An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
St Stephen’s Green
Roll number: 60820E
Date of inspection: 26 and 27 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The study of a modern European language to Leaving Certificate is mandatory in Loreto College, where students may choose French, German or Spanish. Students may also choose to study a second modern European language. School management is to be commended for facilitating the study of more than one modern European language.
There is very good whole-school support and provision for French. There is appropriate allocation of time for all year groups. Timetabling difficulties which have led to some double periods of French at junior cycle, thus restricting students’ contact with the language have been revised and the current first year students have single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. Management is to be commended for its efforts to achieve optimum timetabling arrangements for junior cycle students of French.
Classes are mixed ability groupings at junior cycle. The teachers of French at senior cycle have piloted the establishment of a ‘slower moving honours class’ to cater for students of French who wish to take higher level but feel the need to advance at a slower pace. Students choose to join this group and there is flexibility to move between classes since they are timetabled simultaneously and teachers of all groups follow a common programme. This has, according to the teachers, proved to be very successful in meeting the differentiated needs of the students at senior cycle. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to afford all students the opportunity to take higher level while at the same time remaining cognisant of their differentiated needs.
There are eight teachers of French in the college. Each is a graduate in the subject and many are established in their careers. Classes are allocated on a rotation basis to ensure that all teachers experience different age and ability levels. Many teachers have attended inservice programmes provided for teachers of French in recent years. These include the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training in Ireland and in France and courses on Information Technology in the language classroom held in Blackrock Education Centre. The school pays the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and teachers attend their annual conference. Teachers also benefit from the school membership of the Alliance Française. It is also advised that teachers of French in the school, where relevant, avail of further professional development opportunities in the area of linguistic development. School management and the teachers of French in Loreto College are to be commended for their commitment to continuous professional development.
Classrooms are teacher based. This is to be commended, particularly in the case of modern languages, where both the teachers and students can benefit from working in a subject specific environment. There were some displays of maps, posters and samples of students work on the walls. It is suggested that this practice be further developed to include the display of key expressions or relevant grammatical structures to help students in their learning. The provision of visual stimuli is good practice as it enables students to absorb many aspects of French language and culture and responds to their different learning styles. It also supports the use of one’s environment to resource information.
There is very good whole school support for the provision of equipment and resources. There is an annual budget which has contributed to building up a bank of shared resources, including videos, DVDs, magazines and books, over the past number of years. This is to be commended.
There is ongoing involvement in co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. Junior cycle students partake of a French breakfast while senior cycle students have participated successfully over many years in French debating competitions. Quizzes are organised for students through the collaborative efforts of all modern language teachers. This is to be commended. Teachers also facilitate students who wish to travel to France, by arranging exchanges with a French lycée during the summer. A second-year French exchange programme, to take place within the school year, is currently being planned.
The school also celebrates a European week of languages to coincide with the annual European day of languages. Activities include lunchtime workshops promoting a variety of languages, some of them being given by students and non teaching members of the school community. The inclusion of a proverb in different languages has also formed part of the morning address on the intercom. This is a highly innovative project promoting not just European languages but also furthering a sense of community within the school. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to and involvement in co-curricular activities and for enhancing student learning and interest through the provision of enjoyable linguistic and culturally enriching experiences.
Loreto College is actively engaged in the school development planning process. Teachers meet for two hours at the beginning of the school year and planning meetings are held on a monthly basis at lunchtime. It is proposed that such meetings will take place every three weeks in the current school year. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to the school development planning process.
Planning documentation presented by the members of the French department in the college showed them to be at an advanced stage in the subject planning process. The plans included the mission statement and policies, methodologies and resources underpinning the teaching and learning of French in the school, provision for students with special educational needs (SEN) and cross curricular links. Aims and objectives were stated and topics and targets were outlined along with the relevant grammatical structures. A comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of French in Transition Year was also presented. Subject planning indicated good evidence of a collaborative approach to the teaching and learning of the subject. Teachers are to be commended for the extent and quality of their collaborative subject planning which was simply stated and presented in a clear concise manner. In the interests of furthering this good practice it is suggested that, over time, desired learning outcomes for each year group be developed in terms of student competencies; what the students will be able to do as a result of their learning and the linguistic structures needed to support these outcomes. This would enable teachers review their methodologies in light of these outcomes.
As part of subject planning for the current year the teachers of French have decided to introduce Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the classroom on a phased basis with each teacher taking two lessons using ICT as a methodology. This work is to be supported by one of the French teachers who has knowledge and experience of ICT. This is to be commended as it further indicates the high level of collaboration among the members of the French department and their willingness to embrace the new technologies. It also enables teachers to advance both their competence and confidence in the use of ICT as a teaching strategy.
There was evidence of very good preparation for all the lessons observed, with advance readiness of audio-visual equipment, resources and photocopies.
Inspection activities included the observation of seven lessons, three at junior level, one TY and three at senior level. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
Lessons were well structured, and the pace and content were appropriate to the age and abilities of the students. In some instances the content was outlined on the board at the beginning of the lesson. This is to be commended as it provided students with a clear purpose for the lesson.
There was generally a high standard of linguistic competence and very good use of the target language by the teacher in the classroom. This is good practice and to be commended as it enhances the learning environment. There were also instances where continuous professional development would assist in the furtherance of linguistic development and competencies.
A range of methodologies was observed throughout. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills. This is good practice and in line with syllabus requirements. A variety of interventions, as observed in most lessons, ensured an appropriate balance between teacher and student input. Question and answer sessions were used to recap on previous learning, and to check and ensure comprehension. Pair-work was effectively used as a means of practising and consolidating new learning. The use of pair- or group-work in the classroom is good practice and to be commended as it engages students, promotes collaboration and provides them with opportunities to take increased responsibility for their own learning.
There was good attention to pronunciation in many of the lessons observed. This is good practice as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language acquisition. It is suggested that when correcting an individual error that the student be given the opportunity to repeat the correction in order to consolidate learning. However, in the interests of sensitivity towards individual students, the correction of errors could also be done as a class exercise incorporated into a regular pronunciation drill of common errors.
There was good integration of cultural awareness in many of the lessons observed. This is commendable as knowledge of the culture enhances the language learning experience.
The board and overhead projectors were effectively used to support learning by integrating oral and writing skills. Flash cards proved a very effective visual stimulus to support the acquisition and consolidation of vocabulary. The use of song and games as observed in some lessons is also to be commended as such activities promote the affective nature of language learning.
There was evidence of very good classroom management and a very positive rapport between teachers and students. Teachers were affirming and an atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed throughout.
There was good evidence throughout of student learning and progress. Responses in class indicated a good understanding of the lesson content and there was also evidence of student engagement and learning in the pair and group work activities. There were some instances where the same students tended to answer all the time. In such cases it is suggested that teachers ensure that those less willing to respond have fully understood the question and /or content. To further build on the high quality of learning it is suggested that students be encouraged to interact spontaneously by asking questions, making requests, expressing feelings or difficulties in the target language. In this way students will be further facilitated in becoming both competent and confident learners.
Student progress in Loreto College is assessed in a variety of ways. These include question and answer sessions, the setting and correction of homework, class tests and end of term examinations.
The college has a homework policy. A review of student copies revealed evidence of homework being assigned, corrected and, in many instances, comments included. This is commendable practice as the inclusion of a comment can be both appropriately affirming and /or informing.
Continuous assessment is used during the first two terms and formal examinations are held in the summer. Common examinations are given to students in each year group through to Leaving Certificate level. This is good practice and to be commended. Students’ aural competencies are assessed on a regular basis and oral examinations are also administered as part of the continuous assessment process. The oral component of the Transition Year summer examination accounts for fifty percent of the marks awarded.
Contact with parents concerning student progress is maintained through the use of the school journal, phone calls where necessary, school reports and annual parent-teacher meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.