An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coláiste na Sceilige
Cahirciveen, County Kerry
Roll number: 76068N
Dates of inspection: 15 &16 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Sceilige. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 learning and teaching. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Coláiste na Sceilige is a mixed school incorporating an all-Irish Unit (Aonad LánGhaelach) for junior cycle students. The provision of the Aonad LánGhaelach is a response to the status of Irish in the area. Not only do some of the students come from Gaeltacht districts but Comhchoiste Ghaeltacht Uíbh Ráthaigh (the Joint Committee of the Gaeltacht of Uíbh Ráthach) is very active in the various towns in the area, operating in the interest of the development of the locality. Coláiste na Sceilige is closely linked with the Joint Committee, who are concerned with the preservation and promotion of Irish in the area, and the degree to which their support has exerted an influence on Irish in the school as a whole is significant.
The provision made for Irish in the school is commendable, whether in the form of classroom activities or extra-curricular activities. All members of the school community, and indeed the general public of the area, are very supportive of Irish. Generally speaking, the timetable provides very strong support for Irish. It is thought that the time allocation in Transition Year is somewhat inadequate and it was recommended that ways in which Irish might be integrated with other areas of activity should be explored, so that students would have more regular contact with Irish. No effort has been spared to create an environment that promotes the Irish language. The notices displayed throughout the school are bilingual. This is a clear indication that Irish has a special status in the school. In addition, the information printed on the school stationery, and much of the written communication which the school conducts with parents, specifically with parents of incoming students, are in Irish and English. This approach merits high praise as it signifies that Irish is a living language and that the school is competent and willing to function through the medium of Irish.
The Irish teachers have a particular interest in Irish and in activities related to Irish. They have a long-established linkage with the external agencies working for the promotion of the language - especially Comhchoiste Ghaeltacht Uíbh Ráthaigh - and they avail of every opportunity of organising activities with an Irish dimension for the students. The Irish teachers have a particular affinity with Irish and they attach a high value on passing the language on to the next generation. Teachers such as these are a significant asset to any school and praise is due to those teachers who have succeeded in fostering a positive attitude towards Irish among the students in their care.
The post of co-ordinator of Irish is rotated among the team. It is customary for Irish teachers to come together on a formal basis as part of the activities of staff meetings. In addition, they frequently meet informally in order to discuss matters relating specifically to Irish. It is evident from the work practices implemented that these meetings have positive outcomes and that many initiatives have been introduced as a result of the group discussions initiated (e.g. the provision of a central area in which shared teaching and learning resources are available to all teachers; visits from guest speakers on teaching methodologies).
The majority of the Irish teachers have designated classrooms. This arrangement whereby each teacher has a particular space allocated to him/her is of great assistance to the teacher, in that it facilitates the storage and accessibility of learning and teaching aids (e.g. television, tape recorder, shelves for reference books). The school also has a language laboratory and a computer room. It was intimated that only limited use is made of information and communication technology during Irish lessons, as the teachers of Irish have limited experience of ICT. It was brought to the attention of the teachers that it is highly beneficial to link, as far as possible, the activities of the Irish class with the interests and experiences of the students, and it was recommended that they should explore possible ways of setting the students themselves to work with computers and other similar technological equipment.
Fifty-one students have an exemption from the study of Irish. Twenty-six of these are foreign nationals. The balance are students with specific learning difficulties. These students are afforded learning support during periods timetabled for Irish or French/German.
In relation to the Aonad LánGhaelach, timetabling constraints are causing difficulty for school management in continuing with the all-Irish provision in senior classes. However, the senior classes in Mathematics and French, in which Irish is used in preference to English, are indications of the positive attitude towards Irish adopted by certain students. It was indicated that it is not only former students of An tAonad who participate in these classes and all participants are to be commended for maintaining on-going contact with the Irish language.
The types of extra-curricular activities undertaken in the school in the interest of promoting Irish are many and varied. They include visits to the Great Blasket, in-school and inter-school debates, a conversation circle and Gaelic games. It is customary for certain students to spend a three-week period in the Gaeltacht during the summer and the Vocational Education Committee makes a number of scholarships available for students.
Numerous events are organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge. The Transition Year students co-ordinate all of these (question time, basketball competitions), a practice which affords them an opportunity of developing many skills - inter-personal/communication/administrative/planning skills - while operating through the medium of Irish. However, it was felt that in certain instances priority was frequently given to the students or former students of An tAonad as regards participation in various events, and it was recommended that every effort should be made to ensure equal opportunities for participation for all students.
All teachers undertake personal planning. The majority of them made their personal files available, containing an abundance of notes, work sheets and reference sources. They have developed schemes of work, outlining the specific learning objectives for the various classes. All work schemes focus on the main communication skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing - and on discussion topics, with a view to developing these skills. This is the most effective method of assuring, as far as possible, the acquisition of the target language and the teachers are to be complimented on the thoroughness with which they have addressed this issue.
The Irish teachers have, as a department, devoted a great deal of time to the discussion of issues relating to Irish. They have compiled the first draft of a Polasaí Gaeilge and it is now their intention to submit it for consideration by the school community as a whole. A number of teachers, who teach classes in the same year group, meet to discuss long-term planning and to draw up specific learning objectives. This is a commendable approach and extending its application would be worthwhile. Not only would it generate discussion and debate on matters relating to Irish but it would also encourage teachers to consider the implementation of the objectives set. The amount of planning done, in the interest of An tAonad LánGhaelach as a whole, and in the interest of achieving excellence in the standard of Irish among the students in An tAonad, is considerable.
It was recommended to the teachers that they should assemble all the documentation relating to Irish in the form of a file which would be available in a central location. The items which should be stored in this file were outlined, so that it might function as an indication of all that happens in the school in relation to Irish (the school's policy on Irish, general aims and learning objectives, correspondence with outside groups, minutes of departmental meetings, documentation on training courses, teaching resources and suchlike). Not only would such a file be of great assistance to newly appointed teachers or to substitute teachers, but it would also demonstrate to the various parties all that is happening in the school in relation to Irish, both inside and outside the classroom.
A sum of money has been donated by an outside benefactor towards Irish in the school. It was recommended to the teachers that they should discuss resources which might be purchased in order to enhance the learning and teaching experience for both students and teachers, especially ICT (e.g. digital camera, recording equipment, laptop computer, data projector).
There was a pleasant atmosphere in the classes observed. On the whole, it was clear that a positive relationship existed between the teachers and the students under their care. The majority of students enjoyed the lesson and they participated in the class activities eagerly and willingly. The subject matter of lessons related to the range of interests and the experience of students, a factor which greatly enhanced the learning experience. Among the topics discussed were life at work, sports, parts of the body and the school tour. In the case of the senior classes where the works of literature were being reviewed, it was evident that all students had a creditable understanding of the main issues. In one class, the teacher had practised the appropriate language structures with the students beforehand, so that they were capable of expressing orally their personal opinions as regards the poetry. This is a commendable approach as it conveys to students that their opinions matter and this teacher is to be complimented on structuring and conducting Irish classes where a variety topics may be discussed openly.
Irish was the language spoken in all the classes observed. The majority of students had a clear understanding of the teacher's spoken language and in most cases they made a commendable effort to answer the teacher's questions through Irish. Praise is due to those teachers who have succeeded in fostering self-confidence and oral ability in the students for whom they are responsible. It was felt, however, that in certain classes basic inaccuracies were overlooked and teachers of those classes were reminded that regular – even reiterative – practice is essential to the acquisition of language structures. It also evident that insufficient speaking opportunities were being created for the students in instances in which the teachers themselves were doing most of the talking. It was recommended to teachers that they should give consideration to and debate interactive tasks which could be instigated in classes, in order to set the students speaking among themselves, while continuing to focus on a specific objective.
Generally speaking, a positive work ethic characterised the classes visited, particularly in that the teachers and their students sequentially completed the various stages of the lessons. All teachers set their students a variety of activities. This approach is very effective in consolidating what has been learnt. Nevertheless, the danger always remains that an excess of activities could undermine the effective acquisition of language. It was in this context that it was recommended to certain teachers that they should assign students a specific goal during interactive tasks (e.g. identify three main points/devise three factual questions). It was brought to their attention that it would be advisable to give consideration beforehand to the language structures needed in order to complete the task, and that the correct use of these structures should be practised intensively before the students embark on the task.
Overall, the teachers of Irish have made a commendable effort to create a stimulating learning environment e.g. examples of the students' work and activities have been put on display. The manner in which certain classrooms have been decorated with the students' work and with charts illustrating points of grammar and word lists is highly impressive. This is a laudable practice as it is a source of pride for students that their work is considered worthy of being displayed. It is also an effective strategy for motivating students to produce written exercises of a high standard. For these reasons, it is recommended that the practice should be extended and that school events relating to Irish should be publicised on an Irish Notice Board.
Among the resources utilised were the textbook, tape recorder, charts with diagrams and photographs. In one class, highly effective use was made of a chart showing an outline diagram of the body of a student. This opening part of the lesson was followed by an enjoyable activity during which students were required to identify the various body parts. This was an activity which involved the class members working as a group while exercising a variety of skills. It was apparent that this class teacher had implemented a long-established methodology whereby students were accustomed to undertaking practical activities as a matter of course. It was recommended to all teachers that they should integrate even more practical activities in the Irish lesson. They were reminded of their responsibility to enhance the standard of Irish of all the pupils in accordance with their abilities, and it was in respect of this that it was brought to their attention that group work, working in pairs and various such interactive tasks (surveys, making presentations in class, research projects, role playing, drama) are effective strategies for addressing differentiated learning.
The school has a comprehensive system of assessment in place whereby the progress of the students is measured through administering a variety of tests on a regular basis.
The Irish teachers regularly set short examinations for students. It is the practice of some teachers to give students a short oral test at the beginning of each class. This is an effective way of ensuring continuous learning and of reviewing what has been learnt before embarking on the next step in the lesson. The teachers keep a record of the results of these short examinations.
In-house examinations are held for First, Second and Fifth Years at Christmas and in summer. Transition Year students are assessed an a continous basis. A common examination is administered in First Year, a commendable approach which ensures that the major learning objectives are the same for all year groups. Furthermore, it generates discussion and deliberation on the implementation of the syllabus. The students of An tAonad are given an oral examination in summer as part of in-house examinations. It was recommended that this practice should be extended and that recognition would be given in assessments to the oral abilities of all students. In fact, it is probable that it is the students of the 'ordinary' school who are most in need of motivation to improve their spoken Irish.
The students sitting the state examinations do a preliminary examination in the spring. These pre-examinations are worthwhile in that they give experience of the rubrics of the state examinations, of time management and of the layout of the examination paper. Continuous assessment is applied in the case of these students for the rest of the year. Leaving Certificate candidates are given an oral examination by way of preparation and the teachers and school management are to be complimented on making provision for this.
A report is sent home following all the main examinations so as to keep all parties informed as regards the progress being made/already made. Meetings are held between teachers and parents/guardians once a year generally, and twice a year in the case of students involved in state examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Irish enjoys a high status in Coláiste na Sceilige, credit for which must go to all members of the school community and to outside agencies – especially community groups and parents/guardians – and to the positive attitude which they hold in relation to Irish.
· No effort has been spared to create an environment that promotes the Irish language and it is apparent that the school is competent and willing to function through the medium of Irish.
· It is evident from the work practices implemented that the Irish teachers' meetings are productive and that many initiatives have been taken as a result of the discussions initiated.
· The types of extra-curricular activities available in the school in the interest of promoting Irish are many and varied.
· All teachers undertake personal planning as well as participating in discussions with colleagues on matters specifically related to Irish in the school.
· The Irish teachers have compiled the first draft of a Polasaí Gaeilge.
· On the whole, it was clear that a positive relationship existed between the teachers and the students under their care. The majority of students enjoyed the lesson and they participated in the class activities eagerly and willingly. The subject matter of lessons related to the range of interests and experiences of students, a factor which greatly enhanced the learning experience.
· Irish was the language spoken in all the classes observed. The majority of students had a clear understanding of the teacher's spoken language and in most cases they made a commendable effort to answer the teacher's questions through Irish. Praise is due to those teachers who have succeeded in fostering self-confidence and oral competence in the students for whom they are responsible.
· The manner in which certain classrooms have been decorated with a view to creating a stimulating learning environment is highly impressive.
· The school has a comprehensive system of assessment in place whereby the progress of the students is measured through administering a variety of tests on a regular basis.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the Irish teachers, as part of the process of subject planning, should discuss ways of confronting the challenges posed by differentiated learning.
· It is recommended that students should be set practical tasks during the Irish lessons which would afford them opportunities of improving their spoken Irish, while continuing to have regard to the necessity of intensively practising the accurate manipulation of the main language structures.
· It is recommended that account should be taken in the assessment system of the oral competence of every student.
· It is recommended that a greater effort should be made to integrate information and communication technology into the Irish programme.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.