An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
De La Salle College
Churchtown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60310E
Date of inspection: 25 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN FRENCH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College Churchtown, 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 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 teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
De La Salle College Churchtown is a voluntary secondary school with 322 male students. The study of French is mandatory for all students at junior cycle. While it is optional at senior cycle, most students continue to study the language to Leaving Certificate. School management is commended for facilitating the study of a modern European language for all students. Classes are streamed for French throughout junior cycle. Senior management should review this arrangement since the common syllabus for Junior Certificate French allows for a mixed-ability setting. In order to facilitate the widest choice of subjects at senior cycle, French is currently offered in two subject option bands and classes are mixed ability.
There is good whole-school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. All lessons at junior cycle and in Transition Year are single periods in line with best practice as this allows for regular contact with the target language. At senior cycle, students have one double period and three single periods, again facilitating good contact with the subject.
There are three teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject and established in their careers. All have benefited from the Department of Education and Science’s national in-service training for teachers of French in the past and some have also attended in-service courses in Dublin City University (DCU). In order to keep themselves further informed of all developments in the teaching and learning of modern languages, teachers should seek to avail of the in-service training provided for teachers of French by the Department of Education and Science and the French Cultural Services and by Léargas, the national agency for international exchanges and European programmes. Teachers should also consider rejoining the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and attending local branch meetings and national seminars. Senior management should consider applying for a French language assistant to further support the work of the teachers in the classroom.
Classrooms in De La Salle College are teacher based. Some of the classrooms visited had commendable displays of maps, posters, postcards, grammar points and samples of students’ work on the walls. It is recommended that a print-rich environment be extended to all classrooms used for teaching the subject. Such initiatives support visual learners in addition to promoting cultural awareness and the assimilation of learning over time.
All teachers of French have designated CD recorders and easy access to televisions and DVD players. Supplementary materials include a range of French films, magazines and a small selection of French books in the library. Funding for the purchase of new resources is provided by senior management on request. The school has an audio-visual room equipped for the projection of French films and the school’s computer room is available on request. However, information and communication technology (ICT) is currently not used by the members of the French department. It is recommended that teachers source articles and worksheets from the wealth of resources available on the internet. Students themselves could be encouraged to source some of these materials thereby affording them a degree of autonomy in choosing articles appropriate to their needs and interests. They should also consider using simple PowerPoint presentations to support the introduction and development of new topics or for the correction of grammar or homework.
Teachers offer a range of co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French including trips to France organised for Transition Year students. Other co-curricular activities have included visits to the Irish Film Institute and visits have also been arranged from a French theatre for schools group. Teachers reported that they hope to organise a French breakfast for first-year students and to create videos of students’ role-plays. The school has developed a commendable radio project and CDs have been made of students’ perfecting their oral language skills while responding to the topic being broadcast. The promotion of co-curricular activities is commended. To further enhance interest in French language, life and culture, teachers should try to forge links with other De La Salle schools in France for the purpose of exchanging documentation which can be used in lessons and the promotion of intercultural dialogue through the web-based learning tool ‘e-pals’. Teachers should also encourage their students, particularly those in Transition Year, to organise co-curricular activities such as quizzes, board games, cooking or drama as an outcome of their learning. Active involvement in such activities will not only provide students with enjoyable and fruitful language learning experiences, but also will raise the profile of the subject in the school.
Teachers in De La Salle College have begun the subject planning process with the recent introduction of formal subject department meetings. Two formal meetings have been held since the beginning of the current academic year. Teachers also meet informally on an ongoing basis. Minutes have been recorded of the formal meetings held. This is good practice. There is currently no subject co-ordinator for the French department and it is recommended that consideration be given to the selection of a co-ordinator for the purpose of supporting collaborative planning and facilitating a more systematic approach to the development of a whole-school plan for French.
Subject plans were submitted for all year groups. These set out a broad list of topics or skills to be taught in each year group and a general list of methodologies, textbooks, homework, assessment and reporting procedures to be used. While the achievements to date are commended, these plans reflect the work carried out by individual teachers rather than a collaborative whole-school plan for the teaching and learning of French. The members of the French department should now progress towards the development of a generic long-term subject plan. This plan should outline the desired learning outcomes for the teaching and learning of French for each year group in terms of ‘can do’ statements. They should also include the linguistic strategies needed to support these learning outcomes and the proposed methodologies and assessment protocols. The plan should also set out the school context and detail how teachers plan for differentiation and for students with special educational needs (SEN). Planning for the acquisition, compilation and use of resources including ICT should also be included.
The course planned for the teaching and learning of French in Transition Year indicates a certain degree of alignment with the Transition Year Programme Guidelines for Schools which advocates a broader education experience. To further support the principles of TY, teachers should consider introducing aspects of learner autonomy or ‘learning by doing’ where students engage in the development of co-curricular activities for their peers as an outcome of their learning.
Inspection activities involved the observation of four lessons, two in junior cycle, one in Transition Year and one at senior cycle. Interaction with the students and a review of their work was also facilitated.
A high standard of linguistic competence was noted throughout the evaluation. In some instances, French was the language of instruction used by the teacher throughout the entire lesson. This is highly commended. Where the target language was used to a more limited extent, teachers should build up its use in a variety of ways. For example, general classroom instructions and explanations should be given in French. Furthermore, when anticipating comprehension or grammatical difficulties, teachers should consider explaining first in French and then checking whether or not students understand rather than automatically translating into English. Students in all lessons should also be encouraged to interact in French. To this end, they should be given the linguistic strategies to ask and answer questions and to express difficulties in French. These linguistic strategies could be charted on the walls of the classroom, thus consolidating learning. Greater use of the target language would provide practice in listening and oral comprehension and production in addition to challenging the better students. Alternative strategies to translation should also be used to consolidate the input of new learning.
There was good attention to pronunciation in some lessons. This commendable practice, which is essential for successful language learning, should be extended to all lessons through the use of short regular pronunciation drills and appropriate correction of students’ errors. Student competence in French spelling was noted as good in some instances. This is also commended.
Teaching and learning were generally satisfactory with very good practices observed in some lessons. Lessons were well structured and paced and the content was appropriate to the needs and abilities of the student cohort. The different language skills were taught in all of the lessons observed. In some lessons an integrated approach was used where learning in one skills area supported further skills development. This is very good practice as it helps to consolidate students’ knowledge and makes them aware of the cumulative nature and transferability of their learning. There were also some very good examples observed where the teaching of grammar was effectively integrated into the body of the lesson. To support the integration of the different language skills it is recommended that a thematic approach be adopted. Teachers should also consider using supplementary up-to-date texts to add variety to lessons and move away from reliance on the textbook. Elements of cultural awareness were introduced into all of the lessons observed. This is good practice in promoting a holistic approach to the teaching and learning of the subject.
Pair work activities were observed in some lessons. Engaging the students in active learning through the use of individual, pair or group work tasks is very good practice and should be extended to all lessons. In some instances, the traditional format of the teacher asking all the questions of the students could be replaced by paired student interactions. This will engage all the students in a more time effective manner. It is recommended that all such activities should be kept short and focused. There were some examples of paired tasks, where an appropriate degree of freedom in the assignment, enabled some students to extend their learning into new situations while others practised their learning within the parameters of the work learned. This approach, which afforded students both challenge and affirmation, is highly commended.
There was good classroom management throughout and students applied themselves well to the work in hand. They indicated a good understanding of the lesson content and interactions with the inspector revealed many of them to be willing to communicate. Of particular note in this regard were students who were new to the study of French. Effective recall was observed in some instances where students memorised relevant sentences written up on the board which were then erased in a staged way.
A review of student attainment at junior cycle indicates the need for constant vigilance in relation to the uptake of levels. Students should be encouraged to choose the level that responds to the achievement of their full potential. It is of particular importance in schools where classes are streamed, that those in the lower streams are also encouraged and facilitated to take higher level where possible.
Assessment practices for French in De La Salle College include question and answer sessions in class, homework, regular class tests, continuous assessment and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that in many instances, homework is given and corrected by the teacher with helpful comments included. The inclusion of a comment is good practice as it is affirming for students to be informed of their progress. It also differentiates between work corrected by the teacher and work corrected by the students themselves. There were some instances where there were errors in the work corrected by the students indicating greater need for the monitoring of student corrections.
Supervised study is provided for students after school. In addition, a homework club, which is financed by past pupils of the school, is in operation. Junior cycle students attending the homework club are supported in their work by TY students as part of the Gaisce challenge.
All students, with the exception of those in Transition Year, sit formal tests at Christmas. Certificate examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations in the second term. Students in first, second and fifth year have formal summer tests. Transition Year assessments are based on project and portfolio work. All students undergo an individual formal review during the school year in order to assess their progress and to motivate them towards achieving their full potential. This is highly commended. An aural component is included in formal French tests for all year groups and fifth and sixth years have an oral assessment. This is good practice. As part of the ongoing subject planning process, the teachers of French should consider the introduction of common assessments where appropriate.
Contact with parents is maintained through the student journal which has to be signed each week and through school reports which are issued four times annually. Parent-teacher meetings are also held for each year group except TY.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school provision and support for French in the allocation of time and timetabling.
· Teachers demonstrated high levels of linguistic competence when engaging in the language of instruction.
· A variety of methodologies was observed, including some very good examples of active learning.
· An integrated approach to the teaching of the different language skills was observed in many lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Teachers should develop a long-term collaborative subject plan for French to include desired learning outcomes for each year group, proposed methodologies to best meet the needs
of the student cohort and a plan for the development of subject resources.
· Teachers should extend the use of the target language as both the language of instruction and communication.
· Where it is currently not happening, teachers should adopt a more integrated approach to the teaching of the different language skills.
· Greater use of individual, pair and group work tasks to support active learning is recommended.
· Teachers should consider embracing some elements of ICT to support teaching and learning.
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 February 2010