An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Subject Inspection of French
Baile an Bhóthair, Contae Átha Cliath
Roll number: 60042F
Date of inspection: 17 September 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN FRENCH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Íosagáin, 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 two days 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 the teachers of Irish.
Coláiste Íosagáin is an all-Irish girls’ school. The school shares a site with an all-Irish boys’ school and the two schools provide iIish medium post-primary education to students mainly coming from south Dublin.
Coláiste Íosagáin prioritises the Irish language in all school activities. Emphasis is also placed on the study of modern languages with French, German and Italian being taught at this school. French is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and in Transition Year (TY). German is available as an optional subject and also ab initio Italian is taught in TY. The centrality of modern languages on the school’s curriculum is to be commended.
There are five teachers of French in the school. Teachers have a broad range of experience from two years to over twenty and great co-operation between the teachers was noted. The subject is taught in rotation in line with the timetabling needs. This arrangement means that all the teachers gain experience of teaching all levels. This arrangement is commendable.
For the purposes of teacher continuity, every effort is made to ensure that every class has the same French teacher from first to third year and from fifth to sixth year. The classes in this school are of mixed ability. The number of periods available for the subject on the school timetable at junior cycle is quite low. There are only three periods a week. It is recognised that pressure on the timetable is the reason for the small number of French class periods at junior level. That said however, it is recommended that the possibilities be explored to make an extra period available for students in second and third year especially, so that the learners will have regular exposure to the target language. Fifth and sixth years have five periods a week and this provision is very satisfactory.
Although there is no special budget for the acquisition of teaching resources, the teachers are free to purchase suitable resources for which they are reimbursed. It was noted that at present there are DVDs, films, CDs, games and French books, as well as computer software for French available in the school.
There is a broad range of co-curricular activities in the school. A drama group French Theatre for Schools regularly visits the school. The senior students take part in a debating competition Les Joutes Oratoires every year and they go to the Irish Film Institute when a suitable French film is being screened. The TY students go to Donegal where sporting and language activities take place on a weekend course. The teachers are to be highly commended for making these important activities and events available for senior students. Is recommended that different events be organised, such as a table quiz or a concert in the target language from time to time in the school for the young students in the junior cycle. Enjoyable language activities and events really help to motivate students, with their openness to language and their knowledge of French culture and it is well worth organising them. Although the school doesn’t organise a school tour to France or an exchange programme for the students, the French teachers encourage their students to take part in exchanges during the summer.
The students have their own base classrooms and therefore the teachers must travel from room to room carrying audio-visual equipment with them. The majority of classrooms observed were big and spacious enough but there were few French language resources to be seen in them. It is recognised that it is very difficult for language teachers to create an attractive, exciting environment when they do not have their own base classrooms. It is evident that the school does not have enough space to provide a separate classroom for every French teacher. It would be worth examining whether a corner or a wall could be chosen in every classroom in which language posters, student work and a large map could be hung. That would greatly assist the French teachers and the German and Italian teachers also to create a stimulating environment for language teaching in the various classrooms.
The importance of language learning in Coláiste Íosagáin is clear. Senior management and the teaching staff are to be congratulated for the support given to French and to other languages in the school.
As regards School Development Planning, much work has already been carried out by management and by the staff of Coláiste Íosagáin. Formal planning meetings are organised for the teaching of French a few times a year, especially at the beginning and end of the school year. The subject co-ordinator organises other meetings during the year as required. In order to help with collaborative planning, the school authorities provide supervision of classes.
The French Department has a subject co-ordinator, or subject secretary, the term used in the school. Each teacher takes on this role for two years and this is good practice as it affords all teachers the opportunity to be French co-ordinator. The French teachers are members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and usually one or two attend the meetings providing feedback to their colleagues. This is good practice and the information regarding continuous professional development observed in the planning documentation is commendable.
There is a planning folder for French which is kept in the staff room so that all teachers can access it easily. The planning documentation provided for the inspector was very well ordered and organised. Long and short-term schemes or work were provided in which aims and objectives were outlined for every year group. Also, the schemes of work for each year group were set out for each term. Reference was made to themes, grammar, sources and assessment in the departmental plan. A record of the teaching and learning methods employed and the strategies used to consolidate language skills could also be included in the plans. This should be elaborated upon so that all teachers adopt the same approach.
At the departmental meetings, the French teachers should review the textbooks which are selected for students at junior level. Their suitability for teaching French in an all-Irish school should be examined as many contain a lot of English. This issue was discussed with the teachers during the inspection and they were advised to select textbooks in which there would be a lot of French and very little English.
The hard work and diligence applied to the planning documentation for French in Coláiste Íosagáin is recognised and commendable and it is certain that this planning has contributed to the standard of teaching and learning in the subject. It is recommended that these plans be reviewed on a regular basis in order to ensure that they are suitable for the students and useful for the teachers.
In total, six classes were visited, three at junior cycle, one TY class and two senior cycle classes. Very good planning and preparation was evident in the lessons observed during the visit. In every class, the content of the lesson was consistent with the departmental syllabus and with the range of interests and ability of the students. Students were presented with the aim of the lesson at the beginning and information leaflets and photocopies were prepared to support the learning. Worthwhile written work and vocabulary development was effected in every class and there was a good structure, pace and plan in all the lessons observed.
Numerous activities were carried out during the French lessons. It was evident in all the classes that there was integration between the language skills within one period. Writing, speaking, reading and writing all featured. Effective use was made of recorded material for listening comprehension, the students had the opportunity to speak French and clear questioning was employed in each lesson. The majority of teachers used pair work or group work during the lesson. In some instances, this interaction further enhanced the learning and was effective. This methodology was observed in one junior cycle class when the girls worked together to form a conversation based on previously learned sentences. In other cases, it was used to stimulate opinions among the students or to give them an opportunity to speak a little French with their fellow students as happened in the junior cycle class where girls were speaking about their breakfast. This is good practice and the development of oral skills should be the objective of every active lesson. Given that there is sufficient space in the majority of classrooms, it would be worth thinking about changing the room layout from time to time, to facilitate communicative teaching and learning methods.
Interest and open discussion were encouraged in the class when the content of the lesson bore a relation to the students’ own experiences. One good example of this was observed in a senior cycle class where there was a lively discussion on the differences between boys and girls. The active participation of the students in this lesson was excellent. There was a lively lesson in another senior cycle class when the theme La Santé des élèves à Coláiste Íosagáin was discussed. The students displayed good comprehension of French in those two classes and they also demonstrated a very good ability to speak the language. They had a broad vocabulary and they eagerly participated in the class discussion. During this discussion, the teachers gave all the students the opportunity to share their opinion and then the teacher wrote the different opinions and the main vocabulary on the blackboard. Broadening vocabulary, developing oral ability and the students’ self-confidence in this way is best practice.
Senior management in Coláiste Íosagáin encourages the use of information and communication technology (ICT) by equipping the class rooms with a computer and a data-projector. As there is a great demand for the computer room itself, the board if management is gradually introducing interactive white boards into every class room. Nine have already been installed. One teacher was observed using the interactive board to inspire student interest and it must be said that the teacher succeeded in doing that without difficulty, especially during discussions on the interesting theme Le Turbo Dating! It was evident that the girls both enjoyed and benefited from this approach. This decision to engage with information technology and modern teaching methods is highly commended. All teachers are to receive training enabling them to regularly use modern technology in the teaching of French.
French was the language of classroom management, communication and instruction in the lessons observed. It was clear that all the students had experience of hearing and speaking French in the classroom as the students had a high level of comprehension and oral ability. All the teachers are to be highly praised for the amount of French they spoke in the classroom. The proficiency and ability among the French teachers themselves was very evident and all made every effort to avoid direct translation into Irish. The teachers used cards, pictures, gestures, mimes and other tricks to explain the meaning of a word or phrase. Correct pronunciation was expected in every class. Mistakes made by the students in pronunciation were gently corrected thus ensuring that they were not reticent in their efforts to speak French. Teachers’ diligence in this regard is to be commended, as the use of the target language is central and important in language teaching and learning. The hard work and effort which went in to making French a lively, enjoyable and interesting experience for the students is to be commended.
Everyone, both teachers and students, happily set about their work diligently during the French lessons observed. It was evident that a good relationship existed between the students and the teachers and that there was a strong work ethic in every class and that the students had great experience in worthwhile work. This was evident from the students’ high standard of French.
There is a common assessment policy in operation in the school. A student’s work is regularly assessed to provide feedback to both students and parents. At present, there is a review being undertaken on the assessment policy resulting from the engagement of the teaching staff in the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project.
In the first term, junior cycle students have a monthly exam. Instead of giving them formal examinations at Christmas. The results of these examinations are collated along with marks based on the work of the term for the Christmas report. At senior level, there are regular class examinations as well as a common Christmas examination. Every effort is made by the school to communicate with the parents. Great use is made of the school journal to inform parents about homework, behaviour and the girls’ progress. Parents of senior cycle students receive reports twice a year and parents of four reports every year. There is a parent-teacher meeting for every year group.
Third and sixth year students sit pre-examinations in February and the other students have formal summer examinations. An external teacher visits the school to give the students mock oral exams in fifth and sixth year. This good practice is to be commended, as it greatly helps the students when they have the opportunity to speak French with another teacher external to the school. It would also be worthwhile for teachers to think about giving a short and informal oral exam now and again to their own students in every year group to give them experience of speaking French from the outset.
Homework is central to teaching and learning in this school. Although the inspection took place early in the school year, there was evidence that all the students had already done a lot of homework. From observation of the copybooks, it was clear that great work was being carried out and that homework was given and corrected which was appropriate for students’ ages and ability. Special mention must be made of the corrections which provided guidance for the students on how to improve their work. It is recommended that this practice be extended when the system of Assessment for Learning is in operation for the whole school.
· The centrality of modern languages in the school curriculum and the support from school management for the importance of languages in the curriculum is to be commended.
· Good co-operation exists between the teachers in the department of French.
· The good work done by the French teachers to date on planning for teaching and learning in the school is to be commended.
· Careful and suitable preparation went into all the classes observed.
· The teachers related the lesson to the lives of the students in order to foster and strengthen their interest in French.
· The teachers were diligent and energetic in class and the good relationship between teachers and students was evident.
· The use made of a range of strategies to give students the opportunity to take part in the lesson is highly commended.
· French was in use as the language of instruction and communication in the classes and various methodologies were employed on a continual basis.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a review take place on the amount of time allocated to junior cycle French.
· It is recommended that all French teachers receive training so that they will be able to use modern technology as a resource in the classroom.
· It would be worth thinking about selecting textbooks for the juniors with greater use of the target language.
· It would be worthwhile giving the students in all year groups a short oral exam to underline the importance of the spoken language.
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 October 2009