An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Subject Inspection of French

REPORT

 

 

Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin

Rathangan, County Kildare

Roll number: 70730J

 

 

Date of inspection: 20 September 2006

Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin. 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/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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

In Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin, the study of a modern language is obligatory in junior cycle. Students may choose between French and German, having had the benefit of an eight-week sampler module of both languages in first year. This sampler system is working well in the school, as it gives students some insight into the process of learning a new language. A small number of students with identified special learning needs may be exempt from studying a modern language. Uptake of the two languages is evenly distributed throughout junior cycle with two class groups studying French and two studying German. School management is to be complimented for its appreciation of the importance of modern languages in the school’s curriculum.

 

Students are taught in mixed-ability groups. The provision of single periods for the teaching of French in junior cycle is satisfactory as are the number of periods (four) in each year. Period duration is rather short at thirty-five or thirty-seven minutes, but the school has been and still is engaged in reviewing its overall provision of weekly tuition time.

 

In senior cycle, French and German are offered in a separate options block and again the number of students choosing to continue to study the language to Leaving Certificate is high. Three single and one double period have been allocated in fifth and sixth year. The allocation of two periods to French in Transition Year in the present academic year is less than optimal. It is very difficult to make progress and maintain good language skills for Leaving Certificate when students have only seventy or seventy four minutes’ exposure to the language per week. It is recommended, therefore, that the Transition Year programme be reviewed with a view to increasing the class period provision for modern languages. In addition to French and German, Italian is offered as an ab initio module to Transition Year students.  It is clear that modern languages are facilitated and actively promoted in the school and students have a full opportunity to pursue the study of these languages.

 

The French team comprises three teachers. All teachers take classes in both junior and senior cycle, and where applicable, across the range of levels. One member of the group has joined the French Teachers Association in an individual capacity and will be attending the national conference on 13/14 October. As the school fully supports involvement in subject associations and pays the membership fees, it is recommended that all teachers of French join their professional association to avail of peer support relating to language-teaching issues.

 

The teaching and learning of French is supported by a number of co-curricular activities. Senior students pay an annual visit to the Irish Film Institute in Dublin to see a French film. A theatre group has performed in the school and junior students have enjoyed a typical French breakfast of croissants and pains au chocolat. School tours to Strasbourg, Paris and Belgium have proved popular in the past and a further tour is planned for this school year. The effort required to organise and supervise such activities is fully acknowledged and the teachers concerned are warmly commended for their commitment.

 

The French department has access to a good range of audio-visual resources. All teachers have good-quality individual tape-recorders and CD players in their classrooms while access to television sets and DVD players is readily available. In the context of forward planning for the subject, it may now be an opportune time to review and catalogue existing resources with a view to acquiring some updated extra resources. While there is no departmental budget structure in operation in the school, funds are made available on request to school management.

 

Each teacher of French works in a designated base classroom. These classrooms are bright, comfortable and quite spacious, notwithstanding the fact that two of the three classrooms visited are in a pre-fabricated building. The teachers used the large boards in the classrooms to good effect. Some nice examples of students’ work and posters were on display, including in one classroom key communicative phrases under the heading of Quelques Mots de Politesse. However, some classrooms visited were very bare, lacking any visual stimuli. The display of colourful posters, key phrases, and student–generated work would help to promote student interest both in the language and in the culture of France. It is further recommended that a good quality map of France be purchased for each classroom to enhance and complement the teaching of the language.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Whole school planning is firmly established in the school. The principal has obtained a post-graduate qualification in school planning and a member of staff has been appointed as co-ordinator of the planning team in the school. The core issues of teaching and learning, academic performance and homework were prioritised for the academic year 2005/06 and work on these important aspects of school life will continue during the present school year. The expansion of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the classroom and the training of teachers in its use have been identified as further areas for development in the coming year.

 

Subject departments have been set up and provision for departmental meetings is good with one formal meeting scheduled per term. In addition, three planning days are facilitated by the VEC. Informal meetings also take place on an ad hoc basis. It is particularly noteworthy that an ethos of collaboration and co-operation exists between all teachers of modern languages in the school. The teachers of French meet regularly with their colleague in the German department to discuss common issues and approaches.

 

A good plan to inform the teaching of French for each year group has been documented, including a full, well presented programme for French in Transition Year (TY). The layout of this TY programme could usefully serve as a blueprint for further planning documentation for French throughout the school. It is suggested that the focal point of future departmental meetings should be discussion on effective teaching and learning strategies in a mixed ability context and the setting of achievable targets for each year group. With the improvement and extension of ICT facilities in the school for students and teachers alike, it would be useful to draw up plans for the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of French. It is recommended that teachers research the website www.french.ie which has been designed specifically for teachers of French in Ireland. This portal site carries informative and comprehensive up-to-date material, links to many other sites and information on events relating to the teaching and learning of French.

 

All lessons observed were well prepared in advance. A definite structure and a good sense of timing characterised the lessons. It was clear that teachers were fully aware of syllabus content and that they had taken cognisance of the ability level of their students and had prepared accordingly.   

 

Teaching and learning

 

Four class groups were visited in the course of the evaluation, two in junior cycle and two in senior cycle.

 

The thematic approach that was adopted by all teachers facilitated the effective integration of various teaching methodologies. It was noted that all teachers supplemented the textbook with relevant materials and this good practice is commended. Teacher-generated worksheets are particularly useful. In order to maximise their effectiveness, care needs to be taken to ensure that clear instructions and guidance, (with examples if necessary) on how to complete the worksheets are given to students.

 

Examples of good teaching practice were observed in all lessons. A junior cycle class was working on a theme familiar to many students, Les Matières, school subjects. Students were questioned individually on their liking or disliking of particular subjects. Due to the skilful and encouraging style of questioning used, students were forthcoming with their responses. Any errors of pronunciation were corrected in a sensitive way. Adjectives, such as utile, facile, intéressant etc., which are frequently used to describe school subjects were written on the board to help reinforce learning. Further learning objectives might have been achieved through the integration of an appropriate grammatical element into the lesson. The lesson was brought to a very effective conclusion with the distribution of a well-crafted worksheet. Students were required to put the new vocabulary they had learned into practice through a short written exercise, in which French and English words were matched. A lively, energetic style of teaching ensured full student engagement and participation in the learning process.

 

In another junior cycle class, students were engaged in buying fruit and vegetables at the market. Again, student learning was assisted by the list of key words and phrases written on the board. Reading from a text, students successfully acted out short role-plays. In time, and with practice, students could be encouraged to move to acting out the role-play without a script, thus building up confidence in their spoken French. When questioned individually by their teacher, students were well able to talk about their own favourite fruit and vegetables and the lesson was competently managed so as to integrate clear examples of the positive and negative forms of the verb aimer.

 

All teachers included an aural element, in line with syllabus requirements, in their lessons. In a senior cycle class, students engaged well with some innovative pre-listening activities based on the topic of L’Année Prochaine. Students were asked for suggestions as to what they thought the speaker on the tape would say about her future plans. The level of students’ responses and participation in this exercise was very good. This activity in turn led on to the actual listening comprehension when students were given a cloze test, in French, to accompany the tape. This exercise is commended as an effective method of linking and developing aural and written skills simultaneously. It is suggested that the phrases and expressions heard on the tape could be further exploited to integrate the teaching of grammar into the lesson. For example, the names of various countries and the use of either en or au in front of them, and the masculine and feminine forms of adjectives that featured on the tape could be used to illustrate the practical use of grammatical structures in a communicative context.

 

In another senior cycle class, students were encouraged to speak French through pair-work exercises. Sample questions were written on the board and students made a genuine effort to talk about themselves, their families, their hobbies and interests with their classmate, while the teacher circulated to monitor the students’ efforts. The integration of short pair work sessions was effective as it gave students the opportunity to speak French in a less inhibiting setting. Inevitably, students will make errors in grammar and pronunciation. It is recommended, therefore, that, having listened to various conversations, teachers conduct a group session on the board to focus the attention of the class as a whole on common difficulties or mistakes.

 

The target language was used widely and wisely with all year groups and this good practice is commended. Rather than using translation into English to explain words and phrases, teachers employed a number of strategies, such as the use of synonyms, facial expressions and actions, to communicate with students. Page numbers were written on the board and called out in French. Where instructions and affirmations were given in the target language, it was clear that students had no difficulty in understanding what was said. The teachers of French are to be complimented on their uniformly professional approach to the use of the target language with their students and are urged to continue to prioritise its use in the classroom.

 

Most of the topics taught during the course of the evaluation readily lend themselves to the inclusion of a cultural awareness input.  Teachers are urged to use such opportunities to the full to inform their students about the way of life in France and in francophone countries.

 

Classroom management was good. A positive, pleasant and affirming atmosphere was evident in all lessons observed. Teachers encouraged and enabled their students to play an active part in learning the language. The majority of students directed themselves to the learning task and, when their input was required, students made a very good effort to participate.

 

Assessment

 

Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin has a written whole-school policy on homework. The modern languages group (French & German) has also agreed and drawn up a specific homework policy relating to the study of both languages. This commendable policy lists general objectives, the type of work to be done and how it should be monitored by teachers, and the recommended amount of time to be dedicated to various tasks in each year.

 

In relation to French homework, it is recommended that short, productive tasks in the target language be assigned regularly to students. Translation exercises from French to English do little to improve students’ writing skills whereas syllabus-guided written tasks complement and consolidate classroom learning.

 

Students’ progress is assessed through a variety of methods, including individual questioning, checking of homework, class tests and formal in-house examinations. In addition to end of term reports, parents of third, fifth and sixth year students receive a monthly report on their child’s progress and they are strongly encouraged to respond in writing to these reports. This is a good system of ensuring ongoing two-way contact between the school and home. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups.

 

The French department sets common assessments where practicable. All year groups sit an aural examination while fifth and sixth year students sit a formal oral examination at Christmas. This is very good practice and is one that should be extended to all year groups. An oral examination may be conducted formally or indeed informally in a classroom setting. It is an effective way of encouraging and validating the use of the target language in the French classroom.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • There is very good provision for modern languages in the school and their importance on the curriculum is fully recognised.

  • Good subject planning has been done to date.

  • Teachers work in designated classrooms.

  • A good range of effective teaching methodologies was used in all lessons.

  • Use of the target language to communicate with students was very good.

  • Students were encouraged to participate in the learning process, through pair work and role-play.

  • Lessons were taught in a positive, supportive, affirming atmosphere.

  • A specific homework policy for modern languages has been devised.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • The number of periods assigned to French in Transition Year should be reviewed.

  • The potential of ICT for the teaching of French needs to be explored.

  • More visual and linguistic stimuli would enhance the French classrooms.

  • Grammar and cultural awareness should be integrated into the lesson where practicable.

  • Students should be given clear instructions prior to the completion of worksheets.

  •  Written homework assignments should be in the target language rather than in English.

 

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.