An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Ramsgrange Community School
Ramsgrange, County Wexford
Roll number: 91431Q
Date of inspection: 10 and 11 December 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN FRENCH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ramsgrange 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 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Ramsgrange Community School is a co-educational school with 369 students. The study of French is mandatory for all incoming students and becomes an optional subject at the end of first year. The blocking of French against business or practical subjects has implications for its uptake, as a significant number of boys in particular do not study a modern language at junior cycle. This number may further reduce at senior cycle, apart from students taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) for whom the study of a modern European language is mandatory. School management should endeavour to ensure that there is optimum access to the study of modern languages for all students. Classes are mixed ability throughout.
Whole school support and provision for French is generally satisfactory in the allocation of lesson periods. However, all lessons are of thirty-five minutes duration and students have to move classrooms, and in many instances buildings, to go to their next lesson. This can significantly erode the lesson time available. While the timetabling of double periods for French may alleviate this problem to some extent, it also reduces the class contact with the language, and this is not good practice. School management should review the duration of lesson time as part of their efforts to bring the school week in line with the Departmental requirement of twenty-eight hours instruction time. French is currently not offered in the Transition Year programme. However, senior management reported that the school will be able to offer the subject for the second half of the year. LCVP students who have not taken French to Junior Certificate are offered a language module, in line with the requirements of the programme. However, students taking the established Leaving Certificate at both higher and ordinary level are also timetabled for this module. This significantly reduces the benefits of the lesson for all concerned and in particular for those students taking higher level French. Senior management should review this timetabling provision to ensure that the lesson affords all participants optimum opportunities for learning.
There are three teachers of French, all of whom are graduates in the subject. All teachers have the opportunity to teach to all levels. This is good practice. School management supports continuing professional development (CPD) by organising whole school in-service and by paying the group membership of the subject associations. Teachers in Ramsgrange CS have benefited in recent years from whole-school inservice on Assessment for Learning (AfL) and mixed-ability teaching, classroom management and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). In the interests of maintaining high standards of linguistic and pedagogical expertise, the teachers of French should inform themselves of all opportunities for CPD including applying for the two-week 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 subject-related courses on methodology in the local education centres.
Most of the French teachers have their own base classroom, while those without a base room have access to a subject-specific classroom for most lessons. This is good practice. The classrooms visited were visually stimulating with displays of maps, posters, grammar charts, expressions and samples of students’ work. Teachers are commended for their efforts to create an attractive print-rich environment which supports student learning and promotes cultural awareness. To optimise the learning environment consideration should be given to charting the vocabulary or key expressions for the week or the topic, thereby enabling students to assimilate them over time.
There is good whole school provision of resources. Teachers have designated CD recorders and access to televisions and DVD players. Other materials to support the teaching and learning of French include class sets of books and dictionaries, magazines and newspapers and a range of DVDs. An annual budget is allocated to the French department for the purchase of resources. This is commended as it enables teachers to plan and prioritise in a systematic way. Use of the computer room is available on a booking basis and a data projector has recently been purchased to support the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the classroom. In the meantime some teachers have commendably embraced ICT in the classroom using their own equipment; while all reported using it for downloading materials from the internet.
The school currently has no formal links with schools in France although trips have been organised to Paris for the purposes of improving students’ language skills and promoting cultural awareness. It is recommended that the members of the French department consider seeking out a French partner school, perhaps through the religious order who are trustees of the school, for the purpose of exchanging authentic written and aural documents and the promotion of e-pals. This would make the study of the language more meaningful, particularly for those who are unable to travel abroad. Co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French currently involve an annual visit from French theatre-for-schools companies. The school is currently involved in a Comenius project and the teachers expressed hope that any future projects might have a role for the students of French. Involvement in co-curricular activities is good practice as it generates enthusiasm for the subject, raises its profile and promotes cultural awareness. To further the benefits of co-curricular activities, consideration should be given to the organisation of activities whereby the students in one year group could, as a reinforcement of their own learning, organise an event for another year group, thereby providing memorable language-learning experiences for all involved.
Ramsgrange Community School has embraced subject planning as part of school development planning. There is a subject co-ordinator for French, a position that is voluntary and rotated, in line with best practice. Teachers meet formally as a subject department each term in addition to regular informal meetings throughout the year. Minutes are kept of all formal meetings. As part of their planning process, teachers have put their subject plan on computer, thereby enabling them to update it with relative ease. This is commended.
A review of the subject plan for French, which was made available on CD on the day of the inspection, indicates that a lot of work has been completed by the members of the French department in subject planning. The long-term plan sets out the school context, aims and objectives, resources and curriculum content for each year group. Planning for the teaching and learning of French in junior cycle has been developed in terms of what knowledge the students will have at the end of each year and the assessment protocols to be used. The senior cycle programme is laid out in terms of topics and grammar to be covered over the two years. The approach to planning at junior cycle is commended as it is moving towards the creation of a generic long-term plan. Teachers should continue the good work started and move to the next stage by reframing their aims in terms of desired learning outcomes for each year group. These should state what the students are able to do as a result of their learning, along with the linguistic strategies needed to achieve the outcomes. Changing the emphasis from content to skills that can be transferred from one situation to another enhances students’ language development and affords greater variety in the choice of topic studied. This approach also helps teachers in their own process of self-evaluation.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities involved the observation of six lessons, three at junior cycle and three at senior cycle. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students and to review their copies. Teaching and learning was generally of a satisfactory standard and indeed instances of excellent practice were noted.
There was good linguistic competence throughout and good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. There were some instances where the students also made good efforts to interact in French. This commendable practice, where both teacher and students interact in the target language, should be extended to all lessons. Giving students the strategies to express difficulties, ask questions or make requests in the target language will enable them to achieve this. Ongoing interaction increases students’ confidence as well as improving their aural and oral skills. There were some instances where the teacher spoke French to the whole class group, but interacted with individual students in English. In these instances it is recommended that the teacher first speak in French and then ascertain whether or not the student has comprehension difficulties. This approach challenges the more able students while at the same time supporting those experiencing difficulty. Furthermore, in lessons where students engaged in translation exercises, it is recommended that teachers consider alternative strategies using the target language where possible to support comprehension.
There was good attention to pronunciation in some of the lessons observed. This is commended as correct pronunciation and intonation is an essential component of successful language learning. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons, in the form of short regular pronunciation drills.
There were some instances where a comprehensive lesson plan was outlined on the board at the beginning of the lesson. This practice is commended as it engages the students from the outset. It also helps to ensure that the lesson structure is maintained. There were some lessons, however, where greater attention to time management was needed to ensure optimum progression from the correction of homework and consolidation of previous learning to the encountering of new material.
Very good practice was observed in some lessons where a thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills. There were some lessons, however, where the teaching of grammar, although integrated into the body of the lesson, did not feed into the development of other skills. Teachers should use an integrated approach in all lessons where the learning in one skills area feeds into and supports further skills development. Lessons which focused on revision and where the emphasis was on giving students written worksheets to complete would also have benefited from a more integrated approach. It also improves time management as it helps consolidate learning through ongoing reinforcement within the different skills areas.
Brainstorming was observed in one lesson as a means of introducing a new topic. This is commended as it actively involves the students and makes them aware of the cumulative nature of learning. To optimise the outcomes of this good practice it is recommended that teachers expand on the activity to create families of words, thereby broadening the students’ range of vocabulary.
Pair work was observed in all lessons. This is commended as the use of pair or group work promotes collaboration and active learning. When engaging students in pair work activities it is important to keep in mind the purpose of the task and whether or not it requires interaction. Otherwise it may be more fulfilling for students to complete the task individually. There was one lesson where, given the small numbers in the class, consideration could have been given to circle time where both teacher and students ask and answer questions of each other.
ICT was integrated into some of the lessons observed, while in other lessons clocks had been made to provide visual supports for students, thereby enabling them to effectively engage in a paired activity. The use of such additional supports is commended.
There was good classroom management throughout and students applied themselves to the work of the lesson. Their responses indicated a good understanding of the work in hand. Their interactions with the inspector revealed many of the students to be confident learners of the language and willing to communicate.
A variety of assessment practices is used to monitor student progress. These include question and answer sessions in class, homework assignments, self-assessment, peer assessment and formal tests. A review of copies indicated that homework is given and corrected. Comments were included in some instances. This is good practice which should be extended throughout as the inclusion of a comment is informative for students. Where comments are not necessary, teachers should sign or date corrections to differentiate between those corrected by the teacher and those corrected by the students. In some instances teachers encourage self-assessment through the use of target sheets which have to be filled in by the students. There were some very good examples of peer assessment in one of the lessons observed where students questioned each other using materials provided by the teacher. These are highly commendable practices.
Students have two formal examinations during the course of the school year. All examinations include an aural component. Teachers reported that they give a monthly oral assessment to Leaving Certificate students in preparation for their oral examination. Fifth-year students are given a formal oral examination as part of their end-of-year tests, while all other students are given informal oral assessments. This is very good practice. It is recommended, however, that the marks awarded for such assessments be included in their overall examination results for French.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the use of the student journal, the annual parent-teacher meetings and the school reports which are issued twice yearly.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is satisfactory whole school provision for French in the allocation of time and good provision for resources.
· The members of the French department have made good progress in collaborative subject planning.
· There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the lessons observed.
· A variety of methodologies including pair work and ICT was observed with some instances of excellent practice.
· Examples of highly commendable self-assessment and peer assessment practices were observed in some lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· School management should review their timetabling of thirty-five minute periods as part of their efforts to bring the school week in line with Department of Education and Sciences’
requirements of twenty eight hours instruction time.
· As part of ongoing planning the members of the French department should progress their desired learning outcomes for each year group in terms of what the students will be able
to do as a result of their learning.
· Students should be further encouraged to use French as the language of interaction in the classroom.
· Where relevant a more integrated approach to language skills development is recommended.
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 December 2009