An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Post Primary School
Barryscourt Road, Coolock, Dublin 17
Roll Number: 70330Q
Date of inspection: 16 and 17 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Post Primary School. It presents the findings and recommendations 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. This evaluation was conducted out over two days 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 documents 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 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.
Both second level and post-Leaving Certificate students attended Coláiste Dhúlaigh until 2004 when it became two independent schools, each with its own roll number: Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Post-Primary School and Coláiste Dhúlaigh, College of Further Education. In this context, Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Post-Primary School is in the initial years of its development.
It was evident from speaking with the teachers of Irish and with the school principal that Irish has whole school support. Special mention was made of the support other staff members give by speaking Irish to the students. It is the school’s aim to provide students with a positive learning experience regarding Irish and it is the school’s firm belief that Irish belongs to everyone and that everyone can learn it. Staff and management are highly commended for this outlook.
There are seven teachers of Irish in the school. Their experience of teaching Irish is varied with some having long experience and others who are in the early stages of their career. Each teacher is assigned a variety of classes and levels and the teacher usually remains with a particular class for the duration of a programme or cycle of study. The school management is commended for including these factors when allocating teachers to classes. It is also important for teachers’ professional development that they gain experience in implementing the various syllabuses and programmes provided in the school.
A school transfer programme has been established in conjunction with the feeder primary schools. Pupils in sixth class attend a sample of classes in June to assist them with the transfer to post-primary school. In first year, students are assigned to classes based on their achievements in numeracy and literacy tests. Students in the lowest streams in the junior cycle focus on the Junior Cycle School Programme (JCSP). Students in these classes study Irish at foundation level. Teachers and management are commended for providing all junior cycle students with access to Irish in accordance with Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge. Irish is provided in the Transition Year programme, Leaving Certificate Applied and in the Leaving Certificate established for students in senior cycle.
Classes in the junior cycle are allocated four periods, except JCSP classes which have between two and three Irish periods per week, depending on the other programmes in which they participate. Leaving Certificate established students are allocated four periods per week in both fifth year and sixth year. Management confirmed that plans were already underway at the time of the visit to increase the number of periods allocated to Irish in junior cycle and in senior cycle and it is recommended that these be implemented in the next school year. Transition Year students have three classes of Irish per week, which is satisfactory. Leaving Certificate Applied students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach over two years and Irish is allocated two periods per week in each year of the programme. This is in line with the recommendations of the programme’s support service. The vast majority of classes in both cycles are allocated single periods of Irish. The provision of regular daily input in the language is most beneficial to students’ learning and it is therefore recommended that the provision of a single class period per day be extended.
There is a good supply of aids and resources available for Irish. These include Information and Communications Technology (ICT) aids, broadband connection in each classroom, audiovisual aids, resources developed by the teachers themselves, as well as texts from the broadcast and print media, including Foinse and TG4 programmes. Certain classrooms are dedicated to Irish and one of these rooms contains storage facilities for resources to which all teachers have access. Management is commended for this provision.
Effective efforts are made to develop students’ experience of the language and culture outside the classroom. Students are encouraged to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht and the VEC Gaeltacht scholarship scheme is utilised to provide financial assistance for this. Emphasis is placed on music and singing during Seachtain na Gaeilge. It is recommended that such opportunities continue to be made available to students. Formal events need not always coincide with national occasions of celebration.
There was one Higher Diploma in Education student undertaking Irish teaching practice in the school in the current school year. The head of department and the master teacher provided advice and support. The student was given the opportunity to observe other teachers at work and feedback was given on any class given by the student which teachers observed. Members of staff are supported in attending professional development opportunities and this year, for example, one of the teachers of Irish attended in-service training for the JCSP. This level of support afforded the teachers is commended.
Development planning for the subject is underway and Irish teachers coordinate the work of the department on a rotational basis. Time is set aside for Irish teachers to hold formal meetings three or four times during the school year and they also hold informal meetings. Agendas are set for the meetings and records are maintained. Among the subjects discussed are budgets for textbooks, the levels at which students study Irish and their progress, professional development matters, cross-curricular and co-curricular planning, mentoring and induction for new staff members, trips to the Gaeltacht, Gaeltacht scholarships, Seachtain na Gaeilge, parent-teacher meetings, subject development planning, development of resources, and teaching and learning methodologies and strategies. Meetings between management and school subject coordinators are also held three or four times a year so that feedback from the meetings can be discussed. Management is commended for allocating time for meetings and for giving the coordinator an opportunity to discuss the department’s decisions and issues. The range of topics discussed is also to be commended, as are the teachers who share their expertise in teaching Irish and support teachers who are new to the profession or to the school.
A plan for Irish was available. Plans for the various year groups were made available and they illustrated that teachers plan collaboratively, an approach which is commendable, in the case of some classes. Planning was of good quality where the content, language functions and teaching and learning methods to be employed were referred to. It is also worth mentioning that it was evident that the plans were monitored and reviewed and the teachers are highly commended for this. Regarding further development of the Irish plan, it is recommended that the aims and objectives be reviewed and that they reflect the Irish language learning needs of the students, while remaining based on the syllabuses, that the expected learning outcomes at the various stages are set out and that all language skills are included at each stage. In light of the developments in ICT and broadband resources in the school, it is recommended that the teachers plan for the use of ICT in teaching and learning of Irish in general. The teachers are to be commended for developing and sharing a bank of resources to support the students’ learning. In the context of subject planning, it is recommended that the aids and resources available be catalogued and that the resources developed by the teachers themselves eventually be provided electronically and be centrally available.
Planning for the classes observed was good and worksheets and various tasks had been prepared for students in each case.
Roll was called and answered in Irish at the start of class in some cases. It is recommended that this practice be extended to other classes. In some cases, the students were informed of the lesson aim or the content, and of the activities to be done during class. While this is praiseworthy as it develops students’ awareness of their learning, it is recommended that it be further developed and that the expected learning outcomes be shared with the students. It would also be worth spending a little time discussing a topical matter in Irish at the start of class, as appropriate.
Work was conducted on a variety of topics and skills in the classes observed and appropriate attention was paid to them, in line with revision which was underway for house and State exams. Homework was checked in some cases. Opportunities which arose during homework checking were availed of to check students’ recall of vocabulary and to reinforce their knowledge of numbers for instance. This is commended.
Worksheets were used effectively to reinforce the students’ understanding and learning regarding certain writing tasks. Topics were presented in various formats on worksheets and a wall chart was used to prompt students while they worked on various tasks. In another case, also based on writing skills, students were asked to swap worksheets on completion of a task, and correct each other’s work under the teacher’s direction. This practice is highly commended as it encourages students to reflect on their learning and to develop their understanding of the subject.
Particularly praiseworthy was the case in which the development of language skills was integrated. Students were assigned a variety of tasks based on the different language skills. It is recommended that this practice be extended to other classes and that the tasks be based on common themes. A very good example of the development of students’ Irish speaking ability was observed when the class was divided into pairs and given the opportunity to ask each other questions and provide answers. Opportunities were availed of during this exercise to correct students’ pronunciation. It is important that continued care be taken to develop students’ accurate pronunciation and their ability and self-confidence in speaking Irish. When engaging in this type of work, it is recommended that the whiteboard be used to illustrate examples to students.
Irish was the language of instruction and of classroom management in many cases. However, in cases in which there was a tendency to use English translation to check students’ understanding of vocabulary or sayings, it was often the case that English became the dominant language in the classroom. It is recommended that the over-use of translation is avoided and that alternative strategies which would foster greater use of Irish be employed to develop students’ understanding, as was done in other cases. Good examples of such strategies were observed where words or phrases were contextualised in sentences, or where gestures were used to illustrate their meaning.
The atmosphere in the classes was conducive to learning and it was clear, in some cases, that a very positive relationship had been fostered between teachers and students. Students were warmly praised for their efforts and teachers moved around the classes attending to individual students. Students were active in their learning and comfortable with the work. Work was appropriately paced in most classes. There were labels in Irish on furniture, charts and posters, as well as samples of the students’ work displayed on the walls. Particularly praiseworthy is the practice of displaying samples of the students’ work and it is recommended that it be continued and that displays be kept up to date.
House exams are held twice a year and students are also given an exam before parent-teacher meetings. Students undertaking State exams sit “mock” exams in the second term. Teachers keep a record of students’ achievements in these exams, and in other class tests, in their journals and centrally. Reports of students’ achievements are sent home and parents are given an opportunity to discuss them at meetings which are held annually, or more often, if necessary. It is school policy to analyse the students’ achievements in the Leaving Certificate examinations. This is good practice.
Students’ achievements in house exams are mainly based on reading comprehension and writing skills and on literature where appropriate. Aural comprehension is included for fifth and sixth years. It is recommended that all language skills be included when assessing students’ work. This would be in line with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses and would give students an insight into their progress in the different language skills.
The school’s homework policy was in development at the time of the visit. It is recommended that Irish teachers include the developmental requirements of the different language skills in the policy. Homework related to the class content was assigned in all classes. Giving homework is good practice as it helps consolidate learning and gives students responsibility for their work, as well as the opportunity to develop organising skills. Students recorded the homework in their journals in some cases. It is recommended that this practice be extended. It would also be worth considering the more positive role journals could serve in communications with students and home.
It was clear from the copybooks reviewed during the visit that work had been completed on a range of subjects which was in line with syllabus requirements at various levels. There were samples in some cases of written exercises being translated to English. As aforementioned, it is recommended that this practice be avoided and that other strategies be employed. Students were given recognition for work done and in some cases notes of encouragement were written. It is important that corrections made to work should help to give students an understanding of what they have done well or correctly and that they are given guidance as to how to improve work as required. Information on Assessment for Learning (AfL) is available at www.ncca.ie or in various editions of info@ncca.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Staff and management are committed to providing a solid base for the Irish department in the school and continuing to foster a positive attitude to the language.
· Every student in the school studies Irish.
· Plans are monitored and reviewed.
· Gaeltacht scholarships are awarded, and trips to the Gaeltacht and events for Seachtain na Gaeilge are organised to provide the students with an opportunity to use the language outside class and to experience the culture.
· The provision of ICT facilities in the school is good.
· Classroom atmosphere was conducive to learning and strategies which ensured students’ active participation were employed.
· Homework based on classwork was set in every case.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Increase the amount of time allocated to Irish in the junior cycle and in the senior cycle and allocate the time throughout the week so that students have regular daily input.
· Further develop the aims and objectives in the plan for Irish based on students’ requirements, set out expected learning outcomes and integrate the use of ICT in teaching and learning.
· Extend the use of Irish as the general language of communication in the classroom.
· Share the expected learning outcomes with the students at the start of class and extend the practice of integrating the development of language skills.
· Include all the language skills in the assessment of students’ work.
· Include requirements for Irish homework in the development of the school’s homework policy.
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.