An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Saint Augustine’s College
Roll number: 64890W
Date of inspection: 27 and 28 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Augustine’s College carried out 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 two days 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 the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Two modern European languages, namely French and German, are offered to students in St. Augustine’s College. In first year, a two-week taster programme in each of the two languages is offered to all students, at the end of which they make their choice of language. At present, the number of students taking each language is equally balanced and there are two class groups for French in each year. Students with special educational needs are catered for within the context of subject planning. A close liaison is maintained with the learning support department and teacher recommendations are taken on board with regard to students in first year. Resource time for one-to-one tuition may be provided from time to time. The study of a language is compulsory at junior cycle level. Transition Year (TY) is optional for students and study of a language forms part of the programme. In senior cycle, students are expected to take a modern language although an alternative subject is timetabled to cater for those students who do not wish to continue with the subject. As it is not possible for students to take both French and German at present, it is suggested that management consider the possibility of offering a module in a second language to TY students.
Time-tabling for French is good with lessons offered as single periods in both junior and senior cycle. This is commendable as it helps to provide students with regular contact with the language. In TY, students have three periods of French per week. Students are taught in mixed-ability classes at junior cycle level. In senior cycle there are separate higher and ordinary level classes when numbers permit and always in the final year.
There are currently five members of staff teaching French, the majority of whom also teach another language. Some have attended professional development courses in France in recent years and this commitment to their subject is commendable. Each language teacher has a base classroom and these rooms are furnished with CD and DVD players. Funding provided by the Parents’ Association has helped to equip these rooms and planning for additional resources is already in train. A newly equipped information and communication technology (ICT) room is available as well as laptops, data projectors and screens, and the language teachers are interested in making use of this facility for teaching and learning purposes. To this end they hope to avail of training in ICT with particular reference to language-learning.
Excellent use is made of the designated classrooms to display posters, charts and maps of France. As a way of further developing the use of visual displays, it is suggested that aids such as a display board be utilised and that students be involved in creating the displays for languages. This would enable the creation of a languages area in the corridor and would allow for the highlighting of activities such as the school tour or other language initiatives.
Co-curricular support for French is provided by the linking of the subject with CSPE, Geography, History and Home Economics. Organised French-themed events include teaching students to play boules, the preparation of a French breakfast, and a cheese-tasting session. Viewings of French films are also arranged in conjunction with the local cinema, and a French theatre for schools group has been invited to perform in the school. Second year students have an annual trip to Paris while school tours to Strasbourg and visits to Paris by other class groups have also taken place in recent years.
The school is involved in the School Development Planning Initiative and subject planning has taken place in French. One teacher volunteers to act as coordinator for French each year and this post is rotated on an annual basis. Time is made available for language teachers to meet during staff-days and the teachers also try to find times at which to meet both within and outside of school hours. Records of meetings are kept and a copy of the minutes is handed into the office.
A comprehensive subject plan has been prepared for French which includes guidelines on homework and assessment procedures, cross-curricular planning and reporting procedures. An individual plan has been prepared for each year in junior and senior cycle and teachers try to work in tandem where possible. This is good practice and such collaboration should be further developed especially at senior cycle so as to facilitate the division of classes into higher and ordinary level groupings in the final year. Individual schemes of work and resource files were made available during the visit which showed that teachers have accumulated a wide range of materials and ideas to inform their teaching.
In the lessons observed, there was evidence of good short-term planning with thorough preparation and use of the appropriate resources. The provision of class-sets of books ensured that time was used effectively.
In order to further develop subject department planning, it is recommended that the teachers consider initiating a number of short-term projects such as a cooperative strategy to increase the use of French for classroom interaction, the compilation of resources for inter-language use and preparation for the effective use of ICT in teaching and learning languages.
Seven lessons at junior and senior cycle levels were observed during the course of the evaluation. There was evidence of good teaching and learning of French in the school. The range of methodologies used was varied and activities included listening comprehension exercises, pair-work, information-retrieval exercises and productive writing.
Lessons were well planned and structured and students were kept busy and on-task. Handouts had been prepared for use both in class and for homework and this helped to ensure a lively pace during the lesson. The roll was called in French and the opening activity usually involved a checking of vocabulary and of verbs.
The use of the target language for classroom management by the teachers was generally good with instructions and explanations given in French. When answering questions, students were also encouraged to give spellings in French. This is good practice especially when introduced from the start of language learning. However students were limited in the opportunities they had to engage in speaking French for communication purposes either with the teacher or with each other. In order to encourage more active participation by students, it is recommended that lesson planning involve planning for greater engagement by students with the target language during the lesson and that efforts be made to maximise the use of French by students.
Questioning was mainly teacher directed. In order to encourage students to become autonomous language learners, it is recommended that more varied ways of asking questions be used and that students be afforded more opportunities to engage in classroom discussion through pair work and small group work. This would allow teachers to lessen the amount of whole class teaching and to monitor student progress and to assist students as required. It would also have the advantage of allowing students to become more active learners.
There was an emphasis on grammar in a small number of classes and a traditional approach was evident with grammar rules studied in isolation. This was due in part to the approach laid out in the textbook where a grammar rule was followed by exercises. Grammar points were clearly explained and when questioned, students showed a good knowledge of the appropriate endings of regular and irregular verbs. As a way of integrating this knowledge into a communicative framework and in order to encourage oral fluency, it is recommended that such work should also include reference to grammatical examples linked to the theme of the lesson by way of a short extract either written or aural. By varying the approach and by teaching grammar in both an inductive and a deductive way, teachers could help students to link grammar and language awareness more closely with communication. It would also allow students to understand the purpose of learning a particular grammatical point.
Aural work was a feature of most of the classes and it is commendable to see it used so widely. Good practice was seen when the extract was chosen to link into the theme of the lesson and when it helped to develop learning e.g. when a survey on sport was used during a lesson on the topic of sport. In order to further develop this good practice, it is recommended that the listening material would then be exploited as a basis for discussion or for a further activity such as a comparative survey on sport in France and Ireland. It is important to stress that listening is a skill that students need to develop and for this reason, time should be spent on improving students’ global listening skills. Unfortunately, it sometimes happened that a listening comprehension text was used solely as an information retrieval exercise rather than as an opportunity for progress to be made. In this regard, the use of pre and post listening exercises is invaluable. Suggestions would include using the listening material for global comprehension or for pronunciation purposes or as the basis for a paired activity. Often, the writing of relevant vocabulary on the board can help to integrate the work with the theme of the lesson. At times, more attention needed to be paid to monitoring students’ progress. This can be difficult as the teacher is usually controlling the playing of the tape or CD. However, the correction of a listening exercise immediately after answering it would help and the replaying of the material would ensure that students gain confidence.
In some lessons students were asked to engage in pair work and they organised themselves quickly and effectively. This enabled the teacher to move around the classroom and to monitor or assist as required. In one instance, a song about Paris was used as a stimulus for a variety of activities including written group work on students’ images of the city. This created good opportunities for cultural awareness and for linking the task with a visit to Paris while the choice of a written homework exercise was well integrated with the topic. In another lesson, students worked in pairs on a hand-out on a topic. However, care should be taken with the choice of tasks for pair work as sometimes the task may not be challenging enough. If students read out questions and then answer them from a sheet, it can remain at the level of a reading exercise. Ideally pair work should support the integration of key language skills. It is recommended that the use of pair work be further developed so as to have a real communicative purpose to it e.g. reporting back to the class or to another group.
With some year groups, there was an appropriate focus on preparation for examinations. In one lesson, students were asked to assign marks to different parts of their answer and the teacher gave suggestions as to how marks could be lost or gained in the examination. This was effective in that it ensured that students paid close attention to the correction of errors. In another lesson, the students contributed to the writing of a note in French on the board. This was done by the teacher asking for suggestions from the students and encouraging them to make use of prior learning. Students were encouraged to check for any mistakes by listening to the sound of the written sentences being read aloud, and to suggest ways of making the language used more varied and authentic. There was an excellent level of engagement by all concerned in the group exercise. When a similar task was assigned as homework, some key words of vocabulary were provided as help. It was commendable that the students were encouraged to write using simple yet stylish phrases.
While students worked at a good pace and were involved in a range of activities during the lesson, it is suggested that the aims and objectives of the lessons be shared with the students. This focus on learning outcomes will enable students to monitor their own progress and to become more autonomous learners. A short period of recapitulation at the end of the lesson would help to consolidate learning and would facilitate teachers in monitoring students’ achievement.
The classroom atmosphere was relaxed and conducive to learning. There was good use of affirmation to encourage and motivate students and any corrections were made sensitively. Students’ behaviour was excellent and they applied themselves well to the tasks assigned. The creation of a positive learning environment helped students to engage with the subject and led to an enhanced language learning experience.
Various modes of assessment are used to monitor students’ progress. These include homework, continuous assessment and formal school examinations. An examination of a sample of students’ files and copies showed that homework had been assigned on a regular basis and exercises marked and dated.
Continuous assessment is used to monitor the progress of junior cycle French classes throughout the year. Class tests on vocabulary and structures are regularly planned for the completion of a unit of work and the results are recorded in the individual teachers’ diaries. Formal, written summer tests are held for all classes and reports are issued to parents. In first and second years, common end of year examinations are set for students. Leaving Certificate students sit short Christmas tests and both Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate students sit the pre State examinations during the second term. Leaving Certificate students are given individual trial oral tests by the teachers during their lunch-break in the weeks preceding the examination and a day is also timetabled for trial oral tests in the second term in order to provide students with extra preparation for the Certificate examinations.
In order to broaden the range of assessment modes used for languages, it is recommended that an assessment of oral competency be introduced for all levels.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008