An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coolock Village, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60550B
Date of Inspection: 12 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Chanel College. 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 subject teachers and 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.
Five Irish language teachers are on the staff of Chanel College for the current school year 2007/08. Amongst them are three new teachers who started teaching in the school for the first time at the beginning of the current school year. Most of the teaching of the subject is their responsibility. As one of the teachers had resigned a position shortly before the inspection there was one vacancy to fill. Support and guidance were available to the teachers from their colleagues and from the principal who has expert knowledge in the teaching of the subject. Taking into consideration the school context and the challenges relating to the teaching of the subject, it is recommended that a formal advisory programme in teaching the subject be provided as part of the new teachers’ induction programme in addition to the guidance that was available to them. This is mentioned in particular because the majority of the teaching of the subject is assigned to newly appointed teachers with limited experience and includes one without a postgraduate teaching diploma.
The school authorities confirmed that applications for exemptions from Irish are approved solely in line with the provisions of circular M10/94 and there are only a small number of students in general with exemptions in the school. The minutes of a planning review meeting in the subject (November 2005) were examined which focussed on the interruption of teaching relating to students with exemptions from Irish being present in the Irish classes. Since then other arrangements have been made for students, as far as is possible, at the time Irish is on the timetable, and it was understood that the situation has improved. These arrangements made by school management in response to the Irish teachers’ request in order to implement improvements are commended.
One higher level class has been set up in first year and the other three classes are mixed-ability classes. The division of classes in accordance with the various levels in the subject follows from second year onwards. All the Irish classes are run concurrently on the timetable in third year, fifth year and sixth year – an arrangement which allows students the flexibility of changing to another level in the subject. However, this is not the case in second year where the higher level class is on at different times to the other two classes. This could not be avoided because the same teacher teaches two of the three classes. It is worth reviewing the restrictions relating to this sort of an arrangement.
It is worth reviewing the arrangements in first year to see if there is any advantage in dividing the students equally with regard to ability and distributing them among all the classes. The progress could be reviewed and classes could be placed according to ability at anytime during the year as long as all the classes were on at the same time on the timetable. The reason that this recommendation is being made is to avoid the risk of attaching limited targets in the language to most of the classes in first year from the outset.
The amount of time made available on the timetable for teaching the subject is limited and there has been a substantial reduction from what was provided for the subject until recent years. There are four class periods per week provided to every class in the junior cycle in comparison to the five periods previously provided to every class. Three periods are shown on the timetable in Transition Year – a number that conflicts with the two periods listed in the subject plan. Four class periods are provided for every class in fifth year and sixth year. Five class periods were previously provided in fifth year. The reductions made in the number of class periods for Irish is considered too great and it is recommended that this be reviewed in order to make more provision for the subject and to implement the aims of the syllabus effectively.
There is a worthwhile summary account included in the subject plan on the allocation of time for the subject, apart from the incorrect number that is registered for the Transition Year. Class allocation for the days of the week should be illustrated on a chart and the time should be shown for every one of those lessons. All the information relating to every Irish class in the school, as well as the names of the teachers and the names and levels of the classes, year-on-year, could be illustrated effectively on one page. A worthwhile record could be provided in that account which would greatly assist the teachers in conducting an annual review. There would also be a comprehensible and very clear guide there for the new teachers of the subject.
Although there was quite a limited number of higher level classes in the school, the teachers are given the opportunity to teach the subject at all levels. The care taken this year to place the higher level classes in the senior cycle under the care of the most experienced teachers due to the substantial changes that arose in the Irish department is noted. The arrangement regarding the allocation of the classes, the teachers involved in teaching them and the level of classes would be detail worth including in the subject plan in order to give a general overview of the teaching of the subject in the school.
The classrooms are under the care of the teachers and there are a certain number of notices and displays in Irish on the walls. There is a television as well as DVD players in two of the four rooms that were visited. There are whiteboards and overhead projectors in all the rooms and the teachers have CD players. It was understood that the school management fully supports providing resources to teach the subject where such an application is made to the principal. It would be worth including an account of the resources in the subject plan as mentioned in one of the recommendations included in the minutes of the Irish department’s planning meeting (March 2007).
It was reported that first year and Transition Year have a class in the computer room regularly so that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities can be used in the teaching and learning of the subject and it is planned to place an interactive whiteboard in one of the classrooms for Irish. It is recommended that the merits and progress of the ICT programmes be reviewed and that the ICT section be extended to work programmes in other years depending on the experience of teachers and students to date.
It was reported that the co-ordination of the subject is divided amongst all the Irish teachers. Two teachers are co-ordinating the subject this year. It was understood that planning meetings in the subject were ongoing during school time and during the teachers’ own time in the last two years and meetings were being held regularly as part of school development planning. Planning documents were made available for the subject that relate to those two years and to the current school year 2007/08. The title of those documents was “Plean Ábhair: Gaeilge” (“Subject Plan: Irish”). This was a School Developmental Planning Project template and the plan was completed in line with the headings provided.
The aims and objectives as detailed in those plans are in accordance with the aims and objectives of the Irish syllabi. Copies of the Irish syllabi and guidelines for teachers regarding the Junior Certificate syllabus are included in the plan. It contains a good account of the various events organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge as well as advertisements about productions of Irish language dramas and other Irish language events during the year ranging from entertainment to programmes focussed on the Leaving Certificate Irish course. Amongst these is an account in the information programme on the School of Celtic Studies, Irish Folklore and Linguistics one-day seminar in University College, Dublin in December 2007. The teachers’ efforts in organising events themselves and in providing information on other events are commended.
Regarding the section of the plan dealing with the timetables for Irish it would be worth attaching copies of the timetables for all the classes and for the teachers to the plan. Under the heading “Allocation of students” it would be worth noting the purpose of dividing the students amongst the different classes in first year and the basis for creating this division amongst the classes.
The heading ‘Organisation of classes’ gives a brief description of the kind of subject matter taught in all the classes – aural comprehension, writing and conversation classes as well as prose and poetry classes. Attention should be paid to placing the integration of skills as an objective of teaching in order to record the practice of all language skills, including reading, in the planning work. These skills should not be practised independently of one another, on different days for example. This meaning could be taken from what is listed.
There is a brief account of planning for students with special needs that relates to learning support exclusively. It is worth noting here the need to recognise other students’ needs and to take differentiated teaching into account. As certain students in first year are undertaking the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) for the first time in the school the arrangements that are to be implemented for the students in relation to studying Irish should be listed here.
The account on the teaching methods should be developed further and general guidance should be given on the way language skills should be practised. How will this be done? How often, for example, will conversation classes be held with the students or will spoken answers from the students in a reading comprehension class be accepted as sufficient oral practice?
Regarding the resources it would be useful to have a comprehensive list showing what is available in the rooms or the names of the teachers who have the resources available to them. It would also be worth listing how old those resources are and to have a review of resources as an item on the agenda of the end-of-year meeting or earlier and to present a request for resources to the principal at the appropriate time for the following year.
An encouraging report on ICT issues appears in the proceedings of the Irish teachers planning meeting (September 2007). Reference is made there to the arrangement by one teacher to regularly hold classes for first year and fourth year classes in the computer room. This innovative approach to make ICT more central to teaching and learning Irish is commended. The type of material to be completed with those classes should be listed as part of the work schemes or the short account already provided on the use of ICT resources in the Transition Year scheme should at least be clarified regarding frequency and content.
It is recommended that the possibilities relating to further promoting ICT in the subject in general be looked at due to the substantial amount of laptop computers that the school has just bought. A data projector and an internet connection are essential to derive most benefit from that equipment. It would be worth considering Irish language websites, or Irish language versions of websites, and examine them as an item in the classes – the TG4 website in particular. In the case of certain advanced classes using the Vifax service from the Languages Centre in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, would be of great benefit, which is available on the site www.nuim.ie
An account of work for each term is included in the schemes of work for each year group and attention is drawn to the different levels from second year onwards. No reference is made to ICT matters in the first year programme although it was understood that one is in place. There is an account of the topics to be covered with the different classes and it would be worth including the need to focus continually on the four main language skills practised with those topics. This emphasis is apparent in the work schemes relating to the senior cycle. The Irish programme in Transition Year is very brief and more comprehensive information should be included regarding how the objectives of the programme are to be achieved with three periods per week. The composition of this class should also be clarified and guidelines included on overcoming the challenges facing a mixed-ability class as in this case.
The teachers have included worthwhile material on matters discussed at the planning meetings and the layout of that account is commended. There is a newness and openness in some of the material listed and the challenges relating to teaching the subject in the context of the school are illustrated. It would be worth discussing some of that material in a whole school context – in particular the matter of dealing with discipline as part of the challenges of teaching. The review of the subject plans is mentioned in the proceedings of the meetings as an integral part of the planning work – an approach which is to be recommended.
The teachers should discuss the implications of a greater allocation of marks for spoken Irish in the certificate examinations from 2010 onwards. There should be more emphasis placed on nurturing the speaking of Irish with the classes to meet those new requirements.
Four lessons were observed in the course of the inspection – two in the junior cycle and two in the senior cycle. There were four teachers involved. Good efforts were made in the lessons to encourage the students to answer the teacher’s questions or questions from the text. In general the students’ oral answers were very limited and the use of translation to assess the students’ understanding of the subject was prominent in some of those classes. That approach was also used with certain students who were nominally undertaking the higher level – a practice which was not focussing appropriately on language acquisition. It would be worth introducing a variety of activities into the lessons to encourage the students more, in particular with the junior classes.
A lot of attention was paid to practising different parts of the examination papers – such as reading comprehension and letter writing in the junior cycle and parts of the literature course in the senior cycle. There was good preparatory work done for those exercises and handouts were prepared to assist in the subject in certain cases. Overhead projectors were used in three of those classes to present prepared material without losing any time in writing. The care the teachers took in preparatory work was commendable.
It would be good if recently appointed or newly qualified teachers had the opportunity to acquire practical guidance in teaching through observing their colleagues teaching or through receiving an assessment of their own efforts in teaching from colleagues who would agree to observe them teaching in the class. The teachers should also be in agreement on the amount of translation into English that should be used in the teaching and guidelines on that should be inserted in the subject plan under teaching methods.
It is worth remembering that translation is not recommended as a method for teaching in the syllabi nor in the guidelines for teachers. Also, translation is not part of assessment in Irish at the certificate examinations. Although competency in translation illustrates the understanding of the two languages and the amount learned it is not recommended to practise translation in order to learn. That practice was much in evidence in one case as all new terms were presented in the two languages at the beginning. Some students read out sentences from the text that were immediately translated into English, sentence by sentence. In the same way, the instructions given in Irish to the students on how to do the work in the class were immediately translated into English. It was impossible to tell if the students understood any of the instructions previously given in Irish. This practice could be avoided if a clear direction was given on the limitations of such a method.
Although the teachers were competent in the Irish language, conversation was not used naturally with the students as a variation from the work being done and all the questions related to the work being done in the lesson. The students were prepared well for the requirements of the written examination papers but it was clear that the students had a lot of difficulties in expressing their views independently of a written text being in front of them for guidance. As a result the amount of work was reasonably one-sided in the classes in general. It was the teacher for the most part who spoke throughout and not much discussion took place with the teacher apart from the questions asked of different students. No student responded to what any other student said in the class and as a result all the efforts in the conservation were independent of one another – without anyone engaging with anything said by another student apart from what the teacher said.
As against that it was clear that the teachers understood what was to be done so that the students would succeed in the certificate examinations and they were given good guidance regarding the type of question usually asked in the certificate examinations and how best to answer those questions. The teachers were to be commended for their efforts in that regard. There were very few students observed who would not be able to attempt the questions in the written certificate papers by following the direction given to them during the lessons. The approving and friendly manner used by the teachers in the class is also commended.
Certain teachers demonstrated that they had well-developed skills to cater for weak students in order to be able to answer written questions. This was in relation to exercises on aspects of literature in the senior cycle in particular as the students were following the instructions of the teachers to discuss the kind of characters in those texts. The characters were well illustrated and a certain amount of information was given to the students regarding the characters in order to discuss them individually or by theme. The homework was in accord with the work being done in the class. A continuity between the homework and work done in class was discernible in the homework questions that were corrected at the beginning of the lessons and other questions followed as homework to consolidate what was done in the class.
This approach was well organised and the students demonstrated that they understood what was being said although they were very hesitant to express any view orally. The inspector spoke to one of these classes and recommended that they make a greater effort to speak to the teacher about the characters, as asked of them, and not to be worried about making mistakes while they were speaking. It would also be worth while, even in the abovementioned situations, to set aside some time in the lesson to practise conversation about the ordinary daily events instead of practising that work as a unit in itself. Sporting matters were very topical among both the public and the media at the time of the inspection and these provided a great opportunity to encourage conversation amongst boys who were interested in those matters. It would be worth using an item from the Irish language broadcasting media as an incentive for this, in particular as there was easy access to a television as a facility for this.
It is also recommended that opportunities be provided to students to work with one another, working in pairs or as a group, for a certain period in order to promote independent learning and to give the teacher a break from continually speaking and to go around to the groups listening to them and assisting them when necessary. In one instance written work was being done silently but those students were all working alone. This resulted in the students not speaking Irish to anyone of their own age during the lesson. It should be noted that promoting communication amongst the students themselves would be the best outcome of the use of the communicative method. Therefore, opportunities should be availed of to show the language being spoken naturally amongst young people. To this end it would be worth looking at the possibilities of showing the television soap Aifric on TG4 or any other programme in Irish which would appeal to the students.
Assessment matters relate to written class examinations and end-of-term examinations. An in-house examination is organised at Christmas and in the summer and written reports are sent home to the parents. The copybooks observed showed that various practices are in use to show written teacher recognition of student work in the copybooks. There should be a common method used for this and it is recommended that the use of assessment for learning be considered as a means of encouraging students with their learning and as a support in assessing what they are learning. Further information in this regard is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website www.ncca.ie
It would be worth clarifying the material included in the subject plan with regard to assessment, in particular the assessment of oral skills. It was reported that all language skills are taken into account in assessing the work of the students. However, that assessment relates to the senior cycle only where an oral examination forms part of the preliminary Leaving Certificate examinations. It is recommended that an assessment of spoken Irish in the junior cycle be included as well. Individual oral examinations with the students are not necessary.
The importance of taking part and speaking Irish in the class should be made clear to the students from the beginning of first year onwards and the amount of marks to be achieved for speaking Irish in the in-house examinations should be agreed amongst the Irish teachers, included in the subject plan and implemented in the in-house examinations. A continuous report could be written on the students’ efforts in speaking in the class during the term and a mark could be awarded for those efforts. Another approach could be tried – such as swapping classes amongst teachers on certain days and getting a second opinion on students’ oral ability.
Agreeing an appropriate strategy soon is of utmost importance with regard to assessing the spoken language and the Irish department should focus in particular on circular letter 0042/2007 on Changes to the Proportion of Marks for Oral Irish in the Certificate Examinations. It would be worth including the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate Irish examination as part of these discussions or including the proportion of the marks for the oral examination component in the in-house examinations.
The students’ rates of participation and achievement at the various levels in Irish in the certificate examinations over the last three years were viewed. The information in those trends is clear on the challenges facing the teachers in teaching the subject. The analysis provided should be listed in the subject plan as a reference point for student engagement with the subject and as a guide to reviewing the subject plan and to implementing amendments.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Support and guidance are available for the newly appointed teachers in the subject from experienced teachers and from the principal.
· There is only a small number of students with exemptions from Irish and improvements have been made to the arrangements for the various programmes available to them while the Irish class is in progress.
· The teachers have the opportunity to teach the subject at every level.
· The principal provides good support regarding resources for the subject and the subject teachers have charge of their own classrooms.
· In recent years subject planning has been central in the planning work of the school and worthwhile material is provided on the proceedings of subject planning meetings.
· Good efforts are being made by teachers to promote the Irish language throughout the school during Seachtain na Gaeilge.
· The care taken by teachers with preparatory work for lessons was commendable.
· Students are well prepared for the requirements of the written examination papers and certain teachers have excellent skills in attending to weak students.
· The teachers practise an approving and friendly manner with the classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· To provide a formal advisory programme in the teaching of the subject as part of the newly appointed teachers’ induction programme in addition to the guidance currently available.
· To review the arrangements in first year – to see if there would be any advantage in dividing the students equally with regard to ability and distributing them among all the classes in an attempt to avoid low expectations from the beginning.
· To review the large reductions made in recent years in the amount of class periods that are provided on the timetable for the subject.
· To review the new ICT programme in first year and in Transition Year and to extend that programme to the other classes depending on the success of the new programmes.
· To focus in the subject plan on the integration of language skills as an integral part of teaching and to develop further the account on teaching methods.
· The teachers should agree the amount of translation to English that should be used as part of teaching and guidelines on this should be included in the plan.
· To discuss the implications of the award of a greater proportion of marks for oral Irish in the certificate examinations from 2010 onwards.
· To include a variety of activities in the lessons in order to encourage students more – the junior classes in particular.
· To set aside some time in the lesson in order to practise conversations about ordinary daily events instead of practising that work as a unit in itself and to use an item from the Irish language media as an incentive for that work.
· To discuss ‘assessment for learning’ as an encouragement to students in their learning and as a support in the assessment of learning.
· To illustrate to the students the importance of taking part and speaking Irish in the class from the beginning of first year onwards and to agree the amount of marks to be achieved for speaking Irish in the in-house examinations.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.