An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Moyne Community School
Roll number: 91436D
Date of inspection: 11 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Moyne Community School. 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, deputy 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.
French is one of three modern languages taught in Moyne Community School. The language features in the following programmes offered in the school: Junior Certificate, Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Established, (LCE) Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). German is available to all year groups while the present second years were offered a choice between French, German or Italian. Spanish is offered ab initio to Transition Year students.
While the study of a European language is not mandatory in junior cycle, uptake is generally good with over 70% of students in junior cycle choosing to study a modern language. Every effort is made to ensure that students and parents fully understand the possible college entry and career restrictions associated with not studying a modern language. In an effort to enable students to make a more informed choice, the school operates an eight-week taster programme for first year students. This is good practice as it gives the students some insight into what learning a new language entails. There is good continuity of uptake from junior into senior cycle with over 70% of the senior student cohort studying French or German for Leaving Certificate. The possibility of studying two modern languages up to Leaving Certificate exists but is not widely availed of by students.
Timetabling provision of four periods per week in junior cycle and five in senior cycle is in line with national norms. Students are taught in mixed ability groupings throughout the school. As French is presently timetabled against some practical subjects, both in junior and in senior cycle, the subject has been assigned a combination of double and single periods. The provision of double periods is not ideal, particularly in junior cycle, as students derive most benefit from regular contact with the target language. In senior cycle, it is commendable that French is offered in two option lines
There are four teachers of French, three of whom teach in their own designated classroom. All classrooms seen were bright and spacious with plenty of natural light. Each room visited was equipped with a television set and a good-quality board which was used effectively as a teaching resource by some teachers. All language teachers have individual tape recorders or CD players. One classroom is a former language laboratory with tiered seating and a language resource room attached. The teacher-based rooms have been considerably enhanced through displays of language posters, photographs and a map of France. The display of key communicative phrases in French would be a further addition to the classrooms. Good visual material stimulates student interest, promotes cultural awareness and can make language learning a more pleasant and enriching experience for students. It is noted that one teacher of French, due to a shortage of space, is not based in a language room. It is recommended that, if at all possible, this situation be addressed in the next school year so that all students in the school can benefit from learning French in a print-rich environment.
The French team in Moyne Community School are members of the French Teachers Association and individual teachers have availed of professional development opportunities in Ireland and in France.
In terms of co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of the language, the French department has not been active in recent times. It is recommended, therefore, that consideration be given to organising some enjoyable, in-school language activities for students. Many activities, such as an e-mail exchange with a partner school in France, the occasional showing of a French film, a visit from a French theatre group, a table quiz in French, a project on France and some food tasting can be organised in the school at little or no cost. Such activities contribute greatly to student knowledge and appreciation of French culture and they supplement and broaden the learning of the language. The board of management is to be complimented for funding two scholarships annually to a summer residential language course. French is not currently allocated a specific budget for the purchase of extra language resources. However, it was reported that resources may be readily obtained on a needs basis.
Information communication technology (ICT) has not yet been used in the teaching of French. Broadband is available in the school and teachers have access to one computer in the staff room. Teachers may also book a slot in the school’s two computer rooms. From September 2006 onwards, it is the intention of management to provide a computer in any classroom where such a request is made by a teacher. This commitment on the part of management is praiseworthy. It is recommended that teachers of French initiate the use of ICT by exploring the website, www.french.ie which has been created specifically for teachers of French in Ireland. It is possible to access authentic, interesting material for use in the classroom. Downloadable worksheets, games and up-to-date articles are available to supplement textbooks. There is also an online forum on www.french.ie where teachers can share ideas, advice or concerns relating to the teaching and learning of French.
The school has been actively involved in school development planning for a number of years. Teachers have had initial training, using the services of an outside facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in subject development and planning. Good progress has been made in the setting up of formal departmental structures. At present, teachers of French have three timetabled, formal meetings per year. A subject-specific template to be used at these departmental meetings has been devised. This is very good practice. Teachers of French also meet informally on several occasions throughout the year.
There was evidence of good long-term and short-term collaborative planning for French. An agreed plan for each year group has been drawn up, where the aims and objectives, teaching methodologies and modes of assessment to be used are fully documented. This is a very good formula and such plans should prove invaluable in guiding the teaching and learning of the language throughout the school. The scope of future departmental meetings could be broadened to include topics such as the gradual integration of ICT into the teaching of French and its use in the promotion of independent student learning. Some suggestions on the promotion of greater student oral participation could be documented. Given the fact that all classes are of mixed ability, it would also prove useful to document some strategies for differentiated learning. Advice and support on planning, preparation, approaches and teaching strategies suitable for mixed ability classes may be obtained from the Second Level Support Service (01-2365021) or www.slss.ie.
Good individual groundwork was evident in the manner in which worksheets, handouts and audio equipment had been prepared in advance for use during the lessons.
During the course of the evaluation several examples of good teaching practice were observed, both in relation to the exploitation of well-chosen topics such as friendship, pocket money and teenage clothes and the good pace and structure of theme-based lessons. In some classes, there was, understandably in the month of May, a strong focus on revision for the state examinations. It is suggested that such revision is most effective when it incorporates a good blend of short reading, written, oral and aural tasks on a particular theme, where students can put the vocabulary, phrases and grammatical structures they have learned into practice. The teaching of grammar and grammatical terminology was well integrated into some lessons observed.
All lessons observed contained an aural component and teachers are commended for integrating this central language-learning skill into their lessons. Aural work, which is based on the topic being taught, is an excellent means of consolidating vocabulary and of improving student pronunciation. In one lesson observed, key words and phrases had been written on the board at the start of the period in order to make the listening exercise more accessible to students. This is good practice as it helps to focus student attention from the outset. In addition, the opportunity to integrate a revision exercise on interrogative words such as qui, pourquoi, comment etc. was skilfully taken. In another lesson, students were alerted verbally to the key words which they would hear on the tape. Again, this is good practice. In another lesson observed, a song was put to good effect to illustrate the use of different verb tenses. The distribution of the tapescript, following a listening exercise, in a mixed-ability senior class, was a useful strategy that served to make students aware of the connection between the written and aural elements of the language. A potentially productive extension of this work would be to replay the tape when students have had the opportunity to study the tapescript.
In lessons where students were practising their oral skills, teachers had prepared a good range of open questions. Most students made a good attempt to respond to this teacher-led questioning. However, due to the acoustics and physical layout of the classrooms, it proved difficult for some students to hear each other clearly, particularly as all students were facing in the same direction. Strategies to improve student participation and engagement in speaking French could include changing the seating arrangements in order to facilitate better face-to-face interaction. Short, timed, pair-work sessions where students have the opportunity to speak French to each other, while the teacher circulates and monitors them, are particularly effective in reducing anxiety and encouraging students to actively participate in oral production.
The practical, realistic use of the target language by teachers, when giving instructions and affirmations in the classroom can do much to improve the oral proficiency of students. All teachers are urged therefore, to speak as much French as is practicable with their students. During the evaluation, the target language was used, in some lessons, to communicate with students. There was a tendency, however, to follow the French phrase with immediate translation to English. This approach is best avoided or used very sparingly as students can come to rely on the English translation rather than focusing on the French words. In other lessons observed, English was used almost entirely as the language of classroom communication and instruction. For many students, the only exposure they have to spoken French is in the language classroom. Accordingly, it is essential that they get the opportunity to hear and speak as much French as possible, taking ability levels into account, in the classroom.
In most lessons observed, classroom management was very good. The atmosphere was conducive to learning, with pleasant, respectful teacher-student rapport and interaction. Student behaviour was exemplary, a good work ethic was evident and discipline was maintained in a professional, sensitive way. This good practice should be the norm in teacher-student interactions. It is essential that students be addressed at all times in a courteous manner. When a student fails to produce a correct answer, s/he should be treated in a way that will promote learning rather than excessive tension.
Student progress is assessed by various means including questioning in class, monitoring of homework, class tests and formal school examinations. All students of French sit an aural examination and senior students also sit an oral examination. In the spring, Junior and Leaving Certificate students sit mock examinations which are corrected externally. Leaving Certificate students of French also do an external mock oral examination. This is very good practice. Where feasible, teachers of French set common assessments. This too is laudable. All teachers maintain individual records of student attendance, assessment and achievement. On the day of the evaluation, a high level of absenteeism was noted in some in some classes. Parents receive bi-annual written reports on the progress of their child and they may also avail of the opportunity to attend an annual parent-teacher meeting.
In the context of school development planning, the school has drawn up a homework policy for students. This policy is allied to the school’s penalty points discipline system and failure to present homework can incur two penalty points. A review of student work revealed a wide variation in the amount and consistency of homework being assigned. Some copybooks contained dated, corrected work. This is good practice. Other copybooks contained copious amounts of translation exercises from French to English, but little or no relevant, productive homework. The French syllabus in post-primary schools neither requires nor advocates translation as a suitable teaching methodology. Too much emphasis on translation assignments as homework is of little educational or linguistic value to students. Some students have well-maintained notes and vocabulary copybooks which they use as an effective and easily-accessible revision aid.
In order to make good progress, students in all year groups need to be assigned a manageable amount of written homework, in the target language, on a regular basis. Reading comprehensions and short appropriate written tasks, in French, such as writing notes, letters and postcards, reinforce classroom learning. It is also good practice to set differentiated homework, particularly with a view to challenging the more able students in a mixed-ability class group. Homework, which is carefully and regularly monitored by the teacher and accompanied by positive feedback helps students to improve their written French.
In the weeks immediately prior to the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations it is recommended that students receive ample practice on past examination papers in order to familiarise themselves with the layout of the paper and the wording of questions. Senior management analyses the school’s results in the State Examinations and compares them to the national norms. This is good practice.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is very good provision for modern languages in Moyne Community School.
A French department has been established and both formal and informal meetings take place regularly.
Good collaboration between members of the department has resulted in a comprehensive plan for the language being documented. Further planning could deal with the integration of ICT into the teaching of French and mixed-ability teaching methodologies.
Most teachers of French work in designated, well-appointed classrooms.
Topics were well chosen and well exploited.
There was good integration of grammar and listening exercises in all lessons observed.
Classroom management skills were excellent in the majority of classes visited and lessons, for the most part, were taught in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Strategies to increase and facilitate more active student participation in the learning process need to be devised.
The use of the target language for communication and affirmation in the classroom should be developed and sustained with a view to improving the confidence and oral competence of students.
Some co-curricular language activities would enhance and complement the teaching of French.
The good practice of setting and correcting productive homework exercises in the target language should be extended to all class groups.
The consideration and respect shown to students in the majority of classes observed should be extended to all students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of French and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.