An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Mary’s, CBS
Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford
Roll number: 63560T
Date of inspection: 10 May 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 St. Mary’s, CBS, Enniscorthy. 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 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 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.
First-year students are in mixed-ability classes in the school. Students are then allocated to second-year Irish classes according to the results of the summer exams and the students’ own wishes.
Four class-periods for Irish per week are allocated to Junior Cycle classes. Five class-periods per week are allocated to Senior Cycle classes, excepting the class taking the Leaving Certificate Applied course, who have three class-periods per week. Although the provision for Irish on the timetable for the aforementioned classes is reasonable, it is recommended that, if possible, the possibilities of providing an extra period for third year higher level students be investigated. Two class-periods per week are allocated to Transition Year students. That allocation of time is by no means sufficient to provide an interesting comprehensive programme in Irish for Transition Year students and it is recommended that the management of the school consider ways of solving this problem for the coming year.
There are two higher-level and two ordinary-level classes in second year. This arrangement continues into third year, but, for Transition Year, there are mixed-ability groups once again, although there sometimes is only one class in all. There is a remarkable drop in the number of students attempting higher level Irish after Junior Certificate and Transition Year. There is just one higher level class in fifth and sixth years and the number of students taking higher level in the Leaving Certificate exam frequently falls to twelve.
Of a total of six hundred and twenty three students in the school, sixty students have an exemption from the study of Irish.
There are six teachers of Irish in the school, the majority of whom are graduates in Irish and have years of experience in teaching the subject. Teachers rotate classes by agreement among themselves, so that each gets experience of teaching every level and age-group. This is good practice.
No celebration of ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ is organised on a whole-school basis. It was reported that certain teachers run quizzes and other such events in their own classrooms during ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’. Students are taken to see the play ‘An Triail’ if it is running in the locality. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish discuss the possibilities of organising a programme of interesting extra-curricular and cross-curricular events, as mentioned in the plan for the teaching of Irish in the school. Initially, a programme of events could be organised for ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ and the range of events might then be gradually extended during the year. Input and help in organising and running these events could be requested from Transition Year students, with the consent of their teachers. It is important to give students experience of Irish as a living language outside the confines of the classroom. Such events and occasions for speaking Irish enhance the teachers’ classroom efforts.
It was reported that there is no specific budget for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school, but that the teachers are welcome to submit requests for aids and resources to the principal. The teachers reported that whatever aids there are in the school for the teaching of Irish are not stored at a central location, but that individual teachers keep their own materials. It is recommended that an inventory be made of all aids available in the school at present for the teaching and learning of Irish, that appropriate planning be done for augmenting that library of resources and that the aids be made available at a central storage point, where all teachers would have ready access to them.
The majority of teachers of Irish have their own rooms in the school, although one or two have to leave their rooms for an occasional class-period. Most of the classrooms for Irish had displays of materials and posters conducive to the teaching of the language and an Irish atmosphere had been effectively created in certain classrooms. The teachers’ work in this regard is commended. It is recommended, however, that such an atmosphere be created in all the Irish-language classrooms and that the materials be changed regularly to maintain students’ interest on an ongoing basis.
The teachers of Irish are afforded an opportunity of meeting for planning purposes once a month as part of the School Development Planning process. Booklists, allocation of classes, students who have problems, and also exams are the main topics discussed at those meetings, as well as work on the plan for teaching and learning Irish in the school. The teachers of Irish have done significant work on formulating a plan for teaching the language in the school. That plan incorporates the aims and objectives of the department of Irish, an outline of administration and planning in the department and an outline of the topics and subject-matter to be covered with the various year-groups. The work done on formulating this plan is highly commended. It is set out clearly and precisely and contains valuable guidance for any new teacher of Irish joining the staff of the school. It is recommended, however, that some development of the plan be undertaken now, giving more precise data on cross-curricular work, teaching methods and suitable aids to use with the different year-groups and levels. The plan should incorporate a far more comprehensive account of the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Irish classes.
It was reported that a certain number of students enter first year with a high level of Irish, from primary schools that have a good reputation for Irish and from the local gaelscoil (i.e. a school with Irish as the medium of instruction). No particular provision is made for these students, although it was reported that the teachers expect a higher standard of work from them than from their peers. It is necessary to provide extra challenges and special encouragement for students who have above-average ability in the language in order to develop that extra ability. It is recommended that teachers discuss this situation among themselves and that the plan for Irish contain a reference to the provision to be made for these students.
Although a plan was available for Transition Year, as part of the school’s general Transition Year programme, there was no link or similarity between that and the Transition Year plan which was incorporated in the plan prepared by the teachers of Irish. It is recommended that the teachers discuss among themselves the formulation of an interesting attractive programme for Transition Year. Emphasis should be placed on innovative and creative ways of teaching the language to the students, methods not generally related to the academic Irish curriculum being studied for the Leaving Certificate course. Transition Year affords teachers wonderful opportunities of approaching subjects in ways that are totally different from those used in the normal academic classes. It is important for teachers to avail themselves of those opportunities and to give the students a flavour of Irish as a living language which is worth learning.
No co-ordinatior has been nominated from among the teachers of Irish to co-ordinate planning for the teaching and learning of the language in the schol. It is recommended that the possibilities be considered of naming one of the teachers, every second year or so, to take charge of co-ordination. This would give every member of staff an opportunity of playing a pioneering role in guiding the planning for Irish in the school.
The use of Irish as the language of management, communication and teaching in the classes observed was really good. Every effort was made to use the target-language constantly in the classes and it was evident that students were accustomed to this. The teachers’ enthusiasm in this regard is admirable. In a few cases, however, it was felt that too much stress was laid on tranlation from Irish to English to ensure that students understood the content of the lesson, even when this was not at all necessary. It is recommended that teachers be more careful about this aspect of teaching the language. Other strategies must be devised to ensure students’ understanding, besides always resorting to the use of translation.
Certain efforts were made to get students talking in the Irish classes by the use of continuous questioning. Teachers asked both open-ended (i.e. allowing for a variety of correct answers) and closed questions during all the lessons to get the students to talk Irish. Efforts were made in certain classes to link the content of the lesson to the students’ everyday life by asking questions about pastimes and sports-topics and this approach is highly commended. It is vitally important to link the lesson-content in some way to the experience and interests of the students themselves. In some classes, however, questions that were framed exclusively in English were accepted from the students. Single-word answers were also accepted from students instead of full sentences, in reply to questions. It is recommended that students be encouraged to ask questions in Irish according to their abilities and that full sentences be required in reply to questions. It is important that students be given experience of using correct language-structures in Irish. Teachers are commended for their efforts to get students to speak, but it was felt that students had little experience of speaking Irish naturally, apart from giving formal replies to questions in class. It is recommended, therefore, that a range of creative strategies be devised to encourage the functional use of the Irish that students learn in class. It is suggested, for example, that games, role-play, drama, pairwork and groupwork be used. The strategies used would depend on the ability and age of the students concerned.
Some class-periods are forty-five minutes long. Credit is due to a particular case observed where very effective use was made of that time to provide practice in all the language skills, within the lesson. The students were required to undertake a range of tasks focused on a variety of language exercises, including listening, understanding, reading and speaking. The work was so well paced that there was no chance that students would lose interest in the class or in the class-activities. This approach is highly commended. Another case was observed, however, where there was a ten-minutes block of time to spare at the end of the class-period and not sufficient preparation had been done to allow for effective use of that bonus time, so that the teacher was struggling to fill the gap. All teachers are alerted to these slightly longer class-periods and are advised to make careful comprehensive preparation for them and to utilise the opportunity of getting students to practice their communication skills.
Excerpts from sports programmes were shown in two classes observed and this approach is highly commended. It is very important to locate excerpts from programmes and other material which would be of interest to the students and would stimulate their interest in Irish-language programmes and in learning the language. It is really necessary to present Irish to the students as a living language. Teachers are advised to use a wide range of resources in their classrooms and not to rely exclusively on the textbook. The Irish-language communications media are splendid resources which should be used regularly. When a programme or an excerpt from a programme in Irish is being used in class, it is recommended that a worksheet or other such material be prepared beforehand for distribution to the students, to ensure that they learn something specific from the programme.
In all classes observed, the students were quiet and polite. The teachers succeeded in getting the students involved in their classes and it was evident that there was mutual respect between students and teachers.
House exams are set at Christmas and in the summer. ‘Mock’ exams are organised for exam classes after Christmas. Reports are sent home to parents following those exams.
The house exams set are common tests for all first-year students; similarly, common house exams are set for all higher-level second-year students. The teachers of Irish are organising common summer exams for all fifth-year students this year, for the first time. The collaboration of teachers in devising common exams is commended, but it is recommended that they adopt it among them as a policy that there would be common exams for the appropriate levels in each year-group.
The communicative ability of the school’s sixth-year students is tested by setting them an oral exam. A full Saturday is spent conducting orals and the commitment of teachers in organising this is commendable. It is recommended that the teachers consider the possibilities of conducting oral exams for all classes from first year onwards, within the class-periods for Irish. It is absolutely necessary that, from a very young age, students are made aware of the importance of communication, in order to encourage them to use the language regularly in class.
There is no general policy laid out in the school regarding setting homework for the students. That is left to the teachers’ own discretion. It was evident, however, from the copybooks examined that homework is regularly set and corrected. It was not clear, however, that a mark or grade is regularly awarded for the students’ work, or even a comment on the student’s progress. It is suggested that the teachers discuss this matter among themselves, in order to formulate an agreed policy on correction of students’ work. It is also recommended that teachers see to it that there is a policy in operation to ensure that higher-level students learn from their grammar mistakes.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The work of the teachers in creating a stimulating atmosphere conducive to the teaching of Irish in some of the Irish classrooms, is commended.
· The school management is commended for the provision of time for the teachers of Irish to plan for teaching and learning the language.
· All the work done on formulating a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school is commended.
· There was good use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication in the classes observed.
· Commendable efforts were made to encourage the students to speak Irish in class, through the use of continuous questioning.
· The showing of excerpts from sports programmes in a few of the classes observed, to make the lesson-content more interesting and more relevant for the students, is commended.
· The teachers’ work in setting common exams for certain classes in the school is commended.
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 school management review the provision of time for Irish, especially for Transition-Year students.
· It is recommended that the teachers of Irish devise a programme of interesting extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities over a period of time, to present Irish to the students as a living language.
· It is suggested that an inventory be compiled of the resources available in the school for the teaching and learning of Irish, that they be augmented on a planned basis and that they be made available at a central location in the school, so that all teachers of Irish have easy access to them.
· It is recommended that the plan for the teaching of Irish be developed, to include a more comprehensive plan for Transition Year, the use of educational aids, a range of methodologies and the use of Information and Communication Technology.
· It is recommended that a range of strategies be discussed and devised, to encourage students to speak Irish in the classrooms.
· It is recommended that a wider range of aids and resources be used in the Irish classroom.
· It is recommended that students’ communication skills be assessed right through from first year onwards.
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.