An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Coláiste an Chraoibhín
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 70990M
Date of inspection: 26 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chraoibhín. 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
French is one of two modern European languages on offer to students in Coláiste an Chraoibhín. German is the other language provided. Students in first year are offered a taster programme in the two languages for a period of six weeks during the first term. At the end of this period, they decide on their choice of language. Students do not have the option of studying more than one modern European language. The number of class groups in any year therefore depends on the number of students who choose the language. Classes in French are of mixed ability unless there are sufficient students to allow for a division into Ordinary and Higher Levels in examination years. The study of French or German also becomes optional in senior cycle.
While access to the study of a modern European language is open to all, students of the Junior Certificate School Programme do not currently study a foreign language. It is hoped to offer newcomers to the school who require support with English as a second language, the opportunity to study French at a later date once their language needs have been assessed.
Students in junior and senior cycle have three periods per week for French while those in Transition Year have one period. While the number of lessons is low, each of these periods is of fifty-five minutes duration and affords the teachers the opportunity to engage the students in a range of activities.
There is good extra-curricular support for the teaching of French. The annual school tour visits France from time to time. The school has established links with a school near Rennes in Brittany, and while not a formal exchange, the Coláiste an Chraoibhín students share cultural activities and outings with their French counterparts when the latter visit each year. The town of Fermoy also continues to have an active twinning scheme in operation with Ploermel in Brittany.
The teachers have a designated room for French. Most lessons take place here with the exception of classes for first-year students who remain in their own classroom. The room is well decorated with posters and charts and also has a press for the storage of resources. It is suggested that ways of further expanding the material displayed to support classroom work be considered. The provision of an overhead projector for use in the French Room is also recommended.
The department has commenced subject planning as part of the school development planning initiative (SDPI). Subject planning meetings are held at the start of the school year. The French teachers meet every month for a formal planning meeting while informal meetings are a regular occurrence.
There is evidence of long and short-term collaborative and individual planning for French, as witnessed in school and teacher documentation as well as classroom work. A range of documents such as the syllabus, yearly plans, schemes of work, and lists of resources have been collated and filed. This is commendable as it provides a base on which to develop further planning. It is recommended that future planning include a consideration of language-learning strategies and of ways of encouraging students to become more independent learners. It may be possible for such planning to be done in conjunction with the other language departments in the school. This could be used to form part of an overarching language policy for the school.
The atmosphere in the classes visited in junior and senior cycle was relaxed and there was evidence of a good rapport between teachers and students. Discipline was well maintained. The teaching was purposeful and classes were well structured, with students working on a variety of activities. A noteworthy feature was the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers in guiding the activities of the lesson.
The use of French for classroom management at all levels was generally good. This is to be commended for giving students the opportunity to hear the language spoken in a communicative context from the start of their language learning. Clear instructions and the use of gestures ensured that students were generally able to follow the progress of the lesson.
Students engaged in a variety of tasks during the lessons and good efforts were made to keep students involved. An individual task on writing a postcard was first prepared as a group activity with students assembling phrases on the board. This creative approach is to be commended. As students become more confident at this type of exercise, it is recommended that they be encouraged to complete the task in pairs or small groups. This would also allow for more interaction in French between the students.
Students received individual attention and affirmation when answering a question in the target language. The emphasis was on encouraging students to speak and on building their confidence. As the questioning was primarily teacher-directed, it is recommended that teachers look at ways of encouraging students to engage in pair work and to take more responsibility for asking questions. This would allow the teacher to take on a more facilitative role and would encourage independent learning.
The correction of homework was sometimes used as the initial activity of a lesson. However, as the duration of each lesson is longer than normal at fifty-five minutes, it may be advisable to look at how the time is allocated to different activities. Introducing new learning or work on a key objective at an early stage of the lesson may make the best use of students’ energy and enthusiasm. The time of day at which the lesson takes place is also a factor that will need to be taken into account. Sharing the aims and objectives of a lesson with students on a regular basis is recommended as another way of structuring their learning and of making them aware of their progress during the language lessons.
Listening comprehension was a feature of some of the classes observed. A pre-listening exercise sometimes formed part of the preparation and this is commendable as it allows students to engage more readily and successfully with the tape. It is suggested that in addition to comprehension work, tapes could be used more extensively as a support for teaching other language skills. For example, in order to improve students’ global listening skills, it is recommended that tapes be replayed a number of times with students asked to focus on a particular activity such as listening for key words or for pronunciation purposes. This could then be linked to improving students’ pronunciation, which many students find difficult. Accurate pronunciation of numbers is an area where students always need constant practice and it is suggested that the French teachers look at choosing a topic such as numbers, which would then be highlighted with games and competitions throughout the school for a short period of time. The small numbers in the classes and the concurrent timetabling of some French periods would facilitate this approach.
There was excellent use made of visual material as a support for student learning. This was particularly noticeable at junior cycle level where students responded enthusiastically to the clock, photographs and assortment of fruit and vegetables provided as visual stimuli by the teachers. Some of these were subsequently used effectively as props for role-plays or for an activity on sentence construction. A further advantage of this visual approach is that it reduces the need for translation of new words into English as students can readily link the items and the words. As the teachers demonstrate ease and confidence in using such material, it is recommended that they consider developing this aspect of their teaching even further. This may involve looking at how to display material most effectively in the French room, perhaps around a weekly topic.
Very good attention was paid to the promotion of oral competency. Extensive preparation was carried out involving the writing of vocabulary on the whiteboard and revision of appropriate verbs. Students noted down the vocabulary assiduously in their folders. In order to encourage students to play an active role in the class and to use their prior learning, it is suggested that the students could be given time to produce a list of words and phrases on a topic, perhaps having first listened to an appropriate tape. The availability of resources such as photocopiable worksheets would also reduce the amount of time spent on writing down vocabulary. The time could then be spent on activities that would further assist students in developing their confidence in speaking French.
The modes of assessment used vary according to the year group involved, and include questioning, classroom activities, homework and formal tests.
Student understanding is assessed through questioning in the classroom and homework is regularly assigned. An examination of a selection of students’ copies showed that a variety of exercises had been set and homework had been corrected by the teachers.
First-year students have regular class tests to monitor their progress during the taster period in the first term. In second and third year, monthly written and/or aural tests are held. A similar system is in place in senior cycle with an oral component added so as to prepare students for the Certificate examinations. Regular testing on the past examination papers is a feature of final year work. Students in the State examination year classes sit mock examinations in the second term. While an assessment of spoken French is not currently in place in junior cycle, it is recommended that the teachers consider ways of introducing an assessment of oral competency for these classes also. Progress reports are sent to parents during the year. Parents may also avail of the opportunity afforded by the annual parent-teacher meetings to consult with staff.
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 the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.