An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
New Ross Vocational College
New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 71660T
Date of inspection: 22 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in New Ross Vocational 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
New Ross Vocational College, Co. Wexford is a co-educational school with 161 students in the second level sector. It also offers some Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and there are currently 69 students in this sector. Second level students make their subject choices on entry into first-year following discussion and consultation with teachers and parents. French is among the subject options. It was reported that the uptake of French varies from year to year depending on the student cohort. However, there is usually one class grouping for French. There is currently no fifth-year group for the established Leaving Certificate.
There is good provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling as it is usually blocked against subjects which do not require double periods. Classes are also timetabled 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. They are both graduates in French and are established in their careers. They have been facilitated to attend the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of junior and senior cycle French in recent years. They have also attended in-service training for teachers of Leaving Certificate Applied and for PLC courses. Some have, in addition, attended inservice courses for teachers of French in Dublin City University (DCU) and conferences organised by the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). Commitment by both senior management and teachers to continued professional development in recent years is to be commended. It is recommended that in the interests of sustaining ongoing improvements in language and teaching skills, teachers should avail of, where possible, any supports available to language teachers. Information on scholarships to France can be accessed on the Department of Education and Sciences’ website at www.education.ie. Ongoing professional development in specific areas and the sharing of good practice is supported by the activities of the FTA or the local Education Centres.
Classrooms in New Ross Vocational College are teacher based and there were large maps of France and displays of useful vocabulary on the walls of the classrooms. The display of vocabulary is also to be commended as it provides students with the possibility of visually assimilating knowledge over time. It is recommended that the print rich environment be extended to its full potential in all classrooms to include some colourful French posters and samples of students’ work. This would further expose students to aspects of French life and culture and add colour and vibrancy to the language learning experience. The display of student work would provide valuable affirmation for learners of the language.
There is good access to audio-visual equipment to support the teaching of French in the school. Teachers have their own designated CD players and tape recorders, while video recorders and DVD players are currently available on a booking system. The parents association has recently provided six television and DVD players for use in the school and it was reported that one of these has been designated for the French department. This is to be commended. Material resources include some videos, books and picture dictionaries. There are three computer rooms in the school. These can be accessed by all subject departments if they are free or by arrangement with the teachers timetabled for the rooms. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has not been used to date for the teaching and learning of French. Given the wealth of useful and interesting resources available on the web it is recommended that consideration be given to downloading worksheets and activities and, where possible, embracing ICT with the students to enhance the teaching and learning of French in the classroom. ICT can also be a valuable resource for promoting linguistic competency. Access to the recently launched site www.french.ie is a useful point of departure for all such purposes.
There is currently limited provision for co-curricular activities. School policy forbids trips away that involve overnight stays. It is recommended that participation in co-curricular activities for French be promoted in all year groups. Consideration could be given to organising simple activities such as a French breakfast or ‘goûter’, the preparation of a French meal or the organisation of a French quiz for junior classes.
New Ross Vocational College is involved in the school development planning process and has most of the required whole-school policies already in place. Teachers are currently embracing subject department planning and the school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to organise inservice training for this purpose.
Teachers of French do not, as yet, meet formally as a subject department, but work together on an ongoing informal basis for purposes such as agreement on textbooks. There is currently no whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French. However, individual work schedules were made available on the day of the inspection. These comprised global planning for the work to be carried out as part of their schedule. It is recommended that in the context of the formal subject planning initiatives, teachers should collaborate and develop, over time, a whole-school plan for the teaching and learning of French. This should outline the school context and identify the desired learning outcomes for each year group; what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning and the linguistic competencies needed to support such learning. Subject planning should also take into account the differentiated needs of the students and how they can best be met. It should include a list of the resources and proposed methodologies for the teaching and learning of the subject. A whole-school plan for the teaching and learning of French should also influence short-term work schemes.
There was evidence of careful preparation for the lessons observed on the day of the inspection with the advance preparation of worksheets and readiness of the relevant audiovisual equipment.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. Interaction with the students was facilitated at the end of each lesson.
Revision and examination preparation formed the main focus of all lessons observed. This was appropriate for the time of year and for the students concerned. The lessons were purposeful with ongoing tips for examination practice, appropriately paced and generally well structured. However, it is important to ensure that the structure of the lesson does not allow a disproportionate amount of time to be spent on a single activity which could perhaps be completed as effectively as a homework task.
There was some use of the target language in all of the lessons observed. In some instances the teacher began by asking students some questions about their weekend in French. This is to be commended as a means of encouraging students to respond in the target language in an empathic and supportive context. However, there were many lessons where the use of the target language was more limited and translation the dominant methodology used. While recognising the need to support students of all abilities in the language learning process, it is recommended that teachers gradually build up students’ exposure to the target language and balance it with a more judicious use of translation. General classroom instructions should be given in French. Teachers could also explain in French and check students’ understanding before automatically explaining in English. Students, in turn, could be encouraged to ask and answer simple questions, make requests or express difficulties in simple French. Expressions relevant to such interactions could be displayed on the walls of the classrooms to support this learning and would, as mentioned earlier, further enhance the print-rich environment. In this way the more able students would be challenged to their full potential, while those who are less proficient would have the linguistic strategies necessary to indicate difficulties.
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 board to support and consolidate learning. Students’ range of vocabulary was extended by giving them synonyms and alternative expressions. This is to be commended. Examples from homework exercises were written up and students were asked to note the errors and to correct them. This proved an effective means of engaging the students and raising awareness of the incidence and correction of common errors. Worksheets distributed in some lessons were used to good effect to integrate different aspects of revision. It is suggested that consideration be given to the development of differentiated worksheets to cater for the varying abilities in the student cohort.
Listening comprehension texts, where used, were prefaced by pre-listening activities such as revision of relevant vocabulary. This is to be commended as it supports new learning while, at the same time, shows students that language learning is a cumulative process.
Aspects of cultural awareness were integrated into all of the lessons observed. In some instances, cities and towns, mentioned in the course of the lesson, were pointed out on the map, thus consolidating students’ knowledge of France and its geography. This is to be commended as knowledge of France, French life and culture stimulates greater interest in and enhances the learning of the language.
As part of a Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) task, fifth-year students in the current academic year organised a French soirée for incoming first-year students. A review of students’ reports on the task indicated that it had proved a very positive experience for all concerned. This is to be commended as an innovative way of promoting active learning and at the same time raising the profile of both French and the LCA programme in the school. Given the value of this project as a beneficial and enjoyable experience it is suggested that the promotion of co-curricular activities could form part of future tasks for LCA students. The organisation of an activity such as the earlier mentioned quiz for junior cycle students could consolidate comprehension, knowledge and use of simple instructions or question forms in French, while at the same time provide an enjoyable learning experience for all participants.
Most of the methodologies observed in the course of the inspection involved whole class teaching. While this is central to the introduction of new learning, it is recommended that teacher input be interspersed with active student engagement through the use of individual, pair or group work tasks. Best practice promotes a variety of short focused activities as a means of engaging all of the students at the same time, consolidating the input of new material and promoting greater student responsibility for their own learning.
There was evidence of good classroom management throughout. Students were well behaved and co-operative and a climate of positive affirmation by teachers and mutual respect prevailed.
Student progress was assessed and monitored through question and answer sessions in class, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and formal examinations.
School policy promotes the assignment of homework at the end of every lesson and the code of discipline includes sanctions for failure to do homework. A review of the students’ copies indicated that this policy is implemented in practice and that homework was corrected. This is to be commended as it was pointed out that homework is a struggle for many of the students in the school. A review of folders for students following the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) indicated that student profiling has been carried out by both the teacher and the students. It is suggested that a similar profiling system might benefit students not following the programme but who are struggling with homework. Students had also been issued with revision notes prepared by teachers. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to the students in this regard.
Teachers reported that they give class tests twice a term. Students also sit formal examinations in December and May. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations. An aural component is included in examinations for all year groups with the exception of first-year students at Christmas. The inclusion of an aural component is good practice. Sixth-year students are given a mock oral test in preparation for the Leaving Certificate oral examination. This is carried out in class time. Reports are sent home twice yearly and parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all year groups.
There was evidence that students had a good understanding of the work being done in all of the lessons observed. This was reflected in their responses to questions asked, in their knowledge of previous learning and in the correction of errors on the board. There were occasions however, as mentioned above, where students could have been challenged more to comprehend and communicate at a basic level in the target language.
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 availability of resources.
There was some use of the target language by the teachers in all lessons observed.
A range of methodologies was observed, with the main focus of the lessons on revision in preparation for school and certificate examinations.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a positive learning environment throughout.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that a whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French be developed to include desired learning outcomes for each year group and the proposed methodologies to underpin such learning.
Where relevant, greater exposure to target language should be built up over time and alternative strategies to translation should be used to support comprehension and learning.
Greater use of short focused activities such as individual, pair or group work tasks, actively involving the students is recommended in all lessons.
Consideration should be given to embracing ICT as a tool to enhance the teaching and learning of French.
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.