An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Cigireacht Ábhair: Béarla
Gairmscoil Chú Uladh
Leifear, Co. Dhún na nGall
Uimhir Rolla: 71242B
Dáta na cigireachta: 16 Bealtaine 2006
Dáta eisithe na tuairisce: 26 Deireadh Fómhair 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gairmscoil Chú Uladh. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 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.
Gairmscoil Chú Uladh is a small school in the Donegal Gaeltacht. It was founded in 1982 and provides second-level education to students through the medium of Irish. The small student population influences class organisation and, this year, one mixed ability class group has been formed in first and Transition years. In each of the other years there are two class groups. Generally first year students are placed in mixed ability classes. In second year, based on achievement in tests and teacher observation, they are placed in higher or ordinary level classes to reflect student ability. As the timetable in second and third years is concurrent students can and do change levels as appropriate. In Senior Cycle one class group follows the higher level course and the other takes the ordinary level. Classes are again timetabled concurrently so that students can move between the two levels.
General resource provision for English is good. Timetabled provision for the teaching of English is in line with syllabus guidelines. Teachers are generally allocated to a class group for the duration of a course and this facilitates the development and continuity of positive teaching-learning relationships. Teachers are assigned their own classrooms and this allows for the creation of a learning environment designed specifically to support the teaching and learning of English. In both classrooms visited, the teachers had created a motivational, print-rich, environment with students’ own work, displays of subject-specific terminology, and other visual learning aids.
Teachers have access to a TV, DVD and video to support their teaching and may also use the computer facilities in the school. They use the Internet as a source for teaching material and this is commended. There is a school library available and student access to good reading material is facilitated at lunchtime by one of the teachers. Teachers are commended for the efforts made to promote and maintain the habit of reading, for example, by including time for reading in their plans for the year, particularly in Transition year when students are required to read widely.
Students are provided with opportunities for some co-curricular activities in English. A drama module is offered as part of the Transition Year Programme and visits to the theatre are organised by the teachers. These activities help students to gain an insight into the practical elements of the creative process and inform the way they relate to the drama texts on their courses. The school is commended for facilitating these arrangements and the involvement of teachers is an indicator of their commitment to the subject. The skills of debating and speech writing are taught in class. It is suggested that teachers take advantage of concurrent timetabling to organise inter-class debating. In this way students can develop their oral skills and, through practical work, grow in confidence as public speakers.
The two teachers of English work well together. They meet each other regularly, though informally, to plan and evaluate their work and brief records of these meetings are included in the planning documentation available in the school. A subject plan for English has been developed and this outlines the organisational structures underpinning the delivery of the programme and includes detailed notes on the content to be taught in each year. A commendable emphasis on teaching thinking and communicating was evident in the stated aims for the teaching of English. The detailed programmes planned, however, focus on content and teacher contribution and it is recommended that they should be further developed to include a short list of desired learning outcomes for students. This would identify the skills to be achieved by students in each year and more accurately reflect the student-centred focus of classroom teaching which was evident during the evaluation process.
The programme planned for junior cycle students taking the Ordinary level course for examination should include the full text of a drama, rather than extracts. Together with the other work planned, this will expose students to a fuller range of literary genres and is necessary to develop their critical literacy skills.
A written programme for the Transition Year Programme was available for inspection. The programme planned provides an interesting introduction to the study of film and a solid preparation for the study of English in Senior Cycle. It is suggested that, when writing the programme for next year’s TYP, a statement of the objectives of the course, defined in terms of student learning, should be added in order to provide clear direction for teaching in the classroom. It is suggested too that a stronger relationship should be established between these objectives and the methods used to assess students’ progress and that this should be reflected in the planning notes. Guidance on writing the programme is given in the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme which outlines the principles and content of a written programme. Copies may be obtained from the TYP Curriculum Support Service at Blackrock Education Centre or from their website: www.transitionyear.ie.
Planning for learning support begins with screening all incoming first years for learning difficulties, using standardised, norm-referenced tests of achievement. In addition, the school liaises closely with the feeder primary schools and parents to identify students who may have literacy and language deficits. Support is delivered either in small groups of two or three students or on a one-to-one basis as appropriate. As is good practice, education plans have been drawn up for students with identified special education needs. The school is commended for arranging in-service training for all teachers in special needs education.
There was evidence of excellent planning for individual lessons in Gairmscoil Chú Uladh. Clear links with the subject plan were evident in individual teachers’ planning documents and a range of relevant resources were utilised. In all classes visited, the learning target for the lesson was clearly identified. In this way, students’ attention was focussed from the outset and they understood the purpose of classroom activities.
A variety of teaching and learning strategies was observed and classroom activities included a well-judged balance of whole-class, group and individual work. In this way, the lessons presented ensured that the learning needs of all students, regardless of their abilities, needs and interests, were addressed. In one class, for example, the changing of tasks, from listening through discussion and reading aloud, to writing, ensured that students’ interest was maintained. The transition from one stage of the lesson to the next was well-managed and the pace of the lesson ensured students remained on task throughout. In a second class, whole class discussion of their own experiences was used to prepare students for a first reading of a poetry text. A quiet reading of the poem followed this. Drawing on students’ experiences, and using their own words when discussing the text, enlivened the lesson and made memorable the learning acquired.
Students were taught the appropriate vocabulary to use in the critical analysis of their texts. Key concepts and skills were clearly explained to the students and repeated adequately. In one junior cycle classroom, for example, a poster of poetry terms was displayed on the wall. In another, students were encouraged to use a variety of words to express themselves. Throughout, students’ questions were encouraged and accepted. In addition, the teachers were sensitive to students’ difficulties in understanding material and set about clarifying these difficulties as they arose.
In all classes visited, the teachers facilitated whole class discussion of texts being studied and extended students’ learning by providing frequent opportunities for them to express, explain and defend their own opinions. The encouragement to develop a personal response to a text was particularly evident in the senior cycle classes visited. Teachers were quite skilled in their use of questions to help students explore for themselves the emerging dynamic between two characters in a play, for example, or to identify useful words or phrases to use to express their own opinions. In some instances, opportunities to set up student-student dialogue were seized by the teacher and some interesting exchanges resulted. It is suggested that better use could be made of the whiteboard to record students’ contributions to these discussions and to consolidate the learning which results.
Teachers have high but realistic expectations of what students can achieve and these expectations are reflected in good standards of work. The correction and discussion of homework provided the starting point for some lessons and students received clear guidance on the quality of their work and effort. Students regularly annotated their own work as it was corrected in class and they were given the opportunity to discuss, reflect on and improve the work they had completed. They demonstrated familiarity with previously taught material and responded well when questioned, often making insightful comments.
A whole school homework policy has been developed in Gairmscoil Chú Uladh and the teachers of English adhere to its requirements. Written homework is assigned regularly and teachers maintain records of students’ achievements. The quality of work in students’ copies was generally very good. Exercises were regularly marked and teacher comments provided students with good feedback. The opportunity to provide clear information about their individual weaknesses was taken. This is good practice as it develops students’ understanding and skills and is an important teaching technique. Some excellent work was done in students’ copies, particularly by senior cycle students. This included very thorough and developed discussions of work studied, using appropriate vocabulary and delivering the students’ personal responses to the texts. Less able students in both junior and senior cycles tended not to write extensively and errors in language usage and syntax were more common here. The programme planned for these students in the subject plan should, however, address these difficulties as students progress through their courses.
In general, evidence indicated that students were making appropriate progress according to their level. This was, in most cases, reflected in students’ ability to discuss topics and to ask and answer questions with the minimum of prompting. In addition, the responses to the inspector’s questions revealed that students had a very good knowledge of their courses.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and the end of the summer term for non-examination classes. Third and sixth years are assessed by pre-certificate examinations in February/March. Reports issue to parents twice yearly and these include information on both achievement and effort. There is an annual parent–teacher meeting for each year group and parents can also meet the English teachers by appointment if a concern or issue arises.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.