An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Lanesboro Community College
Lanesboro, Co. Longford
Roll number: 71720L
Date of inspection: 16 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 Lanesboro Community College. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Lanesboro Community College, a small co-educational school in County Longford, serves the needs of students in the area through the provision of Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses.
Language provision in such a small school is exemplary. Students may choose either French or German and the study of a modern language is obligatory for all students. In first year, a “taster programme” of the two languages operated for the full school year. A decision has been taken to reduce this taster programme to the first term only from September 2007 onwards. This is a good decision as, by Christmas, students generally have a clear idea of their preferred language and more teaching periods are available in the second half of the school year for the language chosen The school has drawn up a policy on the importance of learning a European language and, commendably, all parents and students are made aware of this policy.
The allocation of time to the teaching and learning of French is good. First and second-year students have four periods per week respectively while students in third year, fourth year and fifth year have five periods of French per week. While the amount of time allocated to the language is very satisfactory, the distribution of class periods is less so. Apart from first year, all year groups have double periods, or in the case of third-year students, two single periods on the same day. Taking account of the fact that languages are not blocked with practical subjects, either in junior or in senior cycle, it should be possible to allocate single periods to French (and to German) in all year groups. Every effort will be made by school management to devise a more appropriate timetable for languages in the next academic year.
Classroom learning of French is enhanced by co-curricular activities. A theatre group visits the school annually and French films are shown to students on occasion. Leaving Certificate students have enjoyed a typical French breakfast served to them in the school. A school tour to France takes place every second year. Such tours can be a useful vehicle for raising cultural awareness and providing students with increased opportunities to speak French. County Longford VEC gives two scholarships annually to senior-cycle students of French and German to enable them to participate in a residential language summer camp.
The practice of allocating teachers their own base classrooms is an excellent support to language teaching. The newly renovated French classroom is a most pleasant and stimulating environment for learning, with a rich display of students’ work, laminated prints of Monet paintings, posters, photographs of the school tour to Paris, a French flag, labels on classroom objects, bookshelves crammed with additional resources, and a large, wonderfully detailed mural of the Eiffel Tower, painted by a student. The vibrancy and attractiveness of the classroom was striking and great credit is due to the teacher concerned for providing such an inspiring learning environment for the students.
A range of audio-visual equipment, comprising good quality CD and DVD players, is available for the teaching of French. In terms of information communication technology (ICT) the school is well served with the provision of twenty-four new computers in the computer room and two computers in the staff room. Plans are well advanced for the installation of a computer in every classroom in September 2007 and for the training of teachers in the use of ICT in language teaching.
Membership of the subject association, attendance at in career development courses and experience of correcting State Examination papers in French ensure that the teacher of French is fully au fait with developments in language teaching.
Lanesboro Community College is engaging with school development planning. A key aspect of school planning is subject planning and considerable work in this area has already been accomplished. The arrangements for subject planning are good with time being set aside at staff meetings to allow for subject planning. The teachers of French and German meet to discuss and agree on common issues in language teaching and learning. This is good collaborative practice.
Comprehensive schemes of work, filed in a separate folder for each year group, were presented during the evaluation. These schemes of work are used effectively to inform the teaching of French on a weekly basis. The topics, new vocabulary and points of grammar to be taught are documented. As the amount of detail is considerable, it is suggested that some re-organisation of the structure and layout would be beneficial. It is commendable that the planning folder for French contains marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports on State Examinations which are used judiciously to guide the teaching and learning of French.
In seeking to advance the planning process further, the French department might consider setting and documenting specific learning objectives for each year group. It would also be worth recording successful active teaching methodologies such as those seen during the evaluation.
Considering that new, extended ICT facilities will be available from September onwards, it is recommended that the inclusion of some strategies for the promotion and integration of ICT as an additional teaching and learning tool would be useful.
Three lessons, two at junior cycle and one at senior cycle were observed. Each lesson was well planned and thoroughly prepared to include a variety of tasks and approaches. In lesson delivery and development, commendable emphasis was placed on engaging students. Visual stimuli, brainstorming, props, songs and raps were used most effectively to promote the optimum participation of the learners.
The theme of Summer holidays, particularly in the month of May, is one that is bound to interest students. Teaching and learning based on this topic began with a brainstorming session on the board in which students participated enthusiastically. A relevant listening activity followed. The circulation of the tapescript at the end of the listening exercise speeded up the correction process, encouraged the students to check their own answers and to see the link between the spoken and written word. The explanation of key phrases, such as “Ce sera formidable, J’en ai assez, Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire” in advance of listening to the passage was of help to less able students. This strategy could be further reinforced by asking students to think of a variety of other situations where such phrases could be used. The distribution of real postcards, depicting scenic areas in Ireland and in other countries helped to turn the task of sending a postcard to an imaginary friend in France into an enjoyable activity. Students immediately focused on the assignment and were well able to use previously learned phrases to describe the location depicted on their individual postcards.
The teaching of prepositions in a junior cycle class was turned into a very active and enjoyable exercise through the use of a large puppet (made by a student in the school and aptly named Monsieur Mécontent) Students were eager to describe the various poses and locations of the puppet in the classroom and were well able to respond to the question “Où est Monsieur Mécontent maintenant”? The teaching moved seamlessly into a short listening exercise, followed by a reading text on houses, again focusing on prepositions. Finally, a crossword, with pictorial clues rounded off the well-integrated lesson where students learned and practised new vocabulary and grammar in a thoroughly effective and entertaining manner.
Another junior-cycle class was engaged in learning suitable adjectives to describe themselves and others. Once again, grammar was taught with flair as students had learned the list of adjectives that go before the noun in French as a rap that they performed with gusto. Following a short listening and reading exercise to consolidate the acquisition of a store of adjectives, students were asked to choose an identity card that had been prepared in advance. Assuming the identity of the person named on the card, students then presented themselves to the group, making good use of adjectives to describe their assumed physical traits and personality. This was a very good strategy to vary the sometimes repetitive presentation of oneself.
The use of the target language for classroom interaction was exemplary in all lessons observed. The register of language that was used was appropriate to the needs and the ability of the different class groups. Through the imaginative use of gestures, mime, facial expressions and synonyms, translation to English was successfully avoided. The commitment to use the target language for instruction, for classroom management and for communication is highly commended. It was clear that students were accustomed to hearing and using French in the classroom and that they have benefited from such ongoing exposure. The fact that the French alphabet, accompanied by phonetics, was prominently displayed over the whiteboard helped students to strive for accurate pronunciation. Notwithstanding the excellent teacher input and delivery, it is recommended that more time for student-student interaction be built into every lesson to give learners optimum opportunities to develop their oral competence and confidence.
The classroom atmosphere was excellent. All lessons observed were characterised by warmth, a sense of humour and a positive approach. Students were, without exception, courteous and responsive. The brisk pace of delivery, clear instructions, variety of strategies and the effective use of active teaching methodologies ensured that students remained focused and interested throughout the lesson period. The enthusiasm and professional commitment of the teacher are deserving of the highest commendation.
The progress of students in Lanesboro Community College is assessed through a wide variety of techniques. These include questioning in class, monitoring of homework, class tests and formal school examinations, which take place twice a year. Reports are sent to parents and parent/teacher meetings are held annually for each year group. State examination classes sit “mocks” in the Spring and Leaving Certificate students also sit a “mock” oral French examination. Commendably, all students are encouraged and helped to prepare an individual document for discussion at the Leaving Certificate oral examination. Fourth-year (LCVP1) students sit an oral examination as an integral part of their Summer assessment. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to include other year groups. Short oral tests can be carried out informally during a lesson period. They do much to promote and improve oral proficiency and to validate the very good use of the target language in the classroom, as observed during the evaluation.
The school has devised a homework policy which applies to all subjects. Appropriate French homework, linked to the theme of the lesson, was set on the day of inspection. Examination of students’ copybooks showed that a good deal of productive homework had been assigned and corrected. All corrected student work was accompanied by affirming and helpful comments. This is very good practice. Good individual records of students’ progress and attainment are maintained and it was clear that high standards of work and achievement are set and accomplished.
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.