An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coláiste Eoin, Cappagh Road
Finglas, Dublin 11
Roll number: 70180A
Date of inspection: 12 and 13 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Eoin. 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined the students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documents 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 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.
There are three teachers of Irish in the school and each has long experience of teaching Irish. The allocation of teachers to classes is done on a basis of continuity and of affording all teachers an opportunity to teach Irish in the different programmes and at various levels. The management is commended for this.
With the exception of students taking the Junior Certificate School Programme who are allocated two periods of Irish per week, all other students taking Irish in the established programmes have four forty-minute lessons per week. The Transition Year class is allocated two Irish classes per week. Gaeilge Chumarsáideach is provided in one year of the Leaving Certificate Applied and three classes per week are allocated to it, as recommended by the support service for the programme. It is recommended that the amount of time allocated to Irish be reviewed and that the number of periods for the established programmes be increased. This would be particularly important in cases where students are to be prepared to attempt higher level.
The assignment of students to classes is based on their achievements in literacy and numeracy assessments taken as part of a school-transfer examination. An effort is made to band Irish classes on the timetable to facilitate student access to the class which best suits their needs. A wide range of ability was frequently noticed in the classes observed, with students taking Irish at different levels, for example.
While Irish is not included in the school-transfer examination, every student, including those who are exempt, are encouraged to study the language. The teachers and management are highly commended for providing this support and opportunity for the students. Classes in English as a second language or learning-support classes are made available to those students who are exempt when Irish classes are in progress. Every student taking the Junior Certificate School Programme studies Irish. In some classes, students take foundation level and in others they study Irish Cultural Studies. The teachers of Irish deserve great praise for the encouragement and support they provide for students to attempt foundation level and for offering them a challenge which suits their ability and serves their needs in the area of language and culture.
Educational aids and resources to support the learning and teaching of Irish are provided on a request basis. Teachers of Irish have their own classrooms, with a screen, whiteboard and storage units in each. Aids such as overhead projectors, television sets and CD players are readily available. The school has two fully-equipped computer rooms and these are available to the teachers of Irish and their classes once a booking is made. A computer and a data-projector is available for use in the classrooms. The management is commended for the range of resources available in the school and it is recommended that the teachers of Irish use Information and Communication Technology in their teaching and that they incorporate it in their planning.
Notices in Irish and a mural with some wording in Irish were on view in the school. It was reported that a display of students’ work is organised for the open day. Having Irish on view in the school environment, apart from the Irish classrooms, is good practice. It would be well worthwhile to devise opportunities for the students to use Irish outside of class. Events and displays need not always be linked to national festivals and occasions.
One of the Irish-teaching staff attended an in-service course on the teaching of Irish in one of the curriculum programmes during the current school year. The management and teachers are commended for availaing themselves of such opportunities and it is recommended that it be continued, especially now that a support service for Irish at second level has been established. Further information can be accessed from the Second Level Support Service (www.slss.ie).
The school is engaged in the school development planning process. Planning for the curriculum subjects was commenced last year and, in the case of Irish, planning is at the initial stages. A co-ordinator for Irish was appointed in the current school year, as part of a post of responsibility. To date, teachers of Irish met one another only informally and they developed plans of work on an individual basis. The work-plans of the individual teachers were made available during the evaluation visit and the vast majority of them were of a high standard. The material was laid out school-term by term and the aims and objectives were rooted in the syllabuses and adapted to the needs of the students in the school, a praiseworthy approach.
It is recommended that management provides time for the teachers of Irish to meet formally in order to further progress the development work on the plan for Irish. It would be advisable to set out an agenda for each meeting and to keep records such as minutes of proceedings. It would be worthwhile for the teachers to utilise the opportunity of these meetings to share their experience and the good practice they have developed. Further information on planning for the subject is available at www.sdpi.ie.
During the evaluation visit, classes which were taking the established programmes, including the Junior Certificate School Programme, and the Leaving Certificate Applied were observed.
The quality of teaching and learning in the majority of the classes observed was good and very careful preparation and planning had been done for those lessons. In the majority of cases, they were clearly structured and their objectives were effectively implemented.
In the classes visited, various aspects of the work observed accorded with the requirements of the syllabuses and of the programmes being studied. Among those were the study of poetry, as well as reading, listening and writing skills, and preparation for the oral examination. In some cases, aspects of Irish culture and history were linked to the lesson, a praiseworthy practice indeed.
A convention observed in most classes was to begin with the day’s date and conduct a short discussion, for example on the weather, and so to roll-call, to be answered in Irish. In certain cases, the responsibility was assigned to the students to write the date and a comment on the weather on the whiteboard or on a special poster. The teacher directed this work and other students helped. This practice is very effective and a similar routine should be developed in other classes. It helped students who had come from classes where another language was the medium of communication and instruction, to make the transition to Irish. In a particular instance, the teacher conducted a conversation in Irish with the pupils at the end of the lesson. This helped to reinforce what they had learnt as well as providing an opportunity for students to talk about subjects which were of interest to them. It is vital that students always have an opportunity of speaking Irish in the class and that preparation for the oral exam not be left to the actual year of the oral, as was evident from the work in a certain other case. It would also be worthwhile to do oral preparation in class for written tasks such as essays, before asking sutdents to undertake them. Effective use of the whiteboard would help in planning the structure and in keeping a record of points and opinions offered by students.
In some cases, the students were made aware at the start what the lesson-topic would be and what tasks they would be expected to perform. It is recommended that this practice be developed so that students would know at the outset what the expected learning outcomes would be. In the majority of the classes, worksheets with a variety of tasks based on the lesson-topic, to be completed by the students, were distributed at the start of class, or the whiteboard was used to present a ‘fill-the-gaps’ type of exercise. This gave the students an opportunity to identify and practise vocabularly in different written or reading texts. The tasks were well organised and students were allowed an oppropriate amount of time to complete them. It would be advisable to utilise opportunities to generate tasks like this, to encourage the students to co-operate more fully in the learning process. This might be done, for example, through pair work or group work, adjusting the tasks and instructions to the students’ abilities. It is also recommended that development of the other language skills – speaking and listening – be integrated with the reading and writing. Teachers who had prepared extra work based on the content of the lesson, for students who were making faster progress than their peers, deserve great credit. Practices like this, to serve the different needs of the students, should be extended to other classes.
The pace of the majority of lessons was satisfactory. An authentic text was used in one class to develop the students’ grasp of a piece of poetry. This is commended. Although the students in some classes had textbooks, the teachers made judicious use of them, to support the learning. When students’ vocabulary relating to a particular topic was being developed, it was linked to their own environment and experience, a praiseworthy practice.
In certain cases, a good range of questions was used to check students’ comprehension and learning during class. In most classrooms, the teacher’s moved about in class, helping individual students as necessary. Homework related to the lesson-topic was assigned in the majority of classes observed, a commendable practice. The students demonstrated that they could undertake the work assigned to them and, in certain cases, that they were making progress according to their ability, in their learning.
The majority of students were active in their learning and showed an interest in it. It was evident in the majority of classes observed that there was a strong emphasis on giving the students a positive learning experience. In a certain case, for example, they were asked to enter a few new words they had learned in a special notebook. It was evident from the way in which the majority of the classes were managed that there was a strong emphasis on promoting positive behaviour among the students and on acknowledging their efforts in that area. This worked effectively in those classes. Students were praised orally for their work, or positive comments on their work were written in their diaries, or stickers were allocated. As a result of this approach, the atmosphere in the vast majority of classes was supportive of learning.
In a number of classes observed, English was to the fore as the language of communication and instruction. It is strongly recommended that the use of Irish as the medium of instruction, communication and classroom management be increased so that students get as much input as possible in Irish.
At the time of this evaluation visit, work was in progress on the school’s assessment and homework policies. Students’ work is assessed and their progress monitored through class tests, homework, and house examinations held twice a year for all classes as well as ‘mock’ examinations for those classes taking the certificate examinations. Tests in Irish are included among those taken by first-year students around November. The majority of the tests taken by the students are written tests. When the assessment policy of the school is being reviewed, it is recommended that all the language skills be tested when students are taking an exam in Irish. Such an assessment would accord with the objectives of the syllabuses and it would give an overview and recognition of students’ achievements in the various language skills. This would also help to serve students’ different learning styles.
A report on students’ achievement in the Christmas tests is made available to parents at parent/teacher meetings in January. The students also attend these meetings. The management is commended for these arrangements and for giving the students as well as their parents an opportunity to discuss their achievements and their needs with the teachers. A strong emphasis is placed in the school on acknowledging students’ work and their participation in the life of the school. In implementing this policy, postcards, letters and stamps of excellence are sent – and phone calls made – to parents as part of the normal school routine and care of students. The management and teachers are highly commended for this practice.
The copybooks and folders checked during the visit illustrated that work had been done which fulfilled the requirements of the syllabuses and programmes. In most cases, exercises had been regularly corrected. When the homework policy is being formulated, the teachers of Irish should agree a common approach to correcting students’ work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The quality of teaching and learning was good in the majority of classes observed and very good preparation and planning had been undertaken.
· There is a co-ordinator for Irish in the school but the teachers of Irish meet one another only on an informal basis.
· The teachers of Irish plan their lessons on an individual basis. The vast majority of these plans were of a good standard.
· Irish is made available to the students in all the programmes provided by the school and all students are encouraged to study it.
· There was a strong emphasis on creating a positive learning experience for the students and on promoting positive behaviour among them. There was an atmosphere supportive of learning in the vast majority of the classes.
· A good supply of teaching-aids is available, among them facilities for Information and Communication technology.
· A variety of well-organised tasks, based on common topics or themes, was assigned to students in most of the classes and the needs of students who were making faster progress than their peers were served by assigning them extra work related to the content of the lesson.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· That the number of the class-periods allocated to Irish be increased.
· That the teachers of Irish have formal meetings and they develop a plan for Irish as part of the school curriculum.
· That Irish be used as the normal language of the classes.
· That the expected learning outcomes be shared with students ar the beginning of classes.
· That all of the language skills be included in the assessment of students’ work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.