An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Gairmscoil na bPiarsach,Ros Muc
Roll number: 71380N
Date of inspection: 19 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gairmscoil na bPiarsach, Ros Muc, Conamara, Co. Galway. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching of Irish and makes recommendations for the development of the teaching of this subject in the school. This assessment was conducted in the course of one day, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, inspected the 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 to the subject teachers. 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.
This is a Gaeltacht school and Irish is the language of instruction and communication of the school. The school’s official activities are conducted through the medium of Irish only. A comprehensive policy for Irish has been developed by the school, with challenging achievable objectives. The preservation of the Irish language, our heritage and culture is a central element of the school’s mission statement, which is on display in the school’s main hall as well as in the individual classrooms. This practice of having the school’s vision as an integral part of the normal school environment is commended.
The school makes every effort to enrich the students’ language and preserve the culture through participation in cultural events, drama, debates, film and other events aimed at promoting Irish, in keeping with objectives set out in the school’s policy. The school staff is lauded for their diligence in providing these extra events to enrich the students’ experience.
All year-groups are organised in mixed-ability classes. Four class periods per week for Irish are provided for junior students and senior cycle students have an extra class period per week. All classes are single periods and these are well distributed throughout the week. The provision of daily input for teaching and learning languages is praiseworthy. Two teachers are involved in the teaching of Irish, both of them experienced in teaching Junior and Senior Cycle classes, as appropriate. They are both native Irish speakers and have a good understanding of the socio-linguistic circumstances of the locality.
The two teachers have their own classrooms and one has storage facilities. There is a good range of aids and resources available in the school for the teaching and learning of the language. Though there is no specific budget for Irish, it was reported that any resources requested are supplied by the management. It is suggested that research be done on the collection of aids and resources compiled by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoileanna (The Education Council for Gaeltacht Schools and Gaelscoileanna), available at www.cogg.ie, to ensure that the department of Irish and the whole school has access to the most up-to-date resources. It was reported that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is used with certain classes from time to time. It is recommended that practical measures be devised to broaden the use of ICT in students’ experience of learning Irish. Students should experience the modern media available in learning the language. It is also recommended that websites such as Vicipéid, an Irish-language version of the encyclopaedic website available at www.wikepedia.org and Irish lessons based on excerpts from TG4 news, available at www.nuim.ie/language/vifax be used in connection with this initiative.
The school has no library at present, but a plan is being formulated to provide one. At the time of this inspection ‘book boxes’ were being used in the school. This practice of developing the habit of reading among the students is commended.
A language assistant was appointed to the school last year, under the ‘Cumas’ scheme, which supports students who come to the school with little Irish, especially those born in other countries. A learning-support teacher helps other students who are entitled to extra hours as sanctioned by the Department of Education and Science, support in acquiring the Irish language is included in this provision by the school. In this regard the school is commended. It is praiseworthy also that the school is involved in the project of founding a network of small Gaeltacht schools to identify specific challenges ahead and to share their experience of coping with these challenges. This network has been founded under the auspices of the Galway Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The VEC is congratulated on providing this valuable forum for small Gaeltacht schools.
The department of Irish in the school began the School Development Planning (SDP) process in 2006, building on the informal planning already being carried out until that time. Long-term plans for the subject have been agreed by the department and laid out on a term-by-term basis. The subject-matter and language skills are in line with the requirements of the syllabuses and with the range of interest of the students in this school. In some of these plans, thematic integration has been worked out to give the students experience of the vocabulary involved in a particular theme, across all the language skills, as well as different aspects of the courses. There is a good example of this integrated approach in the long-term plan for second year term three and again in the September plan for third year. It is recommended that this integrated approach be used in all the long-term plans, both in terms of language topics and the various aspects of the syllabuses spanning different themes, especially in the plans for senior classes.
The plan for Irish includes a comprehensive listing of the teaching methods used in the department, with differentiation well developed as an approach in these plans. This is praiseworthy practice. It is recommended that this inventory of teaching techniques be used to present aspects of the curriculum as appropriate, instead of letting it stand as an independent list, as at present. It is also recommended that the planning process for differentiated teaching pay more attention to the range of language backgrounds from which students come to this school, in order to make more challenging provision for students with a high standard of Irish and also encourage those with a limited knowledge of the language. Teachers are advised to consult the website of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) at www.sess.ie, for guidance on this challenge in planning for teaching and learning.
All the classes observed during the inspection were characterised by a motivational learning environment. The teachers showed an impressive awareness of students’ lifestyles and pastimes. This empathetic relationship greatly enhanced the co-operation which was evident in the learning and teaching process. The teachers consistently responded positively and encouragingly to the students’ efforts and opinions. All teachers displayed effective classroom-management skills.
There was a stimulating print-environment in the classrooms, including displays of the students’ own work, grammar charts and other teaching-aids. There were notices in Irish on display throughout the whole school also.
Irish was the medium used for all classroom transactions. It was evident that the students had a good understanding of the material and they were ready and willing to contribute to the theme of the lesson when given the opportunity. The teachers made every effort to enrich the students’ vocabulary, as well as directing their attention to points of grammar in the communicative context of the subject-matter, rather than as separate single items.
Good short-term planning and preparation had been done for the vast majority of the lessons and this positively enhanced the structure and order of the learning and teaching. To facilitate learning, worksheets on the overhead projector, a map of Ireland and a section of pre-recorded tape had been prepared for the lessons. It is recommended that, when short-term planning is being carried out, that the teachers have as an objective for all lessons the achievement of a balance between student activity and the teacher’s own input. In a certain class, the teacher shared the learning objectives with the students at the outset and when the lesson progressed from one learning and teaching activity to the next. It is recommended that this good practice be adopted by all the staff because it focuses students’ attention on their own learning, thus ensuring that students take more responsibility for their learning.
Teaching was effective in the majority of classes inspected. Among the effective teaching-techniques in use was the integration of the four main language skills, in accordance with the basic principles of the syllabuses. The main dialects of Irish were the subject-matter of one lesson and the teacher began by playing authentic excerpts from that particular morning’s news from Raidió na Gaeltachta. There was some discussion, before and after listening to the tapes, on where within a word the emphasis is placed, in the various dialects. The students wrote examples and the characteristics of the dialects in their copybooks, with guidance from the notes provided by the teacher on the overhead projector. This is a laudable practice because there is an interdependent mutually reinforcing relationship between the skills in developing students’ ability in the language. Integration of skills in the course of a lesson also adds variety to the lesson. This approach synthesises different aspects of the syllabus together as is appropriate. It is recommended that such an approach be more widely used in providing an integrated experience of learning for the students in Gairmscoil na bPiarsach.
In another class, where the objective was to provide reading-comprehension practice for the students, the teacher linked the themes of the story with the students’ life-experience. This is good practice, to guide the students to link the subject-matter of the lesson to their own experience, because that helps to anchor the content. The students themselves were reading the various pieces of reading-comprehension text, which is the best procedure. It is recommended that the criteria for good reading be agreed with the different classes at the start of the school year. The students can do regular assessments of one another’s reading, based on those criteria. It would be helpful to use this peer-assessment technique, which is a very valuable asset to learning, to develop good writing skills also. It is recommended that the criteria for these two skills be displayed on a chart on the classroom walls.
Profitable use was made of the overhead projector to enhance the clarity and structure of one lesson observed. It was evident that the teacher realised that the spoken form of a sentence or individual word was not suited to the learning styles of every student and that the visual form is also necessary. It is suggested that more extensive use be made of visual records in learning, a strategy which also reinforces the skills of accuracy and spelling.
Formative assessment is done on both a formal and informal basis. Among the informal methods in use during the inspection were individual work on a letter, oral questions, assessment of vocabulary, work-sheets and a listening-task based on the dialects. The school has a homework policy and normally assignments are set as homework in Irish for each night. A homework diary is used. In general, copybooks are collected and corrected once a week. It was evident from a random sample of copybooks inspected that monitoring and developmental correction of students’ written work was being carried out regularly by the subject teachers. This regular developmental correction facilitates students’ learning and is therefore commended. It was reported that the corrections are used as a diagnostic assessment instrument to identify common grammar and spelling mistakes in students’ work and that classes are taught based on that analysis. The staff is lauded for this approach because it provides personal clarification on individual errors as well as an overview of common mistakes at various levels.
The normal arrangements for summative examinations for the various year-groups operate in the school. Reports are sent home twice a year following these exams. Meetings of teachers with parents or guardians are convened once in the school year for each year group. It is recommended that, in future, the four main language skills be taken into account in homework, in assessment and in the reports sent home, which would dovetail with the integrated method of teaching mentioned in the syllabuses and with the recommendations made above in connection with planning for teaching and learning. This approach would enhance the motivation of students in developing all four language skills.
It is recommended that the subject department add to its assessment instruments for Irish by incorporating the principles of assessment for learning, developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and available at www.ncca.ie into their assessment plans.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings with the teachers of Irish and with the principal were organised at the conclusion of the evaluation and, at these meetings, the draft findings and recommendations above were presented and discussed.
Published January 2009