An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Roll number: 61141M
Date of inspection: 7 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, Askea. 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.
Presentation College is a co-educational school with 508 students. French and German are the two languages offered in the school. School management is commended for offering students a choice of modern European languages. However, the study of a modern European language is optional for all students and it was noted that a significant number of students have chosen not to study a language. This raises concern as a modern European language is an essential requirement for entry into many third level institutions. It is recommended that the uptake of modern languages be reviewed.
Students of French are taught in mixed-ability groupings in first year and are assigned into higher and ordinary level groupings in second and third year. Transition Year students are divided into mixed ability groups while senior cycle classes are divided into higher and ordinary level groupings. Since there is a common syllabus for Junior Certificate French, and best practice promotes mixed ability groupings, it is recommended that the practice of setting for French at junior cycle be reviewed.
Lessons are timetabled in single periods. This is good practice. However, the allocation of time for French at junior cycle is minimal and the three periods for some class groups are timetabled on consecutive days. Teachers reported that the current allocation of time represents a significant decrease in the time allocated for French in previous years. It is recommended that senior management explore ways whereby this loss of time, which may disadvantage students and teachers in their efforts to fulfil the syllabus requirements, can be redressed.
There are four teachers of French in Presentation College, each of whom is a graduate in the subject. Some have benefited from the inservice training in France provided by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services for Irish teachers of French. Some teachers reported attending seminars for teachers of French in the Laois Education Centre. The school pays for membership of the French Teachers Association (FTA). Engaging in continuous professional development is to be commended as it enables teachers to upskill themselves both linguistically and pedagogically. It is recommended that all teachers avail of all opportunities for continuous professional development as provided by the Department of Education and Science and related bodies, the French Cultural Services, the local Education Centres and the FTA. Access to French news and to the variety of ideas and lesson plans for the teaching and learning of languages on the internet are also a very effective means of both linguistic and pedagogic professional development.
Some of the teachers of French have a base classroom, while others have to move to different classrooms from day to day. Some of the teacher-based classrooms had impressively print-rich and colourful displays of French maps, posters, postcards and charts. This significantly enhanced the language learning environment by promoting cultural awareness, responding to the needs of visual learners and stimulating interest in the life and geography of the country. It is recommended that a similar print-rich environment be developed in the teacher-based classrooms where displays were limited. It is also recommended that, in the interests of supporting all language learners, the teachers of French who do not currently have a base classroom be facilitated to work in a language-specific environment. Where possible, they should be provided with a base classroom. Otherwise, it is suggested that the current teacher-based classrooms be rotated so that all teachers and students have an opportunity to benefit from an environment conducive to language learning.
Teachers of French have their own designated CD players and easy access to VCR and DVD players. Teaching resources include books, magazines and DVDs. The French department receives an annual budget for the purchase of materials. This is good practice as it enables them to prioritise their needs in a systematic way. They also reported using information and communication technology (ICT) in their lessons. TY and fifth-year students have one timetabled period of French each week in the computer room. Most of the teachers have also attended an inservice seminar on the use of a particular ICT programme just introduced into the school. In addition, there is a data projector available for use in each area of the school. Teachers are to be commended for embracing ICT as a methodology to support the teaching and learning of French.
The school does not currently have links with any French schools. However, the teachers reported that trips to France are organised for students of French. It is suggested that consideration be given to developing contacts with a French school for the purpose of exchange through email or projects for students unable to travel to France. Teachers reported active involvement in a range of co-curricular activities. First-year students partake of a French breakfast, while students in second and third year participate in French theatre for schools workshops. Senior cycle students watch French cinema. Teachers are currently planning for a French week to be held in the school in January. Involvement in co-curricular activities is commended as it provides enjoyable language learning experiences for students and ensures that French maintains a high profile in the school.
Presentation College Askea is currently engaged in school development planning and the members of the French department have embraced collaborative subject planning as part of this process. Formal planning time is allocated at the beginning of the academic year and is also included in the agenda for staff meetings. Teachers may also request time during the school year for subject planning. Teachers also reported meeting informally on a regular basis. The French department has a subject co-ordinator. Selection for this position is on the basis of seniority. In the interests of developing expertise, sharing the workload and furthering the collaboration within the French department, it is suggested that the position of subject co-ordinator be rotated among all members of the department. All formal subject meetings have an agenda and a record is kept of all decisions taken. This good practice is commended.
A review of documentation submitted on the day of the evaluation indicated that the French department has done considerable work in the area of collaborative subject planning. The plans reviewed included policies and procedures in relation to class organisation, resources, homework and assessment protocols, students with special education needs (SEN) and students from culturally diverse societies, co- and cross curricular activities and teachers’ professional development. Teachers are to be commended for the good work completed to date in establishing the aims, objectives and context in which the teaching and learning of French takes place. It is important however, for teachers to remain mindful of these policies, in particular the policy relating to class organisation. Current practices in relation to uptake of modern languages and the levels to be taken at Junior Certificate are not in tandem with the established policy which states that the uptake of levels is not decided until third year.
Long-term plans for each year group were based on a series of topics, with the relevant linguistic skills to be developed. Teachers are to be commended for their work in developing subject plans for each year group which take into account the target skills. It is suggested that teachers further develop this good work by establishing a series of desired learning outcomes, focusing on transferable skills in terms of ‘can do’ statements as an overarching long-term subject plan. This will provide teachers with more options in terms of chosen topics and will allow the plan rather than the textbook to guide practice. It will also provide students with the linguistic strategies to deal with a broader range of topics and tasks.
There was good preparation for all lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and relevant materials for use during the lesson.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle, one in Transition Year and one at senior cycle. Interaction with the students was facilitated at the end of each lesson.
There were some instances where, prior to moving into the body of the lesson, the teacher outlined the topic to be covered. This is good practice as it engages students from the beginning and gives them a clear idea of what they are supposed to learn. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. Lessons generally began with the correction of homework and the revision of work already completed. This is commended as a means of consolidating previous learning. There were some cases however, where a disproportionate amount of the lesson was spent on these activities. While they are important, there is a need to maintain an appropriate balance in the structure of the lesson in order to move the language learning process forward.
There was varied use of the target language in all lessons observed. In some instances French was extensively used by the teacher. In other instances it was used to a more limited extent. Where there was extensive use of French by the teacher, some students also made very good efforts to interact in the target language. This good practice is to be commended as classroom interaction in French increases students’ confidence and communicative competency. Where there was a tendency to translate, teachers should consider explaining first in French and then checking whether or not students understand rather than automatically explaining in English. Teachers should also promote greater interaction in the target language in the classroom by providing students with the linguistic strategies to ask and answer questions and express difficulties in French. These linguistic strategies could be charted on the walls of the classroom, thus consolidating learning. Greater use of the target language would challenge the more able students while those experiencing difficulty in understanding would be enabled to express their need for help in French.
Activities observed included teacher input, one-to-one questioning, whiteboard work, aural and written exercises, pair work, vocabulary introduction and ICT. Many of these activities related to the work of the textbook. While teachers reported using supplementary and up-to-date materials, there was no evidence of this in most of the lessons observed. It is recommended that, in line with best practice, as outlined in the Department of Education and Science’s composite report on the teaching and learning of modern languages, teachers should enhance the teaching and learning process through greater use of supplementary visual materials, texts and worksheets which can respond to the differentiated needs and interests of the student cohort in the school.
There were some very good examples of brainstorming as a way of introducing a new topic. This is commended, as a brainstorming session can encourage students to become more aware of the transferability of previous learning into new situations. It is suggested that the very good brainstorming activity be furthered to create families of words, thereby extending students’ range of vocabulary. Consideration should also be given to organising students to brainstorm in pairs or groups, thereby actively engaging all of them and exploiting a good methodology even further.
Pair work was observed in some lessons. The use of pair or group work is good practice as it promotes active and independent learning and can further benefit students’ oral skills. However, it is important to ensure that the task assigned is a genuine pair or group activity involving peer interaction.
Many of the lessons were teacher directed with a strong emphasis on question and answer sessions. It is recommended that teachers vary their approaches to include the use of the above-mentioned active methodologies and supports, and to incorporate a greater number of short, focused, student-based activities into all lessons.
The use of ICT was observed in some lessons. While this is commended, the software should be used judiciously to ensure that optimum teaching and learning takes place. Students should also be facilitated to access news items, weather; on line bookings and other such materials which would enhance the structure and variety of the lessons by allowing for greater teacher-student interaction and pair work while using ICT.
There was good classroom management throughout and teachers were affirming of students’ efforts. Participation and responses in many of the lessons observed indicated that students had a good understanding of the work being carried out in the lesson. Interaction with the inspector indicated that a number of students were willing to communicate in the target language. There were some instances where students were more passive in lessons and more reticent in their interactions with the inspector. However, the above-mentioned recommendations should facilitate increased engagement of all students in the learning of French.
A range of assessment formats is used to monitor student progress. These include question and answer sessions, homework assignments, weekly or end-of-chapter tests and formal examinations. A review of copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. This is good practice. There were some instances where exercises given during lesson time would have been better as homework assignments, thereby freeing up time in class for further teaching and learning. Some of the copies reviewed indicated that a lot of work had been completed in building up students’ vocabulary. Many copies were also well organised for ease of referral. It is suggested that all students be encouraged to organise their work in a systematic way for reference purposes at a later date.
Students sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. Where appropriate, students of French have common end-of-year examinations. This is good practice. An aural component is included in all examinations. Sixth year students have an oral assessment as part of the mock examinations. In the interests of promoting oral skills development it is suggested that an oral assessment, either formative or summative, be included in examinations for all year groups.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the use of the school journals, school reports and parent-teacher meetings. Students’ academic progress is monitored by the year heads. There is also a ‘journal co-ordinator’ who checks students’ journals. This is good practice. A review of examination results indicated high achievement at ordinary level in Junior Certificate. This suggests a need to ensure that students are choosing the level most suited to achieving their full potential.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and support for French in the provision of resources.
· The members of the French department have embraced ICT as a tool for the teaching and learning of French.
· The members of the French department are at an advanced stage in the subject planning process.
· There was varied use of the target language by the teacher in lessons observed.
· A range of teaching methodologies was observed, some to very good effect.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· School management and staff need to review the uptake of modern languages and explore ways in which the numbers of students taking a modern European language may be increased.
· The members of the French department should consider incorporating desired learning outcomes for students in terms of ‘can do’ statements in order to ensure that subject planning does not become text-book or topic bound.
· The practice of assigning students in second year to ordinary and higher level groupings needs to be reviewed.
· Where relevant, it is recommended that the use of the target language be extended to include student interaction in French and the current dependence on translation be reduced.
· It is recommended that greater use of active methodologies and student-based individual, pair and group activities be incorporated into the teaching and learning of French.
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.