An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Meánscoil Iognáid Rís
Drimnagh Castle, Walkinstown, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60480G
Date of inspection: 4 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Iognáid Rís, Drimnagh Castle, Dublin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of the subject in the school. This evaluation was carried out over two days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and with the teachers, inspected the students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparations. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation, to the principal and to 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.
There is good support for Irish in the school and good provision is made for it.
Students are allocated to mixed-ability classes in two bands in the first term of first year. Following the Christmas tests, the students are placed in streamed classes within the bands and students generally stay in these classes for the remainder of the junior cycle. Some of the Irish classes are timetabled concurrently and this facilitates students’ opportunities to change levels if necessary. Students are again allocated to streamed classes for fifth and sixth years. There is one mixed-ability class group in Transition Year (TY). It is recommended that the management, in consultation with the teachers, review the allocation of students to streamed classes at such an early stage in the junior cycle.
The time allocated to Irish for TY, fifth year and sixth year is satisfactory. The timetables indicate that four class periods per week are allocated to most of the junior cycle classes and, in only a few cases, a fifth period is provided. It is recommended that the time allocated to Irish in junior cycle be increased, so that every class would have five class periods per week for one year of the cycle at the very least. The distribution of the class periods for Irish throughout the week is satisfactory in the case of the majority of the classes in various year groups. A small number of classes have more than one class period of Irish on some days. In the case of one class, students have two Irish classes on Thursday and again on Friday. It is recommended that the management ensure that no class has more than one class period of Irish on any given day. The students will derive greater benefit from a regular daily input of the language and it is also easier to plan and prepare for classes that are distributed evenly on the timetable.
There are seven teachers of Irish in the school this year, the majority of them having Irish in their degrees. It is also worth mentioning that most of them have a very good level of competence in the language. The management deserves great praise for their support of teachers wishing to avail themselves of opportunities for professional development, workshops offered by the Second Level Support Service for Irish among them. A good provision of aids and resources is available for the teaching of Irish in the school. Among these are the school’s language laboratory and a computer-room which is available to the teachers, as well as a CD-player provided for each teacher. Publications such as Foinse and Lá are used in class, as well as excerpts from TG4 programmes. The use of these resources is praiseworthy.
The co-curricular events organised for Irish and the cross-curricular planning undertaken indicate that worthwhile efforts are made to broaden and develop students’ experience of the language and culture, even in situations outside the formal Irish class. This work is highly commended. A good range of events is organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge and information on summer colleges in the Gaeltacht is provided for students. At the time of this inspection visit, the teachers were planning a three-day visit to the Corca Dhuibhne (West Kerry) Gaeltacht for a group of students. The teachers are highly commended for providing this opportunity for the students. It was evident from the school stationery also that Irish is afforded recognition and status in the school.
The school is involved in the school-development planning process. The department of Irish has been established and one of the teachers co-ordinates the work. The teachers have developed a good framework for their plan for Irish. The department of Irish holds regular meetings, on a formal basis, during the school-year, to engage in the development of the plan for Irish. The special focus the teachers of Irish bring to bear on developing student motivation and raising standards further is commended. The teachers also discuss students’ progress, examinations and resources at their meetings. It is recommended that this work be continued and that the teachers also share their experience of language-teaching methodologies at their meetings.
In further development of the plan for Irish, it is recommended that the aims already laid out be further developed so that they correspond more closely to the needs of the students in the school; that the plan objectives be developed; that both long-term and short-term plans be developed for the various year groups and levels; and that the plan contain an account of the various activities relevant to Irish which are organised in the school to enhance students’ language and cultural awareness. In the context of this work, it is also recommended that the expected learning outcomes at the different stages be set out, taking account of all the language skills, and that the work be based on the language functions outlined in the syllabuses. It is further recommended that an account be compiled of the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies used. Among these should be included ways of implementing differentiation and the modes of assessment used to assess the different language skills, as well as the benefit that might be derived from the school’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities. It would also be advisable to include evidence of any monitoring and review activities undertaken in the plan.
The quality of planning and preparation done for the majority of the classes observed was very good.
The roll was called and answered in Irish and a conversation in Irish on general topics was conducted at the outset of some of the classes observed. It is important to always call the roll and that, as well as conducting a conversation on a topical subject, is a good way of helping students to settle into an Irish class, especially where they have come from situations where another language was the medium of communication. It is recommended that the practice be more extensively used. In some cases, the aim of the lesson was communicated to the students at the outset and this, too, is good practice. To develop this aspect further, it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes be shared with the students at the start of class. Furthermore, it would be advisable to provide an opportunity at the end of class for the students to reflect on their learning.
In all classes observed, the students had to undertake a variety of tasks. Particularly praiseworthy was the case where a common theme ran through the tasks involved. This helped to integrate the development of various language skills and to accommodate different styles of learning. Some examples of pair work were observed and it is recommended that this approach to tasks be more widely used. It is necessary to ensure that a definite time limit is set for the tasks set for students, as was done in some cases. In a particular case pair work was used to help the students take on different roles, as practice for their oral examination; this is praiseworthy indeed. The example observed where pair work was used to develop students’ skills and understanding of sentence structure, by means of a task requiring them to work in pairs to compose a story based on verbs and phrases provided on a worksheet, is highly commended. Also praiseworthy was the effective use made of a language game, based on key words, to develop students’ listening skills and to reinforce their learning. These exercises also helped to encourage co-operative learning among students.
In every class observed, teachers handled grammar in a way that suited the students. It is recommended that teachers continue with this approach. A few cases were observed where students were asked to formulate questions. This is highly commended because of the importance of empowering students to take an active part in any conversation and because it affords them opportunities of handling and mastering a wider range of language structures. Opportunities were created, in certain cases, for the students to speak Irish in class, for example by answering questions asked, or reading aloud a story composed as a result of a task set. It is very important that strategies such as these be more widely used so that more Irish would be heard from the students themselves and in order to develop their confidence and ability in using the spoken language. It is necessary also to ensure that every student gets an opportunity to speak, as happened in the majority of cases, and that different styles of questioning are used, to challenge students appropriately, according to their ability.
In some of the classes, translation to English was used to explain vocabulary or phraseology to the students. In a certain case, a well-chosen poem was presented to the students, but it was dealt with initially as a translation task and then as a reading-comprehension task. It must be remembered that a poem should be dealt with firstly as a piece of poetry. Some examples were observed of the use of other effective strategies to help develop students’ understanding of language, by mime and gesticulation, for example. It is recommended that such strategies be more extensively used and that they and other strategies, such as explanation through the use of pictures and dictionaries, be used, to avoid over-use of translation.
Although Irish was to the fore as a medium of communication in the classes observed, it was obvious that, in some cases, this was not the norm. It is recommended that Irish be used as the normal medium of communication and instruction in all classes. Students’ efforts were appropriately praised in all classes. In the vast majority of classes, there was a very good rapport between the teachers and students and the atmosphere was supportive of learning. It is recommended that examples of students’ work and printed matter in Irish be displayed on the walls to create an environment supportive of the teaching and learning of Irish and that these displays be regularly updated.
Students’ work is assessed during the school year through homework, through their participation in class, as well as through class tests and house examinations. ‘Mock’ examinations are set, in the second term, for students taking the state examinations at the end of the school year. Reports on student achievements are sent home twice a year and contact is also made with home through the students’ school journal. Parent-teacher meetings, where parents/guardians have the opportunity of discussing their children’s progress, are organised once a year for each year group.
The teachers are highly commended for the common plans they prepare for the first term of first year and for the common test set for the students, before they are re-allocated to appropriate classes after Christmas. It is recommended that this practice be extended to other year groups. Those cases in which continuous assessment is used are praiseworthy also.
All the language skills are taken into account when students’ work is being assessed. This is good practice, which closely accords with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses. Highly commendable also is the teachers’ practice of exchanging Leaving Certificate classes in order to conduct ‘mock’ oral examinations with the students, as part of the preparation for the official orals. It is also recommended that the teachers explore and discuss what benefit TY students, for example, would derive from using The European Language Portfolio in developing their language skills. It would help them to gain a better understanding of themselves as language learners, as well as supporting the development of their skills as independent learners.
Homework and assessment policies for the school were being developed at the time of this inspection visit. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish ensure that these policies meet the needs of the subject, taking into account that a variety of language skills must be developed.
The material in the copybooks inspected accorded with the needs of the syllabuses. It was obvious, in certain cases, that the work was being regularly corrected. It is good practice to correct students’ work regularly. As part of the work being undertaken on assessment and homework policies, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish agree an approach to the type of correction to be done on students’ work. Students should get recognition for work well or accurately done, as was the case in some instances, and they should be given guidance on ways in which they might improve their work and make better progress. In this context, it is recommended that Assessment for Learning (AfL) be taken into account in dealing with this aspect of the work. Further information on AfL is available on www.ncca.ie.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008