An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of French
Roll number: 60562I
Date of inspection: 16 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Templeogue College. 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 subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Templeogue College is a voluntary secondary school with 650 male students. The study of a modern language is mandatory to Leaving Certificate and students choose between French, German and Spanish prior to entry into the school. School management is commended for the range of modern European languages offered.
There is very good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. Lessons are timetabled in single periods thereby affording regular contact with the target language in line with good practice.
There are five teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. Some have benefited from national in-service programmes for teachers of French including scholarships to France. The school funds membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and teachers attend the national seminars organised annually by the FTA. Both teachers and school management are commended for their commitment to continuing professional development (CPD). To keep fully abreast of new developments in the teaching and learning of French, in addition to ongoing linguistic upskilling, it is recommended that all teachers keep themselves informed of and consider applying for the range of scholarships and exchange programmes provided annually by the Department of Education and Skills and the French Cultural Services, and the Comenius in-service training grants co-ordinated by Léargas. School management should also consider applying for the language assistantship programme which would provide both teachers and students with opportunities for language development and cultural awareness.
Most teachers of French have their own classroom while those without a base room have access to a French classroom for some of their lessons. This is good practice as it affords all students the opportunity to work in a language-based room. The provision of teacher-based classrooms has facilitated the creation of a visually stimulating French language learning environment in most of the classrooms visited. All doors had welcome signs and instructions relating to classroom organisation and behaviour were in French. There is also a modern languages notice-board in the school. The teachers of French are highly commended for their attractive and informative displays of maps, posters, grammar and vocabulary charts and samples of students’ work. Of particular note was the ongoing reference by some teachers to the work displayed. This commendable practice served to remind students of previous learning as well as the value of sourcing information from their general surroundings to support them in their work. In classrooms where there is scope to extend the print-rich environment, it is recommended that, as the year progresses, teachers extend their display of key vocabulary and grammar points with expressions for the week or the topic. Students’ projects should also be displayed.
There is good whole school provision for resources in Templeogue College. All requests for the purchase of resources are made through the subject co-ordinator. Each French classroom is equipped with a CD player, a television and a DVD player. Materials to support the teaching and learning of French include videos, DVDs, magazines, games and other supplementary work or activity sheets. These are kept in individual teachers’ classrooms for safe-keeping, but are shared by all, and a list of these resources is made available to all members of the French department. The members of the French department are commended for the good practices established in relation to the organisation and sharing of resources. A mobile digital projector has been made available to the French department and teachers have embraced information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool for teaching and learning. This is commended.
Co-curricular activities include the organisation of a European Languages day and a language fair where students of all modern European languages display the projects they have completed and prizes are awarded. First year students have a language quiz in the second term and this year teachers intend to involve the TY students in organising the event. This is commended as learning by doing is an approach which is in keeping with the TY guidelines in relation to teaching and learning. Teachers also organise a French breakfast for junior-cycle students. This is also commended. Templeogue College does not currently have any active links with a French school as previous contacts with a school in Soissons have gone into abeyance in recent years. However, some students participate in an exchange programme which is organised with the neighbouring girls’ school. Visits to France have taken place as part of the school’s annual tours abroad. However, these visits do not have a specific language focus. To support all students, in particular those who are unable to travel abroad, the school should try to re-establish its link with the French school or forge new links with another school in order to exchange documentation and to promote intercultural dialogue. Commitment by teachers to the organisation of co-curricular activities is commended as they provide enjoyable language learning experiences for students, in addition to promoting cultural awareness which is an important component of successful language learning.
Subject development planning is ongoing in Templeogue College. There is a subject co-ordinator for French and minutes are kept of all formal meetings. This is good practice. Teachers of French also meet regularly on an informal basis. It is recommended that a brief record also be kept of any key decisions taken at informal meetings.
A review of the subject planning documentation indicates that the members of the French department have actively embraced the subject planning process. There are many references in the documentation to the other modern European languages taught in the school. Given the number of teachers involved in the teaching of more than one language and the benefits of cross referencing, it is recommended that all teachers of modern languages work together to develop an overarching plan or policy for the teaching of modern European languages in the school. The teachers of French could then develop their own yearly plans for French in accordance with this modern languages’ policy. Working together as a modern languages department would also allow for greater sharing of ideas, resources and good practice.
The subject plan for French sets out the aims and objectives for the teaching and learning of the subject and its organisational and operational context. The planning folder also includes a copy of the syllabus, minutes of meetings, information on continuing professional development, teaching strategies and records of work completed in recent years relating to improving general academic performance. Teachers are commended for the work achieved to date. As part of ongoing subject planning, it is recommended that the members of the French department build on the good work already completed by reframing their aims, objectives and curriculum content in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group and identifying the linguistic and teaching strategies needed to support these outcomes. This approach, which focuses on the development of transferable skills, will allow for greater variety in the topics to be studied and will provide the context for the judicious use of the textbook. It is also suggested that some of the questions contained in the planning documentation relating to improving academic performance could serve to progress the self-evaluation process.
A Transition Year (TY) plan was also submitted. It was reported that a modular approach has been introduced where the three teachers of TY each take a group for a third of the year. While a modular approach is commended as it facilitates teachers developing a programme which reflects their particular areas of interest and expertise, the organisation and operation of the modular system is not currently sufficiently well detailed in the TY plan. The teachers of TY French need to work collaboratively to develop a TY plan which reflects the proposed learning outcomes for each module and demonstrates the manner in which they are integrated to become a unified plan.
There was careful preparation for the lessons observed with the submission of individual lesson plans in many instances and the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities involved the observation of six lessons, two in junior cycle, two in Transition Year and two in senior cycle. Interaction with the inspector and a review of students’ copybooks was also facilitated. Teaching and learning was of a good standard in most of the lessons observed.
There was generally good use of the target language by the teachers. In one lesson, French was used by the teacher for the entire duration of the lesson and there were some very good examples of using the target language to explain new vocabulary without recourse to translation. There were some lessons where the teacher tended to revert back to English as the work progressed or when engaging with individual students. In other lessons, translation was used as a means of assessing comprehension. In order to reduce this dependency on translation, teachers should challenge the students by communicating first in French and by using alternative means to translation wherever possible. Students should also be encouraged to interact more in the target language. They should be given the necessary expressions for asking questions, expressing difficulty or making requests in simple French. Posting up these key expressions as earlier mentioned will help reinforce this learning.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced and the content was appropriate to the needs and abilities of the students. In many instances, the proposed lesson plan was shared with the students at the outset. This is good practice as it engages the students in the work of the lesson. To extend the benefits of this good practice, teachers should communicate the lesson plan in terms of the proposed learning outcomes, thereby making students aware of teaching and learning as a joint responsibility. A thematic approach was used in many of the lessons observed. This is commended as it facilitates the integration of the different language skills, where learning in one skills area can feed into and support further learning. There were also some good examples of the integration of grammar into the body of the lesson. However, there were some lessons where a more integrated approach, attributing equal importance to the development of all the language skills, would have enhanced student learning. In these instances, teachers should use a topic approach and use texts and other materials which will support optimum skills transfer.
Flash cards were effectively used in one lesson to support revision while in another lesson the creative use of vocabulary cards ensured full student engagement in the checking of homework. Supplementary worksheets were also used in many lessons to help students engage with the work in hand. In one instance, project work completed by students on the topic in question had been photocopied and distributed in booklet form to all members of the class. This practice which facilitated the integration of cultural awareness into the lesson, in addition to affirming the students in their work, is commended. There were some lessons however, where the use of supplementary materials and worksheets is recommended. This would complement the material contained in the textbook and should enhance the work of the lesson.
ICT was integrated into the work of one lesson where the use of a PowerPoint presentation supported students’ comprehension of the topic and supported the transition from comprehension to oral and written production. The use of ICT to support teaching and learning is commended. To further extend this good practice, the teacher should also consider showing some of the slides with pictures only and getting the students to work in groups creating the text. A video text, as observed in another lesson, was also well exploited and students were kept focused on the work in hand through the use of frequent question and answer sessions followed by an exercise based on the episode shown.
Pair work was effectively used to engage the students and promote active learning. This is commended and should be extended to lessons where it is not currently happening. When assigning pair or group tasks, teachers need to ensure that these activities are kept short, focused and necessitate oral interaction. They also need to ensure that the intended learning outcomes have been achieved.
There was good classroom management throughout. Teachers were affirming of students’ efforts and the students were well behaved at all times. Question and answer sessions indicated that most students had a good understanding of the lesson content and they applied themselves well to the tasks assigned. There were also some very good examples of how students transferred their learning in one context to other situations and many revealed themselves to be competent learners of the language. In instances where students were more timid, greater use of French in the classroom should help them to build up their overall communicative competence and confidence.
Students’ progress is monitored in a variety of ways including question and answer sessions in class, homework assignments class tests, and formal examinations. While still at an early stage in the school year, a review of students’ copybooks indicated that homework had been assigned and corrected in many instances. An informative comment on the work completed was also included in some copybooks. This is commended. There were some copybooks however, where most of the homework assignments involved translation exercises. As part of their efforts to support greater use of the target language, teachers should seek alternative exercises to translation as homework assignments.
Students sit regular class tests and formal examinations are held at mid-term, Christmas, Easter and summer. Common assessments are administered wherever possible and an aural component is included in all formal tests. There is a strong focus in Templeogue College on the administration of regular informal and formal oral assessments for all students and the practices in place are highly commended.
Contact with parents is maintained through the school journal, school reports and the parent teacher meetings which are held annually for each year group. A review of examination results indicates good uptake of higher level and outcomes appropriate to the student cohort.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation and the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2010