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French Second Language Education Self-Assessment Tool

Subject Matter

Canadian Parents for French (CPF) wanted to undertake qualitative research to support the development of a self-assessment tool designed for use by local communities (e.g. schools, parents, teachers, students) to evaluate the quality of their school’s French Second Language (FSL) education programs. Areas of investigation included perceptions vis-à-vis the concept of such a tool, its perceived utility, the applicability of the tool, and the clarity, ease of understanding and comprehensiveness of the tool. The research initiative was very much integrated into the design process, where different drafts of the self-assessment tool were reviewed by stakeholders and revised accordingly.


To provide research support for the development of the self-assessment tool, two focus groups and a set of 20 in-depth interviews were conducted. The focus groups were conducted in Toronto. One group was with teachers of core and emersion French, with a mix by size and type of school (e.g. elementary, high school), and length of teaching. The other group was conducted with CPF parent advocates active in this area. Participants for the focus groups were recruited using lists provided by the CPF. The teacher group was recruited using a mix of methods, including calls to Toronto area schools and referrals. Participants were asked to review the self-assessment tool prior to their participation in the group. The document, along with a cover letter that contained review instructions and a brief questionnaire, was sent to people in advance (by email/fax). The in-depth interviews were conducted by phone with teachers of core/immersion French, school board representatives, principals, parents, and students in core or immersion French. The interviews lasted 45-60 minutes, and were distributed across Canada. A one-page letter describing the purpose/nature of the research was sent to potential interviewees in advance (by fax/email) to provide background and encourage participation. A draft of the self-assessment tool was sent to people who agreed to be interviewed so that they could provide more in-depth feedback on the tool and better prepare for the interview. Focus groups were used in order to foster an environment that allowed for brainstorming and observation. In-depth interviews were used to address practical issues such as the heterogeneity and geographical dispersion of the stakeholders, cost-effectiveness, and convenience.

This study involved a number of challenges:

  • Because the self-assessment tool was very detailed (e.g. 20 different indicators), it was important to ensure that meaningful feedback was obtained. In order to provide for this, participants received the documents in advance in order to have time for a full review.
  • In addition to providing participants with time to review the tool and guide, it was important to ensure that they focused their attention appropriately (where feedback was most useful or needed). In order to achieve this, detailed review instructions and a brief questionnaire were sent to participants along with the draft tool and guide.
  • Recruiting teachers for focus groups can be very challenging in light of their schedules. In addition to the list provided by CPF, teachers in the focus group were recruited using a number of other methods including calls to Toronto area schools and referrals. A letter describing the purpose and nature of the research was also prepared in order to explain the background of the study and enlist of the support of schools’ administrative staff.
  • Similarly, recruiting principals, trustees, and teachers for in-depth interviews posed a challenge. As with the focus groups, a letter describing the purpose and nature of the research was prepared and sent to potential participants (or their ‘gatekeepers’) in order to explain the background of the study. Moreover, numerous attempts were made to contact potential interviewees and accommodate their busy schedules.
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