An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Cabinteely Community School
Cabinteely, County Dublin
Roll number: 91310E
Date of inspection: 13 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cabinteely Community School. 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Cabinteely Community School is a co-educational school with 491 students. Classes are generally streamed and the study of French at junior cycle is mandatory for the top two streams. It is optional for all other students. In situations where classes are set for French, it is important that students in all groupings are afforded the opportunity to take higher level in the certificate examinations. This is facilitated by a common syllabus for French. French is optional at senior cycle. However, where appropriate, students are encouraged to continue the study of the language.
There is good whole-school provision and support for French in the allocation of time. However, the timetabling of double periods at both junior and senior cycle means that some junior cycle students only have contact with the subject twice weekly, while all senior cycle students have French three times weekly. While one double period for the subject may be of value at senior cycle, it is not best practice at junior cycle. School management should explore ways to timetable French as much as possible in single periods.
There are four teachers of French in the school. Some have benefited from the Department of Education and Science’s national inservice programme and some have availed of the scholarships to France, funded jointly by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services. The school pays the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). This commitment to ongoing professional development is commended. In order for teachers to maintain or further develop both their linguistic and pedagogic skills in addition to sharing good practice with peers, it is recommended that those who have not as yet benefited should apply for the above-mentioned summer scholarships to France. They should also consider becoming more involved in the activities of the FTA and attending subject-specific or subject-related courses in local education centres.
Teachers of French either have their own base classroom or access to a French room for their work. This is good practice. All classrooms visited had visually stimulating displays of French maps, posters, photographs and samples of students’ work. This is commended as it enables students to assimilate, over time, aspects of French life and culture. In one instance the creation of a language-specific print-rich environment formed part of a task for students’ Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme requirements. Their success in achieving this to its present standard is tribute to their learning in this domain. In order to open up further learning opportunities for students, teachers should post up key expressions, classroom language and grammatical points which will support current and future learning.
There is good whole-school provision for resources. Teachers have their own CD players and easy access to other audio-visual equipment. There is an annual budget for the purpose of purchasing materials such as dictionaries, magazines, CDs and DVDs. There is good access to information and communication technology (ICT) with the availability of data projectors in addition to the use of the computer room. ICT has been incorporated into the teaching and learning of French. This is commended.
The school is currently in the process of establishing formal links with a French school in Brest. In the meantime, students have travelled to France where they engaged in a homestay programme. Teachers are commended for the work they have undertaken to organise a culturally enriching language learning experience. The school is to have a French assistant in the forthcoming year. Cross-curricular activities include working with the History, Music and Home Economics departments. Quizzes are organised as part of co-curricular activities. As a means of furthering students’ enjoyment of language learning and raising the profile of French in the school, teachers should consider extending the range of co-curricular activities offered, by encouraging Transition Year students to organise activities for their peers arising from their own language learning. Work in this area could form part of the assistant’s remit in the forthcoming year.
Cabinteely Community School is involved in the School Development Planning Initiative and the members of the French department have engaged in subject planning as part of this process. There is a subject coordinator, a position which is voluntary and rotated annually. This is good practice. School management facilitates approximately six formal planning meetings each year, in addition to the ongoing informal meetings organised within the French department during their free time. School management and teachers are commended for their commitment to the planning process. It is recommended that all key decisions taken by the French department be recorded as an acknowledgement of this commitment to planning.
A long-term plan, in addition to annual schemes of work, was submitted on the day of the inspection. A review of this plan indicates that subject planning for French is well established in the school. The plan, which is reviewed annually, sets out the aims and objectives for the teaching and learning of the subject, describes the school context and lists resources and cross-curricular activities. It also establishes a series of action plans aimed at improving teaching and learning outcomes. This is highly commended as it indicates that subject planning is an active and meaningful process involving reflection and review. To further support this very good work, in particular the process of review, it is recommended that teachers reframe their aims and objectives in terms of desired learning outcomes indicating what students should be able to do as a result of their learning. They should also include the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to support these outcomes. This approach, which focuses on the transferability of skills, affords teachers the opportunity to choose topics which will best respond to the varied needs and interests of a year group in any given year. It also facilitates planning for differentiation in teaching and learning.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed with the submission of individual lesson plans and the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, three at junior cycle and one at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students and to review their copies.
The use of the target language was appropriate to the student cohort in most of the lessons observed. There were some instances however, where it is recommended that the use of French be extended. This can be achieved by issuing general instructions and affirming students in the target language and by giving them the linguistic strategies to be able to ask simple questions, make requests or express difficulties in French. Students’ ability to interact with simple expressions in the target language will increase their confidence and willingness to communicate, in addition to enhancing their aural and oral skills. To this end teachers should post up the key expressions for classroom language on the walls or cover their copies with sheets containing these expressions, thereby enabling student to assimilate this knowledge over time.
There was good attention to pronunciation in some of the lessons observed, where students were made aware of the phonetic spelling of words prior to working on oral skills development. This is commended as correct pronunciation is an essential component of confident and successful language learning. All teachers should consider the use of short regular pronunciation drills to support correct pronunciation and intonation.
All lessons were well structured and paced and the content was appropriate to the interests and abilities of the students. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills. This is good practice, in line with syllabus recommendations. In some instances it is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on the development of oral skills as oral proficiency helps to progress students’ written skills. Revision, which was appropriate for the time of year, was carried out in some lessons in an integrated manner, which is very good practice.
ICT, where observed, was integrated into the body of the lesson through the use of simple PowerPoint presentations. This enhanced students’ comprehension of the topic in hand. Teachers are commended for actively incorporating ICT into their teaching and learning. Supplementary worksheets were also effective in supporting learning. Further good practice was observed where aspects of cultural awareness were integrated into the lesson thereby enhancing students’ knowledge and interest in the subject.
There were good efforts in all of the lessons observed to involve students in active learning through the use of short, focused, student-based tasks. Pair work activities were also observed in some lessons. This is very good practice as these tasks encourage collaboration and independent learning. In some instances, where students engaged in practising dialogues, consideration should be given to further extending learning. Students should be asked to tell about their partner thereby enabling them to extend their competencies by talking in the third person singular as well as the first and second person singular. It is also recommended that differentiated tasks or supplementary work sheets be made available to cater for those students who were seen to have completed their work ahead of the others in the class.
There was very good classroom management throughout and evidence of a positive rapport between teachers and students. Interaction with the inspector revealed a general willingness to communicate which should be further enhanced by increased use of the target language in the classroom.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor students’ progress, including question and answer sessions in class, homework assignments, class tests and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is given and corrected, with very detailed corrections in some instances. Comments or stamps acknowledging achievement are used to affirm students or to inform them of their progress. It was reported that students are encouraged to spend some time each evening studying their French, particularly if classes are unevenly spread throughout the week. Teachers also give regular end-of-topic tests. Apart from Leaving Certificate students, who sit mock examinations in the second term, all students have formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. Aural and oral components are included in all these assessments. This is highly commended. The results of all assessments are recorded by the teacher and are also written into the students’ journals.
Parents are informed of students’ progress through the school journal and the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group. School reports are issued twice in the year. A review of the uptake of levels in the certificate examination results shows a number of high grades at Junior Certificate ordinary level. Teachers need to remain vigilant, particularly in situations where classes are set, to ensure that students are choosing the level most appropriate to the achievement of their full potential.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support and provision for French in the allocation of time, the provision of resources.
· Collaborative subject planning for French is very well advanced.
· The use of the target language was, in most instances, appropriate to the student cohort.
· ICT and supplementary materials were well used to support the teaching and learning of French.
· There was a good balance between teacher direction and student activity.
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 to timetable French in single periods throughout the week.
· The members of the French department should further progress their subject planning by establishing desired learning outcomes for each year group statements, and include the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to support these outcomes.
· Teachers need to maintain ongoing vigilance to ensure that students are choosing the level in the certificate examinations that is most appropriate to the achievement of their full potential.
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 December 2008