An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

Beara Community School

Castletownbere, County Cork

Roll number: 91387Q

 

Dates of inspection: 11-12 December 2007

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Planning and preparation

 

Teaching and learning

 

Assessment

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Beara Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 learning and teaching. 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 the teachers of Irish. 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

A particular effort is made on the Beara Peninsula to preserve as much as possible of our national heritage. Therefore, members of the public who are working at heritage preservation constitute a resource for the students of Beara Community School. Not alone do their local initiatives motivate the students to undertake research but these historians, story tellers, activists and researchers  constitute a valuable source of information, being people who live in the community and with whom the students are in regular contact.

 

Irish is given a high status in the school and many opportunities are taken to promote the language in the everyday life of the school. There is a students' Common Room which they visit during lunchtime in order to converse with their friends in Irish. The school stationery contains Irish and some Irish is used in the written communication which occurs between the school and external parties. It is intended in the near future to set up an Irish Room, with a view to having a designated place in which resources could be stored, charts hung and Irish books and publications put on display, and suchlike. The resourcefulness which all these activities demanded was noted, as was the amount of time which teachers spend on extra-curricular activities. In this same context, it was recommended that a bilingual approach should be adopted so that some Irish would appear on the posters announcing the various school initiatives such as the health-promotion campaign.

 

For the most part, the timetable offers satisfactory support for Irish. It was felt that the number of classes tabled for Communicative Irish in Leaving Certificate Applied was rather small. The school management intimated that this matter would be addressed.

 

Teachers come together regularly in order to discuss issues relating to Irish, whether on a formal or informal basis. They hold two formal meetings per year. This small number of meetings sets limitations to the range of topics which they can address formally. It was recommended that this level of provision should be increased in the interest of advancing the subject-planning process.

 

The school management acknowledges the importance attaching to continuous professional development. The school co-operates closely with the support agencies, with a view to equipping the school staff with the skills necessary to meet whatever educational challenges may come their way. Guest speakers have come to the school and spoken on matters such as Whole School Planning, Subject Planning, Assessment for Learning and Differentiated Learning.

 

The teachers are in agreement with the view that the mixed-ability class is the most appropriate and the fairest setting for the effective acquisition of language by the majority of learners, and they accept the challenges posed by differentiated learning from the teaching point of view. While testing or implementing new approaches, they give priority to the welfare of the students, an attitude which is praiseworthy.

 

Forty-one students have exemption from the study of Irish. Twenty-one of these are foreign nationals and the remainder have learning difficulties. Despite having exemptions, three students study Irish formally. The teachers were complimented on having encouraged and supported these students.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The Irish department maintains a file containing annual schemes, copies of the syllabuses of the various programmes, minutes of meetings and notes from training workshops. This documentation indicates that the teachers discuss matters such as examinations, textbook selection, the year's work and extra-curricular events. With a view to expanding on the collaborative planning and the group discussions which have taken place to date, it was recommended that various aspects of classroom practice should be examined, particularly the use of resources and communicative activities focussing on identified language functions. It was brought to the attention of teachers that review forms an integral element of the planning process and it was recommended that the attainment of learning objectives, together with the effectiveness of learning and teaching strategies being implemented, should be formally reviewed.

 

All teachers undertake individual planning. They are to be complimented on the detailed consideration which they have given to the steps to be followed in the lessons observed. Henceforth, when preparing lessons, it was recommended that particular thought should be given to the language which the students are expected to acquire, especially to those language structures and speech idioms which are to be practised during discussion on the subject matter of the lesson. Over time, various topics from the syllabus will have been explored and the students will be given practice in the manipulation of the most common structures and idioms.

 

Teaching and learning

 

A work ethic and an atmosphere of courtesy characterised all the classes visited. It was apparent that teachers had given thought to the working practices which they had established and to the learning activities which they were implementing.

 

It was noted that the speaking of Irish was accorded priority in the classes observed. The teachers spoke Irish to the students for the most part in a voice which was clear and intelligible. The speaking ability of students reflected the particular emphasis placed in Irish classes on the fostering of the speaking skills of the students. The students participated willingly in the class activities and they are to be commended on availing of the opportunities created for speaking. The most commonly used strategy for eliciting spoken language from the students was questioning by the teacher. In certain instances, pair work stimulated the students to speak and it was encouraging to hear students speaking Irish among themselves. It is widely accepted that interactive tasks create opportunities for communication among all the students in a class. Because of this, it was recommended that more widespread use should be made of pair work, group work, class surveys, debating, language games, research work and suchlike. In one instance, photographs and pictures were used in order to stimulate the imagination and opinions of students, an approach which the students themselves greatly enjoyed.

 

Among the topics discussed were the school, sports, holidays and my native place. A work of literature was under consideration in a senior class. The students were interested in the topics under discussion because they related to their own lives. As regards the literature class, the students displayed a good understanding of the principal themes of the work.

 

In the great majority of classes a variety of tasks were undertaken during the lessons. Students were set to reading aloud, answering questions orally, note taking, writing, listening to one another and to recorded passages, completing forms and making class presentations. These tasks constituted an effective means of exploring the topics and of consolidating the language already acquired. The teachers' attention was drawn to the importance of integrating, as much as possible, the four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing – in one lesson. It is desirable also to ensure that the tasks correspond to the language functions as specified in the syllabuses for the various Irish courses (see Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach, Gaeilge, p.18; An Ardteistiméireacht, Gaeilge –– na Siollabais agus an Córas Measúnachta, pp.6/7).   

 

Every effort has been made to create a stimulating learning environment in the classrooms. The teachers were commended on the manner in which charts have been put on display showing vocabulary lists and points of grammar, together with samples of the students' creative work. In certain classes these charts were utilised as a source of reference when a teacher was endeavouring to communicate or clarify a meaning. It was recommended that the most frequently-used speech idioms should be put on display as they are encountered and their manipulation practised. The main purpose of this would be that the precise structure of the idioms would be illustrated, so that the students would be capable of applying them properly while using them later in the discussions on various topics.

 

A range of teaching resources was utilised: a data projector, work sheets, textbooks, computers, diagrams, photographs and suchlike. The teachers were complimented on their efforts to exploit information and communications technology (ICT) as a means of presenting the language, as a research aid, and as a medium of expression for the students, whether in the form of typing or while making an oral presentation to their colleagues.

 

Accuracy in Irish was addressed during some lessons, by integrating grammar points into the discussions on the topics. The main emphasis was on the tenses of verbs. This is an excellent practice as it provides a functional context for grammar.   

 

 

 

Assessment

 

There is a system of assessment in place which measures the progress of students and keeps all relevant parties informed on what they are attaining and have attained.

 

The written work of students is corrected regularly and their attention is directed to ways in which the standard of work could be improved.

 

Continuous assessment is an integral part of the system of assessment and, at Christmas and in summer, a mark from one to five is awarded for overall performance in the class tests.

 

In-house examinations are administered at Christmas and in summer. Students due to sit the state examinations are given pre-examinations in spring. These main examinations are worthwhile as experience of time management, of the lay-out of examination papers and of the conventions of the state examinations.

 

Formal oral examinations are given to students of Transition Year (TY) and sixth year. Prizes are awarded to first-year and second-year students who have made significant progress in the speaking of Irish. This approach was commended. It was recommended to teachers that formal recognition should be given to the speaking ability of all students in the in-house examinations, by awarding a mark for the effort they make to speak Irish in class.

 

Four reports are sent home during the school year and formal meetings are convened between parents and teachers once a year. It is the policy of teachers to make specific reference to the speaking of Irish at these meetings and they accepted the recommendation that formal reference should also be made to it in the school reports. 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • Irish enjoys a high status in the school.
  • The key objective of the teachers of Irish is to give the students a positive educational experience and a variety of approaches are implemented in accordance with the needs of students.
  • The teachers revealed a keen interest in the skills of teaching and they acknowledged the benefits deriving from the process of inspection, particularly in that it afforded them an opportunity of discussing and reflecting on their own teaching practices.
  • The importance of Continuous Professional Development is recognised and much is being done to develop the skills of staff members.
  • Teachers undertake both individual and collaborative planning.
  • A good work ethic and an atmosphere of courtesy was evident in all the classes observed.
  • Irish was the language in use in all classes.
  • The students have attained a good standard in Irish and many opportunities of practising their spoken Irish were created for them in class.
  • The students participated enthusiastically in class activities.
  • A variety of activities was initiated in many of the classes.
  • The teachers appreciate the importance of utilising a wide range of activities in order to stimulate speech and opinions.
  • The students' attention was drawn to points of grammar during language lessons.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendation is made:

  • It is recommended that teachers should identify in advance the language structures and the speech idioms which are to be practised during a lesson and that the level of acquisition of the newly-learned language should be evaluated at the end of a lesson.

 

A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish and the principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, September 2008