An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ballyfermot, Dublin 10
Roll number: 60732H
Date of inspection: 27 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Caritas College. 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 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.
There is good provision and very good support for Irish in Caritas College. It was evident that the teachers, school management and other staff members had an agreed approach to providing positive learning experiences for students in Irish.
There are five fully qualified teachers on the Irish team in the school and their proficiency in the target language is satisfactory. It was clear that the teachers work collaboratively and that they openly engage in discussion on their teaching methodologies. Their openness to the evaluation process was also evicent. While the teachers do not have an input as regards the classes assigned to them, school management makes every effort to ensure continuity for classes in junior cycle and in senior cycle and also to provide teachers, in accordance with their qualifications, with the experience of teaching Irish at the different levels and in the various programmes offered. This is commendable.
The time allocation for Irish and the distribution of classes throughout the week is satisfactory in all cycles and programmes. Management is highly commended for this provision which is supportive of students’ learning.
Students in each year group are streamed. However students may be studying Irish at different levels within some class groups. Furthermore students in two first year classes and in one class in second and third year are participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). The provision of Irish for these students, and for all other students, is as outlined in the Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge. Management and teachers are commended for such provision as it gives students opportunities to study Irish at the level most appropriate to their ability. With this in mind it is recommended that teachers would discuss the possibilities and the advantages students might derive from being assigned to mixed-ability classes, in the first term of first year at least and that they would consider how this arrangement would be extended. One third-year and one sixth-year class is divided between two teachers three times per week. While the reasons for this arrangement for the current academic year are acknowledged, it is recommended that such arrangements be avoided in the future and that the practice of team teaching be developed instead.
Students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied in the first year of the programme. This provides continuity for students’ learning experiences from junior cycle and is commendable.
It was reported that 11% of the total enrolment of 360 students were exempt from the study of Irish. Twenty one of these students had learning difficulties and the majority of the remainder were students who had no understanding of English when they enroled in the school. Management endeavours, in so far as possible, to provide learning support or resource classes, or classes in English as an additional language for these students when Irish is timetabled for their peers. Such an arrangement is commendable. It is noteworthy that students with exemptions but in attendance in Irish classes are encouraged to participate. Teachers are commended for such an approach that supports their vision for Irish as a living language belonging to all.
Teachers have their own classrooms and they use these to good effect to provide space for the development of language and culture in each of the two corridors in which they are located. They also have a storage space for teaching aids and resources which is easily accessible. There were gaps in the provision of available resources for the teaching of Irish. The availability of CD players, televisions and video players was limited to one per corridor. Although the school has a computer room, classes are timetabled on a permanent basis in this room thus restricting the access of other teachers and their classes. Management acknowledged the limitations of the resources available and worthwhile efforts were being undertaken to overcome these difficulties. An interactive whiteboard was being installed in the library at the time of the visit. It was planned that this room would be available for teachers to book in advance for use with their classes. Data projectors had also been purchased and one of these had been assigned to the Irish department. The most effective way to provide at least one laptop for the department was also being considered. These developments are praiseworthy indeed. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish would take account of these developments when planning the delivery of the subject and that they would discuss in particular how they might integrate the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into the other methodologies used. It is recommended, given the development of the use of ICT in the school, that teachers would consider how it could be used to develop, store and share resources. A complete review of the library stock was also underway at the time of the evaluation. Plans were in place to add to the Irish reading books that were available for students. This development is highly commended.
Management and the teachers are lauded for the opportunities they make available to students to add to their experience of the language and culture outside the formal Irish classes. They are particularly commended for the Irish Club that is organised for sixth years at lunch time to provide an opportunity for them to use Irish amongst themselves, for bringing students to Rath Cairn and to see Irish plays. Additionally, three scholarships are awarded through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative to provide opportunities for students to attend summer courses in the Gaeltacht. Seachtain na Gaeilge is celebrated each year. Various competitions are organised during this week to provide as many opportunities as possible for students to participate. The teachers acknowledged that they receive very good support in promoting the language from senior management and other members of the school staff who occasionally speak in Irish to the students. Such support is highly commended.
The teachers of Irish, in turn, co-ordinate the work of the department. This provides each of them with an opportunity to develop their skills and their experience in this role as part of their professional development. It is recomended that they adopt this role for a period of two years, or three at most, so that the co-ordinator would have a good opportunity to achieve specific planning objectives in addition to the usual responsibilities associated with the role of subject co-ordinator in a given school year. The Irish department has three or four formal meetings during the school year in addition to regular informal meetings. An agenda is agreed for all formal meetings and minutes are kept and made available to management. This is very god practice.
Management encourages teachers to avail of professional development opportunities relating to the subject, to education and to the life of the school generally. This includes the workshops arranged by the Second Level Support Service for Irish and for the Leaving Certificate Applied. This is highly commended. It is noteworthy that teachers and first-year students were involved in the testing of e-books for one of the textbook publishing companies. An electronic version of the Irish textbook was included as part of this project and the company was collecting feedback from students and teachers on the effectiveness of the e-books.
Long-term and short-term plans have been developed for Irish. The long-term plans are of very good quality. They provide clear aims and objectives, describe teaching and learning methodologies and strategies, including modes of assessment. These should be updated regularly. The short-term plans are based on year plans and arranged by the topics to be covered in each term. Those plans that indicated they were being monitored and reviewed on a regular basis were of a very good quality. It is recommended that the sequence of topics would be based on students’ needs and experiences rather than the index of topics in a particular textbook. In this regard it is recommended, for example, that ‘An Scoil’ (The school) would be on the programme at the beginning of the first term rather than the second term for first-year students. Additionally, it is recommended that a sequential development from year to year would be evident in the selection of topics and in the various aspects of the courses. The same format applies to topics in the Transition Year plan as in other year groups apart from further development in some areas from what had applied at junior cycle, and also the inclusion on the programme of short films and place names. It is recommended that the development of this programme would continue and as part of it, for example, that students would organise events for Seachtain na Gaeilge under the guidance of the teacher. This would provide real communicative situations for them in the language.
As a guide for the further development of the teaching and learning of Irish, it is recommended that a framework be developed of the expected learning outcomes at different stages and levels and that these would be based on the language functions mentioned in the syllabuses. These could then be used as a guide for the development of learning outcomes for individual classes and as criteria for assessment and should be shared with students. Given that classes are taking the subject at the same level in certain year groups, and that two classes are divided between teachers, there needs to be a greater emphasis on collaborative planning so as to implement the plans in a more integrated manner than at present.
There was very good planning and preparation in place for those classes observed and this ensured that the work was well structured. The teachers of Irish in Caritas College are particularly commended for the clever use they make of the resources available and in particular their creativity and innovation in the development of materials for their classes that were of a very high standard. Other well-selected resources such as a bingo game, a video extract, and texts from newspapers were also provided to assist student learning.
The teaching of Irish in Caritas College was of a very good quality and in discussions with students they indicated that they were making good progress in learning Irish.
In some cases the roll call and responses were in Irish. This is good practice and should be extended. In some instances practice was also observed whereby students were encouraged to provide the date in Irish and this is also commendable. Furthermore, spending a few moments in conversation in Irish on a topical subject at the beginning of class, as occurred in one instance, would be worthwhile, particularly given that students are coming from classes or situations where a language other than Irish is the medium of communication.
In most cases students were informed of the aim of the lesson at the beginning of the class. This is good practice and it is recommended that this would be developed in order that the expected learning outcomes are shared with the students, as well as the various tasks and activities to be completed. This would help to further develop students’ understanding of their learning. In some instances homework or prior learning were checked before focusing on the content of the lesson. This is good practice and should be extended. An opportunity should be availed of at the end of class to allow students to reflect on what they have learned through questioning such as ‘what have you learned today?’ and ‘how did you learn that?’
An appropriate range of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies was employed in all classes. These included games used to support students in learning the language, and particular commendation is due to an instance where a song was used very effectively to teach the past tense to students. Students completed a variety of tasks in all classes and in the majority of cases the transition from one task to the next was seamless. There was a common theme throughout the tasks in most classes and this supported the integration of the language skills as recommended. It was evident that work was taking place on developing those language structures already known by students and on extending their learning.
Very good examples of pair work and group work were observed and it was clear that students were well practiced in this type of work. There was a specific focus to the work, students were given clear instructions and a time restriction was placed on the work in the majority of cases. The pair and group work allowed for differentiation of the content. In one instance students were organised in groups and a copy of a prize-winning essay that had been published in a newspaper was distributed. This was used effectively to consolidate student learning on a particular topic and to encourage them to develop their own thoughts on the subject and to express them orally. It would be worth availing of written samples such as this to draw on students’ ability to recognise good written extracts and to use their ability to critically evaluate while reading. In some instances the pair work and group work provided opportunities for students to ask questions. It is most important for students to be able to ask questions as well as answer them and this practice should be extended. It would be worthwhile spending time enabling students to use the classroom language they require, as had been done very well in some instances, and that this would, for example, form part of the plan for first year.
Teachers are highly commended for the positive learning environment they created in all classes and it was evident that the students in some instances were really enjoying their work. Materials prepared by the teachers themselves and samples of students’ work were to the fore in the content displayed. Teachers and students managed to use this material to support learning and they were used, for example, to support students’ oral communication. Questioning, at varying levels of difficulty, was used to ensure all students’ participation and to provide additional challenges for them, relative to their abilities. In some cases more time should be given to students to answer questions orally. It was evident in classes and in interaction with students that they were eager to learn and to express what they had learned.
Irish was the language of instruction and communication in all classes. Students indicated that this was their everyday experience.
The progress of students is assessed through their participation in class, through class and house examinations as well as through the mock state examinations organised in the second term for students in third year and sixth year. Formal reports on students’ achievements are sent home to parents twice a year. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each year group.
All of the language skills are included in the assessment of students’ learning in the case of most classes. This good practice is very much in keeping with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses. The teachers are highly commended for identifying as an aim the greater emphasis on students’ spoken Irish in assessment by providing a higher percentage of the marks for this aspect. They are particularly commended for their initiative in the development of students’ peer assessment skills by enabling senior cycle students act as oral Irish examiners for junior cycle students. This not only improves student confidence and develops their self-awareness as learners but it also provides them with opportunities to use Irish with other students outside the context of their own classrooms.
The content in those copybooks reviewed during the evaluation was in line with syllabus requirements. As recommended, the assigned homework in each class was based on the content of the lesson. It was evident from the copybooks that homework was regularly corrected. In some cases good guidance was provided for students on how they might improve their work. This is good practice and should be extended. Whole-school assessment and homework policies were not in place at the time of this visit but it is acknowledged that this work was about to be undertaken. In the intervening period it is recommended that the teachers agree a homework and an assessment policy that would encapsulate the developmental needs of the various language skills and that this work would then be included in the whole-school policies. It is recommended that this would include an approach to the assessment and correction of students’ work based on assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available at www.ncca.ie. It is recommended that the policies clearly state their aims, that they would specify the implementation roles and responsibilities of the partners, including those of students, and that the use of the student homework diaries would form part of this.
Teachers analyse the achievements of students in certificate examinations. Such practice is commendable and it would be worth including a brief report of the outcomes of these analyses in the subject plan.
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 where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009