An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
The King’s Hospital
Palmerstown, Dublin 20
Roll number: 60272W
Date of inspection: 8 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in The King’s Hospital. 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 two days 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. 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.
The King’s Hospital is a co-educational school providing boarding and day-school facilities for students from Ireland and abroad.
The Irish language enjoys a very good level of support and provision in the school and much praise is due to the management and the teachers of Irish.
There are six Irish language teachers on the school’s staff, two of whom are employed by the board of management in a private capacity. All of the teachers are fully qualified and five teachers have Irish to degree level. The vast majority of teachers presented a spoken Irish proficiency which was of a satisfactory standard for the purpose of teaching. The management endeavours to provide continuity for teachers in the allocation of classes from second to third year and from fifth to sixth year. The teachers are provided with opportunities to teach Irish in the various programmes and at the different levels in turn. This approach is commendable as it is important that they gain as wide and in-depth an experience as possible of implementing the various syllabuses as part of their continuous professional development.
The management places much emphasis on the continuous professional development of teachers. The list of courses and seminars attended by the teachers indicated a wide variety ranging from courses on the use of technology in the classroom to courses on pedagogy. It would be worthwhile to develop further the records of the various courses attended, and for example to develop forms for feedback. Consideration should be given to the inclusion on the form of prompts which would assist teachers in providing an account of the manner in which their new learning would contribute to teaching and learning in the school.
Much credit is due to the teachers of Irish and management for the comprehensive booklet which has been developed on best practice in teaching and learning Irish. This booklet is made available to newly-appointed teachers in the department or to Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) students as part of their induction programme. In addition, the department is responsible for the provision of a mentoring support for newly-appointed teachers. A structure is thereby provided for the sharing of experience of good practice and new learning.
The provision for Irish in terms of the allocation of time in the senior cycle and in second year of junior cycle is satisfactory. It is recommended that every effort be made to extend the allocation of time for Irish in junior cycle because it is important that students acquire a good basis in the language before embarking on senior cycle. The timetables indicate that provision for second-, fifth- and sixth-year groups includes a double period for Irish. It is recommended that a more even distribution of class periods be provided throughout the week because of the benefits students derive as regards language acquisition from regular inputs.
In order to provide support to students to achieve at the highest level in accordance with their ability, they are allocated to classes on the basis of mixed ability and setting. Students are allocated to mixed-ability classes when they commence in first year. This practice is commendable and it is recommended that it be continued and utilised as far as possible in the junior cycle. In the case of other year groups, students are assigned to classes based on higher or ordinary certificate examination levels. In the case of the Transition Year (TY), however, it is recommended that this practice be reviewed as it is not in accordance with the programme’s philosophy.
Twenty two per cent of the total enrolment is exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with the provisions of Circular M 10/94. The majority of exempted students came from abroad and most of the remaining group presented with special learning needs. It is commendable that the needs of the exempted students are addressed, where possible, when Irish language classes are being conducted. The teachers encourage those students who remain in the Irish classes with their fellow students to participate in the lessons. This practice is very commendable.
Aids and resources of a high standard are available for the teaching of Irish. Included are information and communication technology (ICT) materials and resources of a very high standard. The dedicated Irish language classrooms, which are located in a conspicuous area of the school, add much to the status of the language and provide opportunities to promote an Irish atmosphere. Much credit is due to the management for this provision and to the teachers for their effective use of this valuable space. In addition, there is a very good collection of up-to-date Irish reading books in the school library and the librarian is very aware of sources of supply. The use of the library is available to the teachers for their classes and to the students during their study or research.
The students are provided with sufficient opportunities to use the language and experience the culture outside the classes. A comprehensive programme is scheduled for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week). An Irish Society has been established in the school. In addition, students are informed about summer colleges in the Gaeltacht. When it is opportune, excursions are organised, and during the current year the third-year students travelled to Belfast where they visited An Cultúrlann and an Irish-medium school. On a few occasions during the year, students are taken to a local café to provide them with additional opportunities to use the language in a social setting. Much credit is due to the teachers for their work in promoting Irish, and for providing a positive learning experience for the students, and to the management for its support of the various projects and events.
Very clear planning structures have been established for the teaching and learning of Irish. A post of responsibility has been allocated to the co-ordination of the subject and monthly meetings are convened during which the minutes are recorded. The plan for Irish is of very good quality. Common work plans are set out for the various year groups and for the different levels. This approach is highly commendable. The template used is developed and reviewed on a regular basis. The template used to plan for the subject in the junior-cycle classes for the 2009/10 school year is particularly praiseworthy. This template lays out clearly on a monthly basis the topic, the learning targets/function, the notions, activities and resources to be utilised. This helps to plan for the teaching of the subject in a manner which is intrinsically linked to the fundamental principles of the syllabus, and it is recommended that a similar template be used for the other year groups. It would be of benefit to allocate space in the template where teachers could record reflection or review notes, and also to develop further those items which refer to methodologies and strategies.
Clear aims in line with the Junior and Leaving Certificate syllabuses are laid out in the TY plan for Irish. In order to complete these aims it is recommended that the TY programme’s underlying principles also be taken into account. The material is laid out in the two major sections: requirements and teacher choices. The planning for the various modules in the section on teacher choice and the activity headings culture and History is commendable. Under the History heading for example, work is undertaken on words borrowed from French and on words in English borrowed from Irish. This work is very commendable because it helps the students to develop their language awareness by demonstrating the links which exist between the various languages. A whole-school review of TY is taking place. In the review of the plan for Irish, it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes be identified and that particular emphasis be placed on differentiation in the methodologies and strategies to be used in support of students in mixed-ability classes. It is also recommended that a more comprehensive written account of the various elements of the plan be made available. In the case of grammar, for example, the learning that is required as regards the various tenses should be stated more clearly in a manner which would indicate an incremental development of this aspect. It is also recommended in the case of literary material that an over-emphasis on the Leaving Certificate literature course should be avoided. The required skills could be developed just as effectively by using alternative texts.
The teachers of Irish have developed a comprehensive collection of resources and sample lessons to support the teaching and learning of the subject. These materials are stored in a central place that can be accessed easily by all the teachers when required. This work is highly commended.
Very good planning and preparation was undertaken for most of the classes, and high praise is due to the creativity and innovation involved in the preparation of all the tasks observed. It was evident, that much reflection was devoted to the use of the available aids and resources, and that preparation was being carried out to create differentiated learning experiences for the students, to attend to a variety of learning styles and to promote an integrated approach to the development of the language skills.
In the majority of the classes observed, the teaching and learning of Irish was of very good quality. The planning and preparation helped in these cases to ensure good structure, appropriate pace and to present challenging material to the students.
Rolls were called and answered in Irish in classes and this is commendable. The lesson material and tasks to be undertaken were introduced to the students at the commencement of most classes. Much praise is due in the instance where the students were made aware of what they would have achieved by the end of the class. This helped to provide them with a better understanding of the outcomes of their learning during class. It is recommended that this practice be extended.
Many examples were observed of methodologies which encouraged the students’ active participation being used effectively. It was evident that approaches of this kind were central in the teaching and learning of Irish in the school and accorded with the subject planning undertaken by the Irish department. In one instance of this approach, the students were divided into small groups where they were required to put in correct order a package of sentences from an excerpt of a novel being read by them. In another instance, a series of pictures based on the topic being studied by the students were distributed to them and they were required to put them in sequence to create a continuous story.
Some of the other tasks undertaken by the students in groups also indicated much creativity. In one particular case the students were asked to prepare a news item based on the characters and story in a novel being read by them as part of their class work. In another case, students were asked to compose a story which would demonstrate the characteristics associated with particular literature genres and to relay them to the class. In order to recall prior learning, the students, in yet another case, were given reading material and were required to identify the words which they had learned in the text. All of this work is highly laudable.
ICT was used effectively in half of the lessons observed. In one example it was used to show pictures of characters in a book which had been compiled by the students to assist them when revising the characteristics and character roles in the story. In another case it was used very effectively to show pictures which demonstrated the comparison and contrast between the images in the two poems. It was also used very well to associate the images with the students’ own experience, an activity which encouraged them to speak in Irish. In one other case, it was used very effectively at the end of class to summarise the learning by playing a game based on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It was clear that the students enjoyed and benefited from these learning experiences.
The group work was organised very well in most cases and much praise is due in those cases where clear guidelines were given to the students, where time limits were assigned to the task and were adhered to, where the students had clear roles and where they had the required language to complete the task’s aim through Irish. The instances where sufficient time was allocated to students for feedback purposes are also praised. While feedback is being provided by groups, it would be of value to provide a task to the audience which would direct their attention to the work of their colleagues, and would also encourage peer assessment.
In accordance with good practice, Irish was used as the medium of instruction and as the general language of communication in all classrooms. It was noted on a few occasions when students were questioned in Irish about word meaning or expressions in Irish, they answered in English. It is recommended that the use of translation be avoided in such cases. Grammar was integrated with the work in the majority of classes and such work is an essential element in the development of the students’ ability to communicate effectively. The white board was used in most of the classes to present points of information, answers and new vocabulary to the students. It is recommended that this practice be extended. When work on reading and aural texts is taking place, the opportunity should be availed of to further develop student pronunciation.
Questioning was used very effectively in the majority of classes to ensure student participation, provide additional challenge to them in accordance with their ability and motivate them to defend their opinions and to extend their answers. This practice should be extended in order to add to the amount of Irish being spoken by the students. From time to time during questioning by the teacher, students should be named in order to prevent one cohort of students only from supplying all the answers as occurred in a small number of instances. In all classes homework was based on class work and this is commendable. In one particular class, students were asked to compose questions and this is very commendable because it is important that students would be able to ask questions as well as provide answers to them. On occasion during classes, students posed questions to the teachers in Irish based on the class work and this is highly commended.
The classroom environments were very supportive of learning, and the high standard of the wall-display material is very commendable. The display material included print material, samples of student work and a list of the resources and aids to be used by the students during their study. It was clear that teachers and students enjoyed mutual respect and a very positive rapport was established. The students were praised highly for their efforts.
The assessment practices are of very good quality and assessment is central to the planning for teaching and learning in the school. The teachers of Irish implement the school’s assessment and homework policies. As part of the management structure for the curriculum, the subject co-ordinator reports to the academic head on how work is progressing and on student achievement at the monthly meetings of the academic council. The academic head also reports regularly on the subject to the principal and to management. These structures are highly commended.
The modes of assessment employed accord with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses. At a meeting of the teachers at the beginning of the school year, it was decided that the students’ proficiency in spoken Irish should be considered in the assessment of Irish. This practice, which acknowledges all the main language skills to be developed, is very commendable and the assessment policy should be amended accordingly. The continuous assessment of the students’ work, and the use of assessment results to direct the implementation of the plans, are also highly praiseworthy. As part of this practice, the homework and the participation of students in class are monitored carefully and are used together with class tests to award marks for effort on a monthly basis. In addition, house examinations are conducted at Christmas and in the summer, together with mock examinations in the case of students who are preparing for the certificate examinations. Much credit is due to the teachers for developing and using common assessments in house examinations. Furthermore, the teachers work closely with the special education department to provide additional support to those students who are entitled to reasonable accommodation in the state examinations. The management and teachers are highly commended for this work.
The students’ school diaries, formal school reports and parent-teacher meetings are used to update parents on their children’s progress. The teachers maintain very good records on student achievement, and records of marks awarded in the oral examination should now be recorded clearly in the case of every student and also in the school reports. Student achievement in the house and state examinations is analysed carefully, and the results are used to identify good teaching practices and to maintain high standards. The outcome of the state examination analysis is communicated to parents and the board of management, and the school’s website is used to share it with the general public. This work is very commendable.
Homework is corrected regularly. The instances where the homework given would stimulate students to reflect on their learning and especially on their language awareness by, for example, requesting them to formulate questions on a text are particularly praiseworthy. The material in the copybooks and folders reviewed was in accord with the requirements of the syllabus, and it was clear that the students were making very good progress in their studies. The case in which fifth-year students made their own video as a summary of Clare sa Spéir is particularly noteworthy. Such an approach provides an opportunity to draw together the various learning skills and styles in a creative manner to benefit the learning. Comment notes and marks or grades were recorded in the students’ written work. Those cases in which the students were acknowledged for the work they had completed well or correctly, and where guidance was given as to how to improve on their work, are especially commendable. Assessment for learning is a good practice which assists the students to gain a better understanding of, and identify gaps in, what they have learned.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, February 2010