An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Catholic University School
89 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60540V
Date of inspection: 27 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Catholic University School. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
Irish classes in the school are streamed from first year onwards. First year students are given an Irish examination after attending the school for one month and students are allocated to classes based on the results of that examination. There are subsequently three higher level classes and one ordinary level class in first year. Class allocation and levels remain the same in second year. In third year there are two higher level and two ordinary level classes. Students usually remain in the same classes for Transition Year. In the senior cycle there is one higher level class and there are two ordinary level classes. The numbers in the higher level class are sometimes quite low and the Irish teachers and management are advised to review the reduction in the number of students taking higher level papers in the Leaving Certificate examinations, compared to the number taking higher level papers in the Junior Certificate examinations.
Each year group in the school has five periods of Irish per week. It is evident, however, that there are some problems with the school timetable this year in that first year students have three periods of Irish in one day, and one of those first year groups is divided between two teachers. Furthermore, it was not evident that those two teachers were following an agreed programme. Transition Year students have three periods of Irish per week. School management is advised to reassess that provision, if possible. It is difficult to provide a comprehensive, interesting programme to Transition Year students during three periods per week. It is recommended that school management improve provision for Irish on the timetable next year. It was reported that six students in first year who have significant difficulties with Irish are taken out of the regular Irish class for additional assistance. The school privately employs a teacher to give these students extra help and the support of management in this matter is commended.
There are six Irish teachers in the school. It was reported that the majority of these teachers have years of experience in teaching the subject. School management allocates teachers to the various classes and certain teachers customarily teach higher level classes. Management are advised to reassess this practice in order to give all of the teachers an opportunity to gain experience of each level and age group.
Although it was reported that some small events were held during “Seachtain na Gaeilge” this year, such as table quizzes in certain classes, it was not evident that an extra-curricular or cross-curricular programme was in operation on a whole school basis, regarding Irish. It is recommended that teachers discuss this issue among themselves and that they draw up a programme of events for students. This will give students an opportunity to experience Irish as a living language outside of the classroom, as recommended in the last inspection report (November 2004). The efforts of the teachers in relation to putting two Transition Year students and one third year student forward to take part in Gael Linn debates are commended. It is recommended however, that opportunities to take part in debates or informal communicative activities are provided for a greater number of students, as stated in the school plan for Irish.
It was reported that only a small number of students attend Irish college each year. The school is only prepared to recommend one particular Gaeltacht college to parents and this is done at an information evening for the parents of first year students. The school is advised to assess some of the other Gaeltacht colleges and to give parents a wider choice in order to increase the number of students going to the Gaeltacht.
The Irish department does not have a formal budget to spend on language teaching and learning resources. Teachers are welcome to submit a request to the school bursar if they have a particular requirement. The Irish teachers are advised to carry out an audit of Irish language teaching aids and resources that are currently available in the school. Planning should then be undertaken for the acquisition and provision of a wide range of resources over a period of a couple of years, as recommended in the last inspection report (November 2004).
It used to be customary in the school for teachers to nominate a coordinator for teaching and learning of Irish on a regular basis. This custom has declined among the Irish teachers and there is currently nobody taking on this responsibility. It is strongly recommended that this practice be reinstated and that the coordinator’s role be rotated among the teachers, as was previously the case.
It was reported that Irish teachers only have the opportunity to hold a meeting once per year. Formal time is set aside for this meeting at the start of the school year, for one hour. The main items on the agenda for this meeting are the annual booklists and the allocation of students to various classes.
A limited plan has been drawn up for the teaching and learning of Irish in Junior Cycle. A much more comprehensive plan must be formulated for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school, and expanded to include classes in the Senior Cycle also. This type of plan must cover the following: a list of topics and activities for the various classes and year groups, a list of strategies to develop all of the language skills (especially communication skills), a list of methodologies and a list of resources which would be suitable for a variety of lessons and levels. The last inspection report (November 2004) recommended that this be done but it was not evident that any work whatsoever had been done since then on developing a plan for Irish. It is also recommended that the possibilities relating to the use of Information and Communications Technology in teaching the language, be examined. During the course of the last inspection report (November 2004), it was reported that a new computer room would be available in the school and that Irish teachers would have the opportunity of using it. It was reported on the day of this inspection that this computer room is currently in great demand and is not available for language teaching. On this basis, school management is advised to investigate the possibilities which would be created by the provision of a couple of laptop computers and the appropriate equipment for showing material on screen in class. It is further recommended that these be provided if at all possible for use in language teaching in general, and Irish in particular.
A plan, written in English, for teaching and learning Irish in Transition Year was provided on the day of the inspection. This plan was taken from the parents’ information booklet. It is clear from this plan that the year’s work mainly focusses on preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination. Transition Year provides teachers with extremely important opportunities to teach subjects in a variety of innovative ways in order to arouse curiosity and to nurture an interest in learning. It is recommended that teachers formulate a comprehensive, interesting, creative plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in Transition Year, which is not overly focussed on the Leaving Certificate course.
All classes observed had been well prepared. Worksheets and notes were given out in classes. Individual class plans were also provided for several of the classes observed.
There was good use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication in the classes observed and it was felt that this aspect of the teachers’ work had improved since the last inspection (November 2004). The work of teachers in using the target language in Irish classes is commended. In some classes, effective efforts were made to avoid translating directly from Irish to English and this approach is highly commended. It is recommended, however, especially for the higher level classes, that vocabulary is explained in simple Irish as much as possible, rather than through English translation.
The teachers were energetic and dedicated in their work in all classes observed. Teachers moved around the classrooms talking to students, correcting them, assisting them and ensuring that work was being completed. The continued patience that teachers showed to students is commended, especially in relation to those experiencing difficulty with the subject. Discipline was good, for the most part, in the vast majority of classes observed.
The use of a wide range of aids and resources in Irish classes was not evident during the inspection. Apart from one case in which part of a sports programme in Irish was shown, nothing more than textbooks and aural comprehension equipment were used in the classrooms. The case in which a clip from a sports programme was used is commended. It was much enjoyed by the students and was highly relevant to the lesson in question. Irish teachers are strongly advised to use a wider range of aids and resources to make learning Irish more interesting, relevant and enjoyable for students. In one case observed, opportunities were missed to illustrate the various dialects of Irish to students with practical examples in a way that would make the lesson more interesting and relevant for them. The Irish language media is a great resource and it is recommended that teachers use it regularly to present Irish to students as a living language.
The efforts made in some classes, however, to link the subject of the lesson with the students’ contemporary lives is commended. In one case students were asked to tell their own stories, as they related to part of a lesson. Students derived much benefit and enjoyment from that particular activity. This is good practice and efforts should be made in all classes to link the subject of the lesson in some way to the students’ lives and experiences in a way that will help them to enjoy learning.
Irish teachers in the school have their own classrooms. The amount and standard of material related to teaching and learning Irish, displayed on the walls had improved since the last inspection report (November 2004). The way in which appropriate dictionaries were used in one instance observed is commended. As Irish teachers have their own classrooms, it is recommended that dictionaries are available in each classroom and that they are used regularly, depending on students’ ability.
It was felt that a variety of practices were in use among Irish teachers in relation to correcting pronunciation. Students’ attention should be drawn to correct pronunciation and they should be corrected regularly without interfering with the rhythm of students’ speech or self-confidence.
The effective integration of all of the language skills in some cases observed is commended. Students were given the opportunity to practice all of the language skills, namely listening, understanding, speaking and writing. It is recommended that one of the aims of every lesson should be to practice all of the language skills. It is extremely important to emphasise communication skills. If students have confidence in their communication skills it greatly helps them to tackle the other aspects of language learning. It was felt that more opportunities to communicate could be created in some classes observed. A wide range of devices can be used to instigate communication in the classroom, including simple or complex games, working in pairs, role-play and unstructured communication, depending, of course, on the student’s own speaking ability. In most of the classes observed students made productive attempts to answer teachers’ questions in Irish. Some cases were observed, however, in which students continually spoke only English to teachers. It is recommended that a policy be in place in Irish classes to ensure that every effort is made to speak Irish to the teacher. Teachers could agree a list of useful sentences and display them in the classrooms to assist students.
The plan for Irish stated that there is a strong practice in place in all classes regarding the development of students’ communication skills through the use of public speaking. It was reported, however, that this practice is not widely used in all classes and that teachers are not in agreement as to how this initiative should be developed. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed, in order to ensure that it is used in appropriate classes and that alternative strategies are developed in classes where oral competence is weaker. It is further recommended that a common approach to public speaking be agreed among the Irish teachers.
In one case observed students were learning sentences and expressions off by heart. These students had significant problems with pronunciation and remembering new words. In such cases it is recommended that a range of strategies be used to help students to remember new words/phrases, and that the new terminology should be displayed in writing as much as possible. Regular display of wall posters showing verbs, key sentences and key words is also recommended.
There is a comprehensive system of assessment in place in the school. All students are examined in every subject once per month. A report is sent home after these examinations. In addition to these examinations teachers award marks to students each week based on their progress in Irish class. These marks are also shown on the monthly reports. This approach and the efforts expended in reporting to parents on the continual progress of their children are commended.
House examinations are also held in the school twice per year, at Christmas and Easter. It was reported that common programmes are not taught in the various year groups where there are two or more classes at the same level. Students are not set common examinations either. The formulation of a comprehensive plan for teaching and learning Irish should assist Irish teachers in arranging common programmes and a common examination system.
It was reported that assessment of students’ communication skills takes place via the system of public speaking. As this practice is not in operation systematically in the school and as there is no agreed approach to it among the Irish teachers, it is recommended that assessment of oral skills be discussed in order to agree a system or systems which would meet the requirements of all levels and year groups. It would be advisable to hold oral examinations in Irish from first year onwards. It is very difficult to begin the development of students’ oral language skills in the senior cycle.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· All classes observed had been well prepared.
· There was good use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication in the classes observed and it was felt that this aspect of teaching had improved since the last inspection.
· The teachers were energetic and dedicated in teaching the classes observed. Teachers moved around the classrooms talking to students, correcting them, assisting them and ensuring that work was being completed.
· The continued patience shown by teachers to the less capable students is commended.
· The manner in which the subject lesson was tied in with the students’ own lives and areas of interest, in some cases observed, is commended.
· The standard of material relevant to the teaching of Irish, displayed in classrooms, had improved since the last inspection report.
· There is a comprehensive system of assessment in place in the school which provides parents with continual, accurate information on their children’s progress.
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 problems with the first year Irish timetable be resolved for next year.
· School management is advised to give all Irish teachers the opportunity to teach all year groups and levels.
· It is recommended an extra-curricular and cross-curricular programme for Irish be planned and developed to give students the opportunity to experience Irish as a living language.
· It is recommended that better planning take place for the acquisition and provision of a wider range of material and resources for teaching Irish and that these resources are regularly used in Irish classes.
· It is recommended that comprehensive development of the plan for Irish takes place, including planning for the use of Information and Communications Technology and the development of a more comprehensive plan for Transition Year.
· It is recommended that more emphasis be placed on developing communication skills in Irish classes, by using a range of agreed strategies.
· It is recommended that the practice of public speaking in Irish be reviewed. It is further recommended that a range of assessment methods be formulated to assess students’ speaking ability from first year onwards.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish, the principal and the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.