An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint Fanahan's College
Mitchelstown, County Cork
Date of inspection: 6 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Fanahan's 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 teachers of Irish. 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.
St. Fanahan's College, a mixed school under the aegis of County Cork Vocational Education Committee, provides a range of educational programmes . The programmes of which Irish forms part of the courses of study are the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied. The school has a newly-appointed Principal. This marks a time in the life of the school when certain changes are being and will be implemented.
Third Year, Fourth Year and Sixth Year students have five Irish classes per week. This is a satisfactory allocation. Those studying Communicative Irish as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied course have two classes per week. Completing all aspects of this course within a span of one year proves challenging to all participants and their diligence is commended. Four classes per week is the allocation for First Year and Second Year and this is considered to be somewhat inadequate.
St. Fanahan's College is a small school and because of this class size is small. There are two classes each in First Year and Third Year, a Junior Certificate class and a Junior Certificate School Programme class. There is one mixed ability class in Second Year. At senior level, a number students choose the Leaving Certificate Applied and the remainder are divided into Higher Level and Ordinary Level classes for the core subjects. The low enrolment in the classes enables the teachers to attend to the differing needs of individual learners.
There are 16 students in the school with exemption from the study of Irish. Those students have learning difficulties as defined by Circular M10/94 and they are provided with extra support in literacy and numeracy during Irish lessons. It was further indicated that other students do not attend Irish classes because they were reported not to have studied Irish from a particular stage of their primary schooling. It was recommended that this information should be clarified: it should be clearly outlined who the students with exemptions from Irish are. Additionally, the students with a low level of Irish, but without an exemptions must be clearly indicated. Thus, provision could be made for the learning needs of these very students. It is essential that a firm stance be taken so that students without official exemptions are not absolved from the study of Irish.
Irish teachers have their own classrooms. This is a valuable resource and in one instance this opportunity had been effectively used whereby the students' work was displayed in the classroom, as well as textbooks and other source materials available on shelves. The room was attractively decorated and it is recommended that this practice be extended. It would be pleasing if the work and activities of students were publicised throughout the school by establishing a notice board for Irish.
The teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge and they attend meetings on a regular basis. They consider these meetings to be of great assistance, particularly as regards the insight into the marking system of state examination papers. They are aware of the importance of on-going professional development, especially as a means of fostering innovative teaching strategies. Training courses relating to the Leaving Certificate Applied and the Junior Certificate School Programme are the most widely available at present and they would welcome any innovations in relation to professional development courses for Irish teachers.
Cork County Vocational Education Committee makes Gaeltacht scholarships available to school students each year. It was reported that the students who had won these scholarships greatly enjoyed their time in the Gaeltacht. It was recommended that this competition be given greater publicity and that the competition winners should be announced publicly. It was further recommended that Gradam na Gaeilge constitute one of the prizes to be awarded at the annual prize-giving ceremony.
One person has been appointed as co-ordinator of the school's Irish Department. It is customary for all the teachers of Irish to meet informally to discuss various matters regarding Irish. Time is rarely allocated for meeting formally. The school management acknowledges this and the issue is being addressed as a matter of priority.
A significant amount of planning has been done on a whole-school basis regarding the formulation of whole-school policies. The initial step has been taken in the subject planning process in that a representative of the Whole School Planning Initiative has spoken with teaching staff.
The majority of subject planning is done on an informal basis. It is customary for the teachers of Irish to discuss among themselves topics relating to the learning and teaching of Irish. Topics of discussion inkclude textbooks, students with special needs, examinations and teaching methods. The teachers are to be congratulated on their iniatitive in this regard.
However, if it is the wish of the Irish Department to undertake subject planning comprehensively and effectively, it is essential that time be allocated for regular formal meetings. They are of teachers with considerable experience of teaching Irish. It is necessary that the opportunity to -plan be facilitated as a means of pooling their expertise. The school management accepts and is commited to putting the appropriate arrangement in place shortly.
The Irish Department has a main planning file. There are work schemes for the various language programmes. These schemes indicate planned learning oiutcomes on a termly basis. It was explained to the teachers that they should look to the planning file as a source of all information regarding Irish in the school. The teachers identified the following main topics as areas for discussion at formal planning meetings: general statement, objectives (educational, applied and social), work schemes, assembling resources, students' special needs and extra-curricular activities.
The teachers themselves possess an accumulation of resources in addition to an extensive compilation of teaching notes and work-sheets. It was apparent, generally speaking, that teachers had gone to great lengths to prepare lessons. They had considered the learning objectives, the teaching methods and the activities necessary achieve these objectives.
The experience of Irish teachers was evident in the classes visited.
Irish was the language used in all the classes visited. Teachers spoke Irish to students and students, in general, made every effort to respond in Irish. In one class where a poem was being taught, every effort was made to avoid the use of translation as a means of conveying meaning, and mime and actions were employed as alternative strategies. The energy and imagination brought to the presentation of this lesson are worthy of the highest commendation. It was evident that junior students were totally confident while speaking Irish in the presence of their classmates. The teacher is commended for having nurtured this confidence and the continuation of such methods which stimulate students to speak Irish is strongly recommended.
The atmosphere in classes was both co-operative and courteous and everyone worked industriously and diligently during lessons. The teachers approached their teaching with eagerness and with an appreciation of the needs of the students. A well-established work pattern was apparent in the classes and this greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the teaching and learning. Each lesson observed had a specific learning objective and the students were aware of what that objective was. A step by step approach was implemented in the lessons and a worthwhile outcome was achieved at the end of each lesson. It was most gratifying that the copybooks and folders viewed had been so well kept. The copybook/folder acts as the main reference source for students when they are revising.
There was some measure of variety in the activities undertaken - working in pairs, group work, presentation to the class, listening to the spoken word, questions and answers, searching for information in reference books. This is a commendable practice and it is recommended that this variety be incorporated into all lessons, particularly in classes with low enrolment figures, as an on-going means of stimulating student interest. It is further recommended that task to be completed by students while engaged in pair-work and group-work be clear from the outset: (e.g. three main points). The development of oral skills should constitute a subsidiary target in the case of the majority of activities undertaken.
There was no reliance on the textbook in any of the lessons observed and the teachers are to be complimented for this approach. A dictionary was conveniently at hand in some classes where the teacher insisted that students seek the Irish forms themselves. This is a laudable procedure, in that the students themselves direct their own learning. Overall, the range of of teaching and learning resources was limited: work sheets and the white/blackboard were mainly utilised. It was indicated that the computer room is available to students of Irish and it would be desirable that lessons be conducted there from time to time.
Reference was made during the inspection of the need to compile a stock of teaching resources. It is recommended that teachers reflect on the benefits associated with the use of a tape-recorder or other audio-visual aids. It was recommended that the work of the students be put on display in the Irish classrooms together with posters which would act as a teaching aid during Irish lessons. The display of charts comprising useful vocabulary and language idioms which could be referred to as appropriate would be worthwhile. They would also create an attractive and pleasant learning environment which the students would find stimulating.
The teachers fully appreciate the importance of linking Irish with the lives and experiences of the students. It stands to reason that it is easier and more interesting for students to converse on matters that relate closely to their own experiences. This was evident from the way in which some students spoke of the projects they had completed. Adults showing an interest in the in their lives encourages students significantly. It would be fitting that more comprehensive consideration be given to ways in which the subject matter and the activities of lessons could be linked more closely to the contemporary lives of students.
The progress of students is assessed in many different ways. Their written work is corrected, a practice which is extremely important if a good standard of work is to be ensured. The need to correct language errors was emphasised and it was recommended that students be required to rewrite the corrected version of their work.
A monthly report, in which grades are awarded and the progress of the student is commented upon, is sent home. This is a beneficial practice as it keeps teachers, parents/guardians and the students themselves informed of the progress which they have made and are making. It was advocated that the endeavours of students to speak Irish in class be mentioned in the monthly report.
The teachers regularly administer tests to the students in class as a means of assessing the effectiveness of teaching. In-house examinations are conducted at Christmas and in summer. It was recommended that the students' ability at speaking should be included in the examinations by awarding a grade for the speaking of Irish in class. Not alone would this give recognition to the importance of speaking skills but it would also stimulate the speaking of Irish in the classroom.
The public examination classes sit a preliminary examination in spring. These are well worth administering, particularly as a form of practice for students in the conventions and demands of state examinations.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.