Collaborative projects Second Level School Ireland

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: Portmarnock Community School (IE)

1 Profile of school

1.1 Main characteristics

Portmarnock Community School is a co-educational school in the secondary sector of education. The school, built by the Department of Education and Science, was opened in 1979. It provides a fully comprehensive education, which is designed to ensure equality of educational opportunity for all its students. It offers a wide curriculum as well as a varied programme of extra activities. It is situated in the outskirts of Dublin near the sea.  It has approximately 1100 pupils mostly from a middle class background. The school offers a very wide curriculum as well as an extensive sports and activities programme.

 

1.2 Language teaching in the schools

The main language of tuition is English, which is the mother tongue of the majority of the pupils. The languages on offer in the school are English, Gaelige, French, German and Spanish, which is newly introduced. All pupils are required to study both English and Gaelige and must choose one other foreign language. All languages are offered from 1st year (age 12) to 6th year (age 18) and are taught to higher level for the two state exams; the Junior Certificate (age 15) and the Leaving Certificate (age 18). Nearly all pupils study a language although there are some exemptions among pupils with Special Educational Needs.


There is at present no language assistant in the school, although there is a German student doing some part time hours during an Erasmus year.


The school has a rich ICT environment and the teachers use a virtual learning environment (VLE) to supplement their classroom activity.

2 Profile of the language initiative

2.1 Description

This case study examines the work of the French Teacher in the school who is involved in two initiatives with regards to the teaching of French. The first of these is an eTwinning project carried out in partnership with a Belgian school, involving an entire class in the mid age range in the school.

The second initiative is a project, which takes place under a Government initiative called Dissolving Boundaries. The Dissolving Boundaries is a programme that uses Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to facilitate cross-cultural educational linkages between schools in the North and South of Ireland and jointly funded by the two governments. Now in its eighth year of existence, the Dissolving Boundaries community continues to provide opportunities for the development of mutual understanding through collaborative curricular work using virtual and real contact between children in the different school sectors in the north and south of Ireland.

 

2.2  General description of the eTwinning action

The eTwinning action is one of the activities that make up the Comenius programme, the school education section of the Lifelong Learning Programme. It currently has 60,000 registered users. Schools and teachers often opt for eTwinning, as it is an easy and non-bureaucratic means of starting a European project. It is unique among the Comenius actions, insofar as it has a dedicated communication space for teachers equipped with a wide range of online communication tools designed for use in the project implementation. Unlike the Comenius school partnership programme, there is no funding for schools involved in eTwinning, and many teachers use eTwinning to begin their Comenius projects while they are waiting for approval, or else to continue the project after the funded period is finished.


The importance of language learning is central to the work of all Comenius actions, and eTwinning is no exception. Within eTwinning, it is impossible to carry out a project without touching in some way on language. This language can be the mother tongue of the project schools, or, as is more often the case, a common third language used as the medium of communication.

 

2.3 Implementation

In the context of the eTwinning the project is carried out with a Transition year class (age 16/17) of about 30 pupils. The activity takes place for one hour, during one of the timetabled French classes. The pupils also log into the project websites from home. The project centres on the learning of French as a second language. The pupils collaborate together using a wiki (http://lequartierfrancais.pbwiki.com/) and a blog (http://lequartierfrancais.edublogs.org/). Both teachers are interested in the integration of technology in the foreign language classroom. They met at an eTwinning conference in Romania and then spent a week in Utrecht in Holland, in July 2008 following a Comenius course entitled: ‘Designing activities for the 2.0 Language Classroom’.

In the context of the Dissolving Boundaries project, first year pupils in Portmarnock Community School in Dublin are collaborating with St Mary’s Secondary School in Limavady in Co Derry. The pupils are in their first year of learning French as a foreign language and they communicate with each other in French. The project is based on the curricular requirements of both educational systems and the work is based around developing a simple vocabulary to describe self, hobbies, school etc. They are also practice oral and aural skills. The work takes place in a Moodle environment which enhances the collaboration and sharing aspects of the project. This project, unlike eTwinning, has attracted some funding which has allowed the purchase of a camera and video-conferencing software. There is also a physical meeting planned between the two schools which also is facilitated by funding from the two governments involved as well as some central funding for managing the project.

3 Evaluation

3.1 Success factors

The success factors for both these initiatives may be attributed in part to the strong support at institutional level for international activities both for teachers as well as pupils. For example, the school has an ongoing long term collaboration with a South African school, so it very open to international experiences.

The school management is also willing to release teachers for in-service training to facilitate the projects, such as training on the Moodle platform, the use of an interactive whiteboard and the use of videoconferencing as a pedagogic tool.

Another success factor is the openness and expertise of the teachers involved in both the language teaching skill and their skill in using technology. For example, the teacher from Northern Ireland has a website for tips and ideas for integrating modern foreign languages into the curriculum. http://joedale.typepad.com/

 

3.2 Success Indicators

In both these initiatives an definitive indicator of success is in the observation by the teachers of a real increase in the motivation levels of the pupils. This may be explained by the fact that, in the younger group in particular, they are all at the same level, so they encourage and support each others' learning. Also, the use of technology for communication purposes brings an immediacy and reality to the learning.

Another indicator of success is the fact that parents have seen the positive results in the children and have given the projects their strong support, in particular for the Dissolving Boundaries action.

A final indicator is in the fact that the teacher has also reported that the methodology used gives real support to some pupils with Special Educational Needs, whose achievement grades in French have shown a remarked improvement since the beginning of the project.