An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Loreto Secondary School
Clonmel, County Tipperary
Roll Number: 65330M
Date of inspection: 13 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Clonmel. 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 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.
Irish enjoys a high status in Loreto Secondary School. The influence of Irish clearly extends beyond the confines of the classroom. All the activities associated with the inspection were conducted through Irish and the members of the school community are to be complimented for the positive attitude they all project in relation to Irish.
There are five Irish teachers, of varying experience, in the school. A number of teachers have had many years experience, while others have been teaching Irish for a short number of years. They display a keen interest in Irish and in activities which afford them an opportunity to use the language. They are diligent teachers who wish to continue developing their teaching skills on an on-going basis. In this regard, they regularly attend meetings of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge (the Irish teachers' subject-association) and any inservice courses on offer. One teacher works on Irish courses in summer colleges, a practice which affords an opportunity to gain more extensive experience of different teaching methods. A spirit of co-operation is strongly among the Irish teachers is strongly evident, something which has a significant influence, not only on the effectiveness of the learning and teaching, but also on the use of Irish throughout the school.
There is a co-ordinator of the Irish Department and the teachers frequently come together to discuss various issues relating to Irish. They regularly hold formal meetings and the minutes of these meetings are held in the department's planning file. Included among the topics discussed are the students' progress, the abilities of students, the choice of textbooks, examinations, teaching methods and extra-curricular activities. It is clear that the Irish teachers appreciate the advantages which may be derived from discussion, whether on a formal or an informal basis, and it is their practice to meet during the school day, whenever feasible.
The students in second, third, fifth and sixth years have five classes per week – one per day –an allocation which is quite satisfactory. First year students have four classes per week and Transition Year students have three classes per week. While it is acknowledged that timetable pressures are the reason that first year and transition year have fewer periods, it is recommended that the possibility of allocating an extra period be explored, particularly in the case of the transition year. Indeed, it would be worthwhile considering ways in which the study of Irish could be integrated with other activities or other programmes of study in Transition Year. It is important to bear in mind that the more frequent the contact learners have with the target language, the better.
All classes are mixed-ability. In fifth and sixth year, higher level and ordinary level students are in separate classes. However, it is the practice of the school to place students of differing ability, but studying courses at the same level, in the same classes. This endeavour towards equality is commendable.
Twelve students are exempt from the study of Irish. Two of these have learning difficulties in accordance with Circular M10/94 and the remaining ten are either foreigners or have been educated abroad. It was noted that the majority of those with exemptions are senior students. This phenomenon is in keeping with the school's committed position on Irish – no effort is spared to encourage all students to study Irish, whatever their background or educational experience. The school management and the Irish teachers are to be complimented for this.
Some teachers have been assigned designated classrooms, an arrangement which greatly facilitates the teaching process in that it enables them to create a stimulating learning environment. The school also has a multi-media room containing an integrated computer system, together with a screen, data projector and other audio-visual aids. It was a source of disappointment that no use was made of this room during the inspection. It was indicated that a lack of knowledge/experience of the workings of the system was the reason that teachers made so little use of this facility. It was recommended that teachers should be trained in the use of information technology in the teaching of modern languages.
Among the extra-curricular activities undertaken are the Club Gaeilge, the Newsletter, a traditional music group and visits to the Gaeltacht. There is an Irish Notice Board on which events relating to Irish are advertised. It was recommended that high achievers should be urged to participate in debating and essay competitions. This would be an effective way of perfecting their Irish. Students are accustomed to spending periods in the Gaeltacht or in Irish Colleges during the summer. It is customary for many of them to attend a day course for a fortnight at the end of first year and to go to the Gaeltacht during the following summer when they are a little older.
Numerous activities take place during Seachtain na Gaeilge. A puc fada competition, quizzes, céilithe, a poster project and Topic of the Day events are organised. All members of the school community make strenuous efforts to give due recognition to Irish (e.g. announcements are made in Irish) during this week.
The amount of planning done by the staff of the Irish Department is significant, whether on a collaborative or individual basis .
The Irish Department has compiled a planning file. This file gives a comprehensive insight into all that happens in the school in relation to Irish. In addition to the usual documents (guidelines, syllabuses, learning targets, marking schemes, work-schemes, yearly plans, minutes, notes from training workshops, folders connected with Seachtain na Gaeilge) there are also review sheets in which the work completed with the Irish classes is monitored. This practice gives rise at planning meetings to the discussion of teaching methods and of the effectiveness of the learning and teaching process. It indicates that the Irish Department considers planning and collaborative planning to be a worthwhile process and the honesty which characterises their thinking is praiseworthy.
All teachers engage in individual preparation . Not only have all teachers drawn up schemes of work but they regularly assess the realisation of the learning objectives specified in the schemes. Teachers prepared in detail for the lessons observed, all of which had specific learning targets. It was evident that thought had been given to activities which would reinforce what was to be learned and to teaching aids which would assist in the process. The diligence which they brought to this task merits high praise.
Cross-curricular planning is evident in the sense that learning and teaching of Irish is integrated with music, drama and dance. One or two of the teachers are talented musicians and dancers and they make good use of these talents in the Irish classes and in other activities. Transition Year students, for example, devote one period per week to Irish dancing.
It is apparent that the Irish teachers are strongly appreciative of the benefits attached to effective planning. It is on this basis that it was recommended that they engage in more comprehensive discussions on teaching strategies. The planning meeting is a forum at which teaching expertise can be shared and in that light the teachers were asked to concentrate primarily on (a) differentiated learning in the context of the mixed-ability class and (b) the fostering of the students' ability in oral language.
It was evident that there was a strong work ethic in all the classes observed and that they were conducted in an atmosphere of courteousness and diligence. All participants took part willingly in the teaching and learning process. The teachers had thoroughly prepared for the lessons and it was clear that they had given thought to the learning outcomes. They presented the subject matter of the lessons in an energetic and lively manner. The same was true of the students who participated effectively in the various lesson activities. Both parties are to be complimented accordingly on the diligence which they bring to the classroom.
The use of Irish permeated all classes and Irish was the language spoken by the teachers to the students for the most part. It was obvious that the students were accustomed to this good practice and the majority of them showed an evident understanding of the teachers' speech and of the subject matter of lessons. Students were set to speaking Irish during lessons in that they were asked a great number of oral questions. All students made commendable efforts to give comprehensive answers to the teachers' questions. It was heartening to hear students speaking Irish and it was recommended to the teachers that they should extend this good practice further. In particular, it was recommended that they should hold further discussions on strategies (working in pairs, groupwork, language games, research projects, and presentations) which would create more communicative opportunities for the students during lessons. It would also be of benefit if a greater emphasis were placed on answering in complete sentences and ensuring that the students are capable of manipulating these sentences with ease.
Among the teaching aids utilised were tape recorders, an overhead projector, the white board, work sheets, a television and the textbook. Generally speaking, the textbook was not used to present the lesson material. Instead, questions were posed to the students, items from radio programmes were played, maps were put on display and open discussion on a theme was conducted.
Praise is due for the resourcefulness of the teachers as they explored ways in which to convey an understanding of the subject matter of lessons to the students. As an enhancement of this, it was recommended that the Irish Department should establish a repository of resources comprising a compilation of pictures, photographs, colour magazines and other learning and teaching aids. These resources could be made available in a central location. Discussion of the effective use of these materials, or of the use which individual teachers make of such materials in the classroom, would be worthwhile.
No use was made of the multi-media room on the day of the inspection and this was unfortunate. If we wish to pass Irish on to the next generation, we must convince young people that Irish has its place in modern technological life. It was recommended that as much use as possible be made of this valuable resource.
In general, the subject matter of lessons related to areas of interest to students. At times, it was felt that closer links could be made with the lives and experiences of students, by referring to events and personalities in which they have the greatest interest or the most knowledge (e.g. pop-stars, sports' stars, local news). Not only would this cultivate a greater interest in the subject of the lesson, but would also induce opinions and entice conversation.
Studente engaged in a variety of practical during the majority of lessons observed. Work sheets were completed, extracts were read, radio items were listened to, questions were answered – orally and in writing – and various subjects were discussed with a partner. All students applied themselves earnestly while completing these tasks. It was thought at times, however, that some of these tasks were too easy for students of high ability and too difficult for those of lesser ability. In some instances, it seemed that it had not been ensured that every student had grasped the language that was to be learnt. Similarly, it was evident that the completion of the assignments didn’t pose a challenge for certain students. While teachers had clearly given some thought to the learning targets associated with the assignments, it was felt that more comprehensive consideration of teaching and learning strategies was required - strategies that account of differentiated learning and serve the needs of all learners.
The fact that Irish classes embrace a variety of abilities and accordingly demand a variety of methodologies and activities must be considered. It was recommended that a particular focus be placed on students of high ability and that every effort should be made to ensure they attain high levels of spoken fluency.
The students have completed a significant amount of written work and their copybooks are very carefully kept. Teachers collect and correct exercises in the students' copybooks. It was recommended to teachers that they would promote a practice whereby each student would correct major errors in written exercises. It is essential that students understand that a good standard of written work must always be produced. Project-work done by Transition Year students was on display in certain classes. It is a commendable practice to display the work of students, as it promotes a sense of pride in the work done. It was recommended that the same groups should be invited to make presentations on their work to their fellow students, as a means of fostering their skills of communication.
The progress of students is comprehensively assessed. Students are assigned homework and class examinations are administered on an on-going basis. This work is corrected and frequently a mark is awarded. This is an effective practice in that it provides feedback to the student and the parents/guardians on the progress being made.
The teachers keep a record of the examination results and they award a grade for the work of the student in the Christmas report. It is recommended that the students' oral ability should be included in the evaluation done. A mark could be awarded or a note written on the efforts which the students make to speak Irish in class. This approach would stimulate the students to speak Irish in class.
Students sit in-house examinations in the summer. These are common examinations. Students complete test examinations in the spring of their state examination years. These test examinations are worthwhile, not alone as practice in the rubrics of state examinations but also as experience of time management and of the lay-out of the papers.
Summary of main findings and recommendations
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Irish enjoys a high status in Loreto Secondary School. It is evident that Irish carries an influence far beyond the classroom in the life of the school.
· The Irish teachers show a keen interest in the language and in events which give them an opportunity to use the language themselves. They are diligent teachers who are keen to develop their skills as teachers on an on-going basis. The spirit of co-operation is very much in evidence among them.
· It is the practice of the school to put students of mixed abilities in the same class and this effort to place all on the same level is to be praised.
· The amount of planning done by the Irish Department is substantial, whether on a collaborative or individual basis.
· The Irish planning file gives a comprehensive insight into all that is being accomplished in the school on behalf of Irish. It reveals that the Irish Department recognises the benefits that are to be gained from planning, especially if it is collaborative, and the honesty which characterises their thinking is praiseworthy.
· It was apparent that there was a good work ethic in all the lessons observed and the atmosphere was one of courtesy and diligence. All participants took part willingly in the learning and teaching process.
· The use of Irish permeated all classes, in that Irish was the language spoken by the teachers to the students for the most part. It was clear that the students were accustomed to this good practice and the majority of them showed an evident understanding of the teachers' speech and of the subject matter of lessons.
· The students have completed a significant amount of written work and their copybooks are very carefully kept.
· The students' progress is assessed comprehensively.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that discussions take place on learning and teaching activities which meet the learning needs of all the students in the class and which foster the totality of language skills. As part of this planning process, teachers should discuss one another's practices, sit in on one another's classes, or collaboratively teach one another's classes.
· It is recommended that the development of the students' oral skills be the basic target of all activities associated with Irish, whether inside or outside the classroom. As evidence of this, real communication should be an element of all Irish lessons and it is recommended that the students' oral ability be taken account of in the evaluation system.
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.