An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Notre Dame Secondary School
Upper Churchtown Road, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60160L
Date of inspection: 16 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Notre Dame Secondary 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 and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Notre Dame is a voluntary secondary school for girls with 223 students. The study of a modern European language is mandatory to Leaving Certificate for all students, apart from those who have special educational needs (SEN) who already have an exemption from Irish. Students choose French, German or Spanish on entry into the school. They also have the option to study a second modern European language. School management is commended for the opportunities afforded to students to study a range of modern European languages. Classes are mixed ability at junior cycle and, where possible, are set at senior cycle to facilitate higher and ordinary level groupings. In some instances where the number of students studying French has been too few to warrant the formation of a second class, they have remained in a mixed ability grouping in fifth year and have been divided into discrete ordinary and higher level classes in sixth year. This is commended.
There is good whole school provision for French in the allocation of time. However, the timetabling of double periods for French in second and third year reduces the students’ ongoing contact with the target language. While it is acknowledged that the breadth of choice may constrain the timetabling of modern languages, school management should explore ways whereby junior cycle students can be afforded single periods for French at regular intervals throughout the week.
There are four teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. All teachers are given the opportunity to teach to all levels. This is good practice. Many of the teachers have benefited from the national in-service training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in recent years. Some have also availed of the summer scholarships to France, which are offered annually by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services. Some have also attended in-service courses and seminars provided by the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). The school supports continued professional development by paying the group membership of the subject associations. The school has also subsidised attendance at a course in the Alliance Française for some members of staff returning to the teaching of French after a number of years. Commitment to ongoing professional development by both school management and teachers is commended.
Most teachers have their own base classroom and, where possible, teachers without a base classroom are facilitated to work in a French base room. Many of the rooms had attractive displays of French posters, photographs, and samples of students’ work. The development of a print-rich environment is good practice as a means of supporting and increasing both language and cultural awareness, in addition to affirming students’ work. In order to maximise the benefits of a print-rich environment, teachers should post up charts of key expressions and grammar points which students can assimilate over time. Some of these charts could be left on permanent display, while others comprising key expressions or grammar points for the week or topic could be changed regularly, thereby supporting continual new learning.
There is good provision for resources for French. Each teacher has a designated CD player and there is easy access to televisions and DVD players. Materials, which include a range of videos, CDs, flashcards and magazines, are provided on request to management. All classrooms have internet access and data projectors and laptops are available for use. There is also a computer room in the school and whole-school in-service is planned for the next academic year to promote the use of information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool for teaching and learning. Some teachers have embraced the use of ICT in the classroom for PowerPoint presentations and the correction of homework. This is commended.
There are currently no formal links with France, although student exchanges and trips to France have taken place in the past. Current practice, however, is to encourage and facilitate students to partake in privately organised language exchanges, particularly during their Transition Year. Many students also attend French courses organised in Ireland during the summer months. It is recommended that consideration be given to developing links with a French school through projects such as e-pals for the purpose of exchanging written and aural documents and for the promotion of intercultural dialogue. Co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French include the preparation of a French breakfast and French cooking. Teachers of French also work on French songs with the members of the music department. The facilitation of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities is good practice as it enhances cultural awareness and provides enjoyable language learning experiences for students. To this end, consideration should be given to the organisation of activities, whereby the students in one year group could, as a reinforcement of their own learning, organise an activity for another year group, thereby providing memorable language-learning experiences for all involved.
Notre Dame Secondary School is currently involved in school development planning and subject planning has been the main focus of activity in the current academic year. Subject co-ordination is a voluntary position which is rotated among the members of the French department. This is very good practice. School management facilitates three formal meetings each year, in addition to weekly staff meetings.
Given that the school is still in the early stages of whole-school development planning, the collaborative work achieved to date by the members of the French department is highly commended. The plan outlines the aims and objectives for the teaching and learning of French, in addition to the school context and yearly schemes of work for each year group. Some of these schemes of work were developed in terms of the desired learning outcomes for the group. Others outlined the content of the work to be covered, and the methodologies and assessment protocols to be used. It is recommended that the members of the French department now further build on the very good work achieved to date by combining the different elements from the work schemes already developed in order to establish a series of desired learning outcomes for each year group in terms of ‘can do’ statements. Plans should also include the linguistic strategies needed to support these outcomes and the methodologies and assessment protocols to be used to cater for the differentiated needs of the students.
An examination of the Transition Year plan indicates that there is need for further review in order to respond to the recommendations contained in the TY guidelines on new approaches to teaching. It is recommended that the plan be reframed to include initiatives such as learner autonomy which will allow students take on greater responsibility for their own learning.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for most of the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials. There was an instance where the planned work to be covered was insufficient for the lesson time available. Lessons should always be planned with a view to the most productive use of the available time.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. Interaction with the students was also facilitated at the end of each lesson, in addition to a review of their copies.
All teachers indicated high levels of linguistic competence. However, the use of the target language by the teacher varied in the lessons observed. In some instances it was used throughout by the teacher. This is highly commended. In other instances its use was generally appropriate to the student cohort. Where its use was more limited it is recommended that teachers build it up gradually through the issuing of general classroom instructions in French. Students should in turn be encouraged and enabled to interact in French: giving them the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties and make requests in the target language will achieve this objective. Greater use of French in the classroom supports differentiation in so far as it challenges the more able students and gives those experiencing difficulty the opportunity to communicate their need for help in the target language. Ongoing use of the target language will not only increase students’ confidence but also enhance their aural and oral skills development.
Attention to correct pronunciation was noted in some lessons. This is good practice as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language learning. To further this good practice, teachers should attend to correct pronunciation in all lessons, through the use of short regular pronunciation drills and correction of students’ errors.
Most lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. Commendable practice was observed where the teacher shared the lesson plan with the students. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons and communicated in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson. This will raise students’ awareness of learning as a shared responsibility.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills in some of the lessons observed. This is good practice in line with syllabus requirements. Revision and examination practice, which was observed in many lessons, was appropriate for the time of year. There were some good examples where, as part of examination preparation, the revision of grammar and elements of cultural awareness were effectively integrated into work focusing on the consolidation of students’ written skills. This is commended. This integrated approach should be extended to include the revision of aural and oral skills, reminding students how proficiency in one skills area can feed into and support the development of the other language skills. In instances where vocabulary and grammar were taught as discrete skills and translation exercises were used to reinforce learning, it is recommended that a more integrated approach be adopted. Students should be afforded opportunities to ground their new learning in a more meaningful context using newly learned structures and phrases in a more communicative way. An instance was observed where the programme content and the method used were not in line with syllabus requirements. This must be addressed in order to ensure that all required areas of the syllabus are taught to all students.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to engage the students and to recap on previous learning. In some lessons flash cards were effectively used to support learning. ICT was used to support teaching and learning in one of the lessons observed. The integration of ICT as a tool for teaching and learning is commended. To further develop the integration of ICT in the classroom, consideration should also be given to using simple PowerPoint presentations to support learning through the downloading of authentic materials. These also serve to broaden students’ cultural awareness.
Pair and group work activities were observed in many lessons. The use of pair and group work activities is commended as a means of supporting active and independent learning. A simple game in one lesson and the use of a table quiz in another were further commendable examples of engaging students in active and enjoyable learning experiences. It is important that all teachers remain mindful of the constant need to balance teacher direction and student activity. Where it is not currently happening, teachers should introduce a variety of short focused activities to actively engage the students in the learning process.
There was evidence in most of the lessons observed of good student learning and potential. Students participated well in the work of the lesson and applied themselves to the tasks given. Interaction with the inspector indicated a general willingness and ability to communicate in the target language.
A variety of modes is used to monitor students’ progress. These include class-work and homework assignments, class tests and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that regular homework is given, corrected and commented on in most instances. The inclusion of a comment is commended as it is an effective means of affirming students and informing them of their progress. Where it was observed that homework was assigned on a regular basis, but not corrected, protocols for the assessment of students’ work should be agreed and put in place so that all students benefit from regular formative assessment.
Students sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer. Certificate examination students also sit mock examinations in the second term. All formal tests include an aural component, while senior cycle students are also given a formal oral assessment. It is suggested that this good practice of assessing students’ oral skills be extended to include an informal oral assessment for junior cycle students.
Contact with parents is maintained through school reports which are issued twice yearly in addition to the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group. The school journal is also used to communicate with parents. A review of examination results indicates appropriate uptake of levels in the certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good access to the study of modern European languages in Notre Dame Secondary School and good whole school provision and support.
· Subject development planning for French has been developed to a high standard.
· A variety of methodologies was observed. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills and good use was made of active learning methods in many of the lessons observed.
· There was good evidence of student learning and potential.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The French department should review its Transition Year plan to ensure that the current provision is in line with the TY guidelines on new approaches to teaching and learning.
· The use of the target language should be extended as the language of instruction and communication.
· Teachers should adopt a more integrated approach to revision and examination preparation in addition to general teaching and learning.
· Where relevant, greater use of student-based tasks is recommended.
· Where relevant, the programme content and the method used must be reviewed to ensure that they fulfil the syllabus requirements
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 December 2008