An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
St Mary’s College
Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 617301
Date of inspection: 27 and 28 September 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Mary’s 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.
St Mary’s College is an all-girl’s school with 862 students. The study of a modern European language is mandatory for all students with the exception of those with special educational needs (SEN) who may discontinue the study of a language if it is deemed to be in the best interests of the student. An ab-initio language module is offered for these students at senior cycle should they wish to take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students are offered a choice between French, German and Spanish. The option to study a second European language is offered. However, there has never been sufficient uptake to warrant the formation of a subject option block facilitating the study of two languages. Senior management is to be commended for its promotion of foreign language learning for all students in the school.
There is good whole school provision for French in relation to the allocation of time and timetabling. The majority of lessons are single periods timetabled at regular intervals throughout the week. This is to be commended as it facilitates ongoing contact with the target language which is in line with best practice.
There are six teachers of French in the school. All teachers are provided with the opportunity to teach to all levels. This is good practice as it enables them to build up experience of teaching a full range of classes. Some have availed of inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in recent years, while others are currently investigating options to pursue continuing professional development in France for the summer of 2008. Teachers also reported visiting France annually as a means of upskilling themselves linguistically. The school pays the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). This commitment to availing of ongoing professional development is to be encouraged.
All members of the French department have either their own classroom, or share a classroom with another teacher of French. This is good practice as it facilitates working in an environment supportive of language learning. All classrooms visited had displays of French maps, posters, grammar points or samples of students’ work on the walls. This is to be commended as a print-rich environment can support a visual learning style and is an attractive and effective means of increasing linguistic and cultural awareness. It is recommended that, as the year progresses, the print-rich environment be extended to include further samples of students’ work and the posting up of key expressions which can be assimilated over time and used by the students in the classroom.
The members of the French department have some designated CD and cassette recorders, while VCR and DVD players are available for general use. Resources specific to language learning include class sets of magazines and books and a range of videos and DVDs. These are applied for on a needs basis. There is one computer room which can be accessed through a booking system and classrooms are wired for internet access. However, the teachers of French reported that limited use has been made to date of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) because of difficulties accessing the computer room or available data projectors. There are plans to use ICT with the current Transition Year (TY) group for the purposes of engaging in project work and setting up email contacts with France. Teachers should embrace ICT as a teaching tool as soon as it becomes possible to do so. In the meantime it is suggested that ICT be used to download up-to-date information and materials which can be used in hard copy form in the classroom and compiled along with other supplementary materials to build up a bank of common resources.
Teachers reported involvement in a variety of co- and cross-curricular activities. Contacts with some French schools have been initiated and work is in progress to promote cross cultural links through a twinning programme. There is an annual school tour abroad which, has in the past, included trips to France. Teachers are currently planning to organise an international week whereby a range of activities will be proposed including students of French teaching French to their peers who are learning other European languages. Other activities to take place in that week will involve working with the teachers of Home Economics, Geography, and Art. A French breakfast and a cheese tasting session are currently organised for some of the year groups. To date, most of the co- and cross-curricular activities have formed part of the TY programme. Given the benefits of co-curricular activities in enhancing the enjoyment of language learning, it is suggested that the opportunity to become involved be offered to students in all year groups.
The members of the French department in St Mary’s College have embraced subject planning as part of the school development planning process. There is a co-ordinator for French, a voluntary position which is rotated annually. Teachers meet formally at the beginning and the end of the academic year and informally at regular intervals. There is an agenda for all formal subject planning meetings and minutes are kept of the proceedings. This is good practice and to be commended. It is suggested that teachers also consider keeping a brief record of decisions taken at informal meetings in recognition of their ongoing commitment to subject planning and development.
A long term plan for the teaching and learning of French and individual schemes of work outlining proposed curriculum content were submitted on the day of the evaluation. These indicated a strong commitment by the members of the French department to subject planning and organisation. This is to be commended. In order to further enhance the good work completed to date and to facilitate a protocol for future self review it is recommended that teachers merge the work they have completed individually into a single collaborative document and reframe curriculum content in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group and the linguistic strategies to support such outcomes. The emphasis on transferable skills development rather than on chapter content will allow for greater variety in the choice and use of texts, thereby responding to the interests and abilities of any given student cohort. It is also recommended that planning for the acquisition of resources be included in the annual plan as it enables teachers to prioritise their needs and spend any monies provided in a controlled and systematic way.
Some of the classes in St Mary’s are shared between two teachers. A team approach to the teaching and learning of French can be of benefit to students when the sharing of work enables teachers to exploit their greatest strengths and areas of expertise. However, teachers involved in the sharing of classes must remain mindful at all times of the need for rigorous short-term collaborative planning for this work. This is to ensure an integrated approach throughout which will challenge students to their full potential with the respective teachers and which will avoid unnecessary overlap. It is recommended that a policy comprising a series of desired protocols for the sharing of classes be developed as part of the subject planning process and implemented forthwith.
There was very good preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and relevant materials for use during the lesson.
Inspection activities included the observation of eight lessons, three at junior cycle, one Transition Year and four at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as it grounds the language in authentic situations thereby improving students’ listening and oral skills. Efforts made by some students to ask a question in French are also to be commended. It is recommended that student interaction in the target language be further advanced by encouraging the students to ask questions, express difficulties or make requests in French. The relevant linguistic expressions could be displayed on the walls of the classrooms for ease of assimilation and learning. Increased student interaction in French will promote confidence, an essential component of successful language learning.
While the target language was used throughout by the teacher there were some lessons where translation was the dominant methodology used to promote comprehension skills development or to consolidate learning. It is recommended that alternative strategies be considered as continued use of translation will ultimately inhibit student competence in developing oral and written skills in the target language.
Lessons were generally well structured and appropriately paced and the content was appropriate to the interests and abilities of the students. There were some instances where greater attention to time management in the completion of the various lesson components would have improved the pace of the lesson and challenged the students more. Question and answer sessions were effectively used throughout to consolidate previous learning and to introduce new material.
There was good integration of the different language skills in many of the lessons observed. This is to be commended and should be extended to lessons where it is not currently happening. Best practice recommends a thematic approach where the choice of texts and the development of one skills area feeds into and supports further skills development. When engaging in aural skills development it is suggested that teachers consider varying the ways in which listening texts can be exploited.
Pair work was observed in a number of lessons. The use of pair or group work is to be commended as it engages the students in active and independent learning. It is recommended that greater use of short focused student-centred activities be extended to all lessons, thereby allowing students take on increased responsibility for their own learning.
There was evidence of good attention to pronunciation in some lessons. This is commendable practice as correct pronunciation is an integral part of oral skills development and thereby essential for successful language learning. It is recommended that attention to pronunciation be extended to all lessons through the use of regular pronunciation drills.
A positive learning environment prevailed throughout and there was evidence of a good rapport between teachers and students. Teachers were affirming and students were attentive and applied themselves to any tasks given. Their interaction with the inspector indicated a general willingness to communicate, which should be further exploited through increased student interaction in the target language. The provision of ongoing challenges for students to reach their full potential will also facilitate increased confidence and, in turn, enhance student competence and performance.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways, including question and answer sessions, homework, tests and formal examinations. The school has a homework policy whereby students’ failure to complete homework is recorded in the school journal.
A review of students’ copies indicated evidence of homework being assigned and corrected with the inclusion of a mark or comment. This is good practice as a means of both affirming students and informing them of their progress.
Class tests are given on a weekly basis or at the end of a chapter or topic and students sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer. Certificate examination students have mock examinations in the second term, including a mock oral administered by an external examiner. An aural component, usually given during class time, is included in all tests. This is good practice. The decision to give common tests is taken on a year to year basis. It is suggested that teachers consider the use of common tests, particularly at junior cycle, as part of the French department’s assessment policy; agreement on a common programme of work and common testing procedures can facilitate student transfer from one class to another if necessary. A review of examination results suggests a need for ongoing vigilance to ensure that students are making the right choices in the uptake of levels.
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 when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008