An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Gaeilge
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet, Co. Cork
Roll Number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 4 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report was written following a subject inspection at Millstreet Community School, County Cork. 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.
First year in this school is comprised of mixed ability classes. All other classes are streamed. It is school policy that each student has every opportunity to attain the highest level in the subject and in order to achieve this classes in this school are organised on a co-timetabled basis. At the time of visit it was noted that only a very small minority of the students had exemption from learning Irish under the provisions of Circular M10/94. This good practice is to be commended and such participation considerably enhances the learning and self-esteem of each student in the class.
First year and transition year students have four classes per week. All other year-groups in the school have five classes per week. Generally one class per day is provided and it is recommended that this policy continue as students gain most from regular daily input. The students are divided following a common examination at the end of first year and thereafter they have access to the subject at different levels with flexibility as regards changing levels. The school deserves the highest praise for such philosophy and practice.
Five teachers at the school teach Irish. 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. Most teachers have permanent rooms and a range of aids and resources was observed in each classroom inspected. It is recommended that consideration should be given to the advantages of using an overhead projector in the teaching of Irish. 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 conveyed that publications such as ‘Dréimire’, ‘Staighre’ and ‘Céim’ are used as well as videotapes from TG4. The school also has a library and it is recommended that the number of modern books be added to especially for students who have a good command of Irish. Information is given to students about summer colleges and camps. Céilithe, quizzes and other events take place during Irish Week and help in making the students aware that Irish is a living language. The Irish teachers have use of the school’s computer room but it was stated that there is little regular use of information and communication technology in the teaching and learning of Irish (ICT). It is recommended that greater use be made of ICT and its benefits, as the students should understand that Irish is also a living language in the modern media.
The Irish teachers function as a department on a formal basis and they meet formally at the beginning and at the end of the school year. In the interest of progressing planning in the subject, it is recommended that additional formal meetings be held during the year. A subject co-ordinator works in a voluntary capacity and it is recommended that other members of the department are given an opportunity to fill this important post, as appropriate and in rotation. The main objectives of the department meetings include text-books selection, common programmes selection, common examinations and resources, allocating students to classes, and the suitability of students to particular levels of learning 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 participating in the School Development Planning Process and it is evident that much planning is underway in the school. Personal planning documentation for all teachers was viewed and the department’s year plan was produced. Evidence of serious consideration was observed in the documentation, which places particular emphasis on lesson content, class-work, homework and assessment. The teachers are congratulated on the personal planning and co- planning conducted for Irish. Common assessments are organised for each year-group and it was obvious the teachers were in agreement as to what should be taught. It was also conveyed during the visit that the teachers were aware of the need to concentrate on the teaching methods most suitable to achieving the desired learning outcomes.
The importance of the spoken language in the teaching of Irish is recognised in the school documentation and in the instruction in Irish and, to add to what has been done to-date, it is recommended that attention should be given to teaching methods which encourage the students’ spoken language in the Irish classes. The balance between whole class instruction and group instruction or the differentiated methods that are used and could be used in the classroom should be examined. The best methods of using information and communication technology in the Irish class could also be examined. Developments in computerisation should not be exaggerated, the use of computers should not be equated with good teaching, but as mentioned above the students would enjoy and derive benefit from using and learning the language through a modern medium. In addition students would have an opportunity to learn and practice transferable skills. The syllabus guidelines, together with the support services available at www.slss.ie and at www.sess.ie would be of considerable assistance to the teachers as they engage in such work.
As already stated excellent examples of students’ work were displayed on the walls of each classroom. An attractive encouraging learning environment affects students’ learning and the manner in which the rooms are presented is commendable. It was noted that the students in one class used the computer to print their work. This good practice should be extended to other classes.
The teachers and management deserve the highest praise for the high standard of planning and preparation in this school.
At the time of the visit the lesson content presented was consistent with the Department’ syllabus and with the students’ range of interests and abilities. It was noted that in all the classes observed there was an open and welcoming atmosphere among students and teachers. The students were clearly willing to participate and demonstrated a good understanding of the subject. It was evident from the copybooks that continuity was ensured from lesson to lesson. A pleasant relationship between teachers and students was observed with humour used to good effect on occasion. This added a great deal to the co-operation that was obvious in the teaching and learning process.
The aim of each lesson was clearly presented to the students at the beginning of each class as is recommended. Use was made of particular themes such as ‘films’, ‘young people’, and the themes of the various poems under discussion. It is recommended that this method be used as often as possible as, when particular themes are involved, it is possible to integrate all the language skills within the one class through different tasks. In addition it is possible to involve communicative methods such as working in pairs, group-work, peer instruction, role-play etc. in the lesson. It was noted that these communicative opportunities were seldom availed of.
The students were praised whenever possible during the lessons and the students’ self-esteem and self-confidence were to the fore in every class. Appropriate emphasis was placed on developing vocabulary and teaching the structure of the language. The whiteboard was used to keep the subject matter of the lesson to the fore, as were work sheets. As a result of the comprehensive planning the lessons were structured and progressed at a lively pace. Every effort was made to use Irish as the medium of instruction and as the normal language of communication in the class, even in the weakest classes, and this practice is to be commended. It was noted that a number of the students were happy to seek clarification in Irish and it is recommended that this good practice be extended by incorporating the everyday language of the classroom, required by the students, into further subject planning.
In one class observed in the Junior Cycle the students were focusing on a reading comprehension based on a film critique. Irish was the common language of the class. The lesson plan was written on the whiteboard and the students answered questions put to them and they in turn were willing to use the Irish they had learned, for example, “may I….?” “what is the meaning of…?” This lesson progressed at a lively pace and the students were given tasks based on the theme. The students’ vocabulary was extended by use of work sheets and listening and reading skills were interwoven into the lesson through listening to recorded extracts. Under the skilful management of the teacher pre-reading of questions from the tape were discussed and students were willing to raise their hands and offer explanations. The students frequently worked individually and it is recommended that, where appropriate, they work together for some periods of time. One of the main advantages associated with communicative methods is that it gives students an opportunity to use their Irish and gives the teacher an opportunity to assist students with particular needs. By recording this approach much would be achieved as both language skills and transferable skills would develop simultaneously.
Emphasis was place in another class on preparing an essay on ‘Young People’. The teacher drew the students’ attention to the language through quick verbal questions and through recorded extracts. Good use was made of the whiteboard, of highly structures questions and of students’ prior knowledge to create a framework for the subject in hand, which was of great assistance to the students as they began their work. The students were working through brainstorming, on the subject of the day, and the teacher wrote down the answers from the floor. This good practice could be added to by giving students the opportunities to work together in small groups and by sharing and comparing their answers with their peers. It would be well worth considering the use of an overhead projector to save the lesson-work for re-use. An atmosphere was created in this class which gave the students the understanding they should use their Irish and not be overly concerned with errors or omissions. A language is learned through trial and re-trial and the teacher’s philosophy in this regard is to be commended.
A Senior Cycle class worked on the poem ‘Jack’. This lesson involved revision as one might expect at this time of year. It was encouraging to see that, as in the other classes observed, the teacher did not resort to English and such teaching is very effective in the case of language learners. At the beginning of the lesson the students were questioned about the poem and the poet. The students were given an opportunity to read the poem and the notes aloud and such an approach is commendable as the tendency is to do the opposite and keep students in silence. It was clear the students enjoyed and benefited from participating actively in the learning. To enhance this good practice it is recommended that only the main corrections should be highlighted and only at the end of the lesson rather than during the work. A good association was created between the poem and a letter to be written from the Gaeltacht and this good practice could be further improved by getting the students to work collectively before starting to write or perhaps to allow them to write collectively. Again, an overhead projector would be very useful for this work. Note was taken of the manner in which the teacher made use of a cross word from the internet site www.scoilnet.ie and the teacher was aware of other sites such as www.puzzlemaker.com which would allow students to devise their own cross-words.
In another class the lesson began with tape-work, followed by some time spent on the poem ‘Gealt’ and the lesson finished with written work. As with other classes that made use of recordings it was sometimes unclear what was the connection between this aspect and the rest of the lesson and vocabulary would be further enhanced by creating a association between phrases, adages and words on the tape which might be used during the lesson. The students were given every assistance in making progress with the poem by providing questions and answers as well as a work sheet. Towards the end of the lesson attention was given to composing a story. It is obvious the teacher is familiar with the close association between their oral skills and the students’ writing ability. The story was first composed verbally and with this approach the students were then ready to put the story down on paper. The teacher is to be highly commended for this method. The work of the students in this class was observed on display in printed form and it is recommended that the students continue to be given an opportunity to integrate their computer skills and their Irish as often as possible.
The teacher’s management skills were portrayed in another class which had students at various levels. An effort was made to improve the students’ language skills by presenting them with tape-work, a reading selection and a poem that they had previously discussed. This approach, which emphasised various tasks, has merits and could be improved by choosing vocabulary and certain phrases in advance and introducing them into the lesson as often as possible. It was noted that the whiteboard was used to illustrate the imagery and key words of the poem and again the teacher did not resort to English. In addition, student life was woven into the lesson as often as possible and it was clear to the students that they were able to discuss their lives and opinions within the lesson. At the conclusion of the lesson the students were presented with written questions which they had to answer in their copybooks. There are of course as many ways of teaching a lesson, as there are types of students and it is recommended particularly during revision work, that students be given an opportunity to ask and answer questions among themselves. One of the advantages associated with this method is the integration of all the language skills into one learning activity.
The learning and instruction of Irish is of a high standard and, to add to the good practice witnessed, the use of communicative methods is recommended which would give the students opportunity 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 very comprehensive assessment of the students is conducted through regular examinations during the year. Students take formal examinations, in autumn, in the springtime and in summer. As previously stated and commended common assessment occurs. Pre-state examinations are conducted for the third year and sixth year students in the springtime. Teachers keep a record of the results in their own diaries. Reports of results achieved by the students are forwarded to parents three times per year. Parents are given opportunities to meet teachers and formal meetings are arranged on two occasions per year. The management and teachers deserve the highest praise for this good practice.
It was conveyed that these examinations are mainly concerned with writing, reading and listening skills. As evident from the school documentation and the classes visited the spoken language is at the heart of the syllabus and, of course, listening and speaking are of no less importance 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. 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 copybooks inspected showed that work was carried out and corrected on a broad range of material that complied with the requirements of the syllabus. It was noted that in some copybooks the teacher had written personal notes and direction to explain corrections. Some of them were graded and it was obvious that some of the teachers differentiated in the corrections taking students’ ability into account. This is commendable work and impacts positively on students. Corrections are part of the learning process and it is recommended that the regular checking of the students written work continues so that they have affirmation and guidance on how to improve on their work. The school is considering a homework policy at present, and school personnel are advised to take this good practice into consideration when formulating the whole-school policy. Vocabulary development took place in each class and the students had notebooks for noting words, points of grammar etc. One of the first steps in independent learning is learning to organise note making.
The following recommendations are made in order to build on these strengths and to assist in tackling areas for development: