An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Grange Community College
Roll number: 70020B
Date of inspection: 12 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Grange Community College. 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 subject teachers and principal. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Grange Community College is an inclusive school serving students of all levels of ability. Good efforts are made in the Irish department to provide the highest level of competence in the subject to the students and to encourage them to face the challenge of that level. As an indication of this the subject is taught in mixed ability classes, involving the three levels in one class. This additional challenge must be undertaken as the number of students registered in the school is low and the number of classes which can be established is, accordingly, limited.
It was understood from the teachers and school management that a large number of the students who register in the school are reluctant to engage with Irish at the outset and that there are regular requests for exemptions from the subject. The principal confirmed that those requests are approved solely in accordance with the provisions of circular letter M10/94. The inspectors who were undertaking the subject inspection feel that the efforts of the Irish teachers to promote a positive attitude towards the subject among the students were commendable. This is based on the quality of the preparation made in the work schemes for the subject, the organisation, diligence and vigour of the teachers’ presentation in the class, and the care of the teachers in preparing the students well for the certificate examinations. As a result the efforts of the school – from the subject teachers’ work to the principal’s support for the subject – are commendable in a school which faces great challenges with the subject.
The amount of time allocated to Irish in the school timetable in the junior cycle is in accordance with the requirements of the timetable. In the event of any review being made of timetable requirements in future it is recommended considering availing of the opportunity to increase the amount of periods made available each week for Irish in the case of any year group in the junior cycle, if possible, in accordance with other timetable requirements. The amount of periods provided for Irish in the senior cycle is satisfactory but it is recommended that the arrangement in place on the current school year timetable by which two periods of Irish are held on Friday afternoon for the fifth year be reviewed.
The teachers expressed interest in continuous professional development in the subject and one of them attended an in-service course in second language teaching provided by County Dublin Vocational Educational Committee. The teachers mentioned the scarcity of in-service courses provided for the teaching of Irish and they expressed great interest in the new support service for Irish announced in the media. It was recommended to the teachers that they consider observing each other’s practice in teaching from time to time during the year if the timetable permitted, a recommendation that they were open to. It is also recommended that consideration be given to common teaching in the case of certain classes to divide various aspects of teaching between them. Such could be done, for example, in fifth year or sixth year where a small number of students are registered in the two classes.
Irish is taught in mixed ability classes in the junior cycle and in the senior cycle. This work entails a particular challenge in the case of various classes where the three levels are concerned, especially in the junior cycle. This is true in first year and third year for example, where one class is involved in those two year groups. The teachers indicated that they were aware of the challenges associated with that work. Therefore the need is even greater for a review of the number of periods for Irish in the junior cycle, especially in the case of those students who are attempting Irish at higher level in third year.
Resources for teaching the subject are well administered. The Irish teachers have their own rooms under their care where they can easily access their own store of resources. CD players and tape recorders were available and there was easy access to televisions and DVD players. Attractive material in Irish was displayed on the classroom walls, including work designed by the students themselves, posters in Irish and aspects of Irish grammar which was clearly legible as a guide for the students. These displays were of a high quality and they were exhibited in an inspirational and imaginative manner. School management makes resources for the subject available on request.
Information and Communications Technology is not used in relation to Irish at present. Computer rooms are available on request and broadband will shortly be available in all classrooms. It is recommended that an ICT item should be included in the work schemes relating to Irish, especially as the Irish teachers have done a computing course. It would be worth designing an item for first year and extending that work by degrees based on the success of that item in subsequent review. It would be worth sharing information on the websites relating to Irish language matters with the students in order to give them an insight into Irish as used in contemporary life. Many links relating to Irish may be found on the ‘Gaeilge ar an ghréasán’ site www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaeilge/gaeilge.html
Good provision is made for planning meetings in all subjects. Arrangements are made for this on Wednesday when five minutes are taken from that morning’s lessons in order to use the last period for planning. In addition to these arrangements other planning meetings are held on days on which staff meetings are held during the year. The two Irish teachers meet regularly and evidence of this co-operation was seen in the planning documents provided and in the open discussion they had with the inspectors. The coordination of the subject is informally divided between the two. They now both have experience of those duties and this arrangement is commended.
Comprehensive documents were provided relating to the work plan for the subject. The work schemes were in accordance with the syllabi and the quality of the work was to be commended. Copies of the syllabi themselves, the various guidelines relating to the subject, and the various circular letters relating to the different courses were included in the folder. All of this was ordered and well-organised. The planning work encompassed the following: a record of proceedings of the subject planning meetings; the aims and objectives of the teaching plan; class ability levels; the textbooks and other resources, year by year in the subject; planning for the requirements of particular students; effective teaching methodologies; long-term planning – an account by year on the teaching matter, in respect of all classes; practices regarding homework, assessment work and reporting; checklist of necessary materials as a support for professional development in the subject.
In the plans themselves dealing with the various years appropriate attention was paid to developing the four main skills of the language i.e. writing, speaking, reading and listening. These priorities were commended. In any review that is made of the work schemes it would be worth noting down an account of the amount completed under those headings. In that way a retrospective assessment could be made of the amount and type of work completed and the success of each of those.
In the case of listening, it would be worth including other resources in addition to those recorded in the work schemes, which were restricted to the aural comprehension tests from the certificate examinations. It would be worth providing authentic examples of Irish being spoken naturally by contemporaries of the students themselves. Careful selection would be needed of material from TG4 programmes to find this. Another option for the school may be to seek cooperation from the Gaelcholáiste which shares a building with Grange Community College. The students from the Gaelcholáiste might be asked to make a recording, talking about themselves or about a subject that interests them. This would have the advantage of having local references which the students would recognise.
When an Information and Communications Technology item is prepared for Irish this should be recorded in the schemes. For example e-mails could be sent as variety to practising post cards or letters in the copybooks. Also, it would be worth trying to encourage the students to watch the new TG4 teenage soap ‘Aifric’. The students would not need to understand all of the talk as long as they understand the thrust of the story as a first step. A discussion could be based on the subject of the story depending on the students’ ability to understand the story.
Regarding the speaking of the language it would be worth noting down wider references to the speaking targets which teachers envisage are attainable for the various levels together with references to the methodologies which will be used for this. Targets may be limited at first if priority is given to practising this aspect of the language which students are not familiar with until then, as the teachers indicated. It is recommended that the aims registered in the schemes regarding the practising of speaking Irish should be increased, especially as the numbers of students in the classes are quite low and good opportunities exist for promoting the speaking of Irish among the students and with the students.
There are eight classes in total in the school. Four of them were observed for Irish during the day of inspection – three in the junior cycle and one in the senior cycle. Appropriate short-term preparation was made for all these classes and the classes had appropriate aims in accordance with the syllabus directions and the requirements of the certificate examinations. A good atmosphere was evident in most of the classes regarding collaboration and cooperation between teachers and students at work. The teachers indicated that there is a great continuous challenge in engaging the interest of students in the subject, and in achieving the collaboration and cooperation of the students.
It was explained that the atmosphere of participation in the work was not always as diligent when an inspector was not present. The openness of the teachers about this is recognised and the students earn even greater commendation for the respect shown and the attention paid to the teachers’ directions during the inspection. It was also clear that the teachers related to the students and to the challenges in making progress with them in the subject. These efforts were greatly commended.
The way in which the teachers undertook the various tasks was well organised. Appropriate material was prepared in advance to arouse the students’ interest in the work, to challenge them and to help them to implement the tasks. It was noticed that the students’ ability in the spoken language was quite limited and they were greatly helped by the lively personality and presentation of the teachers who praised their efforts throughout and who urged them on to greater effort. The teachers were unstinting in their efforts and energy in this work.
Limited activities were chosen based on clear objectives. Most of these related to writing the language, tasks based on certificate examination paper requirements. The activities related, then, to writing a letter, writing a post card, writing a menu and writing a job application form. In one case – uniquely – more than one task was undertaken in that a reading comprehension extract was being studied also. This extract was well chosen as it related to well-known characters on an RTÉ television soap dealing with a suburban community quite similar to the school’s own location. The teacher is commended for selecting material of interest to the students.
In another case students in the junior cycle were asked to select and write out a hotel menu. The manner in which the teacher distributed an envelope containing a folded ornate card, such as would be used for a hotel menu, was very polished. An information sheet was distributed to each of the students as a guide to locating the appropriate vocabulary. The students made strong efforts to write out the work carefully. There was complete silence among the students themselves during the work – however such silence is not necessary in a language class. Perhaps that silence related to the students’ lack of self-confidence in making basic conversation in the language, a challenge with which the students clearly had difficulties.
The teacher was moving from person to person throughout, praising the students’ efforts, helping, and questioning the students about what they were doing. The teacher was using simple limited Irish. Though the students understood most of these directions and questions it was not obvious that they were comfortable answering or questioning in Irish. Consequently nearly all the class work related to writing Irish only, and it would be well worthwhile practising talking as an integrated part of that work. It is recognised that the teacher made good attempts to do so.
It would be well worthwhile increasing this work and having conversations or short dramas to practise this work orally. Students could be placed in the roles of customers in the restaurant and other students chosen as waiters and meals ordered. Differentiated work could be instituted in those activities without much difficulty by changing the text of the speech. For the sake of variety, a scene from the television programme ‘Mr. Bean’ about his activities in the restaurant could be shown, and an oral account of those comic events practised, especially as there is no conversation in that programme. It would be worthwhile also showing a limited scene from the TG4 programme ‘Bia is Bóthar’.
Other possibilities exist in establishing links with the Gaelcholáiste which is on Grange Community College’s doorstep, and giving the students an insight into a cookery class in Home Economics. One should be extremely careful in this work and not portray the Gaelcholáiste students as exceptional students, thereby disheartening the Grange Community College students. It would be worth considering at the same time the advantages to promoting Irish in the school of having the Gaelcholáiste on the same site, and availing of opportunities so that Grange Community College students would hear Irish spoken as a regular language. The cooperation and permission of the Gaelcholáiste would have to be sought first.
The greatest challenge in establishing conversation work with the students would be to direct the students’ attention to that work so that class work would not go out of control. The teachers’ experience is recognised in these efforts. However this recommendation is made as the teachers were capable in class management and as the students would gain satisfaction in expressing themselves in the spoken language. The teachers would be rewarded and satisfied by progress in the same matters, a reward which is due to them for the diligence observed in the teaching and encouragement of the students.
It is school policy that each child who registers in the school is assessed in order to recognise each student’s support requirements, if any, and to verify the students’ levels of ability. Continuous assessment is done in the various subjects. In the case of Irish, students are welcomed to attempt the subject despite having had an exemption from Irish in primary school. In the case of one class observed, for example, there were four students taking the subject who had not studied Irish in primary school. The school, and particularly the Irish teachers, are to be commended for making attempts to present the subject from new for students such as these and their parents.
The school has a homework policy and it was clear from the Irish copybooks observed that regular work was being assigned and completed. The copybooks observed were neat and tidy and the teachers’ recognition of the students’ work was to be seen in the copybooks. This work related to written work, reading comprehension work and aural comprehension work. The speaking of Irish is not included in the junior cycle as part of the assessed work and that work in the senior cycle relates to the Leaving Certificate oral examination requirements.
On the same basis as recommended above about considering practising more spoken Irish in the class, it is recommended here that consideration be given to the speaking of Irish as an integral part of the assessed work. An individual oral exam should not be necessary for this. At the same time, the number of students in the classes is low enough for teachers to make arrangements among themselves to give students oral exams as part of the in-house examinations. This work could be swapped amongst them so that the teachers would assess the spoken ability of their colleague’s students for the sake of variety and in order to obtain a second opinion.
The teachers had a thorough account of the students’ progress in the subject in class examinations and in-house examinations. It was reported that parents in general do not always express much interest in the students’ achievement in the subject but such information is presented on the same basis as other subjects, a commendable practice.
The students’ participation and achievement rates in the subject in certificate examinations were observed. These statistics showed that, taking into account the school’s context, the school was succeeding in setting appropriate targets for the students in the subject in accordance with their abilities and that these attempts were successful. It would be worth recording these statistics in the planning work for the subject. They are a valuable record of the department’s work and a reference point and additional guidance for the planning work.
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:
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.