An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Holy Family Secondary School
Newbridge, County Kildare
Roll number: 61682A
Date of inspection: 4 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Family 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 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Holy Family Secondary School is an all-girls Catholic voluntary secondary school of 626 students in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Modern languages are very well served in the school with the availability of French, German and Spanish to students. The study of a European language is mandatory up to Leaving Certificate level and students choose their preferred language prior to entry into first year. In addition to the European languages, Japanese is taught in Transition Year and in senior cycle.
Good provision for French is evident in both the number and distribution of class periods. The allocation of four periods per week throughout junior cycle is fully in line with syllabus requirements. Senior cycle classes have five periods per week. Two periods per week are provided for French in Transition Year (TY) and this provision is somewhat below the national average of three periods. In the next academic year, the allocation of time to languages in TY should be reviewed, particularly as all students in the TY programme continue their study of the language for Leaving Certificate. Examination of the timetable has shown that a very good effort has been made to spread periods fairly across time slots and days of the week. It is commendable that single rather than double periods have been allocated to French, as students derive maximum benefit from regular, ongoing contact with the language.
The school operates a system of mixed ability groups in junior cycle where all students, including those with identified learning needs, have the option of studying French. This inclusive practice is commendable. Concurrency occurs in senior cycle to facilitate higher and ordinary level classes. The allocation of teachers, on a rotating basis, to different class groups is good practice as it allows all teachers to keep in touch with teaching a variety of programmes and levels.
There are five teachers of French in the school and each teacher has a well-appointed designated classroom. A great deal of time and effort has been invested into creating a supportive and enriching environment in the French classrooms. Maps, charts, key phrases, labels on classroom furniture, posters of paintings by Monet and Renoir all contribute to the creation of a vibrant French ambience. The teachers concerned are warmly commended for their initiative and enthusiasm and their students are fortunate to learn the language in such print-rich surroundings. Most of the classrooms visited were quite spacious with a traditional seating layout. In some cases, teacher movement around the room would be made easier if some alternative seating arrangements were introduced.
In addition to the teacher-based classrooms, which have Internet access, the school has a well-equipped multi-media room to which teachers of French have timetabled access and where specific language programmes have been installed on the computers. Such a facility is a wonderful addition to language learning and teachers reported that their use of information communication technology (ICT) in the teaching of French is increasing steadily, according as their confidence and expertise increase.
While there is no annual fixed budget for French, school management provides funding on request and the French team have acquired an impressive range of additional language resources, such as films, games and magazines to complement the textbooks.
A considerable number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities extend the learning opportunities of the students beyond the classrooms. A school tour to Paris takes place every second year. Teachers of all modern languages, together with their colleagues in the Irish department and Transition Year students facilitated language activities for first, second and fifth-year students on 26 September, 2006--European Language Day. A multi-lingual table quiz, a numbers and words Bingo game and a pop song competition ensured that students were able to use their language skills in a most enjoyable way. Senior students participate in the inter-schools French debating competition, Les Joutes Oratoires and had won through to the second round of the competition at the time of the evaluation. The school also operates a junior French club and a Cinéclub at lunchtime. It is recognised that all the above-mentioned activities can only take place due to the very generous time and personal commitment of the teachers concerned and their dedication is warmly acknowledged.
The teachers of French are members of the French Teachers Association (FTA) and the school generously pays the membership fee. Individual teachers have availed of professional development courses both in France and in Ireland. Two members of the French team attended a two-week in-service course in Besançon, France as recently as July 2006. This commitment to professional development is highly commended as it is important that language teachers keep their language skills updated.
Subject planning is now well established in the Holy Family Secondary School School, and the school has worked formally with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) over a number of years. A co-ordinator of school planning has been appointed and subject departments have been set up. During the initial six weeks of the first term, departmental meetings are held weekly and thereafter, time is set aside at staff meetings to facilitate collaborative planning. This is very good provision.
The French department presented a detailed, well-documented plan that guides the teaching of the subject throughout the school. A senior teacher acts, in a voluntary capacity, as co-ordinator of the subject. The plan incorporates the school’s mission statement, contains an index, states the general aims and objectives of the department and sets out the time allocation for French throughout the school. The plan also contains an inventory of language resources, a record of teacher in-career development and ideas for some cross-curricular activities. The curriculum content of each year group is documented together with some appropriate teaching strategies. This is good practice and is one which could be further developed at future departmental planning meetings. When time permits, specific planned learning outcomes for each year group could be agreed and documented. Given the excellent ICT facilities available in the school, and the increasing expertise of the teachers, it would also be useful to devise some strategies for the gradual integration of ICT into the French lessons.
A high level of professional collaboration in the drawing up of the subject plan was evident and great credit is due to all those involved in its production and presentation. There was also clear evidence of good individual planning and thorough preparation of material and resources for all lessons observed.
In all, five lessons, two at junior and three at senior level, were observed in Holy Family Secondary School. All lessons were well structured, based on a theme, and contained an aural component linked to the principal theme of the lesson. The topics selected were well suited to the abilities and interests of the students.
At junior cycle level, several examples of good practice were observed. One lesson focused on the theme of school life in Ireland and in France. Students were skilfully led into the lesson through the use of an overhead slide with key phrases to highlight some differences between Irish and French schooling. It was noted, for example, that French students do not wear a school uniform and this observation led seamlessly into a class discussion on the school uniform of Holy Family Secondary School. Students’ participation was encouraged through good teacher questioning. The same questions were asked of a number of different students and this strategy proved effective in reinforcing new vocabulary. Following a short pre-listening exercise, students were required to listen to a tape on the same topic. There was good integration of the various language-learning skills throughout the well-paced lesson and student engagement was high.
In another junior-cycle lesson the theme of Ma Famille was competently exploited as a basis for work on the possessive adjectives. Students were introduced to the rules on these adjectives by means of an overhead slide. Good, clear examples were given of the gender link between le/mon etc. and la/ma etc. In a pre-listening activity, students were invited to write in the appropriate possessive adjective on a worksheet and then to check the correct version themselves by listening attentively to the tape/CD. Such a blend of written and aural work is very good practice and this particular strategy worked well. It is recommended that students be allowed listen to the tape/CD at least three times in order to become familiar with the material. This approach is especially appropriate for less able students. Writing key words from the tape on the board can also help to ensure that the exercise is accessible to all students.
In a senior-cycle class visited, a well-chosen extract from the film Etre et Avoir was used to stimulate students’ interest and to promote cultural awareness by giving an insight into life in a one-teacher primary school in rural France. Before the extract was shown, the teacher ensured that the students understood all the questions on a worksheet which was to be completed after the showing. This worksheet was well laid-out with appropriate, relevant questions and students had little or no difficulty completing it. While one side of the worksheet related to the little school in France, similar questions on the flip side referred to Holy Family Secondary School. This very effective teaching method, combined as it was with energetic teaching was seen to bring about a high level of student engagement and participation.
A most suitable focus for classwork, considering the time of year, was a selection of traditional Christmas carols. Short extracts from various carols were played and students were required to find the accompanying lyrics on a handout. Again, the integration of an element of cultural awareness into the lesson is commended. An introductory lesson on Christmas and its associated vocabulary, perhaps in the form of a class brainstorming session, together with some background information on Christmas in France, would help to set the carols in context.
Celebrities and the place they occupy in society provided the focus for some lively debate in a senior cycle class. Two students in the class were due to take part in a French debating competition, but all students in the group were encouraged to participate in discussing the topic. The lesson began with a good brainstorming session on the board on the importance or otherwise of Irish and international celebrities followed by a relevant tape dealing with the Cannes Film Festival. The accompanying questions were in French with the key interrogative words such as qui, quand, quel genre etc. underlined—a strategy that worked well in encouraging students to listen attentively. As homework, students were required to complete a wide-ranging questionnaire on their opinion of celebrities and this served to reinforce the work done in class and would also assist the debating team in their preparation. The connection between the lively and enthusiastic teaching style and the high level of student participation and concentration was obvious.
In all lessons observed, there was a robust use of the target language on the part of teachers and this important teaching approach is highly commended. All teachers displayed very good competency in the language and they encouraged and skilfully coaxed their students to participate as much as possible. Good use of gestures and synonyms, coupled with accurate pronunciation, enhanced the learning experience of students. Many students were observed to be comfortable speaking French and they made a great effort to respond to teachers’ questioning. The teachers of French demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm for the language and all lessons were conducted with energy and vitality.
Assessment is an integral part of students’ learning and is carried out as a continuous activity in Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge.
Teachers are commended for their work in maintaining thorough records on the progress of individual students, including attendance records and the results of in-class tests. Common papers are set, where feasible, for in-house examinations which students sit at before Christmas and at the end of the school year. Reports are sent home to parents or guardians. In addition, third and sixth-year students sit mock examinations in February. These mock examinations include an individual oral assessment and the effectiveness of this oral test is enhanced by a swap system where teachers of French examine the students of their colleagues. Fifth-year students also benefit from this system of oral examining at Christmas and in summer. It is clear that a sustained effort is made to promote good oral proficiency in French at all levels in the school. Teachers are urged, therefore, to consider assessing the oral competence of students, in a formal or informal setting, in all year groups. Such an approach would enhance and validate the extensive use of the target language observed in the classrooms.
The French department analyses the school’s results in the State Examinations with reference to national norms. This is very good practice. It may prove helpful to the French team to access, on www.examinations.ie, the chief examiners’ reports on the marking of French in the Leaving Certificate (2003) and in the Junior Certificate (2005).
Holy Family Secondary School has a whole-school homework policy which is currently under review. The subject plan for French contains that department’s policy and procedures for homework. It is particularly noteworthy that specific procedures are outlined to accommodate students with identified learning needs. Students need plenty of practice at writing French, and homework that is focused on the productive use of the target language rather than on translation into English would constitute best practice in this instance. Student copybooks contained a lot of good notes and vocabulary but a stronger focus on syllabus-based written tasks would yield better dividends. It is important that students in all year groups be assigned regular productive homework to complement and reinforce the good work done in class. Homework, when it is carefully and regularly monitored by teachers and accompanied by positive feedback can do much to motivate students and to direct them on how to improve their written French.
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 principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.