An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Sancta Maria College
Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60341P
Date of inspection: 3 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sancta Maria 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Sancta Maria College is a voluntary secondary school for girls with 483 students. The study of a modern European language is mandatory to Leaving Certificate for all students, apart from those who have a psychological assessment advising exemptions from the study of languages. Students choose one language – French, Spanish or Italian – on entry into the school. School management is commended for the choice of languages offered to students. Classes are mixed ability at junior cycle and, where possible, are divided into discrete ordinary and higher level classes at senior cycle. This is commended.
There is very good whole school provision for French in the allocation of time and timetabling. The subject is timetabled in single periods at regular intervals throughout the week, in line with best practice.
There are three teachers of French in the school, all of whom are graduates in the subject. All teachers are given the opportunity to teach to all levels. This is good practice. Some teachers have benefited from a range of national in-service training provided by the Department of Education and Science for teachers of French in recent years. Some have also availed of the summer scholarships to France and the French teacher exchange programmes which are offered annually by the Department of Education and Science (DES) and the French Cultural Services. Teachers have attended and some have also made presentations at in-service courses and seminars provided by the French Teachers’ Association (FTA). The school is to support continuing professional development by paying the group membership of the subject association. Commitment to ongoing professional development by both school management and teachers is commended. In order to maintain high standards of linguistic and pedagogical competency, teachers are encouraged to research and avail of all language-related scholarships, courses and seminars made available though the DES, Léargas, local education centres and the subject associations.
Resources are currently provided by management on request. Each teacher has a CD player and there is easy access to televisions and DVD players. Supplementary reading materials and dictionaries are available for use in the school library. Teachers have also built up an extensive range of personal materials to support teaching and learning which they share with their colleagues. However, the lack of teacher-based classrooms means that they have no storage facilities for these materials. It is recommended that school management allocate one classroom to the French department where they could store their resources and create a print-rich environment to support students’ linguistic and cultural awareness, in addition to affirming their work. Such an environment should include maps, posters, and charts of classroom language, key expressions and relevant grammar points in addition to the display of students’ work. While retaining the room as a student base, the teachers of French could arrange access on a shared basis. Should this not be possible, it is recommended that school management provide a central storage area for resources and that teachers create a French corner in each classroom which will support the creation of a print-rich environment.
The school has two computer rooms, one of which has only a small number of computers. There are also two mobile data projectors to support the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). Some teachers have used ICT with small class groups. However, teachers reported that the time involved in accessing the data projectors, bringing them to class and setting them up limits the lesson time available for optimum benefit from ICT. The allocation of a classroom for French, as mentioned above, might facilitate greater use of ICT
The school has, over the years, built up a strong tradition of co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French. Teachers have long-established contacts with French schools and have engaged in a significant number of school exchanges, in addition to participating in Euroscola Projects and organising language trips abroad. The French department has also initiated a pen pal project with a French school involving junior cycle students. Other co-curricular activities include cultural outings to the Alliance Française, visits from French Theatre for Schools companies and involvement in the debates organised by the Alliance Française. Student enthusiasm for co-curricular activities is reflected in the establishment of an active French club which meets at lunchtime and is overseen by one of the teachers. The club promotes a range of activities aimed at improving students’ oral skills, in addition to offering peer support for students of the language. The teachers and students of French are highly commended for their active involvement in co-curricular activities and the provision of enjoyable learning experiences to support all students of French in their learning.
Sancta Maria College is currently involved in school development planning and teachers of French, German, Spanish and Italian work together as a modern languages department when engaging in subject planning. This practice is highly commended as it allows for a co-ordinated approach to the teaching and learning of modern European languages, in addition to affording opportunities for the sharing of best practice among colleagues. Subject planning meetings are facilitated each term and records are kept of all meetings held. This is good practice. Teachers of French also meet informally on an ongoing basis. The French department does not have a subject convenor. It is suggested that the teachers of French consider nominating a convenor for the subject on a voluntary rotating basis. This will facilitate the receipt and dissemination of relevant information and the organisation of subject materials. It will also afford opportunities to teachers to develop subject-specific and management expertise at a micro level. The nomination of a subject convenor should also facilitate the shared preparation and use of effective teaching materials.
Subject plans submitted on the day of the inspection indicated that the teachers of French are at a very advanced stage in the subject planning process. Yearly plans for each year group have been developed in terms of the desired learning outcomes for the students. Proposed assessment protocols have also been included. The members of the French department are highly commended for the work completed to date in the area of subject planning. Teachers should continue to build on the very good work completed to date by integrating the plan into a generic longterm plan for modern languages, outlining the school context, planning for differentiation and for resources and planning for students with special educational needs (SEN). It is suggested that, over time, teachers copy or combine the resources they hold individually and catalogue them into language-specific areas for ease of access.
An examination of the Transition Year plan indicates that the planning process has been informed by the TY guidelines advocating new approaches to teaching and learning.
There was evidence of careful planning and preparation for most of the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities included the observation of five lessons, one at junior cycle, one TY lesson and three at senior cycle, including one Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) group. Interaction with the students was facilitated at the end of each lesson, in addition to a review of their copies.
The members of the French department demonstrated high levels of linguistic competence and the target language was used by the teacher in all of the lessons observed. In many instances the teacher spoke French for the entire duration of the lesson. This is highly commended. In some lessons however, translation was used as a methodology thereby reducing the use and impact of the target language. While the need for some linguistic scaffolding is acknowledged, teachers should seek alternatives to translation, such as visual supports or explaining in French first and then checking whether students have understood or not. Students should also be encouraged to communicate in French: equipping them with the linguistic strategies to ask questions, express difficulties and make requests in the target language will enable them to achieve this. Greater use of French in the classroom supports differentiation in so far as it challenges the more able students and, at the same time, gives those experiencing greater difficulty the confidence to communicate their need for help in the target language. Ongoing interaction in the target language will also increase students’ confidence, and enhance their aural and oral skills development. The work on forms of questioning noted in one lesson is a commendable means of initiating this process towards greater teacher-student interaction in the target language.
Good practice was observed where the teacher shared the lesson plan with the students, thereby engaging them from the outset. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. It is also recommended that the plan be re-framed in terms of the proposed learning outcome for the lesson. This will help the teacher to structure and evaluate the lesson to optimum benefit in addition to raising students’ awareness of learning as a shared responsibility. Lessons were appropriately paced and the content was relevant to the students’ needs and interests.
There were some excellent examples of the effective integration of the different language skills. This integrated approach, which is in line with syllabus recommendations, is highly commended as it affords students the opportunity to use the skills already acquired to support further learning in addition to attributing equal importance to the development of all of the language skills. This practice should be extended to all lessons, in particular those where a more compartmentalised approach to skills development was observed. It is also recommended that, when introducing a new topic, teachers should elicit previous learning from students through brainstorming or other introductory activities as a means of supporting the new topic. This will further progress the integrated approach to learning, and highlight for students the value of previous learning and the sense of learning as a cumulative process.
Pair and group work activities were used in most of the lessons observed. The use of pair or group work is commended as it promotes active and independent learning. In the case of oral skills practice, group work also supports optimum time management where all students are afforded the opportunity to engage in oral communication within a short space of time. To this end it is recommended that students be afforded more opportunities to work on their oral skills development in small groups rather than working as a whole class group. To optimise the work completed in pairs or groups it is recommended that the tasks be kept short and focused. The preparation for and use of activities such as role play, games and song as observed during the course of the evaluation are also commended as effective ways of promoting cultural awareness and enhancing the enjoyment of the language learning experience.
There was good classroom management and a positive learning environment throughout. Students were affirmed by their teachers, participated well in the work of the lesson and applied themselves to the tasks given. Interaction with the inspector indicated evidence of a general willingness to communicate in the target language and good potential for successful language learning.
A variety of modes is used to monitor students’ progress. These include class-work and homework assignments, class tests, peer assessments and formal examinations. A review of students’ copies indicated that regular homework is given, corrected and, in most instances, commented on. The inclusion of a comment is commended as it is an effective means of affirming students and informing them of their progress. Student progress is also assessed through the use of end-of-chapter tests and regular vocabulary and grammar tests. Peer assessments are used in some instances to record the outcomes of these short tests. The introduction of peer assessments, while commended, needs to be further developed to ensure optimum learning outcomes for students.
Certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. All students have formal tests at Christmas and in the summer. In addition to their formal tests, TY students may also be assessed on projects completed during the year. This is at the discretion of the individual teacher. An aural component is included in all formal assessments. All senior cycle students are given an oral examination. Junior cycle students are also informally assessed on their oral skills development. Some students keep a portfolio which is also assessed. These practices are commended.
Contact with parents is maintained through the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group in addition to school reports which are issued twice yearly. The school journal is also used to communicate with parents in addition to phone calls where necessary.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole school provision and support in the allocation of time and timetabling for French in Sancta Maria College.
· The members of the French department work in tandem with all teachers of modern European languages for the purpose of collaborative subject planning and the subject plan for French has been
developed to a high standard.
· The target language was used by the teacher in all of the lessons observed.
· There were some excellent examples of an integrated approach to the teaching and learning of the different language skills.
· Active learning was facilitated through the use of pair and group tasks.
· There is strong commitment by the French department to the pursuit of co-curricular activities.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· School management should allocate one classroom to the French department where they could store their resources and create a print-rich environment to support students’ linguistic and cultural
· Teachers should continue to build on the very good work completed to date in subject planning by integrating the current plan into a generic longterm plan for modern languages, outlining the school
context, planning for differentiation and for resources and planning for students with special educational needs (SEN).
· Students should be given the linguistic strategies needed for greater student teacher interaction in French.
· The excellent practice of an integrated approach to language skills development, as observed during the evaluation, should be extended to all lessons.
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 March 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board is basically satisfied with the contents of the report as it acknowledges the quality of teaching and learning in French in Sancta Maria College.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
French Department teachers will address the matter of a room for the teaching & learning of French at a meeting in April ’09. The strong commitment of our teachers of French to co-curricular activity has been seriously minimised by budget ’09 cuts to education.