An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Irish
Clane, County Kildare
Roll number: 91372D
Date of inspection: 27 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire, Clane, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Irish 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 of Irish.
Classes in first year in Scoil Mhuire are of mixed ability. Students in second year are then allocated to classes based on the summer examination results at the end of first year. There are two higher-level classes and four ordinary-level classes in second and third year. There are mixed ability classes once again for Transition Year (TY). There are two higher-level classes in fifth year and this drops to one higher-level class in sixth year. It is recommended that the Irish teachers and school management discuss the issue of the number of students taking the higher level papers in the state examinations at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate level, with a view to seeking to increase this number in future years. The provision for Irish on the school timetable is satisfactory, with five periods a week for junior cycle students, three periods for Transition Year and five periods again for classes in senior cycle. It would be advisable to provide a fourth period in Transition Year if that time can be made available.
There are nine teachers teaching Irish in the school. Most have many years of experience in teaching the subject. Teachers, under the direction of the school management, exchange classes and levels amongst themselves so that all teachers have an opportunity to teach the various age ranges and levels. This is good practice.
Ninety-five of the 849 students in the school have an exemption from studying Irish. Fifty-seven of these students have learning difficulties and the other thirty-eight exemptions pertain to students who have come from abroad.
The school makes worthwhile efforts to extend and develop students’ experience of Irish as a living language. A range of enjoyable activities are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge and these include talent competitions in Irish, drama through Irish for Transition Year students, poster competitions and treasure hunts. Students are brought to Irish drama presentations in the area. An Irish club is also arranged once a week at lunch time for fifth years and it is intended to extend this to include sixth years next year. A system entitled “cara Gaeilge” (Irish friend) was established between first years and third years last year to help students who had difficulties with the language and it was reported that this was working well. Transition Year students assist in the organisation of Seachtain na Gaeilge and they are asked to write a report of this work as part of their year diary. Such efforts are highly commendable. Events and occasions of this type provide students with a taste of Irish as a living language. Additionally such initiatives strengthen and support the work of the Irish teachers in classes. The continuation of extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities is recommended and it is also recommended that these be further developed in future.
There is no specific annual budget for Irish but it was indicated that teachers could access funds from the principal for the purchase of resources. The Irish department has one data projector and some teachers have personal laptops which they use in classes. The teachers expect to receive other data projectors in the near future. There is a press containing Irish resources in the room of one of the Irish co-ordinators. It is recommended that resources and materials available for the teaching of the language be recorded and that that list would form a core element of planning for Irish. It is recommended that the resources be developed gradually and that the teachers themselves would be aware of the availability of resources, in particular authentic texts, suitable for use with the various classes.
A number of students from Scoil Mhuire go to the Gaeltacht each year and it would be good for the profile of Irish in the school if this number could be increased. A letter was issued to first-year parents last year informing them of the impending changes in the state examinations for Irish. It is recommended that school management advise parents of the advantages to be derived from Irish courses and that they be informed of the details of courses in Dublin and in various Gaeltacht areas.
Teachers in Scoil Mhuire have their own classrooms, providing them with an excellent opportunity to create an attractive Irish environment in those rooms. Some classrooms provided an excellent print rich environment and there were some materials pertaining to the teaching and learning of the language on display in all classes. The creation of an attractive print rich environment could be further developed in some classrooms.
It was indicated that every opportunity is provided for teachers to attend in-service courses and that over the past two years some staff members attended courses organised by the Second Level Support Service for Irish. The recommendations of the support service were applied in a few of the classes observed during the inspection and this is highly commendable.
Two co-ordinators have been nominated to take charge of planning issues in regard to Irish in the school. This responsibility rotates every two years or so amongst teachers. This is good practice as it gives every member of staff an opportunity to take a leadership role in relation to the development and planning of Irish in the school. The teachers often meet to discuss issues. Matters discussed at these meetings include booklists, the allocation of students to classes, planning for the subject and extra activities such as Seachtain na Gaeilge.
It is evident that a significant amount of work has been undertaken in recent years on subject planning for Irish. On the day of the inspection a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was provided. This plan incorporates the aims and objectives of the Irish department, a description of the allocation of students to classes, teaching methods and lists of topics to be covered with the various levels and year groups. All of the planning work completed to date is commendable. It is recommended, however, that details be included in the schemes of work regarding a range of methodologies, materials and resources to be used in classes as well as learning outcomes and assessment methods. It is also recommended that planning for the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching of Irish form a core element of the plan.
It is evident that worthwhile efforts are being undertaken to provide an interesting and enjoyable programme of work for Transition Year students. The key role of students in the organisation of events for Seachtain na Gaeilge, and the events planned in conjunction with students from the gaelscoil are particularly noteworthy. However, the plan provided on the day of the inspection did not give sufficient detail in relation to the breadth of the programme. It is recommended that a common programme be followed in all classes and that more details be provided in relation to the programme and what work students undertake each week. It is also recommended that a module on Irish media be included as part of the year’s programme. Emphasis should also be placed on Irish as a living language and students should acquire an awareness of all national initiatives to develop the language and to promote it outside of the educational sphere.
Very comprehensive planning and preparation was undertaken for the majority of the classes observed. The lessons on the whole were well structured and included a range of the tasks to be covered and the pacing of lessons was good. Teachers also prepared a range of worksheets and notes for distribution to students.
The standard of teaching and learning in Irish was very good in Scoil Mhuire. There was excellent use of Irish as the language of management, communication and instruction in most of the lessons observed. Teachers are highly commended for their diligence in using the target language. With the exception of one case observed, teachers did their best not to depend on translation from Irish to English to ensure children’s understanding of the content of the lesson. A range of clever strategies was used in classes to avoid the use of translation, including gestures and the use of diagrams and explanations in simple Irish. Such an approach is highly commendable.
Teachers engaged diligently and energetically in the lessons observed. Students were made aware of the aim of the lesson at the beginning of most lessons, and in a few instances the aim and the subject matter of the lesson were written on the whiteboard. This is good practice. Teachers circulated amongst the students ensuring that they were completing the work and assisting them. It was evident that there was a good relationship between the students and the teachers and discipline was excellent. The white board was used effectively in all classes observed. New vocabulary was recorded as well as answers from students, their opinions and various other matters pertaining to the lesson.
Students in various classes made some efforts to communicate in Irish with teachers and on the whole teachers’ questions were answered in Irish. Pair work, group work and role play was used in some classes. Such an approach is highly commendable.
The manner in which all skills were developed, in most of those classes observed, through the completion of a range of tasks within the period of the lesson, is commendable. It was felt, however, that in certain instances more opportunities for communication in Irish could be created for students. It is recommended that efforts be made to ensure that students are given various opportunities to speak in each class and not only when they are answering teachers’ questions. To that end it is recommended that questions on all topics be prepared for pair work and group work. These, in terms of complexity, should be adapted to suit the various classes and levels. In this way students will become familiar with the layout of questions and the structure of Irish, and their confidence in using the language amongst themselves and with the teacher will thus be developed. In a few of those cases observed the lesson began with general conversation between the teacher and the students. Such an approach is highly commendable and it is worth providing such opportunities for students so that they can informally discuss topics of interest to themselves. The manner in which full sentences were sought as answers to questions is commendable. Such practice should be extended to all lessons to provide students with additional experience of the spoken language and its structure.
ICT was used to good effect in a few of the lessons observed . The content of the lesson was presented to students in a variety of appealing and enjoyable ways by using different images relating to the topic under discussion. The use of ICT greatly enhanced the effectiveness and the enjoyment of the classes for students. It is understood that ICT resources are gradually being developed by the school in line with the resources available to the school. When teachers have improved access to ICT it is recommended that efforts be made to use aspects of ICT with students in all year groups.
The use made of other resources in the Irish classes was commendable. Films, music, games and pictures were used in a few lessons during the period of inspection. It is most important that a wide range of resources are used in all the Irish classes rather than depending on the textbook alone. It is recommmended, in the event of music being used to contextualise the content of the lesson for students, that the connection between the music and the poem or literature extract in question be fully explained. It is also recommended that the practice in regard to additional resources be extended to all lessons. An effort should also be made in lessons to use authentic texts as listening exercises rather than always depending on examination audio texts. Everyday materials and resources provide an opportunity for the teacher to contextualise the lesson for the students and this is a very important aspect of encouraging and developing their interest in learning. It is also important to make a connection between the content of the lesson and the everyday lives of students.
The manner in which the common themes in the literature extracts on the Leaving Certificate course were interconnected in one instance was highly commendable. There were excellent efforts made to focus students’ attention on the similarities between various aspects of the literature course. Every effort was made to engage the interest of students in the subject and to seek their opinions. Greater use of this approach is strongly recommended.
In-house examinations are held in the school at Christmas and in the summer. Additionally mid-term examinations and ongoing assessment are used to assess students’ progress. Reports are sent home to parents after the house examinations.
It was evident from the copybooks observed that homework is assigned and corrected on a very regular basis. There was plenty of work in those copybooks inspected and corrections had been carefully implemented with references in Irish to the standard of the work and to student’s progress. However, one instance was observed where most of the class time was spent correcting homework from the evening before. Although a great deal of time was spent discussing the corrections, the correct versions of the answers were not displayed, and students corrected homework inaccurately. It is recommended when necessary and appropriate, that the answers to homework be displayed on the white board, or on the overhead projector, or even on a screen with the help of the data projector so that students have access to the correctly spelt answers. It is extremely important to regularly correct errors in grammar and syntax and also to check students’ copybooks regularly to ensure that the work is being taken down correctly from the white board during the lessons.
On the whole the assigned homework was very suitable for students, and in a few cases it was also felt that the homework given was very imaginative. In one case students were asked to bring in a photograph of their family and they were informed that they would have to introduce members of the family to the class the following day, with the help of the photograph. In another case students were asked to look for extracts and photographs from newspapers on a particular topic that was to be discussed in class.
In light of the evidence of the high standards of teaching and learning Irish in Scoil Mhuire it is regrettable that more students are not taking higher-level papers in the state examinations. The Irish team and school management are advised to examine ways in which this might be improved in the coming years. Efforts such as the extra-curricular programme, increased emphasis on spoken Irish, the club Gaeilge and encouraging students to attend Gaeltacht colleges should assist in raising the number of students over a period of time.
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 Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2010