An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Italian
Croom, County Limerick
Roll number: 71840V
Date of inspection: 4 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in coláiste chiaráin
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chiaráin, Croom, County Limerick. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Italian 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 subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Coláiste Chiaráin is a coeducational post-primary school under the auspices of County Limerick Vocational Education Committee, with an enrolment of 726 students in the current school year. As well as the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate, the school offers Transition Year, the Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Coláiste Chiaráin has a strong commitment to modern European languages: it offers French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Italian is the most recent addition, and the current school year sees the first Leaving Certificate Italian class in the school. All students in junior cycle must study two of the four languages offered. In senior cycle, modern European languages are optional, but a student may continue to study one or two languages to Leaving Certificate level. The arrangements for student choice of languages in Coláiste Chiaráin are optimal. Students enrolling for first year make their language selection in order of preference from one to four, and classes are formed on the basis of this choice.
The uptake of Italian in Coláiste Chiaráin is very healthy. In the current school year there are three class groups in each year of junior cycle and two in each year of senior cycle. Approximately fifty per cent of junior cycle students and thirty-five per cent of senior cycle students study Italian. All classes are of mixed ability.
Arrangements for the timetabling of Italian in Coláiste Chiaráin are satisfactory. In junior cycle and Transition Year the subject has four periods of forty-five minutes per week, and in fifth and sixth year it has six periods per week, except in the case of Leaving Certificate Applied, where the weekly allocation is three periods. Students in the junior cycle who study Italian may avail of the option of “double Italian”—that is, attending extra Italian classes rather than studying a second foreign language—although there are no students doing so at present.
There are two teachers of Italian in Coláiste Chiaráin, both of whom were in their first term of teaching in the school at the time of the inspection. They are both fully qualified and are members of the Association of Teachers of Italian. The school also has an Italian language assistant, assigned under the Department scheme.
Further evidence of the school’s commitment to European languages and culture is the annual European Culture Week and the annual Language Awareness Week, when various events are organised, such as a poster and logo competition. Last year, a student of Coláiste Chiaráin represented Ireland in the Juvenes Translatores competition in Brussels. Last year also there was a school trip to Italy. At present, the Italian teachers are planning an exchange with a school in Lecce, Italy, and organising an after-school Italian film club.
A particular feature of Coláiste Chiaráin is its strong emphasis on information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching and learning. One of the school’s stated aims is “the seamless integration of ICT throughout the curriculum”. The school management and the teachers are to be congratulated on the progress already made towards achieving this aim. Every student has a laptop computer. The school is a Wi-Fi campus and every classroom is equipped with a data projector. The school has its own collaboration portal based on Google infrastructure and teachers are encouraged to make full use of this technology. Teachers are supported by in-house ICT integration tutorials, and the Italian teachers have recently opened an Italian page on the school’s virtual learning environment. Good use of ICT was observed during the inspection, and it is recommended that its potential for teaching and learning Italian be further developed in due course.
Teachers in Coláiste Chiaráin do not have their own base rooms; if they had, it would allow them to store teaching resources and to display maps, posters and students’ work. It is hoped that, in the fullness of time, a new school building will help to remedy this deficiency.
In general, the standard of planning and preparation for Italian is fair: a start has been made, but there is considerable scope for development. One of the two Italian teachers is designated subject co-ordinator and there is also a coordinator for modern European languages in the school. Subject planning meetings are held once a term, but no minutes or records of decisions taken were available for inspection. It is recommended that a written record be kept of all planning meetings and particularly of decisions taken.
There is a subject plan for Italian, which outlines the topics to be covered in each year. However, the plan is rather general, gives no indication regarding methodologies, and is extremely short on detail for senior cycle. It is recommended that the plans for each year group be further developed to specify learning outcomes for each unit of work under the headings of listening, speaking, reading and writing. The plans should include details of methodologies to be used—for example, what strategies will be adopted to increase the use of the target language, and what provision is made for differentiated teaching, given that classes are of mixed ability. Since the integration of ICT into teaching and learning is a stated objective of the school, subject plans should also include details of how ICT is to be used in the teaching and learning of the subject. For example, how students will use their laptop computers in their study of Italian, and what use teachers and students will make of the school’s virtual learning environment.
As regards learning outcomes, it is recommended that they be expressed in “can-do” statements (as in the European Language Portfolio), and be made available to the students on the school’s virtual learning environment. They could then be used as a basis for student self-assessment and for teacher assessment of student progress in each of the language skills. This approach would help the students understand their learning objectives and take responsibility for their own progress. For example, under the heading “l’alfabeto” (the first heading in the existing first-year plan), learning outcomes could include: “Conosco l’alfabeto italiano. Sono in grado di fare lo spelling del mio nome e di chiedere a qualcuno come si scrive il suo nome”. This approach to setting learning objectives could be used across all the languages taught in the school, including Irish, and could be a subject for school development planning by the language teachers.
There is no reference to the work of the language assistant in the subject plan. Planning for the integration of the language assistant’s work with the work of the teachers is essential if the students are to benefit from the presence of a language assistant in the school. It is recommended that the role and activities of the language assistant be spelled out in the planning documentation.
The standard of teaching in the four lessons observed was generally good, but with certain weaknesses. The lessons were in keeping with Department syllabuses and were well prepared. Learning objectives were clear in all cases. A good variety of teaching resources was used and there was also a variety of student activities in each lesson. Good use was made of Power Point in two of the lessons: in one case a presentation prepared by the teacher to teach vocabulary, in the other a presentation by Transition Year students of the results of their research projects on Italian history. Authentic recorded listening material was used in one of the lessons. Classroom management was good in all cases. There was very good rapport between teachers and students, and the students’ interest and attention were maintained throughout the lessons.
While the teachers modelled excellent spoken Italian, there was scope in all the lessons observed for much more use of the target language, especially by the students. In general, there was too much translation into English, and not enough production of spoken Italian by the students. Comprehension was often checked by translation into English (for example, Teacher: “Cosa significa venti?” Students in unison: “Winds”), and explanations were often given in English. This ingrained habit of translation needs to be tackled head-on. As part of subject planning, a definite strategy should be devised to make Italian the language of instruction and communication in all classes, to reduce drastically the use of English, and to increase the production of authentic oral Italian by the students. Students’ use of the language needs to move beyond short answers and memorised phrases. Even a few minutes’ general conversation about matters of interest to the students as a warm-up activity at the beginning of class would get them used to speaking about themselves and their world in simple Italian.
If students were encouraged to have and use pocket dictionaries it could greatly reduce the amount of translation in class. Homework might regularly consist of learning new vocabulary in preparation for the next lesson. To eliminate the necessity of copying word lists in class time, vocabulary lists could be put on the school’s virtual learning environment. This would accord with the school policy that staff use the available technology “as and where appropriate across the curriculum”.
The written work in students’ copies and folders examined consisted mainly of lists of vocabulary and grammar items, gap-fill exercises and exercises from textbooks and handouts. In the case of examination classes, there were also questions from past papers. There is scope for improvement in the quality of students’ written work in Italian. In some cases, the volume of written work was not great, and in some the work was untidy, undated and not corrected. All written work should be dated and corrected, in accordance with school policy. As regards the content of students’ written work, it is recommended that, in addition to the kind of exercises mentioned above, students be required to produce authentic written Italian from the outset. This is keeping with the Chief Examiner’s Report (Junior Certificate, 2005) which advises: “Students should be encouraged from First Year to produce simple written texts in Italian”.
There is a comprehensive homework and assessment policy in Coláiste Chiaráin. There are five assessment periods in the school year: one each in October, December, March and May, and pre-examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate classes in February. Results of assessment are recorded on the school’s e-portal facility. It was reported that common assessment tests are used and that the Italian teachers switch classes for oral assessment of students. The results of the certificate examinations are analysed, using the “Evello” software on a pilot basis. The results of this analysis are discussed at staff meetings. It is noted that the proportions of students taking ordinary and higher levels in Italian in the Junior Certificate examination are satisfactory.
It is recommended that, in line with the recommendations under “Planning and Preparation” above, students be encouraged to assess their own progress based on “can-do” learning objectives and that teachers’ assessment of student progress should also be based on those objectives.
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 Italian and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, May 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Coláiste Chiaráin enthusiastically supports the Subject Inspection process, as conducted by the Department of Education & Science, as a key element of our commitment to excellence and ongoing improvement and evaluation. We are constantly striving to improve and enhance the quality of our education provision and we regard this process as being very helpful in meeting this goal.
The report on the quality of teaching and learning of Italian in Coláiste Chiaráin is broadly reflective of how seriously we approach this particular subject and furthermore illuminates our approach to the teaching of continental languages across the curriculum.
While acknowledging the limitations of a one day inspection process, we consider the report to be detailed and comprehensive and a fair representation of the quality of teaching and learning in Coláiste Chiaráin. We are particularly pleased with the very positive affirmations contained therein, and is, both individually and collectively, a genuine endorsement of the work done by both the teaching staff and the management of the school. It must also be noted that the teaching staff working in the Italian department had only recently taken up their appointments, and only some months prior to this inspection.