An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63880O
Dates of inspection: 18 & 19 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on The Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report was written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Rís, Dún Dealgan. It presents the findings of the evaluation made of the quality of instruction and learning in Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. This evaluation was conducted over a period of two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and where teaching and learning were observed. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, inspected the pupils’ work and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit the inspector provided oral feedback on the findings of the inspection to the principal, the deputy principal and the subject 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 special standing in Coláiste Rís and amongst the school parents. As an indication of this there is an all-Irish stream in each year of the junior cycle and there is a demand for places. Teaching is through Irish in those classes in the case of six subjects apart from Irish. These subjects are Geography, History, Business, Mathematics, Science and Home Economics. The senior management and teaching staff of the school in general offer strong support for Irish as a subject in the school programme and as an integral part of school life.
The school has had outstanding success in recent years in the Gael Linn Irish debating competition. The school’s junior team reached the all-Ireland final of that competition three years in succession – including the current year, 2006 – winning two of those finals. This year, Coláiste Rís’ victory was in the section of the competition for all-Irish schools and Gaeltacht schools. Such success cannot be claimed by any other school in the country. The Coláiste Rís senior teams reached the last rounds of the competition frequently over the years.
A significant number of pupils in the school are granted exemption from Irish in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94 and appropriate arrangements are made to provide them with extra classes in English and Mathematics. These arrangements are made when Irish is on the timetable, as much as possible.
The school management makes time available for coordinated planning meetings in the subject at least twice a year. These meetings are held especially at the start of the year and at the end of the year and on other occasions as required and as possible such as a staff inservice day or the day of a staff meeting. Meetings usually last an hour. These meetings deal with textbook selection, homework, common examinations, registration of teaching resources, agreement on annual work schemes. An account of these meetings was included in the minutes provided. These arrangements are regarded as satisfactory.
An informal arrangement exists regarding subject coordination. Normally the most senior teacher is responsible for this task but the work is rotated among the other teachers in order to share responsibility and experience. Those arrangements are satisfactory and the planning folders provided proof of the work of the Irish department working together.
Both management and the teachers themselves displayed an interest in in-service courses in the subject and they attend activities of the subject association, Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. It was indicated that the number of those activities is quite limited, however. The teachers organise trips for the pupils to places in the surrounding country with links to Irish literary heritage in the Oriel region such as Creagán and Urnaí. These efforts are commended.
Very good provision is made for Irish in the school timetable. Classes in the junior cycle have five periods a week, Transition Year have three, and six periods a week are provided in the senior cycle. Good timetable arrangements are in place which facilitate the movement of pupils from one level to another. Outside of classes in the all-Irish stream itself attempts are made to encourage a large number of pupils to take Irish at higher level. The success of these endeavours is evident in the statistics provided. In the junior cycle a clear majority of pupils were taking higher level. The number of pupils taking higher level in the initial year of the Leaving Certificate was much greater than national averages.
Requests by the Irish teachers for resources in the subject are welcomed. Teachers had a good supply of resources as regards textbooks and CD players. A reconsideration is planned relating to the gradual placing of classrooms in the care of teachers, something which will contribute greatly to convenient access to resources for teachers and students.
Internet access is now available in all classrooms. Since internet usage is very limited at present in the teaching of Irish, it is recommended to consider the benefits of having a computer in the classroom. It would be worthwhile placing an Information and Communications Technology item on the teaching programme and reserving a computer room well in advance for a certain number of periods. This would especially benefit the junior classes in illustrating Irish in use on various websites, using electronic dictionaries, and to send e-mails under the supervision of a teacher. This could be organised through establishing a link with another school. A wide choice of websites pertaining to Irish can be found on the website ‘Gaeilge ar an ghréasán’ www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaeilge/gaeilge.html
A planning folder was provided for all of the years in the school containing a comprehensive store of reference resources collected to teach the various parts of all the courses. Appropriate attention to the certificate examinations was evident in the collected material. This material was valuable as a store of reference material from which the teachers could draw. The material was accumulated based on the experience of the various teachers as to how well the material worked in their own classes. This work was thorough and commendable as a store of resource material being tested and shared amongst the teachers.
The coordination of teaching and learning of Irish with the classes is ongoing work. At present there is a general understanding amongst the teachers that the same material is covered with classes of the same level but the teacher has freedom to adapt that material for his or her own classes. The folders contained a subject planning template designed by the school development planning initiative (SDPI) and teachers were following those guidelines to agree the framework of a teaching and learning plan for Irish. It was clear from the planning folders, from the accumulated guidelines, from the minutes of the Irish teachers’ meetings, and from the open discussion which the inspector had with the teachers themselves and with the principal that the subject planning was being reviewed and amended in order to implement improvements. The dedication of the Irish department in agreeing and perfecting the subject planning is commended.
It would be worthwhile giving priority to the aims of the Irish syllabus itself in planning how to impart communicative ability to pupils in the language. Such definite aims would form a basis for the agreed teaching methodologies which could be practised with the classes. This has particular importance in the junior cycle where the best opportunity exists to encourage the speaking of Irish. It would be worthwhile also to pay attention to the amended objectives of the Primary School curriculum relating to the teaching of Irish and build on these objectives in planning. Valuable material is available as impetus for planning, especially in the case of the junior cycle classes, in the language acquisition objectives laid out in the European Language Portfolio. It would be worth taking these into accoount and selecting from them according to the age and abilities of the classes. Information on this Council of Europe language project – which includes Irish – on the website www.tcd.ie/CLCS/portfolio/index.html
A short document relating to long-term planning in the case of an Irish programme in Transition Year was considered. This document was in keeping with the aims of the Transition Year programme – especially for advancing communication – and it was innovative in terms of the programme content which included plays, a radio programme competition, dance and music, prose, debating, the Tráth na gCeist competition (RTÉ), the TG4 film competition, Raidió na Gaeltachta and interviews. The teaching and learning strategies to be read were equally innovative. This included plays, debates, group work, self-directed learning i.e. research work, and interviews. Feedback from the students themselves was mentioned as an integral part of the review made of the programme at the end of the year.
Short-term planning was done for all the observed classes. This planning was satisfactory in each case. It is recommended that the teachers should consider reviewing their own teaching methods by inviting their colleagues to visit their classes on various occasions during the year to offer advice and to share best practice. Various aspects of the teaching could be shared amongst certain teachers with the same classes in the same year, on a trial basis. The timetable itself is suitable for this in that Irish classes in the same year are frequently held at the same time. This recommendation is made as a result of the excellence of best practice observed in various classes, in order to share this best practice.
Six classes were observed, pertaining to the two cycles. These classes included higher level, ordinary level and mixed ability. Practically all the teachers had a high standard of ability and self-confidence in Irish and their diction was precise, clear, audible in nearly all cases. In all classes the teaching was marked by commitment and enthusiasm. The introduction made at the start of each class was orderly and organised – in the way the roll was called, notes taken regarding non-attendance, and conformation that the previous night’s homework had been done. These tasks were performed effectively within a short period of time at the start of the lesson. The objective of the lesson was presented clearly in each case. In each case the class was managed effectively and the teachers’ interaction with the pupils was gentle, natural and encouraging of the pupils’ attempts throughout.
There was variety in the methodology used in the various classes. This variety was clearly visible in the junior cycle classes. In one case, for example, the class work was placed in the students’ own direction once the teacher had presented the objective of the class. This class involved active work for the pupils and this work was directed effectively. It involved vocabulary enrichment in a subject related to normal everyday events – a pupil feigning illness. A handout containing pictures was circulated to stimulate the subject. The story itself was humorous and essential vocabulary was provided for the students at the start.
The vocabulary was practised first under the teacher’s direction. The pupils were set to work in small groups to present the story in a dramatic manner. Groups were selected at random to make the presentation. This was done quickly in a way which avoided the dullness that could have occurred from presenting the same story. The work was re-visited effectively before the end of the class. The aim of the class was clear from the start. The required vocabulary practice was done. The pupils were given the opportunity to talk amongst themselves under the teacher’s direction and then many of them expressed themselves in front of the class. The management of this lesson is highly commended.
In another case in the junior cycle the entire class was spent focussing on the correct writing of verbs. Spending an entire class period on one aspect of grammar is a particular challenge. The teacher succeeded in the plan without losing the pupils’ interest because of the lively, praiseworthy approach taken with the pupils. The pupils responded well to the challenge presented to them. It was obvious that the teacher was comfortable in these matters and the entire Irish department would benefit from seeing this presentation as a demonstration of the teaching of grammar in a stimulating way. It would be worthwhile correcting the errors made by pupils in speech later. A note could be made during the lesson of the major errors heard and they could be returned to later so that the particular pupil would not be connected to that error. It would be worthwhile registering an account of these methodologies for vocabulary enrichment and teaching grammar in the subject teaching plan.
The Irish department should agree an approach regarding the appropriate amount of translation from English to be practised in the Irish class. That applies to the amount of English used by the teacher himself or herself, and the amount of English which should be asked or accepted of pupils as an indicator of their understanding of the subject. The same applies to translation into English in the copybooks as an aid to lexical acquisition. In one particular case, where the teaching was done enthusiastically, there was far too much use of translation in the class to the effect that practically simultaneous translation was being provided for the pupils on a direction that had been given to the class in Irish at the start. Though there was a good mix of ability ranges in the class this approach served the weaker pupils only and maybe these pupils listened to the direction in English only.
It would be worthwhile also considering doing differentiated teaching and making appropriate planning for this. In one case, for example, it was noticed that there were pupils in the class who had come from an all-Irish primary school. These pupils were not offered a different challenge in addition to the questions asked of the class in general and there is a danger that these pupils’ ability will recede if not sufficiently challenged.
Senior cycle classes were focussed on the Leaving Certificate literature course. It was obvious that good preparation had been made for them. In one case the talk was quite biased towards the teacher and pupils spent a large amount of the time taking notes. A radio programme item was played as well as a recording by a well-known singer of the poem which was the subject of the lesson. This brought variety to the class on top of the oral account being given. It was clear from pupils’ answers to random oral questions that they understood the subject being shared with them.
In the other case good efforts were made to bring the pupils into the discussion and to give them the opportunity to show their own understanding of the poems though the pupils’ vocabulary was limited enough. A handout was prepared as a guide to the pupils to examine one of the poems and they succeeded in attaining an understanding of the poem and illustrating this understanding. It would be worthwhile giving the pupils an illustration of the standing of this particular Irish poet in literary matters in Ireland by searching the internet. It would suffice to insert the poet’s name in a search engine to find a wide choice of websites.
It would be worth making a conscious effort to provide a speaking opportunity to the pupils in each class as much as possible. It would be worthwhile setting aside a particular period at the start of the class to make conversation about the day’s activities and to assist pupils in expressing themselves about these matters. If that amount is not done, and if the entire focus in the Irish class is on the certificate examination paper requirements, there is a danger that the pupils will not be able to experience Irish as a language of communication. This would be well-aided by taking items from the Irish broadcasting media and from the internet to present authentic items of the language.
It would be worth having a discussion amongst the teachers about the best methodologies to use with different classes and levels. It is recommended that attempts should be made to give the pupils experience in balanced work between active work in the classes as well as taking down information in classes where the teacher is distributing information much of the time.
Coláiste Rís is very diligent in sending reports home to parents regarding pupils’ progress in the various subjects. Formal examinations are held four times a year and reports are sent home in November, at Christmas, in March and in the summer. Mid-term exams are sat in the classes themselves. Common examinations in Irish are not held at similar levels in the subject. It would be worth agreeing on common examinations in order to further consolidate the teaching and learning programme and to make a valid comparison of pupils’ standings in the subjects. In addition, the marking duties could be divided amongst the various teachers to get another opinion on the quality of the work. It would be very worthwhile agreeing on the type of tests in relation to the assessment of pupils’ progress in speaking the language being an integral part of that evaluation.
At present, every subject department in the school is occupied with agreeing a policy on homework. The copybooks observed showed that suitable homework was being assigned and acknowledgement of that homework was also to be seen.
The results of house examinations are analysed and the principal and deputy principal speak to pupils as appropriate. Results of certificate examinations are formally analysed and are compared with national averages. Copies of that analysis are given to all teachers. It would be worthwhile recording that information as part of the subject planning documentation as a reference point and as a guide for review of teaching and learning plans.
The analysis made showed that there were good grounds for optimism at Junior Certificate level in terms of participation rates at higher level and achievements at both ordinary and higher level. It was noted that no pupil attempted the foundation level in that exam. A greater challenge exists in maintaining the high number of pupils who sit higher level in the Leaving Certificate examination and that rate was less level from year to year recently. It would be reasonable to expect high results in the case of pupils who had reached the all-Ireland final in debating competitions for the past three years. It would be worthwhile publicising these achievements widely to persuade more pupils to sit the higher level in the Leaving Certificate examination.
The following main recommendations are made in order to build on these strengths and to acknowledge areas for development:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the Irish teachers and with the Principal and with the deputy principal at the end of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations were presented and discussed.