An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Killarney Community College
New Road, Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 70450D
Date of inspection:† 24 January 2007
Date of issue of report:† 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in French. 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 teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher.
French is the only modern European language offered to students in Killarney Community College. The language is available as an option in both junior and senior cycle and the college offers a number of programmes and levels in the language. Students make a choice as to whether to take French on entry to the school. A further choice of options is available in second year when French is timetabled against Art and Technical Graphics. As well as being a mainstream subject, it is taken by senior students as part of their Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) course and is also available as an ab initio programme for those starting the language in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Classes at all levels are mixed ability. Students with special educational needs study a reduced range of subjects at junior cycle and at present do not take French. However, they are subsequently afforded the opportunity to study it at senior cycle in the LCA programme. Provision for French is generally satisfactory. The allocation of six periods per week at senior cycle is to be commended as facilitating the preparation of the various components in the Certificate examinations. However, the current allocation of two periods per week to second year students is low. While this was due to the influence of other factors such as the ORBIT (Outdoor Resources Brought Into Teaching) programme for the present cohort, it would be important to ensure a more equitable distribution of time for the subject when planning the timetable in future years.
One member of staff currently teaches French. The teacher has availed of a professional development course in France in recent years. The teacher is to be commended for the interest shown in developing and nurturing both language and pedagogical competencies and in keeping in touch with French culture.
The teacher is classroom based and has made use of the room to display a range of posters and maps illustrating aspects of life in the target-language country. This is to be commended as it makes for a visually stimulating language-learning environment. It is recommended that further consideration be given to expanding the range of material displayed to include more examples of studentsí own work.† The room is well equipped with an overhead projector, whiteboards, cd and video recorders as well as a small range of materials such as videos and CD-ROMS. Funding has been obtained for the acquisition of cameras and it is intended to use these with first-year students in the preparation of their book project.
There is good whole-school support for the language and this is to be commended for the way in which it helps to promote the language in the school. The assistance of a tutor from the Alliance FranÁaise is sought by the school in order to help prepare students in the lead-up to the Leaving Certificate oral examinations. The language teacher also takes students for extra preparation for the orals during lunch times. Funding is made available for a number of students to attend summer language colleges each year. The annual school tour which is open to fourth-year students is often to France. A French breakfast or meal is organised in conjunction with the Home Economics department in the second term.
As there is only one teacher of the subject at present, all planning for the subject is done on an individual basis. Files of materials and plans for the different year groups were available. There was evidence of extensive long-term planning in the preparation of projects such as a book project with a junior cycle group and planning for the ORBIT programme. Activity envelopes were prepared for use in the JCSP programme. In-depth planning has also been a feature of work undertaken for the LCA classes in order to compensate for the absence of a textbook. Props for drama had also been commissioned from the Art department. The use of written self-evaluation by the teacher on the work accomplished during the term is to be commended as a way of developing reflective practice and as a means of closely aligning methodology with studentsí learning.
In order to support ongoing subject planning and professional development, it is recommended that the possibility of linking with teachers of languages from other Kerry Education Service (KES) schools be investigated as a possible way forward.
Visits were made to three lessons at junior and senior cycle, namely third, fourth and fifth years. Students were engaged in a variety of activities during the lessons including listening comprehension exercises, grammar, drama and word games. The lesson content observed was appropriate to the age and ability of the students.
There was good use of the target language for classroom communication by the teacher in all the lessons observed. This included comments and instructions as well as regular affirmation of studentsí efforts. Students were accustomed to spelling in French as evidenced in their response to a class activity and it is commendable that time has been given to practice this skill which is also tested in the Certificate examinations. There was limited use of French by students for communication purposes during the lesson and it is recommended that ways of increasing the amount spoken by students be considered. This might include expecting students to learn and use a number of phrases over the course of a term.
Excellent student participation was evident in the use of a short scripted drama which was in rehearsal for performance at the upcoming enrolment day. Props had been prepared and students showed interest and enthusiasm in the activity. Those nominated to take part in the play had a good knowledge of the text. The level of concentration displayed was very good and the students remained on task throughout. They were helped in this by the addition of some very effective props which had been prepared in conjunction with the art classes. In order to further progress studentsí learning, it is recommended that a few minutes be spent at the start and end of the activity in revising the pronunciation of key phrases and in checking what students had learnt.
The importance of vocabulary building and vocabulary learning was highlighted in some of the lessons visited. Words on a range of different topics were set as learning tasks. Some of these were new whereas others were marked for revision purposes. Students were tested on their knowledge of a range of words. The questioning was primarily teacher directed and students were regularly asked to translate sentences from English into French as suggested by the teacher. While recognising the need to support student learning through use of translation, it is recommended that a more varied approach be put in place. This would help students to gain the confidence to realise that they can understand and make suggestions without having to depend on translation. Changing the approach would allow students an opportunity to test each other and to put forward their own examples of possible occasions and ways in which vocabulary could be used. This could then be more easily developed into meaningful written work on a topic. Reference could also be made to the extensive range of posters on display on the walls as a visual stimulus. The use of flashcards and of visual aids such as photographs is recommended in this regard. Photocopiable worksheets which could be given to students or placed on the overhead projector would help to lessen the need to depend on translation and would make vocabulary exercises a whole-class activity. Where students are engaged in learning vocabulary on a range of topics, it is important to pay attention to the balance between the correction and marking of vocabulary and the time devoted to new learning within the lesson.
Tapework was a feature of the majority of the classes visited. It was used as the opening activity of a lesson and students were obviously accustomed to it as they settled down to the activity quickly and showed good concentration. The regular use of listening material is commendable as it is a key language skill and one that helps to improve all aspects of studentsí learning. The provision of worksheets with differentiated questions is to be commended and ensured that the work was well within the grasp of all ability levels and time was not lost on unnecessary explanation. A recommendation for the further development of this aspect of the course is to expand use of the tape for more than just for listening comprehension purposes. A replaying of the tape at the end of the lesson would serve to consolidate learning and would help students to improve their global listening skills. The integration of tapework with the overall learning objectives of the lesson is also recommended. This could be achieved by linking the topic of the tape more closely with the general theme of the lesson. Making students aware of the aims of the lesson and asking them to reflect on their learning would help them to take more responsibility for their progress and would encourage independent learning.
The whiteboard was used to good effect during the lessons. Of particular note was the use of a smaller whiteboard set to one side on which all homework was written. This ensured that students were aware of all aspects of the work marked for home study including vocabulary, revision and written work.
A traditional approach to grammar was effectively used with students showing a good knowledge of verb tenses. They were familiar with the verb endings for a range of tenses and changed easily between tenses when questioned. An effort was made to include the verbs in suggestions for sentences which students translated orally and students were encouraged to pay attention to the pronunciation of the words. Senior students were also able to use a number of grammatical structures on prompting by the teacher. As they become more confident in their knowledge of these structures, it is recommended that they be encouraged to put forward their own ideas rather than relying on the ideas suggested to them.
The atmosphere in all the lessons observed was relaxed and conducive to learning. Students were addressed by name and their efforts were regularly encouraged and affirmed. Any corrections were given sensitively and discipline was well maintained.
Formal Christmas tests are held for all classes with the exception of first-year students who are assessed using continuous assessment throughout the year. The mock examinations take place in the second term. Students in second, third and fourth years sit summer tests. Testing of aural proficiency takes place through class tests and senior students also have an oral examination. In order to encourage students to communicate in the language and to emphasise the importance of oral proficiency, it is recommended that an assessment mark for spoken French be included in the annual reports. These reports are sent to parents and guardians twice yearly. Parents may also avail of the parent-teacher meetings to discuss studentsí progress.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ There is good whole school support for the language.
∑ A range of programmes and levels to suit all abilities is offered in French.
∑ Posters and maps are effectively used to create a visually stimulating language classroom.
∑ Individual planning for the subject is well advanced.
∑ There was good use of the target language for classroom management.
∑ Students showed interest in their work.
∑ Regular use is made of listening comprehension.
∑ Homework is assigned and corrected regularly.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ More examples of studentsí work should be displayed in the classroom.
∑ The possibilities of engaging in subject development in conjunction with other KES schools should be investigated.
∑ Students should be encouraged to make more use of French for communication in the classroom.
∑ A greater variety of approaches to vocabulary learning and testing should be used in order to reduce the need for translation and to encourage autonomous learning.
∑ An assessment of oral proficiency in French should form part of a studentís annual mark.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.