An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Blessington Community College
Blessington, County Wicklow
Roll number: 70760S
Date of inspection: 27-28 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Blessington Community 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Blessington Community College is a co-educational school with 278 students. The study of a modern European language is optional at junior cycle. Students are asked to express a preference for French or Spanish prior to entry into first-year. The results of this survey dictate the language offered, where the number of students opting to study a modern European language is insufficient to warrant the formation of two class groups. This has meant that there are currently no students of French in first and third year. The language being offered is then included in the taster programme for the purpose of enabling students decide whether or not they wish to pursue the study of a language. It is recommended that senior management review this provision for modern European languages. They should consider offering both languages in the taster programme and only surveying the students who have opted to study a language. They should also strive to ensure that the choice of language offered does not negatively impact on the uptake of languages.
A modern European language is an obligatory half-year module for all Transition Year (TY) students. This means that the Transition Year French class comprises students who have studied the language to Junior Certificate and students who have never studied a language. It is recommended that the current provision for languages in TY be reviewed in order to provide a meaningful language learning experience for both students who have completed junior cycle French and for the new learners of the language.
Senior management’s decision to include languages in the subject options has meant that languages are frequently blocked against practical subjects and are timetabled in a mix of double and single periods. Second-year French is timetabled for one double and two single periods per week, while senior-cycle French has two double and one single period. In some instances, the double periods for French fall on consecutive afternoons. While there is good allocation of time, the distribution of lesson periods means that students only have access to French three times weekly throughout their schooling. Ongoing contact with the target language is essential for effective language learning. It is therefore recommended that ways be explored whereby French can be timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. Consideration should also be given to creating a better balance of time between morning and afternoon classes.
There are two teachers of French in the school. They have been facilitated to attend Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of French in recent years. They have also participated in in-service training in Ireland and France and reported having attended conferences organised by the French Teachers’ Association. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to ongoing professional development.
Classrooms are teacher based and the display of posters and charts of verbs and vocabulary created a positive language learning environment for the students. This is to be commended. It is suggested that the print-rich environment be further extended to include samples of students’ work and key expressions for use by students when interacting in the language class. The display of students’ work is affirming of their efforts, while the posting up of key expressions will enable students to assimilate them over time and to develop confidence in using them.
Resources are provided on request to management and a good range of resources has been made available to the members of the French department. Teachers have their own designated CD and cassette players and have access to a television and DVD player. Other resources include class sets of dictionaries, videos and DVDs. The school has a computer room which is available on a booking system. There is also access to a data projector. Teachers reported some use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for PowerPoint presentations and to enable students to research projects. It was reported that the ECDL course completed by TY students helps them in using ICT to research French related information. The promotion of ICT to support student learning is to be commended. Computers are currently being installed and the school networked with the intention of introducing an e-portal system of recording to facilitate teachers in their work. With the availability of a computer in the classroom and the availability of a data projector for use in the classroom, it is recommended that teachers further embrace ICT as a tool to support the teaching and learning of French.
Co-curricular activities include the organisation of a French day or afternoon during which students do French cooking in conjunction with the Home Economics’ department. Teachers also reported organising visits from one of the French theatre for schools companies and French quizzes. Junior cycle students were in the past taught how to play the French game of bowls. Teachers are to be commended and encouraged to further promote co-curricular activities as it raises the profile of French in the school and enhances language learning as an enjoyable activity.
Blessington Community College is currently involved in the school development planning process. In addition to whole school planning, subject departments are accorded formal planning time as part of staff meetings. Teachers have had approximately five meetings in the previous eighteen months. They also reported meeting informally on a regular basis. There is a subject co-ordinator for French. This is good practice. Meetings have also been held with the teachers of other languages. This is to be commended as a collaborative approach to the teaching and learning of modern languages in the school would be of benefit to all relevant departments.
Detailed schemes of work were presented on the day of the evaluation outlining aims and objectives, curriculum content in terms of the topics to be covered, homework, assessment and recording procedures, materials used and provision for students with special educational needs (SEN). Teachers are to be commended for the work they have completed to date in the area of subject planning. In many instances the defined learning outcomes focused on what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning. This is good practice and to be commended. Much of the work to date has been that of individual teachers rather than the outcome of a collaborative approach to subject planning. It is now recommended that these schemes of work be used to form the basis of a collaborative whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French. It is also recommended that the plan include the linguistic strategies needed to support the defined learning outcomes and the proposed methodologies to achieve them. This will facilitate teachers’ self-evaluation in relation to the teaching and learning of French in the classroom.
A Transition Year plan was also submitted. A review of the plan raises some concerns as to the provision for students who have never studied French as the proposed activities would require a prior knowledge of the language in order to be able to complete the aims of the programme. It is recommended that the TY plan be reviewed to ensure constructive learning experiences responding to the needs and levels of all students.
There was evidence of careful preparation for the individual lessons observed with the advance readiness of the relevant materials and audio-visual equipment.
Inspection activities included the observation of six lessons, three at junior cycle, one TY lesson and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
Lessons were generally well structured and their content was appropriate to the age and levels of the students. There were some instances where attention needed to be paid to time management to ensure that students do not spend too long on any single activity and thus adversely affect the pace of the lesson.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. This is good practice and to be commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to student use of the target language. Students should be provided with the linguistic strategies needed to ask and answer questions, express difficulty or make requests in simple French. Interaction in the target language will improve students’ aural and oral skills and increase their confidence and competence in communicating in the target language. The posting up of key expressions on the walls of the classroom as mentioned in an earlier section is an effective means of supporting this learning. Where students responded orally in French, there was a need to pay greater attention to the correction of errors as correct pronunciation and intonation is an integral part of successful language learning. It is recommended that attention to pronunciation be extended to all lessons through the use of regular pronunciation drills.
A variety of methodologies was observed ranging from whole class teaching to engaging students in individual and pair-work tasks. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills which is good practice, in line with syllabus recommendations. Listening texts were supported by the use of preparatory activities such as the provision of the vocabulary needed for a global understanding of the text. The use of preparatory activities to support students in new learning is good practice. However, it is also important that the provision of such supports does not negate the challenges presented in new learning. For example, instead of always providing relevant vocabulary, students themselves could be encouraged to brainstorm in preparation for the input of new material. In this way, they will learn that language learning is a cumulative process and that their previous learning can support the assimilation of new knowledge.
An interesting approach to the promotion and consolidation of oral skills was evidenced in some lessons whereby students practiced their oral skills, recording their work on cassette. This enabled the teacher to work with individuals while at the same time engaging the other students in independent work. It is suggested however, that to be fully effective, the activity should be allocated a shorter time frame and attention paid to ensure that all students remain engaged in their work.
Pair work was used in some lessons. The use of pair and group work activities is good practice as such activities engage the students actively in and give them greater responsibility for their own learning. However, greater attention needs to be paid to time management when engaging students in pair or group work activities which should be short and focussed. It is suggested that the benefits of pair or group work activities could be further extended to integrate work on the correction of linguistic and pronunciation errors as already mentioned in an earlier section.
There was good classroom management in all the lessons observed. Teachers were affirming of students’ effort and work was carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Interaction with the students revealed them to be willing to communicate but shy. It is suggested that increased interaction in French should promote greater ease in communicating in the target language.
Student progress in Blessington Community College is monitored in a variety of ways, including question and answer sessions in class, homework assignments, tests and formal examinations. The school has a homework policy which is included in the student journal and failure to do homework can result in detention for students and parents being informed. Senior management provides all teachers with a journal for the recording of student progress. Reported failure by some students to do homework is a classroom management issue. It is suggested that, in such instances, ways be explored whereby students could be motivated to recognise the need and benefits of completing homework assignments. A review of homework copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected and commented on. The inclusion of a comment is good practice as a means of affirming students or informing them on their progress.
Teachers reported ongoing assessment of student progress through weekly vocabulary and revision tests. Students have formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer, while certificate examination students have pre-mock examinations in November and mock examinations in February. An aural component is included in all formal tests. This is good practice. Teachers also reported including an oral assessment at both junior and senior cycle. This is to be commended as ongoing attention to the development of oral skills can improve students’ confidence and willingness to communicate in the target language.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the use of the school journal which it was reported worked well in relation to junior cycle students. Reports are issued to parents twice yearly, one of which is sent out in advance of the annual parent teacher meetings held for each year group.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The French department has good access to resources for the teaching and learning of French.
· The French department is progressing well in the subject development planning process.
· There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed
· A variety of methodologies was observed in teaching and learning.
· There was evidence of good classroom management in a climate of mutual respect.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The timetabling of French at both junior and senior cycle needs to be reviewed in order to best meet the learning needs of students studying French.
· The Transition Year plan for the teaching and learning of French need to be reviewed to best meet the needs of the students who have completed junior cycle French and the students who are new learners of the language.
· It is recommended that the use of the target language be extended to include greater student interaction as a means of improving students’ communicative confidence and competence.
· An appropriate balance needs to be maintained between the supports and the challenges provided for students in their learning.
· Greater attention needs to be paid to time management and student engagement when assigning student-based tasks.
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.