An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Tullow Community School
Tullow, County Carlow
Roll number: 91356F
Date of inspection: 20 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Tullow 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 two days 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 deputy principal and the 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.
Tullow Community School is a co-educational school with 632 students. Students make their subject choices prior to entry into first year and the study of a modern European language is among the subject options. The school offers a choice between French and German and students also have the option of choosing two languages. Spanish is offered in Transition Year (TY) and to Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) students. Senior management is to be commended for facilitating the study of more than one modern European language.
It was noted that an increasing number of students are choosing not to study a modern European language. It was reported, however, that students who do not choose a modern language are made aware of the future implications of their decision. For example, they are not allowed into the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Parents are also informed to this effect. It is recommended that a modern European language be offered ab initio at senior cycle to the current student cohort in order to facilitate access to LCVP. It is further recommended that the school management explore ways to actively encourage all students to study a modern European language.
French is not offered in Transition Year. This is of concern as it breaks with the continuity which is important for successful language learning. It is recommended that this be reviewed and provision be made for students of French to continue their study of the language while in Transition Year.
Effective language learning requires contact with the target language at regular intervals throughout the week. The blocking of French against practical subjects means that French is timetabled for double periods in many instances. This means that some students only have French twice weekly and in some instances these lessons are on consecutive days. This does not facilitate regular contact with the language. It is recommended that the timetabling of French be reviewed and ways be explored whereby French can be timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week.
There are six teachers presently teaching French in the school, many of whom are established in their careers. Some have benefited from the inservice for teachers of French in recent years and also reported having attended additional inservice training for teachers of French in Ireland. The school pays the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and teachers reported disseminating all materials acquired at meetings and conferences to those unable to attend. Senior management and teachers are to be commended for their commitment to continued professional development.
Many of the teachers in Tullow Community School have teacher-based classrooms which were decorated with maps, posters of French life and culture and charts containing key grammar points and expressions. The creation of a print-rich environment is to be commended as a very effective means of assimilating aspects of French language and culture on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that whenever possible teachers without base classrooms should be facilitated to use subject-specific rooms.
All teachers of French have designated CD players and have easy access to DVD/ VCR players. Other resources are provided on request to management. Teachers use a variety of magazines, videos and DVDs to support the teaching and learning of French. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is currently used to download materials from the internet. However, difficulty in accessing the computer room was cited as the reason for not using ICT in the classroom. Furthermore many classrooms are not as yet wired for internet access. It is recommended that as soon as it becomes possible teachers consider embracing ICT as a teaching tool where appropriate.
The school has, in the past, had links with a French school in Savoie. However, this contact has fallen into abeyance. Contact with another school near Perpignan has been initiated for the purpose of providing pen pals for junior cycle students. It is recommended that these contacts be further advanced and used on a class basis for forging links which will benefit students’ language learning. The parents’ association funds four scholarships annually, two for French and two for German, to enable students attend a language course during the summer. Parents are to be commended for their interest in and support for modern languages in the school. Other co-curricular activities include a trip incorporating language learning and adventure sports which was successfully undertaken last year. Although not specifically a language trip, the annual school trip has included visits to France. The availability of co-curricular activities can significantly enhance the enjoyment of language learning and at the same time raise the profile of French in the school. It is therefore suggested that consideration be given to extending the range of co-curricular activities for all students.
Tullow Community School is currently engaged in whole-school development planning and the members of the French department have embraced subject planning as part of that process. Every subject department has a subject co-ordinator. The position of co-ordinator in the French department is currently decided on the basis of who is willing to take it. Consideration should be given to systematically rotating the co-ordination of French among all members of the department. Formal subject department meetings take place at the beginning of the school year and time is afforded during staff meetings for further subject department meetings. Teachers also reported attending informal subject meetings at lunchtime. An agenda is set for meetings and minutes are recorded. This is good practice and to be commended.
A collaborative subject plan for the teaching and learning of French was submitted on the day of the inspection. A review of the plan indicates that the members of the French department have made good progress in the area of subject planning. The teachers of French are to be commended for their work and commitment to date in subject planning. As part of a review of the subject planning process it is recommended that teachers reframe their objectives as desired learning outcomes in the form of ‘can do’ statements and outline the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to support such outcomes. This will help teachers to evaluate the efficacy of their methodologies for the teaching and learning of French. Teachers are also encouraged to build up a bank of common resources and to avail of all opportunities for the sharing of good practice.
There was evidence of very good preparation for the individual lessons observed with the advance readiness of audio equipment and photocopies for distribution during the lesson. In some instances the relevant vocabulary for the lesson was charted on the side of the board in advance of the lesson.
Inspection activities included the observation of seven lessons, three at junior cycle and four at senior cycle including Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
Lessons were generally well structured and appropriately paced and the content corresponded to the interests and abilities of the students. This is good practice as a well structured lesson supports effective learning. There were some lessons however, where there was a need to be more attentive to the organisation of time, to ensure an appropriate balance between the consolidation of previous learning and the input of new material.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills and there were some very good examples of the integration of grammar into the body of the lesson. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to integrate skills development, in line with best practice. In some instances, however, it is recommended that a greater focus be placed on the development of students’ oral skills.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in many of the lessons observed. This is commendable practice. There were some lessons, however, where the teacher began the lesson interacting in French, but soon reverted to English and to translation as the dominant methodology. While recognising the need to support students in the language learning process, it is recommended that teachers seek alternative strategies to translation, as a means of assisting the students in their comprehension of new material. Students should also be provided with the linguistic strategies to ask questions, make requests or express difficulties in the target language and challenged to use them. In this way they will develop the basic skills needed to communicate in French and thus build up their confidence and competence.
Some good strategies for building up students’ range of vocabulary were observed during the course of the evaluation. There was also good attention to pronunciation in some lessons. This is to be commended as correct pronunciation and intonation are central to successful communication in the target language. It is recommended that ongoing attention be paid to pronunciation through the use of regular pronunciation drills, in particular prior to asking students to read aloud. Teachers should also remain mindful of the purpose of the exercise when engaging students in reading aloud. It is important for students to be familiar with the text when reading aloud as they tend to focus on their performance rather than on the meaning of the text.
There were some very good examples of pair and group work. This is to be commended, as the use of student-based tasks involves students actively in their own learning, while at the same time affording teachers the opportunity to affirm or further support individual students in their work. However, it is important when assigning pair or group work to consider whether or not the task is an authentic group task, as activities which do not require verbal interaction may be more suited to individual work. Activities which necessitate interaction between the students will improve oral competency. In addition, the use of individual, pair or group work tasks helps ensure an appropriate balance between teacher input and student engagement, which is of particular importance in double periods. It is recommended that the use of student-based individual, pair or group work tasks be extended to all lessons.
There was evidence that most students had a good understanding of the work being carried out in lessons and they engaged well with the teacher in an environment conducive to learning. There were occasions where a preparatory activity would have helped students in their understanding of a new listening text and where instructions to students engaging in pair work needed to be clearer. Interaction with the inspector revealed a general willingness to communicate. Greater use of the target language in the classroom should increase student confidence and willingness to communicate in lessons where students were more reticent in their interactions with the inspector.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways. These include question and answer sessions, homework assignments and corrections, tests and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that homework was assigned in all instances. However, a variation was noted in the manner in which they were corrected. Some were annotated with a comment to affirm students or to inform them of their progress. This is good practice. However, there were some copies where all the exercises completed were ticked as correct and it was unclear who had corrected the work, as, in some instances, mistakes had been ticked as correct. It is therefore recommended that all corrections by the teacher be signed or annotated and that work corrected in class by the students be reviewed at intervals to ensure that it is corrected properly.
Students have formal examinations in November and in the summer, while certificate examination students have mock examinations in February. Teachers also administer class tests at the end of each chapter or topic studied. Other teachers monitor their students’ progress on a continuous assessment basis. Teachers have recently agreed to introduce a common examination for first-year students and this is to be commended. They are currently discussing the possibility of introducing an oral assessment for all students. This is recommended.
High attainment at ordinary level in the certificate examinations suggests that teachers need to review the uptake of levels and to encourage students to take the certificate examinations at the highest appropriate level.
Contact with parents is maintained through the use of the school journal and the annual parent teacher meetings.
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 deputy 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 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
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 teachers of the French department recognise that efforts are ongoing to review the timetable structure concerning the teaching of the language. French, instead of Spanish, is now being offered to students of transition year.