An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Glasnevin, Dublin 9
Roll number: 60700R
Date of inspection: 2 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Chaitríona. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of French and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted during a single day on which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and teachers, evaluated the students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector also reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the assessment to the principal and the 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.
Scoil Chaitríona is an all-Irish co-educational secondary school. The school prioritises the speaking of Irish on the school premises and in all school proceedings. An important emphasis is also placed on the learning of modern languages and both French and German are taught in this school. The learning of one modern European language is obligatory in both junior and senior cycles. Students may choose both languages if they wish. This good practice is commended.
The junior cycle classes are mixed-ability groups. There are higher level and ordinary level classes at senior level. Special education needs students have full access to a modern language. This good practice is highly commended. First-year, second-year and third-year students have four French classes per week. Transition year is obligatory in the school and this group have three single periods of French per week. Fifth-year and sixth-year students have five single French classes per week. This time allocation to the teaching of French is very satisfactory and it is recommended that it be continued as students benefit from regular daily input when learning a new language.
There are three French teachers, two of whom are substitute teachers, working in the school this year. The teachers have their own classrooms and those seen were spacious, with good natural light. It was clear that the teachers made an effort to create an attractive, stimulating environment as posters and photographs were displayed on the walls. Such an environment, which is conducive to learning, helps to develop an understanding of cultural matters. In addition, students’ work can be displayed and access gained readily to extra resources. A map of France is needed in one classroom.
Regarding extra-curricular activities, it was reported that there is good co-operation between the French department and the German department in the school. For example, an exchange scheme is organised with a school in France or Germany every second year. This co-operation and professional support is praiseworthy. A French drama group visited the school last year and as the school now has a small cinema French films can be shown occasionally. This support for French outside the language-teaching in the classroom is very valuable indeed.
There is no dedicated budget for French, but if the school management is requested to provide certain aids or resources, every effort is made to accede to this request. Videotapes, films and books in French are available in the school at present. The teachers of French could access further suitable resources on the website www.french.ie and it is recommended that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) be gradually introduced into the teaching of French in the school.
The school is involved in the whole school development planning process and work is being done at present on school policies. It was reported that teachers meet on an informal basis but a structure for formal, co-operative planning has not yet been set up.
A short plan, drawn up a few years ago for Transition Year and junior cycle students, was made available. Aims and objectives are presented in this plan. No plan was available for the senior classes on the day of the inspection. Given the fact that two substitute teachers have been teaching French in the school since the start of the current school year, one would not expect that comprehensive plans would be available this year. It is strongly recommended however, that from now on, for the sake of the subject, teachers of French should meet regularly during the year, to formulate a long-term plan for the teaching and learning of the language. It is a time-consuming task to prepare a plan for each year group, but it could be done step by step. The existing plan for junior cycle could be used as a basic model and it could be developed as regards teaching and learning methodologies. If the department of French held a formal meeting once or twice per term, the teachers would have the opportunity of discussing and agreeing learning objectives and also of getting advice from their colleagues.
It is recommended that, as part of school-development planning process, a co-ordinator be appointed to focus formally on the organisation of meetings and the setting of agendas. Teachers could assume the role of co-ordinator in turn. A subject plan should encompass the following aspects: various teaching strategies to encourage students to participate in lessons, strategies to develop French-medium communication in the classroom, the provision of additional resources and aids besides textbooks for the teaching of French. Regarding textbooks, the department of French might find it worthwhile to review the books they are using at present, to determine how suitable they are for teaching French in an all-Irish school, considering the amount of English in them. This problem was discussed with the teachers during the subject-inspection. It is recommended that when the subject-plan is complete, it should be regularly reviewed and adjusted as necessary.
Five classes were visited and there was a good standard of short-term preparation in all of them. Some examples of good teaching-practice were observed during the visits to the various classes. In a senior-cycle class, for example, a lesson on The Environment was based on various tasks, such as pair work, aural comprehension, and written work. The way in which language skills were integrated within a single class-period was impressive and the different tasks were based on the same theme, as recommended in the guidelines from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Effective use was made of a tape-recorder for the aural comprehension, the students were given an opportunity to speak French and clear, specific questioning was used. At the end of the lesson, appropriate homework was set to practise and reinforce the work done in class.
Where group-work or pair-work was in progress, it was evident that the students were enjoying and benefitting from this commendable teaching method. In one junior-cycle class, students were fully prepared to take part in language activities and games and they made a great effort to speak French. It is strongly recommended that a wide range of teaching methods, such as songs, games, pair-work and group-work, be used in every class so that students could play a more active part in the learning process. It is also recommended that an effort be made to link the subject-matter of the lessons to the lives and experiences of the students themselves.
It is recognised that when a new language is being taught/learned, some time must be spent on teaching grammar. In some of the classes, however, too much time was spent explaining and dealing with points of grammar, without reference to their use in everyday language. It is always preferable to teach grammar in the context of communication or of a short reading extract, so that students can clearly understand the practical use of grammar. It is advisable to integrate grammar into the body of the lesson.
In some classes, effective use was made of French as the language of classroom management and communication. It was evident that the students were accustomed to hearing the target language in the classroom and a great effort was made to stimulate and encourage them to speak French. Indeed, it was noticed that some students, even in first year, were well able to speak French to their teacher. The achievement of fostering this courage and confidence in the students is highly commendable. In certain classes, however, Irish or English was the language used for communication in the classroom. It is essential for both aural comprehension and oral competence that students frequently hear French being spoken by the teacher. As far as possible, therefore, it is preferable to keep to the target language and not speak a mixture of Irish and English in the French class. It is recommended that gesticulation, mime or pictures on the board be used to help students understand the target language and that translation be avoided.
In most of the classes observed, teachers moved around the room developing a good relationship with the students and ensuring that they understood the matter in hand. This is good practice. It was noticed in all the classes visited that the pupils were well-mannered and well-behaved. They worked hard and the teachers praised all their efforts.
Students’ work and progress are assessed through questioning in class, correction of homework, continuous assessment and formal exams. Marks and reports are kept in the teacher’s diary and in the year-head’s files. As well as a written exam, senior students also have an oral exam in French. This good practice is commendable. School exams are organised for first years, second years and fifth years at Christmas and in the summer. Fifth and sixth years have mid-term exams in November, and third and sixth years have ‘mock’ exams in February. Teachers of French exchange classes to give Leaving Certificate students an opportunity to do a ‘mock’ oral exam. This co-operation is excellent. Students in Transition Year also sit an oral examination as part of their overall assessment in the language. It would be worth considering the possibility of arranging a short oral examination for junior-cycle students also, to emphasise the importance of oral language. A report on the students’ achievements is sent home to parents following examinations and a parent-teacher meeting is convened once a year for each year-group.
Examples of students’ homework were observed in their copybooks during the inspection visit. There were copious notes and word lists in students’ copybooks, all well-organised. To help improve the students’ written work, it is recommended that they be given regular written homework and that their efforts be carefully monitored. To help junior cycle students to make satisfactory progress in written work, they should be given frequent practice in writing letters, postcards and short notes. Senior students need to undertake more complicated written tasks and they too would benefit from written homework, on a wide range of topics, to develop fluency and accuracy in French. It is also very helpful to students if a formative assessment of their work is carried out and the teacher gives them written guidance on how they can improve their French. Further information on the Assessment for Learning (AfL) system is available on the website www.ncca.ie.
It is recommended that Irish-language versions of the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert exam papers be downloaded, free of charge, from the website www.examinations.ie to replace the English-language versions of past papers which students buy in the bookshops. That would be very helpful to them. Both teachers and students can access copies of the reports of chief examiners and marking systems for the state examinations on the same website.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good support and provision for French and for modern languages in general in the school.
· The arrangements for allocating time to the subject on the school timetable are very satisfactory.
· All the lessons complied with the syllabuses of the Department of Education and Science.
· A variety of teaching methodologies was observed which stimulated the students to engage with the subject.
· French was in use as the normal language of communication in some classes and the students in those classes showed an impressive ability in oral French.
· All the students were well-mannered and well-behaved in class.
As a means of building on these strengths and to identify areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A start should be made as soon as possible on formulating a plan for the teaching and learning of French in the school.
· Teachers should ensure that a link is made between their lessons and the everyday lives of the students, to develop and strengthen their interest in French.
· It is recommended that teaching and learning methodologies such as pair-work, games, songs, group-work etc. be widely used to ensure that all students actively participate in the learning process.
· Work based on the textbook should be extended and other language resources used.
· More use should be made of the new technology and computer resources in the school in the teaching of French.
· French should be used as the language of instruction and of communication in class and translation to Irish or English should be avoided.
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.