An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet, County Cork
Roll number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 24 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Millstreet Community School. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
French is one of two modern European languages on offer to students in Millstreet Community School. German is the other language provided. The study of French is compulsory in first year. However, after first year, it becomes an optional subject. Students who choose the language then have the possibility of continuing with French to Leaving Certificate. It becomes an optional subject again in senior cycle where it is timetabled with Agricultural Science. Students do not have the option of studying more than one language. While access to the study of a language is open to all, students in need of learning support do not normally study French. Classes at all levels are of mixed ability and the teachers are meticulous in ensuring that teaching is focused on helping all students to achieve their potential. While the attention given to providing differentiated work appropriate to ordinary and higher-level candidates is commendable, it is recommended that management consider making provision for separate higher and ordinary level classes in senior cycle where numbers and timetabling allow for it. This is also necessitated by the fact that Transition Year has become optional this year, which will result in a greater variation in knowledge of the language in those students proceeding on to fifth-year level.
Students in junior cycle have three periods per week for French in first year and four periods in subsequent years, while those in Transition Year and senior cycle have five periods per week. The provision of five periods at senior cycle is to be commended as it facilitates regular class contact time, which is an essential component for successful language learning.
There is excellent extra-curricular and co-curricular support for the teaching of French. A French theatre group performs for the language classes each year and an outing is also organised to see a French film. The annual European tour for senior cycle students visits Paris and cross-curricular links to highlight the educational aspect of the trip are built into the scheme of work. The school has also chosen to participate this year in an exchange with a school in Bordeaux, which will see second-year students having the opportunity to spend time in France next March. The teachers involved are to be commended for their ongoing commitment to ensuring that students have the opportunity to spend time in France, for their work in organising the trips and for giving of their free time to accompany the students. It is suggested that the language teachers look at the new possibilities offered by the school exchange to engage in professional development with their counterparts in France.
There are currently two members of staff teaching French in the school. Both are experienced teachers and also have considerable experience as examiners for the state examinations. The teachers are classroom based and the rooms are well–resourced for language teaching, each with an overhead projector, CD player and sets of dictionaries. Posters, photographs, books and magazines are used to excellent effect to provide a stimulating environment for students. The provision of a coin de lecture with a range of reading material is particularly noteworthy. There was evidence of close collaboration within the department in the way that double sets of the more attractive and colourful resources had been obtained by the teachers on their regular visits to France. While the use made of ICT at present is mainly confined to the accessing of relevant material online, it is an area that the teachers are interested in developing in the future with a view to integrating it into classroom practice.
Subject planning is well organised within the French department. The single annual planning meeting has recently been increased to three meetings yearly. Informal meetings are also a regular occurrence. Minutes are kept of decisions taken. The crossover of recommendations arising from another subject inspection to French is commendable and has resulted in a review of assessment procedures within the department.
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. Other files contain extensive documentation relating to all aspects of the state examinations. The thoroughness of the planning undertaken is evident in the language policy documents prepared by the teachers. A policy on homework has been agreed outlining the procedures to be followed and highlighting specific areas such as the approach to take with mixed-ability classes. In order to build on the good work already done, it is recommended that future planning include a consideration of areas such as language-learning strategies and differentiated teaching. This could perhaps be undertaken in conjunction with the other teachers of languages as part of school development planning.
Four classes were visited, ranging from second year to Leaving Certificate year two. The use of French for classroom management was good. The language was used in interactions with students and for teaching the lesson content. Explanations were given in French and synonyms used rather than reverting to a translation into English. Attention was paid to encouraging good pronunciation when students read aloud from a text. In order to further develop this practice, it is recommended that students spend a few minutes listening to taped material for pronunciation purposes from time to time before engaging in more targeted pronunciation work. This would allow the teacher to monitor their progress more closely and would allow them to become accustomed to a range of accents.
The lessons observed were generally well structured and students engaged in a variety of activities during the lesson period. These included listening to tapes, using the textbook or magazines and oral work. The regular change of activity and pace observed within lessons is to be commended as it helped to maintain students’ interest. The material selected was generally interesting and suited to the students’ ability. In order to bring together the key points from the various activities, it is suggested that a short period of review or consolidation of learning at the end of a lesson should be introduced.
The correction of homework was used as an introductory activity for some lessons. On one occasion, a short reading exercise and the answering of homework questions on the passage helped to focus students’ attention on the language and allowed for a smooth transition to a related topic. Appropriate new homework based on the work in hand was assigned with different exercises set according to the students’ level. There was a good balance of activities with time allowed for reading, grammar, listening comprehension and oral work. The integration of such activities around a theme helps to create a structure and a sense of progression for the lesson and is in line with syllabus objectives. It also serves to encourage students to link the various elements and key skills together. When work is not arranged thematically, it can lead to a more disjointed learning experience for students and makes it more difficult for them to unite the different strands of the lesson. It is therefore recommended that a thematic approach be used where possible when planning a lesson. In order to help students in understanding and reflecting on their learning, it is recommended that the learning outcomes for a lesson be shared with them and reviewed at the end of class time.
Reading comprehension work was an activity observed in a number of lessons. When dealing with a lengthy passage, students should be encouraged to respond to it in a general way rather than just as a comprehension or grammatical exercise. While detailed questions on a text form part of a class’s examination practice, the primary value of these passages as teaching tools should not be overlooked. This approach would also allow for a monitoring and evaluation of student understanding of the text while avoiding too much teacher-directed questioning. A general discussion on a passage would facilitate more readily the integration of written work on the topic and would provide students with ideas for their homework. A similar approach is suggested when dealing with longer listening comprehension passages when the use of pre-and post listening activities can help students to engage with the text and to play a more participative role in the class. It would also help to emphasise the importance of global listening as a key skill in itself in the learning of a language.
Time was allocated to questioning and interaction with students in all the lessons observed. Students were addressed by name, their responses were corrected and their efforts praised. Flashcards and visual material were sometimes used to assist the students. While the emphasis on helping students and correcting errors shows the high expectations in the class, it is important that students realise that making mistakes is an integral part of the language-learning process and they need to be given sufficient time to formulate their answers. In this regard, it may be helpful to inform students of the nature of the activity and to clarify what is required e.g. grammatical accuracy, information or pronunciation.
In both junior and senior cycle, students were given opportunities to question one another in pairs. The use of coloured cards with questions and prompts were sometimes distributed as an aid. This strategy allowed the teacher to accommodate the different levels of ability in the group in an unobtrusive way and helped to build student confidence and independent learning. It also lessened the need for teacher-directed questioning. The teacher was able to act as a facilitator and to give individual assistance where required. This commendable activity also encouraged peer learning and it is recommended that small-group and pair work be further exploited in the future. It was noticeable that students remained focused on the task when working in pairs, which suggests that they are well accustomed to this way of learning.
There was evidence of a positive relationship between teachers and students in all the classes visited. The atmosphere was relaxed and conducive to learning. The students were cooperative and responded well when questioned. When given a task to do, they set to work without delay and remained focused on the task. Students’ efforts were regularly supported and affirmed by the teachers.
Students benefit from regular assessment throughout the year. The modes of assessment used include mini-tests and house examinations and records of assessments are kept by staff. Reports are issued to parents three times per year in October, February and May. Students studying for the state examinations sit the “mocks” in early February. Parents may also avail of the opportunity afforded by the annual parent-teacher meetings to consult with staff.
An aural component is a feature of the assessment process for French and the teachers have also decided to introduce a test of oral proficiency at all levels. This is commendable as it helps to emphasise the importance of oral work and ensures that students realise the need to communicate in the language from the start of their language studies.
Student understanding is assessed through questioning in the classroom and homework is regularly assigned. An examination of a selection of students’ copies showed good variety in the range of exercises set. Homework had been corrected by the teacher and in the case of examination classes a number of exercises had been marked and graded following the official marking scheme. The use of colourful stickers as a way of motivating and encouraging junior students is to be commended.
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 with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.