An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Mount Temple Comprehensive School
Malahide Road, Dublin 3
Roll number: 81002K
Date of inspection: 04 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Temple Comprehensive 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 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 subject teachers, the acting principal and the acting deputy 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.
Mount Temple Comprehensive School has an enrolment of 850 students for the current school year 2008/09. Irish is a core subject in all curricular programmes and the course An Ghaeilge Chumarsáideach has commenced as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), a programme which is being introduced for the first time this year. Towards this end two of the teachers of Irish are working in partnership, one day a week, when one of them is timetabled for a learning support period and the other is timetabled for an Irish lesson. The Irish teachers are commended for undertaking this new challenge of providing An Ghaeilge Chumarsáideach in the interests of students who will benefit from this programme. The resulting additional efforts in enhanced collaboration among them are also commended. It is recommended that teachers add to the opportunities available to them to promote collaboration and teaching together among them. Good opportunities for this approach exist in first year and in Transition Year (TY) in particular. This recommendation is made in the interest of learning from each other and enhancing the expertise of teachers.
It was reported that fourteen per cent of all students in the school have an exemption from Irish. Accurate information on the number of students with exemption from Irish should always be available. The statistics on exemptions from Irish should be kept up to date and an exact record should be available for inspection at any time. It would be worthwhile recording these statistics in the subject plan for Irish as a guide to writing a short account of the status of Irish as a subject in the school. These statistics would also assist with the drafting of a whole-school policy for Irish.
In the current school year 2008/09 significant changes have taken place in the membership of the Irish department where seven teachers are teaching the subject this year. There is a range of experience in teaching the subject within the current department personnel, which includes, particular experience of teaching in different types of school. In addition there is significant variation in the level of qualifications in Irish among the teachers.
School management supports teacher continuing professional development and it was confirmed that all teachers of Irish attended the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) course for Irish in relation to promoting active learning in Irish in first year. However, this information is not reflected in the account given under ‘Teacher career development’ as included in the subject plan for Irish. It is recommended that this account be amended.
Timetabled provision for Irish is satisfactory as are the general arrangements for the subject on the timetable. Mixed-ability classes are formed in first year. This arrangement is commended as it offers each student an equal opportunity to meet the highest challenge in the subject from the outset. From second year onwards classes are established to correspond to the different levels in the subject and from second year onwards classes are timetabled concurrently in each year. These arrangements ensure that students have the freedom to move from one level to another during the year, if necessary. The number of periods provided for Irish in senior cycle is satisfactory, that is, four periods each for TY and for LCA and five periods for each of the two years of the established Leaving Certificate. It is recommended that the number of periods, four periods weekly, provided in each of the three years of the junior cycle be reviewed. It is recommended that this review would seek to provide a fifth period each week, if possible, even if only in the case of one of these three years. This recommendation is made in the interests of providing students with more frequent contact with the subject. As regards timetabling in general, it would be preferable to provide one class period per day rather than the current arrangement that obtains in fifth year, where Irish is timetabled for two periods on Tuesdays with no class period offered on Thursdays. In the case of the LCA it would be better not to have three of the four periods for An Ghaeilge Chumarsáideach timetabled late in the afternoons, as is the arrangement at present.
A review of the need to provide both higher and ordinary level classes in TY is recommended. This review is recommended in the interest of providing students who sat ordinary level in the Junior Certificate examination with an opportunity to re-engage with the language at a more challenging level, in an atmosphere that is free from examination pressure.
Six of the seven teachers of Irish are classroom based and good efforts have been made to provide
a stimulating environment for the subject in these rooms through the use of notices and displays of material in Irish. Some notices in Irish were on display in prominent places throughout the school. As a means of enhancing recognition of the language, it is recommended that the number of notices and directions in Irish, to be seen throughout the school, should be increased. This approach should be explored in light of the new school building which, it was reported, is soon to be constructed. A display of books in Irish in the library was a very good attempt to entice students to read outside of the prescribed textbooks.
Information and communication technology (ICT) resources are scarce and are little used in the teaching and learning of Irish. Even though teachers are trained in the use of ICT and the subject plan has reference to the desire of teachers to promote ICT within the subject, it was reported that resources are very limited. It was reported that ready access was not available to a data projector and laptop computer and that access to computer resources in the computer room is limited. Teachers are provided with audio resources such as CD players and tape recorders. However, as regards visual resources it was reported that it is the teacher who is not classroom based who makes the greatest use of the television in teaching, because, fortuitously, a television set is available on a trolley where those rooms are located. It is not in the interest of the subject to have the teaching of Irish lose out due to a lack of ICT resources. It is recommended that an application for ICT resources for the Irish department be submitted to school management along with a teaching plan confirming the use of those resources to support the claim.
A subject plan for Irish, encompassing each of the six year groups in the school, was provided. The aims and objectives of the subject plan reflect those of the Irish syllabuses. Appropriate attention is given to the development and enrichment of the four language skills. Cultural awareness is properly acknowledged as one of the aims set out for the teaching of Irish in the school. Particular attention is paid to the development of self-confidence in students with regard to speaking the language and the aim of providing enjoyment and encouragement for students in the context of Irish is also recorded as an objective. These ambitious challenges are clearly recorded in the plan and are commended. Reference should also be made in the plan to the new programme, An Ghaeilge Chumarsáideach, which was offered for the first time this year in the LCA. For this reason the subject plan should be kept up to date, the school year to which the plan refers should be stated in it, the plan should be reviewed by the team of Irish teachers and amendments implemented for the following school year.
The good practice of sharing the role of co-ordinator among the members of the subject department operates and hence a new co-ordinator has been selected this year. The term of office should be recorded alongside the co-ordinator’s name in the plan. The arrangements set out for teacher meetings are good. It was explained that teachers meet monthly to review planning matters. In addition, it is recorded in the subject plan that teachers discuss different aspects of teaching methods at their weekly meetings and that they support each other with regard to issues in class and academic concerns. This collaboration and review of teaching matters are commended. Regrettably, the results of these discussions are not provided in the current plan in the section on effective teaching methodologies. It would be worthwhile attaching a record of the meetings of the teachers of Irish in the index of the plan and recording the results of this valuable discussion in the plan itself.
In the interests of adding to the discussion that is ongoing among teachers concerning teaching methods, it would be worthwhile seeking opportunities on the timetable when teachers could observe each other’s teaching practice from time to time. As a means of effecting this approach, a single page copy of the weekly Irish timetable for all classes should be appended to the subject plan. Thought could also be given within the planning process to sharing aspects of teaching among certain teachers, for example with class groups in the same year, thus enhancing expertise. Good starting points for this work would be first year and Transition Year.
The subject plan documents the syllabus topics which will be the focus of the different year groups as a basis for developing languages skills. Care should be paid to the graduated development that needs to be achieved in each year, and in each level of each year, in the interests of maintaining freshness in the content of teaching and learning. This reference is made because certain common topics need to be covered, year on year. Guidance is available in the European Council publication, European Languages Portfolio, regarding the learning outcomes expected from students in junior and senior cycles based on the Irish syllabuses, within the four language skills. A detailed account of the learning outcomes would be helpful in avoiding undifferentiated revision of the same material from year to year. The same publication also offers guidance on promoting independent learning in Transition Year.
With regard to resources, the plan provides a good account of written and visual materials available in the Irish department. There is a good quality library of reading materials collected and recorded. Cross-reference should be made in the plan to these books in order to obtain the best use from them. There is reference in the plan to the limited use of ICT resources in the teaching of the subject. It is stated that this use is limited to students in TY who send emails to their friends from the computer room. Lists of websites relevant to Irish are provided to students to assist them to obtain information on Irish. This effort is commended and attention is drawn to the recommendation made previously concerning the further exploitation of ICT. The use of television programmes from TG4 is mentioned as a resource in plans for the different years. If it is possible only on rare occasions to use a television or a video recorder then the plan should be reviewed to reflect the actual practice on the ground.
Reference is made in the plan to a multicultural society and to the fact that students who do not have Irish are welcome to participate in different activities related to Irish, including the TY visit to the Gaeltacht. These worthwhile efforts are commended and, reflecting the above reference, it is recommended that the full list of students with an exemption from Irish be recorded in the subject plan and that these students, including newcomer students, be invited to study the language.
Teachers have developed their own individual plans for their own class groups, which are in keeping with the subject plan. Best practice in formulating these plans is evident where teachers have incorporated the contextual factors of the class including the acknowledged strengths and weaknesses of students. One individual plan developed for one of the TY groups was more in keeping with the objectives of the TY Programme than was the programme presented in the subject plan itself. It is recommended that the originality of the content of that individual plan be integrated into the subject plan.
A high standard of subject planning work by teachers was evident from the planning documentation provided. It would now be opportune to build on what has been achieved. An honest account of the status of the subject in the school, as obtains at present, should now be documented and an action plan agreed in order to facilitate improvement in the subject from year to year as a means of promoting further collaboration among teachers to the benefit of the subject.
During the inspection visit six lessons with five teachers were observed. Two of these lessons were in junior cycle and four in senior cycle. Lesson preparation was good and the content and objectives of the lessons were clearly explained at the beginning of all lessons. The lessons adhered closely to the objective set out and were well organised. However, certain constraints obtained arising from the lack of variation in the content of the lesson. In one instance in the senior cycle, for example, the teacher succeeded in maintaining a lively dialogue with students all during the period. Even though the general ability of the class in Irish was quite low, students continued to make an effort to achieve the lesson objective of composing a letter about a holiday abroad. In a lesson like this with such content and with this level of student ability in the language the enjoyment of students in their learning would be much enhanced by looking at a short segment of a travel programme on television as a stimulus for them to describe the views on the screen, even if there was no accompanying commentary.
In another senior cycle lesson students depended a good deal on the teacher to provide them with a description of the advantages and disadvantages of television as a medium. The same level of dialogue did not exist in these two lessons between the teachers and students as regards oral questions and general conversation, even though the level of oral ability was similar in both classes. It is recommended that more variation be included in this type of work and every effort should be made to actively engage the students in the lesson rather than having the teacher doing the work of providing an account of a limited topic. Monotony should be avoided in the lesson and the challenge shared with students. This is where teachers would benefit from observing each other’s teaching in order to see a different approach in practice. This would be of much greater help to teachers than would discussion on the theory of teaching methods at a later stage in a meeting of the teachers of Irish. No teacher should be fearful or reluctant to learn from another teacher how to improve on aspects of teaching or how to make them more interesting.
Other significant differences were to be noted regarding the amount of Irish used by teachers in their interactions with students in the different classes. And differences were also to be noted in the language register in use and the standard of Irish used by different teachers. For example, in the above mentioned two lessons, almost all instructions were given through the medium of Irish in one lesson and students understood those instructions. In the other instance almost all the instructions were given in English and it was in English that students asked the teacher questions about the meaning of particular words. And in other classes regular use was made of translation to English or of idioms and sentences in English being translated to Irish as an indication of progress. In a junior cycle class, for example, students practised the translation of useful phrases in English to Irish, phrases such as ‘by the way’; ‘seriously’; ‘to be honest’; ‘as you know’ and so forth. In the course of preparing an account of an accident in the school yard students were asked to translate to Irish sentences such as ‘The day will stay in my memory forever’. Signs of this type of work were evident in the copybooks where an account of a personal diary of a student was written out in English alongside the same sentences in Irish.
Guidelines in the subject plan state that the target language should be used as often as possible. This strategy is commended, even with weak classes. It is an issue that is central to the approach practised in the class. This issue could form the focus of part of a common action plan, that is, the use of the target language throughout the lesson period and teachers could then discuss the outcomes of these efforts as part of their review process. The outcome of such a project would be much more effective when a group of teachers, rather than an individual teacher, is involved.
These issues are important as regards the provision of exemplars of accuracy in spoken Irish and of fluent and easy use of the language. The best example available to students was where accurate Irish was being spoken, corrected and written during the lesson. In other instances mistakes made by students in answer to oral questions were permitted unchecked. For example, when a question is posed in the present tense a student answering in the past tense should be advised of the difference. Likewise, when a question is put in the conditional mood a student answering in the present tense should receive direction. In one instance such direction was provided but not in the other case. It would be beneficial to note examples such as these and to review them later with colleagues as part of the collaborative planning meetings, in order to receive guidance and to determine agreed methodology.
The content of the lesson itself can enhance student effort during the lesson. For example, a reading comprehension extract from the website www.beo.ie which at first glance showed good potential was chosen for a senior cycle class. The extract described the life of a musician with the well known group The Chieftains and his life as a classical musician prior to joining the group. The extract was very readable and the teacher had an excellent standard of Irish. The teacher succeeded in eliciting answers from the students but the content of the material provided little motivation for them. This particular singer has been dead for the past six years and almost nobody in the class recognised the name or was familiar with the musical instrument that he played. This content would be suitable for another class and materials chosen should be of interest to students so that they are encouraged to engage with the content.
Good efforts were made with a senior cycle class to engage them in a poem from the Leaving Certificate course. It was in this lesson that the greatest effort was made to have students take responsibility for their own learning rather than the teacher providing all the information. This approach was in keeping with the age and ability level of the class. The lesson involved the recall of a poem which had been done a considerable while previously with a teacher in another year. The teacher provided hints to assist the students with the answers but all the work was not done for them. It was evident that these students had the ability to express their opinions about the poem. Some photographs had been prepared as a stimulus to help students discuss the material. An effort was made to establish a common theme between the theme of this poem and the theme of a poem written by a well known Irish poet who wrote in English. The teacher spoke Irish all during the lesson and the practice of translation was absent from the copybooks inspected.
Management of lessons was satisfactory in all cases. Lessons were well organised and began with roll call at the beginning and were finished by assigning appropriate home work. Reasonable efforts were made to provide a good level of motivation in the materials displayed on the walls of the classrooms and the display in one particular room is commended. Discipline was good in the classes. In one case there was a tendency to allow one or two individual students to monopolise the dialogue between the teacher and the class. Teachers should be careful in this regard. Teachers had an energetic teaching style and were confident in their presentation. On the whole teachers succeeded reasonably well in engaging students in the activities of the lesson however, the ability of students to answer rather basic questions was quite limited. It was necessary for teachers to be very central to the work of the lesson throughout and the further promotion of independent learning through pair work and group work is recommended.
Above all else, it is recommended that greater variation in activities be introduced into lessons and that the lesson is not focussed to such an extent on one quite limited task, for example, a reading comprehension passage, writing an account or a letter. Ordinary conversation should be practised in addition to the conversation that stems from the prepared material. This methodology is stated in the subject plan, in the reference to the scheduling of ordinary conversations based on everyday topics. This approach should be implemented in the lesson. The tendency to translate which was observed should be curtailed considerably. The use of authentic materials from the broadcasting media is recommended and would support the choice of materials that are of interest to students.
The school has a homework policy. Teachers keep an account of the homework assigned and student achievements in class and in-house examinations. An outline account is given in the subject plan of assessment and evaluation. The following five methods of assessment are recorded for all years, with the exception of the Transition Year: questioning in class; correction of homework; regular listening comprehension tests in class; formal examinations at Christmas time and at the end of the year; and small tests either written or oral on completed topics. Particular reference is made to evaluation which cites formal examinations, comparison with other years, department meetings, cross marking with other teachers and questionnaires. This is good as a general guideline, however the section of the plan dealing with assessment should be reviewed and a greater level of detail included as a guide for all teachers and for newly appointed teachers in particular. A definite time frame should be set out for the frequency of class tests and guidelines should be agreed regarding assessment of spoken Irish. There is a clear reference to oral tests in the TY plan but this is the only such reference. It is recommended that student oral competence in Irish be included in the assessment of all the students’ overall ability in Irish. It is recommended that this be noted early in first year and spoken Irish included from then onwards as a separate element of assessment. Specific reference should also be made to student oral competence in the reports provided to parents.
It is recommended that teachers make an early decision regarding the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate examination. Regardless of the outcome of that decision, students and parents should be made aware of it. The proportion of marks awarded to the oral section of the house examinations should be agreed and a common approach taken with each class. Individual oral examinations are not necessary for each student in each class. An assessment could be made based on the efforts made by students in class each day, however teachers need to take note of this and record results. In fairness to the students, they should be informed at the beginning of the term about the procedures to be used to assess their oral Irish. It would be worthwhile for teachers who teach class groups from the same year to swop classes from time to time in order to obtain a second opinion on the standard of oral Irish of the students. In addition, further thought should be given to the use of listening comprehension and the proportion of marks to be awarded henceforth to that type of work should be agreed. This type of evaluation will not be as central to assessment as it has been to date, bearing in mind the import of Circular 0042/2007.
It was clear from the standard of homework assigned and corrected in the copybooks inspected that comprehensive work is being set and corrected. Teacher acknowledgement was evident and both praise and recommendations were noted in the copybooks. There was a good record in the copybooks of student progress in composition, reading comprehension, vocabulary and questions on aspects of the literature. This work was satisfactory. It is recommended that care be taken in particular cases with the use of translation to English as a means of enriching vocabulary. This has a place for those learning the language and it is acknowledged that only bilingual dictionaries are available and the school provides a range of these as an appropriate learning resource. However, it is recommended not to write a composition piece in Irish, in full sentences, next to a corresponding English version. The skills involved in this type of work are translation skills. Such skills do not pertain to the objectives of the syllabus and are not among the four language skills noted in the subject plan.
Statistics were provided regarding student participation at the different levels of the certificate examinations and of student achievements in those examinations. These statistics should be recorded in the subject plan with an indication of trends within a period of time, say three or five years. It would be worthwhile recording the national norms alongside as a reference point. School statistics provide valuable information which could be used to identify a range of improvements.
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 acting principal and the acting deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2009