An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Rosemont Park Secondary School
Temple Road, Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 60930L
Date of inspection: 6 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rosemont Park Secondary 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.
Rosemont Secondary School is an all girls’ secondary school with 108 students. Students take the full range of subjects in first year including the study of two modern European languages; Spanish and French. This is to be commended as it allows for more informed choices for students on entry into second year. French has been traditionally offered as a core subject to the end of junior cycle. However, it was reported that in order to provide more time for all subjects in junior cycle it is planned to offer a choice between French and Music in second year. This will lead to an increase in the number of lesson periods allocated in second year for the study of the language. This increase should benefit those choosing to study the language as the current allocation of three periods per week for French throughout junior cycle is below the usual allocation. It was also reported that this decision will be subject to review and that the subject options will be open to revision which is good practice.
There is good provision for French in senior cycle with the allocation of six lesson periods spread across the week. This is commendable as regular ongoing contact with the target language is essential for students when learning a foreign language. Students are taught in mixed-ability groups throughout the school.
There are two teachers of French in the school. Each is a graduate of French. Both teachers reported involvement in continuous professional development, either through the pursuit of inservice training for teachers of French in Ireland, attendance at a French language course in Belgium or active membership of and attendance at meetings of the French Teachers’ Association. It was also reported that information gathered at such courses is shared within the French department. This commitment to continued professional development and the sharing of information is commendable.
Classrooms in Rosemont Secondary School are student based and, as such, the wall displays relate to a wide variety of subjects. There were some French posters and charts on the walls of all the classrooms visited. These included some grammar or verb charts which were referred to and added to during the course of the lessons. The display of key grammar points or expressions on classroom walls is to be commended as it facilitates ongoing assimilation of important material. It is suggested that some of these displays need to be more visible. In some cases, students presented their work to the class and it was then displayed on the wall. When taking down a section of work to replace it with new material teachers reported photocopying it for students. The provision of such supports for the students is to be commended as it affirms them in their own work and enables them also to benefit from the work of their peers. It is suggested that, in the interests of enhancing the print-rich environment for the learning of the language, a discrete French corner or wall should be selected in each classroom where more visible maps, posters and samples of students’ work can be displayed.
It was reported that the present school lacks the space to store a lot of audio-visual equipment and as a result purchases are very much on a needs basis. However, the school is due to relocate to a new building which, it is expected, will be more fully resourced. It is also planned to allocate a budget for the purchase of resources in each subject area. Equipment currently available in the school to support the teaching and learning of French includes CD players, and VCR and DVD players which are available on a booking system. It was reported that the teachers in the school are very resourceful and generous in sourcing their own materials for use in the classroom. This is to be commended. The teachers of French expressed the hope that they will either have their own classrooms or a fully resourced language room in the new school. A data projector is also available on a booking system and students have internet access under teacher supervision. Some members of the French department are currently attending a course in the Blackrock Education Centre on the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and French and reported using ICT in their work. However, the physical constraints of the present building and the time needed to set everything up makes it difficult to use ICT on a more regular basis. Teachers are to be commended for their openness and willingness to embrace ICT as a teaching tool to enhance the teaching and learning of French.
Teachers reported active involvement in co-curricular activities. Language-related activities are incorporated into fun days organised for students. A school trip to France took place two years ago and teachers made efforts to ensure that it proved a valuable linguistic as well as cultural experience. Co-operation with the Home Economics department facilitates an introduction to French cooking while it is hoped to organise a French breakfast for junior cycle students. The numbers in the school are unfortunately too small for a visit from the French Theatre for schools companies. Consideration should be given to linking up with another school in the area that is planning such a visit. It was also reported that the students attended French storytelling sessions which were, in the past, organised by the local libraries.
Rosemont Secondary School promotes and co-ordinates a peer support system whereby senior cycle students with strengths in certain subject areas offer help and support to junior cycle students who may be experiencing difficulty in a particular subject. This work is carried out at lunchtime. Management, staff and students are commended for this innovative practice of supporting students in their learning.
Management and staff are involved in the school development planning process with most of the whole-school policies currently in place. Attention has now been turned to the area of subject planning with a recent focus on new methodologies, mixed-ability teaching and co-operative learning. It was reported by the French department that the next stage in this process is to look at strategies for enhancing the teaching and learning of French.
Individual plans and schemes of work were made available. It is customary for all teachers to submit their yearly plans to the principal at the beginning of the school year. These plans indicate an awareness of the requirements of the syllabus and are suggestive of a level of reflection as to how best to implement them in the classroom. For example the fifth-year plan has been revised in response to the needs and abilities of the present fifth-year student cohort. It was reported that teachers fill out a self-evaluation questionnaire and meet with the principal mid-year to review their progress in relation to their work and planning. This process of self-review is highly commended and represents an advanced stage in subject planning. It is recommended that the members of the French department build on their good work to date in individual planning and develop, over time, a whole-school plan for the teaching and learning of French, incorporating into it the more permanent aspects of their individual plans, the context of the school and the desired learning outcomes for the students, including those with special needs. A whole-school plan could also include the challenges for the future of French in the school and strategies for how they might be met.
There was evidence of careful preparation and planning for the lessons observed, with the advance readiness of handouts and relevant audio equipment.
There was evidence of good classroom management and discipline in all lessons. Students were well behaved and co-operative and a climate of mutual respect and good humour prevailed.
Lessons were well structured, had a clear purpose and the content was appropriate for the various ages and levels of the students concerned. In some instances the proposed plans for the lessons were written on the board thus making students aware from the outset of the purpose of the lesson. This is good practice and to be commended.
There was a high level of linguistic competence and good use of the target language demonstrated by the teachers throughout. For example, where the focus was on oral work the lesson was introduced in a very natural way by asking the students how they had spent their weekend. This is commended. In some classrooms the relevant vocabulary for general teacher-student discourse was displayed over the board. It is recommended that students be challenged to interact as much as possible in the target language by asking questions, expressing difficulties and making requests. This will help students to become more comfortable communicating in the language and over time will facilitate greater oral competence and performance.
The use of a thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills in all lessons observed. There was one example where in preparation for oral work students were given a listening comprehension exercise, followed by a reading of the transcript which was also used to practise pronunciation. The integration of the different language skills is to be commended as it enables students to use the knowledge they have acquired in one skill’s area to support their learning in another and to realise that language learning is a cumulative process. However, in order to foster a greater awareness of this process and to engage students more in their own learning it is recommended that some preparatory activities such as brainstorming be used to draw on students’ previous learning when introducing a new topic.
There was good attention to pronunciation, and errors were sensitively corrected in all lessons observed. This is to be commended as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language acquisition. However, it is important when pronunciation is corrected that the students are given the opportunity to repeat the corrected version in order to internalise and consolidate it.
Question and answer sessions were used effectively to link previous learning with the input of new material. Students were given group tasks in some of the lessons observed. The use of pair or group work is to be commended as an effective way of engaging all students and giving them increased responsibility for their own learning. However, there were instances where students continued to work as individuals on the given task. When considering a group activity as part of a lesson it is recommended that attention be paid to ensuring that it is a valid group activity where the objective necessitates group interaction. There was one occasion where pair or group work might have proved a beneficial strategy for practising oral work and engaging all the students at the same time.
Song was used as a teaching strategy thus enhancing the students’ enjoyment of the lesson. The choice of song provided ample scope for integrating the different language skills and was exploited to that effect. While a very beneficial exercise, the gapped test given to the students to complete may have been too difficult. In such circumstances a list of the missing words in jumbled order can support but at the same time challenge the students.
Interaction with the students revealed evidence of student learning and a willingness to communicate which, with increased emphasis on student interaction in the target language, could be further enhanced.
Student progress in Rosemont Secondary School is assessed in a variety of ways, including the assigning and correction of homework, monthly tests and formal Christmas and end-of-year examinations. Students of French may also be given quick vocabulary tests at the beginning or end of a lesson.
There was evidence of homework being assigned and corrected and in some cases some very constructive and affirming comments were included. This is to be commended. Monthly tests are carried out in lesson time and comprise a variety of formats. For example, teachers of French may choose to give an aural or oral test as the monthly assessment. Aural and oral components are included in all Christmas and end-of-year examinations. This is good practice. Third year students have in the past been given the opportunity to sit the optional oral component of the examination if they wish. Certificate students sit ‘mock’ examinations.
Reports are sent home every month. Parents must sign the school journal each week where absences, lateness and behaviour are recorded. Most year groups have two parent-teacher meetings per year and parents also have the opportunity to meet the class tutor two or three times annually.
The ongoing vigilant recording of student progress by both staff and management of Rosemont Park Secondary school is to be commended.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good provision for French in the allocation of time at senior cycle. However, the current allocation of three lesson periods per week for French throughout junior cycle is below national norms.
· There was evidence of good individual planning for the teaching and learning of French facilitated by the practice of self-review promoted by management.
· There was good use of the target language by the teachers in the classroom.
· A range of methodologies was used to good effect.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the members of the French department build on the good work to date in individual planning to develop a more permanent whole-school plan for the teaching and learning of French.
· It is recommended that students be challenged to interact more in the target language and to draw on their previous learning to support the input of new material.
· It is recommended that when engaging in group work, attention be paid to the nature of the activity to ensure that it invokes a collaborative process. Consideration should also be given to putting students working in pairs or groups when practising oral work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the 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.