An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Brendan's College
Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 61320 M
Dates of inspection: 2-3 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brendan's College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching in Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed learning and teaching. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the Principal and the teachers of Irish. 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.
St. Brendan's College is predominantly a second level school for boys. It is a school which recognises that our native language is a significant part of our heritage, and the teachers set out to transmit the language on to the next generation by fostering in the students under their care the ability to communicate through the language and a positive attitude towards it. The teachers themselves are fully proficient in the language and they welcomed the opportunity of discussing their own practices and of exploring advances in methodology which could be implemented by them. This receptivity greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the evaluation.
The timetable offers considerable support for Irish. From Second to Sixth Year, classes for the various class groupings are conducted concurrently, so as to make it possible for students to transfer from one group to another should the need arise. The majority of students have one Irish lesson per day, ensuring that there is regular contact with the target language.
The Irish teachers come together both formally and informally in order to discuss their subject. They hold at least four formal meetings per year, at which they debate a variety of issues such as examination results, work plans, banding of students and extra-curricular events. The minutes of these meetings are forwarded to the school management. The teachers discuss classroom activities among themselves and share ideas on an ongoing basis.
Fifty-three students have exemption from the study of Irish. Twenty-two of these have learning difficulties and the balance are students from abroad. Some of these students study Irish and intend to take it in the state examinations. The teachers are to be complimented on their success in motivating these students. During Irish lessons, those students who do not study Irish attend a learning support class, where feasible.
Irish teachers have designated classrooms which facilitate the creation of a
environment and the storage of resources. Teachers have access to overhead projectors, televisions, tape recorders, laptop computers and data projectors. There are two computer rooms for students in the school. It was intimated that the Irish Department would be given the necessary funding, should any teacher wish to add to his/her pool of resources.
The school stationery and the students' school journal contain both Irish and English. This is a another indication that Irish has its place in the life of the school. Indeed, the situation might be further advanced by including some words in Irish in any written communication which the school has with outside parties - the greeting might be in Irish, for example. The teachers themselves are of the view that Irish could be given greater visibility throughout the school. It was recommended that it be ensured that the signage in the new school building, soon to be built, should be bilingual.
A variety of extra-curricular activities which promote the use of Irish are organised. Students are taken to the Gaeltacht on day- and weekend visits. Killarney is situated in reasonable proximity to the Gaeltachts of Corca Dhuibhne and Múscraí and it is the practice of some of the students to spend a period in the Gaeltacht during the summer. Students are brought to workshops on literature, and Irish dancing sessions are organised in conjunction with the girls' school. The teachers are deserving of praise for the time and the energy which they expend on these activities.
Up to the present, the Irish teachers have been involved in subject development planning for four years. They have compiled a planning file containing the mission statement of the school, the syllabuses of the various programmes in Irish, the minutes of meetings, notes set out on a planning template provided by the School Development Planning Initiative, as well as other relevant documentation. The file contents revealed that the team of Irish teachers hold the communicative method in high regard as an effective means of teaching Irish, a philosophy which is in keeping with the contents of the Irish syllabuses and with the opinions expressed by language experts. The challenge now posed for the teachers is the exploration of activities which could be implemented in class which would ensure that students are afforded as many opportunities as possible for authentic communication (see Learning and Teaching below).
It was evident, generally speaking, that individual teachers had devoted time and effort to the preparation of lessons and that they had given careful consideration to the most effective way of presenting the material to students. It is the practice of some teachers to draw on the outcome of their own reflection on the lesson taught, in order to direct the course of future lessons. This approach is most commendable and it would be well worth while setting it on a more formal footing. Not only would this guarantee continuity from lesson to lesson, but the individual teacher's ideas would form the basis for a discussion document, when effective strategies of learning and teaching are being debated at departmental meetings.
A good work ethic and a courteous atmosphere characterised all the classes visited. It was apparent that the majority of teachers had given careful thought to the systems of working which they had established and to the learning activities which they practised. In some instances, these work systems had been long-established by the teachers and the students were well-practised in undertaking the various lesson activities.
Irish was the dominant language in use in the majority of classes observed. In these classes, directions to students and word or concept meanings were given in Irish, and, in the same vein, recourse was seldom had to translation. In addition, the students were given numerous opportunities of speaking Irish to the teacher and to one another. This is a praiseworthy approach and the students are to be commended on their efforts to speak the language. The accurate pronunciation of students is worthy of special mention.
It was evident that some teachers availed of every opportunity for authentic communication during the Irish lesson. Other teachers acknowledged that they could initiate more conversation through Irish in class and they indicated that it was their intention to focus on that aspect of their work practice. While engaged in developing this approach, it was recommended that they should remain alert to the importance attaching to authentic communication, that is to say that it must be ensured that the students are speaking of their own accord, expressing opinions of their own, asking questions composed by themselves or describing matters relating to themselves. If opportunities for authentic communication are created during schooling, the students will be enabled and sufficiently confident to speak Irish in the real world outside. The attention of teachers was drawn to the necessity of furnishing the students with the necessary 'tools', in order that they might become independent learners and speakers of Irish. In this context, it would be advisable that the conjugation of relevant verbs, the accurate usage of the necessary vocabulary and the formulation of appropriate speech idioms should be practised intensively at the beginning of class.
Among the topics of conversation chosen were road accidents, a conversation with a famous person, 'myself, my family and my pastimes', news of the day and sport. By way of support for the delivery of these topics and in order to awaken the interest of students, learning activities were initiated. Students were set to completing sentences, answering factual questions, questioning one another, searching for synonyms, solving wordsearches and suchlike. The students displayed an interest in the topics and involved themselves willingly in the activities. In some instances it was felt that the link between the topic and students' lives could have been better elucidated through debating matters relating to their own lives or through introducing activities in which students would normally become involved. They could, for example, write an email, engage in role play, read an advertisement, listen to excerpts from TV programmes/people talking, discuss a photograph from a magazine, read a newspaper article and so on.
Teachers are to be complimented on creating a stimulating learning environment for students. The classrooms had been decorated with posters and multi-coloured charts. The students' work was on display, a source of great encouragement for them. Vocabulary lists, major grammatical points, proverbs and common language idioms were exemplified and these reference aids were of great assistance to teachers and students while engaged in the lesson activities.
Among the aids utilised were work sheets, textbooks and workbooks, photographs, tape recorders and postcards, as well as the charts hanging on the walls. It was considered that the range of resources used could be expanded, specifically to include resources based on Information Technology (IT). If we are to convince students that Irish has its place in the world of today, then it is incumbent on us to make as much use as possible of IT in the learning and teaching activities engaged in.
The students' written work was reviewed and it was clear that they had completed many written exercises. Some teachers require that the senior students store their written work and notes in a file. It was apparent that teachers had devoted time to correcting written exercises and that some students had taken care to correct major errors. It was recommended that all teachers should require their students to correct the main language errors, in order that their attention may be drawn to the importance of accuracy.
A comprehensive system of assessment is implemented by the school, which keeps all relevant parties informed as to the progress of students.
The students are regularly assigned homework and it is the usual practice that the teachers check and correct the written exercises.
The students are frequently given tests in class so as to evaluate the progress they have made/are making.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer and the students who are due to sit the state examinations sit preliminary examinations in the spring. In-house examiniations are common examinations, as far as possible. These major examinations are beneficial, as they provide experience of time management, of the layout of examination papers and of the rubrics of the state examinations.
Meetings between parents and teachers are convened and reports are issued to parents four times a year.
There is no examination of the students' oral abilities. It was recommended that formal recognition should be given in the assessment system to the speaking abilities of students, so as to give them an appreciation of the importance of improving their oral skills.
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:
(a) the use which could be made of IT in the learning and teaching of Irish;
(b) the creation for the students of as many opportunities as possible for real communication.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.