An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Terenure, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 76092K
Date of inspection: 5 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, 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.
Students study three modern European languages in first year and then choose the language or languages they wish to continue with in second year. It was reported that the wide choice of languages offered can result in competition between languages in relation to subject uptake in second year. It was noted that there was no uptake of French in the current second-year group. However, the teachers reported that they are anticipating a reversal of this trend in the next school year by promoting the value of studying French.
Students are taught in mixed-ability groups for French. This is good practice but requires ongoing attention to and provision for the differentiated needs of the students in the various class groupings.
There is good provision for the teaching and learning of French at senior cycle in relation to time allocation and timetabling. However, the allocation of time and timetabling for French at junior cycle raise some concerns. The provision of two periods for French in first year and the timetabling of a double and two single periods in other junior cycle year groups means that students have relatively little contact with the target language. In the interests of best practice which advocates single periods at regular intervals throughout the week, it is recommended that ways be explored to increase class contact time for students of French at junior cycle.
There are three teachers of French in Presentation College. They are all graduates in the subject and experienced teachers. All have availed of the Department of Education and Science’s in-service training for teachers of French in recent years. School management has also responded to the professional development needs of teachers by organising inservice on topics such as mixed- ability teaching. Some teachers also reported having attended inservice training for teachers of French in Ireland and France. Some are members of the French Teachers’ Association and attend their conferences. It is suggested that management consider funding the group membership of the Association and that those attending any courses or conferences report back to the other members of the French department. The principal reported that time is allocated at staff meetings for the dissemination of such information.
Classrooms are generally teacher based. There were maps, charts and samples of student’s work displayed on the walls. The effective use of some of these as part of the lesson is to be commended. The display of students’ work is also worthwhile as a means of positive affirmation and, in addition, enables them to benefit from the work of their peers. However, it is suggested that the inclusion of more vibrant posters and grammar or vocabulary charts would significantly expand and enhance the print-rich environment exposing students to different aspects of French language, life and culture. This should also contribute to making the learning of French more colourful and attractive.
Teachers have their own CD players and tape-recorders while other audiovisual equipment is available for use on a booking system. Any resources purchased are reimbursed by management. The allocation of an annual budget for French would help teachers to plan, prioritise and purchase resources in a more systematic way.
There are two computers with internet access in the staffroom and some teachers reported downloading resources for use with their students. However, difficulties in accessing the computer room were cited as reasons why Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has not been used to date for teaching and learning in the classroom. It is suggested that teachers take full advantage of the internet for the downloading of interesting and up-to-date resources and, in time, when it becomes possible, they should consider embracing ICT as a further tool to support the teaching and learning of French in the classroom. Access to the site for teachers of French in Ireland, www.french.ie, would be a useful point of departure for this purpose.
A range of co-curricular activities takes place in the school. A French breakfast is organised for first-year students. Some senior-cycle students had participated successfully in a French quiz on the eve of the inspection and it was reported that students have in the past also participated in debating competitions organised by the Alliance Française. Where possible, trips to see French films in the Irish Film Institute are organised for TY students. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to and involvement in co-curricular activities. Such involvement acknowledges that language learning can take place both in and outside the classroom and that the learning of French can be an enjoyable activity. Strong co-curricular support also helps improve the profile of French in the school.
The development of subject planning is one of the current themes for school development planning. The members of the French department meet formally two or three times a year and informally on a more regular basis. The department has a rotating subject co-ordinator. As part of formal subject planning, which is still at a developmental stage, the proceedings of meetings are recorded according to a given template. This is good practice. It is suggested that a brief record also be kept of any decisions taken at informal meetings.
Department plans and schemes of work for the teaching and learning of French were presented on the day of the inspection. Teachers are to be commended for their work and collaboration to date. It is recommended that, as part of ongoing subject planning, teachers build on the work already completed by including in their permanent plan a set of desired learning outcomes for the students in each year group; what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning. They should also include a list of proposed methodologies which, in time, could be reviewed in light of the desired learning outcomes. In this way teachers can move towards the ultimate aim of school development planning, that of self-review. It is also suggested that, when reviewing the TY plan, consideration should be given to promoting different ways of learning with a view to encouraging students to become more autonomous. Teachers should also consider collaborating to build up a bank of resources which could be useful to meet the challenges of mixed-ability teaching.
There was evidence of careful preparation for all lessons observed with the advance readiness of audiovisual equipment and worksheets.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, one at junior cycle, one Transition Year group and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
Teachers displayed good linguistic competence when speaking French in the classroom and the target language was used to good effect by the teachers in most of the lessons observed. This is to be commended. However, there were some lessons where there was very limited use of the target language. It is recommended that the practice of using French for classroom interaction be extended to all lessons. Classroom instructions and discourse should be conducted as much as possible in the target language by the teacher. Students, in turn, should be provided with the linguistic strategies to ask their own questions, express their difficulties or make requests in French. In this way the target language becomes grounded in authentic situations as well as improving students’ listening and oral comprehension and production. In promoting the use of French, teachers are also encouraged to think of alternatives, instead of translation, for testing comprehension and grammar. The use of cloze tests or the study of grammatical structures within a reading text could be considered.
The lesson content observed in all classes was appropriate to the age and abilities of the students. Lessons observed had a clear purpose and were appropriately paced. Best practice was observed where there was an appropriate balance between teacher input and active student involvement in a variety of activities. This was achieved by structuring the lesson in such a way that each phase of whole class teaching was complemented by a range of short clearly focused activities thus engaging the students either individually, in pairs or groups. Where whole-class teaching was the dominant methodology, it is recommended that teachers should review their approach to ensure that the time spent on active student engagement in the lesson is proportionate to the time given to whole-class teaching.
Pair and group work were used to good effect in some lessons. This is to be commended as it facilitates increased student collaboration and active participation in the lesson. It also gives them the opportunity to take on greater responsibility for their own learning. It is suggested that pair or group work activities should be integrated into all lessons where they are not currently used. In some instances students were allowed the choice between working individually or in pairs on certain activities. It was reported that this was in order to discreetly support some of the less able students while at the same time challenging the more able students. The choice of activity in these instances facilitated this effective strategy for responding to the differentiated needs of the mixed ability group. However, it is important when planning such activities to keep in mind the purpose of the exercise and to ensure that students know when they must work in pairs or groups.
There was effective use of the board or overhead projector throughout as a means of integrating oral and written production and reinforcing new learning. Video was used to good effect in some lessons to support learning and it also served to integrate aspects of cultural awareness by informing students of the status of French as an international language embracing many different countries and cultures.
There were some good examples of the integration of a series of previously acquired competencies to create an effective and productive revision lesson. This is to be commended as it facilitated the consolidation of previous learning while at the same time retaining student interest throughout.
Students applied themselves to their work in all lessons observed and a positive teacher-student rapport with mutual respect was evidenced throughout. Interaction with the students revealed many of them to be willing and able to respond in French at an appropriate level. Some appeared apprehensive about communicating in the target language. However, as mentioned above, greater use of French as the language of the classroom will improve their communicative competence and confidence.
A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is regularly assigned, corrected and helpful and that affirming comments are included. This is good practice and to be commended.
There are class assessments in November and students sit tests in February and May of each year. It was reported that all tests include an aural component, which is usually carried out in class time. Senior cycle students are given an oral assessment, which is also carried out in class time. This is good practice. It is recommended that as a follow on to collaborative subject planning consideration be given to introducing common tests where possible. Examination classes sit mock examinations. Reports are sent home three times annually.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ There is good whole school support and provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling at senior cycle. However, there are some concerns about the amount of class contact time for students of French at junior cycle.
§ Presentation College Terenure is involved in the school development planning process and the members of the French department are currently engaged in the development of a collaborative subject department plan.
§ A range of methodologies was observed ranging from traditional whole class teaching to active student involvement in the learning process.
§ There was good classroom management throughout and a climate of mutual respect prevailed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
§ It is recommended that ways be explored to enable class contact time to be increased for students of French at junior cycle.
§ It is recommended that the members of the French department further develop their subject department plan by including a list of desired learning outcomes for students in each year group. This will ultimately facilitate the process of self-review whereby teachers can review their methodologies in light of these desired learning outcomes.
§ It is recommended that the use of French by teachers be extended to all lessons. Students should also be provided with the necessary linguistic strategies to interact in the target language.
§ In lessons where traditional whole-class teaching prevails, teachers should vary their methodologies to ensure an appropriate balance between teacher input and active student engagement in the learning process.
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.