An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Crumlin, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60841M
Date of inspection: 27 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection carried out in Rosary College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish in Rosary College and makes recommendations for the improvement of the teaching of this subject in the school. This assessment was carried out over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with both pupils and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documents and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teachers. 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.
There are three teachers of Irish in the school and all have long experience of teaching Irish. Each teacher of Irish has her own classroom which means that students move there for classes. There are dedicated rooms for Leaving Certificate Applied classes.
There are three class groups each in the first and second years of junior cycle. There are two class groups in third year. The inspector was informed that there were three class-groups at this level also until the beginning of the current school year, when pupils were divided into two classes. One of the second-year classes is shared between two teachers. It is recommended that re-allocation of students to other classes late in any cycle be avoided and that their ability and experience in learning Irish be taken into account when such decisions are being discussed.
In senior cycle, there is one class group in each year of Leaving Certificate Applied. There are two class groups in fifth year and one in sixth year who are taking the Leaving Certificate (Established). Foundation level and ordinary level are those most commonly taken in Irish in the State examinations. Except in the case of first year, Irish class periods are scheduled simultaneously in instances where there is more than one class group in a year group. This arrangement facilitates opportunities to move students to another class if necessary to serve their needs. When students are allocated to first-year classes, it is recommended that their progress be carefully monitored and that they be encouraged to attempt Irish at the most challenging level commensurate with their ability. It is also recommended that the advantage that certain students in the school could derive from the Junior Certificate School Programme be considered. The students could continue to study Irish as set out in the Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge but the programme would provide them extra support.
It was stated that a small percentage of students in the school were exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94. Nevertheless, it was intimated that an increasing number of students arriving at the school in first year report that they have not previously studied Irish or have spent very little time attending Irish classes in primary school. This adds considerably to the range of language ability and language learning experience in the classes. Teachers reported that they try to cope with this by differentiating the work presented to the students and they are commended for making this provision for the students and giving them this support. It is recommended that the requirements of post-primary programmes be communicated to the feeder primary schools. As regards those students who have an exemption from Irish, learning-support classes are provided for those who are entitled to them when the Irish class is in progress, where possible, or they remain in the Irish classes with their fellow-students.
The management is commended for the amount of time allocated to Irish on the timetable. There are forty-minute class periods for Irish. The lessons are arranged on the timetable so that students have a single Irish class each day, which allows for a regular daily input in the language, as recommended. First year students have four Irish classes per week and students in second, third, fifth and sixth years are scheduled to have five classes per week. Students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the first year of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme and have five class periods per week for Irish. The group in the first year of the programme were taking Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the current school-year and this is commended because it allows for continuity in the study of Irish after junior cycle.
Although there is no dedicated budget for Irish, school management provides teaching aids and resources on request. On this basis, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish plan for the aids and resources they might need for the teaching and learning of Irish and develop a store of resources to which they would have ready access. There is a computer room in the school which is available to the teachers and their classes once they book time there. There was no internet link in the classrooms where Irish was being taught at the time of this visit. It is recommended that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) be integrated into the teaching and learning of Irish and that appropriate planning be done for this. Use of ICT would help to present Irish to the students as a living contemporary language, it would afford them opportunities to practise transferable skills and it would add to the teachers’ range of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies.
The teachers of Irish meet informally to discuss specific aspects of the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. Planning for their classes is undertaken on an individual basis at present and those plans provided were praiseworthy indeed. The plans indicated that the teachers knew their students well, that they had begun adapting the aims and objectives of the syllabuses to the needs of the students, and that they planned to integrate the development of the language skills on a thematic basis.
It is strongly recommended that the management provide opportunities for the teachers of Irish to hold formal meetings in the context of School Development Planning to allow them to formulate a comprehensive plan for Irish as part of the school curriculum and to share good practice concerning teaching and learning methodologies and strategies and include them in the plans. Members of staff might, perhaps, take it in turn to co-ordinate this work. An agenda should be laid out for each meeting and minutes kept in each case. Guidance on planning for the subject is available at www.sdpi.ie. It is also recommended that meeting time be used to explore team teaching. This would benefit planning for and implementing programmes of work where a class group is shared by teachers.
Classes were commenced in a variety of ways: the roll was called, the date was written in Irish on the board, the topic of the lesson was announced to the students, or homework was checked. The method of starting a lesson could be further developed by choosing an appropriate norm to which the students would become accustomed. This would help the students to make the transition from a situation where most of the learning is done through the medium of English. For example, it would be worth enabling the students to answer the roll in Irish, as was done in some cases, or asking students to take responsibility for putting the date on the board, or conducting a general conversation, as appropriate, before launching into the main work of the class. It is recommended that when communicating the lesson content, the students should be told what the learning objectives are, so that they would understand what they could expect to have learnt or be able to do by the end of the lesson and how that would dovetail with the rest of their learning.
The preparation made by teachers for the classes observed was commendable. In most cases the subject-matter was presented to the students in a manner that suited their requirements and, in some instances, in a creative manner. Examples were observed of the integrated development of language skills, a praiseworthy practice which should be extended. In those cases, the vocabularly being taught was presented to the students in ways which afforded them opportunities to use it in a variety of situations.
Students were organised into pairs or groups of four to undertake various tasks. The examples observed were, for the most part, well-organised and effective. Noteworthy use was made of tasks in which snippets of conversation were presented in random order on a chart and students required to order them, in preparation for a writing task. This exercise was linked to oral Irish by requiring students to read their completed efforts aloud, a strategy which allowed for correction of pronunciation and attention to grammar. Impressive also was an example of pair-work observed in which students had to pose questions to each other on specific topics. It is important that the language necessary for exchange of information, for instance, be included in the lesson-planning, and that it is practised aloud before students undertake an actual task, a strategy which will enable them to derive maximum benefit from such tasks. Teachers are advised to avoid presenting long lists of vocabulary, but rather to focus on language which will enable students to contribute to a discussion from their own personal experience. It is also recommended that teachers ensure that students are informed of the time limit on different tasks, as was done in most cases.
Some examples were observed where attention was paid to grammar and this was well done. It was integrated into the content of the lesson in some cases and, in others, a more formal approach was adopted. Planning for the teaching of grammar must always take account of the students’ ability, especially if it is being presented formally.
The environment in the classrooms used exclusively by teachers of Irish, with posters and examples of students’ work displayed on the walls, was very supportive of learning. It is recommended that teachers continue to exhibit students’ work, always ensuring that the displays are kept up to date. There was a good relationship between teachers and students in most cases. Teachers moved around the classrooms helping groups of students or individuals as necessary. The teachers praised students for their work and gave them much support. Although the majority of classes were effectively managed, which helped to create an atmosphere which was conducive to learning, unsatisfactory behaviour among students, such as non-stop chatter or needlessly talking aloud, interfered with the learning in certain cases. This behaviour was corrected and calmly dealt with, for which the teachers are commended. It is necessary, however, to continue the discussion on developing an agreed approach to the management of student behaviour in class.
Although Irish was used in all classes observed, its use as the normal language of communication, classroom management and instruction should be extended. Taking account of the school context, it is important tht students get as much input of the language as possible in the Irish class.
It was observed during the visit that announcements were frequently made from the office on the intercom during the day. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that their frequency be curtailed as they disrupt the rhythm of a class.
Students’ work is assessed through questioning, class and school tests, as well as ‘mock’ exams and homework. The school operates a homework policy. It is recommended, as was done in the classes observed, that regular homework be linked to the lesson content and be of a kind which would help to develop the students’ various language skills. This would help to re-enforce what they have learnt, to give them opportunities and responsibility for working independently, and to develop their organisational skills.
Reports are sent to parents on students’ achievements in school tests and ‘mock’ State exams and they have an opportunity to discuss the results at parent-teacher meetings organised annually in the school for the different year-groups.
Aural comprehension is included in some cases and oral Irish in the case of senior classes, in the assessment of their work and in the results of school exams. This is good practice and should be extended so that all the language skills are included in the assessment of junior cycle and senior cycle students. Such practice would accord with the objectives of the syllabus, it would give students an overview of their progress in the various language skills and it would serve the students’ different learning styles.
The examples of students’ written work observed showed that their work is regularly corrected in some instances. Homework was checked orally in some classes, which showed that the type of work assigned is adapted to students’ ability. The subject-matter was in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. Grades were awarded or notes of commendation were used for correction. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish discuss adopting an agreed approach to correcting students’ work, one which would identify and commend what students have done correctly or well and give guidance, as appropriate, on how they might improve their work. Articles in info@ncca on Assessment for Learning (AfL) could prove helpful in this.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A satisfactory amount of time is allocated to Irish on the school timetable.
· Teachers of Irish plan for the teaching and learning of Irish.
· Teachers are highly commended for the preparation they had made for lessons; this which helped them to present the subject-matter to students in a way that suited their needs in most cases and in a creative way in some instances.
· Some examples were observed of developing the various language skills in an integrated way and it is recommended that this method be more widely used.
· In some cases, grammar was integrated into the class work; in others it was more formally taught.
· Homework is set and corrected and in some cases it is corrected on a regular basis.
· In some cases all the language skills are taken into account in the assessment of students’ work and it is recommended that this practice be more widely used.
· The teachers praised the students highly for their work and gave them great support.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Irish should be more widely used in all classes as the general language of communication, of classroom management and as the language of instruction.
· Opportunities should be provided for the teachers of Irish to hold formal meetings in the context of School Development Planning and teachers should assume the role of co-ordinator in turn.
· The range of aids and resources for the teaching and learning of Irish should be developed, among them Information and Communication Technology; they should be included in the planning and the resource implications communicated to management.
· The learning outcomes of lessons and the various steps and tasks to be undertaken by the students should be shared with them at the start of lessons.
· In the corrections done on their work, students should get recognition for their efforts as well as guidance on ways to improve their work.
· The number of messages broadcast from the office on the intercom during classes should be reviewed.
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.