An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Lucan Community College
Lucan, County Dublin
Roll Number: 70080T
Date of Inspection: 15 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 17April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Lucan 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 two days 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 to the subject teachers. 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 is very good provision and support for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. Management and teaching staff are committed to nurturing a positive attitude to Irish among students and to providing them with a positive language learning experience. There are six teachers of Irish in the school and each one holds a degree in Irish. Various factors are taken into account when teachers are allocated to classes and every effort is made to give them the opportunity of teaching Irish at the various levels and in the various programmes provided by the school. This is good practice as it gives the teachers experience in implementing the various syllabuses and programmes.
Irish is included in the school transfer examination taken by primary school pupils prior to entering the school. Students’ performance in these examinations is used to divide them into two bands. The feeder primary schools are consulted before a decision is made regarding student allocation to these bands. This is commended. The classes remain in these two bands for the duration of junior cycle. The first class in the first band and the first two classes in the second band are of mixed ability. One class in the second band is formed of students who require additional support and their teachers engage in team teaching. The vast majority of students study Irish at higher level and at ordinary level. Transition Year and fifth year comprise mixed ability classes and sixth year classes are formed based on the levels at which Irish examinations are taken in the Leaving Certificate. Irish classes are set on the timetable and this facilitates students’ access to the class best suited to their needs closer to state examinations. Management is commended for endeavouring to make the best provision for the students and for encouraging mixed-ability classes, particularly. Students are provided with information regarding the Leaving Certificate Applied in third year and students are accepted onto that programme on the basis of interviews with the students and their parents, and on advice from teachers.
Five class periods per week for Irish are allocated to classes in the junior cycle, four periods to classes in Transition Year and Leaving Certificate Applied and six periods per week to classes in first year and second year of the established Leaving Certificate. The amount of time allocated to Irish is satisfactory. It was evident on the timetable that a number of classes, further to those classes which had been allocated six class periods of Irish per week, which had more than one class period of Irish per day. It is recommended that the time allocated be distributed more evenly throughout the week in order that students receive regular input. This would also assist with planning for classes and with completing homework requirements.
There is a very good supply of aids and resources available to the teachers of Irish. These include two computer rooms which teachers can book for classes, and laptop computers and data projectors for use in other classrooms, TVs, CD and DVD players. The school management ensures that training in the use of technology is made available to teachers and valuable links have been established with a local computer company. It was evident that teachers are encouraged to use, and do use, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in their classes and that effective efforts are made to develop and share good practice regarding the use of technologies and integrating them with the teaching and learning of Irish in the school.
Every effort is made to provide appropriate learning support classes to the students who are exempt from Irish according to the provisions of Circular M10/94 during Irish classes. Managment are commended for this planning. All students are encouraged to participate in the Irish classes they attend and in any Irish language events organised, in line with the Irish department’s ethos that the language belongs to everyone. This practice is highly commended as it is important that all students have an opportunity to develop their cultural and language awareness.
School management is highly commended for encouraging teachers to be active in their own continuous professional development and for the support provided. Three members of the Irish teaching staff participated in the research and development project Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century which was hosted by NUI Maynooth. Bilingual signage, one of the good practices borrowed from another initiative, was visible throughout the school.
Emphasis is placed on presenting Irish to students as a living language of communication and they are given opportunities to use Irish outside of class throughout the school year. The school concentrates on Irish one day per week; Irish is used in announcements from the office and around the school, tea/coffee is available to students in a special room, a computer club through Irish is held after school and students in the school take advantage of the Vocational Education Committee Gaeltacht scholarship scheme. A comprehensive plan of events is prepared to be held during Seachtain na Gaeilge. The plan shows a great variety in the activities and events which are held. It is also worth mentioning that Irish is used on school stationery and in the school motto. Management and teachers are highly commended for providing students with such opportunities to support their learning.
It is school tradition to analyse the needs of the entire school community, to plan accordingly and to monitor and review the plans, objectives and aims set out. It was evident during the visit that staff was committed to the school development planning process, that they had a good understanding of it and that there was very good cooperation between them. The Irish department is on a formal footing in the school and holds regular meetings, both formal and informal. One of the teachers of Irish acts as coordinator for the subject. This role is rotated among the team members. At these meetings, and at appropriate times during the school year, planning is carried out for the curriculum, for common examinations, for co-curricular and extra-curricular events, and for the monitoring and review of the implementation of the subject plans. Students’ progress and the career development opportunities in which the teachers themselves participate are also discussed. Agendas are set for the meetings and minutes are recorded and forwarded to management. The coordinator has the opportunity to hold formal meetings with management to discuss various requirements, decisions and progress related to planning. The productive use made of meeting time is commended.
A very comprehensive plan for Irish has been developed as part of the school curriculum. There are long term and short term plans for the various year groups and the teachers plan collaboratively for certain classes. This basis for planning is commended. While various aspects of the plans are commended, it is clear that different approaches were taken in their design. When reviewing and further developing these plans it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes at the various stages be set. This will help to provide a framework for the progressive development of content and of language skills. In some cases comprehensive information is provided on teaching and learning methodologies and strategies and on modes of assessment. This is good practice and it is recommended that such information be provided in all plans. It is important that all of the language skills are included in the plan for each year group. It is also recommended that the teachers of Irish consult Curaclam na Bunscoile: Gaeilge when designing the school transfer examination for Irish.
Very good planning and preparation had been undertaken for the majority of classes observed during the visit. This ensured that classes were well structured and progressed at a suitable pace. The cases in which authentic material was acquired for use in class are specially commended. The use of this material helps to create an awareness among the students of the sources and the possibilities relating to the use of Irish. Included in the material prepared were, for example, worksheets, PowerPoint slides and language games.
The teaching and learning of Irish was of a good quality in the vast majority of classes observed. Work was completed on a variety of topics and aspects of the courses and appropriate emphasis was placed on revision for examinations.
In certain cases the roll was called and answered in Irish at the begining of class. In other cases the date was elicited from the students, or general topics were discussed in Irish. These are good practices and it is recommended that they are combined and that a similar practice be adopted in other classes. Students were informed of the topic and, in some cases, the activities to be undertaken, at the start of class. This is commended as it is important that the students have an understanding of their learning. It is recommended that this practice be developed so that the expected learning outcomes are shared with the students at the start of class. This will assist students in assessing their own learning, as is mentioned, for example, in the homework policy for first year.
Class topics were effectively linked to students’ own experience and an appropriate range of methodologies and teaching and learning strategies, which emphasised Irish as a living language, was employed. Clever and effective use was made of images and of PowerPoint text to consolidate students’ understanding of the images and feelings contained in a poem in a particular case. These images were also used as a stimulus to encourage students to explore topics orally in class. The use of Drama to help students relate to the content of a poem, as observed in one instance, is particularly praiseworthy practice as it demanded that the students expressed their own feelings and emotions on a topic orally in class.
In some cases, well-chosen authentic texts were used, and the use of such texts is highly commended. In one instance a short film in Irish was used to develop students’ vocabulary on a particular theme. The worksheet distributed among students helped to focus their attention on the task while watching the film. In another case a brochure for a summer college was used as a stimulus for a writing task. This was highly effective as it created a realistic situation for the task.
A number of examples of task-based pair work were observed. These were appropriate for the content of the lessons and for the students. They worked very well where the tasks contained information gaps and when they prompted debate among the students. It must be ensured, however, that students have the necessary vocabulary and the ability to ask questions in order to undertake this work, as they did in some cases. The language required by the students to perform tasks could be included in the classroom language required by them as had been done in some instances and as evidenced by some of the copybooks and wall posters. It is also recommended that students be made aware of the time limit for completing tasks and that the schedule is adhered to, as was done in some instances, in order that students have an opportunity to feedback to the class.
Cases where care is taken to develop the various language skills are praiseworthy. It is recommended that the same is done on a thematic basis in all classes. Such an approach helps to introduce students to learning in different ways and caters to students’ various learning styles.
Irish was used as the medium of instruction and communication in all classes. This good practice should be continued. Students were well praised and the classroom atmosphere in all cases was conducive to learning. Students were active in their work and showed that they were comfortable with the work in progress. Students had a good understanding of Irish and in some cases students showed a good ability in spoken Irish, in line with the level at which they were studying. It was evident in some classes that students derived great enjoyment from learning Irish and much credit is due to the teachers for this. Homework based on the content of the class was set in all cases, as recommended.
Students’ work is assessed through questioning in class, homework, class examinations, house examinations twice a year and mock state examinations. In line with the collaborative planning undertaken for teaching and learning, common examinations are set for students studying Irish at the same level in the various year groups. Teachers keep a regular record of the students’ achievements in their diaries and they are also recorded centrally. It is school policy to analyse and discuss students’ achievements in the various examinations held during the year and in state examinations. This practice is commended. Reports, including the results of the mock examinations for third years and sixth years, are sent home twice a year. Parents have a formal opportunity to discuss students’ achivements with teachers once a year, or more frequently on an informal basis, if required. Teachers and management are praised for providing these opportunities for communication between the school and the home. The inclusion of all language skills in the assessment of students’ work is good practice, as mentioned in planning documents for fifth year and sixth year students. It is recommended that this good practice be extended in order that it becomes general practice to include all of the language skills in the assessment of students’ work. This practice would be inkeeping with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses in both cycles. It is also recommended that a more formal account of the modes of assessment employed regarding the different language skills is included in the plan for each year group.
Homework is an integral part of teaching and learning in the school and a comprehensive homework policy has been developed for first years, which outlines the requirements and duties of the whole-school community in this regard. The policy also specifies criteria for achievement, and monitoring and review processes. Regarding Irish, it would be worthwhile for the teachers to remind students that homework need not always be based on writing or reading.
Copybooks were reviewed during the visit. The subject content was in line with syllabus requirements. Work was regularly corrected in the majority of cases and high praise is due in those cases where the corrections guided students on how to improve their work. This practice, emphasising assessment for learning, should be extended. This would support the instruction in the homework policy for students regarding correction of their work. It would also ensure that they are made aware of the aspects of their work that are well completed and help in identifying any gaps in their learning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good provision for Irish in the school and it is very well supported.
· Staff is encouraged and supported in participating in professional development opportunities and expertise is shared with all staff.
· Staff is committed to the school development planning process and a comprehensive plan has been developed for Irish. Very good planning and preparation had been done for the classes observed.
· Irish was the medium of instruction and the language of communication and a variety of methodologies and teaching and learning strategies were used in class.
· Students were active in their learning in all classes and it was evident in some instances that they derive great enjoyment from learning Irish.
· Students’ achievements, including spoken Irish in certain cases, are regularly assessed and students themselves are encouraged to assess their own learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Review the distribution class periods for Irish on the timetable so that students receive more regular input.
· Continue to develop the plan for Irish, set out a framework of the expected learning outcomes at various stages, and include the modes of assessment in the plan.
· Share expected learning outcomes with the students at the beginning of class.
· Develop an inventory of the aids and resources available for teaching and learning Irish for planning purposes in this area.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board, muinteoirí na Gaeilge and the Principal wish to record their appreciation of the highly thorough, professional and sensitive manner in which this inspection and this report thereon were undertaken and delivered.
The recommendations contained in the report are highly welcome and the majority of the main 4 recommendations have already been incorporated into the on-going planning of the school and of Roinn na Gaeilge (see below). As is observed on page 3 of the report, this school has a long tradition of analysis, review and planning in relation to whole-school and subject business. The recommendations contained in the report are essential to us in ensuring our self-evaluation is well-grounded, and in bringing to our notice additional areas of attention.
It is noted on page 4 “---(go mbaineann) cáilíocht mhaith le teagasc agus foghlaim na Gaeilge i dtiomlach mór na ranganna a bhreathnaíodh.” It is the aim of this school and Roinn na Gaeilge that the standard of teaching and learning for our students is of the very highest standards. Success of the teaching of Gaeilge and learning of the subject is, of course, set within the cintext of student abilities and standards of achievement at entry. The report refers to the participitation of this school in Teaching and Learning in the 21st Centuary (NUIM), the leaders of which project identified this school’s teaching and learning sa Gaeilge with a view to offering a headline to other participant schools.
The report testifies to the fact that the school challenges students to the highest appropriate levels of achievment and ensures support for them in reaching such levels. The highly poitive observationsthrough the report lead to the conclusion that our aim to excel in teaching and learning will be achieved by guarding and increasing the strengths referred to throughout and particularly on page 6, and by addressing the 4 recommendations on the same page.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Of the 4 main recommendations, the following have already been addesssed: