An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Mount Merrion, County Dublin
Roll number: 60050E
Date of inspection: 23 January 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Oatlands College, Dublin. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
First year in this school is comprised of mixed-ability classes. The second year students are divided into higher-level and ordinary-level classes for Irish, based on the results of the summer examination and on the wishes of the students and their parents. Second year generally consists of two higher-level classes and one ordinary-level class. Mixed-ability classes are set up again in Transition Year (TY) and subsequently the fifth year students are divided into one higher-level class and two ordinary-level classes, an arrangement which prevails also in sixth year.
There are six teachers involved in teaching Irish in the school and the majority of them have many years of experience in teaching the subject. The teachers rotate between the various classes, thereby affording every teacher opportunities of gaining experience of teaching all age groups at each level. This good practice is commended. Also, in the interests of continuity, an effort is made to ensure that the same teacher remains with the same class in both junior and senior cycles.
Creditable attempts are made to expand and foster the students’ experience of Irish as a living language outside the classroom. Events are organised in the school during Seachtain na Gaeilge and students are taken to view films in Irish in the IFI. In addition, groups of students are brought to productions of ‘An Triail’ each year and students participate in a quiz organised by Feachtas, an Irish youth organisation for teenagers. Last year, a group of students also attended a production by the drama group Fíbín, and it is intended to bring a group of students to a new production by the drama group this year. The teachers’ endeavours in organising co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for the students are commended. Enjoyable and beneficial events and activities reinforce the efforts of the teachers in the classrooms. It is recommended that this work should continue and that the programme of activities should be further extended so as to offer variety and continuity from year to year.
Particular note was taken of the conversation circle organised for sixth year students in which they come together once a week in order to speak Irish. They are given feedback on the progress which they are making, which is important. It is recommended, if possible, that the conversation circle would be extended to include other classes ─ Transition Year, for example ─ in order to give more students an opportunity of speaking Irish in an informal setting outside of class.
Insofar as technological equipment is concerned, the teachers of Irish have a wide range of equipment available to them. Each teacher has a CD-player and a laptop computer. In addition, extra DVD-players and data projectors have been purchased, so that they might be readily available to every teacher. It was not entirely clear what other equipment is available for the teaching and learning of the language, but the teachers intend compiling a register of the materials and resources available for Irish in the school and will provide a list of these for all the teachers of Irish this year. This is a good idea, as it will make it easier for teachers to keep themselves informed as to the resources available in the school. A new school library is to be built and it is the intention that all resources would be made available there in the future. The teachers are to be commended on their participation in this important work of enhancing and registering the resources. The list of materials and resources for Irish should form part of the plan for the teaching and learning of the language.
Some of the teachers have specific classrooms assigned to them. There was a considerable amount of material relating to the teaching and learning of the language on display in some of the classrooms observed. The teachers’ endeavours in relation to this are commended but it is recommended that what has already been done should be further developed and that it should be ensured that new work is regularly put on display and that the work of students should be shown also.
One of the teachers of Irish is nominated to co-ordinate planning for the subject. This responsibility is rotated among the teachers from year to year. This is considered good practice as it affords each teacher an opportunity of playing a leadership role in respect of promoting planning for the language in the school.
Planning meetings for the teachers of Irish are convened at least once per term and it was reported that teachers come together more frequently on a informal basis, as required.
It was apparent from the planning documents made available on the day of the inspection that a significant amount of time and effort had been expended on planning for Irish in recent years. A general description of the organisation and aims of the Irish department was included in the plan. Information was also given on the organisation of events during Seachtain na Gaeilge and on the homework policy. A description was then given of the syllabus for each year group at the various levels, taking account of aims, objectives, a description of aural comprehension, reading comprehension, prose and poetry. Furthermore, information was given on the aspects of grammar to be covered and on accuracy in writing. While all that has been accomplished in relation to planning is commended, the plan could be laid out in a more readable fashion, beginning with the general introduction concerning the Irish department and progressing on to deal, in order, with the various year groups from first year onwards.
The plan could be further developed in order to incorporate a comprehensive description of the teaching methods and aids which could be used with the various classes in order to cover the different themes. It is recommended that the use of information and communications technology (ICT) should constitute a central element of the plan, as well as the list of resources which would be available for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. The Transition Year plan is quite limited at present as regards subject matter and approaches. It is recommended that there should be some discussion on and consideration of the plan for that particular year. TY provides teachers with an opportunity of teaching Irish in novel, creative ways. It is recommended that the teachers should compile an enjoyable, interesting programme for Transition Year, which would give the students an opportunity of experiencing Irish as a living language and place due emphasis on communication skills.
Detailed, comprehensive preparation had been made for all the lessons observed. It was clear that work sheets and schemes of work had been prepared beforehand for use in the classes.
The use of Irish as the language of management, of teaching and of communication was very good in the classes observed. While some teachers made a great effort to avoid translation from Irish to English, there were a few instances where translation was over-used unnecessarily. It is recommended that the teachers should agree on a policy on this matter and that it should constitute an element in the plan for the teaching and learning of the language. The teachers are commended on their efforts to use the target language in class.
The teachers were highly energetic and diligent in teaching the classes observed. It was apparent that a positive relationship existed between the teachers and students, and the discipline was excellent. Teachers circulated around the classrooms correcting the students’ work and ensuring that it was being completed. The students were praised continually for their efforts in class. The teachers were generally successful in getting the students to work diligently.
In a couple of instances observed, use was made of ICT whereby lessons were composed on the computer and presented by means of the data projector. Creditable efforts were made to make the subject matter interesting for the students, and pictures and text were combined on the screen in an effective manner. While not observed during the evaluation, it was reported that computers are used from time to time in other ways; it was stated, for example, that an Irish-learning website was accessed with a number of classes last year. It is recommended that the use of ICT should continue and that an attempt should be made to afford the students an opportunity of using the computers themselves occasionally. There are various websites which could be used by students with a view to advancing their learning of the language. There is an Irish file stored on the school’s website and many questions from examination papers, with sample answers, have been put up on the site by one of the teachers; these can be accessed by the students. This work is praiseworthy. While a number of other resources, other than the textbook, were in use in the Irish classes, it recommended that the number of materials in use in the classes should be expanded so as to make the learning of the language more concrete and more interesting for the students.
The use of pair work in a number of instances observed is commended. Affording students opportunities for communication through organising games, role play, paired work and group work in class, is commendable. It is recommended that these opportunities are provided for all the students on a regular basis. It was felt that students were unwilling to speak the language in some of the classes observed. It is extremely important that the practice of speaking Irish would be inculcated into the classes from first year onwards. In this regard, it is essential that a set of agreed strategies would be adopted by teachers and that the same approach would be implemented by everybody. It is also recommended that students would be encouraged to attend Irish summer colleges. It should not be necessary for students to travel long distances from home in order to attend a Gaeltacht college, if they are unable to do so; they could attend one of the day courses in the city. It would greatly enhance the image of Irish in the eyes of students in general, if a substantial number of them had experience of speaking Irish outside of school. It is recommended to school management that the possibilities in this regard should be brought to the attention of parents, particularly the parents of first year students.
A number of creative approaches to learning were observed in the Irish classes. One instance was noted in which students were asked to send postcards home addressed in Irish. The amount of time which it took for the postcard with its address in Irish to reach the student’s home was calculated. In another case, students were given prizes in class in order to encourage them to work and as a way of introducing humour into the lesson. These stratagems succeeded very well and it was apparent that the students were not only enjoying the lessons but also working hard and learning as well. In another case observed, there was a very satisfactory discussion in progress in the class on a work of literature from the Leaving Certificate course. The students’ views were sought on what was happening in the story and it was clear that their interest was being stimulated in an effective manner. It is recommended that consideration should always be given to alternative methods of teaching and presenting elements of the various courses to the students. It is extremely important also that the context of the story, the poem or the reading comprehension passage would be elucidated for students. If they are informed as to the context of the subject matter in hand, it will certainly be of more interest to them. In a number of instances observed, the subject matter of a lesson was linked to the everyday lives of the students and it was apparent that this approach succeeded in awakening the students’ interest in learning. Where possible, it is essential that the subject matter of a lesson would be linked to the contemporary lives of students.
One class was observed in which a lesson on grammar was being taught. The teacher had invented effective strategies designed to assist students to recall the rules of grammar and this approach is commended. It is recommended, however, that it would be ensured that students are taught how to use the verbs and the rules associated with them in an applied manner, in order that they may be enabled to use them in everyday conversation. In some cases observed, complete sentences were required of students as answers to questions, but in other instances single-word answers were accepted. It is recommended that full sentences would be sought from the students, so as to increase the opportunities given to them of speaking Irish.
Classes were observed in which the subject matter in hand was sub-divided under different activities. This approach is commended. It is important that a range of activities should form part of every class and that students would have an opportunity of practising all the language skills, including the skill of communication.
In-house examinations are organised twice a year, at Christmas and in the summer. In addition, class examinations are regularly administered to the students and the results are included in the end-of-year assessments. It was reported that common Irish examinations are administered in first year, which consists of mixed-ability classes. Common examinations are organised also at Christmas for second year students, for classes at a common level of attainment. The teachers are commended on their work in relation to common examinations. It is important that this type of examination would be administered, if at all possible.
Oral examinations are given to sixth year and Transition Year students. When these are taking place for sixth year students, external examiners are employed and an attempt is made to make them an enjoyable occasion and a small celebration takes place. This approach is highly commended. However, it is recommended that an assessment of the students’ communicative skills should occur from first year onwards. It is essential that the students would understand the importance attaching to this aspect of the learning of the language and that it should be emphasised from the beginning. The teachers could administer oral examinations to one another’s classes, so as to give the students the opportunity of experiencing the speaking of Irish with a person other than their regular class teacher. The marks given to students for oral examinations should be indicated as a separate item in the end of year results in Irish.
Much work had been completed in the copybooks reviewed and the exercises had been corrected very carefully. It was obvious that homework is corrected on a regular basis. It was indicated that the results of the state examinations are analysed annually. Creditable efforts are made in the school to increase, as much as possible, the number of students who take the higher-level papers in the state examinations, having regard to the ability levels of the students. The number of students who take the higher-level papers in the Junior Certificate state examinations has improved greatly in recent years and the number of students who succeed in achieving at the higher level in the Leaving Certificate has improved also. It is recommended to the management and the Irish teachers that they should continue with their efforts to increase the number of students who undertake study at the higher level.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teachers are commended on their endeavours to organise cross-curricular and extra-curricular events for the students, with a view to expanding and developing their experience
of Irish as a living language.
· The work of the teachers in relation to the organisation of the conversation circle for sixth year students is acknowledged.
· The plan to register and list all the materials and resources available for Irish in the school, and to make them available in a central location, is laudable.
· The work that has been done on compiling a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school is praiseworthy.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication in the classes observed was very good and the work of teachers in relation to the use of the target
language is commended.
· The use made of ICT in a number of instances observed is commended.
· Examples of good practice in relation to teaching and implementing a creative approach were noted in some classes observed and the efforts of the teachers to provide interesting
classes for students are deserving of praise.
· The teachers were energetic and diligent in charge of the classes observed. It was apparent that a good relationship existed between them and the students, and the discipline was excellent.
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 programme of extra curricular and co-curricular events for students outside of the Irish classes, should be further developed so that a programme of
events and activities is available throughout the whole year.
· It is recommended that the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish should be further expanded with a view to ensuring that it includes reference to the use of resources, methodologies
and the use of ICT.
· It is recommended that a comprehensive, stimulating programme is made available for the students of Transition Year in order to awaken their interest in the language and to give
them a more wide-ranging experience of Irish as a living language.
· It is recommended that it be ensured that ample opportunities of communicating through Irish is provided for all the classes and that oral competency be assessed from first year
onwards. It is further recommended that the advantages accruing from attendance at an Irish summer college be brought to the attention of students and their parents, in order that
students might gain experience of Irish as a living language.
· It is recommended that an extensive range of stimulating resources is in use in the Irish classes on a continuous basis.
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.
Published February 2010