An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Subject Inspection of Irish
Gaelcholáiste na Mara
An tInbhéar Mór, Contae Chill Mhantáin
Roll Number: 76106S
Date of inspection: 7 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gaelcholáiste na Mara. 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 principal and to the subject teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
This is a new Irish medium second level school established a year and a half ago. As yet there are just first and second years in the school. The school will grow each year as a new first year class enters until there is a year group from first year to sixth year. The two classes in the school at present are mixed ability classes. The school management hope that all students will be able to take the higher level Irish papers for the Junior Certificate. The provision for Irish on the school timetable is satisfactory with four periods per week available for second year and five periods per week available for first year.
It was reported that the requirement in relation to speaking Irish was being consistently implemented in the school. Every attempt is made to encourage the students to use Irish as a language of communication. The students were extremely comfortable with the language when spoken to during the inspection and there was every appearance that the school was succeeding in encouraging the students to speak the language amongst themselves. A wide range of prizes and awards is presented to the students who make special efforts in Irish. There is a great emphasis also on the importance of the language in the disciplinary policy and code of behaviour, which was made available on the day of the inspection, and each new parent and student has to read and sign that policy before entering the school. It was felt that the school had a comprehensive approach to the spoken Irish requirement from the first year onwards. The school management and teaching staff are commended for their diligence in relation to the use of Irish and for the pleasant and cooperative atmosphere observed in the school in general.
Although most of the students in the school to date, have come from the local Gaelscoil, some students have also come from English medium primary schools. There are support systems in the school to assist these students to develop their spoken Irish. A buddy system has been implemented where students with a strong background in Irish work with students who do not have the same foundation in the language. All the students in the school go on a three-day trip to the Rath Cairn Gaeltacht to experience Irish as a living language in the community. It is intended that this trip to the Rath Cairn Gaeltacht will be an annual event and the teachers’ diligence in organising the trip is commended. The school has cultivated a link with the new Gaelcholáiste in Enniscorthy and the school attended the sports day organised last year between the four Gaelcholáistí in the district. In addition to this support, a teacher is nominated as a special advisor for groups of seven students. Each teacher keeps a close eye on how the seven students in his/her care is progressing. The school management is commended for setting out strategies to support the students in relation to the development of their linguistic skills and their development in this new school in general. Commendation is also given to the additional support for Irish as a living language in the school by organising social occasions during Seachtain na Gaeilge and by organising other activities and competitions as part of school life.
The classroom, in which the various lessons were observed, was decorated in a very pleasant manner with plenty of material relevant to the teaching and learning of the language including posters and examples of students’ work. The work undertaken to create a stimulating and attractive environment for the students was commended.
An annual budget is available for teaching and learning Irish. There is a good stock of resources for Irish in the school at present but it is recommended that the sourcing of material should continue in the future and that an up-to-date list of resources be compiled as part of the plan for teaching the language in the school. It is recommended that these resources should be available in a central location, especially when the school grows and there are more Irish teachers in the school.
Every opportunity is given to the staff to attend in-service courses as part of their continuing professional development and a wide range of in-service courses was attended since the school was established. The special course for teachers involved in Irish-medium education, provided by the Second Level Support Service for Irish, was among the courses which the teachers attended.
Plans have been drafted for the teaching of Irish in the classes in the school at present. Although the work carried out to date on planning for the language is commended, it is recommended that the plans for the two year groups be combined as a common plan for the language in the school with different sections for various year groups. It was reported that the principal meets with the different subject teachers in the school twice a year to assess progress in planning for the subject. This is commended as best practice.
The current plan for the teaching and learning of Irish is written on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template. It is recommended that the school develop a new template suitable for the Gaelcholáiste. A plan for teaching and learning the language should encompass the following: a mission statement and approach; the list of topics to be covered with the various year groups; a description of teaching methodologies and strategies; learning objectives for students; a list of the resources available for teaching Irish in the school and suggestions regarding their use in relation to various topics. Special references should be made to the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). As the school is a Gaelcholáiste the planning for language development should be made on a whole-school basis taking into account the students’ language development needs in relation to other subject areas. It is recommended that the Irish teachers have an ongoing dialogue with the teachers of the other subjects to arrive at agreed policies for the development of the language and terminology in the case of technical subjects.
A lesson plan was provided for all the lessons observed and it was considered that there was careful comprehensive planning for all classes. It was considered, however, that occasionally time could be managed more effectively in order to ensure a suitable pace for all lessons. It is important, for example, not to give students too much time to complete class work. Students lose interest and focus if the pace of the class is too slow.
The use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication was excellent in all classes observed. It was obvious that the students in the classes had a good ability in Irish and that they were extremely comfortable using the language. Successful efforts were made to avoid direct translation from Irish to English and students were asked to explain words or sentences in simple Irish. This approach is highly commended.
Grammar questions and teaching of grammar were woven throughout all the classes observed. Students were asked to spell words and sentences to confirm the written accuracy of the language, an approach which is highly commended. The students displayed a reasonable knowledge of grammar and a good degree of accuracy in the writing of Irish. It is recommended, however, that teachers be vigilant in relation to establishing interesting and creative ways in which to teach grammar and to correct grammatical errors. A high standard in written Irish would be expected of students attending a Gaelcholáiste but work is needed to attain this standard.
Efforts were made to teach the Irish lessons in interesting ways which were relevant to the students. Group work was used in particular, to give the students the chance to talk to each other, share information and to report back to the class. This approach is highly commended but it is recommended that there are definite learning objectives associated with this strategy and that too much time is not allocated to the various tasks. The manner in which attention was paid to individual students’ needs in the classes was commended. There was obviously a good relationship between the teaching staff and the students. There was an effective working atmosphere in the classes and the students continued to work diligently and enthusiastically.
The manner in which efforts were made to link the subject of the lesson with the students’ life in the classes observed was commended. In the case of one lesson in which a new poem was being taught a superb effort was made to place the poem in an interesting contemporary context. Students were asked higher order questions to encourage them to think independently and the manner in which their opinions on the subject were sought is commendable. It is extremely important to place the lesson content in a contemporary context for students through the use of video clips, music, posters, pictures and the communications media. The Irish-language communications media are an excellent resource and should be used as a valuable source of authentic texts. They can also be used to develop the students’ knowledge of the different dialects instead of relying on the examination texts. It is highly recommended that a wide range of resources be used in the Irish classes to make the learning of the language interesting for the students.
The manner in which ICT was used in the Irish classes is highly commended. The interactive white board was used continuously in effective ways to enhance the students’ learning. The white board was also used in one instance to show a short film to students. A series of questions based on the film had been prepared and students were given the opportunity to work in groups on those questions. This lesson was very effective indeed and the students enjoyed it immensely. Again the manner in which the students were asked for their opinions on questions which arose during the film is commended.
In certain cases students were asked for full sentences as answers to questions instead of accepting individual words. This practice is highly commended especially from students who are fluent in the language. It is important to encourage them to develop their Irish on a continuous basis. The way in which the students’ pronunciation was corrected during the lessons without adversely affecting the rhythm of the class or the student’s self-confidence is also commended.
Internal house examinations are organised in the school twice a year, at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to the students’ parents following these examinations. In addition to this the students’ work is assessed at the end of the year when students place all their work in the different subjects in a box, decorated by themselves, for assessment. It was reported that the students are very proud of their work and that it is an effective way to encourage them to display their work. This approach is commended.
As this is a new school it is essential to keep parents informed on a regular basis about the Gaelcholáiste itself and about their children’s progress. A weekly newsletter is provided for parents as an effective way to keep them informed of the school’s activities. The school’s website is also used to provide information to parents. Parent-teacher meetings are organised throughout the year and regular contact is also maintained with parents through the school diary.
· The school’s management and teaching staff are succeeding in encouraging the students to speak Irish as a language of communication in the Gaelcholáiste’s surroundings.
· The support given to the promotion of Irish as a spoken language in the school through events, awards, competitions and other support strategies is commended.
· The stimulating learning environment created in the classroom, in which the Irish lessons in the school were observed, is commended.
· The work done to date in planning for Irish, even though the school is only in its second year, is commended.
· There was careful comprehensive planning for all classes observed.
· Significant efforts were made to teach Irish in an interesting way relevant to students through the use of ICT and other resources.
· The manner in which students were encouraged to reflect independently on the content of lessons and to answer questions on a comprehensive basis is commended.
· The manner in which parents are kept informed of school activities in general and of their children’s progress is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the plan for teaching and learning of Irish is further developed as the school grows, taking into account descriptions of methodologies, use of resources
and the use of ICT in the classroom. There is a need for planning on a whole-school basis for the students’ linguistic needs in the whole range of subject areas, especially the technical subjects.
· It is recommended that a wide range of resources be used in the Irish classes, especially the Irish-language communications media.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the Irish teacher 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 November 2009