An Roinn Oideachais and Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Scoil Chuimsitheach Naomh Clár
Manorhamilton, County Leitrim
Roll Number: 81013P
Date of inspection: 13 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Chuimsitheach Naomh Clár. 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 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.
Irish is a core subject in all the educational programmes provided in the school, namely the Junior Certificate, Transition Year, and the Leaving Certificate (established). The Transition Year programme is provided as an optional programme. The suitability of the programme for Leaving Certificate Applied is reviewed in the light of students’ needs and to date it has been decided not to introduce that programme. The principal’s aim is to set the most challenging educational programme for the students and to make every attempt to support them in facing that challenge, including Irish. The Irish teachers agree with this objective and as an indication of this the foundation level course is not taught in any class in the school and no student in the school is undertaking the foundation level in Irish in the certificate examinations. As another illustration of the school’s efforts to guide more students to the highest level of ability in the subject, three of the four classes in second year are undertaking the higher level at present. The efforts of the school management and the Irish teachers to guide and encourage students to the highest level in the subject are commendable.
The principal has a good understanding of the challenges associated with achieving the aims of the various syllabi and the Irish teachers have the principal’s full support in their efforts to promote the subject. The principal took a full part in the feedback meeting with the Irish teachers, which was conducted through Irish. The principal has confidence in the Irish teachers as a professional team working diligently to promote the subject.
There is a good provision of time for Irish on the timetable, which has five periods per week for all years except first year, which has four periods, and in Transition Year, which has three periods. There is a good even distribution of all these periods, in individual periods daily. All the Irish classes are run concurrently on the timetable, in each year. Support classes are held at the same time on the timetable as Irish for those students with an exemption who are entitled to them. These arrangements ensure that students have easy access to the level in the subject which they wish to attempt and that the Irish classes are not in any way interfered with by students with exemptions.
A total of 488 students are enrolled for the current 2008/09 school year, thirteen per cent of whom have an exemption from Irish. The majority of those with an exemption are students who did not receive their primary education in this state before reaching the age of eleven. A significant number of those are students for whom neither English nor Irish is their mother tongue. The remainder are students with various recognised learning difficulties.
There are five teachers of Irish in the school at present and the four of those with degree level qualifications in Irish have a central role in the teaching of the subject. All the teachers are given the same opportunity to teach higher level and ordinary level, a commendable arrangement, and the teaching duties to Junior Certificate level are assigned to the other staff member. All the teachers have attended the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) in-service course for Irish and they attest to that course’s excellence. Two of the Irish teachers have their own classrooms but the school does not have the resources to increase this due to extreme pressures of space. A supportive atmosphere is provided for the subject in those rooms and there are other displays of co-curricular activities in the subject to be seen throughout the school. The school is very well presented in general as regards neatness and cleanliness and the well-decorated signs in Irish to be seen on doors throughout the school are noteworthy.
The inspector met the members of the sixth year Irish debating team who participated in the Gael Linn competition shortly before the subject inspection. The students themselves attested to the personal satisfaction and benefit they received from competing in that competition, despite the pressure associated with it. Students are also entered for the Gael Linn radio programme competition and for the TG4 film competition, and other activities are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge. Up to sixty students in the whole school attended Gaeltacht summer courses. This is a significant figure which is between fifteen and twenty per cent of all students outside the classes undertaking the certificate examinations. Only a short while ago a large group of students in the senior cycle visited a water adventure centre in the Gaeltacht where all the sports activities were run through Irish. The school is to be highly commended for providing both competitive and recreational opportunities through the medium of Irish.
The Irish teachers have collected a store of resources, including printed, aural and video material, which is available in filing cabinets in one of the classrooms connected with Irish. A collection of authentic texts has been gathered from the Irish newspapers Foinse, Lá and Saol and copies of the publications Staighre, Céim, and Dréimire that are used in class. There are copies of the CDs accompanying the textbooks, videotapes and posters. In addition there are Irish-English and English-Irish dictionaries. This is a commendable collection and it is renewed to keep the material fresh and contemporary. These resources are kept neat and tidy and easily accessible. There is an accurate account of these resources in the subject plan for Irish.
The teachers have access to laptop computers and projectors by reservation. Information and communication technology (ICT) resources are used with the Transition Year and one of the three class periods in that year is located in the computing room each week for half the year. NUI Maynooth Languages Centre’s online resource VIFAX is used as support for learning. These efforts to use ICT resources in teaching and learning Irish are commended and it would be good to extend this usage to students in other years.
There is good provision for planning matters in the subject. The teachers come together once per term in school time to attend these meetings and they also meet on an informal basis in their own time. The teachers take responsibility, in rotation, for co-ordinating the Irish department activities. This arrangement is commendable as it enhances all the teachers’ experience in those duties and promotes co-ordinated planning.
The document Plean Múinte agus Foghlama don Ghaeilge 2008/2009 (Teaching and Learning Plan for Irish 2008/2009) which was provided, illustrates the good co-ordinated planning work of the teachers. This is a clear, well-written plan which gives an account of the Irish teachers’ aims and objectives, the programmes being taught, the levels of classes and the students’ attainments in the certificate examinations. Related documents were also provided regarding copies of the syllabi, of teachers’ guidelines in the subject, of certificate examinations and of the chief examiners’ reports in those examinations. All these documents were neatly organised.
There is evidence in the plan that the teachers give due consideration to clarifying the objectives of teaching in Irish amongst themselves as a department. Positive objectives are set out for the teachers in order to give the students a positive experience in learning the language. ICT is taken into consideration in the planning work as support for these objectives and it is recorded that all teachers aim to integrate computers in the teaching. This is a commendable aim. A list of websites is recorded which teachers use to download supporting material for Irish and use it in the class, which is good practice.
It is recommended that this planning item be added to soon and that a wider experience of the use of ICT in the classroom be given to a greater number of students. There was a discussion in the feedback meeting on the various models of ICT which could be considered. Authentic items of speech as are available in the broadcasting media should be included also. It would be good for the students in general to have access to items of TG4 programmes as examples and as encouragement to them to speak Irish naturally. Consideration could be given to establishing links with teachers in other schools, on a trial basis, and the communications possibilities of exchanging e-mail, under supervision, with other schools.
In the case of students undertaking the higher level course in particular, it is recommended that the correct use of vocabulary, as a reference book and as electronic reference material, be included in the planning work. It would be well worth while guiding the students in order to add to their understanding of accurate language in addition to finding translations of the words. This would mean, for example, where a noun was being reviewed, that attention would be directed towards gender, genitive case, singular and plural, and on the use of the word in various contexts as indicated in the dictionary. The amount of guidance would depend on the competence of the individual students.
Copies of the planning meeting minutes, attached to the subject plan, show that the teachers have reviewing as an integral part of the planning work. Decisions are recorded relating to steps to be taken arising from such review. For example, as a result of such review, the decision was taken to establish three of the classes in second year at the higher level. It was also decided to assess the students’ spoken competence in the junior cycle arising from the discussion made of the implications of Circular 42/2007.
As part of the description in the plan of the aims associated with the teaching of the subject in the various years and levels, there is a good account of the different language skills to be developed with the students. It is recommended that this section be developed further and that the learning outcomes be more clearly defined. The publication European Languages Portfolio contains good guidance which would help this work. An account of teaching methods would enhance the plan, in addition to the general guidance registered regarding using ranges of teaching and learning strategies. As part of the review work, it would be good to share examples of the students’ best and weakest efforts among the Irish teachers. Samples of recordings of students spoken competence could be included.
The quality of the teachers’ planning work in the subject, as it is at the moment, is good, and the above recommendations are presented for consideration to take this work another step forward and keep it fresh. A copy of the department’s planning work is provided to the principal at the start of October – this gives a good picture of the state and progress of the subject. That account is thorough and provides a very clear guide to the newly-appointed teacher on the staff.
Three lessons were observed involving classes in the junior cycle and two in the senior cycle. All teachers had a confident presentation and the students were diligent and co-operative in each of the classes. Good preparation was made for the lessons and the lesson’s aims and expected learning outcomes were clearly communicated to the students at the start of each lesson, in nearly all cases. Such aims were in keeping with the subject plan and were reasonable as aims for the class level in each case. Reasonable progress was made in achieving those aims by the end of the lessons.
The teachers spoke in Irish only for the vast majority of those classes. In the case of another class, in the junior cycle, although the teacher placed the speaking of Irish greatly to the fore in the lesson, instructions which had originally been given in Irish were being translated to English throughout. It was not possible, therefore, to ascertain if the students understood the instructions given in Irish or not. This is an example of a teaching method where the approach should be agreed among the teachers and that guidance registered in the subject plan. It is recommended that common instructions given frequently during a lesson should be given in Irish only. Even the weakest of learners will not take long to get accustomed to the language of instructions given regularly and to understand that amount as a foundation of vocabulary that could be built on later.
In the lessons which dealt with the junior cycle good efforts were made to maintain the students’ interest in the lesson content with questioning, with the use of humour, and by bringing variety to the learning activities. The attempts at variety pertained to listening to an aural comprehension item or viewing a video item or practising pair work from time to time in different classes. These activities gave the students the opportunities to engage with the language in other ways as variety to the teacher’s questions. Monotony in the lessons was avoided primarily by the teacher’s personality and the confident manner in which the lessons were conducted. This work was done with vigour and strength and it was done well.
As another facility to avoid monotony in the Irish lesson, it is recommended that the full amount of lesson time should not be tied too closely to the text or to the content selected in advance to develop the lesson’s theme. For example, there was a very comprehensive practice on the theme ‘my house’ in one of these classes. The students were asked oral questions at the start, about their own homes, student by student. As variety in this work various students in the class were asked, from time to time, about the answers being given by other students, such as ‘Cén sórt tí ina bhfuil scoláire X ina c(h)ónaí’? Those students had to use the third person singular and to take account of the gender of the person who gave the initial answer and adjust their own answer accordingly. Those questions having been asked, the lesson continued with a reading comprehension item dealing with the same theme. Attention was again paid to the keywords dealing with an account of this theme. This work was done thoroughly and the aim set at the start was achieved by the end of the lesson, that is that the students would be able to give a basic account of their own residence and on dwelling houses in general. This subject is not very interesting in itself, however, especially when one considers that the students have experience of the same theme from primary school. Therefore, it is recommended that another item be placed with such a lesson which would focus on giving an account of things the students themselves are interested in. This might involve a news story or a sports story or a hobby, even if it only entailed a picture taken from the internet or from a newspaper in order to stimulate free conversation.
The benefit of this last-mentioned approach is that the freshness of the subject would stimulate the students’ own interest as opposed to depending too much on the goodwill of the students to engage with a subject that does not, of itself, awaken the students’ interest. One should not worry that a comprehensive language register need be practised every time to do this. Language learners do not need to understand every word in order to get the meaning of a spoken text or a written text, nor do they need to master every word to express themselves. In the work of the lessons, however, the teacher was very diligent in ensuring that the students understood every word. If this approach is too carefully adhered to learners will not have the courage to attempt a text in the target language by themselves since they will only be practised in having every word explained. The learners must be regularly immersed in the target language, not to confuse them, but to give then a realistic experience of the challenge involved in learning a language.
An approach of this kind was in use in one of the lessons in the junior cycle, in which there was a discussion of Gaeltacht summer course activities. Some words were explained by a simpler description in Irish. In other cases an explanation was avoided when it was obvious that an explanation in English would be required. However, the teacher ensured that the students obtained a basic understanding of the meaning of the text being listened to and that they were able to express themselves regarding the same subject. Group recitation was done in places and repetition was practised. These students’ Irish competence was weak enough but they succeeded in expressing themselves well on the subject, based on the questions the teacher practised with them in a lively manner and on the recognition given to them for their efforts. The work of this lesson was good. This work having been done, the work of this lesson could be built on later by using an item of TG4 programmes dealing with students of their own age and the “mná tí” they were staying with. The current witty television advertisement in Irish for a sauce/ketchup, set in a summer college house in the Gaeltacht, would be very suitable to promote a wider conversation with a class like this. It is always worth trying to select video material in Irish as variety to written text and as another stimulus to the students to express themselves.
An appropriate TG4 video text was being used with another class. This item dealt with the music charts and a reading comprehension piece on the group The Sawdoctors had been prepared to build on the video item work. The students liked the subject. Students were set talking in front of the class and among themselves in pairs. The work was varied in terms of practising all the language skills. The teacher spoke only in Irish. The students succeeded well in answering questions the inspector asked them later about the same subject. Both teaching and learning were good.
The lessons observed in the senior cycle dealt with poems on the Leaving Certificate course. Good efforts were made to stimulate the students’ imagination to tackle the content of the poems by using pictures and photographs of well-known people. In a higher level class, for example, photographs were shown of the president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, and of the musician, Bono, in order to stimulate a discussion on the concept of leadership and the need of the people for a leader who raises the morale of the people. This subject was linked to the poem Mo Ghile Mear in order to identify the traits of the poem’s central figure. This was challenging work for the students and they were given the chance, after a while, to work in pairs to summarise their understanding of the poem to that point. Though the students’ efforts in that group work varied, this work was greatly commended as the students were being encouraged to put forward their own opinions as opposed to reading prepared questions and answers. The teacher was content to spend time with the poem and to give the students every opportunity to make their own of it.
Good attempts were made with another senior class to express their own opinions about a poem from the modern era. Again modern images were used to stimulate these opinions. The teacher was directing the students’ attention to identifying images from the poem in order to express the content of the poem in their own words. It would be good to have a copy of the poem being read by the author or a high-quality recording, especially where there is uncertainty about the correct pronunciation of words. This class involved an even greater challenge as the students had limited competence in the language. Nevertheless, the students’ opinions were being sought and every effort was being made to set them tackling the poem, as was being done in the higher level class. The efforts were commended. It would be good with a lesson like this that a teacher would have a chance to observe a colleague presenting a poem and discussing it with a class as an illustration of another teacher’s approach and as an illustration of the precise use of language, both spoken and written.
All in all the teachers’ efforts in teaching were commended and there were reasonable results to be seen from the students’ work in the lessons. It is recommended that the approach seen in use where the students’ work was best be continued with. That is to say to provide the maximum stimulus for the students with video and sound resources and explanatory texts but to still share challenges in the language with the students and to encourage them to do so.
The plan for Irish contains a good account of assessment for learning and of the effect this could have on the students’ learning. Emphasis is placed on advancing the students’ self-confidence by providing them with positive feedback on their work. It contains an account of the teacher’s assessment, on self-assessment and on peer assessment. Understanding is shown of various ways to promote these types of assessment. These include the teacher’s questioning and correction, students participating in assessing each other’s work, and pair work among the students. The teachers’ laudatory approach in the lessons, together with the recognition, guidance and praise to be seen in the students’ written work observed in the copybooks was in accordance with what was registered on the plan for Irish about promoting assessment for learning.
The plan for Irish also contains a guide to self-assessment for the teacher and to considering promoting improvements regarding the teaching of the subject. The minutes of the subject meetings show that attention is being paid to that guidance, that assessment matters are being discussed and that this influences the planning for teaching. It was decided at the last Irish teachers’ meeting of the 2007/08 year, for example, to establish three higher level classes in second year from the start of the 2008/09 school year. This challenging decision was based on an analysis presented on the number of students attempting the different levels in the Junior Certificate examination. The Irish teachers are to be commended for setting more challenging targets in the teaching and learning of the subject based on a review made collaboratively. This is the exact reason for review. The plan for Irish contains an analysis of the students’ participation and achievements in the certificate examinations. It contains an understanding of making comparisons with the national published figures. Assessment of Irish and the link between that and planning for the subject is being developed well among the teachers in the Irish department.
The minutes of the teachers’ meeting at the start of the 2008/09 school year indicate that a review was made of the content of the in-service course which the teachers attended during the previous year. The change which will come into effect in the proportion of marks for the oral examination in the Irish Leaving Certificate examination from the year 2012 onwards was noted. As a result, it was decided to promote the spoken language more and to introduce oral examinations as part of the in-house examinations. These are to be introduced on a staged basis, starting with oral examinations in first year at Christmas 2008 and in second year at Easter 2009. It is recommended that a decision be taken concerning entering students for the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate Irish examination.
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 at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009