An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School,
Drimnagh, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60991I
Date of inspection: 8 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady of Mercy 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School is a mixed voluntary post-primary school situated in Drimnagh, Dublin 12. The school has disadvantaged status and is in the DEIS initiative. The school offers a good range of curricular programmes, including the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate (established) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). This represents good provision for students of all ability levels.
French is a mandatory subject for students following the Junior Certificate programme and also for those doing the JCSP. The study of French is optional in senior cycle and, when feasible, the subject is offered in two options pools. Mixed ability groups are the norm in every year group. Timetabling provision is satisfactory in both junior and senior cycle. There are four single periods of French in junior cycle and five single periods per week in senior cycle. Lesson periods are generally distributed evenly over the week and this is good practice.
Each teacher of French has a designated base classroom. Those seen were spacious, with plenty of good natural light. Very effective use has been made of the classrooms to create a supportive, visually stimulating environment for students. Wall displays of large, colourful, laminated posters of French shops and buildings, films, regional dishes, sports and animals all contribute to the creation of a wonderful French ambience in the classrooms. Most of the resources were acquired in France, by the teachers themselves, and their commitment and enthusiasm are warmly acknowledged. The provision of an overhead projector and screen, which are on order, will further enhance the resources available for the teaching of French.
Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in the school are still quite limited but they are being developed gradually. Two broadband-enabled computers are available to teachers in the staff room and there is one computer room for students’ use. It was reported that, as this room is mostly used to teach ICT skills, access to computers for teaching and learning in other subject areas is greatly restricted. However, the teachers of French download and photocopy additional up to date materials from the Internet for classroom use and this practice is commended.
The French department has accumulated a good range of videos and DVDs to support the teaching and learning of the language. Teachers have ready access to a television and DVD player. While the department does not have a fixed annual budget, additional resources are generally provided on request to management. A school tour to France, last year, helped to promote students’ knowledge of and interest in France and French culture. Much can be done on the school premises also to raise the profile of the language by organising some enjoyable language and cultural activities for students.
The school is engaging in the whole school planning process and the teachers have worked with a facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Subject planning has been established as a fundamental element of the planning process and departments have been set up. A number of formal subject planning meetings take place during the school year. The good practice of setting an agenda and keeping a record of all meetings is firmly established.
Although the members of the French department are relatively new to the school, a commendable culture of co-operation and collaboration exists between them. The sharing of good practice and experience has enhanced and will continue to enhance this culture for collaborative planning. A well-structured departmental plan, based on an SDPI template, was presented during the evaluation. The plan demonstrated an awareness of the requirements of the French syllabuses as well as details of procedures relating to homework, assessment, the keeping of records and reporting.
In order to progress the planning process it is suggested that future departmental meetings could build on an extended range of areas. For example, taking the school context into consideration, the relevance and effectiveness of various teaching methodologies could be discussed. Planning for the management and integration of JCSP students within a mixed-ability French class would be beneficial. It would also be helpful to agree and to document achievable learning outcomes for each year group.
At individual level, there was considerable evidence of thorough short-term planning and preparation. Audio equipment, worksheets and handouts were meticulously prepared. In one class, pencils and pens were supplied to students in order to ensure a high level of organisation and productivity.
Inspection activities undertaken included the observation of four lessons, one at senior level and three at junior level. There was also an opportunity to interact with students.
All lessons began with a roll call followed by the good practice of writing up of the day and date in French. In some classes, this exercise was extended to include a well-paced revision of days, months, numbers, time and weather. This was an effective method of quickly revising previously learned vocabulary and the participation of students was very good.
The board was used to good effect in all classrooms and there was skilful integration of the four language learning skills. In some classes, key vocabulary for the lesson was written on the board at the outset and this is good practice as it encourages students to focus immediately on the work to be undertaken. It is also helpful to students when the teacher writes up the theme and general aim of the day’s lesson.
The task of writing a formal letter, seeking employment, was well handled in a senior-cycle class. The lesson began with a short listening passage entitled “A la recherche d’un emploi”. Good pre-listening preparation, including writing up the key words that would feature on the CD, ensured that students were able to approach the task with confidence. An authentic job advertisement for the French fast-food chain Le Flunch, which had been downloaded from the Internet, served as an interesting stimulus for the revision of the job application letter. Students were reminded that many of them had actually eaten in a Le Flunch restaurant while on the school tour to Paris in 2006. This lesson is commended as a good example of the integration of a number of language skills around a single topic and the inclusion of elements of cultural awareness.
The theme of pastimes was the basis of one junior-cycle lesson. Students listened to a short aural passage at the start of the lesson. The questions heard on the CD were then used as the starting point for oral practice. This approach ensured good linkage between the aural and oral components of the lesson and it was noted that students participated well in the exercise. A handout, containing key verbs to express likes and dislikes, reinforced the work and was of considerable help to students when writing about and speaking about their own pastimes. A group work session on the board, in the form of a class survey on this topic, would further extend the good teaching practice observed.
Pair work sessions, when focused on the development of oral competence, worked particularly well. Students made a good effort to speak to their partner and, with practice, many should be able to communicate without relying on written prompts. Cloze-type exercises appealed to students in one junior-cycle class. In another junior-cycle class, envelopes containing phrases for informal letter writing that had been cut into strips were distributed to students. Working with a partner, the students engaged enthusiastically (and successfully) in trying to assemble the jumbled phrases in order to construct a coherent letter. This active learning strategy was especially effective in engaging students and was an innovative way of revising vocabulary and structures. Active and participative methodologies such as pair work, language games, brainstorming and songs can help to make French more accessible and enjoyable for learners.
It was noted that one class group did not use any textbook, but worked instead, over a two-year period, with photocopied materials supplied by the teacher. While it is unwise to place overemphasis on textbooks, a good, stimulating, comprehensive book, used judiciously, can be a very effective aid to learning. It can also help to ensure that all topics and all aspects of the syllabus are covered in a systematic way. Additional, authentic materials can be used productively to supplement textbooks.
In all lessons observed, there was very good use of the target language, with synonyms and gesticulation serving to minimise the need for translation to English. Teachers are commended for their commitment to speak French and are encouraged to continue to implement this good practice, especially in relation to giving instructions and affirmation. Students should also be encouraged to interact as much as possible in the target language by asking questions and making requests. Such interaction, however basic, will help to develop students’ oral competence and confidence over time.
The professionalism and very effective classroom management skills of the teachers are commended. The majority of students were co-operative and very pleasant. A few instances of challenging behaviour on the part of students were observed, but the teachers managed any potential difficulties competently and decisively.
The progress of students in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School is measured through various assessment methods. These include questioning in class, monitoring of homework, class tests and formal school examinations. Teachers maintain good individual records of students’ assessment, achievement and attendance. On the day of the evaluation, attendance in some class groups was poor and this is a factor that can impact negatively on students’ progress and attainment. Formal examinations take place at Christmas for all year groups and in summer for first, second and fourth-year students. Third and fifth-year students sit “mock” examinations in the spring. Parents receive written reports on their son/daughter’s progress and they may also avail of the opportunity to attend an annual parent-teacher meeting.
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 a formal oral examination. In an effort to promote greater oral competence among junior-cycle students, the teachers of French are presently considering the introduction of a short oral test. Such a measure would definitely prove beneficial to students. Consideration should also be given to the setting of common written examinations, where feasible.
A review of students’ copybooks showed that a considerable amount of homework had been assigned, monitored and corrected. This practice is commended, as it is important that all students be given regular, productive written homework exercises in the target language in order to consolidate classroom learning. Differentiated homework tasks will ensure that all students attempt work commensurate with their ability in French. The good practice of writing positive, affirming comments in students’ copybooks was also noted.
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.