An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint Patrick’s Road, Cork
Roll Number: 62540I
Date of Inspection: 26 March 2007
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 Deerpark. 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, to the deputy principal and to the Irish 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.
Deerpark C.B.S. is a Catholic boys school where providing a beneficial and enjoyable experience to students is of importance to each staff member. The school community recognises that the Irish language, and all that is associated with the language, is an important aspect of Irish life. It is the Irish version of the school’s name that is displayed on bags and on sportswear. ‘Uaisleacht’ (nobility) is the school motto and there are many other places (such as school stationery and signage) where the Irish language is visible.
Fifth and sixth year students have five Irish classes a week. An additional teacher works with sixth year students twice a week during Irish classes. This provides significant support to teachers and students at this level as the small numbers of students in the classes enables teachers to focus on the needs of individual learners. Four classes per week for Transition Year students is excellent provision at this level. Leaving Certificate Applied students have three classes per week while junior cycle students have either four or five classes per week. Four Irish classes at junior cycle level, particularly in secound and third year, is considered low given all the elements of the syllabus to be covered.
46 students are exempt from studying Irish. Fifteen of these students are from other countries, or received some of their education abroad. The remaining students have learning difficulties in accordance with circular M10/94. First and second year students with exemption from the study of Irish are gathered together for a specific lesson during Irish classes. It was recommended that consideration be given to means by which students from abroad might be included in the Irish classes. Such practice would indicate that studying Irish is an integral part of the Irish education system. Additionally, many of these students are already competent in two or three languages and have a flair and ability for learning languages.
The Irish teachers meet formally at least once a term. Items discussed at these meetings include examinations, prize-giving, selection of textbooks, extra-curricular activities, and planning. Aside from these formal meetings, the Irish teachers often have informal discussions on various matters pertaining to Irish.
Excellent resources are available to both teachers and students. Each of the Irish teachers has their own base classroom and data projectors have been installed, or are in the process of being installed, in all these classrooms. The school places a particular emphasis on the use of information technologies as it recognises the value of these technologies in facilitating all aspects of teaching and learning. The classroom is also a resource base where teachers store materials and, in some cases, display the work of students. This is commendable practice and extending it would be worthwhile. Displaying student work creates a sense of pride and also entices them to produce work of a high standard.
The teachers value opportunities for staff development and it is evident that there is a whole school movement towards developing teaching and learning in order to respond to the needs of the students in their care. No two learners are the same and this has implications for classroom practice. The focus at present is specifically on the teaching and learning process as well as participation in an NCCA initiative relating to assessment methodologies. One of the Irish teachers is engaged in this initiative and it is wonderful to have this expertise available to the Irish department.
Many extra-curricular activities are promoted outside of the Irish classes. A lot of emphasis is placed on Gaelic games. Prizes are also awarded for Irish at the annual prize-giving ceremony. Irish scholarships are awarded each year in conjunction with UCC. An Irish language summer camp is organised in the secondary school where Irish language classes are a core component of the day’s activites. The school has a reputation for drama and every effort is made to integrate Irish into the activities of the Féile Drámaíochta that takes place annually. A few years ago a drama company staged a performance of ‘An Triail’ on the school stage.
To date teachers have typically engaged in individual planning. They plan the year’s work and they record student progress. It is evident that they have reflected deeply on the content of lessons and on the most effective teaching methods to ensure language acquisition. The teachers understand that students learning experiences’ are more effective and more enjoyable when the activities in the lessons are varied and they plan accordingly.
The transition year language programme includes learning objectives that cater specifically for the needs of those students. It is evident that the teachers have reflected significantly on the aspects of language that require attention and together they have created an interesting and motivating programme which allows for Irish to be practised in different ways.
The initial steps have been taken in the subject planning process. Staff members have been given some guidance in this matter and time has been and is being allocated to allow this work to take place. Responsibility for discussion of planning related matters at subject department meetings now remains with the Irish teachers These teachers have many years experience teaching Irish. They are open-minded and they constantly seek to develop their practice. The timing of the evaluation of Irish is opportune in so far as subject planning is being developed throughout the school. Thus, it is hoped that a spirit of cooperation will prevail and that the Irish teachers will share their expertise with each other.
The Irish department has a master-file for planning. It was explained to teachers that this file should be regarded as an information resource for Irish. The following themes were identified as the key items on the agenda of formal planning meetings: general statement, objectives (educational, operational and social), work schemes, compiling and using resources, the special needs of individual students and extra-curricular activities.
A good work ethic prevailed in the classes observed. Work practices are well established in all classes and students are familiar with the process of participating in various activities during lessons. It was clear that participants were engaged in valuable work and that the content of lessons reflects the objectives outlined in the syllabuses. It was timely that examination issues were the focus of the certificate classes – the oral Irish examination in the Leaving Certificate class and the aural test in the Junior Certificate class. Student work indicated that teachers and students have worked diligently to prepare for the various components of the Irish examination. This merits commendation.
Irish was the principal medium of communication during the majority of lessons observed, and students are to be commended for their efforts to use all the Irish they had. Few students resorted to using English. This is indicative of a good practice instilled in them by their teachers. It was a pleasure to listen to students speaking confidently in Irish with little anxiety that they might make grammatical mistakes. The low number of students was very helpful in so far as teachers concentrated on developing the oral language skills of individual students. It was recommended that this be developed further and that students be asked to provide complete sentences and to practice the manipulation of the most common language structures.
Teachers used a wide range of activities during lessons. This practice reflects the belief that
the learning experience is more effective and more enjoyable when the teaching and learning activities are varied. Students listened to aural extracts, conversations were conducted with individual students, students were asked to read aloud and silently, information questions were answered aloud, reading texts were discussed, television extracts were viewed, students’ attention was drawn to specific points of language, students were grouped in pairs to discuss a topic or to complete a task and students were assigned written tasks. This interaction created a lively atmosphere in the classes and ensured that students were engaged in valuable work throughout the lesson.
In each class teaching resources were used to encourage students to provide opinions and to stimulate their imagination. A chart was displayed as a support for a question-and-answer activity, reading extracts were provided as a means of generating the appropriate vocabulary for a specific topic, a television extract was played to provide an insight into the context of a drama and reference was made to posters that were on display to ensure that language phrases were used accurately. It is good practice to use ‘live’ materials that are of interest to students, and teachers are advised to extend this practice. It was recommended that teachers would compile a range of resources which would include magazines, photographs, worksheets, recorded extracts and other relevant materials that could be used as teaching and learning resources during Irish lessons. It was also recommended that all classrooms have visual displays of posters and of students’ work. This would not only provide an engaging learning environment but they could also be used as teaching and learning resources.
It is acknowledged that the new technologies must form a central role in teaching and learning Irish if it is to be carried forth to the next generation. It was evident that the use of technologies impacted significantly on transition year students who delivered a Powerpoint presentation. Pairs of students was asked to research Irish-related matters on the internet and to present their findings to their fellow students. This work is very worthwhile and develops a range of skills. School management and the Irish teachers are looking to extend the use of information technology further and they deserve commendation for the diligence and the strategies they have used to progress in this regard.
A comprehensive approach to assessment is operating in the school whereby all aspects of students’ progress are evaluated and assessed.
A daily record is kept of the attendance, the behaviour, and the participation of pupils in class. Class teachers regularly inspect the progress of those students for whom they are responsible. This is an effective system which indicates clearly to the high standards of behaviour and work expected from them.
The personal commitment of the Irish teachers to the ongoing assessment of students is commendable. Every teacher values continuous assessment as a means of consolidating learning. Brief in-class examinations are an effective means of compelling students to revise work. Written work, to be completed in class or at home, is regularly assigned to students. Teachers correct this work and keep a record of students’ progress. In some cases the teacher examines students’ files to ensure that their work is well organised. It was recommended that time be allocated in class to focussing on the main language errors that students make.
Examinations are held at Christmas and at the end of the year. These, for the most part, are common exams given to all students and reports are issued. This is good practice as it indicates to parents / guardians and to the students themselves the progress they are making. The oral language skills of transition year students form part of the house exams. It was recommended that this good practice be extended by assigning a percentage of marks to oral participation in class as a means of encouraging the use of spoken Irish in classes.
Certificate students complete pre-examinations in the Spring. These exams provide students with an opportunity to experience the logistics of state examinations, to manage their time and to familiarise themselves with the layout of the papers.
An Irish exam forms part of the assessment of first year students in September. This exam provides an overview of the standard of students in Irish and also indicates the importance of Irish in the school where it is one of the main subjects of study.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The Irish teachers are aware of their role in providing for the overall education of the students in their care. It is their intention to use the teaching of Irish as a means of providing for the lifelong development of students.
· The school community acknowledges the importance of Irish as part of Irish life and culture.
· Excellent resources are available to teachers and to students. All Irish teachers have a classroom and data projectors have been installed or are in the process of being installed.
· School staff value opportunities for professional development. This forms part of a whole school approach to the development of teaching and learning strategies in order to provide for the needs of the students in their care.
· Teachers spend time reflecting on the teaching methods that are most effective for language acquisition. The teachers are aware that the learning experience of students is more effective and more enjoyable when a variety of activities are included in the lesson. Their planning reflects this.
· There was overall a good overall work ethic in the classes observed during the inspection. Work practices are well established in all classes and students engage in various activities during the lessons.
· Irish was the principal medium of communication during most of the classes, and students are commended for their efforts to speak Irish to the best of their ability. Few students resorted to English. This is indicative of a practice which has been instilled by teachers.
· Teachers used a wide range of activities during lessons.
· Teaching resources were used to encourage students to provide opinions and to stimulate their imagination. It is acknowledged that the new technologies must form a central role in the teaching and learning of Irish.
· A comprehensive approach to assessment is operating in the school whereby all aspects of students’ progress are evaluated and assessed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· That the formal subject planning process for Irish be further developed..
· That the development of oral language skills be included in teaching and learning strategies and in assessment structures as much as possible.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish, with the deputy principal and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.