An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Mercy Secondary School
Inchicore, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60872A
Date of inspection: 13 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN FRENCH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School, Inchicore. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Mercy Secondary School is a voluntary secondary school with 175 students. The study of a modern language is mandatory in junior cycle and students are currently offered a choice between French or German. Spanish has been introduced as part of the language option in first year. Languages are optional at senior cycle. However, all students who are aiming to progress to third level studies are strongly encouraged to continue their study of a modern European language. School management is commended for the choice of languages offered to students. Classes are mixed ability at junior cycle. Given the small numbers, classes in fifth year are mixed ability groupings, but every effort is made by senior management to create discrete higher and ordinary level groups in sixth year. This is commended.
There is good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. Classes are timetabled in single periods throughout the week, thereby affording students regular contact with the language, in line with best practice.
There are three teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. All teachers are given the opportunity to teach to all levels. Teachers who are established in their careers have benefited from some of the national in-service training programmes for French in recent years and also from the summer scholarship scheme for teachers of French organised by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services. Teachers also reported attending the annual conferences organised by the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). In addition, school management has recently organised in-service on Assessment for Learning (AfL) and on identifying students with learning difficulties. School management and the teachers of French are commended for their commitment to professional development. In order to maintain high standards of linguistic and pedagogical competency, it is recommended that teachers keep themselves informed of and apply for the various language-related scholarships, courses and seminars made available though the DES, Léargas, local education centres and the subject associations.
Classrooms are currently student-based and there were efforts in the rooms visited to create a print-rich environment with small displays of French signage and some grammar points. There is also a language laboratory which is used for French. This room had an attractive display of French-related materials including maps, posters, grammar points and samples of students’ work. There was also a highly commendable exhibition of French projects with an interdisciplinary approach which involved students in using skills from art and craft to make displays which they labelled in French. This was part of a competition held each year in the school. The teachers of French are commended for their work in promoting a positive language learning environment.
Resources include CD players which the teachers of French currently share with the members of the Irish department. There is also access to televisions and DVD players. Teachers have a number of CDs, DVDs, dictionaries, puzzles, books and magazines to support them in their work. Resources are currently provided on request to senior management from individual teachers. However, the issuing of department budgets for the purchase of subject-related materials is planned for the next academic year. This is commended as it will help subject departments to plan and prioritise for the acquisition of resources in a systematic and cost-effective way. The school has a computer room, an interactive whiteboard and some data projectors available to support the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into teaching and learning. Teachers are also supported financially when purchasing a laptop for use in their work. Plans are in place to increase the number of data projectors during the summer months as part of the school’s overall ten-year development plan for ICT. This is commended. The teachers of French are also commended for having embraced ICT to download materials from the internet and there was evidence to indicate that some teachers used ICT to support their work in the classroom.
Links with France are promoted through the school’s current participation in a Comenius project and teachers are presently considering the possibility of developing an e-twinning partnership with a French school. Teachers are encouraged to progress this project as it would afford students a valuable opportunity for intercultural dialogue as well as facilitating the exchange of authentic materials for use in lessons. Visits to France have taken place in the past as part of the school’s annual tour abroad. Co-curricular and cross-curricular activities include the organisation of a French breakfast, French cooking with Transition Year (TY) students and the earlier mentioned competition which involves junior cycle students and is judged by TY students. The teachers and students of French are highly commended for their involvement in co-curricular and cross-curricular activities and for the promotion of enjoyable learning experiences for all.
Whole-school planning is ongoing in Mercy Secondary School with the current focus on literacy and numeracy, attendance and retention in order to meet the requirements of the school’s Delivering Equality in Schools (DEIS) plan. The role of modern languages in supporting students’ learning in relation to the DEIS plan is to be examined in the near future.
Teachers meet for subject planning at least once each term. There is a co-ordinator for French, a position that is voluntary and rotated. Minutes are kept of all meetings. This is good practice. An examination of the planning documentation for French, submitted on the day of the inspection, indicated that considerable work has been completed to date in developing a long-term plan for French. The plan sets out aims and objectives, and the context in which the teaching and learning of French takes place. It outlines the allocation of time and timetabling, the formation of class groups, the resources available and the textbooks and methodologies used. Curriculum planning for each term is also included. Teachers are commended for the significant progress achieved to date in subject planning. To further support the effective implementation of the planning process in the classroom, teachers should reframe their aims and objectives for each year group in terms of desired learning outcomes. These outcomes should be articulated in terms of ‘can do’ statements and should focus on the development of transferable skills as outlined in the syllabus. Teachers should also include the linguistic strategies needed to support such outcomes. This will afford them the opportunity to choose topics and texts best suited to the specific needs of the student cohort and which will appeal to their interests. It will also promote self-evaluation. It is also recommended that the very good resources built up over the years should be catalogued thematically in order to facilitate easy access to a range of texts or worksheets to suit the differentiated needs of the students.
A review of the Transition Year plan indicated that teachers are cognisant of the Department guidelines promoting personal and social development through creative and independent learning. To support students in their work teachers should introduce elements of learner autonomy and undertake projects which will engage students in authentic communication in the target language. For example, students could be encouraged to source appropriate topics and texts for study in lessons. They could also be encouraged to develop PowerPoint presentations or co-curricular activities such as quizzes and games in French arising from the work completed in class. These activities could then be organised for the younger students in the school.
There was careful preparation for the lessons observed with advance readiness of supplementary materials and technical equipment.
Inspection activities involved the observation of six lessons, three at junior cycle, one in Transition Year and two at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students and to review their copies.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in many of the lessons observed. In some instances French was spoken by the teacher for the entire duration of the lesson. This is very good practice. Students in these lessons also made very good efforts to interact in French. There were some lessons, however, where French was spoken to a more limited extent. In these instances teachers should build up the use of the target language by explaining first in French and checking students’ comprehension before automatically translating into English. Alternative strategies such as the use of visual supports should also be used where possible. To support students in their efforts to understand and to interact in the target language, teachers should give them the key expressions needed to ask questions, make requests and express difficulties in French. These key expressions could be posted up on the walls to enable students to refer to them when needed and to assimilate them over time.
Good attention to pronunciation and to spelling in French was also noted in some lessons. Since correct pronunciation is an important element of successful language learning it is recommended that all teachers engage in regular pronunciation drills with the students. When asked their vocabulary some students spelt out the words in French with great ease. This is highly commended. Some students were asked to read aloud in some of the lessons observed. While reading aloud provides opportunities to practice pronunciation, it is important for teachers to keep in mind that students should be familiar with the text in order to fully benefit from such an exercise.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced and the content was appropriate to the needs and interests of the student cohort. Good practice was observed in most instances where the lesson plan was shared with the students. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons and reframed in terms of the proposed learning outcome for the lesson. This will help in instances where greater attention to the management of time was needed in order to achieve the intended outcomes. It will also make students more aware of teaching and learning as a shared responsibility.
A topic approach, which facilitates the integration of the different language skills, was observed in some lessons. In other instances there were very good examples of the integration of grammar into the body of the lesson. However, there were some lessons where the work of the lesson remained focused on the discrete development of a skill. All teachers need to adopt a more integrated approach attributing due importance to the development of all the language skills. This would encourage students to apply their learning in one skills area to support the development of the full range of skills.
A cross-curricular approach was observed in one lesson where students made flags of the different countries represented in the school to decorate cakes to be made for a fundraising activity. Having completed the flags, the students were then given the recipe in French for the cakes to be made in their Home Economics lesson. To extend the benefits of such an approach it is recommended that a French song be played, or a French story read out while students engage in the practical exercise, in this case, of flag making. This would afford the students the opportunity to listen to French in a different context, enhance cultural awareness and provide them with enjoyable language learning experiences.
Pair work was effectively integrated into the work of some lessons. The use of pair or group work is commended as it promotes students’ active engagement and responsibility for their own learning. This good practice should be extended to all lessons and teachers should ensure that students engage in at least one pair or group activity in each lesson. Pair or group work should be kept short and focused with an expectation of specific outcomes. In some instances questions and answer sessions observed between teachers and individual students would have yielded greater benefits if students had dialogued with the other students in the class. Working with their peers would have engaged the students in the very important practice of asking questions as well as giving answers.
There was good classroom management throughout and teachers were very affirming of their students’ efforts. Students were very well behaved and applied themselves to the work of the lessons. There was a general willingness to communicate and many students displayed a good knowledge and understanding of the target language in their interactions with the teacher and during the inspection process.
Students’ progress is monitored in a number of ways including homework assignments, continuous assessment, class tests and formal examinations. An examination of students’ copies indicated that homework is given by all teachers and was well corrected in most instances. There were some lessons where it was noted that students’ errors were neither highlighted nor corrected. Better monitoring of students’ work is necessary in order to make students aware of their significant errors and to reinforce learning.
Students sit class tests at Christmas and formal examinations in the summer. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. TY students are assessed on the project work completed during the year. Where possible common tests are administered and an aural component is included. Senior cycle students are given an oral assessment. This is good practice. Consideration should be given to introducing an oral assessment as a significant component of TY assessments and to introducing an informal oral assessment for all other class groups.
There is ongoing contact with parents through the use of the school journal, the school reports issued twice yearly and the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group.
A review of examination results indicates that students are choosing the highest level appropriate to their potential at both junior and senior cycle.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and timetabling.
· The members of the French department are well advanced in the subject planning process.
· There was good use of the target language in most of the lessons observed and some very good efforts by some students to interact in French.
· A range of methodologies was observed, some used to very good effect.
· There was good evidence of student learning and potential.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· As part of ongoing subject planning the members of the French department should develop desired learning outcomes for each year group in terms of ‘can do’ statements
focusing on the promotion of transferable skills.
· In some instances teachers should seek alternatives to translation which will support comprehension without compromising the use of French as the language of the lesson.
· Teachers should adopt a more integrated approach with due emphasis on the development of all the language skills.
· In some lessons greater use should be made of pair or group work activities to support active learning.
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 February 2010