An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St Kevin’s Community College
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 70042L
Date of inspection: 5 March 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 in St. Kevin’s Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of 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 the 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 preparations. 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 six teachers of Irish in the school, half of them having a degree in Irish. It was reported that teachers are allocated to classes on a basis of continuity, experience and qualifications. In most cases the teachers’ competence in Irish was satisfactory. In the event of a teacher’s level of competence in Irish not being satisfactory, suggestions for improvement were made in the feedback. The management is strongly advised to ensure that a teacher is sufficiently competent in Irish to teach the subject when Irish classes are being assigned to teachers.
Students take an examination in Irish before they come to the school in order to get an idea of their ability in the language. This is a written exam. It is suggested that, when designing such an assessment and planning a teaching-programme for first-years, teachers should consult Curaclam na Bunscoile: Gaeilge at www.ncca.ie to get an overview of the subject-matter and approaches used at that level.
There are four class-groups at every year in the school, with the exception of sixth year, where there are three class-groups. In the case of junior cycle, one class-group at each year takes the Junior Certificate School Programme and in the case of senior cycle, one class-group at each year-level takes the Leaving Certificate Applied.
Ordinary level is the highest level at which students study Irish for the Junior Certificate and for the established Leaving Certificate. It is recommended that students’ achievement and progress in Irish be carefully monitored from their arrival at the school in first year and that they be encouraged to study Irish at the highest level in accordance with their ability. It was reported that the school is already participating, through the Clondalkin Partnership Initiative, in efforts to raise standards and to encourage and prepare students to continue their education at third level. The management is commended for availing of this opportunity and for supporting the students and teachers involved in the project. As part of this initiative, participating students do further study of Irish, English and Mathematics after school hours.
Apart from first-year classes, Irish classes are banded. First-year students are in mixed-ability classes until November. They take a test at that point and are then assigned to class-groups based on their ability; they remain in these classes until the end of junior cycle. The allocation of students to classes for senior cycle is also based on their ability. The banding of classes, however, provides further opportunities to move students, as appropriate, to classes that may better suit their needs.
Each class-period is of thirty five minutes duration. First-years have four class-periods per week for Irish and classes in all other year-groups have five class-periods per week. In one year of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, students study Communicative Irish and three class-periods per week are allocated to this section of the programme, in accordance with the guidelines of the support service for the programme. Provision for Irish on the timetable is mainly in single periods. In some cases, however, classes have more than one class-period of Irish on a given day; for example, one first-year class has two single periods for Irish on the same day, and the sixth-year classes who get their full input of Irish in three days: two single periods one day, a double period another day and another single period on a further day. It is strongly recommended that the distribution of time to Irish on the timetable be reviewed. Students derive greater benefit from a regular daily input of the language in single class-periods and this arrangement also facilitates the assignment and management of work and continuity of learning.
A fairly high percentage of students in the school were reported to be exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94. It was reported that students coming to school have had a great variety of experience of learning Irish. It was reported that teachers deal with this issue by differentiating the work presented to the students: the teachers are commended for making this provision for to the students. It is recommended that, in correspondence with feeder primary schools, the requirements of the post-primary programme be made clear to them. The needs of students who have exemptions from Irish are served by providing the Junior Certificate School Programme and learning support classes or classes in English as a second language for those who are entitled to them, while Irish classes are in progress. Other students who have an exemption remain in the Irish class with their fellow-students. The management is commended for making these arrangements to serve the needs of the students. The inspector was informed that the allocation of students to the Junior Certificate School Programme class is based on psychological reports and on reports from the primary schools. The students taking the JCSP in this school do not at present study any aspect of Irish because they have an exemption. Should it happen that a student following the JCSP has not got an exemption from Irish, it is recommended that management ensures that a suitable course in Irish is made available to that student, as is indicated in the guidelines for the programme at http://jcsp.ie.
Four of the teachers of Irish have dedicated classrooms and a central storage area is available to the department of Irish for teaching and learning resources. At the time of this inspection visit only a limited supply of aids for the teaching and learning of Irish was available, although the management let it be known that resources are provided on request. On this basis, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish plan for increasing the supply of aids available for the subject, resources such as CD players and television sets for example, and that they be readily available for use in Irish classes. There are two fully-equipped computer rooms in the school and plans are in train for installing computers in the school library. It was reported that these computer facilities are and will be available to teachers of Irish and their classes. Computers are also available in the teachers’ resource room for use in their work. The management is commended for making this provision. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish use these facilities, that they include Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning and that they plan appropriately for this. This would help to present Irish to the students as a modern, living language and it would give them opportunities to practise transferable skills.
The school is engaged in the school development planning process. A co-ordinator for Irish has been appointed and the teachers of Irish take turns in this role. This gives every member of staff the opportunity to develop leadership skills and to share in the development of the subject in the school. The teachers of Irish hold four formal meetings annually during the school-year, each meeting lasting one hour. An agenda is laid out for each of these formal meetings and minutes of proceedings are prepared – matters discussed and decisions made – for communication to the management and to any teacher who is unable to attend. This practice is praiseworthy indeed. Among the subjects on the agenda are the plan for Irish, assessment of the ability in Irish of students from primary schools, choosing textbooks, development of resources and the achievements and progress of students in house and State exams.
Good progress has been made in the planning for Irish and there is a particular focus this year on developing a homework policy as part of this work. The plans for individual classes provided during the inspection visit were clearly based on the overall plan for Irish. In developing the plan further, it is recommended that the plans should detail the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies, including the assessment methods to be used for each year-group and that the Leaving Certificate Applied Gaeilge Chumarsáideach also be included in the planning.
In the context of planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school, the teachers have developed materials such as worksheets on various aspects of the courses. These are kept in a central storage area where teachers have ready access to them. The teachers deserve great credit for this initiative.
It as clear from the vast majority of the classes observed that very good preparation had been done for the lessons, that they were well structured and followed smoothly from previous lessons. The pre-prepared worksheets helped to adapt the subject-matter to the students’ needs and teachers are commended for this. In some cases the roll was called at the start of classes and, in others, attendance was checked during the class, while the students were working. It is suggested that the practice of roll-call at the start of class be more widely used and that students be enabled to answer in Irish, as was done in a certain case.
The students’ attention was focused on the work of a particular lesson by informing them of the topic to be dealt with and, in certain cases, the tasks they would be required to complete. Such practices are praiseworthy and it should be the norm that the learning outcomes are shared with the students at the start of class. This would help students to understand the learning to be undertaken during class and how that would fit into a unit of work, for example.
In the classes observed, work was done on developing the students’ vocabulary on various topics and also on developing writing and reading-comprehension skills. In the vast majority of classes, the worksheets prepared beforehand on the various topics afforded the students opportunities to recognise the vocabulary they were learning and use it in alternative ways in matching games, word mazes and gap-filling exercises, for example. Effective use was made of the whiteboards available, for this work in most of the classes and it is recommended that a variety of aids be used which would help to integrate the development of the various language skills in the course of the work – material on compact disc, on DVD or on vide, or other authentic texts like maps, as appropriate. In other cases, students were directed to record the new vocabulary they were learning in dedicated notebooks, a worthwhile practice. The way in which opportunities which arose from this work were utilised in some cases to remind students of work previously done, for example, work on the seasons and the months, is commendable.
Teachers are advised to avoid translation to English as a means of ensuring that students understand words or phrases, a method used in all classes observed. As a result, English, rather than Irish, was the language most frequently heard from the students. It is recommended that alternative strategies be used to ensure students’ understanding, strategies which would increase the amount of Irish heard from the students in class and assist them in acquiring the language.
The majority of students showed that they were willing and able to participate in the work in hand. In a certain case in which the students were given an opportunity to collaborate in their learning by means of pair-work, they showed great interest in the work and an ability to guide one another. Methods such as this, which are praiseworthy, should be more widely used and both pair-work and group-work should be regularly used in facilitating students’ learning. The teachers are commended for the attention they paid to individual students as they moved around the classrooms while students were doing the tasks assigned by the teacher. In certain cases, where students were making faster progress than their peers, extra work was assigned to the former. However, it would be worth having more challenging tasks prepared for these students, rather than giving them further tasks at the same level to undertake. Particularly praiseworthy is the example observed of asking students to devise questions on a reading-comprehension text assigned to the students as a task. Such tasks acquaint students with using interrogative structures and give them an opportunity to think about their learning. It is recommended that exercises like this be included in the teaching in other classes, as appropriate, to help in enabling students to take an active part in conversation.
In each class observed, homework was assigned which accorded with the subject-matter of the lesson, as is recommended. In the majority of classes the homework was set before the end of class and the teacher ensured that the students recorded it in their diaries, a praiseworthy practice.
The classes observed were effectively managed and appropriate time was allocated for various tasks set, when that teaching strategy was used. The classroom environment was supportive of learning and samples of students’ work, as well as posters in Irish, were displayed on the walls. This practice should be continued and the displays updated regularly to develop students’ confidence and self-esteem.
The use of Irish as a medium of classroom instruction, communication and management should be considerably extended, so that Irish would prevail as the normal language of communication in all the classes. It is important that students get the maximum possible input of Irish in the Irish classes.
Students’ work is assessed through class tests, house exams and ‘mock’ State exams as well as through homework. As the time of this inspection visit, the teachers of Irish were involved in a review of the school homework policy, concerning its suitability to subject-needs. This work is commended and teachers are reminded that homework in Irish need not always be a written exercise.
House exams are conducted three times a year and students preparing to take State exams sit ‘mock’ exams in the spring. Reports on students’ achievements in these exams are sent home to the parents. Parent-teacher meetings are organised annually for each year-group, to afford parents an opportunity to discuss their children’s achievements and progress with the teachers.
About the month of November, a common exam is set for all first-year students, to assess their progress. A common exam is set for third-year classes when more than one class-group is taking the exam at a particular level. This practice of setting a common exam for classes is commended. The assessment of students’ work is based on reading-comprehension, writing and listening skills, and on literature as appropriate. It is recommended that students’ oral skills in Irish be taken into account also. This could be based, for example, on their participation in class. Assessment of all the language skills would accord with the aims of the syllabuses and it would help to serve the different learning styles of the students as well as giving them an insight into their progress in the different areas of language.
A number of students’ copybooks were examined during the visit. They showed that work had been done on writing tasks, development of vocabulary on various topics, on grammar and on literature, as appropriate. In some cases corrections had been made on this work, including notes of praise. Guidance for improvement of work was given in some cases and this practice is praiseworthy indeed. It is recommended that the practice of offering students guidance on ways of improving their work be more widely used and that the teachers of Irish agree a common approach to corrections. This could be done as part of the ongoing development of homework policy.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school is engaged in the school development planning process, there is a co-ordinator for Irish and good progress has been made on the plan for Irish as part of the school curriculum
· Homework is set and corrected and the teachers of Irish were working on a homework policy in the context of the requirements of the subject
· Preparation had been made for the vast majority of the classes observed and they were well structured
· The teachers of Irish have developed teaching resources for the subject and these are centrally available.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· That management ensure that teachers involved in teaching Irish are competent in the language
· That the use of Irish as the medium of communication in all classes be enhanced and that strategies other than translation to English be used to assist the students in understanding and acquiring the language
· That the timetabling of the subject be reviewed and classes allocated so that students have a single Irish class per day
· That the teachers of Irish plan for the resources they need for teaching the subject and that these requirements be communicated to the management
· That appropriate planning be undertaken for the use of the ICT facilities in the school in the teaching of Irish
· That the development of the various language skills be integrated and that the use of pair-work and group-work be extended.
· That the needs of students who would benefit from a further learning challenge be taken into account in the teaching of the subject.
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.