An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Saint Patrick’s Community College
Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 70710D
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Patrick’s Community College Naas. 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.
St Patrick’s Community College is a co-educational school with 280 students. In order to best meet the needs of the current student cohort classes are banded into one higher ability grouping, two mixed-ability groupings and one grouping of students with special educational needs (SEN). French is a core subject for students in the higher ability class, and it is an option for the other two class groups. Students with SEN do not study a foreign language. In recent years French has been timetabled as an option with Technical Graphics. This has led to a low uptake of the language by boys in the present third-year cohort. However, the current subject timetabling of French as an option with Music has led to an increase in the number of students in first and second year studying a modern European language.
There is generally good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and the distribution of the lesson periods across the week. Apart from the third-year grouping that has two double periods per week, lessons are timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. This is good practice as it provides students with ongoing contact with the language.
There are two teachers of French. Each is a graduate of the subject. They are also members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). Some have participated in in-service training for the teaching of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme and some have attended in-service courses for teachers of French in France. Commitment to ongoing professional development is good practice and to be commended.
While teachers do not have their own base classrooms, one of the rooms used primarily by the members of the French department had maps, posters, key expressions, grammatical points and samples of students work displayed on the walls. The provision of such a print-rich environment for students is to be commended as an attractive and effective means of exposing students to many aspects of the French language and culture. It is also a very valuable way of affirming students’ work.
A wide range of resources has been made available to the members of the French department through the provision of an annual budget for the subject. Resources include CD and tape recorders, overhead projectors, VCR and DVD players. Teachers have also built up a bank of resources including DVDs, videos, paper resources for photocopying purposes and class sets of dictionaries. This is to be commended. It is suggested that the dictionaries be distributed for use in each lesson and that students be encouraged to refer to them.
Apart from downloading resources, there is currently limited use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This is due to difficulties accessing the computer room for classes. However, with the advent of a new school building in the near future, it is hoped to extend the use of ICT as a methodology for the teaching and learning of French.
Teachers are currently involved in establishing a range of co-curricular activities for students. A French breakfast is usually organised for first-year students and other beginner groups. Transition Year (TY) students are planning a French day in the school. Efforts to bring a French theatre for schools troupe have proved unsuccessful in the past. However, with the increased uptake of French it is hoped to organise such a visit in the future. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to raise the profile of French in the school through the promotion of co-curricular activities.
St Patrick’s Community College is currently involved in the school development planning process and time is allocated for this purpose during planning and staff days. Teachers also work informally on planning during their free time. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to the planning process.
Subject plans and schemes of work presented in the course of the evaluation process indicate very good engagement with and commitment to the subject planning process. The plans set out the context of the school in terms of student access to the subject, grouping of students, resources, record keeping and reporting procedures, teachers’ professional development, cross-curricular planning and planning for students with special educational needs. Long-term plans for each year group include: curriculum content, approach and methodology, homework and assessment. Teachers are to be commended for their work and collaboration in the area of subject planning. In order to further build on the subject planning completed to date and to facilitate the ultimate aim of the process – that of self-review, it is recommended that, over time, plans for each year group be defined in terms of desired learning outcomes for students - what the students will be able to do as a result of their learning, and the linguistic strategies and methodologies to support the achievement of these outcomes.
A Transition Year programme has been re-introduced in St Patrick’s Community College since September 2006 and plans were presented for the teaching and learning of French with two discrete cohorts of students, those who have taken French at Junior Certificate and those who are beginners. In further developing the long-term plan for the teaching and learning of French in TY, it is suggested that consideration be given to introducing some simple steps towards developing learner autonomy. This would facilitate self-directed learning as promoted in the TY guidelines.
There was very good preparation for the lessons observed, with the advance readiness of listening texts and worksheets for use during the lesson.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle, one Transition Year group and one at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
The content of all lessons was appropriate for the various ages and levels of the students concerned. Lessons were well structured, had a clear purpose and were appropriately paced. This is good practice as a well-structured purposeful lesson facilitates effective student learning. Most lessons began with students being invited to give the date and to describe the weather in French. In some lessons observed, optimum use was made of the print-rich environment. For example, students called out the relevant expressions for the day’s weather and in other instances, students selected the relevant expressions from the displays on the walls. This is to be commended as a useful strategy to enable students to assimilate new learning. It also highlights for the students ways in which they can use their environment to resource information.
There was good linguistic competence and a clear commitment by teachers to using French as the language of the classroom. This is good practice and to be commended. In order to facilitate student interaction in French it is recommended that they be provided with relevant linguistic strategies such as asking questions, expressing difficulties or making requests in the target language. These could be posted up on the walls for ease of assimilation. This would enable students to build up confidence by participating simply but authentically in relevant classroom discourse.
A range of methodologies was observed. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the language skills. This good practice is in line with syllabus requirements. Flash cards were used effectively in some lessons to introduce and consolidate the learning of vocabulary. There was also good attention to the French alphabet in some lessons where students were taught to spell in French and to re-enforce their learning by writing down words spelt aloud in French. This is good practice. It is suggested that consideration be given to adapting word games such as countdown to help expand student’s vocabulary by integrating it with spellings in a fun way. Students could use the class sets of dictionaries to support and further this learning. There was good use of the board to integrate the oral with the written word.
In all lessons observed, pair work was used effectively and for different purposes: in some lessons to put new learning into practice, while in other lessons to develop oral skills. The use of pair or group work is to be commended as a means of engaging the students in their learning and encouraging active and independent thinking. It promoted collaboration with peers and facilitated the asking and answering of questions by students thereby improving their oral competency. It is suggested that when engaging in pair or group activities a specific time frame be established to help students focus on the task at hand. In some instances the group or pair work was followed by a plenary question and answer session based on the work completed in the task. While this phase is important as part of the overall lesson, it is suggested that, in the interests of optimum time management, consideration should be given to asking merely a sample of students on these occasions. Consideration could also be given in this phase to the correction of student errors arising out of the group activities. This could be done as a class exercise.
Correct pronunciation was emphasised when introducing and repeating new vocabulary and in the correction of errors. Students were also given the opportunity to consolidate their learning by repeating the corrected version. This is good practice. As with the correction of errors, the correction of pronunciation can also be done as a class drill.
There was good classroom management in all lessons observed. Teachers were affirming of their students who were well behaved and attentive throughout.
There was good evidence that students understood the content of the lessons observed and they responded well to the work being carried out. They engaged constructively with the teacher during plenary sessions and with their peers in pair or group activities. There was one instance where students involved in pair work began on their own initiative to link previous learning with the new structures being consolidated thus enabling them to further progress their oral skills. This is to be commended. Interaction between students and the inspector revealed them to be willing and able to communicate at a level appropriate to their level and experience as learners of French.
Student learning and progress is monitored using a variety of techniques. These include question and answer sessions, homework assignments, end of chapter tests and formal examinations.
The homework policy of St Patrick’s Community College is included in the student handbook. Teacher handouts distributed during the lessons observed also contained the homework assignments. A review of copies indicated that homework is regularly assigned and corrected. Comments were also included. Failure to complete homework is recorded in the student journal and the individual teacher’s roll-record book and sanctions are issued where appropriate. There was evidence of up to date profiling for students who follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). This is good practice and to be commended. Students are assessed at the end of every unit of work and they sit formal tests at the end of each term. All formal tests include an aural component. Teachers hold formal oral tests for senior cycle students and give informal oral assessments at junior cycle. Teachers are to be commended for their attention in assessing each of the different language skills.
Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group and reports are issued at the end of term. Contact between teachers and parents is also maintained through the school journal.
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.