An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ard Scoil na nDéise
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll number: 64900W
Date of inspection: 2 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 8 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na nDéise. 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 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 deputy principal and the teachers of Irish. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, the board chose to accept the report without response.
Ardscoil na nDéise is a school for girls, situated in Dungarvan, a town which lies in close proximity to Gaeltacht na Rinne. Irish enjoys a high status in the life of the school, its closeness to the Gaeltacht being considered a reason for this. It is an area in which numerous activities relating to Irish and to Irish culture take place. Daonscoil na Mumhan and Féile na nDéise are both events during which many aspects of our Irish heritage are celebrated and play a key role in transmitting them on to the next generation.
First Year and Transition Year students are divided into mixed-ability classes. There is a class at Ordinary Level available to the other year groups and the students are offered a choice as to the level at which they might wish to study Irish. Places in the Higher Level classes are in great demand, an indicator of the high standard of Irish among the students and of their desire to attain fluency in Irish. The school timetable provides substantial support for Irish, particularly in Sixth Year.
Twenty-two students have an exemption from the study of Irish. Sixteen of these are either foreign nationals or students who have received part of their education abroad, and the others are students with specific learning difficulties. The learning support teacher is a teacher of Irish, and many students with learning difficulties who would be entitled to an exemption from Irish, embark on the study of the language because of the expertise of this teacher. That the school has such a small number of exemptions is commendable, as is the manner in which the teachers succeed in ensuring the participation of all students, whether Irish or otherwise, in the various activities associated with Irish (e.g. Irish dancing, traditional music, and Question Time).
The majority of Irish teachers have many years of experience in the teaching of the language. They are aware that contemporary Irish life is subject to continuous change and that this carries many implications for learning and teaching strategies. They have attended in-service courses for Irish teachers in order to gain an insight into developments in the areas of education relating to Irish. They welcome opportunities of meeting other Irish teachers, particularly with a view to discussing one another's work. It is evident that they have a particular interest in Irish and that they greatly enjoy teaching it. This interest in and goodwill towards Irish are of invaluable support to those striving to pass on Irish to the next generation.
The Irish teachers regularly come together in order to discuss various issues relating to Irish in the school. Among the matters explored are the selection of textbooks, methods of assessment, learning and teaching aids, classroom practice, planning and Seachtain na Gaeilge events. They have taken the initial steps in the formal process of subject planning, and are of the view that the process is worthwhile and that it markedly enhances their own practices.
The Irish teachers have access to a certain range of resources. The school has a language laboratory and makes the computer room available for Irish classes. The school also possesses televisions, tape recorders and compact-disc players. It was recommended that teachers should be given easier access to an overhead projector. The school has a library which includes a dedicated location for Irish books. It was recommended that the collections of novels and short stories should be expanded, especially as reading material for those students who have received their education through Irish. It was further advised that Irish should be afforded a greater prominence in the environment of the school and on the school stationery.
Every effort is made to establish links between Irish and other subjects. Irish dancing is taught as an element of Physical Education. The Irish Proverb competition is integrated with Art whereby the students are required to design a poster. In addition, Irish and Music are closely associated. It is the practice of the Music teacher and of one of the Irish teachers to accompany a group of students to a traditional music competition conducted through Irish.
Additionally, the school participates in numerous extra-curricular events which are associated with Irish and with Irish culture. Both Irish dancing and traditional music are thriving in the school. Gaelic games are played, poetry competitions are organised and Seachtain na Gaeilge is an occasion for major celebration. The students of Transition Year organise Seachtain na Gaeilge during which they present a great variety of activities – including Question Time, a céilí and cleamhnas with the boys' school.
A prize for Irish is awarded at the annual Awards Ceremony. It was suggested that all Irish activities should be publicised on an Irish notice board. This notice board should be displayed in a central position, in order that all members of the school community would be kept informed of all the activities which are taking place, both within and outside the Irish class.
The Irish teachers devote a great deal of time to planning, whether on an individual or a collaborative basis. They acknowledge the benefits accruing from subject planning and they are strongly of the opinion that it greatly enhances the effectiveness of learning and teaching.
The Irish Department maintains an Irish planning file containing various documents relating to the teaching of Irish in the school (e.g. the syllabus of Irish programmes, minutes of Departmental meetings and long-term plans). In the course of the inspection, it was acknowledged that numerous activities which are supportive of Irish take place in the school and that all of them are soundly based. It was recommended to the teachers that they should expand the planning file, so that it might act as a reference source with respect to Irish in the school. In particular, it was recommended that teachers should identify the specific learning objectives which they have for the students for whom they are responsible. As a further development of this, it was also recommended that the focus should be on the teaching of the mixed-ability class and on the learning and teaching strategies which are appropriate in that particular context. It was indicated that it would be beneficial to concentrate specifically on those students who had received their primary education through the medium of Irish.
The Irish teachers are strongly supportive of one another and the openness with which they discuss one another's practices is notable. They all set a high value on the acquisition of resources and they implement an effective method of accumulating teaching aids (work sheets, DVD's, reading passages, songs etc.). A long-term plan has been drawn up for each year group and they all aim at attaining the objectives specified in those plans. It is their practice to administer common examinations based on these objectives to the students. They frequently combine classes in order to prepare the students for the Leaving Certificate oral examination. It was recommended that this approach should be extended and, as part of the subject-planning process, that consideration should be given to other aspects of co-operative teaching which could be implemented.
All teachers undertake personal planning and have compiled a substantial accumulation of notes. They are to be complimented on the extensive planning which they all had done for the lessons observed.
An interesting applied programme has been designed for the Transition Year students, comprising a praiseworthy combination of formal language lessons and practical activities during which spoken Irish is practised.
Irish was the medium of communication in all the lessons observed. The students clearly understood the teachers' spoken language and it was heartening to listen to the younger generation at ease speaking Irish. This is an approach which has been cultivated by the teachers over the years and they are due the highest praise for the level of mastery of Irish attained by the students in accordance with their ability. It would now be extremely worthwhile for the teachers to take a further step and to enrich the students' Irish by introducing them to the use of the idioms and speech patterns of the Gaeltacht.
A pleasant and most courteous atmosphere permeated all the lessons observed. Each of the participants worked diligently and industriously and they are to be commended for this. Each student willingly and eagerly engaged in the activities and displayed an interest in the subject matter of the lessons. It was apparent that both teachers and students derived enjoyment from the study of Irish. It was highly satisfying to hear students expressing their own opinions on the subject matter of lessons. This is an indication of independent learning and the teachers are to be commended on fostering this practice among the students.
An appropriate emphasis was placed on accuracy in Irish during lessons. Linguistic points were presented as an integral element of the subject matter of lessons. This approach is very effective, in that Irish grammar is covered in an informal manner whereby students learn the main points of grammar in a practical and realistic context.
Each classroom is assigned to a student group, an arrangement which inhibits the teachers' ability to create an Irish environment. Nevertheless, an attempt had been made to make the surroundings stimulating. Samples of the students' work (projects, diagrams, key words in the works of literature) had been put on display, a practice which is praiseworthy. Posters had also been hung, illustrating points of grammar and some of the main speech forms. It would be very beneficial if this approach were to be further extended and more examples of the students' work displayed. It is a great source of pride for them, when they are given to understand that their work is worthy of being shown to their fellow students.
A range of activities was undertaken during lessons. All the teachers appreciate the benefits of interaction and they availed of every opportunity to set the students speaking Irish. Working in pairs was widely exploited, creating for situations in which students could practise their spoken Irish while engaged in a specific task related to the subject matter of the lesson. The attention of the teachers was drawn to the importance of manipulating the principal language forms and it was recommended that intensive work should be done on them, particularly in the case of the less able students.
Among the resources utilised were work sheets, pictures, photographs, the white board, posters, computers, dictionaries and works of literature. The dictionary is an extremely important learning aid and it was recommended that the students should be required to use them on a regular basis. Textbooks were seldom used and the teachers are commended on their resourcefulness in respect of this. The variety of the materials greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the learning and teaching. It was recommended that the teachers should continue to add to the pool of resources and to always have regard to those matters in which teenagers have an interest.
The school has a comprehensive system of assessment in place, by means of which the progress of students is evaluated and reviewed on a regular basis. In addition to the regular assessments carried out informally in the classroom, in-house examinations are administered and an effective system of continuous assessment is in operation. All relevant parties are kept informed by compiling and sending home regular reports on the students' progress.
The students' written work and learning are checked and corrected on a regular basis. Indeed, the acquisition by the students of new vocabulary was assessed in one of the classes observed, by means of a very simple test which ensured the understanding and spelling ability of the students. The students themselves corrected the exercise, which directed their attention to the importance of accuracy in language. This is a highly commendable approach as it brings home to the students the importance of accuracy in Irish. The teachers collect the students' written exercises in order to analyse them more closely. Praise is due to the teachers for the care they take with corrections and for the feedback which they provide. Marks are frequently awarded for the work of examination classes, giving an accurate indication of the standards being achieved by students. In a number of instances, the major errors were corrected by the students themselves. This is a commendable practice and all students should be obliged to correct their own work.
In-house examinations are conducted at Christmas and in summer. Instead of the Christmas examinations, continuous assessment is in operation with first, second and fifth-year students. Continuous assessment only applies in the case of Transition Year. This is regarded as being an effective system of assessment and all students are regularly tested in order that all parties may have a shared understanding of the progress already made and being made by students.
State examination classes sit examinations in the spring. These preliminary examinations are worthwhile as practice for the students of the rubrics of the state examinations, the layout of papers and time management.
Account is taken of the oral ability of senior students in the in-house examinations. The school management and the Irish teachers merit the highest praise for the provision of such a facility.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Irish enjoys a high status in the life of the school, its closeness to the Gaeltacht being among the reasons which are thought to have brought this situation about.
· The school timetable provides a substantial degree of support for the teaching of Irish.
· That the school has such a small number of exemptions is commendable, as is the manner in which the teachers succeed in ensuring the participation of all students, whether Irish or otherwise, in the various activities associated with Irish.
· It is evident that the teachers have a particular interest in Irish and that they greatly enjoy passing it on to young people.
· Every effort is made to establish links between Irish and other subjects. The school participates in numerous extra-curricular events which are associated with Irish and with Irish culture.
· The Irish teachers devote a great deal of time to planning, as they are strongly of the opinion that it enhances the effectiveness of learning and teaching.
· The Irish teachers are strongly supportive of one another and the openness with which they discuss one another's practices is notable.
· Irish was the medium of communication in all the lessons observed. The students clearly understood the teachers' spoken language and it was heartening to listen to the younger generation at ease in their speaking of Irish. This is an approach which has been cultivated by the teachers over the years and they are due the highest praise for the level of mastery of Irish attained by the students in keeping with their range of abilities.
· A pleasant and most courteous atmosphere permeated all the lessons observed. Each of the participants worked diligently and industriously and they are to be commended for this.
· It was a great source of satisfaction to hear students expressing their own opinions on the subject matter of lessons. This is an indication of independent learning and the teachers are to be commended on fostering this practice among the students.
· During lessons, an appropriate emphasis was placed on accuracy in Irish.
· All the teachers appreciate the benefits of interaction and they availed of every opportunity to set students speaking Irish. Working in pairs was widely exploited, creating for the students situations in which they could practise their spoken Irish.
· The school has a comprehensive system of assessment in place by means of which the progress of students is evaluated and reviewed on a regular basis.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· that Irish should be afforded a greater prominence in the environment of the school and on the school stationery.
· that the expansion of the pool of learning and teaching resources should continue, taking particular account of the range of interests of teenagers.
· that subject planning should continue to be pursued and that the following should be the focus of particular attention:
(a) the specification of learning objectives;
(b) the learning and teaching of Irish in the mixed-ability class.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, during which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.