An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of French
Crumlin Dublin 12
Roll number: 60990G
Date of inspection: 7 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Chroimghlinne, Dublin. 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 teacher. 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.
Meánscoil Chroimghlinne is a voluntary secondary co-educational school with 77 students. The study of a modern European language forms part of the core curriculum in junior cycle and is optional at senior cycle. However, according to senior management, students are made aware of the modern language requirement for entry into many third-level courses and are strongly encouraged to continue with the study of the language. Students taking languages in the current senior cycle programme choose between French and Spanish. However, the small numbers in the junior cycle year groups has meant that since 2008, French and Spanish are offered as a core subject in alternate years. Transition Year is not provided in the school.
There is good whole school support and provision for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes at junior cycle are timetabled in single periods, thus facilitating ongoing contact with the target language. The timetabling of French at senior cycle also ensures regular contact with the language.
The French department is staffed by one teacher, who is a graduate in the subject and an experienced teacher of French. The department has benefited from this teacher’s attendance at a number of in-service courses in recent years including seminars relating to differentiation and co-operative learning. However, as a single teacher department, it is important that contacts be maintained with other teachers of French for the purpose of sharing good practice and ensuring continuing professional development. This could be achieved by applying for the annual scholarships to France funded jointly by the Department of Education and Skills and the French Cultural Services; projects and in-service training grants available through the European programmes administered by Léargas; and subject-relevant courses in the local education centres.
Classrooms are teacher based and the display of maps, posters, classroom language and students’ work observed in the classroom affords the students opportunities to work in a visually stimulating language learning environment. This is commended. As the year progresses, it is recommended that the print-rich environment be expanded to include key expressions for the week or topic and grammar charts which can be assimilated over time.
Resources include a CD player, a tape recorder and some dictionaries. However, materials to support the teaching and learning of French are limited. The school does not have a computer room. All teachers have laptop computers and three data projectors are available on a booking basis. However, the use of information and communications technology (ICT) has not, as yet, been embraced by the French department. This needs to be addressed as the use of ICT with its easy access to valuable teaching resources can significantly enhance the teaching and learning of French. The department should build up a bank of resources by downloading supplementary audio, reading and grammar texts and activity sheets from the wide range of resources available on the internet. Access to the site for teachers of French in Ireland, www.french.ie could serve as a useful point of reference.
There are currently no co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French in the school. This should be addressed as the provision of co-curricular activities affords students the opportunity for enjoyable language learning occasions in addition to promoting cultural awareness. The French department should consider introducing a range of activities such as a French breakfast or a French quiz to enhance the language learning experience for students. Consideration should also be given to forging links with a French school as a means of facilitating the exchange of authentic materials and of promoting intercultural dialogue.
It was reported that the school engages in subject development planning and that there is a subject plan and programmes of work for the teaching and learning of French. However, since no subject planning documentation was provided on the day of the inspection, no evaluative comment can be made in relation to subject planning.
There was evidence of planning and preparation for the lessons observed, with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Evaluation activities involved the observation of three lessons, one at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. Interaction with the inspector and the opportunity to review students’ copies was also facilitated.
Lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. The proposed lesson plan was shared with the students at the beginning of each lesson. Of particular note was the occasion where it was communicated as the proposed learning outcome for the lesson. This very good practice makes the students aware from the outset of their role in the learning process.
There was some use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. However, English became the main language of instruction as the lesson progressed. In order to meet the needs of students of all abilities in the class, the use of the target language needs to be expanded. The teacher should communicate first in French and where possible use alternative means of explanation such as visual supports rather than automatically explaining in English. The teacher should also promote greater interaction in the target language in the classroom by giving all instructions in the target language and by providing students with the linguistic strategies to ask and answer questions and express difficulties in simple French. Greater interaction in the target language should not only increase students’ confidence, but also enhance their aural and oral skills development. It also supports differentiation in so far as it challenges the more able students while, at the same time, gives those experiencing difficulty the confidence of being able to communicate their need for help in French.
There was good attention to the development of the different language skills in all of the lessons observed. This was facilitated in some instances by the use of a thematic approach which supports a more integrated approach to language skills acquisition, where skills in one area feed into and support further skills development. There were also some commendable examples of the integration of grammar and vocabulary acquisition into the body of the lesson. To build on these good practices, it is recommended that a more integrated thematic approach be adopted in all lessons as it makes students more aware of the cumulative nature of learning and how they can transfer their knowledge and skills to support them in all aspects of their learning. An integrated thematic approach can also support effective revision or examination preparation, where the examination questions underpin and support the work of the lesson rather than dictating it.
Students were given some work to complete in pairs during all of the lessons observed. The use of student-based tasks is good practice. However, it was noted in some lessons that the students did not engage with each other when completing the work assigned. When assigning tasks to be completed in pairs or groups, it is important that students are made aware of the purpose of working in such a manner. If the purpose of pair or group work is to promote oral skills development, the task assigned must incorporate a need for interaction. If, however, the purpose is for students of differing abilities to support each other, this should be explained as in some cases it may be more fulfilling for students to complete assigned tasks individually. In these instances, the use of differentiated tasks or work sheets would better support the needs of the entire student cohort.
There was good classroom management throughout in an atmosphere of affirmation and mutual respect. Students were attentive and those who responded to the teacher’s questions indicated a good understanding of the work in hand. However, greater participation should be encouraged from some students by targeting them more in question and answer sessions. Greater use of student-based activities including brainstorming, role plays, and pair and group work interactions is also recommended to ensure an appropriate balance between teacher direction and student participation. Interaction with the inspector revealed some students to be confident and competent learners of the language. There were some however, who were reticent about communicating in the target language and answered in monosyllables.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor students’ progress. These include question and answer sessions, homework assignments tests and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. A signature and a comment, where appropriate, are also included. This is commended. Students are given tests at mid-term and they sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. Certificate examination students also sit mock examinations in the second term. An aural component is included in formal examinations for certificate examination students and for fifth year students as part of their summer examinations. The practice of including an aural component in all formal assessments should be extended to all year groups. Leaving Certificate students are given a mock oral examination at Christmas and in the mock examinations. Given the importance of oral skills development, it is recommended that an informal oral assessment be introduced for students in all year groups and that the outcomes of this assessment should be communicated in their school reports which are issued twice a year. Contact with parents is also maintained through the students’ journal and at the annual parent teacher meetings held for each year group. A review of examination results indicates that the uptake of levels in the certificate examinations is appropriate to the student cohort.
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 teacher 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 June 2010