An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Douglas Community School,
Roll number: 91396R
Date of inspection: 22 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Douglas 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
The study of a modern language is regarded as a core component of the schoolís curriculum, and two European languages, namely French and German, are offered to students in Douglas Community School. Every student studies one language and management is to be commended for ensuring that access to a language is open to all students. Prior to entry to first year, students are offered a choice of either French or German and they continue with the selected language up to Leaving Certificate. As the languages are timetabled against each other, it is not possible for a student to take two languages. At present, there are two French class groups and one German class group in first year. Students are taught in mixed-ability classes in junior cycle. Provision is made for students with special educational needs through the creation of a learning-support class. Some students have the benefit of a special needs assistant to help them in class, and support is also offered to teachers in formulating approaches to teaching the subject. This allows for differentiated learning. Timetabling provision for the subject is good, with four class periods per week in junior cycle and Transition Year (TY), while there are five periods allocated per week in senior cycle. The periods are all single periods. This is good practice as it helps to provide students with regular contact with the language.
The French department has undergone a number of changes of personnel in recent years and there are currently three members of staff teaching French. Each teacher is classroom based and one room is designated as a resource room for the subject. The classroom walls are used to display posters and maps which help to create a stimulating language-learning environment. Dictionaries are available in each room for studentsí use and the walls are used to display a range of posters and examples of studentsí work. It is suggested that some newspaper articles on current affairs be displayed for the benefit of senior cycle students. The teachers have access to an excellent range of resources which include an individual laptop computer and memory stick and a CD player for each teacher, as well as a television, DVD player and data projector for each classroom. Broadband is available throughout the school on either cable or WiFi. This provision of ICT resources is to be commended as it facilitates the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning process. The teachers have been involved in collating their language resources, including books, videos and DVDs as well as electronic resources such as Powerpoint presentations.
Co-curricular and extracurricular support for French is good. The school has hosted students from a school in Rennes in recent years and also organises school tours to France. Students have the opportunity to attend screenings of French films and are provided with information on language-learning opportunities such as exchanges and language courses. A Multiculturalism Day in March is used to promote languages, while an enjoyable and successful activity was the transformation of the school shop into a French shop for a day, with transactions carried out in the target language.
Subject planning is well organised within the French department. One of the teachers takes on the role of co-ordinator, which includes preparing the minutes of meetings and looking after the induction of new staff in the subject department. Planning meetings are held at the start of the school year as well as during the term, and the French teachers also have an informal arrangement in place whereby they meet once each week during their free time. This commitment to meeting on a regular basis is commendable and provides an ideal opportunity for engaging in discussion on good practice in language learning. In the current school year, the teachers have spent time on updating and organising the resource material stored in the language room.
A subject department plan has been prepared which lists the course content and themes to be covered in each year of the French programme. In order to build on the work already done in this area, it is suggested that the plan be updated to include the learning outcomes for each class group. This would ensure that an emphasis is placed on student learning and on ways in which this can be facilitated.† Individual planning for lessons could then indicate the learning outcomes to be achieved by students. It is also recommended that future planning focus on a number of short-term goals such as strategies to increase the use of the target language by students and ways of consolidating studentsí learning of key elements, such as numbers in junior cycle. A longer-term goal might be to increase studentsí oral proficiency and their confidence in speaking the language. Any such plan should also include an evaluation and review element.
There was evidence of individual teacher planning for the lessons observed. Worksheets and other resources were prepared and ready to hand.
The use of French for classroom management by teachers was generally satisfactory. Good practice was seen when interactions between teacher and students were in French and when subject-specific language, such as grammatical terms, were referred to in the target language. In these instances, students were obviously accustomed to using the language and showed a willingness to communicate. However, at times, opportunities for students to communicate with the teacher or with other students were limited to contributions in English. This was sometimes due to the way in which questions were asked by the teacher. At other times, instructions for activities were given in French and English. It is suggested that the automatic translation of instructions into English by the teacher should be avoided in order to challenge students to make an effort to understand the French version. This would help to ensure that French is seen as the primary language for communication purposes. In the same way, grammatical terms should be given in French, in particular with senior cycle students, in order to facilitate language awareness and to prepare students for their examinations. †
When planning lessons, care should be taken to avoid a situation where the lesson is devoted primarily to the correction of homework as was observed in one instance. This can be frustrating for both teacher and students and can also lead to an over-reliance on English in the lesson, depending on the exercise set. Alternative ways of correcting homework need to be considered, such as highlighting the common errors that occur.† Such a practice would allow time to be ring-fenced for teaching and learning. To this end, sharing the learning outcomes of a lesson with students as well as allowing time for the review and consolidation of new material at the end of the lesson would be beneficial, as it would emphasise the importance of new learning. As the learning outcomes are already made known to students in some classes, it is recommended that this practice be extended to all groups.
It was evident that the subject teachers are accustomed to downloading material from the internet for use as a teaching aid during classes. Colourful drawings depicting places in a French town were used to teach vocabulary, and a video interview with a student was played as a cloze-test type of exercise. While this material can be attractive and stimulating, it is important to check it for legibility and clarity and to ensure that it is appropriate to the level of the class. When there is too much information on display or if it is not sufficiently clear, it can detract from the lesson. While asking students to multi-task by filling in blanks in a text while listening to a video interview and reading the script displayed on the screen has its merits as an exercise, it may be more useful from a pedagogical point of view to separate the activities of listening and reading in order to create a more challenging and focused activity for the students. A further benefit of this type of internet resource is its potential as a tool for improving studentsí pronunciation. Teachers are encouraged to look at ways of exploiting it for this purpose. At junior level, when habits of good pronunciation need to be established, it is important to allow students time to pronounce new words out loud as well as noting them in their copies. The traditional practice of teaching new vocabulary orally before proceeding to the written form should be considered as an aid to accurate pronunciation.
Lessons were generally well structured and good efforts were made to integrate the different language skills in the lessons observed. This could be seen when language awareness, oral work and listening activities were linked. For example, where good practice was in evidence in one lesson, effective use was made of the whiteboard, clear instructions were given for tasks and the teacher gave examples of the language to be used before setting the students to work in pairs. This made for successful pair work as the students were able to focus on the task. A development of the task involved selected students modelling their dialogue for the other students and this gave an impetus and an added dimension to their work. Studentsí interest and enthusiasm for the subject was evident throughout the lesson and the varied activities encouraged student initiative and creativity.
While students in some classes were given opportunities to engage in pair work or discussion, in other classes there was little opportunity for them to participate actively in the lesson. Their involvement was limited to note-taking or to providing an English translation for the teacher when requested. A move away from teacher-directed questioning to more varied questioning techniques is suggested and it is recommended that a greater range of more active-learning methodologies, including increased pair and group work, be used so as to encourage and challenge students in their language learning.
It was commendable that listening comprehension formed part of many lessons. It is suggested that this good practice be expanded and that the listening passage be linked with the theme of the lesson insofar as is possible, with the aim of reinforcing learning and as recommended in the syllabus. The use of listening strategies to improve studentsí global listening skills should also be further exploited with opportunities provided for a range of activities linked with the listening material.
The atmosphere in all the lessons visited was positive and relaxed. Students were addressed by name and there was good use of affirmation to encourage them in their efforts. Studentsí behaviour was excellent and they applied themselves well to the tasks assigned.
Studentsí progress is monitored and assessed in a variety of ways. All class groups have assessments in the form of class tests in October and February as well as formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. Transition Year students take a class-based test. A report is issued to parents four times per year after each assessment. Junior and Leaving Certificate classes sit mock examinations in the second term. As well as the preparation for the Leaving Certificate oral examination that is carried out by the teachers as part of class work, the school also invites in an external examiner in the second term in order to give students the experience of a mock oral. †With a view to promoting the development of oral skills throughout the school, it is recommended that an assessment of spoken French form part of the annual assessment for all year groups.
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