An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Subject Inspection of Irish
John Scottus Secondary School
Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Roll number: 68071G
Date of inspection: 18 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in John Scottus Secondary School. 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 principal and the teachers of Irish. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
First year classes in this school are of mixed ability. The students are divided into ordinary and higher level classes in second year based on teachers’ recommendations, parental wishes and on a consensus between the year head and the principal. There is one ordinary level class and one higher level class in each year group from second to sixth year. Usually a reasonable number of students take the higher level paper in the Junior Certificate but the numbers are lower for the Leaving Certificate.
The provision made for Irish on the school’s timetable is not completely satisfactory. All the classes in junior cycle have four periods a week. Transition Year has two periods a week, fifth year has four periods and sixth year has five. It is recommended that school management look at the possibilities of providing an extra period of Irish for third year, Transition Year and fifth year. It would be quite difficult to ensure continuity in learning the language in Transition Year with two periods of Irish a week.
There are three teachers currently teaching Irish in the school but none of whom is qualified as an Irish teacher, although one of these teachers has extensive experience in teaching the subject. The main Irish teacher is on career break at the moment but intends to return to the school in September 2009. The principal assigns the classes to the teachers every year based on staff provision at the time and on continuity.
The Irish teachers make good efforts to celebrate “Seachtain na Gaeilge” by organising events during that week such as a céilí, a table quiz and small competitions in the classes. The efforts of the teachers in this regard are to be commended. However, it is recommended that student interest in learning the language be stimulated by organising a programme of interesting events throughout the year. It is important that a programme of extracurricular and cross-curricular events be organised to support the efforts of the teachers in the classrooms. The teachers reported that every effort is made to encourage the students to attend the Gaeltacht colleges in the summer in order to improve their linguistic ability. It was clear from conversations with students in classes that a reasonable number of students from higher level classes took that advice.
In general, the Irish teachers have their own rooms which affords them the opportunity to display material relevant to the teaching and learning of the language. However, there was very little material to be seen in the classrooms during the inspection. It is strongly recommended that the teachers create an engaging Irish learning environment in their rooms. The material on the walls may be used as teaching aids on a regular basis during classes especially with students who do not have a good grasp of the language.
There is an annual budget available for the Irish teachers to acquire resources for language teaching and learning. It is recommended that a list be compiled of the materials already available in the school and that they be located in an area easily accessible to all the Irish teachers. The list of the resources should form part of the plan for teaching Irish in the school.
A university student studying a degree in Irish and a parent who speaks fluent Irish come to the school once a week to take students in groups of four to practice oral Irish. The focus is specifically on students in the exam classes, third and sixth year, but it is intended to begin taking some students from first year who have difficulty with the language. This extra support is given under the direction of the class teacher. Management is to be commended for providing this extra support.
One of the teachers is nominated as coordinator of the Irish department in the school. This is a responsibility which changes from time to time depending on the availability of the Irish teachers and on school administration in general. It is recommended, if possible, that this responsibility be rotated among the teachers so that they all get the opportunity to act in a leadership role as regards planning implementation. The Irish teachers meet about five times a year.
Significant work has been carried out on teaching and learning Irish in the school and to this end the work of the teachers is to be commended. It was felt, however, that planning was carried out on more of an individual basis than on a cooperative one. It is recommended that all the planning aspects which have been developed to date, be integrated into a whole school plan for teaching the language. In this regard, development of some aspects of planning will be necessary. The plan for teaching and learning Irish should include the following: a description of the Irish department; a mission statement; the approaches adopted, especially as regards using the target language in the classes; a description of the topics for the various classes and levels; a description of the various methodologies employed to teach the topics and a list of resources to be used for the various aspects of the courses. Reference should be made also to learning objectives and to assessment. Specific references regarding the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the different classes would also be expected.
A general school plan for Transition Year (TY) was made available on the day of the inspection in which there was a short description of the topics which would be covered in Irish classes during that year. A teacher’s plan was also provided of the work which would be done in class. The plans were not really consistent. It is recommended that a comprehensive, engaging and interesting plan be provided for Transition Year which would afford the students the opportunity to experience Irish as a living language. Transition Year gives teachers the chance to teach subjects in creative and innovative ways and these possibilities should be explored and developed.
The use of Irish as the language of management, instruction and communication was generally very good in the classes observed. The diligence of the teachers in relation to the use of the target language is commended. It was felt, however, that there was an overdependence on translating from Irish to English in some cases, with the teacher’s own translation and the students translating excerpts from texts line by line. This approach is not recommended. It would be more effective to employ a range of strategies in order to avoid translation. Also, it is important to develop student ability in Irish by asking them to explain words and sentences in simple Irish instead of always depending on translation into English. Of course the strategies employed would depend on the students’ level of Irish in the class. In some classes observed, the students’ Irish vocabulary was effectively developed by continually giving them new words during the class, as well as new phrases and other ways to communicate meanings.
The students in some cases made very good efforts to communicate with the teacher and with each other in Irish. It was clear that they had considerable experience of such and that they enjoyed it. In these cases, most of the students had spent a period or two in a Gaeltacht college which was evident from their confidence and fluency in the language. In some other cases however, students were allowed to use too much English in the class even those students who had a good grasp of Irish. Of course, there were other cases in which students had a lesser command of the language. In those cases it is suggested that some work be done with the students at the beginning of the year on classroom management language so that they can ask questions and understand simple answers. Posters and other materials would be of great benefit to the students who have difficulty with the language. It would be worth focussing on first year students in particular to develop communication skills from the outset.
Various strategies were employed in a number of classes to elicit speech from the students, for example, role-playing and pair work. The use of these strategies is commended and they had a significant effect on encouraging students to actively participate in the class. The use of such methodologies is recommended for all classes.
Although a computer and data projector were used to clarify material for the students during some lessons, there were few other resources used in the classes except for textbooks, the white board and the teachers’ notes. The work done on the notes shown to the students on the data projector in class is recognised and that approach is laudable. It is recommended, however, that a broader range of materials and resources be employed to make the learning of Irish more interesting and more relevant to the students. It is important to give the students the contemporary context of their subject. It was reported that TG4 is sometimes used in the Irish classes but this practice was not observed on the day of the inspection. The Irish language media are a great resource for students of the language and it is recommended that they be used regularly. Video excerpts, music, pictures or language games can be used as well without incurring large costs.
The teachers were energetic and diligent in the classes observed. The teachers walked from one student to the other ensuring that the work was completed in the class and encouraging a greater effort. There was a very positive atmosphere, in general, in the classes observed and it was clear that the students were enjoying the lessons. In one case observed use was made of a class competition to encourage the students to learn. This improvisation was very successful and there was a good pace in the class and consequently in the learning.
In some classes, the aim of the lesson was shared with the students from the outset and that aim was displayed on a screen in the classroom. This approach is highly commendable. The use of such a practice is recommended for all Irish classes. It is important that the students understand what their learning objectives are. In one case observed, the work chosen was too challenging for the students involved and it was difficult for that reason to inspire the students to work. It is important to adapt the material and the level of the lessons to the students and to plan appropriately before the class.
The students’ pronunciation was corrected in some classes observed and repetition was also used to ensure that the students were able to pronounce sentences and new words correctly. There were other cases however, where there was a need to correct pronunciation and grammatical errors. Both students and teachers need to be aware of those two aspects of language learning.
The school has an effective assessment policy. Assessment examinations are given to the students every three weeks during the year and the results are sent home to parents after every one of those exams. It was reported that parents are kept up to date with their children’s progress in school reports, the school journal and at parent teacher meetings. Considerable emphasis is placed on reporting to parents and this is good practice.
It was clear from the copybooks observed that homework is given to the students regularly. The students’ work was corrected carefully and comprehensively in a number of cases observed. There was a need for more comprehensive corrections in other copybooks which were observed. It is recommended that the teachers discuss a common system in this regard and that the possibilities be explored regarding the use of assessment for learning in the classrooms and homework. It is also recommended that the teachers monitor from time to time the work which is being transcribed by the students in their copybooks. A number of cases were observed in which work was being taken down in a very inaccurate fashion.
The principal analyses the exam results and compares them with national averages. As it is a small school, there is no clear pattern visible in the results. The results are distributed to the teachers so that they can discuss them. The number of students who take the higher level paper for the Junior Certificate is satisfactory but that number falls greatly for the Leaving Certificate. The extra support available to students in first, third and sixth year should help to increase the number of students who take the higher level papers in the State Examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified during the evaluation:
· The efforts of the teachers in organising occasions and class competitions to celebrate ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ are commendable
· The school management is commended for the extra support being provided for certain classes in school.
· The planning work done by the teachers to date is recognised and commended.
· The use of Irish as a management, teaching and communicative language was very good in the classes observed.
· The senior students’ ability to communicate in Irish and their desire to speak the language in the classes are laudable.
· The pair work and role-playing which was observed in some classes is to be praised.
· The use made of ICT in certain classes is commendable.
· There was a pleasant and positive atmosphere in the classes observed
· The strong assessment policy being practiced in the school is commendable.
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 look at the possibilities of adding an extra period for Irish in the week for third year, fifth year and especially Transition Year.
· It is recommended that an interesting extracurricular and cross-curricular programme be provided to support the teaching and learning of Irish during the year.
· It is recommended that a list of resources available in the school for Irish be compiled, and that greater use be made of these resources in class to make learning Irish more
interesting and more relevant to the students.
· It is recommended that a comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of Irish be written, which would include a separate plan for Transition Year and references on how
to use ICT in the classes.
· It is recommended that the focus should be very much on communication skills in first year and that the use of translation be avoided in Irish classes.
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.
Published November 2009