An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ardscoil La Salle
Raheny Road, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60291D
Date of inspection: 14 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil La Salle. 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 in the course of one day 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 subjects’ teachers and to the 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 six teachers of Irish in the school and the majority of them have many years experience of teaching the subject in the school. In the case of four of the teachers, the teaching of Irish is a significant part of the teaching programme for the current school year. The two most recently appointed teachers are among those four. As a result, there is a good balance of teachers with years of experience of teaching the subject and those who are at the early stages of their profession.
The inspector’s attention was directed to the consistent decline in the standard of Irish among students arriving in first year from the primary schools, as an illustration of the context and the current standing of the subject in the school. It was intimated that nowadays about ten first-year students per year declare that they have not studied Irish in primary school. The provisions of circular M10/94 alone guide the principal in acceding to an application for an exemption from the study of Irish. Statistics indicate that the percentage of students with an exemption from Irish is approaching nine per cent of the total enrolment. Although teachers are concerned about this situation, there is no despondency about the challenge involved in teaching the subject and there was evidence of planning to set appropriate targets for the students in the certificate examinations.
It was confirmed that the management of the school is making every effort to provide alternative programmes for those with exemptions from Irish, at times which coincide with Irish lessons on the timetable. The teachers requested that the views of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge on the matter of exemptions be taken into account and that those with exemptions from Irish should not be present during Irish classes. The efforts of school management to provide support programmes to coincide with Irish classes, especially for first- and second-year students, are recognised. It is also acknowledged that the school cannot guarantee alternative arrangements in every case, to coincide with Irish classes on the timetable, despite the best efforts.
Streaming and mixed-ability grouping is the arrangement in operation in the junior cycle from first year onwards. There are four classes in first year and in third year, with two classes in second year. The two highest-ability classes are streamed – between a higher-level and an ordinary-level class. The remaining are mixed-ability classes. The grouping of students from the start is based on assessment tests administered in the March preceding enrolment in first year. Students are promoted or directed to an appropriate level according to continuous assessment by the teacher and to students’ achievements in house exams. Since Irish classes are not run concurrently on the timetable for junior cycle, moving a student from one Irish class to another could involve a considerable change for that student. It is recommended that other models be considered for changing the subject level in Irish at junior cycle. It would be worth discussing among the teachers of Irish whether it is the best arrangement that there be a good number of students in a common low-level class from their first day at second-level. Following on from that is the question of whether mixed-ability classes might be a better arrangement in the first half of the first year classes – an arrangement which operates in the second half at present.
A satisfactory amount of time is allocated to Irish on the timetable. The subject is presented to all classes in single class-periods. Five periods per week are provided for each yeargroup except Transition Year students, who have four periods per week. All senior cycle Irish classes are provided concurrently on the timetable. This arrangement ensures that the subject is available to all fifth- and sixth-year students at a level suited to their wishes and abilities and that teachers of Transition year students can share the course. An arrangement is in operation for Transition Year whereby the two teachers exchange classes after Christmas. The same material is being presented by the teachers to the two classes. The exchange is done to facilitate focusing on various aspects of the course and to develop specialist knowledge in those areas. This arrangement among the teachers is commended because it shares responsibility for the whole group equally and encourages co-operation among the teachers.
All teachers have individual classrooms and there is an atmosphere supportive of learning in some of those rooms, such is the standard of wall-displays relating to Irish. It was reported that the principal is supportive in the provision of resources for the teaching of Irish. The principal took part in the feedback meeting with the teachers at the end of the evaluation-day – a meeting conducted entirely through the medium of Irish.
The inspector was informed that the use of information and communication technology (ICT) is marginal in the teaching of Irish because access to the computer rooms is limited. There is an Internet link available in all classrooms, however. It would be be worth investigating the possibilities of promoting the use of ICT for the subject. There is expertise in ICT among the teachers of Irish and it is clear in certain instances that the teachers are at ease in using new technology. A list of websites is included in the subject-plan, a list which shows that the teachers are au fait with Irish on the Internet. The website www.focal.ie should be added to this list. An electronic version of Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, suited to MS Windows, has been published by An Gúm – WinGléacht. Information should be requested from An Gúm or from bookshops. Further information is available at www.gaeilge.ie
Hands-on experience in searching out these resources should be provided for the students themselves. It would be worthwhile to compile an estimate of the cost involved in gradually providing extra data-projectors and computers or laptops for Irish in the classrooms. This would greatly facilitate the downloading of up-to-date material from websites relating to Irish, especially those relating to the Irish-language broadcast media.
The number of higher-level classes in the school is quite limited and the distribution of those classes illustrates that it would be worth providing experience of higher level on a wider basis. That recommendation is based on the high quality observed in the teaching in many of the five classes visited. The principal indicated his confidence, in most cases, in the standard of teaching of Irish and that in recent years effective teachers have been recruited who enhanced the teaching of the subject in the school. Proof of that was evident in the classes observed and it would be a worthwhile venture to share the teaching of higher level with newly-appointed teachers also.
There is evidence of co-operation in planning matters among the teachers of Irish, although there is no definite arrangement in place for co-ordinating the subject. Co-ordination is undertaken on a voluntary basis. Experience of these responsibilities should be shared equally among all the members of the department of Irish. Various theatre productions were mentioned to which the students are taken each year – especially senior students. Among those were productions of the play An Triail. The teachers are commended for organising these events for the benefit of the students.
It was reported that time is formally allocated twice a year for the teachers of Irish to hold planning meetings. Those meetings are held at the beginning and end of the school year and it was reported that other meetings are held in the teachers’ own time. The inspector was given to understand that matters of methodology, resources necessary and the co-ordination of the presentation of Irish on the ‘Open Day’ are the normal items on the agenda for those meetings. It was reported that joint planning work among the teachers of Irish gained momentum during the school year 2006/07. Three or four sessions were held during the year to try to bring the subject-plan for Irish to a conclusion. The attention paid to planning for the subject is considered satisfactory and the debate among the teachers on matters of methodology, as reported, is commended.
A subject-plan was presented which gives a good indication of the teaching of the subject at all the year-levels. The plan is clear, easily read and presented in a well-bound folder. It provides evidence that the requirements of the examination papers and the variety of student abilities in the subject are considered. It lists the aims and objectives of the teaching of Irish in all the different classes. That accords with the aims of the syllabuses in Irish. The plan is a good first step in the planning process. A further analysis of the plan would be worthwhile, giving an account of the other levels in the subject – including ordinary and foundation levels. The subject-plan seems to focus on higher level, apart from the first-year and Transition-Year plans.
It would be advisable to include a copy of the minutes of the joint-planning meetings in the overall plan, for the record, and to make a copy available to school management also. It is acknowledged that the deputy-principal is one of the teachers of Irish, so that the management is always aware of the deliberations taking place.
The subject co-ordinator has copies of reference documents concerning the teaching of the subject, among which are copies of the syllabuses, of teacher guidelines, and of circular letters from the Department and from the State Examinations Commission. The subject co-ordinator has arranged all of those documents in an orderly fashion, so that there is ready access to any document required, and those resources are available to the teachers. The subject-coordinator has also prepared good teaching material in her own planning work and has saved it on the laptop. All of this work is commendable.
The list of books and resources included in the plan indicate that the teachers of Irish are au fait with research material on methodology. Among these books was the publication Teagasc na Gaeilge which offers valuable guidance in these matters. It would be worth including Siollabais Chumarsáide na Gaeilge (Ó Laoire, Muiris 2004) also. The other resources listed indicate that attention is being focused on providing well-chosen material to support students in their reading and listening comprehension, and as reference material. Some of the material listed here would also be a valuable aid for Transition-Year modules. Included is a useful selection of website addresses related to Irish and the publications A Dictionary of Irish Place Names, The Surnames of Ireland, Ciste Cúrsaí Reatha, 1000 Téarma Ríomhaireachta and An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus an tAinmneoir as well as many others.
Another series of individual plans was made available which indicate that the teachers have adapted the overall plan to their own classes. There is general guidance on developing the various language skills. As an indication of that, there is one column on every page, which directs attention to the aspects of the course being prioritised, and beside it, a second column giving more detailed guidance on the various activities to be undertaken. Among the aspects of the course listed are: the oral exam, listening comprehension, reading, writing, grammar, literature and cultural awareness. Those headings are very clear and very faithful to the requirements of the courses. In addition, the teachers have laid out the year’s work, month by month, for the full school year.
There is valuable guidance for any teacher in this individual plan, on the type and standard of work to be done in class. A very good introduction to these plans indicates the language-level of students in the different classes. Included also are accounts of effective teaching methods, of assessment matters, as well as guidance on homework and on reporting progress. This work is commended. A concise account of the learning objectives, linked to the various language skills, would enhance the plans and provide guidance for the students themselves on the type of learning ahead.
The Transition-Year plan is commended for the cross-curricular themes included in it – Irish, history, twentieth century Irish and English literature and the European dimension of Irish. The students have to undertake a project as part of the course. The Irish-language media are listed among the resources. It would be worth considering including TG4 here and making greater use of that station’s programmes in the course of the Transition Year.
In general, the planning work done by the teachers up to now is of a good standard and the inspector was given to understand that this planning work is reviewed. A copy of Circular 0042/2007 is bound in the plan. It would be advisable for the teachers to consider the implications of that circular and to think about giving oral Irish a more central place in the planning work.
Five classes were observed in the course of the inspection, three in the junior cycle and two in the senior cycle. Two of the classes were mixed-ability classes, two were ordinary level, and one higher-level class was observed. Class-management was praiseworthy in the vast majority of those classes and there was co-operation and an atmosphere of mutual respect in almost all of them. Short-term planning was well-gauged by almost all teachers. It was also evident that the majority of the teachers had a clear understanding of the learning objectives that could be achieved, according to the ability of the students in the class, and those targets were attained.
There were fine displays of material in Irish on the walls of some of the classrooms, among them guidance on points of Irish grammar as a permanent reference aid. On display also was attractive material such as pictures of wild birds and high-quality wall-maps with text in Irish, both maps of Ireland and of Europe. Two teachers were using laptops and data-projectors in their classes and a third was using a television set. Various teachers had prepared handouts to help the students grasp the subject-matter of the lesson. Pair-work was used as a teaching method in some classes. All the teachers had a very good command of Irish and the target language was to the fore in the classes observed.
Translation to English was done casually in certain cases to ensure that students had a clear understanding of vocabulary or to encourage them to use Irish vocabulary. This approach certainly kept up the momentum of the work. However, teachers are advised to be cautious about using this approach and not become over-dependent on translation lest it impede the promotion of communication. Irish is presented as a language of communication and translation is a totally different language skill. It would be advisable to record a specific note in the subject plan on the appropriate use of translation in class-work. Attention is directed, in this regard, to the syllabuses for Irish, where it is recommended that students should not resort to translation, either in the classroom or the examination.
An impressive approach was observed in a junior-cycle lesson where there was a mixture of higher-level and ordinary-level students in the class. As part of the work undertaken, the students were asked to match pictures and words, all of which had sport as their theme. Not a word of English was involved and the teacher succeeded in handling all aspects of the activities without resorting to translation at any time. This lesson was very well managed by the teacher and the efforts to get every student working on the subject under discussion were successful. That was later reinforced by pair-work and the teacher moved around among the students, listening, asking questions and encouraging various students in their efforts. The subject-matter of the lesson was within the students’ range of interest and they tackled the work enthusiastically. Although the ability of these students to conduct a conversation was fairly limited, the teacher was doing her level best to develop their command of language with subject-matter they enjoyed and her efforts were commendable.
Really novel work was done in one lesson, which suited the innovative approach of the year concerned. A ten-minute film in Irish, made by a group of students of the same age in another Dublin school for a short-film competition, was shown. The subject-matter, theme and actors suited the class perfectly. The teacher was very organised in conducting the class work. Questions based on the film were distributed and the students were set to work in pairs. The students’ answers were corrected and the correct answers displayed, using the overhead projector. Attention was focused later, with the help of the overhead projector, on key words used in the film, by matching those words with English words. It is recommended that an effort be made to ask the students to explain the words in simple Irish, in preference to matching Irish words with their English equivalents.
There was great variety in the activities undertaken in this lesson and the teacher gave clear guidance about what was to be done. Differentiated questions were used with various students to help them show they understood the short film. The students were asked an open question later about their opinion of the film, to allow those with the greatest linguistic ability to tackle that question. Although no answer was offered to the question, it was commendable that the opportunity was provided. The inspector spoke later to the class, posing simpler questions about the film. The students showed fairly limited ability in their answers. It is recommended that more time be spent discussing the film and that homework be set which would entail preparing some oral content also. The teacher had made valiant efforts to provide attractive material for the students and to help them express their opinions on the film. It would be a good idea to place a certain responsibility for their learning on the students themselves and to foster that responsibility, besides asking them to respond to all the work being done solely by the teacher.
Humour was used to advantage in another junior cycle class, who had a fairly limited oral ability, to encourage them to participate in class-work. A dialogue was prepared in the course of the class and the students were asked to get involved by providing a version in Irish of the dialogue called out in English. It would have been preferable to have the dialogue written out in Irish beforehand and to direct various students to play the parts of the two participants in the dialogue. This teacher got great co-operation from the students and it would have been preferable to use the dialogue methodology to practise speaking rather than undertake translation of spoken language. Students were given good practice in aspects of grammar – the present tense of verbs and the changes which follow the possessive adjective. The students were quite willing to participate in this work – work which could be very uninteresting. The teacher’s efforts to use as much humour as possible in presenting the material and interacting with the students succeeded in avoiding this pitfall. The students’ efforts were also acknowledged and commended.
Teachers are advised to consider sharing their teaching practices with one another. There were plenty of students in different classes who had limited ability in Irish. Nevertheless, discipline was very good in almost all of those classes. The teaching, too, was commendable in those classes. Teachers would get an example of how best to manage classes by observing their colleagues’ practice. It is also recommended that teachers use the Second Level Support Service for Irish which is in operation since September 2007, particularly for specific guidance on teaching Irish in first year.
A senior cycle class was observed where students showed a limited ability in spoken Irish. The teacher tried to give students practice in oral Irish as part of the activities of the lesson. The range of questions was fairly limited, questions of the kind one would expect in the Leaving Certificate oral exam, and the students were able to answer those. The questions were based mainly on the students’ immediate environment – where they lived and their homes. This oral work went on for a while and the teacher then moved on to writing. The oral work should be further developed, with opportunities provided for the students to practise discussing topics of the day, such as current news and sports events. That would provide practice for students in using the language for oral communication rather than merely as a medium for answering questions in an oral examination. It was evident that the students respected the teacher and it would be worth using the positive class-atmosphere to further promote everyday speech.
On the whole, the teachers’ efforts to present learning the language as a worthwhile and pleasant task were highly commendable, especially in a context which presented quite a challenge. The work was well organised and the teachers took account of the students’ needs in the majority of the classes observed. It is recommended that every effort be made to spread the use of the good practice observed to all classes. It is also recommended that attention be focused on promoting the use of natural speech in communication with and among the students. It would be useful to take examples of Irish being used as a living language from TG4 programmes, to support this work.
Written homework is considered a necessary part of the work required of students. Copybooks were examined in some of the classes, which illustrated that that requirement was being implemented. Various practices were noted in the exercise books showing teacher recognition of students’ efforts. In some cases, teachers’ ticks were frequently marked on the exercises, as well as specific praise for students’ efforts written in by the teacher where appropriate. In other cases, no acknowledgement of students’ efforts was recorded. The copybooks in certain classes offered proof of much work done as homework and in class and the work in those copybooks was well organised and neatly presented. It was noted that the use of translation to English was prominent in certain copybooks and it is recommended that this aspect of the work be assessed and discussed, then a methodology agreed and recorded in the plan for the subject.
Class tests are regularly used to assess the students’ progress in the subject and formal house exams are conducted at Christmas and in the summer. At present, oral Irish is not taken into account in those assessments except at senior level. It is recommended that teachers consider the immediate implications of that situation for current and future first years, in view of an optional oral exam for Junior Certificate Irish and the increase in the allocation of marks for oral Irish at Leaving Certificate, which will follow from the year 2012 onwards.
Preparation should now be made for these imminent changes and, accordingly, assessment of spoken Irish should be taken into account right from the start. That process need not entail individual oral tests. However, students’ efforts in spoken Irish should be noted, recorded and reported on, on the same basis as the other language skills. This will have implications also for the approach used in class to teach the language.
Copies of the school’s assessment tests in Irish, for applicants for places in first year, were provided as an illustration of the ongoing decline in the standard of Irish among students coming to the school from primary school. It was noted that Irish composition work has been entirely eliminated from that exam. The exam for the current year involved only filling gaps in very simple sentences and formulating short questions on reading-comprehension extracts. It would be advisable to consult the feeder primary schools in order to establish learning targets in Irish for sixth-class level. The assessment test should then be adjusted to suit those targets. Oral Irish is, of course, among the language skills required by the revised primary school curriculum and that should be taken into account.
An analysis of the participation rates of students at the various levels in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Irish exams for the past three years was made available. Those figures illustrate the extent of the challenge facing teachers in presenting higher level to students and their parents as a desirable and achievable exam-level. That was evident in the Leaving Certificate statistics in particular. It was evident in the course of the inspection that there were capable teachers involved in the subject who could achieve a high standard with the students in the exams, commensurate with the commitment and ability of those students.
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, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.