An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Cross and Passion College
Kilcullen, County Kildare
Roll number: 61690W
Date of inspection: 27 and 28 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on THE QUALITY OF LEARNING
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cross and Passion College, Kilcullen, 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.
Cross and Passion College is a large co-educational voluntary secondary school of 664 students. The school draws students from a wide catchment area and it caters for their educational needs through the provision of a wide range of programmes, namely Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate (established), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
The study of one modern European language is obligatory both in junior and in senior cycle. A small number of students with identified special educational needs, in consultation with their parents, may choose to avail of extra tuition in English in preference to studying a modern language. Prior to entry to the school, students choose either French or German. The uptake of French throughout the school is very good. LCA students study Spanish ab initio. School management is to be commended for an enlightened approach towards the provision and facilitation of modern languages in the school.
Students are taught in mixed-ability groups in junior cycle while concurrent timetabling in senior cycle facilitates the provision of higher and ordinary level classes and allows for movement within groupings. The provision of single periods for the teaching of French is very satisfactory as are the number of periods in both junior and senior cycle.
Five teachers are engaged in the delivery of the subject in the school. All teachers are members of the subject association for which the school pays the group membership. Individual teachers have commendably availed of professional development opportunities offered by the subject association and by the local Education Centre. In addition to attending language and teaching methodology summer courses in France, one member of the department has also spent a full school year in France under the Teacher Exchange Programme. The teachers are to be commended for their commitment to ongoing professional development which is an essential aspect of teaching in general and of language competence in particular.
Most teachers of French have been allocated their own base classroom. All teachers have individual CD players and an overhead projector, a television set and DVD player are provided in each classroom. The classrooms visited were spacious and bright. In one classroom, the acoustics and the view of the whiteboard were less than ideal for language teaching due to the high ceiling and length of the room.
The teachers of French have created a pleasant environment in their base rooms for the teaching of the language through the display of posters, verb charts, students’ work and, in some classrooms, key communicative phrases prominently displayed over the board. The French department has an annual budget and the teachers intend to use their funding to purchase some updated visual stimuli, including new maps. It is acknowledged that it is difficult for teachers who do not have a base room to create a supportive language-learning environment for their students. Due to the nature of the subject, it also means that teachers have to transport cumbersome audio equipment and language resources around the building. It is commendable that an effort has been made to timetable the teacher who does not have a dedicated language classroom in a colleague’s room, when unoccupied. This arrangement affords more students in the school the opportunity to learn the language in a stimulating, language-rich environment.
The use of information and communication technology (ICT) to teach the language is something that all teachers of French in Cross and Passion College recognise as being of value. Each teacher now has her own laptop and a portable data projector will be available to the French department by Halloween. It is hoped to gradually develop ICT as an additional language-teaching tool as teachers receive further training and become more familiar with the software available. There are many useful websites, including www.french.ie, where authentic materials can be readily downloaded for classroom use. In addition, all students, and especially those in senior cycle, should be given advice and direction on how to use their home computers to consolidate classroom work and to learn independently by accessing authentic language-learning sites.
Co-curricular activities such as visits from a theatre group, and occasional school tours to France, have helped to enhance the teaching of French. While the school does not operate a group student exchange to France teachers reported that they actively promote individual exchanges. It is recommended that some in-school activities such as a French table quiz, food tasting, e-mail exchanges or a European Languages Day would do much to promote interest and cultural awareness among students. Information on establishing contact with a school in France may be obtained from Léargas (www.leargas.ie ) The teaching of French will be further supported and enhanced in the present academic year, (2007-08) by the presence of a language assistant in the school.
The staff of Cross and Passion College has been actively involved in whole school planning, under the guidance of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Subject departments have been set up and, since 2004, in addition to meetings at the start and end of the school year, monthly departmental meetings have taken place. Records of all meetings have been meticulously maintained and presented in the French planning folder. This is good practice. The role of subject convenor is decided by and rotated among the group. Again this is good practice.
The subject plan, 2007-08, outlines the aims and objectives of the French department for the year ahead. Textbooks and additional resources are listed, as is the curriculum content to be covered in each year group. Homework, assessment and reporting procedures have also been agreed and documented. Good progress has been achieved to date in promoting and facilitating collaborative planning. When fully established, such collaboration will enable teachers to engage further in the sharing of best practice for their mutual benefit.
In seeking to identify other possible ways in which departmental planning might develop, it is suggested that the teachers consider drawing up a policy on the use of the target language in the classroom. Some suggestions for the development and integration of ICT as an additional learning support could be included, particularly as members of the French department have accessed ICT training. There is also a need to build on and expand the department’s stated aims and objectives by focusing on specific learning targets for each year group and by documenting the methods to be used to ensure that those targets are realised.
Planning documentation shows that teachers of French have attended generic in-school workshops on mixed ability teaching. It would be timely and useful for the French team to discuss and document some proven active methodologies which could then be adapted specifically for the teaching of French to mixed ability groups.
As Transition Year is compulsory in the school, all students have the undoubted advantage of an additional year of language learning. In order to derive maximum linguistic benefit from this year, it is important to devise and implement a programme which builds on rather than replicates junior cycle material. It is recommended therefore that teachers collaborate in the drawing up of a comprehensive programme for French in Transition Year, as the existing document is not sufficiently detailed. A focus on innovative and alternative approaches to language teaching and learning, as discussed with the French team during the evaluation, should help to ensure that students grow in confidence and competence in French during Transition Year.
At individual level, teachers demonstrated considerable evidence of planning and readiness including the preparation of overhead slides, video extracts, visual stimuli and handouts. A well-defined structure and a good sense of timing characterised most lessons. It was clear that all teachers were fully aware of syllabus content, that they had taken cognisance of the ability level of their class group and had prepared accordingly.
Seven lessons, covering junior and senior cycle class groups, were observed during the course of the evaluation.
A good range of teaching styles was observed, including whole-class and individual questioning, the exploitation of extra resources, language games and pair work.
A thematic approach facilitated the integration of the four language skills - listening, speaking reading and writing, together with the promotion of cultural awareness in some cases. Appropriate listening exercises were included in all lessons The board was used to good effect in all classrooms and in some instances it was used skilfully and productively in conjunction with overhead slides and a screen. In some lessons, the key vocabulary for the lesson was written on the board at the outset and this is good practice as it encourages students to focus immediately on the work to be undertaken.
After roll call, most teachers began the lesson with a question and answer session with individual students. Questions on previously covered topics such as age, family and hobbies can be effective in giving students the opportunity to speak French. It would be a more effective strategy however to relate the oral questioning to the topic to be covered during the lesson and to pitch the difficulty level of the questioning to suit the particular group.
Choice of lesson topic and exploitation of content were well managed with all year groups. Topics that were relevant to the lives of young people were skilfully developed to promote good engagement and participation. Some junior cycle students, for example, were very keen to talk about actors who appear in one of their favourite television programmes, High School Musical. One group of senior cycle students proved well able to discuss the topic of health, diet and fast food. Other senior-cycle students were talking about their summer holidays and they participated well in a brainstorming exercise on the board. Brainstorming in the target language is a particularly useful method of promoting good participation of students.
In a number of lessons, there was exemplary teacher focus on providing supports to engage students. At the start of a junior cycle lesson, for example, students were asked to think of all the situations when they might need to know and use numbers. This was a most effective technique in getting young learners to reflect not just on what but on why they were learning particular vocabulary. It also succeeded in whetting their appetite for acquiring new words, and as a result their engagement in the learning process was optimal. Some simple but effective materials were used creatively to ensure full participation. For example, students enjoyed using their individual sets of numbers in a variety of games. When a listening extract giving the results of football matches in France was played, students were obviously delighted to realise the extent to which they could understand the material. The opportunity was taken to integrate cultural awareness and, as the names of the teams were heard on the tape, the teacher pointed out the various cities on the wall map of France. In another junior cycle class, a game of Bingo proved to be a very popular method of revising numbers. Another effective strategy seen in the same class was the distribution of real post cards to students who were then asked to write to the French language assistant. The set of post-cards were to be presented to the language assistant on her arrival.
Additional resources were used to good effect in all lessons observed. Relevant handouts were used to supplement and update textbook material. For example, in a senior cycle class, a handout on the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in France was used when teaching the topic of sport. In another senior cycle class, a well-chosen video extract was used to reinforce lesson content. Students were given ample time to view and assimilate the video clip and were then asked focused questions on the content. A good opportunity to combine cultural awareness with language acquisition was well exploited and students showed an interest in and knowledge of several landmarks in Paris.
Reading aloud was a feature of some lessons observed. While this is a valid means of checking on students’ pronunciation, it needs to be used judiciously so that less able students are not inhibited or discouraged. Similarly, translation of long passages from French to English should be kept to a minimum with students being taught the skill of information retrieval, (as seen on Junior and Leaving Certificate Examination papers) instead.
Pair work was incorporated into some lessons and students made a very genuine effort to communicate with their partner. Pair work has many advantages as a language-teaching tool. Speaking French to a fellow student is less stressful than publicly answering questions asked by the teacher. Pair-work also helps to build students’ confidence and it affords the teacher the opportunity to circulate in the classroom correcting individual errors in a sensitive and discreet manner. Whenever possible, therefore, teachers are urged to include a short pair work session in the lesson so that students become accustomed to speaking French on a regular basis.
The commitment of teachers to general classroom use of the target language was very good. In some classrooms, French was used exclusively for all student-teacher interactions. This is exemplary practice. The use of facial expressions, gestures, mime and synonyms eliminated the need for explanation in English. Students were supported and affirmed in their efforts to use the target language and good attention was paid to accurate student pronunciation. While all teachers spoke French to their students, a number of teachers tended to follow the French phrase with immediate translation to English. It is best to avoid this approach or to use it very sparingly as students can come to depend on the English translation rather than focusing on the French words.
Classroom management was excellent throughout. Teachers were committed and professional in their approach to language teaching and the student-teacher relationship was positive and pleasant. Students answered questions readily, showed an interest in their work and co-operated fully with their teachers.
The progress of students in Cross and Passion College is assessed in a variety of ways. Assessment methods include a combination of questioning in class, informal tests, formal examinations, homework assignments and projects. All year groups, apart from Transition Year, have formal written and aural examinations in French at Christmas. State examination classes sit mock examinations in the Spring. In order to promote the importance of oral proficiency for every year group, it is recommended that a short, formal or informal oral test be given to all students as part of the French department’s assessment procedures. Transition Year lends itself particularly well to the development and monitoring of students’ oral competence. It also affords students the opportunity to grow in confidence in relation to oral proficiency.
All teachers maintain good records of attendance and attainment in school-based examinations. Whenever possible, teachers commendably set common examinations. The Chief Examiner’s report on Leaving Certificate French has been downloaded and discussed at department meetings. This is good practice. Formal reports are issued to parents or guardians, following in-house examinations and parent teacher meetings are held regularly.
The quality of work in students’ copybooks was of a good standard. It was clear that homework has been regularly assigned and corrected. The homework assigned during the evaluation was appropriate in terms of relevance to the theme of the day’s lesson. An example of good practice seen was the inclusion of helpful comments in copybooks indicating to students how they can improve their French. This practice is worth extending to all year groups.
Some students maintain specific vocabulary copybooks. Such a copybook can be a most useful reference and revision aid to students provided that it is properly and logically arranged. New words and phrases should be stored according to themes. If students randomly write down words in their vocabulary copybooks, there is little chance that they will be able to access them correctly and efficiently when revising.
Transition Year students of French work from a variety of materials, including handouts and worksheets, throughout the year. In order to ensure that all students keep and value such handouts, it is recommended that they be instructed to maintain a separate folder, arranged thematically, to store such material.
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.