An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Clonakilty Community College
Clonakilty, County Cork
27 February 2007
4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and teaching in IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clonakilty Community College. 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 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.
Clonakilty Community College is a mixed school which incorporates an Aonad LánGhaelach. The Aonad makes provision for students from first year to third year. The majority of these students have received their primary education in a Gaelscoil.
The school timetable offers satisfactory support for Irish, in so far as second, third and fifth year students have five lessons per week. Sixth year students have six lessons per week, a provision which is praiseworthy and is of great benefit in the course of the exacting preparations which this level demands. Four lessons a week are taught in first year and three in Transition Year. This level of provision is considered low, especially in the case of Transition Year, as frequent contact with the target language is of greater benefit to the learner.
First year and fourth year classes are of mixed ability. This is a commendable practice as it does not place an over-emphasis on the individual abilities of the learner. Second year, third year, fifth year and sixth year classes are streamed. These class-levels are scheduled at the same time. This enables students to transfer from one level to another, as required.
There are 37 students in the school who are exempt from the study of Irish. Eight of these are either students who have received their education abroad or newcomers. The remaining 29 students have learning difficulties in accordance with Circular M10/94. For the most part these students remain in class during Irish lessons working on their personal studies. They sometimes attend a learning support class.
There are four Irish teachers in the school, each with a keen interest in the language and in the teaching of the language. They are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge and regularly attend meetings and workshops of that subject association. In addition, a number of them have acquired additional qualifications in various aspects of the teaching of Irish, as well as having participated in various training workshops organised for teachers of Irish (e.g. Fíbín). The Irish Department has a system of mentoring whereby the more experienced teachers provide support and assistance to newly-qualified teachers. This is a commendable idea and consideration should be given to the possibilities afforded by an extended application of such an approach (e.g. teachers sitting in on one another's lessons). The teachers are to be complimented on the interest they demonstrate in the development of their skills and on their understanding of the importance of continuity in professional development.
None of the teachers has an assigned classroom, nor has any class of students. In fact, the students' Irish lessons take place in different classrooms from day to day. This limits the teachers' ability to create a stimulating learning environment for Irish in the school. They have difficulty in carrying their teaching equipment (e.g. overhead projector) from one class to another, and in keeping their resources (flashcards, note files, transparencies, video tapes) properly organised. The school management makes funding available for the purchase of resources but the lack of storage space militates against efforts made to compile a comprehensive collection of materials. School management acknowledges that all members of the school community fall victim to this pressure and it constitutes a source of frustration for all of them. It was recommended that, in the design of new buildings, account should be taken of the need Irish teachers have of a designated room for Irish in which they could store their resources and that would enable them to create a stimulating learning environment.
Many extra-curricular activities are organised with the purpose of promoting Irish. A programme of events takes place during Seachtain na Gaeilge. Students participate in debating, traditional music, essay and poetry competitions. A strong emphasis is placed on poetry writing and the students' creative gifts are publicised in an anthology. The school has a Club Gaelach of which the Transition Year students are in charge. The Club members hold fortnightly meetings.
There are close links between the school and Cumann Seanchais Chloch na Coillte. It is customary for the school to invite guest-speakers from the Cumann to address them. The school is closely involved with the local branch of Glór na nGael: it is in cooperation with that organisation that an Oíche Ghaelach, a night of entertainment in the town of Clonakilty, is organised on annually.
Students are also taken to the Gaeltacht. In recent years, this trip has been integrated with traditional music. The students are taken to different Gaeltacht areas where they listen to and play with well-known traditional musicians. Many students to spend three weeks in the Gaeltacht during the summer. Scholarships to the Gaeltacht are awarded by means of an essay competition. The Irish teachers are cognisant of the fact that having Gaeltacht Chléire within striking distance is of great benefit in that it ensures students appreciation of what a Gaeltacht is.
There are extensive contacts between the school and local primary schools. The Principal, Guidance Teacher and Special Needs Co-ordinator maintain on-going contacts with primary school teachers, a practice which is commendable. There is a close relationship between the school and the local Gaelscoil and a programme is in place by which certain students in Transition Year spend periods as classroom assistants in the Gaelscoil. There are many advantages associated with such a programme, in particular post-primary students observation of Irish being used as the everyday language of communication among younger students. This experience undoubtedly enhances their own ability at spoken Irish.
Clonakilty Community College is involved in the planning process and for two years past the Irish department has participated in planning on a subject basis. The teachers hold regular meetings. Two departmental meetings are held each term and time is allocated for subject meetings during staff days. The Transition Year programme, planning, homework, evaluation, book lists and special needs are among the topics addressed at these meetings. The minutes of the meetings indicated that specified targets and a specific agenda are set down for each formal meeting. These minutes are written in English and it was recommended that they would be in Irish, as should any other documentation in the file.
There is a main planning file which contains work schemes for each year as well as the minutes of departmental meetings. The majority of the work schemes are laid out in accordance with the framework for the School Development Planning Initiative. The information included in these schemes does not give an adequate indication of the degree of thought already expended on the aspects of the target language addressed in class, nor of the methodologies and resources utilised in order to teach them effectively. It is advisable that these aspects of planning should be incorporated into the plan and that the development of oral skills should constitute the fundamental philosophy underpinning all work schemes.
Three different work schemes are drawn up for Transition Year. It is strongly recommended that one language programme should be designed for Transition Year and that an appropriate emphasis be placed on communication skills. It must be also ensured that a stimulating, multifaceted programme is drawn up for Transition Year students, so that they are given the opportunity to engage in various ways of learning the language. It was recommended that separate planning should be done for the students of the Aonad LánGhaelach where a specific emphasis is placed on fostering fluency and developing vocabulary. It is stated in the minutes that it is intended to acquire an insight into the primary school Irish curriculum. This is commendable as it informs teachers of the level of learning that has taken place prior to post-primary schooling. It is advised that a summary of this should be included in the planning file.
Each teacher has an individual planning file containing a wealth of resources and notes. It is clear that careful consideration has, in general, been given by teachers to the way in which variety in the use of resources and activities contributes significantly to the learning experience. Teachers are to be complimented for this. It was recommended that the teachers should meet to discuss and plan learning objectives and the teaching strategies which would assist them in attaining these. The appointment of a coordinator to the Irish Department to direct the planning process would be worthwhile.
For the most part, certain teachers have expended considerable efforts in their planning of Irish lessons. Frequently the lesson material had been prepared and set down on transparencies, as well as on work sheets or information leaflets distributed during the classes. It was recommended that the planning for individual lessons should take account of differences in ability among students and that adequate provision should be made for differentiation in the activities undertaken.
The teachers utilised a limited range of resources in the lessons observed. It is more beneficial to make use of that which is most up to date and which lies closest to the lives and experiences of students. On that account it is recommended that the practice of using media extracts - especially Irish language media – be extended as a means of stimulating conversation based on a particular topic. Pictures or advertisements from magazines could be shown to the students with a view to eliciting their opinions. Developments and advances in the field of active learning should be considered and a stock of resources for language teaching assembled accordingly.
Irish was the language used in most of the classes visited. Irish was the language spoken by the teachers to the students and it was apparent that the majority of students were accustomed to this. Most students made a genuine effort to respond to the teacher in Irish. It was noted, however, that the students did not provide complete answers and it is recommended to teachers that they encourage students to compose full sentences. In the case of students with a reasonable fluency in Irish, care was taken to elicit grammatical accuracy in Irish, an aspect which is especially important. It was recommended that students such as these should be required to enrich their Irish by the use of natural idioms.
A pleasant atmosphere was evident in the classes in general. The teachers had made extensive preparations and the majority of students approached their work with diligence and enthusiasm. Every lesson observed had a specific objective and the teachers and students progressed through the lesson step by step. It was obvious, for the most part, that a systematic approach had been laid down by the teachers and that the students had a clear understanding of this system. It is a considerable advantage that a specific system would be decided upon by the teacher, particularly in the case of reluctant learners who require a simple, logical, sequential approach. It was a particular source of satisfaction to see that the copybooks inspected were carefully kept. Copybooks constitute a main reference source for students as they revise.
It was apparent that the teachers had given careful consideration to learning targets. Interesting themes were chosen and an attempt was made to link the subject of the lessons with the students' own lives and experiences. This approach is commendable and it is advised that teachers should explore further ways in which students might be brought to an understanding of the place of Irish in modern life. It was clear that teachers had an appreciation of the needs of the students under their care. In most cases, the pace and subject matter of the lesson matched the interest range and abilities of the students. It was felt at times that a higher standard could have been demanded of students by having them converse with one another. It was recommended that the students in the Aonad should have a novel or short story as personal reading and that they be further encouraged to attain even higher standards through research or projects and the presentation of the results to a gathering of their peers.
Both pair-work and group-work was conducted in certain classes and it was satisfying to see students working together. Despite this, it was felt that opportunities of setting the students to converse among themselves were not availed of frequently enough and that much of the speaking was done by teachers. It would be worthwhile to consider activities which could be undertaken with a view to stimulating speech. Attention should be paid also to the language which would be required to fulfil these tasks. Opportunities for real communication should be created as often as possible during the lesson.
Apart from an Irish notice board in the corridor, there is little signage in Irish to be seen about the school nor in the classrooms. While the scarcity of classrooms creates a particular obstacle to the display of posters, it is a situation which needs to be addressed. It is widely recognised that the display of their work is an effective means of encouraging young learners. It also necessitates that they produce work of some merit. It would be appropriate for teachers to display posters which would act as teaching and learning aids. An attractive learning environment represents a strong motivation for students and the possibilities that do exist, despite the limitations imposed by the constricted school environment, might well be discussed.
In the case of the majority of classes observed, an over-dependence on the textbook was not apparent and the teachers are to be complimented on this. Use was made both of the overhead projector and of the television. It was indicated that the computer room is made available to students of Irish and it would be desirable that lessons should be conducted in that room from time to time. In one class a dictionary was made readily available and the teacher insisted that students themselves should consult it for the Irish translations. This is laudable practice as it compels students to direct their own learning.
There are many methods of assessing students' progress in this school. A homework policy has been drawn up by the Irish department and the amount of time allocated to Irish homework has been explored at meetings. The students' work is corrected, a practice which is extremely important if a high standard of work is to be ensured. Teachers are advised to provide feedback to students in their copybooks by appending a short note at the end of a written exercise. The importance of correcting significant errors was emphasised and it was recommended that students should be appraised of this.
The teachers administer tests on a regular basis in class as a means of assessing the effectiveness of learning. In-house examinations are conducted at Christmas and in summer. Students' oral skills are evaluated in certain year-groups and it is advised that the students' oral skills be included in all in-house examinations by awarding marks for the students' endeavours to speak Irish in class. Not alone would this acknowledge the importance of oral skills but it would also encourage students to speak Irish in the classroom.
Examination classes sit a short examination in the autumn and a preliminary examination in the spring. In addition to these, reports containing assessments by the teachers are sent home shortly after Christmas and again in April. Preliminary examinations are worthwhile as a means of familarising students with the conventions of state examinations.
Reports on the main examinations are sent home, be they in-house or preliminary examinations. This is a beneficial practice, as it keeps teachers, parents/guardians and the students informed of the progress being made.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The attitude of the school community towards Irish is positive and the level of involvement in various Irish activities, both in-class and out of class, is commended.
· The school management is very supportive of Irish, of its teaching and learning and of related cross-curricular and co-curricular activities. An extensive range of events, competitions and schemes which promote activity through the medium of Irish is organised.
· All Irish teachers display a keen interest in Irish and in the development of their skills as teachers of Irish.
· The preliminary steps have been taken in relation to subject planning. The teachers are commended on their endeavours in this regard and in the planning they undertake for Irish lessons.
· The lessons had specific aims and every effort was made to make the subject matter of the lessons appropriate to the interest levels and the abilities of students Group-work and working in pairs gave the students practice at speaking, as well as allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning.
· Irish was the class-language during lessons and it was gratifying to hear students speaking Irish among themselves.
· A variety of resources was used in order to stimulate the interest of students. The availability of a dictionary for students during the completion of assignments was very beneficial.
· The school has a system of evaluation by which the progress of students is evaluated and communication is maintained with parents/guardians.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a sustained effort be made to create an Irish environment throughout the school and, as an element of this, that rooms be made available to teachers and students in which posters may be displayed and teaching and learning resources stored.
· It is recommended that the Irish plan be developed and, as part of the co-operative planning process for the teaching and learning of Irish, that teaching strategies, the use of resources and learning activities be closely scrutinised.
· The fostering of oral skills should form the foundation of every aspect of Irish in the school. Detailed planning should be embarked upon in this respect, and as many opportunities for speaking as possible should be created during lessons. Account should be taken of the students' oral skills in the evaluation carried out.
· A specific language course should be designed for the Transition Year incorporating an attractive, applied programme which will stimulate the students' interest in the language.
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.