An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Bridgetown Vocational College
Bridgetown, County Wexford
Roll number: 71610E
Date of inspection: 20 January 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN FRENCH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bridgetown Vocational College, conducted 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
Bridgetown Vocational College is a co-educational school with 582 students. Students are banded on entry into first year and the study of French is mandatory for those in the top band. Students in the lower band only have the opportunity to study the language if there are enough choosing French to warrant the formation of a class group. However, in instances where students move from the lower to the upper band and are then obliged to study French, additional supports are offered during the summer holidays through the School Completion Programme. While this provision is laudable, school management should explore ways in which all students can have access to the study of a modern European language. The study of French is optional at senior cycle for students taking the established Leaving Certificate. Those following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) may choose French as a mainstream subject or choose an ab initio language module which is provided for all those who have not studied a language in junior cycle. German is the ab initio language module offered for both LCVP and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in the current year.
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 in junior cycle, while senior cycle students are afforded one double period and three single periods in fifth year and two double and two single periods in sixth year. This is commended as it ensures ongoing contact with the target language, which is in line with best practice. However, there were some classes where students who do not study the language remained in the language class during the lesson. This practice needs to be reviewed to ensure that these students are receiving the additional supports which require them to be excused from the study of French.
There are three teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. There has been a strong tradition of continuing professional development (CPD) for French with some of the current teachers having benefited from a range of in-service courses. School management also pays the group membership of the French Teachers’ Association. This is commended. School management has also organised whole-school in-service to support teachers in their work in the classroom. In the interests of maintaining or, where relevant, improving, standards of either linguistic or pedagogical expertise, teachers should avail of all opportunities for CPD including the fortnightly scholarships 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 language-related courses on methodology in local education centres.
There are two designated classrooms for the teaching and learning of French, both of which had extensive displays of posters, language and grammar charts, tips for revision and information on the certificate examinations for French. Teachers are commended for the creation of a print-rich environment to support students’ language learning and cultural awareness. To further extend the benefits of a visually stimulating environment, teachers should consider charting expressions for the week or expressions pertinent to the topic being studied and, where relevant, the expressions necessary for classroom interaction in French.
There is good whole school provision of resources, which are supplied on request to school management. Teachers have CD players and access to televisions and DVD players. Materials include CDs, sets of dictionaries, flash cards, posters and an extensive range of work sheets, which have been built up over time by the members of the French department. This is very good practice. A data projector has been installed in one of the French classrooms and another data projector is available on a booking system. Classrooms are also wired for internet access. The provision of resources to support the use of information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool for teaching and learning of French is commended.
The school currently has no formal links with France. The nearby village of Kilmore Quay is twinned with Créhen in Brittany and students are able to avail of opportunities for exchanges through this town twinning programme. As a means of enhancing interest in the French language and France, particularly for those students who are unable to avail of trips abroad, it is recommended that consideration be given to establishing links with a school in their twin town. Such links should also be for the purpose of exchanging authentic and up-to-date written and aural documents, which can be used to support teaching and learning. Co-curricular activities in Bridgetown include the organisation of a French breakfast for certain year groups, some French cooking and visits from French theatre for schools groups. Teachers also reported that they hoped to bring a group of students to a viewing of French films in a nearby cinema. Commitment to co-curricular activities is good practice in providing students with a series of enjoyable linguistic and culturally enriching experiences. It also ensures that French maintains a high profile within the school. To this end it is recommended that teachers extend the range of activities to include quizzes and other such events which can be organised by the students to support their learning.
The members of the French department have embraced subject planning as part of the whole school development planning process. There is a subject co-ordinator, a position which is voluntary and rotated. The teachers of French have met formally three times since the beginning of the academic year and meet informally on a regular basis. Minutes are kept of all formal meetings. This is good practice.
A review of the long-term plan for the teaching and learning of French indicates that considerable work has been completed in subject planning. The plan outlines the school context, the aims and objectives, effective methodologies and the curriculum content for each year group. It also includes the syllabus, draft guidelines for the teaching and learning of French and minutes of meetings. The members of the French department are commended for the work completed to date in subject planning. As the process continues, teachers should build on this good work by reframing their aims and objectives in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group in terms of ‘can do’ statements. They should also include the linguistic strategies to support such outcomes. This approach, which focuses on transferable skills, will make their long-term plan more generic and will allow for greater scope in choosing topics that will respond to the needs and interests of the particular student cohort. It will also help teachers to review and evaluate their own work in meeting their aims and objectives.
There was evidence of careful preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and worksheets.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons, two at junior level, and two at senior level. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson and to review their copies.
Lessons were well structured and appropriately paced and there was good attention to the management of time when engaging in student-based tasks. An outline of the lesson plan was communicated to the students in all of the lessons observed. This is good practice as it engages students in the shared role of teaching and learning. To further encourage student engagement, it is recommended that the lesson plan be reframed in terms of the proposed learning outcome for the lesson.
The target language was very competently used by the teacher in most of the lessons observed. This is commended. There were some lessons however, where French was used to a more limited extent and where translation into English reduced its impact. In these instances, teachers should build up the use of the target language by giving instructions, asking simple questions, and affirming students in French. Furthermore, by giving students in all lessons the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties and make requests in French they will, in turn, improve their confidence and willingness to communicate in the target language. Classroom interaction in French also enhances students’ aural and oral skills development, in addition to supporting differentiation 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 the target language. It will also broaden the context in which oral skills are developed, since current practice in some lessons focuses on an examination preparation format.
Attention to pronunciation was noted in some of the lessons observed. This is good practice as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language learning. Teachers should extend this good practice to all lessons through the use of short regular pronunciation drills.
A range of language skills was taught in many of the lessons observed. Attention to the full range of language skills is commended. However, they were taught as discrete skills rather than in an integrated way. There were some lessons which focused predominantly on the consolidation of grammar. In order to optimise learning, teachers should adopt a more integrated thematic approach where learning in one skill area feeds into and supports further skills acquisition and where the study of grammar arises from the theme or topic chosen, rather than being studied in isolation.
There was effective use of the board and of visual materials to support learning in many of the lessons observed. Flash cards were used in some instances to consolidate the introduction of new material. Games were integrated into the work of some lessons. This is also commended as it furthers student interest and enthusiasm for the subject. Good practice was also observed in the use of ICT as a tool for teaching and learning. It is recommended that ICT be extended to all lessons, where the use of simple PowerPoint presentations can enhance the learning process and optimise time when correcting work completed during the lesson.
Student-based tasks, including individual, pair or group work were observed in some lessons. The use of student-based tasks should be extended in all lessons as they engage students in active and independent learning. However, it is important when planning pair or group activities to keep in mind the need for interaction between students. Furthermore all student-based tasks should be short, focused and, where necessary, differentiated with specific outcomes expected.
There was good classroom management throughout. Students were well behaved and applied themselves to the work of the lesson. There were some good learning outcomes in one lesson where students were encouraged to figure out the grammar rule arising from the work in hand. Interaction with the inspector revealed many students to be willing to communicate. There were some, however, who were more reticent. However, the earlier recommendations related to extending the use of the target language should result in increased student confidence and competence in oral communication skills.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor students’ progress, including question and answer sessions in class, homework assignments and corrections, regular grammar and vocabulary tests, end-of-chapter tests and examinations. A review of copies indicated that homework was given and corrected, with very detailed corrections and comments in some instances. This commendable practice should be extended to all lessons as the inclusion of a comment is very informative and affirming for students.
Students sit class-based tests at Christmas and formal examinations at the end of the year. Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. An aural component is included in all formal tests. This is good practice. An oral assessment is given to senior cycle students in preparation for their Leaving Certificate oral examination. This is commended. To further support oral skills development throughout the school it is recommended that an oral assessment be incorporated into formal examinations for all year groups.
Contact with parents is maintained through the student journal, annual parent-teacher meetings and school reports. A review of examination results in the Junior Certificate suggests that teachers need to maintain ongoing vigilance to ensure that students are choosing the level most appropriate to their abilities and potential.
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 or deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009