An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Ringsend Technical Institute
Ringsend, Dublin 4
Roll number: 70200D
Date of inspection: 22 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ringsend Technical Institute, conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation. 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.
Ringsend Technical Institute is a co-educational school with 132 students. The study of French is optional at junior cycle. Students are offered a taster programme and make a choice between French or Environmental and Social Studies (ESS) in October. The study of French is obligatory at senior cycle as all students take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). An ab initio module of French is offered to students who have not studied the language at junior cycle. These students currently follow the Junior Certificate syllabus and sit the Junior Certificate French examination as part of their Leaving Certificate. Senior management is to be commended for its commitment to a substantive language module for LCVP students. However, given the time constraints of trying to complete a three year programme in two years, it is recommended that consideration be given to replacing the Junior Certificate programme with an alternative programme such as one based on the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) syllabus for French.
Classes are allocated four periods a week for mainstream French from first to sixth year and three periods a week for the LCVP module. While the time allocated to junior cycle and the LCVP module reflects good planning on the part of senior management, the time allocated to senior cycle mainstream French is minimal. It is suggested that ways be explored in which mainstream French might be afforded an extra lesson per week. Lessons are timetabled in single periods, which is in line with good practice as it provides for ongoing contact with the target language.
The French department is currently a single teacher department. Given the absence of colleagues, it is recommended that all opportunities for inservice be availed of to support ongoing professional development and the sharing of good practice. Consideration should be given to school membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and attendance at their seminars. Information on courses relevant to the teaching and learning of modern languages should also be accessed in local education centres.
Classrooms in Ringsend Technical Institute are teacher based. This is good practice for the teaching and learning of languages as it facilitates the creation of a print-rich environment. There were maps, pictures of France, samples of students’ work and charts with French language and grammar points on display on classroom walls. This is to be commended as it enhances cultural awareness as well as facilitating the assimilation of learning over time. It is recommended that the size of some of the charts be increased and made more colourful and visible in order to enhance their learning potential. Consideration could also be given to writing up key expressions for the week to support students in their learning.
There is good whole school provision of resources, which are made available on request to management. Resources include a designated cassette recorder, CD player, access to other audio-visual equipment, textbooks and workbooks, photocopiable worksheets, flash cards and DVDs. Access to a laminating machine facilitates the creation of a variety of flash cards for use in the classroom. The laminating machine could also be used to create worksheets which can be distributed and taken up again and to create games or other such activities to support learning. Students’ textbooks are kept by the teacher in the classroom, in line with practice in the school. It was reported that students are given them to bring home when they have homework from the textbook, but that they sometimes forget to bring them back into class on the following day. This issue could be best addressed through the whole-school homework policy.
There are four computer rooms in the school, and many classrooms, including the French classroom, are wired for internet access. The school is planning to make a laptop and data projector available on each floor for use by teachers in the classroom. There is currently little use of information and communication technology (ICT) apart from the downloading of articles for the teaching and learning of French. It was reported that this is primarily due to a lack of confidence and expertise in ICT. It is recommended that confidence and expertise be built through further use of the internet for downloading a variety of materials and lesson plans. The website www.french.ie created for teachers of French in Ireland, is a useful point of departure for such purposes. It is also suggested that help be sought from those in the school with expertise in ICT to create some simple PowerPoint presentations to support different aspects of learning, such as increased cultural awareness and the teaching or correction of grammar.
Difficulties in recruiting a full-time teacher of French in recent years have meant that there has been minimal involvement in co-curricular activities. Students of French travelled to France in 2006 as part of an exchange programme under the auspices of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. However, it has not been possible to maintain ongoing links with their partner school. In the event of not being able to organise school visits to France, it is suggested that links with other French schools be fostered through projects such as e-pals. It was reported that there are plans for the introduction of some co-curricular activities such as a French breakfast. The promotion of a range of co-curricular activities is a very effective way of enhancing interest in France, its language and culture, and of creating enjoyable learning experiences for the students. It also raises the profile of the subject in the school. To this end it is recommended that the French department make available to students a range of activities such as the above-mentioned French breakfast, a table quiz and involvement in quizzes organised by the FTA. Consideration could be also given to linking up with other schools in the area to facilitate attendance at theatre for schools workshops and other similar interventions.
Ringsend Technical Institute is currently involved in the school development planning process. Subject department meetings have been initiated as part of this process. Meetings for the purpose of subject planning take place at the beginning of the school year. An annual plan for the teaching and learning of French for each year group was submitted on the day of the inspection. This plan outlined the scheme of work to be completed in the course of each term in the academic year in terms of the main topics to be covered, the content to be included in each topic and the grammar structures to be taught. The French department is to be commended for the work that has been achieved to date in terms of subject planning.
As work continues in the area of subject development planning, it is recommended that what has been achieved to date be reframed in terms of a series of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the linguistic strategies needed to achieve these outcomes. This will facilitate the development of a more permanent long-term subject plan for the teaching and learning of French which will not become text book or topic bound. This more permanent section should also include the context of the school, the proposed teaching methodologies including ICT to best meet the differentiated needs of the students and planning for resources. Given the small numbers involved in the teaching of languages it is suggested that the French department consider working with the Irish department to share good practice and to support each other in establishing desired learning outcomes for the teaching and learning of all languages.
There was evidence of careful short-term planning and preparation for the lessons observed. Copies containing all the teacher’s individual lesson plans were submitted on the day of the inspection. There was also advance readiness of technical equipment and worksheets for students.
Inspection activities included the observation of three mainstream lessons, two at junior cycle and one at senior. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
The level of use of the target language by the teacher varied, with evidence of greater use in junior cycle lessons. While there were posters containing elements of French language on the walls, students did not use these visual stimuli in order to communicate in the target language. It is recommended that the use of the target language be gradually built up and students actively encouraged to interact by making requests, expressing difficulties or asking questions in simple French. They should also be reminded of the posters on the walls to which they can refer when seeking the correct expressions to communicate their message. The teaching and correction of pronunciation should be developed in tandem, through regular short pronunciation drills. When asking students to read aloud in class, it is suggested that the exercise be prefaced with a quick recap of the correct pronunciation of key words in the text. A topic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills. However, it is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on oral skills development.
There were some good examples of previous learning feeding into new learning in a junior cycle lesson where work already completed on colours was used to further develop the learning of new vocabulary on clothes. Visual supports including flash cards were also used effectively to introduce new concepts, while verb charts posted on the walls were referred to when recapping on work already completed. Elements of game were also included in some junior cycle lessons. This is to be commended.
Examples of individual student-based activities were observed where students were given worksheets or an exercise to complete during the lesson. The use of student-based activities is good practice as it actively engages the students and promotes independent learning. It is recommended that the use of student-based tasks be extended to include pair or group work activities necessitating interaction, thereby promoting the above-mentioned oral skills development. In some instances the wide range of abilities in the class meant that there were some students who had completed the tasks significantly ahead of others. Where this occurs, it is recommended that supplementary materials be made available to further challenge the more able students while at the same time enabling the teacher to work with the students experiencing difficulty.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a positive rapport between the teacher and students. Students applied themselves to the tasks given and were affirmed in their contributions to the work of the lesson. Many of the students were reticent about communicating in French in their interactions with the inspector. However, the greater focus on oral skills development and pronunciation should increase student confidence and willingness to communicate in the target language.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways including homework assignments, in-class tests and formal examinations. A review of copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. This is good practice. However, many of the students’ copies were disorganised, thereby making it very difficult to consolidate learning in a sequential manner. Students should be encouraged to organise their work in a systematic way which will facilitate ease of referral at a later date. This is all the more important since student textbooks are kept in school. Some of the students studying French are also following the Junior Certificate School programme (JCSP). Profiling of their work and progress is part of the programme. Given the small numbers of students in the French classes and the benefits of the profiling process it is suggested that consideration be given to introducing student profiling for all learners of French.
It was reported that regular vocabulary, grammar tests and end-of-topic tests are given to students. First, second and fifth-year students have formal tests at Christmas and in summer, while certificate examination students have ‘mock’ examinations in February. An aural component is generally included in all formal assessments. Leaving Certificate students are given two oral assessments prior to their Leaving Certificate oral examination. It is suggested that as a means of promoting oral skills development, consideration be given to introducing some form of formal or informal oral assessment to all students.
A review of certificate examination results indicates that the majority of students take ordinary level in the state examinations in French. It is recommended that efforts be made to establish higher expectations among those students who may currently be following the ordinary-level programme but for whom higher level is achievable.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and support for French in the timetabling of lessons and the provision of resources.
· A print-rich environment has been created in the French classroom to enhance the teaching and learning of the subject.
· The French department has embraced the subject development planning process through the development of yearly plans for each year group. There was also evidence of individual lesson planning.
· A topic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills.
· A variety of methodologies was observed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to replacing the Junior Certificate programme as the language module for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme with an alternative programme such as one based
on the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) syllabus for French.
· In the interests of developing a more permanent long-term subject plan for the teaching and learning of French it is recommended that a series of desired learning outcomes be established for each year
group with the linguistic strategies needed to achieve these outcomes.
· The use of the target language should be extended to include student interaction in French. This should be supported by ongoing work on correct pronunciation and the posting up of visible charts of
relevant classroom language.
· There is need for a greater emphasis on oral skills development as part of the integrated approach to language learning.
· Student-based activities should be extended to include pair and group work tasks and supplementary materials prepared to cater for the wide range of abilities in some classes.
· Consideration should be given to introducing the JCSP student profiling to all learners of French.
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