An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Meanscoil Iognáid Rís
Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 61710C
Date of inspection: 15 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meanscoil Iognáid Rís. 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.
Meanscoil Iognáid Rís is a voluntary secondary school with 823 male students. The study of a modern European language is optional. However, languages are included in several option bands to ensure that there is good access to the study of a language for all students. Students are also made aware of the implications of not studying a language when making their subject choices. French and German are offered in the school and their placement within a range of option bands makes it possible for students to take both languages. This is commended. All language classes are mixed ability.
There is good whole-school provision for French in the allocation of time. However, the timetabling of French against practical subjects means that many groups have double periods for French. While the timetabling of one double period at senior cycle can be beneficial, senior management should explore ways whereby French at junior cycle could be timetabled in single periods to ensure regular contact with the language.
There are six teachers of French in the school most of whom are graduates in the subject. All teachers are given the opportunity to teach to all levels. Some of the teachers have benefited from the national in-service programmes for teachers of French in addition to participation in teacher exchanges and in-service in France. Some of the teachers in the school are founder members and current officers of the local French Teachers’ Association (FTA). Some have also been involved in the organisation of the FTA’s national seminar held each year for teachers of French. School management supports continuing professional development by paying the group membership of the subject association, and by making funding available each year for teachers wishing to pursue further relevant study. The school has also engaged in a number of whole-school in-service activities in recent years. The commitment of both the teachers and school management to ongoing professional development is highly commended.
Many of the teachers of French have a base room. One of these rooms has been designated a French language classroom to which all teachers have access. This is good practice. The designated language classroom is visually stimulating with the display of maps, posters, samples of students’ work and some grammar charts. Of particular note was the selection of posters of Belgium and Senegal, thereby making students aware of ‘La Francophonie’ extending beyond the French mainland. The reference to the grammar charts on the walls during some of the lessons observed is also commended. To further build on these good practices, it is recommended that teachers work with students to create posters of classroom language and key expressions which can be assimilated over time. Consideration should also be given to posting up the expressions for the week or the topic to support students in the learning.
Resources for French in the school include CD players, access to televisions and DVD players and overhead projectors. Materials include class sets of dictionaries, workbooks, films with French subtitles and resources downloaded from the internet. School management allocates an annual budget for French in response to the proposals drawn up by the members of the French department. This practice is commended as it enables teachers to plan for and prioritise resources in a systematic way. The French language room has recently been allocated a desktop computer, data projector and screen to support the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of French. This has been further supported by a local FTA in-service presentation on the use of ICT in the language classroom. Teachers’ efforts to embrace ICT as a tool for the teaching and learning of French are commended.
Co-curricular activities currently include visits from French ‘theatre for schools’ companies, the showing of French films and French debating. The use of co-curricular activities is good practice as it provides enjoyable language learning experiences for students, in addition to improving their cultural awareness. It is recommended that the range of co-curricular activities be expanded to include events such as a French day or week, a French breakfast or ‘goûter’, a French quiz or other such activities. Students themselves, in particular those in Transition Year, could be facilitated to organise some of these activities as an outcome of their learning. This will not only provide memorable language-learning experiences for all involved, but optimise student ‘learning by doing’. Teachers should also consider initiating active links with French schools for the purpose of exchanging materials and promoting intercultural dialogue.
Meanscoil Iognáid Rís has embraced subject planning as part of the whole school planning process. The French department has a subject convenor who is selected by the members of the department. The work of the convenor includes chairing meetings, keeping the minutes, liaising with senior management and coordinating the budget. Formal subject planning meetings take place once each term and a record is kept of the proceedings. This is good practice.
A review of the planning documentation submitted on the day of the inspection indicated that considerable work has been carried out in subject planning and that it is at a very advanced stage. Minutes of meetings indicate a clear progression in the work of the French department to ensure that all relevant information is collated and also indicate that its members keep abreast of all that can support them in their work. The plan is set out within the context of whole school planning with the inclusion of all whole school policies which impact on teaching and learning. The French department has drawn up its own vision for the teaching and learning of French in terms of its aims, objectives and commitments. Comprehensive plans and schemes of work have also been developed for each year group outlining the different skills to be taught. The members of the French department are highly commended for the quality of the work completed to date in subject development planning. To further complement this, it is suggested that the teachers of French make their long-term plan more generic by including the desired learning outcomes for each year group in terms of ‘can do’ statements and the linguistic strategies needed to support these outcomes. This will allow for greater variety in the choice of topics studied and also acknowledge the role and responsibility of the students in the teaching and learning process. It will also facilitate self-evaluation.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the individual lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities involved the observation of seven lessons, three at junior cycle and four at senior cycle. The opportunity to interact with the students and to review their copies was also facilitated.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in most of the lessons observed. In some instances the teacher conducted the entire lesson in French. This is commended. In other lessons, where the use of the target language was more limited, teachers should extend its use by giving all instructions in French and seeking alternative strategies to translation to support students in their learning. All students should be encouraged to interact in French: giving them the linguistic strategies to ask questions, make requests or express difficulties will enable them to achieve this. Greater use of French in the classroom supports students’ aural and oral skills development. It also challenges the more able students and, at the same time, gives those experiencing greater difficulty the confidence to communicate their need for help in the target language.
Lessons were appropriately paced and the content was relevant to the students’ needs and interests. In some instances the chosen topics related to worldwide events taking place at the time of the evaluation. The choice of such up-to-date texts is commended as it enables students to use their own world knowledge to facilitate good comprehension of the articles studied. Some teachers shared the lesson plan with the students either orally or by writing it up on the board. This is commended as it engages students from the outset. To optimise this good practice all teachers should outline their plan in terms of proposed learning outcomes for the lesson. This will increase students’ awareness of learning as a shared responsibility. It will also support effective time management by ensuring that teachers structure their lesson to achieve the desired learning outcome.
The use of a topic approach facilitated the development of the different language skills and there were some very good examples of the integration of grammar into the body of the lesson. However, there were some instances where greater attention is needed to ensure that the learning in one skills area feeds into and supports the development of the other language skills rather than the more compartmentalised approach observed in some lessons. A more integrated approach also makes students more aware of the cumulative nature of learning.
ICT was used in some lessons to support teaching and learning. In some instances students watched news items which corresponded to the written articles studied in the lesson. This is good practice as it promotes the integration of the different skills. It is suggested however, that the benefits of this activity be further extended by giving students specific individual or group tasks to complete as part of the overall activity.
Question and answer sessions were used in all lessons to recap on previous learning and to promote oral skills development. Pair and group work was also observed in some lessons. This is commended as it actively engages the students and enables them to take more responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that the use of pair or group activities be extended in all lessons to help students become more active and independent learners, in addition to further promoting their oral skills development. The use of pair or group work also optimises time management as it engages all students at the same time.
There was evidence of good classroom management throughout and teachers and students worked in a climate of mutual respect. Students indicated a good understanding of the work in hand and applied themselves well to the tasks given. Interaction with the inspector revealed many of them to be confident learners of the language with most students indicating a willingness to communicate. Of particular note in this regard were students new to the study of French.
Teachers use a variety of ways to monitor students’ progress including question and answer sessions, homework assignments, class tests, and formal examinations. A review of copies indicated that homework is regularly given and corrected. However, there were some copies where errors had been marked as correct. This needs to be addressed. In most instances the correction of work also included comments from the teacher. This is good practice as the inclusion of a comment is both affirming and informing. It is suggested however, that as part of their efforts to extend students’ confidence in communicating in the target language, teachers seek alternative exercises to translation.
Formal examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. An aural component is included in all formal assessments. Teachers also reported giving informal oral assessments to all students. Sixth-year students are also given two formal oral assessments in preparation for their Leaving Certificate oral examination. The assessment of aural and oral skills development for all students is commended.
Contact with parents is maintained through the school journal, information evenings, annual parent teacher meetings and school reports which are sent home twice yearly.
A review of recent certificate examination results reveals an increase in the uptake of higher level at Junior Certificate. This is commended. However, vigilance is needed at senior cycle to reverse the trend where there has been a decrease in recent years in students taking higher level.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support for French in the allocation of time and the provision of resources.
· The members of the French department are at a very advanced stage in subject development planning.
· There was good use of the target language by the teacher in most of the lessons observed.
· A variety of methodologies, including ICT, was observed and used to good effect.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· As part of ongoing planning teachers should reframe their aims, objectives and curriculum content in terms of desired learning outcomes with the linguistic strategies to support these outcomes in order to create
a more generic long-term plan for the teaching and learning of French.
· Where relevant, teachers and students should be encouraged to extend their use of French as the language of interaction in the classroom.
· Where relevant, teachers should extend their use of active learning methodologies to include more pair and group work activities.
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.
Published April 2009