An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Hacketstown, County Carlow
Roll number: 70410O
Date of inspection: 10 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Eoin. 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown is a co-educational school with 208 students in the second level sector. It also offers some Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. Students make their subject choices on entry into first year. The study of French to Junior Certificate level is mandatory for all students apart from those receiving learning support. It is optional at senior cycle. Students are generally taught in mixed ability groups as the numbers in the school usually only warrant one class grouping.
There is good provision for French on the school timetable, in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes are allocated single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. This is good practice as ongoing contact with the target language is of optimum benefit for students.
There are two teachers of French in the school, one of whom is currently on approved leave of absence and being replaced by a substitute teacher. The teachers are graduates in French and are established in their careers. They have availed of the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of French in recent years. Teachers also reported having attended inservice training for teachers of French in Ireland and France. In addition, some teachers have, in the past, attended French Teachers’ Association conferences. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to ongoing professional development.
Classrooms in Coláiste Eoin are teacher based and those visited had displays of maps, posters and samples of students’ work on the walls. Some of the posters included work on grammar rules and vocabulary. This is to be commended as a very useful way of enabling students to assimilate, over time, what they have been learning as well as giving them insights into French life and culture. It is recommended that the development of a print-rich environment be extended to its full potential in all classrooms to include key expressions and vocabulary which could be changed each week or left up for longer periods.
There is good access to audio-visual equipment to support the teaching of French in the school. All teachers have their own designated overhead projectors, CD players and tape recorders, while video recorders are easily available. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been used to download materials for use in class. However, difficulties of access to the computer room and with broadband were cited as reasons why teachers do not actively use ICT as a teaching tool. It is recommended that as soon as these difficulties are resolved, consideration should be given to embracing some elements of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of French.
Teachers facilitate involvement in co-curricular activities. A pen-pal project has been successfully launched for junior cycle classes. Performances by French theatre groups for schools have been organised in the past for Transition Year students. Teachers also spoke of their intentions to liaise with the Home Economics department to organise lessons in French cooking for Transition Year students. This is to be commended as such planned cross-curricular activity is a feature of the Transition Year Programme. Scholarships are awarded annually through the Carlow Vocational Education Committee (VEC) to attend a modern languages college in the summer. This is a very commendable means of supporting the students in the learning of French. The scholarship scheme also affirms the teachers in their work for French in the school. The school has, in the past, participated in school exchanges through the Lingua programme and are currently involved in setting up an exchange programme for Transition Year students as part of a European Studies module. School trips have taken place to France. Participation in co-curricular activities is to be commended as it enhances the enjoyment of language learning and contributes to maintaining a high profile for French in the school. It is recommended that consideration be given to further promoting the use of co-curricular activities through the running of events such as a French day or week, the partaking of a French breakfast or goûter or the organisation of a French quiz for junior classes. Such a quiz could be devised by Transition Year students, thus consolidating their knowledge and use of French question forms in an authentic context.
Coláiste Eoin has benefited this year from the French language assistantship scheme to support the teaching and learning of the language. It was reported that this has been a very positive experience for all members of the school community. This was observed in practice throughout the course of the inspection.
Coláiste Eoin is involved in the school development planning process with the current emphasis on formalising procedures and planning documents as part of a post Whole School Evaluation (WSE) phase. Formal subject planning is also being developed.
The members of the French department meet formally about five times annually and informally on an ongoing basis. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed. This is a rotating position. Records are kept of formal meetings. This is good practice and to be commended. It is suggested that a brief note also be kept of any decisions taken at informal meetings. In this way the time and effort given by teachers to informal meetings can be acknowledged.
A comprehensive whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French in Coláiste Eoin was made available on the day of the inspection. This included aims and objectives, student access to the subject, curriculum organisation and content, resources, homework, assessment and record keeping procedures. Teachers are to be commended for the level of reflection and work involved in developing a whole school plan for the teaching and learning of the subject. As a means of building on the good work to date and advancing the process towards the stage of self-review, teachers should include in their plan a list of desired learning outcomes for each year group; what the students will be able to do as a result of their learning and the necessary linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to achieve these outcomes. This will facilitate teachers, in time, to review their work and methodologies.
Subject planning for the current academic year also involved planning for the presence of the French language assistant. There was evidence to indicate that teachers have worked well in this area in order to get optimum benefit from the allocation.
There was evidence of careful preparation for the lessons observed on the day of the inspection with the advance readiness of worksheets, transparencies and relevant equipment.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior level and two at senior level. Interaction with the students was facilitated at the end of each lesson.
The choice of lesson content was, in most cases, appropriate for the various ages and levels of the students concerned and a thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills. This approach, which is in line with syllabus requirements, is to be commended. Care should be taken with the choice of texts for students to ensure that the level of difficulty does not impact negatively on their confidence levels.
Lessons were generally well structured. This is good practice as a well structured lesson facilitates optimum learning. There were some cases however, where a large part of the lesson was spent on a single activity, the correction of homework. While acknowledging the importance of correcting homework and of its potential for further learning, attention also needs to be paid to ensuring an appropriate balance in the structure of the lesson between previously learnt work and the input of new material.
There was good use of the target language by teachers in most of the lessons observed. This is to be commended. There was however, potential for greater student interaction in the target language. They should be encouraged to ask and answer simple questions, make requests or express difficulties in French. Expressions relevant to such interactions could be charted on the walls of the classrooms to support this learning and, at the same time, further enhance the print-rich environment. Translation was the dominant teaching strategy used in some of the lessons observed and students were not sufficiently challenged to understand the target language. In one instance the valuable learning potential inherent in a given task was cancelled out by the advance translation of all the relevant vocabulary. While acknowledging that there is a need to support students in the language learning environment, it is recommended that the dependence on translation be gradually reduced and balanced by a corresponding expansion of target language usage. Teachers should begin by explaining in French and checking students’ understanding rather than automatically explaining in English. In this way the more linguistically able students will benefit from the challenge of authentic communication in the target language, while those who are less proficient will have the linguistic strategies necessary to indicate such difficulties. Greater use of visual supports or gestures could also help overcome some of this dependence on translation.
A variety of methodologies was observed. Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous work and to introduce new material. There was good use of the overhead projector and the board to support and consolidate learning. In some instances answers to questions had been prepared out on a transparency, and as the lesson developed these were both visually and linguistically expanded upon through skilful use of the transparency and whiteboard together. This is to be commended.
Aural texts, where used, were prefaced by pre-listening activities such as revision of earlier work and vocabulary carefully prepared out on a transparency. This is good practice. However, there were some cases where the pre-listening activity comprised a translation of the relevant vocabulary. It is suggested that, in these cases, alternative strategies to translation be considered in order to support comprehension and at the same time challenge the students.
There was good attention to pronunciation. This is to be commended, as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language acquisition and will be best assimilated if practised regularly. Students in some lessons were invited to read the text of a poem aloud. However, it was not clear whether the students were reading for pronunciation or for comprehension purposes. If a text is being read for comprehension purposes, it is recommended that the teacher reads it aloud as students, when reading aloud, tend to focus on their performance and may lose the meaning of the text.
There were some good examples of cultural awareness integrated into the body of some of the lessons. This is to be commended as knowledge of France, French life and culture stimulates greater interest in the learning of the language.
Most of the methodologies observed in the course of the inspection involved whole class teaching. While whole class teaching is an integral part of all lessons, it is important to intersperse it with active student engagement through the use of individual, pair or group work tasks. It is recommended that a variety of short focused activities actively involving the students be promoted in all lessons as a means of consolidating the work of the lesson and giving students greater responsibility for their own learning.
The teachers’ collaboration with the French language assistantship scheme was demonstrated to good effect in all lessons observed. The presence of a language assistant in the classroom provides good opportunities for authentic communication through dialogue and role play, which in turn can be modelled by students. The teaching was also supported through the reading out of texts for comprehension, the reinforcement of correct pronunciation and interventions which provided alternative expressions or simple explanations in French. It is suggested that in order to get optimum benefit from the scheme, a language assistant should speak French at all times. There was evidence that the French language assistantship scheme had proved a positive experience for teachers and students alike.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a positive teacher student rapport throughout. Students were attentive and there was a climate of mutual respect.
Student progress is assessed and monitored through question and answer sessions in class, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and formal examinations.
A review of student copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected and useful comments included. This is good practice as it provides affirmation for student effort and, where necessary, indicates areas for improvement. Some of the copies reviewed were very neat and organised. It is suggested that this practice be promoted for all students.
Class tests are given on a regular basis and students have ongoing vocabulary tests. They sit formal examinations at Christmas and the summer. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations. All examinations include an aural component and oral assessments are given at senior cycle. Sixth year students are given a formal oral assessment in preparation for the Leaving Certificate oral examination. Reports are sent home twice yearly and parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups. It was reported that a monitoring system is in place to track students who are deemed to be non-achieving.
There was evidence that students had a good understanding of the work being done in all of the lessons observed as evidenced in the responses to questions asked. They also applied themselves well to tasks given. These progress and attainment levels are reflected in the uptake of higher and ordinary level at certificate examination level which is appropriate to the student cohort in the school.
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 terms of the allocation of time, timetabling and the provision of resources.
· The members of the French department have engaged well with the subject planning process, with the development of a comprehensive whole-school plan for the teaching and learning of French.
· There was effective use of French as the language of instruction in most of the lessons observed.
· Translation was a significant teaching strategy in some of the lessons observed.
· The French language assistantship scheme was effectively integrated into the teaching and learning of French.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that, where relevant, the dependency on translation as the dominant teaching strategy be gradually reduced and alternative strategies considered which will lead to an increased use of the target language.
· Greater use of short focused activities such as individual, pair or group work tasks, actively involving the students is recommended in all lessons.
· Teachers should build on the good work completed to date in the area of subject planning by identifying desired learning outcomes for the students in each year group and the proposed methodologies to support this learning.
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.