An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Abbey Community College
Roll number: 76082H
Date of inspection: 14 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Abbey 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 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.
Abbey Community College is co-educational school with 636 students. Since 2006 the study of a modern European language has been mandatory for all students at junior cycle, with the exception of those who have learning disabilities for whom this is optional. Prior to 2007 students chose between French and German while the current first-year students were offered French or Spanish. Students currently have the option of studying more than one language, although it was reported that it will not be possible to offer this option in future years. School management is to be commended for its current provision for modern European languages at junior cycle.
Modern European languages are optional at senior cycle and some concerns are raised at the increase in the number of students not studying a language for the established Leaving Certificate.
All students should be made fully aware of the career limitations they place on themselves by not studying a modern language. The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) should also be reviewed to ensure that the language provision for LCVP students is in accordance with the syllabus requirements of the programme. All Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students study a modern language, and this is commended.
Students are taught in mixed-ability groups for French at junior cycle. This is good practice. The senior cycle options facilitate the creation of discrete higher and ordinary level groupings in one block and a mixed-ability grouping in the other block. Lessons are, in most cases, timetabled in single periods throughout the week at junior cycle and there are one double and three single periods at senior cycle. This distribution is to be commended as it ensures ongoing contact with the target language, in line with best practice. It was reported that the current provision of one double and two single periods for third year students will be changed in the forthcoming year.
There are four teachers of French in Abbey Community College, each of whom is a graduate in the subject. Most have benefited from the inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in recent years. Some are members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and it was reported that there is good support from Co. Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee (VEC) for continuous professional development. The school is currently piloting a peer-mentoring process whereby teachers can observe the work of colleagues with a view to sharing good practice. Twelve teachers, including some from the French department took part in the programme in the previous school year and found it to be very worthwhile. School management and staff are to be commended for their willingness to embrace change and improvement through this innovative programme. It is suggested that teachers also consider availing of any subject relevant inservice in the local education centre and taking up group membership of the FTA.
The French department is well resourced in terms of audiovisual equipment and teaching materials. Teachers have their designated CD/cassette recorders and there is easy access to televisions and DVD players. Materials include DVDs, magazines, class sets of dictionaries, and visual dictionaries. Resources are decided upon at subject department meetings and provided on request to management. There is a multi-media room to support the learning of modern languages. However, teachers reported limited use of information and communication technology (ICT) due to difficulties with the software installed, which have so far remained unresolved. There is also a need for training to use the particular software. Teachers reported using ICT for downloading up-to-date materials and ICT is also used with Transition Year students for researching projects. It is recommended that as soon as ICT becomes more accessible, teachers plan for its use in the classroom to support the teaching and learning of the language.
Classrooms in Abbey Community College are teacher based and there was a very good display of maps, posters, grammar charts and student projects on the walls. Teachers are to be commended for their work in supporting language learning through the creation of a print-rich environment. It is suggested that teachers further build on this good work by charting key expressions and classroom language to enable students to assimilate this learning over time.
The school does not currently have formal links with any school in France. Consideration could be given to researching possible links with a view to developing school partnerships through email or school visits. However, initiatives to support language learning include a series of grants, funded each year by Co. Kilkenny VEC, for students to attend residential language courses during the summer months. Teachers also organise a range of co-curricular activities for students. Senior cycle students attend an annual languages day in Waterford Institute of Technology in addition to attendance at French cinema events in Garter Lane theatre. Transition year students are planning to host a French breakfast, while a visit to a French restaurant is currently being organised for second-year students. Involvement in co-curricular activities is to be commended as it provides enjoyable experiences for students while at the same time promoting the linguistic and cultural awareness essential to successful language learning.
Abbey Community College has been actively engaged in the school development planning process since the outset and the members of the French department have been involved in subject planning since 2005. Formal subject planning meetings take place, generally twice each term, by arrangement with senior management. A subject convenor has been appointed. This is a position which is not currently rotated. In the interests of developing expertise and sharing the workload, it is suggested that the position of subject convenor be rotated among all members of the French department. The agenda for formal meetings is set by the teachers and minutes are taken of the proceedings. This is good practice and to be commended. Teachers also reported meeting informally on a regular basis. It is suggested that any key decisions taken at informal meetings be recorded in recognition of their ongoing commitment to subject planning and development.
A review of planning documentation indicates that the teachers of French have actively embraced the subject development planning process, with the development of a comprehensive subject plan outlining the aims and objectives, the school context, the resources available and plans for the different year groups. This is to be commended. It is recommended that this good work be further enhanced by developing desired learning outcomes for each year group and including the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to support such outcomes. It is also suggested that teachers plan collaboratively for a differentiated approach to teaching and learning to best meet the needs of the entire student cohort.
A plan for the teaching and learning of French in Transition Year was also submitted. A review of this plan indicates a strong emphasis on Leaving Certificate material and methodologies. It is important therefore to focus on new ways of teaching and learning in accordance with the Department of Education and Science’s Transition Year guidelines. When planning for TY, consideration should be given to introducing some elements of learner autonomy which will encourage and promote reflection and independent learning, thereby providing students with valuable resources for their language learning at senior cycle.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment, and supplementary materials.
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.
Teachers made good use of the target language in most of the lessons observed, in some instances using it throughout the lesson. This is to be commended as it grounds the language in authentic situations. Where its use was more limited, it should be increased, initially through giving simple instructions in French and then through a more general use of the target language. Students in all classes should also be encouraged to interact in simple French. This approach should be supported by the visual display of key expressions for giving instructions, asking questions, making requests and expressing difficulties.
The lesson plan was communicated to the students at the beginning of all lessons observed, thereby involving students in the learning process from the outset. This is to be commended. It is suggested that this good practice be continued, but worded in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson. Most lessons were well structured and appropriately paced and the content responded to the needs and interests of the students. There were some instances, however, where a better balance between the revision of previously learning and the input of new material would have progressed student learning further.
There were good efforts to integrate the different language skills through the use of a thematic approach supported by the use of a variety of supplementary materials. This is good practice in line with syllabus recommendations. It is suggested however, that greater emphasis be placed on the integration of oral skills development.
There were some very good examples of a staged approach to building up students’ competency through the use of visual supports. The use of these charts enabled the teacher to move out of the textbook and create a simple but effective and colourful learning environment for the students. These charts could be posted up on the walls for the duration of the topic to further consolidate student learning. Visual supports were also used very effectively in some lessons to introduce new vocabulary.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous work, to extend and consolidate new learning and to facilitate students’ responses in the target language. Attention to pronunciation, an important component of language learning, was also observed in most lessons. This is to be commended. When correcting pronunciation errors, it is suggested that students be given the opportunity to repeat the correction in order to internalise it. Short regular drills and greater attention to the alphabet and spelling in French should also support correct pronunciation. Students read aloud in some lessons, thereby providing them with further opportunities for improving pronunciation. However, it is important to remain mindful of the purpose of the exercise. Students should have a good understanding of the content of the text when reading aloud as a pronunciation exercise, since they tend to focus solely on their performance. If comprehension is the purpose of the activity, it is preferable that the teacher initially read the text.
There were some good examples of cultural awareness being integrated into the body of the lesson. This is to be commended as cultural awareness is an integral component of successful language learning.
Students engaged in pair work activities in some of the lessons observed. The use of pair or group work is to be commended as it promotes active and independent learning. There were some lessons however, which the teacher was taking on all the responsibility for student learning. Where this occurred, it is recommended that students be given more active involvement in their learning process through greater use of student-based individual, pair or group activities.
Classroom management was very effective and there was evidence of a positive learning environment throughout. Teachers were affirming of their students. Student responses indicated a good understanding of the work being carried out in the lesson and a willingness to participate in lessons. Interaction with the inspector indicated certain timidity among students in some classes about communicating in the target language. However, the above-mentioned promotion of oral skills development and increased classroom interaction in the target language should improve student confidence and competence.
Teachers use a variety of methods to monitor their students’ progress in French. These include homework assignments, class tests, continuous assessment and formal examinations. The school has a homework policy and a working group on the staff keep issues of homework and study under constant review. An examination of student copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. It is suggested that, where it is currently not happening, teachers date the correction in the copies. Some of the copies reviewed were very well organised for ease of reference and it is suggested that all students be encouraged to organise their copies accordingly. In some instances students are given worksheets instead of written homework assignments in their copies.
All students have class-based tests at Christmas, and Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in February. The current language provision for students will enable teachers to introduce common examinations, in line with best practice. It is also recommended that an aural component be included in all tests and some form of oral assessment be considered for all year groups.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the use of the school journal, the twice-yearly examination reports and the annual parent-teacher meetings which are held for each year group. In classes where the weekly worksheets are given, they are signed by parents.
In-house examination results are kept under constant review and compared with students’ entrance test results, to ensure that they are making progressing in accordance with their abilities. Year Heads will then discuss progress with individual students who are perceived to be underperforming. This is good practice and to be commended. A review of examination results indicates that the uptake of levels is appropriate to the student cohort.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is generally good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time, timetabling and the provision of resources.
· The members of the French department have embraced the subject planning process and are progressing well.
· There was good use of the target language by the teacher in many of the lessons observed.
· A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills.
· A variety of teaching methodologies was observed.
· The school is currently piloting a peer mentoring process whereby teachers can observe the work of colleagues with a view to sharing good practice.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· School management and staff should explore ways in which to increase the uptake of modern European languages at senior cycle.
· It is recommended that the TY plan be reviewed to better respond to the TY guidelines for teaching and learning.
· The use of the target language should be extended in all lessons to include increased student interaction in French and the promotion of oral skills development.
· It is recommended that, where relevant, students be involved more actively in their own learning through greater use of student-based individual, pair and group work tasks
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Department planning in French will use the report as a template for further subject development.
Timetable / access issues to be further explored.