An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Deanstown Avenue, Finglas West, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60571J
Date of inspection: 20 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Patrician College. 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.
Patrician College, Finglas is a small all-boys voluntary secondary school. It offers the following programmes to its students: Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate Schools Programme, (JCSP) Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
Students are taught in streamed groups. French is a mandatory subject for students in the top stream in the present first-year group and in the top two streams in other year groups. Commendably, the school also provides one period of French per week for academically less able students in third year to enable them to acquire a basic knowledge of the language in advance of studying French in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in senior cycle.
Time allocation to French in senior cycle is very satisfactory with the provision of five single periods per week. The provision of single rather than double periods for French is particularly praiseworthy as students benefit most from regular contact with the target language. In junior cycle, timetabling is less than optimal as the allocation of three periods per week is below national norms. While recognising that the number of subjects taken by junior-cycle students places substantial constraints on timetabling, it is recommended that consideration be given to increasing the number of periods of French to four per week.
French is taught in teacher-based classrooms that are of a good standard. A spacious, pleasant setting has been provided and the display of additional visual stimuli would further enhance the learning environment. The prominent display of key phrases pertaining to classroom communication in French would help to promote the use of the target language in class. The classrooms are equipped with good-quality white boards. The provision of an overhead projector would be of valuable assistance to teachers, enabling them to prepare material in advance. Teachers have individual CD players and it is hoped to provide a shared DVD player in the near future to enable the French department to show some French films on occasion.
The school has a fully-equipped computer room with Internet access. Teachers have access to a Broadband enabled computer in the staff room. It was reported that, because of organisational difficulties, information communications technology (ICT) has been used in a very limited way, to date, in the teaching and learning of French. However, the French department is open to the idea of downloading some new, up-to-date material from websites. The Dossiers section on the portal website www.french.ie should be particularly useful. The dossier on Le Football, for example, contains links to twenty-three different age-appropriate sites where authentic and stimulating material can be accessed online or downloaded and photocopied by teachers for classroom use.
A member of the French department has lived and worked in France for a number of years, is an advising examiner for Leaving Certificate oral examinations and also works as a senior monitor for the Leaving Certificate appeals process in September. Such experience and involvement informs classroom teaching and is professionally supportive. Further support and professional collaboration could be accessed through membership of the local branch of the subject association,
The serving of a typical French breakfast to every class was a very enjoyable experience for students earlier this year and it is hoped to introduce some other in-school co-curricular activities to extend learning beyond the confines of the classroom. The school reported that the allocation of a French language assistant on two occasions in the past was a most positive and beneficial experience for students and teachers alike.
While a certain level of whole-school planning has taken place to date, management and staff recognise that much still needs to be done. Subject planning forms an intrinsic part of the school planning and development process and it is recommended, therefore, that long-term subject planning be initiated and implemented as soon as possible.
On the day of the evaluation, the French department presented a broad outline of topics to be taught to each year group. This document could usefully serve as a basis for a comprehensive plan to guide the teaching and learning of French throughout the school. It would be a useful exercise for the French department to reflect on this and to draw up specific learning targets for each year group. It would also be helpful to consider and document the teaching and learning approaches and strategies to be employed to achieve such targets. Ideas for the gradual integration of ICT into the teaching of French could be recorded. Reference should also be made in the subject plan to the acquisition of additional resources that would support language learning, to the use of the target language in class, and to varied, suitable modes of student assessment.
A significant level of individual teacher preparation was evident. Lesson plans were presented and audio equipment, photocopied handouts and worksheets had been prepared in advance, ensuring a high degree of productivity in the classrooms visited.
All lessons observed were well structured and suitably paced. Students were kept on task and busily occupied throughout the lesson period. The choice of lesson content was appropriate for the age and ability of the class group and there was evidence of continuity with previous lessons. An element of cultural awareness was unobtrusively woven into some lessons. The topic and broad outline of the class period were written on the board and briefly explained to students at the beginning of the lesson. This is good practice. In general, the board could be used more extensively in all classes as a means of visual reinforcement and to ensure optimum student participation and concentration.
The school has introduced a good system for managing the use of textbooks in class. Textbooks are stored in the classroom and distributed to individual students at the start of the lesson. Photocopied handouts are used to complement the textbook material and for homework assignments. It was reported that the drawback of students not having a textbook to hand at home is far outweighed by the fact that, when in class, students always have the appropriate textbook.
In a junior cycle class, students were practising and consolidating previously-learned vocabulary relating to rail travel. Students approached enthusiastically a reading task in which they were asked to match a picture or symbol with the appropriate caption. The students’ work was corrected through individual oral questioning and it was obvious that they had a good knowledge of the necessary vocabulary. A map of the Métro system of Paris was used to practise correct pronunciation by locating a famous Parisian landmark, and then finding and naming the corresponding Métro stop. An overhead projector would be very useful for this and other work as photocopied colour transparencies could be prepared in advance. The topic of rail travel is one that is very suited to role play e.g. buying a ticket or seeking information. It is suggested that, whenever possible, short pair work sessions be incorporated into the lesson, giving all students the opportunity to try out their spoken French.
Senior-cycle students were observed practising the writing of a sample CV, a topic which is frequently tested in the Leaving Certificate ordinary level examination. Students were given a few minutes at the start of class to revise silently the necessary vocabulary before attempting the 2005 examination paper. Students had a solid grasp of vocabulary and they made a good effort to complete the task. It was clear from a review of the students’ examination papers that they had had plenty of practice at answering similar type questions. Adopting a thematic approach to past examination papers enables students to see a pattern in the type of questions asked and to prepare better for them. Such work is commended. Key questions from the CV were subsequently used as a basis for oral practice, ensuring good linkage and integration of reading, writing and oral skills. While most questioning was teacher-led, some pair work was introduced at a later stage when students were given the opportunity to ask each other questions using their textbook as a guide. This represents good practice.
Use of the target language was limited, with English being used extensively as the language of classroom communication. It is recommended that, both in junior and in senior-cycle classes, the target language be used as much as possible as the language of interaction in the French classroom. Listening to their teacher speaking the target language will help students to develop their aural skills, while responding to questions in French will help them to improve their oral skills. Students of all ability levels can understand simple instructions in French and will quickly become accustomed to hearing French rather than English. For most students in the school, the only exposure they have to spoken French is in the language classroom. It is essential, therefore, that they get every opportunity to hear and speak French during the lesson period
The classroom atmosphere was positive and supportive. A sensible and sensitive approach to classroom management ensured that a secure, productive learning environment was created. The use of positive reinforcement, affirmation and encouragement worked particularly well and students were, without exception, co-operative and courteous in their interactions with their teacher and with the inspector.
The range of assessment methods used to monitor student progress and achievement in Patrician College includes questioning in class, informal class tests, formal school examinations and the monitoring of homework. Teachers maintain individual records of student attendance and attainment.
Formal written and aural examinations are held for all year groups at Christmas. Third and sixth-year students sit mock examinations in the spring while non-examination classes sit further school examinations in May. School reports are issued following all formal examinations and parent/teacher meetings for each year group take place annually. The school journal is also used as a medium of home-school communication.
Leaving Certificate students sit a mock oral examination administered by their teacher. This is good practice. It is suggested that the preparation, in class, of individual documents for discussion at the oral examination would further enhance student confidence. The Chief Examiner’s Report on Leaving Certificate French 2003 (page10) states: Examiners are overwhelmingly positive about the value of a well-chosen and well-prepared document to candidates of all abilities. It helps students at all levels to progress more confidently through the test.
At present, the formal testing of oral competence is confined to the Leaving Certificate group. Considering the importance of gradually developing the oral competence and confidence of all students, it is recommended that the testing of oral skills be carried out in all year groups in the school. Such testing can be accomplished informally within the classroom setting and could form part of the French department’s overall assessment policy and procedures.
A review of a selection of students’ copybooks showed that work had been done on a broad range of topics and material. The copybooks were well maintained, containing good notes and vocabulary. Some students had drawn a map of France in their copybooks to help them identify different regions and cities. In order to reinforce the good work done in class, it is recommended that short, syllabus-based writing tasks in the target language be regularly assigned and monitored and that constructive feedback be given to students on areas needing improvement.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Teachers have been assigned their own classrooms. This arrangement facilitates the storage and distribution of textbooks and additional materials.
· All lessons were well prepared and clearly structured.
· The lesson topic and layout were written on the board at the start of class.
· Some pair work sessions were integrated into lessons, giving students the opportunity to engage actively in the learning process.
· Classroom management was of a high standard and an orderly, friendly and positive learning environment was noted. Students were co-operative and courteous.
· By placing emphasis on common themes, past examination papers were used productively to consolidate learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made
· The number of periods allocated to French in junior cycle should be increased to four per week.
· A long-term plan to guide and inform the teaching of French throughout the school needs to be drawn up.
· Greater use could be made of the whiteboard to support learning and to ensure optimum student participation.
· The advantages of using an overhead projector and ICT in the teaching of French should be further explored.
· Use of the target language in class needs to be developed and sustained with a view to promoting students’ confidence and oral competence.
· It is recommended that the testing of students’ oral proficiency be extended to all year groups.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the French department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.