An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Christ King Girls’ Secondary School
Half Moon Lane, South Douglas Road, Cork
Roll number: 62692I
Date of inspection: 27 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christ King Girls’ Secondary 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.
French is a core subject for all students in this school at both junior and senior cycle. Access to the subject is open to all students, including those with special educational needs. Opportunities for withdrawal for special tuition and a special small class grouping in junior cycle, together with concurrent timetabling and ease of mobility between classes, allow for extra support for students taking French. Students are taught in mixed-ability groupings in junior cycle while in Transition Year (TY) and senior cycle, they are placed in merit-based groups depending on their results in the subject in the Junior Certificate. It is commendable that students are encouraged to take the higher level papers in French and that transfer from one class to another is facilitated.
Timetabling provision for French is satisfactory, with the subject allocated four periods per week in junior cycle and five periods in senior cycle. In alternating year groups, a double period is timetabled within junior and senior cycle. While this is necessitated by timetabling demands, it reduces the number of days on which first-year students in particular will have a French class. Frequent class contact time is recommended in the early years of language learning.
There are good resources available to support teaching and learning in the subject, including a range of CDs, DVDs, magazines and newspapers. Resources are kept centrally in a locker in the staff room and are easily accessible to all. Each classroom is equipped with a computer and has internet access. Although there is no designated language room, there is a multimedia room which is used for a variety of purposes including the showing of French films. Teachers do not have base classrooms but move from room to room. They have made good use of classroom walls to display posters and samples of students’ work. In order to promote cultural awareness, it is suggested that a map of France be displayed in each room and that cultural and current affairs articles, geared at senior cycle students, also be displayed.
The school has been involved in an exchange with a French school in Brittany for some years. The commitment on the part of the teachers to organising the exchange is commendable. Early contact between the students begins with letter-writing to pen-pals and this then develops into the exchange itself when a number of TY students spend two weeks visiting the French school and the French students are welcomed back on a return visit. This exchange has afforded the teachers opportunities to engage in professional development through their involvement with their French counterparts and it is suggested that they look at ways of further developing these links.
The school has been engaged in school development planning since 2005 and excellent work has been done on the preparation of extensive subject plans. Two members of staff act as co-ordinators for French and their role involves chairing meetings, organising assessments, carrying out an analysis of examination results and distributing information. The position of co-ordinator is rotated among the teachers.
Formal subject meetings are held at the beginning of the school year, while further planning meetings are organised at least three times each year in October, November and January. A review meeting is held at the end of the school year. During whole-staff planning days, time is allocated to subject meetings and minutes are kept of these meetings. The staff has undertaken a SWOT analysis for French, based on the subject’s perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This has led to a focus on what is, and is not; working well and the findings are documented in the records of the meetings. This enables the teachers to review progress from year to year. It is commendable that a timeframe for review has been incorporated into the planning documents so that organisational issues such as class-grouping arrangements are reviewed regularly. Other examples of good practice in planning that have been developed include a “handover day” for substitute teachers starting in the school in order to ensure continuity and to facilitate the introductory period for the new teacher. Substitute teachers are also expected to write a report at the end of their time in the school.
The subject department plan includes common written programmes of work for each year group. Copies of policies which impact on the subject, such as the homework policy and class organisation in junior cycle, are kept in the file. While the subject plan includes references to themes, communicative tasks and mechanics, it is recommended, as a further expansion of the plan, that learning outcomes be included in individual teachers’ planning and that outcomes for lessons be shared with students.
It is to the department’s credit that the French teachers have created an environment where positive sharing of material is encouraged. This is essential due to the number of staff engaged in teaching the subject. In order to build on the very good work accomplished to date, it is recommended that future planning focus on teaching and learning methodologies. In this way the experience and creativity of the staff could be harnessed to further improve learning and to promote the language. Other areas suggested for consideration include creating a system to ensure that the teaching of key areas of language learning such as phrases for communication in the classroom, grammatical terms, spelling and numbers are highlighted in the term and year plans, and are also evaluated. This would ensure continuity of approach and would facilitate student and teacher mobility.
Visits were made to nine lessons at junior and senior cycle during the course of the visit. Students were involved in a number of activities during the lessons, including listening comprehension exercises, diary entries, pair work and oral work. It was commendable that within most individual lessons, students were given the opportunity to engage in a variety of language tasks.
The structure and pace of the lessons was generally very good. Where good practice was in evidence, instructions for activities were clear and the whiteboard was used effectively. This allowed for a smooth transition from one activity to another and ensured that the students remained focused on their work. At other times, the students would have benefited from clearer instructions for tasks, more effective board work and the structured correction of exercises. In order to facilitate student learning, it is recommended that the correct answers be written on the board rather than depending solely on the spoken word, in particular at junior cycle where students may be more likely to misspell words.
The use of French by the teachers for classroom management and teaching purposes was generally good although, at times, the language could have been employed more. Instructions and explanations were often given in the target language. This is to be commended as it allows the students to become accustomed to hearing the language spoken. However, it is important that students are also given an opportunity and sufficient time to use the language in their interactions with the teacher and with the rest of the class. In this regard, it is recommended that students in the early years of junior cycle are taught the appropriate phrases for use in classroom interactions and communication and encouraged to use them. The way in which questions are formulated by the teacher also has a role to play and it is recommended that teachers look at varying their questioning style so as to encourage students to respond in the target language.
Individual questioning helps to create a positive teacher-student rapport and allows for affirmation of a student’s efforts. However, when the main style of questioning used is teacher directed, only a small number of individuals get a chance to respond and this can lead to some students being unable to participate in the lesson. In instances where preparation for orals is taking place, it is recommended that planning for such lessons be focused on ways of including all students in the lesson through careful structuring of questioning approaches and the use of other strategies. An increased level of student engagement could be achieved by changing the emphasis from teacher-directed questioning to allowing students to take responsibility for questioning each other during the lesson.
In a number of lessons, students were provided with an opportunity to work with each other in pairs and small groups. This encouraged them to take a more active part in the lesson and it was obvious that students enjoyed the activities. In Transition Year where pair work is already a feature of classroom methodology, it is recommended that ways of broadening its scope to include group activities such as the carrying out of surveys be considered. This would allow the pair or small-group work to have a real communicative purpose by requiring students to report back to the larger group. This would help to foster independent learning and would be a more innovative way of approaching TY work. As the different TY class groups are often dealing with the same topic, it would allow opportunities for inter-class activity and for an element of team-teaching.
Teachers’ enthusiasm and the creation of a supportive learning environment helped many students to participate confidently in the lessons. In one instance, the use of clothes as props helped to ensure a lively lesson in which the junior cycle students took part with energy and enthusiasm. In another lesson, students engaged in an animated discussion of their work on the theme of romance, with specific reference to the posters on the walls. The teaching of grammar was often well integrated into the work of the lesson. There were some good examples of students being asked to reflect on what they heard or to use their prior learning to work out the meaning for themselves, as when the topic of adjectives was introduced. The grammar work was then linked effectively with the development of students’ written work.
As many students were assiduous in noting down new vocabulary, it is recommended that teachers look at ways of teaching vocabulary through encouraging the students to practise using the new words as part of the lesson. This would be of particular benefit in junior cycle where the judicious use of vocabulary-building exercises would help reinforce students’ learning. A few minutes of consolidation or recapitulation at the end of the lesson would also have a positive impact and would help students to improve their pronunciation.
The atmosphere in all the lessons observed was positive and conducive to learning. The students were attentive and co-operative and responded readily when questioned. They displayed a high level of motivation and interest in their work and applied themselves well to the tasks assigned. This helped to create a sense of a good teacher-student rapport in the classes visited.
Students’ progress in the language is assessed and monitored in a number of ways, including questioning by the teacher, regular tests and homework. Different modes of assessment are in place depending on the year group involved. A system of continuous assessment is in place for state examination classes and some other year groups in the first term. A minimum of four assessments are held for Junior and Leaving Certificate classes while three assessments are required for first-year classes. Teachers organise common assessments where appropriate and this facilitates mobility between classes. Only fifth and Transition Year students sit formal Christmas examinations. A test of listening skills is usually included. Fifth-year students have an oral assessment as part of their summer examination. In order to prepare final year students for their Leaving Certificate oral examination, a French Day is organised close to the time of the examination, when students and teachers are freed from their normal classes to concentrate on French. Teachers also give students time for individual oral preparation before school and during lunch time. This commitment to their students’ progress on the part of the teachers is commendable.
The school has a formal homework policy in place which is implemented by the teachers. A review of students’ copybooks and files showed that homework is assigned and corrected on a regular basis. Teachers maintain records of students’ progress and parents are kept informed through reports and through the parent-teacher meetings which are held for each year group, apart from TY. Results from the state examinations are analysed with reference to national norms.
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.
Published, December 2009