An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Patrician Secondary School
Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 61681V
Date of inspection: 3 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge. 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 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; a response was not received from the board.
Patrician Secondary School is an all-boys voluntary post-primary school in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. The school provides a broad range of curricular programmes, namely the Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TYP), Leaving Certificate (established), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). This is a commendable array of programmes that shows the school’s resolve to serve the educational needs of all its students.
The study of a modern language is mandatory in junior cycle and students may choose either French or German. While the study of a European language is optional in senior cycle, strong emphasis on the importance of having a language, coupled with the favourable placing of languages in an options pool, ensures that the uptake of French or German for Leaving Certificate is very high. Students in the LCA programme have the opportunity to study Italian. The efforts of management to promote and support the teaching and learning of three different languages in the school are acknowledged and commended.
The timetabling of French is satisfactory. All lessons are single periods, the preferred time allocation for languages. Scrutiny of the timetable has shown that a very good effort has been made to distribute periods fairly across timeslots and days of the week. Mixed ability classes are the norm in junior cycle while senior cycle groups are timetabled concurrently to facilitate movement between higher level and ordinary level classes. Teachers agree collaboratively on who will teach higher-level or ordinary-level groups in any given year and this rotation gives all teachers the experience of teaching a variety of different levels.
The teachers of French, for the most part, have been allocated their own base classroom. The classrooms visited provided a bright and attractive learning environment for students. The resources for the teaching of French are satisfactory. Good white boards, screens, overhead projectors and audio equipment all contribute to providing well-equipped French classrooms. All teacher-based rooms had plenty of student-generated work on display. One classroom was particularly noteworthy for its high quality posters of Paris, famous French paintings and sports. Key communicative phrases were also prominently displayed. The purchase of a large map of France, for each classroom, would further support the teaching and learning of French.
Five teachers are engaged in the delivery of French in the school. All teachers have studied the language to degree level and some have experience of correcting state examination papers in French. The school pays the group membership fee of the French Teachers Association (FTA) and all teachers are members of this subject association. The teachers of French are committed to pursuing ongoing professional development opportunities and to maintaining contact with the target language community.
At present, the school has no formal links with a school in France, but an application has been made to Léargas, The Exchange Bureau, for involvement in an eTwinning initiative. This is an excellent, cost-effective method of establishing contact and exchanging information with a French school. Cultural awareness can be effectively and effortlessly promoted through such links. Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in the school are very good. A multi-media room is available on a rotation basis and all classrooms are broadband enabled. In addition, teachers have access to computers in the staffroom where they may download appropriate supplementary material. Further activities that support the learning of French include a first-year quiz devised and organised by TYP students, the serving of a typical French breakfast in some classes, a visit to the cinema to see a French film (TYP students) and the making of a video clip to accompany a French pop song which is now available to view on the Youtube website.
The Patrician Secondary School is actively engaged in whole school planning, under the auspices of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A member of staff has been appointed chairperson of a newly created network, School Planners Ireland. This group, which works in close co-operation with the SDPI team, has been set up to provide a platform for teachers, in a number of schools in an area, to share best teaching practice.
Subject planning has become an integral part of the planning process in the school and formal departments have been set up. Management has facilitated collaborative planning through the allocation of time at staff meetings throughout the school year. Additional informal meetings are held, as deemed appropriate or necessary by the French department. An ethos of collaboration permeates the French department. One member of the team acts, in a voluntary capacity, as subject convenor, maintaining and updating the French folder and colleagues are open to the notion of rotating this position. All teachers have agreed and drawn up a draft policy relating to the teaching and learning of French. This is very good practice.
The comprehensive subject-planning folder presented during the evaluation lists the topics for each year group, refers to cross-curricular links, planning for SEN students and assessment procedures. The subject plan also catalogues supplementary resources and some useful websites. On a practical note, the planning folder contains a good supply of emergency cover worksheets for junior-cycle students. This is exemplary forward planning which ensures that students have productive work to complete should a teacher be absent. Furthermore, it was heartening to note that the teachers of French had broadened the areas for discussion at their meetings to include, for example, teaching methodologies and active learning strategies.
The level of planning already accomplished is of a very high standard and the members of the French department are warmly commended for their highly organised and professional approach to collaborative planning. In order to help progress the planning process even further, the following recommendations are made: the department might consider drawing up a policy on the use of the target language in the classroom; documenting some ideas for the development of ICT as an additional learning support; reviewing the existing TYP programme for French in order to introduce some innovative teaching methodologies and to avoid repetition of junior cycle themes.
There was evidence of a high level of individual short term planning and preparation for all lessons observed.
Inspection activities undertaken included the observation of teaching and learning in five lessons. There was also an opportunity for dialogue and interaction with students in all classes. A good variety of teaching methodologies was observed, including group and individual questioning, the integration of language skills through reading, writing and aural activities, and the development of oral competence through pair work.
In a senior cycle class, the focus was on grammar work and it was clear that students had a very good understanding of grammar and of grammatical terminology in French. The concurrent references to the relationship between the infinitives and present participles of verbs were of much assistance to students. Synonyms were used very effectively to explain words and phrases and this strategy ensured that translation was unnecessary. Commendably, students were constantly challenged to think of alternative words or phrases and to consider difference in meaning between apparently similar words, for example, the verbs porter and apporter. The level of participation and interaction on the part of students was excellent.
Grammar was also at the heart of a well-structured junior cycle lesson where students were learning adjectives. A large chart, focusing on the masculine and feminine form of adjectives, was displayed on the board and used most productively in conjunction with other charts on the walls. Students enjoyed completing a word search and a crossword to test their knowledge of a wide range of adjectives. It is recommended that students be given an opportunity, perhaps through an oral pair work exercise, to use these adjectives in a communicative context and to link them to accompanying nouns in order to highlight gender and agreement.
In a junior-cycle class, flash cards were used successfully to teach new vocabulary describing physical traits and personality. Having acquired the necessary vocabulary, students then made a very good effort to participate in a question and answer session with a classmate. Such pair work sessions are a particularly useful strategy to use as they give all students the opportunity to speak some French and the chance to work at their own pace. Subsequently, a well-chosen reading text was used as a stimulus to help students compose a short letter to a French penpal. This approach ensured good integration of language skills and continuity of learning.
The revision of phrases needed for letter writing was the theme of another lesson. Students were presented with a worksheet containing jumbled phrases. They were required to unscramble the various phrases in order to make appropriate sentences for use in a personal letter. This strategy worked well as students rose to the challenge. The correct version of the letter was displayed on an overhead slide, enabling students to check their answers. The worksheet was then used as a vehicle for group oral revision of key phrases. This linkage of the different language skills around a single theme was very effective.
The commitment of the teachers to use French for affirmation, instruction, classroom management and communication was commendable. Teachers’ competence in the language was very good and French was spoken at a level that was appropriate to the needs and the varying linguistic ability of senior-cycle and junior-cycle students. There were occasional instances when translation to English immediately followed communication in French. It is best to avoid such translation whenever possible, as students can come to rely on the English translation rather than concentrating on the French words. Good attention was paid to accurate students’ articulation and the French alphabet was used extensively in one class. In another class, when students were experiencing difficulty with pronunciation, the words were written phonetically on the board to help them. Teachers are highly commended for their positive attitude to the use of the target language and they are urged to keep the impetus going and to continue to devise ways of actively involving their students in speaking French in class.
Teaching was clearly focused and tasks were well selected. There was a logical structure, good pace and clear progression in the majority of lessons observed. It was noted, however, that in some instances, a number of diverse topics were covered in the course of the lesson. This approach can cause students to lose focus and can lessen the impact of teaching. It is recommended, therefore, that work be centred on a single topic for the duration of the lesson period. A range of language activities, designed to develop and integrate the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, can be used to introduce variety and to consolidate learning.
The teachers of French provided a strong, guiding presence in the classroom. A warm, relaxed and affirming style of teaching predominated and this was seen to elicit a positive and productive response from students. The questioning of students demonstrated that they had a good understanding of lesson content and learning was generally very good. In all classes observed, students were co-operative and polite and a strong work ethic prevailed.
The progress of students in Patrician Secondary School is assessed in a variety of ways. Assessment modes consist of a combination of questioning in class, informal tests, formal examinations, homework assignments and projects. All year groups, apart from TYP, have formal written and aural examinations in French at Christmas and results are sent home. State examination classes sit mock-examinations in the spring. Teachers of French use externally set papers but correct the scripts themselves. This is good practice. All Leaving Certificate students also sit a mock oral examination, which is administered by the teachers outside of class time. In order to promote the importance of oral proficiency for every year group, it is recommended that a short, informal oral test be given to all students as part of the French department’s assessment procedures. First, second and fifth-year students have full house exams before the Summer holidays, again with results being sent home subsequently. Common papers are set, where feasible, and this is sound practice. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group take place annually.
There was evidence of the systematic recording of attendance and student progress by individual teachers. Indeed, the French department has agreed and documented a record keeping policy and a homework policy which form part of the overall long-term planning for the subject. The homework policy commendably refers to suitable assignments for gifted and for less able students. Scrutiny of students’ copybooks showed that syllabus-appropriate homework had been regularly assigned, corrected and returned to students, accompanied by positive, encouraging comments in some cases. Such individually focused feedback is of great benefit to students.
Where state examinations are concerned it is important that students are familiar with and practised in the content and techniques required for the examination. It is recommended, therefore, that students be directed to purchase past examination papers in September and that throughout the academic year, the topics on the papers be integrated with those on the syllabus. It is equally important to make certain that essential elements of the syllabus are taught well in advance of the examination in order to ensure that students have sufficient time to assimilate and revise the material.
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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.