An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Graignamanagh, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70590T
Date of inspection: 17 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Duiske College. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Duiske College is a co-educational vocational college with 97 students. The study of French is compulsory for all students at junior cycle. However, students with special educational needs (SEN) who are experiencing significant difficulties with the study of the language have the option to withdraw from the subject. Senior management is to be commended for providing access to the study of a modern European language to all students at junior cycle.
There is good whole school provision for French in relation to the allocation of time and timetabling. Junior cycle lessons are timetabled in single periods throughout the week, while senior cycle students have one double period and three single periods. This is to be commended as ongoing contact with the target language represents best practice.
There are two teachers of French, each of whom teaches French to Leaving Certificate level. They have availed of all inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in recent years and have attended meetings in Kilkenny organised by the French Teachers Association (FTA). They expressed a strong interest in ongoing professional development. To this end it is suggested that the members of the French department consider availing of other inservice programmes to renew themselves linguistically and to enhance their teaching of French. These include scholarships to France in the summer months, the provision of a French ‘assistant’ in Irish schools and the national seminars organised by the French Teachers’ Association. Consideration could also be given to engaging with other teachers of French in the area to organise inservice and share good practice. This could be facilitated by the local Education Centres.
Classrooms are teacher based. This has enabled the teachers of French to create a visually enriching environment in their rooms with the display of maps, posters, student projects and some grammatical charts. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to develop a print-rich environment to enhance students’ awareness of French geography, life and culture. It is suggested that teachers extend this print-rich environment to include the posting up of key vocabulary, expressions and syntax, which can be assimilated over time by students.
Teachers of French have their own CD players and there is easy access to VCR/DVD players. Other resources include flash cards and individual whiteboards used by the students in the classroom. Resources are supplied by management on request.
The school has one computer room and has recently acquired an interactive whiteboard which will be available to the teachers of French. Teachers reported that there is limited access to the computer room. However, they have access to a data projector which has been used in some lessons for PowerPoint presentations. This is to be commended. Teachers are encouraged to further embrace the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a resource for the teaching and learning of French both in the classroom and by students for independent learning.
The school currently has no formal links with France. However, students are made aware of current Franco-Irish parish links, through which opportunities to visit the country can be organised. The school organises an annual tour abroad. The most recent trip was to Paris thereby affording students of French the opportunity to use their knowledge of the language in authentic situations and to enhance cultural awareness. A number of scholarships to the Gaeltacht or to modern languages colleges in Ireland are funded each year by County Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and the School Completion Programme (SCP). This is to be commended as a means of actively supporting language learning in schools. It is also an effective way of affirming language teachers in their work. Senior cycle students attend a French theatre workshop organised for schools. This is good practice as involvement in co-curricular activities enhances the enjoyment of language learning for all students. It is recommended that as a means of increasing cultural awareness and promoting language learning as an enjoyable experience, the use of co-curricular activities be extended and these should also include activities for junior cycle students.
Duiske College is currently engaged in the whole school development planning process. Teachers have also embraced subject planning as part of this process. Teachers meet formally at the beginning of each academic year and opportunities are afforded to teachers to meet at the beginning of each term. The teachers of French also reported meeting regularly on an informal basis and have kept minutes of all formal meetings since 2006. They reported that the practice of recording minutes has proved very helpful as it enables them to review decisions taken at previous meetings and to assess their progress in advance of further meetings. Teachers are to be commended for following this process of recording and review as it greatly facilitates self-evaluation.
A review of the subject plan submitted on the day of the inspection indicated that the members of the French department have embraced the subject planning process in conjunction with the teachers of English and Irish and are progressing well in their work. The subject plan outlines the aims and objectives for the teaching of languages, access to the subjects, allocation of time and timetabling, planning for students with SEN, cross-curricular planning, proposed methodologies, resources, homework, reporting and recording protocols. Curriculum content is contained in teachers’ individual schemes of work. Teachers are to be commended for their work to date in the area of subject planning for the teaching and learning of languages. In order to further build on the work to date it is recommended that the teachers of French develop a series of desired learning outcomes for the teaching and learning of French for each year group in terms of what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning and how these skills may be transferred from one situation to another, in line with syllabus recommendations. They should also include the linguistic strategies needed to support such outcomes. In this way the work completed to date in the area of subject planning can be integrated in a more meaningful way into the work being carried out in the classroom. It is also recommended that, as part of the planning process, teachers do an inventory of their current resources for the teaching and learning of French. This will enable them to prioritise their needs and requisition further resources or additional monies, in a systematic and controlled way. It is also suggested that greater use be made of ICT for the downloading of materials, the building up of a bank of resources and the sourcing of tasks and activities for use in the language class. Access to the site created for teachers of French in Ireland, www.french.ie could serve as a useful point of departure.
There was very good preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and relevant materials for use during the lesson.
Inspection activities included the observation of three lessons, one at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
The target language was used throughout by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. The use of the target language is to be commended as it grounds the language in authentic situations thereby improving students’ listening and oral skills. It is recommended that this good practice be further advanced by encouraging the students to interact in the target language. To this end teachers should provide students with the linguistic strategies to ask their own questions, express difficulties or make requests in French. The relevant expressions could be displayed on the walls of the classrooms to facilitate student learning and interaction in the target language.
The lesson content observed in all classes was appropriate to the age and abilities of the students.
All lessons observed had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. Question and answer sessions were extensively used in some lessons to recap on previous learning. The consolidation of previously learned material at the beginning of the lesson is essential to support new learning. However, teachers need to remain mindful of time management to ensure an appropriate balance between revision and the progression of new learning. It is suggested that on some occasions, revision time within the lesson could be optimised by getting students to ask the questions of each other, while the teacher circulates to support and assess previous learning.
A range of methodologies was observed, many used to very good effect. Circle time was used in a small class group as a strategy for promoting oral skills development, whereby sitting in the circle created an ambience conducive to whole-group interaction. This is to be commended as a very effective way of working with a very small class group. This approach could be further enhanced by encouraging the students to interject with their own questions, thereby replicating the dynamic of a natural discussion.
Flash cards containing useful expressions were effectively used to support students in the preparation of a written exercise, in which they had to pick out the expressions that could be used in the exercise. This approach is to be commended as it shows students how their learning in one context can be transferred into other situations.
PowerPoint was used in some of the lessons observed to consolidate the learning of new grammatical structures. Teachers are to be commended for embracing ICT as a tool for teaching and learning in the classroom.
Teachers varied the activities in their lessons in the interests of promoting the different language skills. However, many of these activities tended to be discrete activities often dictated by the progression in the different text books used, rather than an integrated approach to skills development. A thematic approach is recommended whereby the activities promoting the different language skills will feed into and build on each other, reinforcing student learning. It is also suggested that students be introduced to a variety of text formats rather than being restricted to the examination format contained in many of the textbooks.
There was some attention to pronunciation in the lessons observed. This is good practice as correct pronunciation contributes to successful language learning. However, it is important to allow students to repeat the corrected version in order to internalise the correction. It is also suggested that a quick pronunciation drill be included in all lessons.
Pair work was used in some lessons. The use of pair or group work activities is good practice as it promotes active and independent learning. However, in order to ensure optimum benefit from pair or group work activities it is important to ensure that the tasks assigned necessitate some form of group interaction.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a climate of mutual respect between teachers and students. Teachers were affirming and sensitive in their correction of errors. Students were attentive throughout and applied themselves to the tasks given. However, interaction with the inspector indicated a reticence among students about communicating in the target language.
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 copies indicated that homework has been given and corrected with comments included. This is good practice as it informs students of their progress. Teachers reported that students are given progress reports in October based on a summary of their class tests to date. Formal tests are held for all year groups at Christmas and certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. All other students have formal end-of-year tests. Teachers of French include an aural component in all formal tests while Leaving Certificate students are given an oral examination at mid-term, Christmas and in the mock examinations. Teachers are currently planning to introduce an oral assessment as part of fifth year. The assessment of students’ oral skills is good practice and it is recommended that consideration be given to extending this practice to include some form of oral assessment for all year groups.
School management reported that as part of a small community there is very good communication between the school and parents. Parent teacher meetings are held annually for each year group and a second parent teacher meeting is held for certificate examination students. Parents also receive a progress report at mid-term and reports are also issued after all formal tests. This is to be commended.
A review of examination results indicates that the uptake of levels is appropriate to the student cohort.
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.