An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
St. Paulís CBS
†North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7
Roll number: 60430O
Date of inspection 26 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Paulís CBS. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
St. Paulís CBS is a small school for boys situated in Brunswick Street in the north inner city of Dublin. The school serves the educational needs of its students through the provision of a good range of programmes including Junior Certificate, (JC) Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) Transition Year (TY) Leaving Certificate (Established) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA)
French and Italian are the modern European languages taught in the school. Previously, French was offered to students in an options pool with Italian and Art and the school operated a taster programme in those subjects up to Christmas, when students made their choice. This system has been discontinued and students are now placed in streamed classes on entry to first year. Those in the top stream study French while those in the second stream take Italian. A number of students who have special educational needs do not study a modern language, availing instead of extra tuition in English. In senior cycle, French is offered in an options block with Italian and Geography. LCA students study Italian ab initio.
In terms of timetabling and time allocation, the arrangements for French are very satisfactory with four single periods provided for the subject in first and second year. This allocation of all single periods is preferable to the two single and one double period pertaining to the present third-year group. Transition Year students have three periods of French per week while fifth-year students have five periods. Due to the successful re-introduction of Transition Year in September 2005, there is currently no Leaving Certificate group in the school.
Language teachers in St. Paulís CBS have their own classroom which is equipped with a computer and CD player. The classroom visited provided a bright clean learning environment with good notice boards. Colourful posters and a map were on display. The arrangement of tables and chairs in a U-formation facilitated good student-teacher and student-student interaction. Language teachers also have ready access to a well-maintained language laboratory where students may practise and record their own dialogues while the teacher listens to and monitors their pronunciation and intonation. There is scope for the display of visual, language-rich material here as the room is very bare at present.
A school tour, organised in the main by the Geography and History departments, takes place annually. In the past, students have visited Paris and the Normandy beaches. The possibility of organising some co-curricular, in-school language activities should be explored. Activities such as a class table quiz, a short sketch, a project on French football, food tasting and the viewing of a French film can be organised at little or no cost and they do much to enhance the learning of the language and to cultivate an interest in the French way of life.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is well developed in the school, which is broadband enabled. There are two fully equipped computer rooms in addition to a computer in each classroom. Students have access to computers and many avail of the European Computer Driver Licence (ECDL) training. To date, ICT has not been used in the teaching and learning of French. Additional, stimulating, up-to-date material is widely available on the internet. Such material is invaluable in supplementing textbooks that can date rather quickly. In choosing suitable materials it is important to bear in mind the interests and life experiences of the learners.† The portal website www.french.ie would be a good starting point for both teachers and students as it contains links to many interesting, student-friendly language sites.
The school has been involved in whole school planning over a number of years. Subject planning, which commenced at the start of the current school year, is still in the early stages of development. Formal meetings of the French and Italian teachers have taken place during staff meetings. This professional collaboration is commendable as most aspects of planning, teaching, learning and assessment are common to both languages. During the evaluation, the French department presented a broad outline of topics to be taught to each year group. General aims, textbooks and materials to be used have been documented. Good work has been done in this area but subject planning is always a work in progress and to this end, the following recommendations are made. The plan for the teaching and learning of French should be guided by relevant syllabuses rather than by textbooks and should specify achievable and measurable learning targets for each year group.
It is recommended that the French department, taking cognisance of the school context, reflect on the particular needs of students and plan accordingly. Subject planning should focus on teaching methodologies and learning strategies that engage and motivate students to the fullest extent possible and that encourage them to become active participants in classroom work. Since all classrooms are equipped with a computer, some strategies regarding the gradual integration of ICT into the teaching of French need to be documented. Reference should also be made in the subject plan to the acquisition of additional resources to energise and support the teaching and learning of the language.
Now that Transition Year has been successfully re-established in the school, a full programme for French will need to be devised and implemented to cater for the different needs and ability levels of the students in this year group. Differentiated tasks as well as interactive learning strategies need to be planned and documented to ensure that students derive maximum linguistic benefit from spending an additional year learning French.
Three lessons, two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle, were observed. In addition, there was an opportunity to interact with the students in each class.
In one junior cycle lesson observed, work focused on the topic of food - fruit and vegetables in particular. Students were given a few minutes at the start of the lesson to revise silently the relevant vocabulary. In the course of the lesson, it was clear that the students had a good knowledge of the words required. They practised the previously learned vocabulary through acting out a short role-play in buying and selling food. The enthusiastic participation of students in that particular exercise was worthy of note. An element of cultural awareness was integrated into the role-play as students learned how to address each other according to French custom and to note the difference in meaning between ďBonjourĒ and ďBonne JournťeĒ. It is suggested that fruit and vegetables can provide a useful vehicle for teaching and extending vocabulary. Adjectives describing colour, shape, texture and taste can be seamlessly integrated into the lesson. Such work can be done to best effect where pictures of fruit and vegetables or ideally the items themselves are shown to students. This strategy eliminates the need for translation and maximises the use of the target language when learning vocabulary. Word games and puzzles can also be used effectively to revise vocabulary in an enjoyable way.
In another junior cycle class, students worked on pronunciation as a group and subsequently in pairs while the teacher circulated to monitor progress. A very useful, well-integrated grammar exercise involved the use of the present tense of the verb vouloir. Students were able to use this verb in a communicative context linking it with a variety of other verbs to ask and answer questions.†
The target language was used to good effect to give instructions to one class group and students responded well. It is recommended that the use of the target language with all class groups be further extended and developed. The ongoing use of French for instructions and affirmation, taking account of the age and ability level of the group, helps considerably to improve studentsí oral proficiency and confidence. It is essential, therefore, that teachers sustain the effort to speak as much French as is practicable throughout the lesson period and that they encourage and enable their students to do likewise. The inclusion of a brief, focused listening component in every lesson will also help to familiarise students with a variety of accents and pronunciation.
A senior cycle group were discussing La famille et le weekend. This lesson was conducted in the language laboratory, where students engaged in pair-work on these topics. The inspector had the opportunity to interact with each pair of students and it was clear that they were working purposefully. Individual students also spent time on oral practice with their teacher by using their headphones. The second half of the forty-minute lesson focused on finding examples of the verb tenses the Passť Composť and the Futur Proche in a written text. The theme of this text was unrelated to the previous topics and, as a result, the lesson overall lacked continuity and coherence. The guidelines developed by the NCCA strongly recommend building a lesson around a single topic, ideally one which is relevant to the lives and interests of teenage learners. The judicious choice of topic is crucial to stimulating the interest and the motivation of students. Best practice suggests that teaching strategies which integrate and develop the four language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking should be employed to teach a single topic.
The pleasant and supportive atmosphere observed in each of the lessons observed is particularly deserving of commendation. Clearly established behavioural expectations and an orderly learning environment were evident and students were polite and diligent in class. A sense of humour permeated the classroom interactions and made for a positive working environment where students were seen to make a solid effort.
The range of assessment methods used to monitor student progress in St. Paulís CBS includes regular questioning in class to check studentsí understanding and recall, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and formal school examinations.
The maintenance of accurate records of attendance in class is of crucial importance in providing insight into an individual studentís level of participation, performance and achievement. It is strongly recommended, therefore, that the French department keep systematic records of daily attendance and of homework completed in every class group.
A review of copybooks showed that junior cycle students in one group had completed a considerable amount of written work. Copybooks were well organised and well maintained. However, in other class groups, both at junior and at senior cycle level, there was little evidence of assigned, corrected written exercises. Some copybooks contained many pages of unproductive sanctions copied out both in English and in French but few examples of productive written tasks. Students need regular practice at writing syllabus-guided tasks such as postcards, short messages and letters in junior cycle and diary entries, formal letters and the expression of personal opinions in senior cycle. It was reported that, given the school context, particular difficulties regarding the completion of homework arise. It is suggested therefore, that a portion of class time be devoted to the development of writing skills (in conjunction with the other three language skills of reading, listening and speaking) Positive, formative comments in copybooks would also help to guide and motivate students to succeed.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas for all year groups. Third and sixth-year students sit mock examinations in the spring while other year groups have formal examinations in May. Formal reports are issued to parents or guardians and parent teacher meetings are held regularly. Teachers, year heads and parents make regular use of the school journal to check on studentsí progress and to communicate between school and home.
In addition to written examinations, all students of French sit aural examinations. This is good practice. Oral testing is confined, at present, to senior cycle students. It is recommended that an element of oral assessment be carried out in junior cycle classes and in Transition Year, either in a formal or informal capacity, in order to improve studentsí competence and confidence in speaking French. The chief examinerís report on the Leaving Certificate French, 2003 states: The benefits resulting from devoting considerable time to the development of studentsí fluency at all stages of their secondary education are not limited to the mark achieved in the oral examination.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Two European languages are taught in the school and there is good collaboration between the teachers of French and Italian.
∑ The allocation of teaching periods to French is most satisfactory.
∑ A bright, clean, teacher-based classroom provides a rich language-learning environment.
∑ The equipment in the language laboratory is well maintained and serviced regularly.
∑ Following the successful re-introduction of Transition Year, students now have the benefit of an extra year to improve their language skills.
∑ Classroom management was very effective. The atmosphere was pleasant and students were polite and co-operative.
∑ Students engaged enthusiastically in short pair work and role play sessions.
∑ Elements of cultural awareness were unobtrusively integrated into some lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ A full programme for the teaching and learning of French in Transition Year needs to be drawn up.
∑ Careful selection of topics and resources, suited to studentsí needs and interests, will ensure optimum interest and engagement.
∑ Target language usage in the classroom should be extended in order to give students the opportunity to hear and to speak as much French as possible.
∑ Lessons should be planned and taught as a single unit, built around a particular theme integrating the four language skills.
∑ Comprehensive, daily records of studentsí attendance in French class should be maintained.
∑ All assigned homework should be corrected methodically and accompanied by positive, guiding comments to facilitate ongoing improvement.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the French department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.