An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Killinarden Community School
Tallaght, Dublin 24
Roll number: 91337B
Date of inspection: 31 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killinarden 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Killinarden Community School, a co-educational school of 452 students, is situated in the suburb of Tallaght, Dublin. The school provides a good range of programmes, Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate Schools Programme, Leaving Certificate (Established) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) to cater for the educational needs of its students.
Class groups are organised through a system of banding. On entry to the school, students are placed in a particular band and for the two classes in the upper band, French was a mandatory subject in junior cycle up to the current school year (2006/07). It is now obligatory for students in the top class only while those in the second group may choose between Business and French. In senior cycle, uptake of French is good and there are two mixed ability groups in fifth and sixth year respectively. As concurrency occurs, the option of organising students into higher and ordinary level classes is available to the teachers of French.
The four class periods per week allocated to French in junior cycle are single periods of forty minutes duration. This provision is optimal as regular ongoing contact with a language is most advantageous to students. The LCA2 group also has three single periods of French per week. Timetabling for the language in Leaving Certificate (Established) is less favourable as French is in an options line with practical subjects and therefore double periods must prevail. A review of the current timetable shows that both of the double Leaving Certificate French classes are in the afternoon and all lessons take place mid-week only. In terms of language teaching and learning such provision is less than ideal. In the context of double period timetabling, it is strongly recommended that every effort be made to distribute lesson periods evenly throughout the school week to ensure a good spread of class contact time.
The teaching of French in Killinarden Community School benefits from a high level of whole school support. Teachers have been allocated their own base classroom and these rooms have been turned into a most attractive learning environment for students. The classrooms visited were clean, bright, equipped with a computer and well decorated with supportive visual material such as posters, maps and student-generated work. Key communicative phrases in French were on display, accompanied in one instance by relevant illustrations that the students themselves had downloaded. This was a simple but most effective way of promoting the use of the target language in the classroom. Sets of dictionaries were available for students’ use and, in one classroom, extensive shelving contained a wide range of additional materials. The teachers of French are deserving of the highest praise for their enthusiasm and commitment in providing such a stimulating language-learning environment for their students. While the French department does not have a fixed budget, requests for supplementary materials are considered most favourably by management. The school also pays the teachers’ subscription to the subject association. One member of the department has worked with the State Examinations Commission as an assistant examiner in Leaving Certificate French.
The teaching of the language is further supported by some co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. A French theatre group has performed for students in the school. Some students of French participate in language-based activity weekends where they can improve their oral skills in a relaxed setting. France alternates with other European countries as the destination of the annual school tour. Consideration might be given to organising some in-school co-curricular language activities for students. Many activities, such as an e-mail exchange with a school in France, the showing of a French film, (Les Choristes, for example), a simple table quiz in French for junior-cycle students, a project on French football teams and some food tasting can be organised in the school at little or no cost. Such activities contribute greatly to student knowledge and interest in the French way of life and they enrich and enliven the learning of the language
Additional French lessons are available to sixth year students one day per week outside of school hours. This facility is provided free of charge to all students and is obligatory for those students who are participants in ACE, a third level access programme. This project is very supportive of students who wish to proceed to third level education.
Teachers of French may use the computers in the staff room to download up to date material. Class groups have access to the school’s computer room through an established booking system. The use of information communications technology (ICT) for the teaching of French is in the initial stages of development in the school but teachers expressed a willingness to incorporate ICT into the delivery of some lessons and will actively explore its potential.
Killinarden Community School has been engaged in whole school planning for a considerable number of years. Subject departments are now firmly established and functioning efficiently. Two teachers are engaged in the delivery of French in the school and French is the predominant subject on their timetables. One teacher, working in a voluntary capacity, assumes the responsibility of subject co-ordinator. It was clear that the members of the French department engage in a high level of collaborative planning, both formal and informal. School management is very supportive of departmental planning as evidenced by the provision of a formal planning time-slot once a month, when agendas are agreed and minutes recorded.
A subject plan that serves as an informative blueprint for teachers was presented during the evaluation. In content and in presentation the plan was of a high quality and it was obvious that serious consideration had been given to the documenting of aims and objectives, choice of texts, lesson content, homework and assessment procedures. The subject plan also refers to measures for the inclusion of students with special learning needs. Commendably, the French department has set appropriate learning objectives for each year group. As the setting of such objectives is at the heart of effective subject planning, it is suggested that the emphasis of future planning meetings be placed on devising and documenting language activities that would deliver those learning objectives.
As with all planning documents, the plan for French should be viewed as a working document to be reviewed and altered as the need arises. In order to build on the very good work achieved to date it is recommended that the inclusion of some strategies for the promotion of ICT as an additional teaching and learning instrument would be useful.
Individual short-term planning and preparation were noteworthy. Teachers had prepared audio equipment, flashcards and additional worksheets in advance of the lessons. Extra copies of examination papers, to be used in class, were photocopied and made available to students who needed them. In one class, pencils and coloured pens were supplied to students thus ensuring a high level of organisation and productivity. This tactic was also effective in promoting the use of the target language as students were required to ask and to reply to their teacher in French.
Each of the lessons observed in Killinarden Community School was well structured, thematically focused and competently delivered. In addition, lessons were consistent with the planned programme of work and progressed at a good pace. Good use was made of visual material to supplement textbooks and to stimulate student interest. It is suggested that the good-quality boards might have been used more extensively to ensure correct spelling and to consolidate the links between the written and spoken word.
Teachers adopted different, but equally effective, warm-up strategies at the start of the lesson. In some classrooms the day and date were written on the board by the teacher, in others, a nominated student was invited to write up the same information. In some lessons, a quick summary of the work done the previous day, accompanied by individual questioning, helped to refresh students’ memories and they were eager to show their knowledge. In other lessons, the learning objectives were shared verbally with students. This is good practice and it is suggested that it would be even more productive if the topic and lesson outline were written on the board at the outset and if students were required to write the format of the lesson into their copybooks. Such a measure helps to focus students’attention and it allows them to see the progress they make on a daily basis. It is also a considerable help to teachers in keeping the lesson on schedule.
In the lessons observed, the use of the target language for communication, affirmation and instruction was very good. Teachers studiously avoided resorting to English through the skilful use of gesture and mime. Such good practice is highly commended. For students of all ability levels, the importance of hearing clear, accurate French from their teacher cannot be overemphasised. It is recommended that a very brief pronunciation session be incorporated into lessons to enable students to practise correct articulation and intonation on an ongoing basis. The revision of the French alphabet with all year groups would further help to develop good pronunciation.
The integration of the four language skills was skilfully accomplished in a number of lessons. Teachers employed a wide range of learning activities to teach and test their students. For example, in one junior cycle class, new vocabulary was taught through the combined use of flashcards, matching words and diagrams on the board. Previously learned material was successfully interwoven into the lesson and students had little or no difficulty in completing a worksheet designed to consolidate learning .The well-organised lesson was rounded off with a short listening comprehension where students had to follow the directions they heard on the tape in order to find a particular building on a map. The brisk pace and variety of language activities incorporated into the lesson period ensured good attention and participation on the part of students.
La Maison-the house-was the theme chosen for another junior cycle class. Students readily answered the teacher’s questions and demonstrated a good level of knowledge, both of relevant vocabulary and cultural issues. Cultural awareness is an important aspect of learning a new language. It was gratifying to note, therefore, that the students were well informed regarding the similarities and differences between Irish and French houses. Pair work featured strongly in this lesson and students made a great effort to describe their house or apartment to their partner. Such short, focused pair-work sessions, where students have the opportunity to speak French to each other, while the teacher circulates monitoring them, are particularly effective in enabling and encouraging students to actively participate in simple oral production. Students also showed a commendable willingness to speak French to their teacher and to the inspector. The assimilation of a short listening activity into the lesson ensured that the development of aural skills was not neglected. Finally, the assigned homework was designed to reinforce the vocabulary and structures learned in class. The lesson reflected best practice in that students were kept occupied, engaged and interested throughout the period through a judicious blend of activities.
Further examples of good practice were observed where students were given practical advice on how to approach a written task on a past Junior Certificate examination paper; the revision of the future tenses, futur proche and futur simple, in a communicative context in a senior cycle class and the facilitation of a discussion on the theme of future careers.
Classroom management was of a high standard in the lessons observed. A good relationship between students and teachers and clearly established behavioural expectations were evident in the classrooms visited. Teachers were warm and considerate but firm and purposeful in their management of students. Students, for their part, were pleasant and co-operative and the classroom atmosphere was positive and productive.
In addition to the continuous assessment carried out during lesson periods and through homework assignments, formal assessment of students is conducted through in-house examinations at Christmas and in summer for non-State Examination students. Where applicable, common assessments are set. Third and sixth-year students sit mock examinations in the spring. At the time of the evaluation, some class groups were working from past examination papers in preparation for their upcoming mock examinations. To obtain optimal benefit from previous examination papers, it is recommended that they be used thematically rather than in sequence. This approach allows students to see the obvious link between the syllabus-based topics in the textbook and the examination questions.
Commendably, the Leaving Certificate students sit a mock oral examination that is administered by an external examiner. Considering the importance and the perceived difficulty of developing oral proficiency, it is recommended that teachers give strong consideration to the notion of giving a short informal oral test to other year groups also. The regular, informal testing of oral competency would validate the good use of the target language in the classroom and give all students the opportunity to practise their oral skills.
Killinarden Community School has developed a draft homework policy. In relation to French, the monitoring of the students’written work has been thorough and extensive. A review of students’ copybooks revealed that productive homework in the target language has been regularly assigned, corrected, dated and signed by teachers. This practice is highly commended and is of definite benefit to students particularly as positive, supportive comments accompanied much of the corrected work. Some copybooks contained drawings to explain the meaning of words. This is a good strategy to avoid the use of translation to English. Many students had specific vocabulary note books that were well maintained.
In common with their colleagues, teachers of French have adopted a proactive approach to promoting good work habits and the highest attainment possible in the language. Certificates of achievement are awarded to students who make good progress in French in addition to the regular postcards sent to parents acknowledging their son’s or daughter’s efforts and accomplishments.
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.