An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
CBS James Street
James’s Street, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60410I
Date of inspection: 3 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS James Street. 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.
CBS James Street is a voluntary secondary school with 274 male students. Students are placed in ability groups on entry into first year and the study of French is mandatory for those following the established Junior Certificate programme. The study of a modern European language is not offered to students following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). School management should review this provision to afford any students doing JCSP the opportunity to study a modern European language if they wish. The study of French is optional at senior cycle for students taking the established Leaving Certificate. It was noted that some of the LCVP students are not currently studying a language. This should be addressed through the introduction of a language module involving one period a week in each year of senior cycle.
There is good whole school support and provision for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. Lessons are timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. This is commended as it ensures 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. Some teachers have benefited in the past from inservice training in both Ireland and France and this is commended. School management has also organised whole-school inservice on approaches to literacy and on improving student motivation. Teachers also reported that they have applied for membership of the French Teachers’ Association, which is good practice. In the interests of maintaining high standards of linguistic and pedagogical expertise, teachers should avail of all opportunities for continuous professional development including applying for the scholarships of two weeks duration offered by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services, programmes coordinated by Léargas, active participation in the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and attendance at subject-related courses on methodology in local education centres.
Classrooms are teacher based and most of the rooms visited had visually stimulating displays of French maps, posters vocabulary and grammar charts, students’ work and, in some instances, classroom language. This is highly commended as it enables students to assimilate, over time, aspects of French language, life and culture. The display in one room of a poster listing key words is commended. In classrooms where the print-rich environment was more limited, teachers should extend the use of posters, charts and students’ work to enhance the language learning environment. It is also recommended that the good practice of posting up some key words should be extended to include the key words or expressions for the lesson, the week or the topic.
There is good provision of resources in CBS James Street. There is an annual budget for French which is determined by the requirements and requests of French department. Teachers have their own CD players and there is easy access to televisions and DVD players. Materials purchased for the French department include books, magazines, DVDs and maps. There are two computer rooms in the school which are available for use through a booking system. In addition all classrooms have a computer and access to broadband. There was evidence to indicate that information and communication technology (ICT) has been embraced by some of the teachers of French. This is commended.
The school has benefited from the allocation of a French assistant twice in the past number of years and it was reported that on both occasions the presence and work of the assistant contributed greatly to the teaching and learning of French. There are currently no formal links with a French school, although a trip to Paris is organised every second year. It is recommended that the members of the French department consider initiating links with a school in France, through which the exchange of written and aural documents could serve to promote intercultural dialogue and enhance interest in the subject, particularly for those students who are unable to avail of trips abroad. The development of links with a school in Paris might also afford students the opportunity of visiting a French school while on their visit to the French capital. Co-curricular activities include the organisation of a French cultural awareness day, French breakfasts and poster competitions. Teachers of French are commended for their commitment to the creation of a series of enjoyable language learning experiences for their students.
CBS James Street is involved in the school development planning initiative and the teachers of French have engaged in subject planning as part of this process. There is a subject coordinator, a position which is rotated, in line with best practice. Teachers meet formally three times a year and informally on a regular basis. Minutes are kept of all formal meetings, which is good practice.
A review of planning documentation indicated that the members of the French department are making good progress in subject planning. The long term plan for French outlines the school’s mission statement, the school’s context, the resources available and the curriculum content, which is set out in terms of the topics and grammar to be covered for each year group. The work completed to date in the area of subject planning is commended. As part of the ongoing process, teachers should build on the good work already completed by framing their aims and objectives in terms of desired learning outcomes, and the linguistic strategies needed to support these outcomes. These outcomes should be formulated in terms of ‘can do’ statements with the emphasis on building up transferable skills. This will also afford teachers the opportunity to choose topics which will best meet the needs and interests of their students.
Individual schemes of work were also submitted, some of which were commendably laid out in terms of chosen topics, class work and homework and assessment protocols.
There was evidence of careful preparation for individual lessons with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior cycle, and two in senior cycle including a Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) group. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students and to review their copies.
The target language was very well used by the teacher in many of the lessons observed. This is commended. Where it was used to a more limited extent, teachers should begin to build it up by asking simple questions, giving instructions and affirming students in French. Students in all lessons should also be encouraged to interact in the target language. To this end it is recommended that teachers give students the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties and make requests in French. Greater interaction in the target language will not only increase students’ confidence, but will also enhance their aural and oral skills development. It also supports differentiation in so far as it challenges the more able students while, at the same time, gives those experiencing difficulty the confidence of being able to communicate their need for help in French.
Most lessons were well structured and paced. However, there was one instance where greater attention to time management and the input of new material was needed to optimise learning outcomes. It is important to remain mindful of maintaining an appropriate balance between the consolidation of previous material and the progression of new learning. Sharing the proposed learning outcome for the lesson with students is an effective way of ensuring that the lesson is optimally structured and paced.
There were some lessons where the different language skills, including grammar, were effectively integrated into the body of the lesson. This is highly commended. In other instances, the different skills were developed, but in a more compartmentalised way. Where examination papers form the main resource and content of the lesson, care should be taken that such texts are integrated into a thematic or topic approach rather than taught in isolation.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to recap on previous learning, to test comprehension of the target language and to encourage oral skills development. Individual student-based tasks were also used in some lessons to consolidate learning, while at the same time ensuring a balance between teacher instruction and student activity. To optimise this balance in all lessons, teachers should introduce a range of pair and group work activities where students can interact and ask and answer questions of each other in the target language. The use of pair and group work is also a very effective means of promoting active and independent learning.
ICT and song were integrated into some of the lessons observed to support teaching and learning and to heighten students’ interest in the work in hand. This is commended. The inclusion of quizzes, word searches or games, as observed in other lessons, is also good practice. However, to get optimum benefit from such activities it is recommended that the activity should reflect and support the work of the lesson.
There was a positive learning environment in all of the lessons observed. Students were very well behaved and indicated a good understanding of the work in hand. They engaged well with the work of the lesson and applied themselves to any tasks given. Interactions with the inspector revealed good evidence of learning and a general willingness to communicate in the target language.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways including question and answer sessions, homework assignments, class tests, and formal examinations. School management reported difficulties motivating some students to do homework. The school has a homework club to support students with their work, but some students do not attend on a regular basis. However, a review of French copies indicated that French homework is regularly given in some instances and corrected with comments included. This is good practice as the inclusion of a comment is both affirming and informing. It is suggested that as part of their efforts to extend the use of the target language, teachers seek alternative exercises to translation. Where there is difficulty in ensuring that homework is completed, consideration should be given to resourcing exercises that would appeal more to the students. The creation of a bank of such resources could be undertaken as part of departmental subject planning. Furthermore, in the interests of monitoring the progress of all students, in particular those who have difficulty with homework, consideration should be given to the introduction of a profiling system for students such as is in place for those taking JCSP.
Some students had folders to organise their work. A review of a sample of folders and copies indicated that some students were very orderly and organised in work, while others were quite disorganised. Students should be encouraged to organise their copies for ease of reference at a later date.
Teachers reported giving end of chapter or topic tests. Students also sit two formal examinations, at Christmas and in summer. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. An aural component, which is completed in class, is included in all formal assessments. Leaving Certificate students are also given a mock oral examination. The inclusion of aural and oral components is commended. It is recommended that as a means of supporting efforts to extend the use of the target language teachers should introduce some form of informal oral assessment for all year groups. The introduction of such an assessment should also support those students who were reported to find frequent written tests de-motivating.
Contact with parents is maintained through the use of the school journal, annual parent teacher meetings and school reports which are sent home twice yearly.
A review of recent certificate examination results reveals a significant increase in the uptake of higher level at Junior Certificate. This is commended.
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 November 2009