An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection in Irish
Coláiste Chathail Naofa,
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll Number: 72220T
Date of inspection: 16 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection at Coláiste Chathail Naofa, Dungarvan Co.Waterford. 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 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 and the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Contact is made with the primary schools and with the parents before the students attend the school. In Junior Cycle all students are offered the Junior Certificate Schools Programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme are available to Senior Cycle students. Through co-timetabling each student has the opportunity to attain the highest level in the subject and this approach is to be commended. At the time of visit it was noticed that a large number of students were exempted from Irish under the provisions of Circular M10/94. It is recommended that a school policy on student participation in Irish be developed and the provision of the subject should be reviewed in order to ensure that students of Irish have at least, four classes per week in Junior Cycle and five classes per week for students taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
The school has four Irish teachers. Although no specific budget is allocated for the teaching of Irish, it is understood from speaking with the teachers and management that any needs they may have are met, on request. A range of aids and resources is available and the teachers are congratulated on the classroom environment and the manner in which some were decorated with modern posters and, more importantly, with students’ work. It was also noted how room names are written in Irish on school doors.
It was communicated that students are given information about summer colleges and special events are organised during Irish Week. It was conveyed that various publications are used in addition to videotapes from TG4. Irish teachers have access to a computer room in the school but information and communication technology (ICT) are not regularly availed of in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that the wider use be made of ICT be reconsidered as the students should understand that Irish is also a living language in the modern media. As was noted the teachers’ work sheets and the students’ Irish posters were computer generated and this good practice should be extended and students should be given an opportunity to express their work and learning through various media.
Planning and preparation in this school are of a good standard. The Irish teachers function as a department on a formal basis and the department meets regularly on a formal and informal basis throughout the school year. It was stated that the main business of the meetings was selection of textbooks, selection of resources, allocation of students to classes, and their suitability to the level they are studying Irish. Information on these meetings is made available to management. It is understood from the management that it is school policy to provide as much experience as equally as possible at different levels among all the teachers and this policy is to be commended.
The school is well engaged in the School Development Planning Process and the teachers are to be congratulated on the ongoing personal and joint planning for Irish. The planning document jointly planned by the Irish department is particularly significant. This well considered self-assessment document listed the main decisions and recommendations concerning Irish in the school. It is encouraging when teachers agree on a work plan for the year and it is recommended that this opportunity be used to focus, not only on the work programme, but also on the instructional methods appropriate to that selected programme and its associated learning results, in particular learning results in respect of oral proficiency. As is stated in the Department’s various syllabi the principal aim of the courses is to enable the pupils to use the language. It might be possible, when appropriate, to prepare a lesson plan together as a department, put it into effect in the appropriate classes, and meet subsequently to discuss the lesson. Since most classes, in any one year group, follow the same timetable it may be possible to trial team- teaching in which the teachers teach in partnership in the same classroom.
In all the classes observed it was noted that the lesson content was consistent with the Department’s syllabi and with the range of interests and abilities of the students. As one might expect at this time of year, the majority of lessons involved revision. During my visit a pleasant relationship between the teachers and the students was observed with humour used to good effect on occasion. The students were praised as often as possible during the lessons and the students’ self-esteem and self-confidence was to the fore in each class. This contributed to the atmosphere of co-operation observed in the teaching and learning process that was underway and great credit is due to the teachers in this regard.
Every effort was made to use Irish as the medium of instruction and general communication in class and this method is commended, as it is through immersion in Irish that students learn the language. In each class observed the students’ errors were corrected sensitively and in the majority of classes grammar was intermixed naturally through the lesson with emphasis correctly placed on the communicative importance of grammar. It was clear that the lessons observed were well planned and had continuity. As a result of this thorough planning the lessons had structure and vibrancy.
The students, in one class observed in the Junior Cycle, focussed on the theme of ‘Sport’. Under the clever, skilled direction of the teacher all the language skills were involved and each student was given every opportunity to participate in the lesson. The students’ vocabulary was developed at the beginning of the lesson and flashcards were used effectively to accomplish this. Listening, reading, verbal and writing skills were introduced in the lesson at an appropriate rate. It was interesting to hear the teacher say “you’re not talking!” while the class was busy with paired work. The manner in which working in pairs and role-play were approached deserves much praise. The variety of tasks integrated with all the language skills ensured that the students were actively involved in their learning. From beginning to end the preparation and approach involved in this lesson are to be commended. Recording of this excellent practice could ensure further achievement, as language skills and transferable skills could be developed at the same time. This classroom work and the methodologies employed should be celebrated and shared.
Another class in the Junior Cycle had students completing forms that were based on past examination papers. As in other classes, the teacher did not resort to English and such a teaching style is very effective with language students. The students had the key words and a word maze had been created for them beforehand on the computer. Various forms were used to keep the object of the lesson to the fore and the students were asked questions to focus their minds on the challenge. The classroom could be arranged so that the students might question each other and also write together. While the students were carrying out their work the teacher came to the assistance of certain students. This helpful style could be further developed through a broader use of pair work and group work.
Another class observed concentrated on composing a personal letter about a particular event. The emphasis in this class was on writing skills and on reinforcing communicative skills. An overhead projector was used very effectively to present the import of the students’ ideas. The students were also provided with work sheets in order to provide a writing frame for their work. As with the other classes observed there was a functional and communicative emphasis to the points of grammar mentioned. Verb tenses were incorporated into this lesson, as they were required for the work the students were undertaking. Once again, it is recommended that wider use be made of teaching methods that involve students working together and that emphasise peer instruction, particularly during revision work.
Students were asked higher order questions in another class observed. This class was studying a poem and the white board was used to present students’ imaginative answers to the class. It was clear that the students that read aloud and answered the teacher’s questions had a good command of Irish. It was also clear that they derived enjoyment and benefit from actively participating in the lesson. The students were required to write a paragraph about the principal character in the poem and this integrated approach in which different tasks are emphasised is commended. This good practice could be developed by pre-compiling a list of vocabulary and phrases from the poem to be introduced into the lesson as often as possible. Every effort was made to create an atmosphere in the class where Irish could be used naturally and it is recommended that the emphasis is placed on the teacher as facilitator of various learning activities rather than solely as disseminator of information.
The quality of learning and instruction in Irish is good in this school. To further develop the good practice observed, it is recommended that communicative methods be used so as to give students more opportunities to practice their Irish not only with the teacher but also with their peers.
In addition to the daily and continuous assessment in the classes, a comprehensive assessment of the students is conducted through regular examination and reviews during the year. The students take formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer and in addition examinations are held at end of each month. Pre-state examinations are held for the third year and sixth year students in the Spring. The teachers record the results in their own diaries. Reports of the results achieved by the students are forwarded to parents and the parents are given an opportunity to meet the teachers during the year. Two formal meetings are arranged with parents of third and sixth year students. This comprehensive approach is to be commended.
It was conveyed that these examinations are mainly concerned with writing, reading and listening skills. As observed from the school documentation and the classes observed the spoken language is at the heart of the syllabus and, of course, listening and speaking are no less important than reading and writing. Therefore, it is recommended that a broader assessment be conducted on the spoken language. The best way to accomplish this would be through observation and continuous assessment in the classroom. This school has a practice of praising the students and celebrating their achievements as often as possible and a simple certificate could be presented to those who do their best to speak the language and a note could be included in the report forwarded to home.
The students’ copybooks and work sheets were examined and it was clear that work was carried out and corrected on a broad range of material consistent with the Department’s syllabi and with the students’ range of interests. Personal notes and grades were sometimes marked and this good practice is to the benefit of students and shows the personal interest taken by teachers in the students’ progress.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made: