An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Subject Inspection of Irish
Loreto Secondary School
Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
Roll Number: 62840U
Date of inspection: 17 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to representatives of the Irish teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Irish has a strong standing as a subject on the school programmes in Loreto girlsí secondary school, Letterkenny. The school was an all-Irish boarding school from the foundation of the State until 1976 when the school gradually ceased to take boarders. There are nine hundred and forty students enrolled in the current 2009/10 school year. There is a long-established tradition in the school that a large number of students undertake higher level in the subject at certificate examinations. This is also the case at present. The educational programmes relevant to Irish offered in the school include the Junior Certificate, Transition Year, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied. It was reported that primary teaching is a popular career choice among the students and that the school focuses on high achievement in Irish in the Leaving Certificate. The school management and Irish teachers are determined to preserve and strengthen the subjectís strong academic standing on the schoolís programmes in the future.
The provision for the subject on the schoolís timetable is in all respects satisfactory. In the junior cycle, though there is a limited provision in first year of four class periods per week, this amount is increased to five in second and third years. Likewise in the senior cycle, the provision in fifth year is five periods per week but this provision is increased to six in sixth year. The provision is three periods in Transition Year and for the Leaving Certificate Applied, where the course is completed in one year. There are good arrangements in place for a parallel timetable which ensures that students can access their level of choice in the subject and that they also have the opportunity to change their mind throughout the year. There is concurrent timetabling for the subject in each year except for first year and Transition Year. In both of those cases classes are of mixed ability and there is no need for such an arrangement on the timetable.
In order to maximise the number of students attempting higher level in second and third years two bands of Irish classes are formed in those years and higher level is provided in both cases. The school is commended for its continuing efforts to encourage the highest number of students to study the subject at the most challenging level commensurate with their ability. Appropriate provision is made for students who are greatly challenged by Irish with the Communicative Irish provided now in the Leaving Certificate Applied.
The school is commended for providing opportunities to five students with exemptions from Irish in primary school to attempt Irish in Loreto secondary school with special assistance. The number of students with exemptions from Irish is reasonably low, at seventy one students, equivalent to seven and a half per cent of the overall total. It is reported that the Irish lessons are not disrupted as a result. Students with exemptions from the subject are welcomed to participate in associated cultural activities, especially in Transition Year classes. This is commendable as an inclusive measure in the subject and in order to promote cultural awareness.
The Irish department in the school is in a transition period as regards staff at the moment with significant changes in personnel during the current school year. There are nine teachers teaching the subject. Two of those are newly-appointed teachers replacing two senior teachers who have retired. Two other teachers with significant experience in† teaching the subject are on various forms of leave at present. Consequently, there are four newly-appointed Irish teachers in the school from the start of the current school year, two temporary substitutes and two teachers in part-time posts. The newly-appointed teachers are responsible for a considerable amount of the teaching of the subject. Another of the nine teachers has returned to teaching the subject having spent a number of years dealing with other subjects. As a result, there are five Irish teachers who are new, or starting anew in teaching the subject, of the nine teaching the subject. This is a large challenge in the case of any subject, especially in the case of a subject which has long had a high profile in the school. It is good that all the teachers in the department have Irish at degree-level. There is an evident positive co-operation among department members. School management is advised to provide every guidance and support for the newly-appointed teachers, particularly as there are so many of them. Management and teachers are advised to consider the advantages of consulting with the newly-retired subject teachers, if possible, in order to guide newly-appointed teachers.
Good resources are available in the subject as support for teaching. All classrooms used for the subject are bright, well-decorated and welcoming and in the care of the teachers. The teachers have created a positive learning atmosphere in the classrooms with posters in Irish and relevant legible material, from vocabularies to grammatical points on the walls. Wall-mounted televisions and CD players are in some of the rooms and these resources are available in other cases. Information and communications technology (ICT) resources are being added to in the school and a personal computer was in use in two of the eight lessons visited during the subject inspection, and one data projector. The teachers are skilled in the use of ICT resources. Two computer laboratories are available on reservation. It would be worth testing the NUI Maynoothís online Vifax service in such an environment. It is recommended that, at subject planning meetings, the value of ICT resources being used by teachers be assessed and that the use of those resources be increased based on their value as considered by the teachers.
The duties of co-ordinator of the Irish department are being fulfilled well. The most senior teacher has taken on those duties in keeping with the tradition that the position is filled on the basis of seniority among the Irish teachers. These duties include general responsibility for keeping the subject plan up to date, holding collaborative planning meetings, and agreeing in-house examinations in the subject. It is recommended that consideration be given to switching the duties of this position around among all department members and that each member should have the chance to fulfil the co-ordinatorís duties for an agreed period by rotation.
The school has a good arrangement in place which ensures that many of the Irish teachers have experience in teaching at higher level as well as ordinary level. The higher level is placed on the teachersí timetable on a rotation basis. This arrangement ensures that to date the teachers have a high competence in teaching higher level. In the current school year the higher level is on the teaching programme of six of the nine teachers.
The comprehensive subject plan provided was well-organised. It contains easily-accessible essential information on the subject. The subject programme is set out clearly and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template is followed in setting out the subject plan. It contains reference material regarding official documents. It would be good to compile the essential information for the current school year as one item and to provide copies of that to all the teachers. Such information includes having the weekly timetable for all classes in the subject, the teachersí names and the level of all classes on one page. It would be worth providing a summary of that information which would show at a glance all classes, and class levels, being taught by each teacher in the subject in the current school year. Other essential information is teachersí in-service development and the recording on a calendar from the start of the year of those developmental opportunities which will be available in any particular school year. This information is available in the plan as is but could be compiled in a more concise and effective manner.
The subject plan is in accordance with the Irish syllabi and the teachersí guidelines, as appropriate, regarding the aims and objectives for the subject. Appropriate attention is paid to the language functions as set out in the syllabi and on the topics which serve those. It would be worth differentiating the learning outcomes from students more so that it will be very clear what are the differences between the learning objectives associated with study of topics at ordinary level and at higher level.
Collaborative planning meetings are held once each term during the year and a record is kept of the proceedings of these meetings. The teachers review the subject plan together. The record shows that the school strongly supports teachers in attending the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) in-service courses for Irish. It is recommended that consideration be given to gradually increasing the promotion of teachersí in-service development among themselves and that this aspect be more central later in collaborative planning activities. For example, occasional opportunities could be organised where a teacher would give a sample lesson to a particular class and another teacher or teachers could attend that lesson. A particular theme for such a sample lesson could be chosen in advance, such as teaching methods or the use of ICT or active learning. It is clear that there is good co-operation among the teachers and it would be worth building on this professional co-operation. One of the teachers, of their own accord, for example, is attending an intensive night course in the accurate writing of Irish as a refresher course. It would be worth making a presentation to colleagues at a collaborative planning meeting regarding the value of the course and sharing examples of the coursework.
An ambitious five-year plan is registered in the subject plan regarding launching improvements in conversation. This aspect of the plan is commended as an illustration of the teachersí self-assessment and of commitment to improvement. It would be worth focussing on implementing a particular aspect or aspects over a shorter time period, for example annual targets, and reviewing progress gradually and amending the plan as necessary.
The quality of teaching and learning was very satisfactory in the vast majority of the lessons observed and the quality was significantly enhanced in certain cases. In the small number of lessons which did not attain such high quality the teachers showed good potential in teaching, diligence in lesson planning and understanding of their studentsí needs. The students in every lesson showed a desire to learn and willingness to participate in the lesson and to co-operate with the teachers. There was a positive learning atmosphere in all the classrooms which were well decorated as mentioned earlier in this report. In certain cases high-quality colour pictures of various family members from the well-known television programme The Simpsons were displayed along with a legible commentary in Irish. In other cases legible notices in Irish were displayed as a guide to the students about taking precautions to defend against swine flu. This showed the care taken by the teachers to make Irish as relevant as possible to the students and to place it in, and link it with, contemporary life.
A total of eight lessons were observed during the subject inspection, five of them in the junior cycle and three in the senior cycle. The short-term planning made by all teachers for their lessons was of a high quality and in certain cases a lesson plan was provided. The objectives of those lessons were clear in each case and the lesson content was in accordance with the subject plan. The teachers had prepared additional printed material as an aid to the lesson content. Interaction between the teacher and the students was central to the lessons and the stimulus of this interaction was of high quality in the vast majority of cases. The teachers displayed self-confidence in the dialogue with the students and the students showed total respect for their teachers. There was effective use of appropriate humour in the dialogue in certain cases, to encourage the students into greater participation, and these efforts were successful. It would be worthwhile for teachers to see this practice in use effectively by other teachers.
All the teachers, more or less, used the same approach in managing the lessons. The roll was called at the start of the lesson, a prayer was said in certain cases, homework was corrected, the lesson objective was presented, teaching was done, dialogue with students followed, handouts were distributed as appropriate, homework was assigned. It is clear that the students are accustomed to this approach and they co-operate fully with it. It was obvious from the approach in the lessons, and from the brief written preparation provided in other cases that the teachers took care to practise interactive methods in teaching. Paired work and group work were set in some cases and in one case students were brought to the front of the class to make a short oral presentation about famous people which they had prepared as homework the previous night. An active role such as this for students in the lesson activities is commendable.
Such opportunities were provided in a lesson with a junior cycle class. In this case where a comprehension piece on the musician Bono was being read the teacher moved from the textbook from time to time to ask more challenging oral questions which dealt with the studentsí own experience of music and concerts. Later the students worked together on answering questions as the teacher moved around the groups giving them guidance and encouragement. The students did not have such opportunities in every case. In the case of another lesson in the same year, for example, where the teacher prepared the lesson well in advance and conducted it diligently, the only challenge facing the students was to answer limited information questions, such as reading the time or naming a school subject from a prompt picture or to mention their favourite school subject without discussing the reason. One word was sufficient as an answer to these questions. Considering that there were students in this mixed-ability class with good proficiency in the language it is recommended that different challenges be set for students from the knowledge that the teacher has of individual studentsí standard of Irish in the class. Even where the teacher does not have that knowledge, for example in the case of a new first-year class at the start of the year the differentiated questions should be practised and the class in general given the opportunity to tackle them. Good resources were prepared for this lesson, however, in the quality of the prompt pictures.
It is clear that the use of the target language is common practice in the lessons, as is proper. The target language was used throughout in all the lessons and translation to English was not being used by the teachers or sought by the students to aid understanding. It is recommended that reconsideration be made of the value in distributing handouts containing long lists of sentences in Irish and bare translations to English alongside as an aid to enriching studentsí vocabulary even if that approach is in a textbook. It was good that time was not spent on them in the lesson and it would be better not to distribute these. All the teachers showed fluency in the spoken language and certain teachers had particular accuracy in their standard of language. The attention of the students was drawn in certain classes to the necessity of accuracy in language, both spoken and written. Good use was made in places of charts on the classroom walls to recall the correct use of verb tenses. It would be worth directing the studentsí attention, especially students at the higher level, to the use that can be made of ” Důnaillís Irish-English dictionary and the electronic dictionary www.focal.ie as a guide to Irish grammar and to enriching vocabulary in addition to just finding translations in them. A module on the correct use of the dictionary would be well-suited to the Transition Year programme.
In certain cases the teachers took care to select reading material for lessons which matched the studentsí range of interests, as recommended. These dealt with film and television stars and famous musicians. In other cases where the lesson focussed on a more concrete subject such as the school subjects, reading the clock, careers and health matters certain teachers had prepared high quality resources as stimulating content for the students, such as high-quality pictures downloaded from the internet or high-standard prompt pictures. In the case of Transition Year in particular it is recommended that authentic texts be used as much as possible and items from TG4 programmes would be very suitable for this purpose.
Particular lessons were observed in the senior cycle which gave a good illustration of the studentsí ability to express themselves effectively in the language. In one such case the only resources in use were the whiteboard, guide notes and rapid questions from the teacher to the students. This was a preparation for the oral examination, which was being commenced as a common practice with the class nearly two years in advance. It is commendable that attention is paid to the speaking of the language as a common practice throughout. The students participated enthusiastically in the lively cross-questioning that was going on. Humour was used and a break was taken from time to time to focus on matters of accuracy. In another lesson there was a great variety in the lesson activities, where the comprehension extracts for the oral examination were being practised, discussion and revision of the play An Triail from the literature course, and vocabulary enrichment in general by directing attention to adjectives for describing people. A data projector was used effectively with certain excerpts from the play being shown as the basis for further discussion. These three items of the lesson were completed effectively. The students showed a great understanding of the play and empathy with the characters. The students were given the chance to practise accurate pronunciation in the reading aloud and the richness of vocabulary was greatly enhanced in the discussion and in the detailed examination done on nearly forty adjectives. The teaching and learning in both these lessons were of a high standard.
The teachers are advised to set a spoken item on normal daily activities as a regular item in the lessons and to include ICT resources more in the lesson for variety and as a valuable resource in providing authentic texts of the language.
There is regular assessment of the studentsí progress in the four language skills Ė speaking, writing, reading and listening. Oral questioning and written questioning are used in all the lessons to assess the studentsí understanding of the subject in hand. The copybooks observed show that appropriate composition, comprehension and criticique work is given in the case of literature. Teacher acknowledgement of the studentsí efforts can be read in most of the copybooks observed. It is recommended that this good practice be extended and that this acknowledgement be made clearly in each case with a date, signature and assessment of the quality of the work. One series of copybooks in particular belonging to a class in the senior cycle was an examplar of good practice regarding the acknowledgement, guidance and praise from the teacher for the studentsí efforts.
The teachers work together in assessment matters in order to agree a common examination paper for the in-house examinations. This practice is a good thing as it guides the teaching plan in the classes and the results give a valid comparison. The teachers in the senior cycle work together to provide oral examinations for students as part of the in-house examinations. This practice is commendable.
The same recognition is not to be seen in results recorded in the junior cycle as the studentsí ability in speaking the language is not included in those. As part of their collaborative planning meetings the teachers have discussed the next step to promote the spoken language more in the light of the changes announced in the allocation of marks in the certificate examinations in Circular 0042/2007. The teachers intend to enter applicants for the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate examination. The students and their parents therefore should be given information about this and from now on recognition should be given to studentsí ability in spoken Irish in the in-house examinations. The teachers are not prohibited from organising individual oral examinations as an approach to this end but such is not essential. It is recommended that a mark be recorded for the studentsí efforts in spoken language in the class as a common practice and that this mark be reviewed regularly. To this end free conversation on normal activities should be practised more as a regular item of all lessons, and an emphasis placed on this from the start of first year. Teachers could swap classes with each other for an agreed period to get a second opinion on the reliability of the marks being recorded.
This approach is recommended in preference to setting individual oral examinations for young students based on a common range of topics expected to be covered in the oral examination. The oral examination, ultimately, is only an attempt to assess the candidateís ability to express his or herself naturally in normal conversation as opposed to a series of particular questions which could be practised and for which memorised answers could be given in each case. There would be little satisfaction in this second approach and this is not the aim of oral assessment.
The teachers keep an account of assessment matters and the studentsí rates of participation at the various levels in the subject as well as the studentsí achievements in the certificate examinations are recorded in the subject plan. The audit of these data indicates that the Irish department in Loreto secondary school has succeeded in making considerable progress in these two aspects of teaching and learning of the subject. The re-organised staff of the Irish department will have an appropriate challenge in consolidating and building on these reference points.
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 representatives of the Irish teachers and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published April 2010