An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 60092U
Date of inspection: 29 and 30 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clonkeen 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 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 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.
Clonkeen College is a voluntary secondary school with 506 male students. The study of a modern European language is mandatory at both junior and senior cycle. All students take French, apart from a small group of students in senior cycle who transferred from another school where they had been studying German. As a result German is offered at senior cycle to cater for these students. School management is commended for facilitating the continuation of German for these students.
Classes at junior cycle are mixed ability, while there are discrete higher and ordinary level classes at senior cycle. A rotation system is in place to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to teach to all levels. Lessons for French are timetabled in single periods for all year groups thereby facilitating ongoing contact with the target language. School management is commended for its provision and support for French which is in line with best practice.
There are four teachers currently teaching French in the school, each of whom is a graduate in the subject. Most have benefited from the national inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in the past. Some have also attended in-service courses held for teachers of French in Dublin City University (DCU) and courses on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in French. The school pays the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and a number of teachers attend their annual seminar and local branch meetings. This commitment to ongoing professional development is commended. Teachers should also consider applying for the summer scholarships to France which are offered each year by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services as a further means of upskilling both linguistically and pedagogically.
All teachers of French have designated CD / cassette recorders and there are overhead projectors in most classrooms. There is also access to television and DVD players. Supplementary materials used for the teaching and learning of French include DVDs and magazines. Students bring their own dictionaries with them to class. Teachers are currently engaged in centralising their resources. It is suggested that individual teachers make an extra copy when they download resources from the internet and add it to the central bank of resources, thereby increasing the variety of materials available to suit the needs and interests of the different class groups. Resources are provided on request to management. Senior management however, indicated a willingness to introduce an annual subject budget and it is recommended that the members of the French department avail of this in order to build up their bank of resources in a systematic way. The school has a computer room, which is available at certain times for general use. A limited number of data projectors and laptop computers are also available. The school is in the process of purchasing additional data projectors and laptops to supplement the current supply and to make ICT more readily available to teachers for use in the classroom. All classrooms are wired for internet access and the teachers of French reported using PowerPoint presentations to support their teaching and learning. The integration of ICT into teaching and learning is commendable practice.
Classrooms in Clonkeen College are currently student based. However, it is hoped to introduce teacher-based classrooms once the current building project has been completed. Some classrooms had verb charts and samples of students’ work displayed on the walls. This is good practice as the creation of a print-rich French environment is conducive to the learning of the language. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classrooms, and further developed to include charts of key expressions and classroom language which can be assimilated over time. Where it is not possible to create a French environment in the classroom, consideration should be given to creating a French corner on the corridor with a display of French posters to enhance awareness of the culture and geography of France.
The school does not currently have formal links with any school in France. Consideration should be given to researching possible links with a view to developing school partnerships through e-mail. Transition Year students travel to France each year to participate in outdoor pursuits organised by one of the teachers in the school. It is suggested that ways be explored whereby opportunities for formal language learning could be incorporated into the experience. Co-curricular activities include occasional attendance at French films and participation in the annual quiz organised for senior cycle students by the French Teachers’ Association. It is recommended that the range of co-curricular activities be extended in order to create enjoyable language learning experiences for students and at the same time promote linguistic and cultural awareness which is essential to successful language learning.
Clonkeen College has engaged in subject development planning as part of school development planning. There is currently no co-ordinator for the French department as members expressed a preference for working as a team. However, consideration should be given to the appointment of a co-ordinator as this ensures a more organised approach to the subject planning process. Rotation of the co-ordinator role is also recommended as it affords all teachers an opportunity to develop further their professional experience and ensures that all members share the workload. An annual calendar for planning meetings is drawn up at the beginning of the year and teachers also meet informally. The agenda for planning meetings is decided in advance by senior management and a record is kept of the proceedings. This is good practice. Subject-related in-service has included work on Assessment for Learning (AfL). In addition, the teacher involved in the management of students with special educational needs (SEN) supports the subject teachers with information on appropriate teaching strategies for students experiencing difficulty. This is commended.
The subject plan submitted by the French department on the day of the inspection outlined aims and objectives, the school context, the textbooks and materials used including the content to be covered during the year, and the department’s homework, assessment and reporting procedures. The work completed to date in the area of subject planning is commended. As part of ongoing subject development planning, the members of the French department should expand their plan and develop their aims and objectives in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the linguistic strategies needed to support these outcomes. It is recommended that they be formulated in terms of ‘can do’ statements with the emphasis on building up transferable skills. This will afford teachers greater choice and variety in the topics studied in class and will avoid the pitfall of becoming textbook bound.
The Transition Year plan also needs to be further developed to take account of the recommendations contained in the TY guidelines on new approaches to teaching and learning. Elements of learner autonomy should be considered as a new approach to teaching and learning which will help students become more independent learners and will help them in their work 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 five lessons, three at junior cycle, one Transition Year lesson and one in senior cycle. There was the opportunity to interact with the students and to review their copies.
Use of the target language by the teacher varied in the lessons observed. In some lessons French was consistently used by the teacher. This is commended. In other lessons, however, teachers began speaking in French, but as the lesson progressed, there was a strong tendency to revert to English and to use translation as a methodology. While the need to provide supportive frameworks for students’ learning is acknowledged, teachers should make every effort to reduce the dependency on translation by seeking alternatives methods of supporting students’ comprehension, such as visual prompts. They should also explain first in French and then check whether or not students understand rather than automatically translating into English. In addition teachers should promote student interaction in French by giving them the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties or make requests in the target language. Greater use of French in the classroom would challenge the higher-achieving students while others would develop confidence by being able to express their need for help in the target language. It would also provide practice in listening and in oral comprehension and production. Strategies to extend the use of the target language in the classroom should be seen as a significant area for development by the subject department.
Attention to pronunciation and spelling was observed in some lessons. This is good practice as correct pronunciation and spelling are important elements of successful language learning. Attention to pronunciation should be extended to all lessons through the use of regular pronunciation drills and the correction of students’ errors. The learning of the French alphabet and the practice of spelling in French is also recommended.
A topic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills in some lessons. This is commended. In other lessons however, a more compartmentalised approach to the teaching of the different language skills was observed. Best practice advocates an integrated approach where learning in one skills area feeds into and supports learning in other skills areas. Where this is not currently happening, teachers should adopt an integrated approach which allows for the concurrent development of the different language skills. A similar integrated approach is also recommended for the revision of work at the end of the term or year. There were some good examples of a staged approach to the teaching of grammar. However, this work would have been of even greater benefit had it been part of an integrated approach with the text providing examples of the grammar structures in context.
There was effective use of the board and the overhead projector to support learning. A brainstorming activity was used in some lessons to introduce a new topic. This is commended as it actively involves students from the beginning, supports visual learners and reminds them of the importance of previous learning and its transfer to new situations. It is suggested that this practice be adopted by all teachers and be extended to include brainstorming as a group activity. The benefits of a brainstorming activity can be further optimised by broadening of students’ vocabulary through the creation of families of words.
Student-based tasks were used in many of the lessons observed. This is good practice as it promotes more active learning. Pair and group work also affords students the opportunity to interact in the target language and promotes oral skills development in a less daunting way than speaking to the teacher in front of the whole class. When engaging students in group tasks however, it is important to ensure that the purpose of the activity necessitates this interaction. Otherwise it may be more fulfilling for the students to complete the task individually. It is also important for the teacher to circulate to ensure that all the students are working on the given tasks. It is recommended that all teachers intersperse whole-class teaching with a variety of short focused student-based activities as a means of maintaining student interest and consolidating learning. Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous work and to guide students in their learning. However, it is suggested that the benefits of this methodology might be extended if students occasionally asked the questions of each other, thereby increasing their opportunities for interaction in the target language.
Elements of cultural awareness were integrated into the body of some lessons. This is good practice as knowledge of the life and culture of the country is an important aspect of language learning. Teachers should further integrate elements of cultural awareness through the use of authentic documents which can be sourced on the internet. This will also help reduce dependency on the text book as the sole resource used in the classroom.
Teachers were affirming of their students who in most lessons applied themselves to the tasks given. There was evidence that students had a good understanding of the content of the lesson and, in some cases, were keenly aware of the progress they had made in achieving the planned learning outcomes. In these cases, the teacher’s manner of affirming students’ progress was commendable. Interaction with the inspector indicated a general willingness and ability to communicate in French. There were some students who were less communicative. However, increased emphasis on oral skills development and reduced dependency on translation should improve student confidence and competence in communicating in the target language.
A variety of modes is used to assess student progress. These include question and answer sessions, homework assignments, end-of-chapter or vocabulary tests and formal examinations. Continuous assessment is the preferred assessment mode in Transition Year.
A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. There were some copies however, where work was corrected but not all errors noted. Where it may be part of an Assessment for Learning policy only to correct certain errors, this should be indicated to students when annotating their work.
All students have formal examinations at Christmas. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term while all others have formal summer tests. Common examinations are set for first-year students and an aural component is included in formal assessments for all students. This is commended. Leaving Certificate students have an oral assessment at Christmas and in their mock examinations. It is recommended that a formal or informal oral assessment be introduced for all students as a means of promoting oral skills development. All students are encouraged to take higher level. However, teachers need to be vigilant that students are choosing the level in the Junior Certificate examinations appropriate to their ability and proficiency in French. An annual review of the uptake of levels and outcomes in the certificate examinations should facilitate this, in addition to informing teaching and learning practices.
Contact with parents is maintained through the school journal, reports and the annual parent-teacher meetings.
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, timetabling and the provision of resources.
· The members of the French department have embraced the subject planning process, developing subject plans for the teaching and learning of French. They have also engaged in whole school initiatives to further develop subject planning including support from the learning support and resource department for students experiencing difficulty.
· A variety of methodologies was observed.
· ICT has been embraced as a tool for the teaching and learning of French
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The French department should further expand their subject plan in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the linguistic strategies needed to support these outcomes. The Transition Year plan also needs to be reviewed.
· The use of the target language should be extended in lessons where there is currently a strong dependency on translation as a methodology.
· A more integrated approach to the teaching and learning of French should be extended to all lessons with greater emphasis on oral skills development.
· A greater balance between whole-class teaching and student-based activities should be extended to all lessons as a means of maintaining student interest and consolidating learning.
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