An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Catholic University School
89 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60540V
Date of inspection: 23 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Catholic University School 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
Catholic University School (CUS) is an all boys’ school with 465 students. The school offers three modern languages, French, German and Spanish. While the study of a modern European language is optional, students are advised as to the modern language requirement for entry into third level and are encouraged to choose at least one. All junior cycle students are currently studying at least one modern language. They may study two if they so wish. The facility to study more that one modern European language is to be commended.
A significant number of students take French to Leaving Certificate. Classes are organised into mixed-ability groupings at junior cycle. Classes in Transition Year (TY) and at senior cycle are divided into higher and mixed-level groupings and senior management assigns teachers to particular groupings. As a result teachers of French do not get the opportunity of teaching to all levels. There are different challenges inherent in the teaching of different levels. It is therefore recommended that the current practice be reviewed and consideration be given to providing all teachers of French with ongoing experience of teaching to all levels.
Junior cycle students have three periods of French per week. This needs to be reviewed as the current allocation does not facilitate the completion of course content and achieving the aims of the junior cycle syllabus. Some of these lesson periods are double periods while, in other instances, the students have two periods of French on the same day. It is recommended that ways be explored whereby French at junior cycle can be allocated a greater number of lessons per week and that these lessons be timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. At senior cycle, the current practice of having two different teachers for the same class group also needs review.
There are four teachers presently teaching French in the school, most of whom are established in their careers. Some have benefited from the inservice for teachers of French in recent years and some also reported having attended additional inservice training for teachers of French in Ireland. Many are currently lapsed members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). It is suggested that management consider supporting the teachers’ ongoing professional development through group membership of the FTA.
Classrooms in CUS are teacher based for most of the teachers of French. A visually and linguistically stimulating environment has been created in some of these rooms, with displays of maps, posters, relevant linguistic structures and samples of students’ work on the walls. This is to be commended as the creation of a print-rich environment is a very valuable way of enabling students to assimilate learning of French language and culture on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that, where relevant, classroom walls should be used to greater effect to create such an environment.
Most teachers have designated CD players and have easy access to a television and DVD or VCR player to support the teaching and learning of French. Requests for resources are made to the financial administrator. While acknowledging management’s prerogative in relation to budget administration, it is recommended that consideration be given to allocating an annual subject budget to the members of the French department for the purchase of books, posters, CDs and other such software.
The school has a computer room with internet access. However, teachers reported difficulty in accessing the room. There are currently no data projectors available to them and there is no internet access in their designated classrooms. There is access to the internet in the staff room and teachers reported using it for downloading materials. The use of the internet for sourcing up to date supplementary materials is to be commended. It is recommended that senior management and teachers explore ways in which ICT might be further embraced as a teaching tool to support the teaching and learning of French.
Co-curricular activities include an annual trip to Paris by Transition Year students who stay with French families for the duration of their trip. This is to be commended as immersion in the life and culture of the country augments the benefits of a school trip. An exchange trip to France organised by the members of the French department for second and fifth-year students in conjunction with another school in Dublin has taken place in the past. Other in-school activities include the organising of a French breakfast for junior students. Students in the past have also taken part in the debating competitions organised by the Alliance Française. Consideration should be given to re-activating involvement in this competition. Given the benefits of co-curricular activities as a means of creating enjoyable language learning experiences for students and their contribution to maintaining French as a high profile subject in the school, it is suggested that the range of co-curricular activities be extended. Activities such as quizzes or board games could be devised and co-ordinated by Transition Year students for junior cycle students. This would benefit all students both linguistically and socially and also promote a positive approach to language learning.
Formal meetings for collaborative subject planning are facilitated on the first day of the school year. However, it was reported that this poses difficulty for teachers who are involved in a number of subject departments, all of whom may be meeting at the same time. All other subject department meetings take place informally. The lack of time afforded to formal meetings for collaborative subject planning for French has accordingly limited progress in the subject development planning process. The absence of a subject co-ordinator further inhibits development as there is nobody to call the meeting or set the agenda. There was, however, evidence to indicate that while the members of the French department are not engaged in formal collaborative subject planning, they have made good progress in the area of developing common schemes of work for each year group. The yearly schemes of work submitted on the day of the evaluation are clearly laid out in shorter term segments and indicate the topics to be covered and the skills and texts needed to support the teaching and learning of these topics. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to date in the area of subject planning.
It is recommended, in order to further this good work and the development of a whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French, that the following steps should be taken. When developing a whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French, teachers should consider their aims and objectives in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the linguistic strategies to support such outcomes. They should also include the proposed methodologies to achieve such outcomes. In this way a subject plan avoids becoming text-book or topic bound as the emphasis is on the development of transferable skills. It will also facilitate self-evaluation which, along with the sharing of good practice, will contribute to ongoing improvement in the teaching and learning of French. A whole school plan for French should also include the school context in terms of students, class groupings, assessments, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, provision for students with special educational needs and the resources available to support teaching and learning. In order to support the subject planning process, senior management needs to explore ways in which teachers can be facilitated to meet more often as a subject department. A subject co-ordinator needs to be appointed with responsibility for setting the agendas for and recording decisions taken at meetings. This post should be rotated among all members of the French department. It is also suggested that the allocation of a subject budget for the purchase of books, posters and other such materials would enable the members of a subject department to identify and prioritise resource needs in a systematic and controlled way and would also better inform needs when requisitioning more significant resources.
A review of the Transition Year plan and the minutes of TY meetings relating to the teaching of French indicates a discrepancy between the plan and practice concerning some co-curricular activities. Projected group visits to view French films in the Irish film Institute, which are included in the TY plan, are currently disallowed. It is important to ensure that the practice reflects the plan. However, given the benefits of co-curricular activities as mentioned in an earlier section, it is suggested that senior management review its decision to disallow the above mentioned activity. Taking into account the TY guidelines which promote new ways of learning, consideration should also be given to incorporating some aspects of learning autonomy into the programme, which would also benefit students in the pursuit of their senior cycle studies.
Inspection activities included the observation of five lessons, two at junior cycle level, one TY lesson and two at senior cycle level. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students towards the end of each lesson.
The choice of lesson content was appropriate for the ages and levels of the groups observed. They were well structured, appropriately paced and had a clear purpose. This is to be commended, as a well structured lesson is essential for effective learning. In some instances, a lesson plan was outlined on the board, thereby engaging students from the outset. It is recommended that this commendable practice be extended to all lessons and outlined in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson.
The target language was used to varying degrees by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. In some lessons, it was clearly the sole language of the classroom. This is very good practice and to be commended. There were, however, some instances where there was a strong dependence on translation as a means of facilitating students’ comprehension of the target language. While acknowledging the need to support students in their learning of the language, it is recommended that this dependency on translation be withdrawn gradually and students progressively challenged in their understanding of the spoken word. Teachers are encouraged to give students the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties or make requests in French. In this way, the target language becomes grounded in authentic situations thus improving student confidence and competence in interacting in the target language.
A range of methodologies was observed. A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different skills in most of the lessons observed. This is good practice and in line with syllabus recommendations. In one instance, a recent student event was used to enhance the richness of the language learning experience. In other lessons, grammatical structures were effectively integrated into the body of the lesson. This is to be commended. There were some instances, however, where there was need to place greater emphasis on the development of oral skills. Where the practice is to focus on the development of a particular skill on a particular day, there is a danger of lessening the benefits of an integrated approach to skills development. It is thus recommended that, where relevant, teachers remain mindful of the need for an integrated approach to skills development in all lessons.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous learning and to initiate new learning, as evidenced in one lesson where the seven question forms enabled students to brainstorm vocabulary for the topic under discussion. This is good practice. There were some instances, however, where the same students tended to answer all the time. In such cases it is suggested that consideration be given to getting students to brainstorm in groups to ensure that all students are engaged.
Pair and group work activities were observed in many instances. This is an effective means of engaging the students and promoting independent learning. It is suggested that greater use be made of individual, pair and group work activities in some lessons.
There was good attention to pronunciation in some of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as correct pronunciation is integral to successful language learning. In other instances dictation was an effective strategy chosen to encourage attention to correct spelling. It is suggested that the integration of spelling through the target language, and attention to pronunciation would further enhance this strategy as a commendable means of promoting both oral and written skills.
There was evidence of good student engagement in most of the lessons observed. Students applied themselves to the work in progress and to the tasks given. Their responses suggested good comprehension of the target language. In interaction with the inspector, students’ answers indicated evidence of ongoing learning and good levels of both competence and confidence. In lessons where students were more reticent, it is suggested that a greater emphasis be placed on the promotion of oral skills through increased use of pair and group work tasks. This should result in increased confidence and willingness to communicate.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways including homework assignments and regular testing. A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is assigned, corrected and annotated in most instances. This is good practice and to be commended. The inclusion of a mark, signature and comment by the teacher should be extended to all corrections in order to identify work corrected by the teacher as opposed to work corrected by the students.
Students in CUS are accorded weekly marks for effort, the results of which are sent home to parents every six weeks. Junior cycle students also sit monthly tests in each subject while senior cycle students have examinations at Halloween, Christmas and summer. Leaving Certificate students sit ‘mock’ examinations in February while Junior Certificate students sit them in March. All tests include an aural component which is good practice. Leaving Certificate students also sit a formal oral examination as part of their ‘mock’ examinations. Some teachers also reported including an informal oral component in their assessments. It is recommended that, where this is not currently happening, teachers should consider introducing some form of oral assessment. The above-mentioned marks for effort afford the opportunity of encouraging and assessing student interaction in the target language. The school’s ongoing vigilance in relation to student effort and performance is to be commended. Contact with parents is maintained through the above mentioned regular reports and annual parent-teacher meetings.
A review of examination results suggests that the uptake of higher and ordinary levels in the certificate examinations is appropriate to the student cohort.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Senior management offers students in Catholic University School the option of studying one or two languages from a choice of French, German or Spanish.
· Comprehensive work-schemes for each year group have been drawn up by the members of the French department.
· There was excellent use of the target language in some of the lessons observed.
· A variety of methodologies was observed with some very good examples of an integrated approach to skills development.
· There was good attention to student effort and performance through the school’s continuous assessment practices.
· There was evidence of good student learning and potential.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· There is a need to review the provision for French in terms of the allocation of time and timetabling.
· It is recommended that ways be explored in which teachers can be facilitated to meet more often as a subject department for the purposes of collaborative subject planning for French.
· A whole school plan for the teaching and learning of French needs to be developed to include the overall school context, the establishment of desired learning outcomes for each year group, the linguistic strategies and the proposed methodologies to support these outcomes.
· It is recommended that the good use of the target language be extended, where relevant, and the dependence on translation accordingly reduced.
· Where relevant, teachers should remain mindful of the importance of an integrated approach to skills development, in particular the development of oral skills through greater use of pair and group work activities.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of French and deputy principal and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.