An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Arklow, County Wicklow
Roll number: 61770U
Date of inspection: 3 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Arklow CBS. 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.
Arklow CBS is an all-boys school with 184 students. All students study French and German in first year. The study of a modern European language is optional from second year upwards. However, it was reported that most students continue with a modern European language. Students following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) who are not studying a modern language in mainstream are offered a language module for French. Classes are mixed-ability throughout.
There is good whole school support and provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes are timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. This is in line with best practice, which advocates ongoing contact with the target language.
The French department is staffed by one teacher, who is a graduate experienced teacher of French. The department has benefited from both the national inservice provided by the Department of Education and Science in recent years and attendance at inservice courses held in Dublin City University (DCU). Attendance at a local French circle and contacts with teachers of French from other schools in the town was also reported. Such activities are to be commended as a means of ongoing professional development. It is suggested that, in further building on this commitment, consideration be given to membership of the French Teachers’ Association, attendance at their annual seminars and ongoing use of the internet to download lesson ideas and plans. The website www.french.ie , created for teachers of French in Ireland, is a useful point of departure for such purposes.
Classrooms in Arklow CBS are teacher based. A print-rich environment has been developed in the French classroom with displays of maps and posters. This is to be commended as an effective means of supporting visual learners and promoting cultural awareness. It is suggested that these displays be extended throughout the year to include samples of students’ work and key expressions to support students in their learning. The posting up of expressions for the week or for a topic could also be considered.
There is good provision for resources in Arklow CBS. The French teacher’s classroom is equipped with a CD recorder, a television and DVD player. Other resources are provided on request to school management up to a limit of €300. Information and communications technology (ICT) is still in its infancy in the school. There is a computer room and some data projectors and laptops. However, not all classrooms are as yet wired for internet access. School management is currently planning for the use of wireless broadband in the school. The French department reported using ICT for downloading materials. This is to be commended as an effective way of providing students with up-to-date materials for use in the classroom. It is recommended that, as soon as ICT becomes more accessible, the French department consider furthering its use as a tool to support the teaching and learning of the subject.
Students from Arklow CBS participate in an annual exchange as part of the Arklow town twinning programme with Châteaudun in France. The students are usually accompanied by two teachers from the different schools in Arklow. It is suggested that further benefits, such as e-pals or class exchanges of materials, be derived from the town twinning programme to support students who are unable to participate in the exchange programme. The French department reported some involvement in co-curricular activities, including visits from French theatre for schools’ groups in conjunction with the girls’ school in the town. It was also reported that there are plans to organise a French breakfast and a table quiz for the students at a later date in the school year. Cross-curricular activities include work in Transition Year with the art and history teachers. The promotion of co and cross-curricular activities is commendable practice as it enables students to experience, enjoy and appreciate the benefits of language learning in a variety of authentic contexts. Strong co-curricular support also ensures that French maintains a high profile within the school.
Arklow CBS is involved in the school development planning process and work in the area of subject planning is currently in progress. Formal planning time is allocated at the beginning of the academic year and further meetings are planned for later in the school year. The department has begun recording minutes of meetings held. This is good practice. The French department reported working with the German department. This is to be commended. It is suggested that this good practice be further extended to develop, as a modern languages department, a collaborative long-term plan for the modern languages in the school.
A review of planning documentation indicated that a lot of work has been completed by the French department in the area of subject development planning. This is to be commended. As subject planning progresses, it is recommended that the French department build on the good work achieved to date by including in its long-term plan a series of desired learning outcomes for each year group which promote the development of transferable skills which are not bound by textbook or by topic. The linguistic strategies needed to support such outcomes should also be included. A long-term plan should also include proposed strategies to meet the differentiated needs of all students.
A Transition Year plan for the teaching and learning of French in the current academic year was also submitted.
There was evidence of good short term planning for the lessons observed with the advance preparation of technical equipment, OHP transparencies and supplementary materials to support students in their learning.
Evaluation activities involved the observation of three lessons, two at junior cycle and one at senior cycle. Student interaction with the inspector was also facilitated.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as it enables students to experience French as a living language, grounded in authentic situations. There were some occasions where translation was used with students new to the language. While it is important to support students in their learning it is essential that they be given the opportunity to work out the meaning of new words or sentences for themselves prior to their being translated. It is recommended that students, in turn, be encouraged to interact in the target language with both their teacher and their peers by providing them with the relevant expressions to ask questions, express difficulties and make requests in simple French. Such expressions could be posted up on the classroom walls for ease of assimilation.
Lessons were well structured, appropriately paced, with a good balance between previously learned material and the progression of new learning. The topics studied included the application of newly learned numbers to different contexts, school, a typical day, and health and illness. These were suited to the needs and interests of the students. It is suggested that the topic or plan for the lesson be communicated to the students, in terms of a desired learning outcome, in order to involve them from the outset as partners in the learning process.
The thematic approach observed facilitated the integration of the different language skills and there were some good examples of the integration of grammar into the body of the lesson. This is commendable practice, in line with syllabus recommendations. However, these grammar points should also be written up on the board to enable students to consolidate their learning. Question and answer sessions were used effectively throughout to exploit both written and listening texts. It is suggested that consideration also be given to varying the manner in which texts are exploited, particularly in terms of promoting oral skills development.
A video sequence, supported by preparatory activities, was observed in some lessons. The use of video supported by such activities is to be commended in responding to students’ interests, while the preparatory activities enabled them to obtain greater benefit from the viewing of the sequence. Preparatory exercises were also effectively used in other lessons to support students in a listening activity. When playing the listening text it is suggested that it be played initially in its entirety and then played in segments. This will provide students with the challenge of developing a global understanding of the text.
There were some good instances of pair work in which students created conversations based on information distributed on different coloured cards. The use of pair or group work is to be commended as it engages all the students and promotes active and independent learning. There was also evidence of some attention to pronunciation in the correction of students’ errors. Attention to pronunciation is good practice as correct pronunciation and intonation is an essential component of successful language learning. It is suggested that the outcomes of the pair-work activities be exploited to further support work on pronunciation, in addition to short regular pronunciation drills. It is also important that students who make pronunciation errors are given the opportunity to repeat the corrections in order to consolidate their learning.
There was good classroom management throughout in a climate of mutual respect. Students applied themselves to the tasks given and their responses indicated that they had a good understanding of the lesson content. Interaction with the inspector indicated a general willingness to communicate, although some students were a little reticent about speaking in the target language. However, increased emphasis on student interaction in the classroom and the promotion of oral skills through the integrated approach should improve their confidence.
Student progress in Arklow CBS is monitored in a variety of ways, including homework assignments, tests and formal examinations. A task group is currently working towards the development of a whole school homework policy as part of development planning.
A review of copies indicated that homework was given, corrected and commented upon. This is good practice as it keeps students informed of their progress. Certificate examination students have formal assessments at the November mid-term and the results are communicated to the parents at the parent-teacher meetings. There are formal tests for all students at Christmas and mock examinations for certificate examination students in February. All other students sit formal examinations in the summer. An aural component is included in formal examinations at senior cycle but not necessarily at junior cycle. However, listening tests are given to these students at different times of the year. Consideration should be given to including an aural component for all students as part of all formal examinations. Fifth year students are given an oral assessment as part of their summer examinations. As a means of promoting oral skills development it is suggested that some form of oral assessment be introduced for all students.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the use of the school journal, school reports and parent teacher meetings. Parents are also asked to sign students’ work if they are perceived to be underachieving.
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.