An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
The Abbey Secondary School
Tipperary Town, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65490L
Dates of inspection: 24 – 25 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in The Abbey Secondary School. 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 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.
There are four hundred and fifty-four boys enrolled in The Abbey Secondary School in the current school year. The vast majority of them study Irish. Thirty-four students have exemption from the study of Irish - about seven per cent of the total - because of specific learning difficulties (23 students) or of having received their early education abroad (11 students). It was reported that an effort is made to encourage every student to study Irish at the highest level appropriate to his abilities and the teachers are to be commended on their support for students from abroad who wish to study Irish formally. It is of great assistance to the teachers that the school management is positively disposed towards Irish and it was heartening that all aspects of the evaluation visit could be conducted entirely through the medium of Irish.
The timetable provides substantial support for Irish particularly in that it is ensures that the majority of students have daily contact with the target language. First Year and Transition Year (TY) consist of mixed-ability classes. Research has indicated that the mixed-ability class is the most appropriate setting for meeting all the needs of students. In addition, it is generally accepted that second language teaching is particularly suited to differentiated learning. It is in this context that teachers are asked to regularly review the effectiveness of the arrangements they have made in relation to the grouping of students. They were also asked to consider the benefits which would accrue from grouping all junior-cycle students into mixed-ability classes.
There are six teachers of Irish in the school and, in the case of five of them, Irish is a core element of their teaching programmes. Irish is not one of the main teaching subjects of the sixth teacher but he wishes to teach the language. Such an arrangement brings it home to students that Irish belongs not alone to the Irish teachers and the Irish class, but that it is a living language through which ordinary people communicate.
The school management acknowledges the importance of giving teachers experience of teaching Irish at all levels. It is through this experience that teachers become familiar with the most effective classroom practices to address the varying needs of the students under their care. During this school year four teachers attended one of the Second Level Support Service training workshops for Irish currently being organised.
The majority of teachers have designated classrooms, an arrangement which facilitates the storage of resources and enables them to create a stimulating learning environment. The signs in Irish hanging on classroom doors throughout the school were noted. Various suggestions were made to the teachers regarding ways in which the use of Irish as a living language could be fostered, by using some of the language in association with various events or projects, such as school tours or games happening during the school year. In particular, it would be worthwhile incorporating initiatives such as these into the TY teaching programme, be they related to Irish only or linked to another subject/other subjects.
The teachers have ready access to resources such as a television set, DVD players, a tape recorder/CD player and overhead projectors. The school also has a computer room. It was recommended that the teachers should make as much use as possible of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the various learning and teaching activities undertaken. An initiative such as this indicates that Irish has its place in contemporary life and for this reason it was recommended that teachers should consult with the students as to the many possibilities which exist for integrating the use of ICT into the activities of the Irish classes.
The Irish Department was established two years ago. Formal departmental meetings are convened on a twice-yearly basis. A teacher has been appointed as secretary and it is this teacher who directs the subject development planning process. The initial steps in the process have been completed to the extent that a plan for Irish is being compiled. The documents assembled in the Irish file include general information on the administration of Irish in the school and the minutes of meetings. Work schemes for all the year groups are also included. It was recommended that, when developing these schemes in the future, the learning outcomes resulting from classroom discussion on the syllabus topics should be specified precisely, that is to say the use which students could make of the newly acquired language. There should be a clear link between these learning outcomes and the language functions laid down in the syllabuses (see Siollabas an Teastais Shóisearaigh p. 18, Siollabas na hArdteistiméireachta pp 6/7).
A subject plan provides an insight into what goes on in a school in relation to a particular subject. Such a plan is of great assistance to substitute teachers in particular. In the light of this, the Irish teachers were requested to develop the plan, so that it would incorporate information on the way in which the teaching of Irish is conducted, the learning objectives laid down for each year group, how Irish is fostered outside of the classroom, how the progress of students is assessed, how the effectiveness of the instruction is evaluated and suchlike.
Teachers were advised as to the focus they should have while bringing the planning process a further step forward. It was recommended that they should draw up a functional language programme for Transition Year - a multi-faceted programme through which communication skills are cultivated in an innovative, creative manner. It was further recommended that strategies to promote the speaking of Irish in class would be specifically targeted. From discussions with individual teachers it became obvious that they had many ideas as to how the oral abilities of students might be developed, and it would be well worthwhile for them to discuss these with one another and with the other teachers of modern languages. It would be beneficial also to insert in the Irish file a list of the resources available in the department to support the teaching of Irish by means of the topics. The benefits to be gained from devoting time at departmental meetings to debating one another’s classroom practices were emphasised, particularly those strategies which succeeded best.
Some of the teachers’ personal files were reviewed. From those examined, it was apparent in general that the Irish teachers are diligent workers who make detailed preparation for the lessons they present. It was clear that they had given careful consideration to the subject matters in which students would be most interested, the various stages of lessons, the most beneficial and satisfying learning activities and the resources needed in order to set the various activities in train. However, it was felt that a greater emphasis was being placed on developing the students’ vocabulary than on developing their overall oral skills. All teachers were asked to reflect beforehand on the most common language structures to be used in a lesson and to plan the class activities so that students would practise the manipulation of these structures.
A good work ethic characterised all the classes observed. On the whole, it was clear that good relationships had been cultivated between the teachers and the students under their care. In some classes the lesson began with an open discussion on major issues of the day. This is an effective strategy for encouraging co-operation and eliciting opinions from the students. It was considered in one instance, however, that the opportunity of enriching the students’ Irish in the most natural way - through conversation - was not grasped, and it was recommended that a specific structure or two should be practised with the students during such a conversation. Cognisance was taken in one case of the manner in which the teacher moved around the room, indicating an interest in the lives of the students themselves, questioning them directly on matters of particular interest to them and attempting to elicit opinions from them. High praise was accorded to this teacher for making every effort to create opportunities for authentic communication for the students. It was apparent that this approach is an integral part of a well-established work practice on the part of this teacher and it was recommended that its use should be extended.
The use of the target language was to the fore in classes, particularly in that the teachers spoke in Irish to the students. The students’ understanding of the teachers’ spoken language and questions was quite satisfactory and some of them made a creditable effort to supply answers in Irish. The teachers were commended on creating opportunities of speaking for the students and they were advised as to how the students’ speaking abilities might be advanced. For this reason it was recommended that they should adopt as their policy that only full sentences are acceptable as answers, even from the least able students.
The activities assigned to students were many and varied. Students were set to reading aloud and silently; to questioning one another aloud and in groups of two or three; to writing in their copybooks, in work sheets and on the blackboard; to looking at video clips; to listening to extracts from the comprehension tests in the state examinations and answering the teacher’s questions. All the activities had a thematic link which consolidated the learning. In addition, a determined effort was made in the majority of classes to give the students practice in the four language skills, an approach which is to be commended: the integrated approach resembles more closely natural language-learning settings than does practising each of the skills independently. It might therefore be expected that the integration of the four language skills would constitute a basic aim in the preparation which teachers make for any lesson. The diversity in the activities was of great assistance in ensuring the interest and continuing participation of students. Those teachers who devised a programme of active and interactive tasks for the students are to be commended. They were reminded that it would be desirable that priority would always be given to the functional use of Irish when completing these tasks and it was recommended that those language structures which are to be focussed on in the course of an activity would be identified and practised with the students beforehand. Relevant examples were mentioned in the individual feedback given to the teachers during the inspection.
A considerable effort has been made in creating a stimulating learning environment for the students. Posters and charts have been put on display showing vocabulary lists, points of grammar and samples of the students’ work. The teachers were complimented on the way in which the good work and achievements of students are celebrated on the classroom walls. In some classrooms many of the more common speech idioms were displayed, and these were of great assistance to students when speaking aloud in class.
It was apparent from the practice of one teacher that independent learning is promoted. It was noted that during this lesson the students took notes as the lesson progressed. This is a basic skill which should be cultivated in students at the earliest opportunity. It would be well worthwhile devoting time to note-taking - not only as writing is an integral element of language acquisition but also as the notebook is a valuable resource when students are revising what has been covered in class. It would also be advisable that students would be given practice in the use of the dictionary and reference books.
Various methods are used to continuously monitor the progress of students.
The abilities of the students in Irish are assessed before they enter First Year. The lay-out of the examination was designed in conjunction with the primary schools in the area, and it was intimated that the various parties are satisfied with it as a method of assessment. It is considered, however, that the abilities of students in the four language skills are not being tested equally, because it is a written examination only. It was left to the school management to form a judgement as to the merit of holding an examination such as this.
Students are assigned homework on a regular basis. Some student copybooks were examined and they had completed an abundance of written exercises. It was clear that the teachers had devoted time to correcting the written work. It was recommended that they should reflect on ways in which peer assessment might be cultivated as a method of directing the students’ attention to writing Irish accurately. Another recommendation was that an effort should be made to allocate, as homework, tasks in which students would be required to make use of ICT equipment. Again, the students could be consulted on this (see Subject Provision and Whole School Support above). In one instance it was apparent that the students were accustomed to self-assessment, an approach which generated a competitive and enjoyable atmosphere.
Formal examinations are held on a regular basis - twice during First Year, three times during Fourth Year, and four times during Second and Fifth Years. The Sixth Year students are examined on a monthly basis. In addition, the certificate examination students have preliminary examinations in the spring. These preliminary examinations are justified as experience of the lay-out of examination papers, time management and the conventions of the state examinations. It was recommended that an analysis should be done every year of the achievements of students in the state examinations, not only as a means of comparison with national norms but also in order to monitor the number of students who take the Irish examinations at the various levels.
Sixth Year students are given an oral examination. It was strongly recommended that the speaking abilities of all students should be included in the assessments done. There are many possible ways of carrying out this on-going assessment - it would be possible, for example, to allocate a certain percentage of the overall mark in the in-house examinations for the efforts students make to speak Irish in class.
All parties are kept informed in a variety of ways as to the progress already made and being made by students. A report is sent home after each formal examination. Meetings between parents and teachers are held every year.
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 recommendation is made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish and the principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
Tá an Bord an-sásta leis an tuairisc dearfa seo, go háirithe an moladh a tugtar do fhoireann na Gaeilge sa scoil seo agus an eitic mhaith oibre atá sna ranganna Gaeilge anseo.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Aoutaíonn an Bord gur cheart go mbeadh béin níos mó ar chumas labhartha na teanga agus deánfaidh na múínteoirí gach iarracht chun an aidhm sin a chur i gcrích.