An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Nobber, County Meath
Roll number: 71980O
Date of inspection: 14 November 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 O’Carolan College, Nobber. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
A good allocation is made for Irish on the timetable in O’Carolan College. Five periods per week are allocated for all classes in the junior cycle and a similar amount in the senior cycle. There are three exceptions. Two periods per week are allocated for Irish in the Junior Certificate School Programme. Three periods are provided for Irish in Transition Year and for communicative Irish in the Leaving Certificate Applied. These arrangements are regarded as satisfactory. The Transition Year programme is provided according to demand and there is no Transition Year class in the school this year (2006-2007).
Communicative Irish for the Leaving Certificate Applied is done in one year. It would be worth considering doing that course in fifth year, that is to say in the first year of the two years duration of the Leaving Certificate Applied course. It is far more challenging work for the teachers and students to attempt this course in sixth year after the students have spent fifth year without any study of Irish.
There are personnel difficulties in providing Irish classes in the junior cycle at the same time on the timetable. It would be worth re-examining the timetable possibilities in order, if possible, to conduct Irish classes simultaneously in second year and third year. Such an arrangement would give greater opportunity to students to switch levels in the subject.
The teachers had regard for continuous professional development and had recently attended a seminar organised by the Second Level Support Service on Communicative Irish for the Leaving Certificate Applied. The teachers also attended a seminar organised by Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge on the optional film for the Leaving Certificate course. The school management is fully supportive in terms of approval for teachers to attend in-service activities in the subject.
The Irish teachers are fully competent in teaching the subject at the various levels and experience of these levels is willingly divided amongst them with the approval of the school management. These arrangements are commended. Proof of the promotion of Irish on a whole school basis was provided in the planning documents in terms of the activities organised as part of the Seachtain na Gaeilge activities in March.
Good resources were available for the teaching of the subject including access to computers and data projectors in the classrooms, CD players as well as a room, white board and a room under the subject teacher’s control containing a display of students’ work as well as notices in Irish and word lists as a guide to the correct writing of Irish. The teachers had knowledge of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and material was presented with a data projector. It would be worthwhile introducing hands-on experience to the students in Irish as used on websites, and electronic dictionaries for Irish, and also giving them the opportunity to write and send e-mails. To this end, a link could be agreed with a class in another school. An ICT item should be placed on the teaching programme for this, something the teachers could do without difficulty, given their knowledge of ICT resources.
The Irish teachers are very active in attempting to promote Irish outside the class. As an indication of this a conversation circle is organised every Wednesday break time and refreshments are provided to encourage the students to attend and to converse. In addition to this the Irish teachers collect money through schemes such as ‘no uniform day’ to fund Gaeltacht scholarships. This money is added to the generous grant paid by County Meath Vocational Education Committee to add to the amount of scholarships provided. The teachers are highly commended for all their efforts to promote Irish and to nurture a positive attitude towards it.
The members of the Irish department meet regularly to coordinate planning in the subject. This involves a common period on Monday morning when the Irish teachers have a period free from teaching. Other meetings are held in another common free period every second Wednesday and on school planning days when time is allocated for coordinated planning of the various subjects. The teachers organise most of these meetings in their own time. The minutes made available showed evidence of the content of the coordinated planning meetings in Irish. This was a concise, useful account which gave clear direction on the content of the meetings. The teachers are commended for registering records such as these. The teachers divide subject coordination duty among themselves in a fair manner, another commendable arrangement.
Comprehensive documents were provided relating to the coordinated planning of the subject – these documents were bound in the Irish department’s folder and available to department members and to the management. Additional material was available pertaining to examination matter. All documents were neat, tidy and well-organised and provided clear guidance on the teaching of the subject in the school. They were a valuable source of reference regarding class resources and exam material.
A clear guide from school management was included as a preface to the planning work. This guide related to the provision of clarification in all the subject work schemes regarding the following:
regular review of the schemes together with amendments made and the reasons for registering such amendments; attaching and amending copies of the in-house exams in the subject to the schemes; registering a clear objective for homework as opposed to assigning homework for its own sake; using a common template for all year groups; expected results for students from learning activities; placing differentiated content in the subject since mixed ability classes are involved; keeping a record of subject meeting proceedings; registering in-service courses attended by staff members; annual nomination of a subject coordinator.
The work schemes for Irish were in accordance with the above guidance and it was obvious that effort had been expended on preparing the schemes. References to the guidebooks ‘Looking at our School’ and ‘A Guide to Subject Inspection at Second Level’ were an integral part of the schemes. In addition there was a checklist of effective teaching strategies as a guide to the teaching methodologies. The influence of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme methodologies were to be seen in the planning work in general. This was evident in the quality of the planning work from the teachers’ knowledge of promoting active learning in the class.
The nurturing of a positive attitude towards Irish in the school and its promotion in every way is mentioned as the Irish department’s ‘Statement of Basic Objective’ in the preface to the schemes. One could see growth and development in the teaching and learning objectives as recorded from year to year. Appropriate recognition was given to the speaking of Irish in all the schemes and ‘projected learning results’ for the students were displayed in the schemes. The schemes related to the various levels and attention was paid to the requirements of weak students.
It would be worthwhile gradually registering an item on Irish in the context of Information and Communications Technology in the schemes. It would be worth compiling an item for the junior classes at first and reviewing the value of that programme and amending it before extending it to the other schemes. It would also be worthwhile, as part of advance planning and review, focussing attention on the main language skills – speaking, listening, reading, writing – and registering the work intended for implementation relating to those skills. The amount implemented and the value of that work could be assessed later as part of the review.
On the whole the quality of planning work was very comprehensive and very faithful to the syllabus objectives. Copies of the Department of Education and Science circular letters were appended to the schemes and appropriate examples of prose and poetry material were included. Important notes were on view in the case of a class taking the Junior Certificate School Programme which illustrated the needs of those students. The Irish department took a decision that these students would take Irish at foundation level in the Junior Certificate exam as opposed to another programme. It was reported that the students are succeeding in tackling the requirements of this exam. The teachers are to be commended for setting a challenge such as this in the language for the students and for the progress made since this decision was taken.
Five classes were observed during the course of the day of inspection – three in the junior cycle and two in the senior cycle. The management of the lessons was of good quality in each case. At the start of the class the objective to be achieved was announced and that work was followed. The students’ efforts with the answers were highly praised and the teachers moved among the students and observed their work in the copybooks. The students cooperated and the students’ and teachers’ respect for each other was evident. That the teachers had done a great amount of preparation for the lessons was evident from the quality of presentation and the work sheets and explanatory notes distributed to the students during the lessons.
Much use was made of the data projector in the classes. In the case of the junior classes well-chosen diagrams and photographs could be seen on the screen. As a stimulus to work in one case photos of major pop stars were shown on screen, The quality of the photos was top class and it was clear that the students were very taken with the personalities being presented. This well-chosen material is highly commended as it gives the students stimulating material relating to their own interests. In another case in the junior cycle well-chosen, attractive pictures were being used to stimulate basic vocabulary content for students with very limited ability in the language. This helped the students to understand without having to resort to translation.
In another case the focus was on practising aural comprehension and excerpts were selected relevant to the students’ age. The work was performed as set out at the start of the lessons. The work was mostly written work, however, and it was obvious that the students were not confident of their own spoken Irish any time the questions moved away from the written questions. This placed certain restrictions on the students’ learning. The students were definitely being extremely well prepared for the requirements of the written certificate examinations. A missing link was noticed in the process regarding the students’ ability to converse.
It would be worth reconsidering the current approach which focuses diligently on the textbooks and the written material, for the most part. It is recommended that focus should be on heavily promoting the speaking of Irish from the outset in first year as an integral part of the work in all classes. The support of school management will be necessary in order to undertake such a change in direction as this would mean giving a certain freedom to the teachers from relying on textbooks or the written word as frequently as at present. These recommendations are made in respect of focussing on Irish as a language of communication from the start and in order to develop students’ self-confidence in speaking the language from the first day. It is clear that the teachers’ ability in Irish and the teachers’ presentation are fully capable of directing the speaking of Irish in the classes.
A great support for this work would be the recording and playing in class of well-selected material from TG4. Significant work would be involved in recognising and using such appropriate material in the class. If the teachers feel that such a change in direction is excessive, talk about normal activities in the students’ lives could be included as an item in all lessons. In the case of the classes observed the written questions were too closely adhered to and the subject was not naturally developed.
In the case of the senior classes a great deal of advance preparation was made in order to read a poem and good explanatory notes were distributed as an additional aid to the students. Effective practice in aural comprehension was done in another case. The teachers did great work in the two classes to enhance the students’ understanding of the material being presented. Translation to English was made frequently to help this process. The amount of translation carried out was excessive. It would be worth spending more time on development and oral practice on a smaller amount of content.
The requirements of certificate examinations and the natural inclination to make good progress during a lesson are acknowledged. At the same time the ability of students to make oral communication is worth 25% of the marks in the Leaving Certificate examination. It would be better to develop the communication skills in an integrated manner and to set speaking challenges for the students as a normal part in every lesson instead of leaving the speech as an examination item to be developed separately.
In general proof of success was not evident regarding the teachers’ efforts to promote speaking ability. Great diligence was given to preparing the students for writing the language and for vocabulary acquisition with the help of translation. Every effort was made to prepare additional material for the students to help them in that vocabulary acquisition. The diligence of the teachers was to be greatly commended. The above recommendations are made in order to promote the speaking of Irish wider and earlier so that the teachers may have a suitable return for their efforts and so that the students may gain satisfaction from acquiring the spoken language.
The school has an assessment policy which focuses on common in-house examinations at the same levels in the subject. Class exams are registered every few weeks in the schemes relating to Irish in addition to homework and house exams at Christmas and in the summer. That part of the schemes dealing with Communicative Irish for the Leaving Certificate Applied best describes the assessment methods including assessment of the speaking of the language.
Assessment of writing of Irish relates to the aims of the syllabi and these requirements are properly catered for in the assessment work done for Irish. It would be worth considering the inclusion of speaking of Irish as an integral part of the assessed work in the junior cycle as well as the senior cycle. That would have to be clarified first with the students and the parents and credit would be given for students efforts to speak in the class. It would not be necessary to do individual oral exams, particularly in the junior cycle.
A creative approach could be devised to assess the students’ spoken ability, such as swapping classes among teachers as the timetable permits for a limited period at term end in order to get a second opinion of the students’ progress in speech. In addition to this a regular account would need to be taken of individual students’ ability in the spoken language.
Such an assessment approach which would focus on recognition of progress in speaking the language would serve the approach recommended above as regards focussing more on practising the speaking of the language in the class.
The planning work which was provided indicated that an accurate account was being kept on the achievements of students in the school in the certificate examinations by comparison with the national averages. Those statistics provided valuable reference points. The teachers are to be commended for the long-term planning which is ongoing to make continuous progress regarding increasing the number of students who take the subject at the various levels and raising grades in general.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.