An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Moyle Park College
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 60121B
Date of inspection: 21 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Moyle Park College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of 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 the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparations. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
There is good support for Irish in Moyle Park College and satisfactory provision is made for it. There are nine teachers of Irish in the school, the majority of whom have long experience of teaching the subject.
The students sit a written examination in Irish as part of the school-transfer examination in order for the teachers to get an overview of their ability in the language. The students are allocated to mixed-ability classes at the start of first year. Based to their achievements during the first term, a single class group is selected to attempt higher-level Irish and the other students are re-allocated to mixed-ability classes. At the time of this evaluation visit, the first-year students were still in mixed-ability class groups and one class group each in second, third, fifth and sixth years were taking the higher-level course. It is recommended that the division of students so early in first year be reconsidered. Some students in each year of the junior cycle were participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and were studying Irish according to Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge. The school management and the teachers of Irish are highly commended for including students taking the JCSP in the normal curricular provision for Irish in the school. There is one class group in Transition Year and in each year of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the first year of the LCA. The management and the teachers are commended for adopting this approach as it provides continuity of learning for the students between junior and senior cycles.
The time allocated to Irish on the timetable is satisfactory and the distribution of the class periods on the timetable for the various year groups is appropriate for the majority of the classes. The vast majority of the classes have a single Irish class per day, as recommended. It so happens that, this year, four of the total number of class periods for Irish in sixth year are afternoon classes. It is recommended that every effort be made to avoid such an allocation of class periods when the timetable is being organised. Irish classes are timetabled concurrently for the different year groups. This arrangement facilitates students’ access to the class which best suits their learning needs and is commendable.
The teachers of Irish have their own classrooms and a good range of teaching and learning aids is available to them, among them the school computer-rooms. A training course in the use of Information and Communication Technology(ICT) for teaching and learning purposes has been provided for staff and work has commenced on the development of a policy on the use of ICT in teaching and learning Irish. It was stated during the evaluation visit that the management plans to augment the ICT resources available to the Irish-teaching staff, so that computers and data projectors will be available to them on trollies, for use in their classrooms. This support and the support which the management provides for the professional development of teachers in various areas of their work, to the benefit of the teaching and learning in the school, is highly commended.
It was reported that a high percentage of students are exempt from the study of Irish. The learning needs of these students are catered for through the provision of classes in English as an additional language, and resource classes or learning-support classes, while Irish classes are in progress, as far as possible. The management is commended for making these alternative arrangements for the students.
Some events are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge to afford the students opportunities to experience the language and culture outside the classroom. It was reported that some of these events are organised in collaboration with Áras Chrónáin (a local cultural centre) and with the local library. The students are encouraged to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht and some scholarships are provided for this purpose. The efforts of the management and the teachers in providing such opportunities for the students are praiseworthy indeed and it is recommended that these practices be further developed, to ensure that students’ experience of Irish is not limited to the confines of the classroom. It is worth noting that these events need not be centred exclusively on national feasts. It is recommended that an account of the events organised to support the students’ learning of Irish be included in the subject plan.
The teachers of Irish are engaged in the school development planning process and a plan has been developed for Irish as part of the school curriculum. The plan was of a good quality. The teachers of Irish act, in turn, as co-ordinator. This is good practice because it affords an opportunity for professional development in this area to every staff member. The teachers of Irish hold two formal meetings per term as well as regular informal meetings. The teachers have agreed planning objectives for the current year, agendas are set for the meetings and minutes of those meetings are recorded. Minutes of meetings held regularly over a period of some years were provided in the plan and it was evident that continuous review and development was being undertaken. The co-ordinator meets the principal to review the progress of the planning. A common plan has been prepared for the junior cycle classes. The teachers are highly commended for their good practice regarding planning for the subject. Particularly praiseworthy is the work commenced on differentiating the expected learning outcomes at the various levels at which the students study Irish.
It is recommended that, in further development of the plan, the teachers set out general aims and objectives for Irish in the school, aims which would reflect the learning needs of the students and the requirements of the syllabuses; that they continue to differentiate the learning outcomes with the aid of the language functions outlined in the syllabuses and that appropriate attention be paid to integrating the different language skills; that the plan contain an account of the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies to be used, including ICT, and the modes of assessment to be employed.
Good planning and preparation had been done for the majority of the classes observed. Among the teaching resources prepared were worksheets, playlets, a puzzle based on lines of poetry, and PowerPoint slides.
The subject content of the lessons observed was suitable for the students concerned and in accordance with the requirements of the syllabuses. The majority of the classes had a specific objective and in certain cases they were very well structured. Some examples were observed of the roll being called and answered in Irish: this is good practice. The students were informed of the aim of the lesson and it is recommended that this practice be further developed in order that the expected learning outcomes be shared with the students at the start of class. Work was undertaken on all of the major language skills in the vast majority of classes. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used and that the various elements of the lessons have a common theme as was observed in some cases. A good range of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies was used in the majority of the classes observed.
Students’ ability in oral Irish was developed in a good number of classes, through teacher-guided conversation, through pre-prepared playlets and through pair work. Irish should be to the fore as the medium of instruction and communication in class, as it was in a few cases, in order to provide effective support for the students and to develop their ability in the language. It is recommended that it be adopted as common practice to conduct a conversation in Irish at the start of class, on a topic of interest to the students. It is also recommended that teachers avoid the over reliance on translation to English, as observed in a good few cases, to help students gain an understanding of the subject content or to check their understanding of it. It is recommended that alternative strategies be employed, such as the use of dictionaries, as observed in a certain case, to help with students’ language acquisition and to facilitate their development as independent learners. It is noteworthy that care was taken, in some cases, to develop students’ accuracy in pronunciation while working on reading comprehension tasks. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used and that it form part of the focus of the work, particularly in the early years of the junior cycle.
Examples observed of well-structured pair work and instances in which the learning was directly linked to the students’ own life experience are particularly praiseworthy. It is recommended that the good practice observed in some instances, where opportunities were provided for the students to ask questions and, in another case, where drama was used to good effect in the learning process, be extended to other classes and year groups. A very good example of teaching poetry was also observed. The way in which students’ prior learning was utilised and other aspects of the course linked to it, to facilitate students’ understanding of the text being studied and to reinforce their learning is highly commended. Particularly praiseworthy was the challenging task concerning a puzzle based on lines of poetry to be undertaken by the students in pairs as part of this work. Very effective use was made, in another case, of well-chosen material presented on PowerPoint slides, to encourage and guide conversation among the students. It is recommended that ICT be more widely used in the teaching and learning of Irish.
There was a co-operative atmosphere in the classes, the students were highly praised and, in most cases, they demonstrated that they had made good progress in their learning commensurate with their ability and that they were keen to engage with the tasks involved. Various styles of questioning were used, to ensure student participation and to adapt the questions to students’ ability level; it is recommended that teachers continue with this practice, especially with the use of questions which would help their cognitive development. The homework set was based on the lesson content as recommended. There were posters and examples of students’ work on the walls of the classrooms and it is recommended that these displays be continued, developed and regularly updated, to support the students’ learning.
Assessment of students’ ability in Irish is begun when they undertake a test in Irish as part of the school transfer examination when they are in sixth class in the primary school. It was reported that the written examination they sit has been regularly reviewed and that the teachers in the feeder primary schools and Curaclam na Bunscoile: Gaeilge are consulted when the examination is being designed. The staff are highly commended for this.
The Irish department has developed homework and assessment policies in line with the whole-school policies regarding these areas. This is praiseworthy work. Students’ work is assessed through their participation in class and their homework, as well as through mini-tests set at the conclusion of units of work, ‘mock’ state examinations and house examinations. Common assessments are provided for students in first year. This is good practice and it is recommended that it be extended to other year groups. Teachers maintain records of students’ achievements in their diaries. Reports are sent home on student achievements in the ‘mock’ state examinations and in the house examinations which are conducted twice a year. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year and parents may request a more frequent written report or a meeting with a teacher as appropriate. The management provides the mean national examinations results for the Irish department to help them analyse student achievements. The examinations in Irish are based on written work, on literature as appropriate and on listening comprehension. It is recommended that the teachers include students’ achievements in oral Irish in the results of house examinations. The assessment of all of the language skills would accord with the aims and the objectives of the syllabuses. In this context, a review of the assessment and homework policies is also recommended.
The material in the copybooks examined during the evaluation was in accordance with the requirements of the syllabuses. In some cases, however, a good few examples of the use of translation to English were observed in the exercises. As already mentioned, it would be better to avoid this practice. It was evident from most of the copybooks that students’ work was being regularly corrected. Those cases where students were being commended for work well or accurately done, and where guidance was given on ways to improve their efforts, are highly commended. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used. Further guidance on Assessment for Learning (McF/AfL) is available on the website www.ncca.ie.
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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, September 2008