An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of French
Coachford, County Cork
Roll number: 70960D
Date of inspection: 24 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coachford 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
French is the only foreign language offered in the school. All students in first year take the subject and it is then offered as an optional subject. Students are taught in mixed-ability classes in first year while class groups are set by ability in subsequent years. The teachers are mindful of the importance of mobility and facilitate movement between classes so as to ensure that as many students as possible take higher level papers. Transition Year is optional for students and study of a language forms part of the options on offer in the programme. For the Leaving Certificate, students are divided into higher and ordinary level classes for the subject on the basis of their performance and the teachers’ recommendations.
There is good whole-school provision in relation to the allocation of time for French. The number of periods allocated to each year group is satisfactory. The provision of single periods is to be commended as it allows for regular class contact during the week which is beneficial at the early stages of language learning. While the numbers taking the subject are generally satisfactory, the placing of French in an option band with a practical subject such as Materials Technology (Wood) has led to a significant decrease in the number of boys choosing the subject in some years. As this can have implications at a later stage for the students’ choice of career due to entry requirements for third-level programmes, it is recommended that attention be paid to this issue when deciding on option bands for the students.
There are four teachers currently teaching French in Coachford College. The teachers have their own base classrooms. This facilitates the storage and access to resources and materials for teaching purposes. The teachers have made good use of the rooms, and interesting displays of maps, posters and project work are on view. The charts illustrating suitable classroom phrases and questions which are positioned over the whiteboards in several rooms are evidence of a collaborative approach by teachers to encouraging students’ use of the target language. It is good that students’ own work is displayed as this can help to motivate and affirm students in their efforts. It is commendable also that designated rooms are available. However, the use of demonstration rooms with raked rows of seating imposes constraints on teaching styles, especially when dealing with large numbers of students. It can militate against students engaging in pair or small-group work and it can be particularly difficult for the teacher to monitor students’ learning by moving around the room as the majority of the students are inaccessible during the lesson. It is therefore recommended that the use of these rooms for language teaching be kept under review.
The French department is well resourced with CD players as well as having a television, DVD player, overhead projector and data projector available for general use by the language teachers. Some use is made of information and communication technology (ICT) with Transition Year students who are timetabled for one period per week in the ICT room. It is suggested that the teachers consider ways to further develop the use of ICT as a teaching tool.
There is good co-curricular and extracurricular support for French through the provision of a range of activities including a French Week, the making of art posters by first-year students, food-tasting events and concerts of French music. Students also visit the French film festival in Cork.
The teachers of French have been instrumental in organising a student exchange for the last ten years, initially with a collège and now with a lycée in France. Approximately half of the Transition Year (TY) students spend two weeks in France during the second term each year, with the return visit by their French counterparts occurring shortly afterwards. Twenty-seven students are currently preparing to visit France at Easter. The teachers are to be commended for their commitment to this exchange which involves considerable organisation on their part as well as requiring them to devote a week of their Easter holidays to the trip. Excellent work has been done on integrating the visit into the programme for TY students, with extensive planning materials available for use in class as part of the preparation for the visit and for the completion of a travel diary during the trip. The students also get an opportunity to experience the French school system during the exchange when they attend classes in the lycée. Students of Coachford College benefit from the return visit of the French students who participate in the activities of TY such as the quiz and the French treasure hunt. Other year groups likewise benefit from the visits made by the French students to their classes and the opportunity for peer learning that this involves. The language teachers also benefit professionally from the close collaboration established with colleagues in the French partner school over the years.
The teachers of French have recently engaged in a formal way in subject planning as part of the school development planning process. One teacher acts as subject co-ordinator on a rotational basis. Formal subject department meetings are organised and minutes are kept of the proceedings. Other more frequent informal meetings occur during times when the teachers are not scheduled for class contact. As part of the planning process, ongoing work is taking place on subject plans for each year group. Comprehensive plans are available at present for the TY programme and the teachers are to be commended for the care taken in planning to integrate those students who have completed TY with those who did not do TY in the pre-Leaving Certificate class. The teachers have also collaborated in making out plans and schemes of work for other year groups and have put together lists of resources. A noticeable feature of these lists is the coding of examination texts under different themes so as to allow for their integration into weekly schemes of work. In order to further build on the good work accomplished to date, it is recommended that the teachers look at choosing some short-term planning goals for the subject for inclusion in the plans. This might include specifying the learning outcomes for the subject and strategies to encourage independent learning or to develop the modes of assessment used. As the area of cultural awareness is a particular strength of the teaching in the school, the inclusion of specific references to cultural awareness in the subject plans is suggested in order to highlight the good practice in this area.
There was evidence of good preparation for all the lessons observed. Copies of handouts used during a previous lesson were made available to students who had been absent and this helped them to participate fully in the class. Equipment and relevant materials for use during the lesson were prepared and ready to hand; this level of preparation ensured the smooth running of the lessons. Staplers were also made available for students so that they would learn to file handouts safely in their folders.
Visits were made to six lessons across the junior and senior cycle during the course of the evaluation. Students were engaged in a range of activities including games and listening and reading comprehensions during the lessons. The materials selected were well chosen to suit the age and language level of the classes.
There was excellent use of French by the teachers for classroom management and teaching purposes. This was evident at both junior and senior cycle and is to be commended, as it ensures that students become accustomed to hearing French and so quickly gain a good level of comprehension. They are encouraged to speak French when communicating with the teacher during the lesson and it is obvious that teachers’ expectations in this regard are high. It was noticeable that students were accustomed to replying by giving complete sentences rather than one-word answers. An effective strategy was employed by the teachers when correcting exercises where the answers were expected in English. Once the student had provided the answer, the teacher commented on the answer in French thus putting the emphasis back on the target language.
As the questioning in the classes observed was largely teacher-directed, students had limited opportunities to communicate with each other in French. It is therefore recommended that more emphasis be put on encouraging students to question each other where appropriate during the lessons. This could be achieved by greater variety in the way questioning techniques are used so as to facilitate pair and small-group work. As well as increasing students’ confidence, this would help to develop autonomous language-learning skills as suggested in the syllabus.
In some of the lessons, the opening activity was the writing of information such as the day, date and weather on the board. This was obviously a familiar routine which helped the students to focus on the lesson. Questions on current affairs such as the most recent sports results helped to introduce a sense of cultural awareness and this is to be commended. It is recommended that the learning outcomes of the lesson could be easily incorporated into this activity in order to help students to become aware of the purpose of the lesson.
At both junior and senior cycle levels, there was very good use of teaching aids such as posters and laminated flash-cards in lesson activities. At senior level, the cards were used successfully in combination with a map and a written text to illustrate the topic of languages in France. At junior cycle, they were used to practise numbers and to illustrate vocabulary for topics such as La Famille Simpson and they helped ensure that the students’ attention was focused on the task. A similar activity in another lesson combined positive and negative phrases and helped students to build longer sentences. Modelling of an activity by the teacher with the whole group meant that when the students repeated the exercise in pairs, very little time was spent in explanations and the students completed the pair activity quickly and competently. Having worked on reading and oral skills, the students were then able to cope well with written exercises on the topic.
This very good integration of the key language-learning skills was observed in a number of the lessons. In another instance, extracts from the aural comprehension tests from the certificate examinations were chosen to match the theme of the lesson and these allowed for a smooth transition between work on reading and aural skills. By the end of the lesson the students were well prepared, both in terms of language and ideas, for the written exercise that was assigned as homework. Effective use was made of pre-listening activities such as questioning to help students understand the tape. In order to further improve students’ global listening skills, it is recommended that the extracts be replayed after the initial exercise so as to allow students to review their work and to consolidate their learning.
The atmosphere in all the lessons observed was positive and conducive to learning. The enthusiasm and energy of the teachers helped ensure a lively pace. Students were addressed by name and there was good affirmation of their individual contributions as well as careful correction of any pronunciation errors.
Students’ progress is assessed and monitored in a variety of ways including class questioning, homework and regular tests. Formal summer tests are held for all non-examination classes. First-year students also sit common tests in French at Christmas, while class tests are held on a regular basis usually on completion of a unit of work. Second-year students sit in-class tests at Christmas while Junior Certificate students have monthly class tests as well as Christmas and “mock” examinations. An aural component is included in all tests and this is good practice. At senior cycle level, an oral examination forms part of the assessment for students and practice oral interviews are given to the Leaving Certificate students by the teachers during lunch-time. In order to highlight the importance of spoken French, it is recommended that an assessment of oral proficiency be included as part of the annual assessment for each year group. 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. Results from the certificate examinations are analysed with reference to national norms.
The school has a homework policy in place, and a review of students’ copies and files revealed that homework is assigned and corrected on a regular basis. The use of comments to inform students of their progress is commendable and senior cycle students’ work is corrected in accordance with the State Examinations Commission’s marking scheme.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009