An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Our Lady’s Grove
Goatstown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60891E
Date of inspection: 18 and 19 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s Grove. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Our Lady’s Grove is an all girls’ school with an enrolment of 424 students. The study of a modern European language to Leaving Certificate is mandatory for all students. The majority of students take French. German is offered as an alternative language at junior cycle if there are sufficient numbers to form a class grouping. The school is currently piloting the study of German and Japanese in Transition Year (TY) and it is hoped to offer the option of continuing these languages to Leaving Certificate. School management is to be commended for including the study of a modern European language as part of the core curriculum and for its willingness to embrace the study of further modern languages.
There is good whole-school support and provision for French as evidenced in the allocation of time and the provision of resources. Timetabling arrangements are also to be commended as regular contact with the target language facilitates optimum benefit for students.
There are six teachers of French in the school. They are all graduates in the subject and are established in their careers. Most teachers have availed of the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of French in recent years. Some have also attended inservice courses held in France. School management pays for the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and has also, where possible, supported teachers engaging in further study. School management and teachers are to be commended for their commitment to continued professional development.
Classrooms are student based. Nevertheless, there were some displays of maps, posters and samples of students’ work in a number of classrooms. While recognising the constraints of the student based classrooms, it is recommended that, in the interests of enhancing linguistic and cultural awareness, teachers should, where possible, extend the print-rich environment by organising a discrete French space in relevant classrooms to display students’ work and posters containing key expressions or significant grammatical structures.
Teachers have their own CD / cassette players and can access other audio-visual equipment when needed. They also have access to a good range of resources, including videos, DVDs, dictionaries, magazines and books. Such resources are usually provided on request to school management.
The school has a computer room and an individual computer is also available on each floor for use in the classroom. While there is some use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the language class with students, teachers reported that difficulty in accessing the computer room limits the use of ICT as a teaching tool. However, they use the internet on an ongoing basis for downloading materials. The school has introduced interactive whiteboards in some classrooms. It is suggested that when access to ICT, either through the computer room or the use of the interactive whiteboard, becomes more readily available that teachers extend its use as a teaching tool in the classroom.
Teachers reported active involvement in co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. Junior cycle students partake of a French breakfast and in cheese tasting while senior cycle students have, in past years, participated in French debating competitions. Performances by French theatre companies for schools are organised every two years, while TY students attend French films thus linking in to their film studies module. Students also organise displays and French related activities as part of their open night preparations. Members of the French department have also initiated links with a French school in St Tropez through their involvement in the Comenius Action projects co-ordinated by Léargas. The school organises a biennial language and cultural trip to Paris. Students are given workbooks to complete and a video is made of the trip. This is good practice as it ensures optimum benefit from the experience as evidenced from teachers’ reports. The trip has proved very helpful in enhancing students’ cultural awareness, which is an essential component of successful language learning. It is suggested that the video might even serve as a teaching tool for other class groups. The French department’s commitment to and involvement in co-curricular activities is to be commended as it enhances the enjoyment of learning a language. Furthermore, good co-curricular support ensures that French maintains a high profile within the school.
Our Lady’s Grove is actively involved in the school development planning process. The current focus is on subject planning and there are formal planning meetings three to four times yearly. School management is to be commended for its facilitation of time for subject planning. There is a subject co-ordinator for French, a position which is rotated. The agenda for meetings is given in advance by the school development planning co-ordinator and minutes of subject planning meetings are recorded. This is good practice and to be commended.
A review of planning documentation for French indicates that the members of the French department have been actively engaged in and are well advanced in collaborative planning and review. This is to be commended as good collaboration underpins effective subject planning. The inclusion of the syllabus as well as published marking schemes from state examinations in the planning folder is good practice as a constant reminder of the guidelines one should work towards. The inclusion of amendments to the plan suggests a level of reflection and awareness of subject planning as an ongoing process. Consideration is currently being given to the introduction of self-assessment of learning. This is to be commended. It is suggested that consideration be given to piloting and evaluating the self-assessment of learning project with a single year group such as Transition Year before implementing it throughout the school. Good work has also been achieved to date in curriculum content targets. It is suggested that as part of ongoing planning that this good work be further developed over time to include a series of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the teaching strategies to support such learning. This will facilitate self review and its subsequent benefit for teaching and learning.
Curriculum planning for fifth year students currently involves a modular approach at the beginning of the year. Once these modules have been completed students are streamed into higher and ordinary level groupings for completion of the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Teachers are to be commended for their team approach to the teaching of French in fifth year. Teachers reported, however, that each three week module focuses on a specific linguistic skill as examined in the Leaving Certificate examination. It is recommended that the teaching of discrete skills be reviewed, as best practice and the syllabus guidelines recommend an integrated approach to the teaching of the different linguistic skills. It is also suggested that the emphasis on the specifics of the Leaving Certificate examination at such an early stage in senior cycle be deferred to a more appropriate time in the school year.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed, with the advance readiness of photocopied materials and audio-visual equipment.
Inspection activities included the observation of six lessons, three 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.
There was a high standard of linguistic competence and good use of the target language by teachers in all of the lessons observed. Some use of the target language by students was also observed and some students had handouts containing key expressions for classroom language. This is to be commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons by giving them the necessary linguistic strategies to ask questions, make requests or express difficulties in the target language. The display of earlier mentioned posters containing key expressions would benefit students in this regard or handouts containing the expressions could be placed on the front of the students’ textbook or copy for ease of referral.
Lessons were generally well structured and appropriately paced. In some instances the purpose of the lesson was stated from the outset. This is good practice as it actively engages students in the learning process. It is suggested that this practice be extended to all lessons and consideration be given to stating the purpose in terms of desired learning outcomes for the lesson. The content of the lessons was appropriate to the age and abilities of the students. When examination papers form the main resource and content of the lesson however, care should be taken that such texts are integrated into a thematic or topic approach rather than taught in isolation.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to consolidate previously learned material and to engage students in new learning. Homework was also corrected orally at the beginning of some lessons. However, it is important to remain mindful of the need for balance between the correction of homework and the introduction of new learning. There was good use of the board throughout to support this learning.
There was also good attention to the consolidation and use of the French alphabet and correct pronunciation in some of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as these are significant components of effective language learning. It is suggested that pronunciation drills be incorporated into lessons on a regular basis to ensure ongoing consolidation of correct pronunciation.
There were examples of group work activities in some lessons. The use of group work is good practice as it engages the students and promotes active and independent learning. However, there were some instances where students, although given a group task, completed it individually, while in other instances, the students worked in groups but interacted in English. When organising group work, attention should be paid to the nature of the task to ensure that it is an activity which necessitates group interaction. Vigilance is also needed to ensure that every effort is made to interact in the target language. It is recommended that the use of group or pair work be extended to all lessons.
There was evidence of good classroom management and an atmosphere of mutual respect throughout. Students engaged well in the work being carried out in most lessons and they displayed a good knowledge and understanding of the target language in their interactions with the teacher and during the inspection process.
A variety of techniques is used to monitor student progress. These include questioning in class, assigning and correcting homework, class tests and formal school examinations. Our Lady’s Grove has developed a homework policy and a review of student copies indicated that homework is assigned, corrected and signed. Comments are also included. This is good practice as comments can be both informing and affirming.
Certificate examination students sit timetabled examinations in November and mock examinations in February. All other students sit formal tests at Christmas and summer. Common tests are given throughout with optional questions included to cater for individual differences. An aural component is included in all formal tests while senior cycle students are also given an oral examination. Teachers swap class groups for the purpose of administering these oral examinations. The members of the French department are to be commended for their assessment policy and practice. It is suggested that consideration be given to introducing some form of formative oral assessment at junior cycle to support the time and effort put into oral work, role-play and pronunciation.
Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group and there is ongoing contact with parents through the use of the school journal which must be signed each week. Parents of Transition Year students are also asked to complete an evaluation of the programme as experienced by their daughter at the end of the academic year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
There is good subject provision and whole school support for the teaching of French in the allocation of time, timetabling and the provision of resources.
The members of the French department are well advanced in the subject planning process, with evidence of an ongoing process of reflection and review.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher and a variety of methodologies was observed.
There was good attention to co and extra curricular activities as a means of promoting enriching and enjoyable language learning experiences.
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 proposed project for self-assessment of learning be piloted and evaluated with one class group before introducing it for all students.
It is recommended that the purpose and methodologies of the current fifth year modules be reviewed while at the same time retaining the good practice of a team teaching approach.
It is recommended that attention be paid, where relevant, to ensure that group work activities necessitate group interaction and that students make efforts to interact in the target language.
It is recommended that, when it becomes possible, teachers consider further embracing ICT as a teaching tool in the classroom.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of French and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.