Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Mayfield Community School
Old Youghal Road, Mayfield, Cork
Roll number: 91400F
Date of inspection: 21 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report was written following a subject inspection at Mayfield Community School, Cork. It sets out the findings of the evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the 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 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.
Mayfield Community School is a co-educational school and the classes are streamed. Students have five Irish classes per week for Junior Certificate and for Leaving Certificate. The Junior Certificate Schools Programme and Transition Year Programme, with four classes per week, is also provided, as is the Leaving Certificate Applied with two classes per week. In addition there is flexibility between certain classes and all students are given every opportunity to achieve the highest level in the subject. It was conveyed that one class per day is the norm, except this year in sixth year, where students have three consecutive classes on Thursdays. It is recommended that this exception be reviewed, as it is best for the students to receive regular daily input.
At the time of the visit, it was calculated that a large number of students had exemption from Irish, under the provisions of Circular M10/94. That said, there are exempted students who are learning Irish, and it is recommended, when appropriate, that this good practice be expanded. This participation has a considerable effect on the learning and self-esteem of every student in the class and as recent research indicates, students from other countries often have good linguistic skills.
The school has five teachers teaching Irish. These teachers have excellent Irish and are very experienced in teaching and in assessing the subject. It is also evident that this committed team of teachers have a keen interest in the school and in the students who attend. Although no specific budget is provided for the teaching of Irish, it is understood from speaking with the teachers and with the management that any needs that may arise are met on request. Particular students are honoured each year and Gaeltacht scholarships are also made available to students. The senior cycle classes visit the Gaeltacht during the school year and again this approach is commended.
The majority of the teachers have permanent classrooms and a range of aids and resources was evident in every classroom observed. A particular room is also assigned for Irish. The teachers are congratulated on the classroom environment and on how well the rooms were decorated with modern posters and in some cases, with students’ work. It was noted that the class computer is used each day for the school roll call. It is recommended that the wider use of information and communication technology (ITC) in the teaching and learning of Irish be reviewed. Each student in each class ought to understand that Irish is a living language in the modern media.
The Irish teachers operate formally as a department. The Irish co-ordinator operates on a rotational basis. It was stated that the department holds formal meetings during the year in addition to informal meetings. The main purpose of the meetings is the selection of textbooks, selecting a common programme, budget, allocation of students to classes and their suitability to the levels at which they study Irish. Information and documentation on these meetings are made available to senior management.
It is clear that planning is conducted in this school. Work schemes and teachers’ personal planning documentation was seen and the school is engaged in the School Development Planning process. It is clear that both management and teachers understand the close relationship between planning and students’ learning outcomes. It is recommended, in order to further develop what has been done to date, that some aspect of teaching the language, such as different ways of promoting the students’ spoken language in the Irish classes, should be specifically targeted. It would be possible, as discussed, to collaboratively prepare a lesson plan and to put it into effect and assess it in light of the students’ learning outcomes. As there is an obvious culture of co-operation and mutual support among the Irish department teachers, an examination of the benefits that would be associated with collaborative teaching is recommended.
It is obvious that the teachers have a keen interest in fostering students’ self-respect. One way of fostering this would be to give students an opportunity to create their own learning environment. Samples of students’ work were seen on the walls of some classrooms and it is recommended that, if possible, this should be replicated in the other rooms. An attractive, encouraging environment greatly impacts on student learning and gives teachers the opportunity to foster students’ self-respect and at the same time cater for their differentiated learning needs. Of course, it would also be possible here, to simultaneously integrate students’ computing and social skills.
Planning and preparation is of a high standard in this school and the teachers and the management deserve to be highly commended.
The lesson content was in keeping with the Department’s syllabus and with the students’ range of interest and abilities. There was good rapport between teachers and students with the occasional good use of humour. Students were praised as often as possible during lessons and the self-respect and self-confidence of students was to the fore in every class. This greatly contributed to the co-operation that could be seen in the learning and teaching process underway. Students were informed of the lesson’s aims at the beginning of classes as is recommended. The lessons observed showed that they had been properly planned and sequenced. The blackboard, worksheets, flashcards and overhead projector were used to maintain focus on the lesson content. As a result of comprehensive planning the lessons had structure and a lively pace.
Use was made of specific themes such as ‘holidays’, ‘shopping’, and ‘an accident’ as well as the themes of the various poems under discussion. It is recommended that this method be used as often as possible as it stands to reason that when specific themes are involved it is possible to integrate all the language skills in one class through different tasks. In addition, opportunity is also provided to introduce communicative methods such as paired work, group work, peer instruction, role-play etc. It was noticed however, that rarely was advantage taken of these communicative opportunities. Every effort was made to use Irish as the medium of instruction and as the normal language of communication in the class and this approach is commended. It was noticed that the majority of students were unable to seek clarification in Irish and it is recommended that the classroom language, required by students, be taken into consideration when planning the teaching of the subject.
In one class that was based on ‘shopping’ various tasks were utilized, for example reading, writing, answering oral questions, working together etc. In this lesson the attention of the junior cycle students was drawn to various shops and the goods they had for sale. Under the clever direction of the teacher and prepared cards the students managed to develop their vocabulary and it was obvious that this feat was achieved with fun and indeed unknowns to themselves. Learning occurs via play and talk and in this class the students acquired not only Irish but also transferable social skills. The very good use derived from the flashcards could be further developed by including images of the shopping goods on the flashcards instead of relying on direct translation.
‘Holidays’ was the theme that another group of students discussed. There was a high quality colour projector slide with questions on holidays and the challenge for the students was to write a postcard. Through questioning and worksheets every effort was made to help the students engage with the assignment. This good practice could be further developed by organising the students to work in pairs from the start, so thay could share their knowledge among themselves and eventually with the whole class. The teacher would then have an opportunity to hear the students’ opinions, fill in whatever gaps, and at the same time provide assistance to particular students. Advantage should be taken of this opportunity, as there was clearly good rapport between the students and their well-prepared teacher. As in other classes the gentle correction of students’ errors in this class helped considerably to create a safe learning environment.
In another class that was observed the students were engaged in a diary entry based on four pictures. Once again, this lesson was well ordered and structured. Worksheets were made available that supported the students in their work. In this class paired work was used for a short period of time and the students obviously enjoyed and benefited from helping one another and practicing their Irish. As a result of this method every student spoke Irish during the class and more importantly, they spoke to each other in the target language. And of course, while the students were engaged in working together the teacher was able to move about and provide help when necessary. Dividing the four pictures among the students who would have to work together to compose a story based on one particular picture could further develop this good practice.
In a senior cycle class the students were engaged with the poem ‘Jack” by Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Firstly, the teacher read the poem aloud followed by the students doing likewise. The students reading skills were of a high standard. Whenever the poem’s language needed to be explained this was given in Irish and this method is commended. Grammar was integrated into the lessons with an appropriate emphasis placed upon its communicative value. The blackboard was also used to present the poem’s keywords to the students. An overhead projector could be put to good use by inviting the students to display the main images and main themes of the poem on projector slides.
Since the school has a data projector and computers it is recommended that the best methods for using information and communication technology (ICT) in the Irish class are investigated. Developments in computers should not be exaggerated. Computers are no substitute for good teaching, but as mentioned above the students would enjoy and benefit from using and learning the language through a modern medium. Senior classes like to make presentations and a great deed would be accomplished if they were allowed to present a review, via powerpoint, on any matter they may be working on at the time. ICT would also facilitate students’ work being displayed.
The school has a homework and assessment policy. The copybooks observed demonstrated that work was conducted on a broad range of material that was in keeping with the requirements of the syllabuses. Through inspecting samples of students’ work it was seen that students’efforts were being corrected by the teachers and occasionally there were notes and guidance to encourage the students. These notes are important and feedback, whether verbal or written, has a great effect on the learner.
In addition to the daily and continuous assessment in the classes, the students are assessed by regular examinations during the year. The students are set formal examinations at Christmas and in summer. Pre-state exams are conducted for third and sixth years in the spring. Twice yearly reports on results achieved by students are sent to parents. Parents can contact teachers during the year.
In the senior classes additional oral tests are set for the students. In the junior classes, it was conveyed that these exams are mainly concerned with writing, reading and listening skills. As is clear from the syllabus the spoken language is at the heart of the syllabus and, of course, listening and speaking are no less important than reading and writing. Therefore, it is recommended that a broader assessment be made of the spoken language among the junior cycle students. The best way to achieve this is by observation and continuous assessment in the classroom. As it is customary for the school to give an annual award a simple certificate could be presented regularly to those who try their best to speak the language and to put a note to this effect in the report sent home.
The following are the main strengths and the areas for development that were identified in the assessment:
The following recommendations are made in order to build on these strengths and to identify areas for development:
· It is recommended that collaborative planning continue and a comprehensive Irish policy be developed with particular emphasis on participation and on the learning and teaching of Irish.
· It is recommended that the classroom terminology needed by the students, should be considered when planning the teaching of the subject.
· Greater emphasis on communicative methods in the classroom is recommended as students learn best when they are actively involved in their own learning.
· Good examples of an encouraging environment were seen in which the students’ work was on display and it is recommended, where appropriate, that this should also occur in the other classrooms.
· Greater use of information and communication technology merits investigation.
· It is recommended that the teachers as a department should examine various methods of assessing the spoken language at junior cycle.
Postassessment meetings were arranged with the Irish teachers and with the Principal at the end of the assessment at which time the draft conclusions and recommendations were presented and discussed.