An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Portaloise, Co. Laois
Roll Number: 71510A
Date of Inspection: 8 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Portaloise College. 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 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
This school began operating in a new location and in a new building at the start of the current school year. Most of the students currently attending the school are attending post-Leaving Certificate courses. It was reported that an increase in the number of students attending second level courses in the school is expected. The number of students enrolling in first year in September is to double, a hopeful sign for management and staff.††††
There are three teachers of Irish in the school, two of whom have a degree in Irish and over twenty five years of experience of teaching Irish in the school. There are three class groups in first year and one year group in every other year. The majority of periods allocated to Irish are of forty minutes duration. Every class has four periods per week, except for one class in first year which has five periods. The majority of classes have one single class per day but three groups have two Irish classes in one day. It is recommended that the amount of time allocated to Irish in the junior cycle and senior cycle is increased and that all students have one single class period per day. A more equitable allocation of time for Irish throughout the week would provide students with regular input in the language and would help with class planning and fulfilling homework requirements.
Management make every effort to provide students who are exempt from Irish with resource classes or classes in English as a second language while Irish classes are taking place. Management are commended for this. When these arrangements cannot be made, they sit in Irish class with their fellow students. It was reported that a small number of students, but a significant number in the context of numbers on the roll, arrive in the school with an unofficial exemption from Irish. The reason given for this unofficial exemption is that the students cannot understand Irish. This greatly affects the variety of learning experience and ability in Irish of the students within a class. †
A very good provision of teaching and learning aids and resources is available to the teachers of Irish and they can add to them and update them when necessary. These include audiovisual and computer resources, as well as storage cupboards and white boards in classrooms. There are six furnished computer rooms in the school and one of these is available to the students attending the school at second level. It is worth mentioning that arrangements have been made to install a language laboratory which will be available to Irish teachers and that there is a broadband connection in the classrooms. The teacher who takes the majority of Irish classes has his/her own classroom and the intention is to make the room next door to it available for Irish from the next school year. Teachers are encouraged and supported in availing of career development opportunities, including training in the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Management is commended for providing this support. Although teachersí ability in Irish is satisfactory in the majority of cases, management is advised to ensure teachersí proficiency in Irish for teaching purposes when allocating Irish classes to teachers and also to take language requirements into account when making decisions regarding teachersí professional development.†
Students are advised to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht and the Vocational Education Committee Gaeltacht scholarship scheme is available to support this. A small number of students will visit the Gaeltacht this summer. Teaching staff now have the opportunity to promote the use of Irish outside the classroom and to expose the students to its use as a living language. It was reported that planning in this area is proposed for the next school year and it is recommended that this planning continues and is implemented. It is important that students have opportunities to use Irish and to experience the culture, outside of the classroom, and this can be done by organising events in which all the students in the school can take part, for example, during Seachtain na Gaeilge. It is worth noting that the events do not have to coincide with national festivals but can be linked to events happening within the school, as was the case for instance in the official opening ceremony for the school.
The planning process for Irish as part of the school curriculum is in the initial stages. One of the Irish teachers acts as coordinator. Teachers take on this responsibility on a rotational basis and each period lasts for two years. Teachers are commended for this approach, especially regarding their preparation for the impending increase in student numbers in the school. Irish teachers hold regular meetings after school and oral feedback is given to management. Among the items discussed at these meetings are planning for the year, the place of Irish in school life and Gaeltacht scholarships. It is recommended that these meetings are given a more formal footing and that it becomes usual practice to set out an agenda, to keep minutes on the items discussed and on the decisions made and any actions arising from the meetings. It would be desirable to include these documents in the plan for Irish, as was the case regarding one meeting, and also to provide copies of them to management.
Teachers have long experience of catering to the requirements of classes of mixed ability, and of using differentiated teaching strategies. Planning ensures that all the students in each class work on the same material, and that more challenging material is prepared for those students who are studying Irish at a higher level, for example. A common programme is set out for two of the classes in first year and this is commended. Teachers are highly commended for the work they have done in this area.†
Aims and objectives for teaching Irish have been developed and long-term planning has been done for teaching the language to each year group. Content has been set out by topic for classes in the junior cycle and plans for classes in the senior cycle are aimed at developing language skills. There is a good base here for the development which needs to be done and it is evident that teachers review and reflect on studentsí requirements and on the changes to the school community. In developing the plan further it is recommended; that the teachers continue to develop the aims and objectives in line with studentsí requirements but ensure they reflect the requirements of the syllabuses, and that further development of long-term plans and development of short-term plans is undertaken and that the content is set out term by term. It would be worth beginning by setting out the topics to be covered by each year group from first year to sixth year, including grammar and literature, as appropriate. A progressive development of topics from first year to sixth year and reference in the plans to the ways in which development of language skills can be integrated are recommended. To guide this additional development, it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes be set out for the various stages and that more details be made available, for example, regarding the differentiation strategies mentioned and any other teaching and learning methodologies or strategies to be used, including the use of ICT and modes of assessment. †
Good preliminary preparation had been undertaken for the majority of classes observed. This includes preparation for groups studying Irish at different levels, aids, notes and worksheets. In some cases plans for individual classes were made available.††
The examples of the implementation of differentiated teaching strategies observed in the majority of classes were of a very high quality.†
Students were informed of the topic for the class and the activities to be undertaken at the start of the majority of classes, and in one case the roll was called and answered in Irish. These practices are commended and should be further developed in order that the expected learning outcomes are shared with the students at the beginning of class. It would be worth noting the learning outcomes and actions on the white board, as was done in one class, and referring to them at appropriate points during the class. This would assist the students in developing a better understanding of the reasons for learning particular material or completing particular actions and of the relationship between these and the rest of their learning.††
Revision, in preparation for State examinations, was ongoing in some classes observed, as was appropriate for the time of year when the school was visited. Work was carried out on a variety of skills as is recommended, in most of the classes. Effective use was made in the majority of classes of aids such as overhead projectors and whiteboards to present students with material and to record answers, key words and phrases.
The particular case in which the development of language skills was effectively integrated and in which the various requirements and learning styles of the students were served is highly commended. Students were given opportunities to listen to an extract based on a given topic and had to write down some points based on their understanding of it, to speak about their own experience of the topic, and then to complete reading comprehension and written tasks based on the same extract. Also in this case it is worth mentioning that a clear culture of cooperation in learning had been developed among the students. Extending these good practices is recommended.
The instances in which an overhead projector was used to present the students with pictures as stimulating material and as a basis for written exercises at various levels of ability are also commended. This strategy ensured that teachers were able to work firstly with classes as a whole and also to cater to the various levels of ability within the groups. In addition, all students were given the opportunity to have input at a level consistent with their ability through appropriate questioning and through speaking Irish. Students were informed of the time limit for completing the various tasks and this was adhered to in the majority of cases. This is commended.
Grammar was integrated into the work in some cases. The manner in which this was done was appropriate to the studentsí ability and they were provided with opportunities to practise grammatical points at various points during the class. It is important that students have an understanding of grammar so that they can communicate effectively.
Irish was used as the medium of instruction and communication in the vast majority of classes and students were given the opportunity to develop their spoken Irish ability in most classes. Students demonstrated a good level of understanding, in keeping with their ability, when spoken to and some showed a good level of ability and confidence in speaking the language. In one particular case a strong emphasis on translating vocabulary, expressions and questions into English was noted, which meant that English was in fact dominant. It is recommended avoiding the overuse of translation to assist studentsí understanding or to test their understanding. The use of other strategies, such as using the context, or mime, for example, is preferable to enhance studentsí Irish and to consolidate their learning. It is also recommended that students are enabled to use the required classroom vocabulary.†
Questioning in class, homework and term examinations are used to assess studentsí work. In addition, examinations are held twice yearly and third year and sixth year students sit mock state examinations. Reports on achievements are sent home twice yearly and parents are given the opportunity to discuss studentsí achievements at parent-teacher meetings once a year, or more often if required.
In some cases all of the language skills are included in studentsí results in the house examinations. This practice is highly commended and should be extended. Such practice is in line with the aims of the syllabuses; it acknowledges the different learning styles of students and helps to give them an insight into their learning progress and any gaps in their learning.††††
The various topics and exercises in copybooks were in line with syllabus requirements. Work was regularly corrected in all cases, and in some cases notes of praise and grades were given. In a small number of cases advice on improving work was given. This is a good practice which should be extended. It is recommended that teachers agree an approach regarding correcting studentsí work as part of the development planning for the subject and in this context it is recommended that they would seek further guidance regarding assessment for learning. Further information on this can be found at info@ncca or at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Development planning for the subject has commenced and the teachers take the role of coordinator in rotation.
∑ Irish was used in the vast majority of classes observed.
∑ Good preparation had been undertaken for the vast majority of classes observed.
∑ The implementation of differentiated teaching and learning strategies was of a very high quality in the majority of classes.
∑ There was a very good provision of teaching and learning resources and aids, including ICT, available.
∑ Students work was regularly corrected, in a constructive manner in some cases.
∑ Students were at ease and active in their learning in most classes and in some cases exhibited good ability in the language.
∑ A culture of co-operative learning had been developed in the case of some classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Increase the number of periods allocated to Irish and assign each class one single period per day.
∑ Further develop the plan for Irish as outlined in this report.
∑ Extend the practice of including all language skills when assessing studentsí work and extend the practice of integrating their development.
∑ Share the expected learning outcomes with the students at the beginning of class.
∑ Enable students to use the required classroom vocabulary.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.