An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann
Kilcoole, County Wicklow
Roll number: 76076M
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chraobh Abhann. 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann is a co-educational school with 483 students. French is a core subject for all students in junior cycle apart from those who request an exemption on the grounds of specific learning difficulties. Spanish is also offered for students wishing to take a second language. School management is commended for affording students the possibility of studying a second modern European language. The study of a modern European language is optional at senior cycle. However students are made aware of the modern language requirements for third level studies prior to making subject choices. School management is also planning to introduce an ab initio module for languages at senior cycle which will facilitate students who wish to take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) but who do not wish to continue with the study of a mainstream language. Classes in junior cycle are banded with the option offer setting within these bands. School management and the French department should remain mindful of the importance of affording students in all groupings the opportunity to take French at higher level in the Junior Certificate. This is facilitated by the common syllabus for Junior Certificate French.
There is good whole-school provision for French in the allocation of time, although the distribution of lessons is less satisfactory. Senior cycle students of French currently have one double and three single periods each week, which provides regular contact with the language. Lessons in junior cycle are timetabled in single periods throughout the week for some groups, while others have one double period and two single periods. Some groups in their Junior Certificate year have two double periods. This severely limits their contact with the target language. Best practice advocates the timetabling of languages in single periods throughout the week, particularly at junior cycle. School management should explore ways whereby French can be timetabled in single periods, to ensure regular contact with the target language and equity of provision for all students.
There are four teachers of French in Coláiste Chraobh Abhann, each of whom is a graduate in the subject. They are all members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and some are also members of the Alliance Française. Some teachers have also attended in-service training for the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA), courses on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) and French, and national conferences run by the FTA. This commitment to in-career professional development is commended. As a means of further enhancing both their linguistic and pedagogical proficiency, teachers are encouraged to apply for the range of scholarships that are available to teachers of French, and to consider becoming more actively involved in the activities of the FTA and in the language-related seminars offered by regional education centres.
Most teachers of French have a base classroom and, where possible, teachers without a base room are assigned to work in a French language classroom. These classrooms were visually enhanced by the display of maps, posters, grammar charts and student work on the walls. Teachers are commended for their efforts to promote language and cultural awareness and to affirm student effort through the creation of a print-rich environment. It is suggested that this good work be further progressed by charting key expressions for the week or topic and displaying classroom language which can be assimilated over time by students.
There is very good provision of resources. Teachers have designated CD and tape recorders, DVD players and overhead projectors. Most teachers of French also have data projectors and desktop computers available to them to support the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of French. In addition, a data projector is available for those who do not have a base classroom. There is also access to a multi-media language laboratory. Furthermore, the school provides a resource area in the school for the purpose of storing shared materials as well as a resource area on the computer network for the sharing of digital resources. Teaching materials including posters, DVDs and class sets of books are provided on request to management. The introduction of subject budgets is currently being considered. School management is commended for the excellent provision of resources to support teachers in their work. Many of the teachers of French have actively incorporated ICT into their work, using it for downloading up-to-date materials and PowerPoint presentations. This is highly commended.
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann has taken the initiative of hosting an annual visit from a French Language Assistant for the latter half of the school year. This initiative, which supports the teachers in their work in promoting oral skills development and cultural awareness, is highly commended. In addition, the school has developed links with a French school, hosting them for a day each year where the students from both schools engage in a range of linguistic and cultural activities. This is good practice. Students are also encouraged to seek and correspond with French pen pals. Other co-curricular activities include French conversation classes held every week after school, competitions, and the celebration of international languages day and international food day. Participation in co-curricular activities is commendable as it provides enjoyable language and cultural experiences for students which further contribute to successful language learning.
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann is currently engaged in subject development planning as part of the whole school development planning initiative. School management facilitates three formal sessions each year and this is supplemented by a considerable number of informal meetings. There is a subject co-ordinator, a voluntary position which is rotated and minutes are kept of all meetings. This is commendable practice.
A review of the planning documentation submitted on the day of the inspection indicates that significant work has been completed by the members of the French department in the past two years. The long-term plan includes the school’s mission statement and outlines the aims and objectives for the teaching and learning of French at both junior and senior cycle. The plan also sets out the context within which teaching and learning takes place, the availability of resources, classroom organisation, planning for students with special needs, assessment and recording protocols, and continued professional development for teachers and for the subject department. Curriculum planning for each year group is set out in terms of the content to be covered, class work, homework and assessment. Plans also include the textbooks used and the range of differentiated teaching strategies available to teachers. Following on from collaborative long-term planning for the teaching and learning of French, teachers also develop annual schemes of work for each class group. The members of the French department are highly commended for the work completed to date in the area of collaborative subject planning. As part of the ongoing subject planning process, it is suggested that the teachers of French build on the very good work completed to date by establishing desired learning outcomes for each year group, in terms of ‘can do’ statements and the linguistic strategies needed to support these outcomes. This approach, which emphasises the development of transferable skills, will afford teachers greater variety in the topics studied in class, while at the same time meeting the requirements of the syllabus. It is also recommended that teachers engage in an annual review of planning to ensure that it continues to inform practice.
The Transition Year (TY) plan for French examined, along with examples of practices observed in the course of the evaluation, indicate a need for a review and further development of the TY programme. This should take into account the recommendations contained in the TY guidelines on new approaches to teaching and learning. To this end consideration should be given to introducing elements of learner autonomy. TY students could also contribute to extending the range of co-curricular activities in the school by developing activities such as table quizzes or French breakfasts arising from their own language-learning experiences.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment, supplementary materials, photocopying and worksheets.
Inspection activities included the observation of five lessons, three at junior cycle, one TY lesson and two in senior cycle. Interaction with the students and a review of their copies was also facilitated.
Teaching and learning was generally satisfactory and the main recommendations focus on increasing the use of the target language and of more active methodologies.
The target language was very well used by the teacher in some of the lessons observed. However, there were a number of lessons where there was need for more extensive use of French as the language of instruction and communication. It is recommended that, in these instances, the use of the target language be extended. Teachers should communicate as much as possible in French, while students should also be encouraged to interact in the target language. To this end, students should be given the linguistic strategies needed to ask questions, express difficulties or make requests in the target language. Furthermore, where there is a need for linguistic scaffolding, teachers should seek methods other than translation. These could include the use of visual supports or explanations set into a context or getting students to guess the correct answer. Greater use of French in the classroom would challenge the more able students while those experiencing difficulty in understanding would be enabled to express their need for help in the target language. It would also provide practice in listening and oral comprehension and production.
Lessons were generally well structured and the content appropriate to the interests and abilities of the students. In some instances the lesson plan was outlined to the students at the beginning. This is good practice as it engages students from the outset and makes them aware of teaching and learning as a shared responsibility. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons and communicated in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson. There were some lessons however, where greater attention to time management would have facilitated a better balance between the correction and revision of previous learning and the input of new material. In other lessons too much time spent on the one activity restricted progress in learning. In instances where lessons started late the time allocation for French was also compromised.
All lessons adopted a thematic approach. This is good practice as it facilitates the integration of the different language skills. There were some instances where the teaching of grammar was very effectively integrated into the body of the lesson, while the inclusion of aspects of cultural awareness further enhanced the language learning experience for the students. This integrated approach is highly commended. However, in lessons where the focus was predominantly on reading and listening activities, teachers should further progress students’ oral and written skills. This will ensure a better balance in students’ overall language learning and further their awareness of how their learning in one skills area can feed into the development of the other skills.
There were some good examples of attention to correct pronunciation. This is commended as correct pronunciation and intonation are essential components of competent and confident language learning. To further progress this aspect of oral skills development, it is recommended that consideration be given to the introduction of regular short pronunciation drills in all classes. Furthermore, when students are reading aloud, they should be familiar with the text in order to gain full benefit from the task.
There was very good integration of ICT in some lessons through the use of simple PowerPoint presentations. This is highly commended. In other instances flashcards were used to support teaching and learning. While the use of all visual supports is commended, some of the flashcards were too small and as a result lost their full import. It is recommended that consideration be given to creating bigger flashcards with pictures downloaded from the internet, or to using PowerPoint presentations with their capacity to support learning with authentic and culturally enriching illustrations.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to engage the students and to check learning. However, lessons were predominantly teacher-directed and there was little evidence of students taking on any responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that teachers engage their students in more active learning through greater variety of methodologies and increased use of individual, pair and group tasks. Teachers should plan for at least one student-based task in every lesson, thereby facilitating differentiated teaching and learning opportunities and promoting active student engagement in collaborative and independent learning.
Students’ responses indicated that most of them had a good understanding of the lesson content and they applied themselves to the work in hand. Interaction with the inspector revealed some of them to be very willing to communicate while others were more reticent. However, the above-mentioned recommendations about increasing the use of the target language and the use of more active methodologies should result in more confident and competent communication.
A range of assessment modes, including question and answer sessions in class, homework assignments, class tests and formal examinations is used to monitor students’ progress.
A review of copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected, with comment included in some instances. The inclusion of a comment is good practice as a means of affirming and informing student progress. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all. It is also important for teachers to date or sign students’ work to differentiate between work corrected by the teacher and work corrected by the students.
Commendable whole-school assessment practices include three formal assessments annually for all students in addition to an assessment grade at the end of October for certificate examination students based on the results of their class tests. Certificate examination students also sit mock examinations in the second term. Teachers test students in class on work completed over shorter periods of time. Students of French sit common tests which include aural and oral components. The inclusion of aural and oral components in assessment protocols is good practice, to be commended.
Contact with parents is maintained through the use of the school journal and the annual parent-teacher meetings which are held for each year group. In addition, senior cycle students engage in a self-evaluation process which forms part of the discussion at the annual parent-teacher meeting. This practice is highly commended as a means of encouraging students to take on greater responsibility for their work and progress in school.
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:
· School management should explore ways whereby French can be timetabled in single periods, to ensure regular contact with the target language and equity of provision for all students.
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 January 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management at Coláiste Chraobh Abhann is satisfied with the report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French at the school issued by the Department of Education and Science Inspectorate as a result of a subject inspection held on May 1st 2008.
In particular, the Board acknowledges the very positive comments and commendations by the Inspector in relation to provision and whole school support of French at Coláiste Chraobh Abhann. The French Department members also feel encouraged and valued by the very definite strengths which were identified and either commended or highly commended by the Inspector in the area of subject planning and preparation.
All relevant partners have had an opportunity to discuss and evaluate this report. A full and thorough review of the recommendations has taken place and a progressive course of action has commenced. The French Department is core to the implementation of this plan.
The French teachers would like the following observations noted:
· Careful consideration has been given to the advice provided by the Inspector regarding planning in the Transition Year module. The French Department expressed a concern that observation of one lesson was used as a basis to evaluate the TY French module as a whole.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The school has reviewed the recommendations for development and will act to progress and further improve the quality of learning and teaching of French. Some actions have already been planned or undertaken and these are outlined below:
· School management has already addressed the issue of double periods in French in Junior Certificate year 3. In consultation with the teachers of other practical subjects such as Woodwork and Metalwork which are banded with French, it has been agreed that one double and two single periods may be timetabled for all subjects in the bands which contain French. It should be noted that this arrangement is not necessarily the best option for these subjects whose teachers would prefer two double periods for the completion of practical work and projects for the Junior Certificate examinations. Management will investigate the use of a dynamic block in the timetable next year. However it should be noted that this will inevitably lead to less satisfactory timetabling elsewhere on the curriculum due to the imposition of this constraint.
· The French teachers will use the recommendations in the report as a focus for improvement both individually and as a Department through the vehicle of subject planning.
· The school has engaged in whole staff in-service in an initiative called ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) for the current academic year as part of the School Development Planning process. Some of the Inspector’s recommendations will be addressed through this initiative.
Finally the school would like to thank the visiting Inspector for her professionalism shown during the inspection period. Teachers found the process and report to be an acknowledgement of their enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to the teaching of French at Coláiste Chraobh Abhann.