An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Monaghan Collegiate School
Roll number: 64830E
Date of inspection: 8 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Monaghan Collegiate 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 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 subject teachers and principal. 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.
There are two teachers on the staff of the Irish department – one with many years experience in teaching the subject and the other who is gaining experience in the teaching profession. The more experienced teacher acts as coordinator. The teachers’ cooperation was evident in the planning work observed. Coordinated planning in the subject is done on an informal basis; that is to say that such work is done in the teachers’ own time in the case of Irish. It was reported that these planning meetings are held once a month, at a time when the Irish teachers have a common class period free from teaching. It was clear from the activities on the day of inspection that there is cooperation and collaboration between the two teachers and that excellent guidance was being given to the junior teacher. This close cooperation of the teachers is commended.
The teachers showed particular interest in activities relating to professional development in the subject. As an indication of this one of the teachers had succeeded in obtaining a place in a pilot in-service course in the teaching of Irish provided by the Second Level Support Service during the 2005-2006 school year in Monaghan Education Centre, a course for which there was a very high demand. The Irish department are commended for availing of these in-service opportunities.
A significant number of students have exemptions from Irish. The principal confirmed that exemptions from Irish are granted in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94. As far as possible, other arrangements are made in the case of students with exemptions from Irish when Irish is on the timetable and it was understood from the teachers that these arrangements did not disrupt the Irish classes. These arrangements for granting exemptions and the arrangements made when Irish is on the timetable are regarded as satisfactory.
A reasonable allocation of time is made for the subject in the school timetable. The great majority of classes are in single classes, a commendable practice. The Irish classes are run concurrently in the different years which ensures that students have the opportunity to arrive at a level in the subject according to their ability and wishes. One of the Irish teachers has responsibility for a classroom and the possibilities of making such available to teachers on a wider basis is being investigated at present. The layout of the classroom for Irish was commended and there was a wide range of attractive and up-to-date materials and displays in Irish on the walls. Teaching resources were conveniently available including a computer and television, overhead projector and CD player as well as a white board and Ó Dónaill and de Bhaldraithe dictionaries. It was reported that the school management was supportive of requests for teaching resources.
Limited use is still being made of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the teaching of Irish in the school. Broadband is to be provided shortly in all classrooms. Part of the in-service course mentioned above related to the integration of ICT use in the teaching of Irish and the Irish department is keen to seize the opportunities, and this expression of interest is commended. As a first step, it is recommended that an ICT item be agreed for the teaching and learning of Irish in the junior cycle classes first and that this work be built upon as those attempts succeed.
It would be worth investigating the websites available in Irish – the broadcasting media (for example www.tg4.ie and www.rte.ie in the first instance) and the Irish language organisations (for example www.gaeilge.ie). Students will benefit from ready access to the electronic dictionary www.focal.ie that broadband will permit and it would be worth considering establishing e-mail links with students in another school, under the guidance of a teacher, as initial steps in this work. It is also worth looking at the possibilities for learning accurate writing of Irish from the Irish language version of the Google search engine. For example, one need only type in an Irish sentence or half-sentence about which there is uncertainty, and the accurate form will be provided together with additional examples. Crosswords in Irish may also be compiled on certain websites.
The principal specifically mentioned the central role of the Irish department in whole school planning work as regards development of policies. These whole school planning areas included developing policies relating to the following: homework, the curriculum, achievement, discipline, behaviour, anti-discrimination programme.
A written plan was provided for the teaching and learning of Irish in Monaghan Collegiate School. It was indicated that this was a combined effort of the Irish teachers as a planning document in the subject. The quality of the planning work in general was commended and copies of appropriate pages from the Irish syllabi were appended as part of the work. This was an indication of the Irish teachers’ understanding and knowledge of the objectives of these syllabi. This understanding, which promotes the syllabi in the planning, is commended.
A summary account contained the headings ‘objectives, ‘teaching methods’ and ‘assessment’. Attention in the plans relating to the junior classes in particular focussed on emphasising the use of the language, a desirable and commendable objective. There were references to reading for shared learning and to independent learning in the teaching methods, including group work, role playing, project work and normal communication through Irish as much as possible. Commentary is made on practices observed regarding the implementation of those planning objectives in the item ‘Teaching and Learning’.
It would be worth including long-term planning in the planning work also. To this end, it would be good to record a frank and honest account of the current state of the subject in the school, to refer to the long-term objectives which the Irish department would have for the subject, and then to describe the steps which would need to be implemented to those ends. It would be worth recording an account of students’ achievements in the certificate examinations as a reference point in the work and as a guide for reviewing the subject planning.
It was understood from the teachers that efforts are made in the first year to foster a positive favourable attitude towards Irish among the students with mixed ability classes and dismissing any negative attitude students of that age might have. These efforts are commended. In keeping with what is presented in the planning work regarding emphasis on using the language, it is recommended, as an additional step in this work, that the teachers would consider promoting the speaking of Irish more in the first year, especially in the first term. Such a move would ensure that students’ self-confidence in speaking the language would be enhanced early in secondary school and consequently that they would have early cause for satisfaction.
Such an approach would entail giving a certain freedom to the students from the textbooks and regularly assigning creative homework in speaking the language. It would be worth considering testing a common policy in promoting the spoken language in conjunction with the modern languages department in order to promote a common school methodology in second and third language acquisition. This last recommendation is made especially in the light of the arrangements in place in the school for collaborative planning of languages. These innovative arrangements were made under the auspices of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in which language teachers (Irish, French and English) work as one faculty. Therefore it would be worth considering the exchange of teaching and learning methodologies in Irish and French in particular.
The planning work done by the teachers individually for the classes observed was of a good standard and the amount and type of that work was in keeping with the syllabus requirements and the levels of the classes observed.
Four classes were observed, two relating to the junior cycle and two others relating to the senior cycle. In each case the teaching was carried out with diligence and commitment. The different teachers’ approach showed common traits and also significant differences. A clear introduction was made in each class of the work to be done during the lessons. The teachers’ personalities were extremely positive and encouraging of the students and the students showed good behaviour and co-operation with the teachers in each of those classes. This was in keeping with the objective recorded in the planning work which emphasised increasing students’ self-confidence with praise. Both the objective itself and the result visible in class were to be commended.
There was variety regarding the speaking of the target language in various classes. It would be worthwhile for the teachers to discuss this matter in order to agree a common approach. In certain cases Irish was spoken to the students throughout – with only rare reference to translation to English. Particular note was taken of a surprise question by one student during a lesson when he sought permission to get a drink of water. The question was asked in Irish – something which indicated that the speaking of Irish was a common class practice. In other instances where the same diligence was given to teaching, a translation to English was provided throughout for almost every word as additional guidance for the students. The students’ understanding of the material was verified through translation also.
It was clear that this approach had been carefully considered and it was understood that the translation was provided as help to the students and that efforts were made to speak Irish to the students as much as it was possible for them to understand the language. All the work and efforts made in those lessons are commended. However it is strongly recommended that the teachers should make a decision about the use of translation as an aspect of teaching and learning. It would be worth discussing this practice with the modern languages department also. The amount of translation done with certain classes was excessive and the challenge to the students to engage with the target language - orally or in writing – was negated completely. As an indication of that the copybook work was greatly reliant on translation – something that indicated that the language was being learned by learning vocabulary by heart rather than by acquiring vocabulary and practising it communicatively. This approach was not in accordance with the observed written planning work.
Another illustration of the differences in methodologies being practised in the lessons occurred in the case of group work and pair work. In particular cases group work and pair work were being practised with students – in classes in junior cycle and senior cycle. A handout was provided as an aid for this work in the senior class. In other cases the work was much more directed at the teacher and the students only received the chance to engage with the target language in response to the teacher’s questions. It is recommended that the teachers should consider visiting other classes from time to time during the year in order to observe their colleagues’ practices and to attempt to implement some of those practices later in their own classes. Other aspects of the teaching were to be commended – for example the good use of the overhead projector to present new expressions and vocabulary effectively.
On the whole the class work focussed more on the writing of Irish than on the speaking of Irish. The work was appropriate in each case, focussed on the requirements of the certificate examination papers, and that work was done effectively. At the same time there was prevarication in general in relation to implementing the objectives recorded in the planning work – that is to practise and promote the speaking of Irish naturally with the students. As a result the students’ efforts to express themselves orally in the target language were quite limited. This was noticed in how limited certain responses were to questions asked by the teachers and in the interaction with the inspector. It would be very worthwhile practising speech naturally as an item at the start of lessons on general issues of the day.
In the junior cycle it was observed how diligent work was done on writing an account of a house that went on fire. This was suitable work for writing a descriptive account. This work was practised enthusiastically. As it happened, such a tragic event was in the news headlines that morning in all the media. It would be well worthwhile recording the Irish language radio news headlines and to adapt and practise that report in the class as a challenge for the students and as a representation of contemporary life. One would need to be ready to make such a recording. It would be worth also recording the R.T.É 1 television news in Irish at the middle of the day on a regular basis, in which the text in Irish can be read on the screen.
The school has a homework policy which concentrates on the quality of the homework instead of the amount. The marking of the work and feedback to students is recorded as an integral part of the policy also. Copybooks were observed in all classes which showed that this policy was being implemented for Irish. Recognition of the students’ work was evident, as well as praise for the students’ efforts. Translation to English together with composition and vocabulary in Irish was evident from the copybook work also, a practice which it is recommended to reconsider, especially as the practice was so rooted in the work.
One of the teachers had significant experience in the assessment of the speaking of Irish at Leaving Certificate level and in monitoring that assessment on behalf of the State Examinations Commission.
The school has an assessment policy which focuses on class-based assessment, homework and observing students’ progress in addition to in-house examinations organised at Christmas and summer. Mock examinations are organised for students in the certificate examination classes. The arrangements regarding provision of information to parents on the students’ academic progress are comprehensive and satisfactory. Common exams in Irish are organised in the case of first year and Transition Year classes where mixed ability classes are involved, such arrangements are commended. Similar arrangements do not apply in other years as there is not more than one class at any particular level.
Assessment of the speaking of Irish is not involved as part of the in-house examinations or as a continuous part of the assessment in general of the students’ progress in the subject. It is recommended that such inclusion should be considered. Such a move would be in keeping with the recommendations made in this report on placing particular emphasis on the speaking of Irish. This approach to assessment could be discussed with the department of modern languages in an effort to agree a common school policy regarding assessment of spoken language acquisition. Individual oral examinations need not be necessary to make such an assessment. That assessment could be made on a regular basis – based on the students’ efforts to speak the language in the class. The Irish teachers could also exchange classes with each other for an agreed period to receive a second opinion on the standard of the students in communication – especially as the Irish classes are held at the same time on the timetable.
Analysis is made of the students’ achievements in the in-house examinations and in the certificate examinations and comparison is made with national averages in an open way at a staff meeting at the start of the school year. Taking into account the school factors regarding students’ attitude towards Irish, and the third level colleges towards which many of the students aim, the efforts of the teachers to prepare the students for the requirements of the certificate examinations in Irish are successful.
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 the teachers of Irish and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.