An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of French
Nagle Community College
††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††Blackrock, Cork
Roll number: 71110H
Date of inspection: 29 September 2009
Reprot on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Nagle 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
All students study French as part of a subject-sampling programme in first year and there are currently two class groups for the subject. Students have two single periods of French per week. At the end of first year, the students choose their option subjects with the help of the guidance counsellor. As an optional subject in junior cycle, French is set against Art and Business on the timetable. Class groups are streamed in junior cycle, and students with additional learning needs are able to benefit from smaller class sizes.
As regards timetabling for the subject, the allocation of two single class periods per week in first year is followed by an allocation of two double periods per week in second year. This means that students have French on only two days per week during their first two years. This is unsatisfactory as the frequency of class contact time is seen as important in language learning, in particular in the early years. Transition Year (TY) is compulsory for students and one double lesson period per week is allocated to French. It is intended to introduce a Chinese module for TY students and while this is worthwhile in that it will provide the students with a valuable opportunity to experience another language and culture, it would be important to ensure that the introduction of any new language module will not impact adversely on the time available for French in TY. Fifth and sixth year students have the option of studying either French or Art. The subject is timetabled for two double periods and one single period per week in senior cycle. It is recommended that the timetabling arrangements for French be reviewed with a view to the reduction, or ideally the elimination of double class periods for French. This is particularly important for the junior cycle classes. The teachers give freely of their time to help students intending to take higher level in the Leaving Certificate. This is very good as it provides extra support for these students.
Resources for teaching and learning are generally very good. The school has two fully resourced information technology rooms and computers for research purposes are also available in the school library. The teachers are very aware of the benefit of using information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching and learning purposes and make regular use of it in their preparations. However, the computer room needs to be booked in advance and access to the room can be difficult because of the number of Post-Leaving Certificate courses seeking to use these ICT facilities. Internet access is not available in the language rooms at present but the teachers try to ensure that Leaving Certificate classes in particular have access to the computer room on a regular basis.
There are two members of staff currently teaching French and classes are assigned on a rotational basis. The involvement of teachers in postgraduate studies and professional development activities related to their subject is very beneficial to their professional development. Teachers are assigned to base classrooms and their rooms are well-resourced with a range of equipment such as a television, CD player and overhead projector. Maps of France and Europe as well as book covers and posters on language, cultural and historical themes such as the Somme are displayed on the walls and help to create an interesting and stimulating language-learning environment. It is suggested that the teachers look to increase the amount of student work that is displayed on the walls as this can help students to take pride in their work.
In recent years, the school has been involved as a pilot school in looking at key skills for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) as part of the development of its Flexible Learning Programme for senior cycle. These skills include information processing, critical and creative thinking, communication and working with others. Information from this study has been used in a very positive way by the teachers of French to inform practice both in the detailed preparation of lesson plans and in the use of materials such as graphic organisers with the students during lessons.
One subject meeting is organised per term and the two teachers also meet informally on a regular basis. As formal minutes are not kept for these meetings, it is recommended that this practice be commenced in order to provide a record of any decisions taken and to assist with planning for the subject. Likewise, while written programmes of work for this subject are available, it is recommended that these be collated into a subject-department plan to reflect and guide the good practice that is taking place in the school. Copies of relevant policies, a list of resources, assessment practices and the annual analysis of outcomes and student achievement in examinations could be included in the subject plan.
As there is only one class group for the subject in each year with the exception of first year, the planning of work takes on added significance as class groupings are mixed-ability. It is positive that the teachers have selected a number of areas such as text management for specific focus. In addition, sport and music have been identified by the teachers as topics of special interest for the students and so it is intended to exploit these topics for teaching and learning purposes. As the school has changed from a single-sex school to a mixed school in the current school year, it is suggested that this change provides an opportunity as part of subject planning, to look at how best to cater for the interests of girls.
The subject department has an annual budget for French and the teachers have developed a good range of appropriate teaching resources. There was a very high level of individual preparation shown by the teachers in the preparation of handouts, worksheets, video clips and podcasts from French radio for use in class.
Visits were made to four lessons at junior cycle and senior cycle during the course of the evaluation. The lesson aims and learning objectives were clear and communicated to students at the start of the lessons. Very good attention was paid to structuring the lessons and this allowed for a number of key language skills to be addressed. Students were involved in a variety of activities, including grammar, oral work, watching a news clip from French TV and completing a listening comprehension exercise. Providing a range of activities within a lesson period helped to engage the studentsí interest and was of particular benefit within a double-lesson period when students were more likely to need a change of activity in order to help maintain their focus and concentration.
There was good use of French by the teachers for classroom management during the lessons observed. Instructions were given in the target language and then written on the board as additional support. Where a new expression occurred, synonyms were used to provide an explanation. This represents good practice as it encourages students to make use of their prior learning. Opportunities were also regularly provided for students to use the target language within the lesson.† This was often in the form of questions to individual students as a revision exercise at the start of class or through work in pairs and small groups. While some junior cycle students were eager to answer questions, other students were at times hesitant and lacked confidence in speaking the language or had difficulty with pronunciation. It is therefore recommended that the teachers focus on ways of improving studentsí confidence in using the language as part of future planning for the subject. This could be achieved through an emphasis on pronunciation or oral work at specific times and by the use of games, activities and competitions for junior cycle students which would encourage them to express themselves more confidently.
Grammar was well taught with colour used effectively to highlight verb endings or pronouns. Graphic organisers such as the fish bone and the tri-pie diagrams helped students to understand the conjugation of verbs and to organise their work in a visually appropriate manner. Completing the diagrams was also an enjoyable activity for students and it was obvious that they were familiar with this type of approach.† An initial few minutes spent on the traditional practice of learning to conjugate a verb orally before progressing to the written form is suggested as an aid to helping students to learn the correct pronunciation.
As students are taught in mixed-ability classes, it was very positive that texts were chosen that allowed for a differentiated teaching approach. This enabled the teacher to match the tasks with the ability levels within the group. The employment of visual aids such as photographs and a video recording helped to engage the studentsí interests while the provision of the tape script of an interview helped to develop their reading skills. That the progression from a whole-class listening exercise to individual work on questions and then to more demanding written work progressed so smoothly, is in no small part due to the clear lesson outline and the comprehensive worksheets provided. As the support offered by visual materials proved very effective, it is suggested that the teachers consider ways of increasing their use with students.
There was constant monitoring of studentsí progress by the teachers who moved around the room offering help and suggestions. When students worked on a cloze test or matched words and phrases, assistance was given with filling in the blanks and this ensured that students were on task and knew what to do. Studentsí efforts were constantly encouraged and affirmed and the teachers were enthusiastic in their approach to their work. This helped to motivate the students and ensured that the classroom atmosphere was relaxed and positive.
A range of modes of assessment is used to monitor studentsí progress. Continuous assessment in the form of weekly or fortnightly class tests takes place for all classes during the first term. This is followed by a mid-term assessment which is held in October. At Christmas there are formal tests for all year groups and likewise in the summer. The mock examinations are held in the second term for students in the examination classes. The Christmas and mock examinations also include an oral assessment for Leaving Certificate students.
In order to ensure good communication with parents, three parent-teacher meetings are organised for each group during the year. The first of these meetings is held in October following the mid-term assessment and parents are given an oral report on their son or daughterís progress during the first term. Written reports are posted to parents at Christmas and in the summer.
An examination of a sample of studentsí copybooks showed that homework is assigned and corrected. The good practice of including an affirmative comment was also evident.
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.
Published June 2010