An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Borris Vocational School
Borris, County Carlow
Roll number: 70400L
Date of inspection: 22 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Borris Vocational 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 and subject teachers.
The study of a modern European language in Borris Vocational School is mandatory for all students at junior cycle and students have the choice between French or German. Modern European languages are optional at senior cycle and the significant increase in the number of students not studying a language for Leaving Certificate is a cause for concern. A language module is currently being organised for students doing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) who have not chosen a language as a mainstream subject. It is important to ensure that such language modules are structured in accordance with the syllabus requirements of the LCVP programme.
Students are taught in mixed-ability groups for French in first year and are grouped in second year into a top set and two mixed ability groupings. Senior cycle classes are divided into higher and ordinary level groupings. Lessons are timetabled in single periods throughout the week at junior cycle and one double and three single periods at senior cycle. School management is to be commended for timetabling French to ensure ongoing contact with the target language.
There are three teachers of French in Borris Vocational School, each of whom is a graduate in the subject. Some have benefited from the inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in recent years. They are all members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and they regularly attend courses or seminars offered by the Association or the Education Centres in the local or neighbouring regions. All documentation received at seminars is filed for reference purposes. The teachers’ commitment to ongoing professional development is to be commended.
The school is in its first year in a new building and the teachers of French have been allocated their own classrooms, all clustered in the same area. This good practice is commended. The teachers are in the process of developing a print-rich environment with displays in many rooms of maps posters, grammar and vocabulary charts, thereby significantly enhancing the language learning environment. Teachers are to be commended for the very good work completed to date in creating bright visually stimulating classrooms. In classrooms where more than one language is taught teachers should consider using discrete walls for each language. It is also suggested that, as time progresses, teachers consider further extending their display of key expressions to include key expressions for the week and further samples of students’ work.
There is good provision for resources in Borris Vocational school. Teachers of French have their own designated CD players and easy access to VCR and DVD players. Materials used include worksheets, DVDs, videos and novels. Application for resources is through a request form system. A new multimedia room has been designated for use by the different language departments and teachers reported that they have been given an allowance for the purchase of resources and that training in ICT is also to be provided. Hardware and software for this room is currently being installed and the teachers indicated great enthusiasm and a willingness to exploit the potential of this facility to its full.
Some teachers reported that they currently use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for PowerPoint presentations while all have used it for downloading materials from the internet. This is to be commended. In addition to the multimedia room it is proposed to install a computer in all classrooms and the teachers of French have also submitted a request for a data projector and a printer. School management and staff are to be commended for their commitment and willingness to embrace the new technologies for the teaching and learning of French.
Teachers reported good involvement in co-curricular activities. Co. Carlow Vocational Education Committee (VEC) offers a series of scholarships each year for students to attend residential language courses during the summer months. This is commendable practice in promoting language learning and in affirming the work of the language teachers in the schools. Senior cycle students attend a French theatre workshop organised for schools, while Transition Year (TY) students organise an annual fashion show for their year group through the medium of French. Cross-curricular activities involve working with the Home Economics department in organising a food tasting session for students. The integration of co-and cross-curricular activities into the teaching and learning of French is good practice as it provides students with enjoyable language learning experiences, while at the same time contributing to increased cultural awareness, which is a central aspect of successful language learning. The school has benefited in the current year from the assistantship scheme to support the teaching and learning of French. This, according to the teachers, is proving to be a very successful experience. It is recommended that teachers utilise the presence of a French assistant in the school to further extend co-curricular activities, in particular for junior cycle students and to initiate contacts with France which can be furthered through the use of multi-media technology and possible exchange programmes.
The members of the French department in Borris Vocational School are currently engaged in subject planning as part of the whole school development planning process. Formal time is allocated for collaborative subject planning as part of staff meetings held throughout the year. Subject co-ordination, to date, has been a shared role, and work has focused primarily on working through the SDPI diagnostic windows format. Teachers are now beginning the process of keeping formal records of meetings.
A review of planning documentation indicates that the teachers of French have made very good progress in developing collaborative subject plans for each year group, formatting them in terms of content, class work, homework and assessment. They have also built up an impressive bank of worksheets and documents which can be photocopied and shared. Teachers are to be commended for their achievements to date in the development of collaborative subject plans. As part of ongoing subject development planning, the teachers of French should progress, over time, the good work already completed to encompass desired learning outcomes for each year group along with the linguistic strategies and methodologies to support these outcomes and meet the differentiated needs of learners. Teachers expressed their awareness of the need for constant review and their openness to evaluation in the interests of promoting best practice. This demonstrates a commendably reflective attitude.
There was very good preparation for all lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and relevant materials for use during the lesson. Lessons which were supported by the presence of the French assistant also indicated evidence of good planning, preparation and collaboration.
Inspection activities included the observation of five lessons, three in the junior cycle, and two in the 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. Praiseworthy efforts were also made by some students to communicate in French. This good practice should be encouraged and facilitated in all lessons by providing students with the relevant expressions to interact in simple French thereby promoting authentic communication in the classroom. These expressions could be charted on the walls for ease of assimilation.
There was very good attention to the French alphabet and spelling in all of the lessons observed. Attention to correct pronunciation was also observed in many instances. This is good practice as a means of supporting greater and more confident use of the target language by students. It is important however, when correcting students’ pronunciation that they are given the opportunity to repeat the correction in order to internalise it. It is suggested that regular pronunciation drills be included for all year groups.
Lessons were generally well structured and appropriately paced, and the content was appropriate to the abilities and interests of the students. There were good efforts to integrate the different language skills in all of the lessons observed. However, it is suggested that increased emphasis on a thematic approach would facilitate greater coherence in overall skills development and allow for the teaching of grammar in a more integrated way. It is also suggested that the assistantship service could be used to pre-record reading texts for use in lessons to further support skills development.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous learning and to promote oral skills development. Efforts were also made to extend students’ range of vocabulary through the identification of families of words. Games and supporting worksheets were used in some lessons to enhance student interest. Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to promote learning through enjoyable activities. However, for the most part, lessons were teacher directed and there was little evidence of students taking on any responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that teachers engage their students in more active learning through greater use of individual and group tasks. Teachers should plan for at least one student-based task in every lesson, thereby engaging the learners and sharing with them the responsibility for learning. To this end teachers should also consider a review of seating arrangements in order to facilitate ease of movement and optimum time management when engaging in student-based tasks.
There was evidence of good classroom management throughout and teachers were very affirming of their students’ efforts. Students’ responses suggested a good understanding of the work being carried out in the lesson. There were some instances, however, where a single activity continued for too long and some students disengaged from the work in hand. Greater attention to time management with emphasis on short focused activities should resolve this.
Interaction with the students indicated a willingness to communicate, although many were reticent about interacting in the target language. However, the collaborative efforts of teacher and the assistantship service in encouraging increased interaction in French and more active learning should result in students becoming more confident and competent about their performance in the target language.
Student progress is monitored and assessed in a variety of ways. While the school does not as yet have a formalised homework policy, custom and practice in relation to assessment indicates the importance attributed to ongoing monitoring of students, particularly those doing certificate examinations. Certificate examination students are given a progress report at Halloween, and sit formal tests at Christmas and mock examinations in February. All other students have class tests at Christmas and formal examinations in the summer. Teachers also give regular class tests at the end of a period of time or a chapter or topic studied. Where possible, students are given common assessments. It is recommended that an aural component be included in all major assessments. In the interests of promoting oral skills development consideration should also be given to introducing some form of formative oral assessment for all year groups.
A review of students’ copies indicated that homework is assigned and corrected with comments included informing students of their progress. This is good practice and to be commended. In some lessons the teacher used a series of common errors arising in homework assignments to inform teaching and learning and the correction of errors in a very effective manner. It is suggested that this practice of highlighting and correcting a few common errors might prove useful in all lessons.
A very active parents’ association, an open door policy from school management and an effective year head system ensures ongoing contact with parents. Parent-teacher meetings are also held annually for each year group. A review of the examination results suggests that the uptake of levels is generally appropriate to the student cohort, although teachers should remain vigilant in ensuring that students taking ordinary level in Junior Certificate are aiming towards their full potential when choosing their levels.
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, timetabling and the provision of resources.
· The members of the French department are actively engaged in and advancing the subject planning process.
· There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all lessons observed.
· A variety of teaching strategies was observed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· School management and staff should explore ways in which to increase the uptake of modern European languages at senior cycle.
· The proposed language module for LCVP needs to be reviewed to ensure that it is in accordance with syllabus requirements.
· Teachers should further progress their good work in subject planning to include desired learning outcomes, linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to meet the differentiated needs of students in each year group.
· Teachers should remain mindful of promoting an integrated approach to skills development.
· It is recommended that students be engaged more actively in their own learning through increased student interaction in the target language and greater use of student-based individual, pair and group work tasks
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