An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Inspection of Irish
Coláiste Pobail Chaisleán an Chomair
Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny
Roll number: 91360T
Date of Inspection: 12 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report was written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Pobail Chaisleán an Chomair. It sets out assessment conclusions regarding the quality of the teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the development of the teaching of this subject in the school. This evaluation was carried out over one day in which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work and held discussions with teachers. The inspector reviewed the school’s planning documents and teachers’ written preparations. After the assessment visit, the inspector gave oral feedback on the results of the evaluation to the principal and to the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
First year classes in the school consist of mixed ability classes. Students are streamed for Irish in second year based on the results of the summer examinations and on the student’s own wishes. Every effort is made to persuade students to stay in the higher level classes, if possible. There are usually two higher level and three ordinary level classes in second year and third year but this changes according to the number of students who are prepared to take higher level. For example, there are currently three higher level classes and two ordinary level classes in third year. In the senior cycle classes, there are normally two higher level classes and two ordinary level classes.
There are five Irish teachers in the school all of whom have years of experience in teaching the subject. In recent years the school has been involved in a special initiative called TL 21, in conjunction with the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The Irish teachers have done much work on this initiative in relation to developing and discussing methodologies amongst themselves. A CD ROM of teachers instructing classes was also made and the other teachers were subsequently given the opportunity to discuss the teaching methodologies used. In TL 21, continuous emphasis is also placed on self-assessment teaching skills. Teachers have regular workshops in which they discuss the progress of new methodologies. It was reported that this initiative has helped the teachers to focus on a communicative approach in classes. The teachers’ enthusiasm and interest in this initiative is commended.
Thirty four students in the school are exempt from Irish, from a total of six hundred and forty students. The school has a firm policy in relation to exemptions. If a student is not exempt, he or she must study Irish and no exceptions are made or excuses accepted. This is good practice.
Provision for Irish on the school timetable is satisfactory with five Irish periods per week for Junior Cycle classes, five periods per week for fifth year and six periods per week for sixth year. The additional support given to sixth year via the extra period is highly commended. Transition Year has three periods per week. Management are advised to review this number of periods. It is difficult to provide a comprehensive and interesting programme for Transition Year over three periods per week.
Irish teachers make great endeavours to organise extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities for students in the school. Throughout “Seachtain na Gaeilge” for example, a quiz, céilí, poster competition and Irish circle were organised, and “fáinní” were presented. Another céilí was organised during the year and Branar Teo. was invited to come to the school to give workshops in drama and prose. It is also intended that Maidhc Dainín Ó Sé will visit to give a lecture to the higher level in the senior cycle. An association has been fostered between the school and Coláiste Pobail Osraí, the Irish medium post primary school in Kilkenny, and both schools were jointly involved in the “an Leabhar Mór” (The Great Book of Gaelic) initiative. The writer in residence, Áine Ní Fhoghlú, paid regular visits to the school during the year to give poetry writing workshops, and some of the poems composed were read out at the official opening of an Leabhar Mór. It is also intended to take fifth years to the Gaeltacht on a weekend course this year. The teachers endeavours in respect of these events are highly commended. They enhance the teachers’ work in the classrooms and give students important opportunities to experience Irish as a living language in various situations. The teachers are advised to continue developing this programme of events and to ensure, as far as possible, that events are held during the entire year.
Two rooms are provided for Irish teachers. These rooms are well decorated with posters and other material relating to teaching the language, as well as work done by the students themselves. There is a locker in one of the classrooms in which Irish teaching resources and aids are kept. This system is commended, but it is also recommended that a list be made of the aids and rescources which are available in the school and that this list be added to as and when new material is purchased or supplied.
Learning support is provided to some students in Irish classes, where a second teacher assists students with their work during class. Management’s support in this regard is commended.
One of the Irish teachers is nominated as planning coordinater for the teaching and learning of Irish. This undertaking is rotated every second year and each teacher is given the opportunity to take on this responsibility. This is good practice.
The Irish teachers hold regular meetings. They are given time to meet once a month. In addition, they meet informally at lunchtime from time to time and also have the opportunity to discuss issues at the in-service days and workshops relating to TL 21.
Irish teachers have undertaken a certain amount of work on a plan for the teaching and learning of the language in the school. The influence of the TL 21 initiative is seen in this plan in that it raises a certain amount of questions on methodologies, etc. All work completed to date on the formulation of this plan is commended. It is recommended, however, that further work should now be carried out on the plan and that it should contain a more comprehensive description of methodologies to be used in the various classes and levels, as well as a description of the aids and resources which could be used with other classes. Focussing on strategies to deal with the reluctant learner and on practical ways to stimulate and coax students into using the language during class would also be commendable. It is also recommended that there should be a concise description in the plan of the Irish department’s approach to the use of Irish as the language of managment, teaching and communication in class. It would also be commendable to plan for the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the teaching of Irish.
Work also needs to be done on the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in Transition Year. Transition Year gives teachers the opportunity to use new methodologies in teaching the subject, as well as covering exciting and interesting aspects of subject learning in class. It is recommended in relation to the Transition Year plan, that special emphasis be placed on communication skills and on developing the students’ interest in learning the language through a range of innovative strategies.
Careful preparation had been done for all classes observed. Worksheets and notes were distributed in the classes.
Overall, there was very good use of Irish as the language of mangement, teaching and communication in the classes observed. Clever use was made of various strategies to avoid direct translation from Irish to English and the teachers’ dedication regarding same is highly commended. One case was observed however, in which the use of Irish was quite weak and continuous use was made of translation to English for every Irish word/sentence which was used in class. In these specific instances students spoke entirely in English in the class and this is not at all recommended. The Irish department is advised to devise and set out definite strategies in this regard and it should be part of the plan for teaching and learning Irish that the policy of the Irish department is that Irish is the language of the classroom.
Teachers demanded answers in Irish from students in certain classes observed and this practice is commended. There were some communicative sentences displayed on classroom walls which were set aside for Irish. This is good practice but those sentences must be big enough to be clearly visible to all in the classroom. Students could then make functional use of the sentences during class while communicating with the teacher. It is recommended that this practice be built on and more useful, legible sentences be displayed and that they be used regularly in all Irish classes. Communication opportunities were created for students in some classes observed through initiating working in pairs and drama work. In another case, role-play was underway in a class in which students read out extracts from a play they were rehearsing. This approach is highly recommended but it is advocated that a definite structure is always used for working in pairs and for group work. It is recommended that communication skills be emphasised in all classes through providing students with opportunities to speak. Various devices can be utilised to create these opportunities, e.g. working in pairs, games, role-play and group work, depending on the ability and level of different students.
The teachers were energetic and enthusiastic in the classes observed. Teachers moved around the classrooms speaking with students, ensuring that homework had been done, that classwork was being completed and that students were comfortable with the work in progress. We recommend ensuring that this practice is implemented in all classes. It was felt that there was good communication between students and teachers on the whole. Students were praised for their efforts in class and discipline was good.
The connection made between students’ lives and the subject matter of a lesson in one case observed is commended. It is recommended that an attempt is made in each class to place the subject of the class in a contemporary context for students. It is also recommended taht a wider range of aids and resources is used in teaching Irish. The plan for Irish states that film, music and a variety of aids are used in Irish classes. Apart from one case in which a song was used to make the subject of the lesson more interesting for students, very few other aids were used in classes. We were informed that clips from TG4 programmes were regularly used. Televisions and dvd players are available in almost every classroom in the school. It is recommended that regular use is made of Irish language media to make learning Irish more attractive to students.
The way in which all the language skills were integrated in one case observed, where the students were given the opportunity to read, answer questions, write and listen to the teacher, is recommended. The creation of independent communication opportunities in class would also be highly recommended, especially for higher-level classes in order to ensure that students have the opportunity to practice their conversation skills. The use of dictionaries in one case observed is also commended.
The whiteboard was used in the classes observed to explain new vocabulary and sentences to students. In one case, a grammar lesson had been written on the whiteboard prior to class and reference was made to it during the lesson. Teachers are advised to be aware of grammatical errors and misuse of verbs. It is recommended that common mistakes are identifed and corrected in class, particularly in higher level classes. Teachers are advised to take care with their accuracy in language and pronunciation in classes.
House examinations are held in the school at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to parents after these exams. It was reported that all classes are taught common programmes in first year and this yeargroup is also given common examinations. It is stated in the plan for Irish that discussions are currently in progress regarding common examinations for the same levels in other yeargroups. It is recommended that this is implemented. It is good practice that appropriate classes are given common examinations. It was reported that students are given oral examinations for the first time in fifth year. It is strongly recommended that teachers discuss the possibility of giving students an oral examination from first year onwards. The importance of good communication skills must be impressed upon students from first year.
Students are also given small class examinations during the year. The plan for Irish stated that teachers assess students’ progress through homework, small class examinations and house examinations. Homework was mentioned in the plan as part of the cornerstone of this process. It was evident from the copybooks observed that students’ homework is given and corrected regularly. Teachers are advised to discuss a common strategy for correcting homework, an approach which would ensure that students learn from their mistakes, especially in the case of higher level students.
The following are the main strengths recognised in the evaluation:
· All the work done by Irish teachers regarding TL 21 is acknowledged and commended.
· There is good provision for Irish on the school timetable and managment clearly give full support to the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. The support provided in relation to learning support in certain Irish classes is also commended.
· The excellent work carried out by Irish teachers in providing students with a programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular events to allow them to experience Irish as a living language is highly commended.
· The work completed to date on the plan for teaching and learning Irish in the school is acknowledged.
· The school practice of nominating a teacher every second year as coordinator of planning for the teaching and learning of the subject is commended.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication was very good in the classes observed.
· The efforts made in some classes observed to develop students’ communication skills by creating communication opportunities for them through working in pairs and role-play is commended. <0}
The following major recommendations are made in order to enhance these strengths and identify areas for development:
· It is recommended that the plan for teaching and learning Irish be developed giving further details regarding methodologies, aids and resources to be used in classes, the use of Information and Communication Technology and details in relation to the Irish department’s policy on the use of the target language in class.
· It is also recommended that the plan for Transition Year be further developed.
· It is recommended that communication opportunities be available to students in every Irish class.
· It is recommended that a wider range of aids and resources be used for the teaching and learning of Irish and that the Irish language media is used regularly.
· It is recommended that students’ communication skills be assessed from first year on via informal oral examinations.
Post-assessment meetings were organised with the Irish teachers and with the principal at the end of the evaluation in which draft decisions and recommendations were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board welcomes this report. The board is delighted with the detail the report gives in relation to the whole school support for the subject, to planning and preparation and to teaching and learning. The report praises the professional relationship between the school and St Patrick’s College Maynooth (TL21) and the provision for and the allocation of time to Irish on the school timetable. The report also praises the very good use of the Irish as the language of communication, instruction and management in the classroom. It is clear from the report that excellent work has been done by the Irish teachers to support and develop Irish in the school.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
We will be developing planning processes to ensure the regular use of a range of resources in lessons. Teachers will endeavour to make greater use of ICT in their classes and the “Irish Circle” will be developed further to provide opportunities for communication in Irish to the students. The team can get satisfaction and inspiration from this favourable report. The report demonstrates clearly the hard work and dedication of the teachers in motivating the students and in promoting the Irish language in the school.