An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Crumlin, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60800V
Date of inspection: 4 & 5 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Crumlin. 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 two days 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Loreto College is a catholic voluntary secondary school for girls situated in Crumlin, Dublin 12. French is the modern language that is taught to all year groups with the exception of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) where Spanish is taught ab initio. French is a core subject in first year where the subject is available to all students including those with identified special learning needs. This inclusive practice is commended. In second year French is offered in an options pool with Science, Music, Business, Art and Home Economics. Students are given a free choice of any three subjects from the list above. Just over half of the students presently in second and third year have decided to study French to Junior Certificate. The school management and guidance team work together to ensure that students and their parents are fully informed of the extent to which a modern language is a requirement for entry to certain third level courses.
The number of periods allocated to French is satisfactory overall. Second and third year students have either four or five periods per week on a rotational basis. The fact that first year students study all subjects (15 in total) means that only three periods can be assigned to French. This provision is less than optimal and it may be useful, in the context of whole school planning, to review the present system whereby students continue to study all subjects for the full academic year rather than having a taster programme for the first term only.
The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is optional in the school, but it is actively promoted and a very high number of students avail of this option. There are three French classes in TYP, two of which cater for the needs of students who have taken the subject for the Junior Certificate and who intend to study it for Leaving Certificate. The other TYP French class is designed for those students who have had no contact with the language since first year. In the latter group, emphasis is placed on basic communicative French and on cultural awareness. Period provision in Transition Year and in senior cycle is fully in line with national norms.
Class groups in first and second year are mixed ability, while streaming applies in third year. Staff in Loreto College have had training from the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) team in mixed ability teaching strategies and approaches. In senior cycle, concurrency occurs in order to facilitate higher and ordinary level groups.
Teachers of French reported much satisfaction with the recent (September 2006) designation of teacher-based classrooms. The classrooms visited were comfortable and spacious with good natural light. All had large, good quality boards and some rooms contained a television set with video/DVD player. Some classrooms have been turned into a most attractive and stimulating learning environment through displays of posters, photographs, labels, laminated key phrases and samples of students’ work. Teachers are highly commended for this work and commitment in providing a rich language-learning centre for students. One classroom was particularly noteworthy for the innovative use made of a year planner which had been adapted to record, in French, students’ birthdays and significant dates in the school year. Some classrooms, however, were somewhat bare and would benefit from displays of more visual stimuli. All classrooms should be equipped with a good map of France to support students’ knowledge and understanding of regions, place names, train routes and climate, all of which are frequently included in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations.
Six teachers are engaged in the delivery of French in the school. All teachers are members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). They maintain and develop their linguistic competence through frequent visits to France in a personal capacity, through the Internet and by listening to French radio. In the current school year, there is one Higher Diploma in Education student who teaches French, under the auspices of a senior teacher/mentor.
In September 2006, Loreto College had the honour of being chosen as the Irish school featured on a French television programme (Le Journal de Treize Heures, TF1). The programme focused on students returning to second-level schools in a number of European countries. Members of staff and students appeared in the programme. Following the broadcast, a teacher of English in a school in Nantes sent an e-mail to the teachers of French in Loreto College with a view to establishing correspondence and links between the two schools. The French department is seriously considering setting up this link as it would afford students the opportunity to learn more about the French way of life in an authentic and cost-free manner.
As the school has a number of international students from French-speaking countries, the French department has a policy of promoting knowledge and awareness of the world-wide francophone communities and cultures. It is hoped to organise a French/Multicultural Week in the school before Christmas. The school does not have a school tour or school-to-school exchange programme, but some enjoyable co-curricular activities such as food tasting, visits from theatre groups and inter-schools table quiz for seniors help to support and extend learning beyond the French classroom. The teachers of French receive an allocation of €600 (reviewed annually) for the purchase of additional materials and they have assembled a considerable number of videos, DVDs and extra language resources.
The school is actively promoting the extended use of information and communications technology (ICT) in all subjects. A significant number of teachers availed of two ten-week training sessions in ICT after school hours. Some teachers of French have acquired additional computer skills through their participation, in another subject area, in the TL21 programme run by the Education Department of NUI, Maynooth. To date, teachers of French have mostly used ICT to download suitable updated material for classroom use. Teachers have also accessed the interactive site www.educationcity.com which they found particularly suited to less able students. The website www.french.ie should also prove very useful in sourcing additional material. As previously mentioned, the teachers of French hope to set up an e-mail exchange with a school in Nantes. Loreto College has a multi-media room and two computer rooms to which teachers have timetabled access. Three laptop computers and a data projector are also available for classroom use. One member of the French department has dispensed totally with the use of the board and chalk in favour of a laptop and data projector, both of which are her personal property.
School development planning is well established in Loreto College. It is clear that management supports the concept and facilitates the practice of collaborative planning. Nine periods have been allocated to planning during the first term and time has also been set aside for subject planning at staff meetings. Subject planning was initiated a number of years ago and during the last academic year under the guidance of an external facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), attention was directed to the development of planning documents. Subject-specific planning documents have already been drawn up and the work is ongoing. School management is very supportive of continuing professional development of staff and a member of the French department is currently pursuing a post-graduate diploma in school planning.
A formal French department has been established. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed in a voluntary capacity. Minutes of departmental meetings are recorded and a copy is supplied to the principal. This practice is praiseworthy.
The French team has worked collaboratively to devise and document a very impressive set of planning materials. The subject plan presented during the evaluation was one of the most comprehensive seen to date and great credit is due to all concerned with its inception and development. The plan for the teaching and learning of French is beautifully presented and is laid out in a logical way. It lists the general aims and objectives of the department, the option structures of the school and access to French. The curriculum content for each year group is fully documented together with suggested suitable teaching strategies and methodologies, an agreed approach to the use of the target language with all class groups, techniques on how to improve pronunciation and cultivate language awareness. An inventory of additional resources includes some useful websites to support classroom teaching. The plan also contains samples of in-house examinations. It may be useful to download from www.examinations.ie, the Chief Examiner’s report on the Junior Certificate French paper of 2005 with a view to further informing planning for the subject. All teachers keep a copy of the plan and work to it, taking cognisance of the needs of their individual class groups. The plan is reviewed regularly and amended where necessary. The French team is warmly congratulated on their professional approach to subject planning and on the excellence of the document they have produced.
At individual level, the commitment of teachers to planning and preparation was notable. Very good handouts, a power point presentation, various items, pictures and photographs had been prepared and were used with aplomb to enhance the learning experience of the students.
A significant variety of good teaching practices was observed in the course of the inspection. It was noted, in particular, that effective strategies were employed at the beginning of lessons to focus students’ attention. For example, in some instances, the topic of the day’s lesson was written on the board. In one class, questions about the time and the weather on that particular day were put to students and in another class, the lesson began with the reciting of a prayer in French.
Lessons for the most part were based on a single theme, as recommended in the NCCA guidelines. In a minority of cases, too much disparate material was introduced during the class period. When lessons are not built around one particular topic there is a distinct possibility that students will become confused. Best practice suggests that a variety of language activities, designed to develop and integrate the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, best serve the learning needs of all students.
The use of supplementary resources to support standard textbooks was very productive. Sets of dictionaries were available to students in many classrooms. Colourful wall posters were used productively in one classroom to help students recall and recite numbers. Familiar objects in the students’ school bags also served as good tactile, visual stimuli for oral work. Student questioning and answering skills were developed in the same lesson period through a short exercise whereby the usual roles were reversed. Students were invited to ask the teacher questions about the furniture and other objects in the classroom and there was a high level of participation and interaction. This type of question and answer session lends itself readily to peer pair work and it is recommended that this teaching strategy be gradually introduced into lessons.
An innovative exercise in another classroom worked extremely well in encouraging students to describe fully the piece of clothing they had selected in a “lucky dip”. Students enjoyed describing the colours, design and size of each item and there was plenty of lively banter, in the target language, about the various items. The first part of this learning activity was, in effect, a revision exercise to consolidate previously learned material. The teacher then used the activity very effectively to teach new vocabulary and phrases such as C’est chic, c’est affreux, etc. orally and then reinforced the oral work by writing the key phrases on the board. Grammar was unobtrusively integrated into the lesson by using the various items of clothing to demonstrate the masculine and feminine forms of the noun and matching adjectives. In a follow-on activity, pictures of the various characters in the popular cartoon series The Simpsons were used creatively to encourage students to engage in pair work to practise the terms they had learned relating to colours and clothes. As the pace and structure of the lesson were exemplary, the level of student participation and genuine engagement in the learning process throughout the lesson period was impressive.
In one senior cycle class observed, the focus was on the theme of relationships between parents and their adolescent children. The topic chosen was well suited to the age and ability level of the students concerned and it was skilfully related to the students’ personal experiences. The board was used to very good effect to write up key phrases in advance of the reading activity and subsequently to collate students’ comments and opinions. Individual students were asked to read short manageable passages aloud within their group of four students and the full class group was then invited to give their opinions on the sentiments expressed in the text. Students made a very genuine effort to contribute to the discussion and were ably led and encouraged by the teacher. The length of the texts was such that students were not overwhelmed by the amount of work to be undertaken. Very good practical advice was given on how to approach a reading text in French, including tips on how to make an informed guess on the meaning of unfamiliar words. A suitable follow-up activity to the oral and reading exercises observed would be an aural component based on a similar or related theme.
In every classroom visited, the atmosphere was positive and pleasant. A good work ethic was obvious in all classes and students were focused and diligent. Teachers were kind, affirming and encouraging in their dealings with students. Teacher-student interaction was relaxed but always mutually respectful. The system of teacher-based rooms, as described earlier, appeared to be working well. The traditional classroom layout predominated, but, in one classroom, tables were arranged in groups of four. This arrangement facilitated good group work and allowed the teacher ample room to circulate freely and to monitor individual progress.
In all lessons observed, there was extensive and sustained use of French as the language of classroom communication. All teachers displayed a high level of linguistic ability and they were relaxed and competent in their use of the target language. Teachers were persistent and creative in their efforts to use facial expressions, actions and synonyms, where appropriate, to convey meaning. Such good practice is impressive and is highly commended. The use of the French alphabet in one lesson observed was laudable and this practice could profitably be extended to all lessons. Teachers paid appropriate attention to correcting student pronunciation and this was always carried out in a sensitive way. For students of all ability levels, the value of hearing good, accurate French from their teacher cannot be overemphasised. In Loreto College, it was gratifying to note the enlightened collaborative approach of the French department to the use of the target language with all students.
The teachers of French are professional and dedicated in their approach to teaching the language and they display a keen interest in the welfare of their students.
Whole-school assessment modes follow normal lines. State Examination classes have formal examinations at Christmas and mock examinations in the Spring while other year groups have full examinations at Christmas and in Summer. Reports are sent to parents/guardians and all teachers maintain comprehensive records of student progress. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group. State examination results are analysed with reference to national norms and are used to inform subject planning.
It is commendable that the teachers of French assess the aural competence of students in all year groups. Fifth and sixth year students also sit an oral examination. This is good practice. In junior cycle, the oral proficiency of first year-students is tested. Students may be asked any ten out of an agreed thirty relevant questions which they prepare in advance. Teachers reported satisfaction with this system and they are urged to consider extending it to students in second and third year also. The formal or informal testing of oral competence would do much to validate the excellent use of the target language in the classrooms. Where feasible, students sit common written assessments.
Elements of The European Language Portfolio (ELP) are currently being used to evaluate the progress of a group of TYP students. Students are encouraged and enabled to self-evaluate, using the Common European Framework agreed scheme. As this is a new venture, it is too early in the school year for teachers to comment on its effectiveness or otherwise. In another TYP class, students had written down their language-learning objectives for the year, in their copybooks. This is a valuable exercise in promoting more personal responsibility and is one that could be used with other class groups. It might also be useful to encourage the students to document how they intend to achieve their objectives and to review progress during the year.
The school has yet to finalise a homework policy but French homework is regularly assigned and corrected. A review of student copybooks showed that productive written assignments in the target language had been assigned. Some copybooks contained useful key phrases which were grouped together for ease of access and revision. There was evidence also that some teachers are using elements of the Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques to provide affirming, constructive comments to students. This approach is highly commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
French is well provided for in terms of timetabling and extra resources.
Management’s support of and commitment to collaborative planning is impressive.
There is a good spirit of co-operation between the teachers of French. The department has agreed and devised a most comprehensive subject plan.
A range of active teaching and learning methodologies was used to very good effect in some classes to promote students’ interest and participation.
The use of the target language for all classroom interactions was excellent.
Classroom management skills were very good. All lessons were taught in a warm, affirming, supportive atmosphere.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Some classrooms need more stimulating visual materials, including a good quality map of France, to support the teaching of the language.
The establishment of links with a partner school in France merits serious consideration.
All lessons should be theme-based and include a variety of language activities.
Experimentation with alternative modes of assessment, as exist currently in Transition Year should be continued and evaluated.
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.