An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School
Blanchardstown Dublin 15
Roll number: 91316Q
Date of inspection : 22 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School. 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.
Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School is a co-educational school with 500 students. Classes are streamed on entry into first year and students are offered the study of French or German, depending on which stream they are in. The study of a modern European language is not offered to students in the lowest stream. This practice should be reviewed to ensure equity of educational provision for modern European languages for all students.
There is good whole-school provision for French in the allocation of time and classes are timetabled in single periods throughout the week. School management is commended for timetabling French in line with best practice.
There are two teachers of French in the school, both of whom are given the opportunity to teach to all levels. This is good practice. All teachers reported availing of opportunities to maintain their standards of linguistic competence through regular visits to France and contact with French speakers. Some teachers have also benefited from attendance at in-service training for students of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and courses held in recent years for teachers of French in Dublin City University (DCU). The school supports continued professional development by paying the group membership of the subject associations. Given the importance of keeping up to date with pedagogical developments in the teaching and learning of modern languages, the teachers of French should avail of the benefits of membership of their subject association through attendance at local and national seminars and through the sharing of good practice among colleagues. They should also consider applying for subject-related courses offered by the support services or local education centres and for the summer scholarships to France, offered annually by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services.
Classrooms in Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School are student based and many of these rooms had corners with subject-related displays in French. This is commended as a print-rich environment can support and increase both language and cultural awareness, in addition to affirming students’ work. While the difficulties of extending the print-rich environment for French are acknowledged, it is suggested that such an environment be maximised in all classrooms where French is taught and include more charts of classroom language or key expressions, in addition to maps, posters and samples of students’ work. Some charts could be left on permanent display, while others comprising key expressions or grammar points for the week or the topic could be changed regularly, thereby supporting continual new learning.
Resources for the teaching and learning of French are provided on request to management. Each teacher has a designated CD player and a DVD player has recently been acquired for use by the French department. Materials include a range of videos, music and magazines. There is also a computer room in the school in addition to two rooms which have recently been refurbished for the use of information and communication technology (ICT). Teachers of French reported using ICT to download worksheets and songs and said that they encourage students to research information on famous French people. However, they reported difficulties in accessing ICT for use as a tool for teaching and learning in the classroom. While ICT has been used with Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students, teachers expressed unease at bringing large class groups to the computer room for lessons. Given the wealth of resources available on the internet to support teaching and learning, teachers of French are encouraged to embrace ICT once it becomes more accessible in the school.
There is an annual school trip to Taizé in France which includes a visit of Paris on the return journey. While the trip is not specifically a language trip, all visits to France are commended as knowledge of the country will enhance interest in the study of French language and culture. Otherwise, there are no formal links with France. It is recommended that teachers develop 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. Such initiatives will support all students, in particular those who are unable to avail of trips to France. Some co-curricular activities have been organised in the past, but are now in abeyance. Teachers should reintroduce a range of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities such as quizzes, a French breakfast or goûter, visits from French theatre for schools’ companies or other such activities. The creation of enjoyable language learning experiences will help motivate students in addition to enhancing language learning and cultural awareness. The facilitation of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities can also serve to reinforce students’ own learning, if they are facilitated to organise an activity such as a table quiz for another year group, thereby providing memorable language-learning experiences for all involved.
Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School is still in the early days of school development planning. As a two teacher department there is no formal co-ordinator for French. While all information and documentation concerning French is communicated to the senior teacher of the subject, the teachers work as a team. The school facilitates a number of subject planning meetings throughout the year. Minutes are kept of meetings, which is good practice.
A review of the subject plan submitted for French indicates that some work has already been completed in subject development planning. The current long-term plan for French gives a brief outline of the school context for the teaching and learning of French, the textbooks and additional course materials, curriculum content, proposed methodologies and homework and assessment procedures. Teachers are commended for having embraced the subject planning process. As a means of further building on this work, the members of the French department should, over time, establish and document desired learning outcomes for each year group in terms of what the students will be able to do as a result of their learning. They should also include the linguistic strategies and proposed methodologies to achieve these outcomes. This approach promotes the teaching of transferable skills which allows for greater variety in the range of topics taught and will better prepare students for the challenges of the curriculum and certificate examinations. In addition, the development of a more generic long-term plan can better inform individual planning and practice in the classroom. A long-term plan for the teaching and learning of French should also include planning for using differentiated teaching strategies and assessment protocols to best meet the needs of the current student cohort, in addition to planning for the systematic acquisition and use of resources.
There was evidence of preparation for the lessons observed, with the submission of individual lesson plans in some instances and the advance readiness of materials needed.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. Interaction with the students was also facilitated at the end of each lesson, in addition to a review of their copybooks.
All teachers indicated high levels of linguistic competence and there was good use of the target language by the teacher in most of the lessons observed. In some instances it was used throughout by the teacher. This is highly commended. To build further on the good work of conducting the lesson in the target language, it is recommended that teachers enable and encourage the students to interact in simple French. Students should be given the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties and make requests in the target language. Greater use of French in the classroom supports differentiation in so far as it challenges the more able students and, at the same time, gives those experiencing greater difficulty the confidence of being able to communicate their need for help in the target language. Ongoing interaction in the target language will not only increase all students’ confidence, but also enhance their aural and oral skills development. Furthermore, it will afford opportunities for attention to pronunciation which is an essential component of successful language learning.
The structure and pace of lessons was generally satisfactory. Good practice was observed where the teacher outlined the lesson plan to the students. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons and communicated in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson. This will raise awareness for all of teaching and learning as a shared role in addition to supporting the teacher in structuring the lesson in order to achieve these outcomes.
A thematic approach, which facilitates the integration of the different language skills, was observed in some lessons. This is good practice as it enables students transfer the knowledge accrued in one skills area to support the development of the other language skills. There were some instances however, where further reflection and attention by the teacher to the integration of the different skills would have enhanced the students’ learning. Greater integration also needs to be introduced into lessons, where the teaching and learning of French was compartmentalised into discrete skills. In some instances a new topic was introduced without any reference to previous learning. When introducing a new topic teachers should elicit from the students any previous knowledge which will support them in the study of the new material. Activities such as brainstorming will engage and challenge the students while at the same time making them aware of the value of knowledge and skills already acquired, transferring and feeding into new learning.
Flash cards were used in some lessons to support learning. This is good practice. It is suggested however, that the use of coloured flash cards would enhance the impact of such supports. The board was also effectively used to consolidate learning.
Student-based tasks were used in some of the lessons observed. Engaging the students in individual, pair or group work activities is commended as a means of promoting active and independent learning. However, observation of the students at work, both individually and in groups, indicated that teachers should provide a range of tasks to respond to the differentiated needs of the student cohort. Students who are native speakers of French should be given tasks which will challenge them to their full potential and ensure that they do not lose their first language. Students who were observed to have disengaged from the work in hand may need additional support from the teacher during the course of the lesson and when completing assigned work.
All lessons took place in a disciplined environment and students were very well behaved throughout. Many students engaged with the work in hand and applied themselves to the tasks given. There were a number, however, who disengaged from the lesson and did not complete the work assigned. The need to motivate these students needs to be addressed as appropriate, either through the above-mentioned differentiated approach or more effective classroom management strategies. Interaction with the inspector indicated a general willingness to communicate which should be further progressed through greater oral skills development promoting increased student confidence and interaction in the target language.
A variety of modes is used to monitor students’ progress. These include class-work and homework assignments, class tests and formal examinations. While still at a very early stage in the school year, a review of students’ copies indicated evidence that homework had been assigned and corrected. This is good practice. A review of student journals however, indicated the need for ongoing monitoring to ensure that students are recording their homework assignments.
Students sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer. Certificate examination students sit class tests at the end of November and mock examinations in the second term. All formal tests include an aural component, which is given during class time. It is suggested that while this practice is satisfactory in most situations, the aural component should be an integral part of the mock examinations in order to familiarise students with the time schedule and to simulate the full examination setting, including factors such as the acoustics and seating arrangements for the certificate examinations. A mock oral examination is given to Leaving Certificate students if time allows. It is recommended that all students of French be given the experience of a mock oral examination prior to their Leaving Certificate oral examination. It is also suggested that some form of oral assessment be introduced for all students of French.
Contact with parents is maintained through phone calls, school reports and the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group. Parents of first-year students meet with the first-year tutors in the first term. The school journal is also used to communicate with parents.
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, October 2009