An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Crescent College Comprehensive S.J.
Roll number: 81014R
Date of inspection: 23 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Crescent College Comprehensive 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.
Crescent College Comprehensive is a co-educational school with 860 students. Students are offered a choice between French, German and Spanish. School management is commended for providing a range of modern European languages from which students can choose in accordance with their needs and interests. The opportunity to study a second European language is not currently possible. To obtain optimum benefit from access to such a wide range of languages, school management should consider offering students the possibility of studying a second language. The uptake of French has declined significantly in recent years. It is recommended that both senior management and the members of the French department investigate the reasons for this decline and explore ways in which this trend might be reversed.
The study of a modern European language is mandatory for all students apart from those with special educational needs who may be exempted from the study of a language if it is deemed to be in the best interests of the student. However, students who do not study the language remain in the language class during lessons. This practice needs to be reviewed to ensure that these students are receiving the additional supports, which require them to be exempted from the study of French. Furthermore, some students who are withdrawn from two periods of French each week for additional support continue to study the subject for those periods when they are present in the language class. This also needs to be addressed as such students currently do not have the time or continuity needed to enable them fulfil the requirements of the curriculum. The study of a modern European language is optional at senior cycle. Classes are mixed-ability groupings in junior cycle and divided into discrete higher and ordinary-level groupings at senior cycle. This is good practice.
There is good whole-school provision for French in relation to the allocation of time and timetabling. All lessons at junior cycle are timetabled in single periods while senior cycle students have one double and three single periods. This is commended as it facilitates ongoing contact with the target language, in line with best practice.
There are three teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. Each teacher is afforded 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. The teachers have benefited from a variety of inservice training and exchange programmes in both Ireland and France including inservice organised for teachers working in Jesuit-run schools. This is commended. However, a significant period of time has elapsed since and there is a need to maintain the momentum of continuing professional development in order to respond to ongoing developments in the teaching and learning of French. To this end it is recommended that teachers avail of all opportunities for continuing professional development including applying for the fortnightly scholarships offered by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services, membership and participation in the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) who have a branch in the city and attendance at subject-related courses on methodology in the local education centres.
Classrooms are teacher based which is commended as it facilitates the creation of a subject specific environment conducive to learning. The rooms visited had displays of maps and some posters, verb and grammar charts and student projects. It is recommended that the print-rich environment be extended to include further charts of key expressions and classroom language to enable students to immerse themselves in a language-learning environment and assimilate this learning over time. It is also suggested that a greater display of student projects and work would enhance learning in addition to affirming student effort. Traditional seating arrangements prevailed in all classrooms visited. It is recommended that the current seating arrangements be revised to facilitate the effective implementation of group work activities.
Resources to support the teaching and learning of French in Crescent College include tape recorders and CD players, televisions and overhead projectors. Supplementary materials which include magazines are acquired through the use of the annual French department budget. The allocation of an annual budget for the purchase of supplementary materials is commended as it enables teachers to plan and prioritise for such purposes in a systematic way. Data projectors, screens and internet connection for the use of information and communications technology (ICT) are also available for the teaching and learning of French. However, the teachers reported that their current use of ICT is limited to recommending appropriate French web sites to students. Given the wealth of useful teaching and learning resources available on the internet including a range of simple but effective PowerPoint presentations, it is recommended that the members of the French department explore ways in which ICT may be used as a tool for the teaching and learning of the subject. To this end the teachers of French should engage in available training and support in ICT at school level.
The school does not currently have any formal links with France. Teachers reported that they had liaised with a French school in the past, but that it had proved unsuccessful. It is recommended that the members of the French department initiate links with a French school through projects such as e-pals for the purpose of exchanging written and aural documents and for the promotion of intercultural dialogue. Co-curricular activities which include project work, the showing of a French film and French cooking are confined to Transition Year students. It is recommended that a range of co-curricular activities such as a French breakfast or ‘goûter’, quizzes and other such activities be introduced to afford all students a variety of enjoyable language-learning experiences. Such activities, if organised by the students as an outcome of the work completed in lessons, can serve not only to reinforce their own learning, but also raise the profile of French in the school.
Crescent College Comprehensive is currently engaged in whole-school development planning and the members of the French, Spanish and German departments work together as a modern languages team for the purpose of collaborative subject planning. This practice is highly commended as it allows for a co-ordinated approach to the teaching and learning of modern European languages, in addition to affording opportunities for the sharing of best practice among colleagues. There is a subject co-ordinator for French, a position which is voluntary and rotated in line with best practice. The teachers of modern languages meet as a group at the beginning of each term and also work as discrete language departments. Subject planning meetings take place each month. Minutes are kept of all meetings. This is good practice.
A subject plan for the teaching and learning of French was submitted on the day of the inspection. It is a very comprehensive document setting out the aims and objectives for the teaching of modern languages. It outlines the context within the school for the teaching of modern languages, available resources including ICT, curriculum content, proposed methodologies and assessment and recording protocols. The teachers of modern European languages are commended for the significant work achieved to date in subject planning. The curriculum content for the teaching and learning of French for all year groups is documented under the headings of theme, grammar content and tasks. Individual work schemes for French have also been included in the subject plan. This is commended. Very good practice was noted in the annual scheme of work for first-year students. The plan was laid out in terms of the theme, what students will be able to do, what they will learn, the grammar and the proposed methodology. This approach which reflects proposed learning outcomes, the grammar and the proposed methodologies is highly commended. As part of ongoing subject planning, teachers should over time, build on the very good work completed to date by reframing the curriculum content in the whole-school plan to reflect a similar approach to that contained in the scheme of work for first years, where learning outcomes are articulated in terms of ‘can do’ statements and include the necessary linguistic strategies to support these outcomes. This would enable teaching and learning to focus on the development of transferable skills and allow for greater variety in the topics studied and materials used.
An evaluation of the Transition Year plan (TY) indicates that much of the curriculum content is based on work completed for Junior Certificate and elements of the senior cycle programme. This needs to be reviewed to ensure that the learning experiences afforded to TY students respond to the TY guidelines on new approaches to teaching and learning. To this end teachers should plan for the introduction of simple aspects of learner autonomy. For example, allowing students to negotiate the choice of topic and using texts or materials researched by them would enable students take on greater responsibility for their own learning. Teachers should also consider a ‘learning by doing’ approach where TY students would develop and organise co-curricular activities for themselves and others as mentioned earlier, thereby putting into practice what had been learned in class.
There was evidence of good planning and preparation for individual lessons with the advance readiness of relevant equipment and materials. Evidence of good preparation and forward thinking was observed in one instance where the teacher had to quickly devise an alternative approach to the prepared lesson due to an unexpected power cut.
nspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle, one Transition Year group and one at senior cycle. Interaction with the students was also facilitated at the end of each lesson, in addition to a review of their copies.
There was a high standard of linguistic competency and good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. This is commended. There was one instance where a student asked in French for the meaning of a word. This is again commended. Teachers should encourage and support greater use of French in the classroom by giving students the linguistic strategies needed to ask questions, make requests or express difficulties in the target language. Increased teacher-student interaction in the target language will not only improve students’ aural and oral skills, but will also build up their confidence a component central to successful language learning.
The lesson plan was communicated to the students at the beginning of some lessons. This is good practice as it engages students from the outset. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons and reframed in terms of the proposed learning outcome for the lesson, thereby making students more aware of teaching and learning as a shared role and responsibility. Greater awareness of the proposed learning outcome will also help the teacher to structure the lesson to ensure optimum progression towards that outcome. While some of the lessons observed were very well structured, there were some where greater attention to time management would have facilitated more opportunities for new learning.
A brainstorming session was very effectively used to introduce a new topic in one of the lessons observed. Question and answer sessions were used in all lessons to recap on previous learning and to support the teaching of new material. In some instances however, the same students responded to all the questions asked, while others never put their hands up to answer questions. Strategies should be put in place to ensure that all students participate in question and answer sessions.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills in some of the lessons observed. This is commended as an integrated approach enables students to transfer their learning in one skills area to support further skills development. There were also many good examples of the integration of grammar into the body of the lesson. Very effective use was made of the overhead projector in some lessons to support students’ progression from words to sentences to paragraphs. However, there were some lessons where there was need for a more integrated approach attributing equal importance to the development of all the language skills, in particular oral skills development. Greater attention in all lessons to improving students’ oral skills will contribute significantly to their success in language learning.
Individual student-based tasks were used in some instances to engage the students in the work of the lesson. The use of student-based tasks is good practice as it promotes active and independent learning. There were some lessons however, which were entirely teacher directed. To further improve student engagement and learning particularly in the context of oral skills development, teachers should use more active learning methodologies, in particular pair and group work activities which necessitate student interaction in the target language. It is thus recommended that teachers include at least one pair or group task in every lesson. Furthermore such tasks should be short, focused, and, where necessary, differentiated with the specific outcomes expected.
Students were very well behaved overall and most of them indicated a good understanding of the work in hand. They also applied themselves well to the tasks assigned. There were some lessons however, where a number of others remained as passive participants throughout the lesson. In these instances, teachers need to review and adapt their methodologies to ensure a differentiated approach which responds to the needs, interests and abilities of the entire student cohort. Interaction with the inspector indicated a general willingness to communicate.
Students’ progress is monitored in a variety of ways including question and answer sessions, homework assignments, class tests, continuous assessment and formal examinations. A review of the copies indicated that homework is given and corrected with comments included. This is good practice as the inclusion of a comment is both affirming and informing. Teachers reported giving weekly or end of topic class tests. First-year students have continuous assessment with formal examinations at the end of the year. Students in second and fifth year have formal tests at Christmas and in the summer while certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. Transition Year students do not have formal examinations. Teachers can choose to give them class tests and students also complete a project which is assessed. An aural component is included in all formal tests. Leaving Certificate examination students have a formal mock oral examination which is conducted by an external examiner. They are also given informal oral assessments. Teachers reported that they give non-examination students an informal oral assessment, but do not include the result in the student’s overall examination marks. The inclusion of an oral assessment mark in students’ overall results should follow from the increased emphasis on oral skills development which has been recommended.
Contact with parents is maintained through information evenings, the school journal, telephone calls and letters, school reports and the annual parent-teacher meetings.
A review of examination results indicates that students are choosing levels in the certificate examinations appropriate to their abilities.
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 2009