An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
De La Salle College
St. Mantan’s Road, Wicklow
Roll number: 61850S
Date of inspection: 9 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Wicklow. 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.
De La Salle College Wicklow is a voluntary secondary school with 362 male students. It is to amalgamate with Abbey Community College and to move into a new school which is to be built on a green-field site and completed in the year 2010-11. The study of a modern European language is mandatory for all students, apart from a small number who have special education needs (SEN). Students are offered a choice between French and German prior to entry into the school and students continue with their chosen language to Leaving Certificate. The principal also reported that, following a review of the Transition Year (TY) programme, it has been decided to offer a Spanish module to all TY students, beginning in the forthcoming year. School management is commended for supporting the diversity of language provision in the school.
There is very good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. French is timetabled in single periods throughout the week for all year groups. This is in line with best practice which advocates ongoing contact with the target language. First-year students are taught in mixed-ability groupings, while classes in second and third year are set. While it is acknowledged that this practice of setting is a pilot scheme and is to be reviewed at the end of the academic year, teachers must always remain mindful of affording students in all of the class groupings the opportunity to take French at higher level. This is facilitated by the common syllabus for Junior Certificate French. The number taking French at senior cycle does not warrant the formation of two class groupings. As a result all classes at senior cycle are mixed-ability groupings. However, the increased number of students currently taking French in junior cycle should facilitate the creation of discrete higher and ordinary level groupings for Leaving Certificate French in the next few years.
There are three teachers of French on the staff. Some teachers have benefited from the Department of Education and Science’s inservice training for teachers of junior and senior cycle French and the exchange programme offered by the Department of Education and the French Cultural Services to teachers of French. School management supports continuous professional development by releasing teachers for subject-related inservice, encouraging them to join their subject associations and subsidising members of staff who wish to engage in further professional development. This commitment to ongoing professional development is commended. As a means of further enhancing both their linguistic and pedagogical proficiency, teachers are encouraged to avail of the range of scholarships that are available to teachers of French, in addition to language-specific seminars organised by the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and subject-related courses offered by the Second Level Support Services (SSLS) or local education centres.
Two of the teachers of French have a base classroom, while the third teacher is afforded the opportunity to teach in a French base room. This is good practice. A visually stimulating environment has been created in these classrooms with attractive displays of posters, postcards, authentic documents and samples of students’ work, in addition to posters containing classroom language, key expressions and grammar points. This is highly commended as a means of immersing students in aspects of French language, life and culture as well as affirming students’ project work. It is suggested that some of the posters be increased in size to enable students to refer to them from their seats when necessary. Consideration could also be given to charting the key expressions for the week or the topic. This will afford students the opportunity to assimilate their learning in an ongoing manner.
There is very good provision of resources to support the teaching and learning of French. They include designated CD and cassette recorders, televisions and DVD players. A wide range of materials, including magazines, posters, books, CDs, videos, tapes, dictionaries and newspapers, is also available for use in the classroom. Resources are provided on request to management and it was reported that a considerable sum of money has been spent on the provision of resources and materials for the French department in the past three years. A designated filing cabinet has also been made available to the teachers of French to facilitate the storage and sharing of materials. There is a computer room in the school and all classrooms are wired for internet access. The school is in the process of installing laptops and data projectors into some subject areas. French however, is not currently included in this provision. As soon as information and communication technology (ICT) becomes accessible, teachers of French should consider incorporating it into their teaching and learning through the use of simple PowerPoint presentations and the downloading of authentic written and aural materials from the internet.
De La Salle College has organised frequent school trips to France over the years, although these have not been confined to students of French. The school has also been twinned with a number of French schools in recent years and school exchanges have taken place. These however, have lapsed due to changes of personnel in the French schools. Teachers reported that they are hoping to renew contacts with these schools for the purpose of rekindling the exchange programme. This is commended. It is also recommended that such partnerships be promoted for the purpose of exchanging information and creating opportunities for fostering peer communication and cultural awareness among students through formats such as e-pals. Some good co-curricular activities are organised for junior-cycle students including a French breakfast and quiz. Teachers are commended for their support of co-curricular activities which promote the enjoyment of language learning as well as increasing students’ knowledge of the life and culture of the country. It is recommended that these activities be extended to involve students throughout the school, in particular Transition Year students who could themselves engage in the co-ordination of activities arising from their language-learning experiences.
De La Salle College is currently involved in the whole school development planning initiative and the members of the French department have engaged in subject planning as part of this process. They began in 2005 by developing a plan for the teaching and learning of French at junior cycle. In addition to their own work, the teachers of French have met for planning purposes with their subject colleagues in the Abbey Community College, with whom they are to amalgamate in 2010. This collaborative forward planning is commended. The plan developed for junior cycle has been reviewed and updated in the current academic year and plans are in place to progress now to the development of a long-term plan for the teaching and learning of French at senior cycle. There is a subject coordinator, a position which is voluntary and rotated. School management facilitates formal subject meetings four times a year. Some of these planning meetings are scheduled during the work experience blocks for TY students, thus minimising disruption to instruction time. This is good practice. There is an agenda which is drawn up by the co-ordinator in consultation with the other teachers of French and the whole-school development planning co-ordinator, and minutes are kept of the proceedings. This is commended.
The long-term plan for the teaching and learning of French was submitted on the day of the evaluation. It is well laid out, outlining the role and responsibilities of the school planning co-ordinator, the subject co-ordinator and the subject teachers in relation to subject development planning. It sets out the aims and objectives for the teaching and learning of French and the context in which it takes place. Curriculum content for junior-cycle year groups is outlined in the schemes of work and the topics to be completed in each term. Plans for senior-cycle French list the topics to be covered. Homework procedures are also included in the long-term plan for French. Teachers are commended for the work they have completed in advancing the subject planning process. As the school moves into the next phase of planning with its partner school, it is recommended that the teachers of French progress the good work already completed by developing a more generic long term plan which focuses on the development of desired learning outcomes in terms of ‘can do’ statements and the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies, including ICT, to support these outcomes. This approach, which emphasises the teaching of transferable skills, allows for a differentiated approach to teaching and learning and greater variety in the choice of topics to be studied with students. It also facilitates self-evaluation and review.
A review of the Transition Year plan and the observation of practice indicate a need for further development to take into account the recommendations contained in the TY guidelines on new approaches to teaching and learning. To this end, teachers should consider introducing some elements of learner autonomy into the programme.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed with submission of individual lesson plans and the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons: two at junior cycle, one TY lesson and one at senior cycle. The opportunity to interact with the students and to review their work was also facilitated.
There was very good use of the target language by the teacher in most of the lessons observed. In other instances the use of the target language in the lesson, while not extensive, was appropriate to the group. Teachers’ ongoing use of French as the language of instruction and communication is highly commended. Students, in turn, responded in the target language, a practice which again is very commendable. As a means of further progressing this laudable practice it is suggested that students be afforded opportunities for more spontaneous interaction in French, by providing them with the linguistic strategies to ask questions, make requests of the teacher and their peers and give opinions in the target language.
Careful attention to pronunciation was observed in some lessons. This is good practice as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language learning. All teachers should incorporate regular use of short pronunciation drills into their lesson planning. There were some instances where students read aloud in class and this exercise was used to practise pronunciation. Teachers should always remain mindful of the purpose of the exercise when asking students to read aloud. If pronunciation practice is the purpose, the students should be familiar with the text in order to gain optimum benefit. If the purpose of the reading is for comprehension, it is preferable that the teacher read the text aloud.
Lessons were well structured and paced and the content appropriate to the interests and abilities of the students. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the language skills and there were some very good examples of grammar revision integrated into the body of the lesson. It is recommended that this practice be further extended to include the teaching of new grammatical structures in a similarly integrated manner.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used in all lessons to test comprehension and to initiate new learning. However, it is recommended that, in some instances, other methodologies also be included to ensure variety and the maintenance of optimum student engagement. Furthermore, it is important when engaging in question and answer sessions to ensure that all students are being included in the activity.
There was very effective use of visual aids to support the learning of new vocabulary in some of the lessons observed. This was followed by individual use of worksheets to reinforce learning in the context of the topic being studied. This is commended. In instances where the context relates in some way to the geography of France, teachers should incorporate elements of cultural awareness through the use of maps, authentic documents, or a simple PowerPoint presentation.
There were some good examples of students actively engaged in pair-work activities. The use of pair and group work is commendable practice as it promotes active and independent learning. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons and, where relevant, that at least one student-based task be incorporated into every lesson.
A very positive learning environment prevailed throughout and students actively participated in the work of the lesson. Their responses indicated a good understanding of the work being carried out and the staged approach observed in some lessons was very effective in supporting students experiencing difficulties. Students generally indicated good competence and willingness to communicate in their interactions with the inspector.
Students’ progress and attainment is assessed in a variety of ways including questions and answer sessions, quizzes, homework assignments, tests at the end of topics or chapters, and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. It is recommended however, that teachers avoid translation exercises as homework assignments. Such exercises can be counterproductive to the good work being carried out during lessons to increase students’ competence in communicating in the target language without recourse to translation.
Students sit tests at the end of each term. This is commended as it ensures ongoing vigilance of students’ progress. First-year students have common tests, which is good practice. An aural component is included in all formal tests and an oral assessment is included for students at senior cycle. Consideration should be given to extending this very good practice of oral assessments for all students of French. Such assessments could be carried out informally for junior cycle students.
Contact with parents is maintained through the use of the school journal, telephone calls and letters, and reports are sent home four times yearly. A review of examinations results indicates appropriate uptake of levels. However, with the current practice of setting, it is important to remain vigilant to ensure that all students are afforded the opportunity to reach their full potential in their uptake of levels in the certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very 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 made good progress in subject development planning.
· There was very good use of the target language by the teacher in most of the lessons observed.
· A range of methodologies was observed, many used to very good effect.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Teachers should further develop their long-term plan for French by establishing desired learning outcomes and include the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to support these outcomes.
· Where relevant, teachers should vary their methodologies and include a greater number of student-based tasks to ensure optimum engagement and learning.
· Teachers of French should incorporate elements of ICT into their teaching and learning once suitable ICT facilities become more accessible.
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 January 2009