An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Blackrock, Co. Dublin
Roll number: 60930L
Date of inspection: 17 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rosemont School. 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 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 preparations. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the 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. 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.
Five Irish classes per week are provided for all year-groups in the school, apart from Transition Year and the sixth-year higher-level class. The support of school management for Irish is noteworthy, in so far as an extra class-period is provided for those taking the Leaving Certificate higher-level course. A sixth class-period is also provided for the sixth-year ordinary-level class from time to time depending on the exigencies of the timetable. Also, third-year students are screened so that separate higher-level and lower-level classes are formed. This separation in third year is an ongoing challenge to the school because the number of students in the classes is quite small and the school management is commended for this extra support. The low student numbers in these classes ensures that the teacher can focus on the individual needs of all students. Transition Year students have three class periods for Irish. It is recommended that the management investigate the possibilities of increasing this to four periods per week because it is difficult to provide a continuous comprehensive programme of Irish within an allocation of three periods per week.
It was reported that twenty two students in the school had exemptions from Irish. It was reported that, when possible, extra classes in English are provided for students with exemptions, while Irish classes are in progress. Most of the students who have exemptions are newcomer students.
All of those teaching Irish in the school at present are new teachers. They are graduates in Irish who have some years experience of teaching the subject.
Because they are new on the staff, the teachers of Irish had no knowledge of what kind of programme of extra-curricular and trans-curricular events was run in the school in recent years. The principal reported that the teachers of Irish used to take a group of Transition Year students in to the city centre to have lunch in one of the Irish-speaking cafés. It is recommended that this outing be continued, but combined with a visit to one of the historical institutes in Dublin, so that there would be a cross-curricular aspect to the day. The new teachers had planned to organise an Irish-speaking cookery day with the help of the home-economics teacher; such an enterprise is highly commended. It is suggested, however, that the teachers think about devising a programme of interesting pleasant events for the school year as opposed to occasional diversions. They could start by organising events for Seachtain na Gaeilge and build on that programme gradually. It is vitally important to organise extra events outside the classroom for students, events which present Irish to them as a living language in different situations. Such extra events reinforce the teachers’ work in the Irish classes and help to give students experience of using the language outside the classroom.
The teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge and copies of their correspondence with Comhar are kept with the planning documentation. The teachers of Irish realise that membership of that organisation plays a part in their continuous development as teachers of Irish. Improving skills and knowledge of the subject is important and it is recommended that the teachers continue this good practice.
Teachers may apply to the principal for money for aids and resources for the classroom. It was reported that there are few aids and resources in the school at present for the teaching of Irish. It is recommended that teachers make an inventory of the aids that are available in the school and plan for the provision of a supply of aids and resources over a period of some years. That would ensure that the school need not budget for the full cost in a single year.
A certain amount of material in Irish was on display in the classrooms. It is recognised that teachers do not have their own individual classrooms, but it is recommended that a stimulating learning environment be created by putting students’ work on display as regularly as possible. As well as this, posters could be used as a learning aid during lessons, posters showing vocabulary lists, poems, or useful phrases. Students could refer to these during oral work in class.
The whole school is involved in the planning process. Two members of staff have been appointed as planning co-ordinators and an admirable amount of support and help is provided to the teachers of the various subjects. It was evident from the comprehensive planning indicated in the documentation that the teachers of Irish in this school are fully involved in the planning process. No specific person is named as co-ordinator for Irish and the responsibilities of that post are shared equally among the teachers. This system works effectively. There is a limited number of staff teaching Irish, which facilitates the joint planning process. The teachers of Irish meet very regularly on an informal basis and at least once a month on a formal basis. It was obvious from the documentation that each formal meeting has specific targets and a clear agenda and, accordingly, the meetings yield worthwhile results. It was evident from the documentation that significant progress has been made since the planning process was initiated and the teachers are commended for the amount of work and enthusiasm they have contributed to this comprehensive undertaking. It is suggested, however, that the plan should contain a more complete account of methodologies and of the range of aids and resources to be used in the various classes. These aspects of planning should be incorporated in the overall plan for the teaching and learning of the language. It is also recommended that the Transition Year plan be further developed, laying appropriate emphasis on learning communication skills. It is also necessary to ensure that an interesting and wide-ranging programme be provided for Transition Year students so that they will have an opportunity of learning Irish in different ways.
It was noted that all documentation concerning planning for Irish was written in English only. It is strongly recommended that the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school be written in Irish. An English version, or an abridged version in English, can be provided for the school management, if necessary.
The reference to self-evaluation work mentioned in the plan for Irish was noted. In particular, the open, honest thinking done in relation to personal practice was recognised. Not only were aspects identified which needed further development, but the steps taken, or that would need to be taken, to address this development, were outlined. Mention was also made of the fact that teachers observed their colleagues while teaching, as part of the self-evaluation and review process. It was evident from the documentation that such a system influenced teachers in terms of identifying various strategies to develop and improve their own practice. The teachers of Irish are advised to explore the possibilities of implementing this system among all of those teaching Irish and mentioning it as a significant part of the plan for teaching and learning the language.
Little use is made of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at present. It was reported that there are certain restrictions in the school regarding computer facilities, but it would be worthwhile to explore the possibilities in relation to ICT and to plan for the use of technology.
Teachers took great trouble with preparing Irish lessons. The subject matter of the lessons was frequently pre-prepared on transparencies, together with worksheets or information pages for distribution to the students during lessons. The differentiated learning and extra reading material provided for students from gaelscoileanna (Irish-medium schools) who have a high standard of Irish was noted. It is very important to recognise different levels of ability among learners and the teacher must cater for all levels. It is recommended, however, that extra consideration be given to using strategies to stimulate students with high ability in Irish, especially the use of challenging activities in which they could apply their ability and knowledge, and derive benefit from.
Teachers used a limited pool of resources in the classes observed. The teachers are advised to use a much wider range of resources and materials in Irish classes. Furthermore it is recommended that teachers use the Irish-language media – and to record clips from television programmes which would encourage discussion of a particular topic, or to present pictures or advertisements from magazines, to encourage students to talk about them. Development and spread of interactive learning could be taken into account when putting together a stock of resources for teaching the language.
Irish was the language of the class in the case of each lesson observed. It was clear that this was the norm and students were at ease speaking Irish to the teacher, or to one another in the case of group-work. The teachers made great efforts to avoid translation from Irish to English. The students were able to explain vocabulary in Irish, a practice that cannot be developed overnight, and teachers are commended for developing this skill among the students. Teachers are advised to develop interactive activities to encourage a higher standard of language from the learners. The purpose of this would be to enrich the students’ Irish. Specific targets/tasks should be set for groups, which would require a higher standard of vocabulary and phraseology from them. Teachers are advised to listen intently to the spoken language of students and to the standard of language encouraged by the tasks. It is vitally important to correct the mistakes in language and pronunciation so that students will understand the importance of accuracy and get into the habit of self-correction.
There was a positive courteous atmosphere in every class and throughout the school and it was evident that there was a very good relationship between teachers and students. It was felt that all the students were working enthusiastically and discipline was excellent.
Each lesson had a specific objective in so far as a specific theme was being discussed, be it illness, places of residence, Irish, a period spent in the Gaeltacht, or other themes. In the majority of cases the steps of the lesson were clearly set out and the students were actively involved from beginning to end, speaking, writing, or listening. Homework was set, based on the subject matter of the lessons. In general, the pace of the lessons was considered appropriate to the standard of the learners. Possibly a higher standard of language could be required of some of the students and they should be made to use stylish phrases in order to enrich their Irish. It is a great advantage to both teachers and students that the number of students in class is so low; advantage should be taken of this when work-programmes are being laid out. Interactive learning and teaching is really effective and it can be promoted in these propitious circumstances. Teachers are advised to continue using pair-work, group-work and any other activity, which requires students to take part in active communication through Irish. It is recommended, however, that teachers ensure that the objective of the pair-work is clear and that it is focused on reaching precise learning targets. It is also worth providing a prompt sheet to each pair engaged in pair-work, to encourage chat and co-operation between them.
It was felt that opportunities of linking the subject matter of the lessons to the everyday lives of students, were sometimes lost. It is recommended, for example, that in discussing a topic such as a holiday in the Gaeltacht, a wide range of resources be used – clips from TV programmes, brochures and photographs. Teachers should also draw on the authentic experience of the students themselves, encouraging them to talk naturally about their own experience of the Gaeltacht, as appropriate. It is really important to link the topics of lessons to the lives and experience of students as far as possible, in order to arouse and promote their interest in the subject matter.
Among the resources used in the lessons were newspaper articles, worksheets, sketches and reading extracts. Illustrations are very helpful to the learning process and it would be invaluable for teachers to think seriously about how they might utilise those aids which involve the learner’s senses, the eye included. Commended also is the use made of the overhead projector in the classes observed, but it is recommended that when using this resource, a range of modern materials be used rather than old-fashioned over-used material. In relation to resources that appeal to the ear, the effectiveness of playing taped matter regularly is widely recognised and it would be good to afford students the opportunity of listening to people speaking Irish to one another in a natural context. As already mentioned in this report teachers are advised to use the Irish language media regularly, especially clips from television programmes focused on teenagers, to arouse the students’ interest and to give them an illustration of Irish as a living language in various communities around the country.
A comprehensive system of assessment is used in the school and students’ work is assessed on a continuous basis. Homework is set every night, based on the subject matter of the lesson. An appropriate length of time to spend on each subject is suggested in the homework policy. It was obvious that the teachers had monitored the students’ written work, a praiseworthy practice. It is very important to keep an eye on students’ copybooks and to ensure, as far as possible, that what is in them is accurate. Students use their school copybooks as a source of reference when revising their work. Accordingly, it is vital that teachers convince students how important it is that they correct their work, especially the major errors.
Monthly reports are sent home to the parents as well as the main Christmas and summer reports. This is an excellent procedure since it keeps teachers, parents and the students themselves aware of the progress that has been made.
Teachers set regular exams so that they can assess the quality of learning and an account is kept of the results. Besides, such exams give teachers an idea of the effectiveness of their own teaching. House exams are set at Christmas and before the summer holidays. The exam classes also take ‘mock’ exams. Those exams are a good introduction for the students to the rubrics of State examinations. It is recommended that students’ oral skills be taken into account in the assessment done on their achievements in Irish. Not only would such a practice give recognition to the importance of oral skills, but it would encourage the speaking of Irish in the classroom.
The following are the main strengths and the areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The extra support given to Irish in sixth year and in third year is commended.
· The plan to organise a couple of events through the medium of Irish outside the classroom is praiseworthy.
· Comprehensive planning is being done by the school’s Irish department and the work done to date is commended. Also commended is the self-evaluation mentioned as part of the plan for Irish.
· The subject matter of the lessons was interesting and suited to the ability and learning-needs of the students. It was obvious that thorough preparation had been made for each lesson and every effort was made to cover themes that would be of interest to the students.
· Irish was the main language of every lesson observed and both teachers and students are commended for this. It was clear that they all were at ease in functioning through the medium of Irish.
· Great efforts were made not to resort to translation from Irish to English; other strategies were used to ensure that students understood the subject matter of the lessons.
· A positive, courteous atmosphere could be sensed in every class and the good relationship between teachers and students was obvious.
· The use of strategies such as group-work and pair-work is commended, because these afforded students regular opportunities of practising their oral Irish.
· The school uses a comprehensive system of assessment which continuously evaluates students’ progress and keeps in touch regularly with parents.
As a means of building on the school’s strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that an interesting programme of cross-curricular and extra-curricular events be drawn up and planned for the current year and years to come.
· It is recommended that a range of modern teaching resources be developed, so that the teachers of Irish in the school would have access to materials that would promote interactive teaching and learning methods.
· It is recommended that the plan for Irish be developed to give a fuller account of methodologies and of the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the Irish class. It is also suggested that the plan for Transition Year be elaborated, to provide an interesting, pleasant programme for the students, which would promote their interest in the language.
· It is recommended that a wider range of aids and resources be used in the classroom, the Irish-language media included.
· It is recommended that students’ oral skills be taken into account in the house exams.
At the conclusion of the evaluation, post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
§ Thanks to the recommendations the Irish Department subject planning includes more trips to facilitate speaking Irish outside the classroom. It also focuses on communication skills in TY by making a short film in Irish and holding conversation class with students from another secondary school.
§ Senior students’ oral skills are now assessed in house exams.
§ The Irish department has drawn up a list of aids and resources. A subscription has been made for the weekly Foinse magazine and a supply of Irish books is being sourced. TY are organising an Irish club for all interested students. Fifth years are preparing two plays for Seachtain na Gaeilge.
§ Teachers have incorporated ICT and students watch programmes from TG4
§ Teachers have attended an in-service on methodology in Blackrock Educational Centre
§ As part of a whole school approach, meetings with management and heads of department have been held to ensure continuity in planning when new staff are employed. ICT training and methodology workshops have been provided for teachers.