness be extended into all lessons.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a positive teacher-student rapport in most of the lessons observed. Students generally engaged with the work being done in the lesson and applied themselves well to both individual and group assignments. Teachers were affirming of students’ efforts and there were some examples of valid answers being acknowledged even if not the required answer. Difficulties in the area of classroom management were observed in some lessons. A review of teaching strategies, placing greater emphasis on engaging the students through a variety of short focused activities, and of strategic classroom organisation should help resolve these difficulties.
Student progress in the High School is monitored in a variety of ways. Formative assessments include the assigning and correction of homework, and class tests. Summative assessments are carried out through formal Christmas and summer examinations. Certificate examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations in the spring. All examination results are recorded in a central record system known as TEP (term, examination, progress). These results are reviewed by form teachers, year heads and the principal. Reports are issued twice yearly except in Transition Year where students receive three reports.
A review of students’ copies revealed evidence of homework being assigned and corrected. In some cases comments were included. This is good practice as it can provide affirmation for work well done or help the student by indicating areas for improvement. In some instances the homework assigned involved translation as a means of putting into practice the work learned in class. It is recommended that alternative exercises to translation such as cloze tests, word searches and crosswords be considered. It is also suggested that students be encouraged to classify their vocabulary work for ease of referral when needed.
Teachers of French reported giving class tests at the end of a chapter or topic or midway through a term. Fifth-year students are given a test at the end of October for the purpose of assigning them to higher and ordinary-level classes for Leaving Certificate. All tests given include an aural component. There are formal oral assessments for Leaving Certificate students while other year groups may be given an oral assessment, carried out in class or in the teachers’ own time. Teachers set their own tests. It is suggested that consideration be given to setting common assessments for junior cycle classes.
Parent-teacher meetings take place annually for junior cycle and fifth-year students. Parents may make an appointment to discuss their child’s progress with the relevant form teacher who will provide a comprehensive report on progress and achievement in all subject areas.
There was good evidence of student progress in all lessons observed. Student responses to questions demonstrated a broad understanding of lesson content and a review of student copies indicated a general ability to organise work efficiently and to communicate accurately and effectively in written form. Greater use of the target language in some lessons should further progress students’ communicative competence and performance. Students demonstrated effective independent learning in undertaking ICT tasks.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support and provision for the teaching and learning of French in the allocation of time, timetabling and the provision of resources.
· Teachers of French are actively engaged in the formal subject planning process. Formal subject meetings are held throughout the year and all decisions are recorded.
· A variety of methodologies was observed with emphasis on the integration of the different language skills through the use of a thematic approach.
· Teachers have embraced the new technologies with evidence of ICT being effectively used to support the teaching and learning of French.
· There was good evidence of student learning and potential.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the Transition Year plan be reviewed to include opportunities for students to become more autonomous in their learning,
· The target language should be used as much as possible in all lessons and greater emphasis should be placed on promoting student interaction in French.
· Strategies, other than translation, should be considered for checking comprehension and consolidating learning.
· It is suggested that greater use of pair or group work should be extended to 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.