An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School
Mourne Road, Drimnagh, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60991I
Date of inspection: 20 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School, Drimnagh, Dublin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of the teaching and learning of 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 the students and teachers, examined 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 subject teachers.
The management supports Irish in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School and good provision is made for it.
Four teachers were teaching Irish in the school at the time of this evaluation visit. Each of them had Irish in their degrees and had long experience of teaching the language at the different levels and for the various programmes offered by the school. The management leaves it to the teachers themselves to allocate the different class-levels among them. They have arranged to take the various levels in turn and they usually remain with the same classes until students finish their studies in the different cycles. Such an approach is praiseworthy because it provides continuity for both students and teachers through a number of class-levels and, by exchanging levels, all the teachers are afforded the opportunity of implementing the various courses, which is important for their professional development.
Students take standardised numeracy and literacy (English) tests before they come to the school. Their allocation to mathematics and English classes is based on their performance in these tests. Comprehensive information on the students is requested from their primary schools and their initial assignment to Irish classes is decided on the basis of the information received. This arrangement is not rigid and students are moved as necessary. Although students are assigned to classes according to their abilities, it is possible that students attempting different exam-levels would be in the same classes. In most of the junior cycle classes, some students take part in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). These students study Irish at a level suited to their ability as recommended in Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge but they remain in the same class as their peers. The management and teachers are highly commended for providing equality of opportunity for learning Irish for all junior cycle students.
After the Junior Certificate, the students begin the first year of the established Leaving Certificate or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). One class-group in fifth year was studying Gaeilge Chumarsáideach as part of the LCA. Students always study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the first year of the programme. This is commended as it provides continuity of study with the junior cycle for the students. All possible support is provided for each pupil taking the programme to study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach, including students who are exempt from the study of Irish. The teachers and management are commended for this. Students are assigned to established Leaving Certificate classes according to their ability.
Irish classes are banded on the timetable, for the different year-groups. Such a timetabling practice is commended because it facilitates student access to the class that best serves their needs during their period of study in the junior and senior cycles.
Five class-periods per week are allocated to Irish for each year of the established Leaving Certificate and four class-periods per week for the LCA. The amount of time for Irish and its allocation at senior cycle is satisfactory. Four class-periods per week for Irish are allocated to each class, in each year of the junior cycle. It is recommended that at least one extra period per week be added to this present allocation. The decision to provide an extra class during lunchtime for third-year higher-level students, as happens at present, shows that the need to increase the amount of time for junior cycle Irish is recognised. At both junior and senior cycles, the weekly provision of time for Irish is allocated to all classes on the basis of a single class-period per day. This allocation is commended because it ensures continuity of learning for the students and because they derive greater benefit from a regular daily input of the language.
Support-classes to serve their learning needs are provided, as far as possible, for students who have an exemption from Irish, while their peers are at Irish classes. The management is commended for this arrangement as well as for providing support, as was observed, for students who have an exemption but are interested in a ‘taster’ of Irish. Teachers and management are commended for affording opportunities for the students to experience the use of Irish outside the classroom, by celebrating ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ and by providing Gaeltacht scholarships for a number of students, as has been done through the schools’ participation in DEIS. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish include an account of any events and supports provided for the students, outside of their Irish classes, in the plan for Irish. There was signage in Irish on offices and some classrooms; it is recommended that this practice be extended so that Irish is not limited to the Irish class and that it becomes more visible in the school.
Three of the teachers of Irish had their own classrooms, complete with blackboards, storage presses and notice boards. This facilitated teacher-access to aids and resources during classes. The management provides aids and resources for Irish on request from the teachers. A good supply of aids was available, among them a CD-player in each classroom, and access to a TV set and DVD-player as required. It is worth mentioning that there were some Irish books in the library, which was also functioning as an Irish-language classroom. Although Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities are not available in all classrooms, nor for use with Irish-language class-groups, the teachers themselves have access to computers in the staff-room, where they can use them for planning and preparing their lessons. It was reported that this aspect of provision in the school is scheduled for development and, in this context, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish discuss ways in which they could integrate the use ICT in the teaching and learning of Irish.
It was evident that there was a good level of co-operation among the teachers of Irish and that the management was supportive of them. Time is made available to the teachers of Irish to hold formal meetings up to six times a year; the management is commended for this provision. The teachers of Irish also meet regularly on an informal basis. An agenda is set for each of the formal meetings; minutes of these meetings are kept and submitted to the management. Teachers take it in turn, from meeting to meeting, to co-ordinate the discussion. It is recommended that this practice be altered to allow teachers, in turn, to take responsibility for a year or two, for example, for co-ordinating the work of the department of Irish. The monitoring of students’ progress, along with their performance in house and state examinations, were the main topics reported in the minutes available.
A school-plan for Irish, of a reasonably good standard, was made available. Aims and objectives had been developed as well as plans for the different year-groups, which presented an outline of topics and other aspects of the courses, on a term-by-term basis. It also included a plan of work for the various statements for completion by the students as part of the JCSP. This is a praiseworthy approach. It is recommended that a plan for the LCA be included in the plan.
As a starting point for further work on the plan for Irish as part of the school curriculum, it is recommended that teachers devise an action plan to implement the following recommendations: that an outline of the expected learning outcomes (based on the language skills) at the various levels be developed to guide the work; that the material presented be further developed on a term-by-term basis, and that the plans indicate how the different aspects of the courses (including literature and grammar) are integrated; that the plan contains an account of the methodologies and teaching and learning strategies to be used to achieve the learning outcomes; that the plan indicate the assessment methods to be used in the case of all the language skills (oral Irish included) and that the information on Assessment for Learning (AfL) already presented in the plan be utilised in this work; that a plan be formulated for the classroom language the students need from first year onwards and that a list be compiled of the aids and resources available for the teaching and learning of Irish.
Although individual plans were not available in every case, it was evident that good planning and preparation had been done for the classes observed.
The good level of planning and preparation undertaken for the classes observed ensured that there was continuity between those lessons and the preceding lessons and that lessons were well structured. Work was done on various aspects of the syllabuses and both the material and the methods of presenting it to the students were appropriate to the age groups involved.
At the start of each class, the roll was called and, in most cases, answered in Irish. It is recommended that in all classes the practice of answering the roll in Irish be adopted and that the students be enabled to do that, as was done in certain cases. In some classes, the date was elicited from the students in Irish. Such practices at the start of class help students to settle down for their Irish classes, when they have come from situations in which another language was used as the medium of instruction and communication. It is recommended that, while the students are settling down, a short conversation be conducted on a topical matter, as appropriate. The class objectives and the activities to be undertaken were shared with the students at the beginning of most classes. This is good practice. It is recommended that it be developed in order that the sharing of the expected learning outcomes and the various activities to be undertaken during the class with the students becomes the norm at the outset of all classes.
Work was undertaken, on the various language skills in most of the classes observed and, in some classes, the teaching focused on a single skill. Those cases in which an integrated approach to the development of the language skills was effectively used is highly commended. Such an approach provides opportunities for the students to practice and reinforce what they learn and it also allows for different learning styles. It is recommended that this approach be more widely used, so that no class is focused on a single language skill.
It is also important to link the subject-matter to students’ own experience. Where work was being done on oral Irish, attention was paid to the accuracy of students’ pronunciation and it was sensitively corrected. The blackboard could be effectively used for this kind of work, to provide examples and to help reinforce what students have learned.
Some cases were observed where great help and guidance was given to the students with writing tasks. High praise indeed is due to the case where the preparation made for a writing task encouraged the students to think about the subject set and ask questions to get the full story. This afforded plenty of opportunities for the students to practise asking different forms of question and to develop their listening skills and use their imagination. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used rather than giving the students the necessary material to jot down.
It was evident that there was an emphasis on giving the students a positive experience of learning Irish and on helping them to become independent learners. They were asked to mention words they recognised in a listening text and those words were written on the whiteboard. An excellent example was observed where students were given the responsibility of implementing the whole activity. It was clear that this was of considerable help in nurturing the students’ self-confidence in speaking Irish. In some cases, opportunities were created for the students to co-operate in the learning by, for example, getting them to help one another in playing a game, or asking each other questions in preparation for an oral exam. It is recommended that these practices be more widely used.
Examples were observed of students’ language awareness being developed by, for example, integrating variations in pronunciations according to the different dialects, or points of grammar, into the work at a level suited to students’ needs. It is recommended that this work be continued. In some cases, students demonstrated their understanding of words or phrases by translating them to English. It is recommended that this practice be avoided and that alternative strategies be used which would better promote students’ acquisition of Irish, strategies such as using other Irish words, gesticulation, mime, pictures, or referring to a dictionary. The practice observed in some cases, where questions were posed to the students in order to develop their understanding, is also praiseworthy and should be more widely used.
Irish was used as the language of instruction and communication in the vast majority of the classes observed and it is recommended that this practice be used in all cases. There was a natural flow to the Irish spoken by the students in certain cases, which showed that they were accustomed to speaking the language. Considering the school context, the students need to get as great an input of Irish as possible in their Irish classes.
The atmosphere in all classes was conducive to learning. It was clear that the teachers and students had respect for each other. Questioning at different levels of challenge was used in certain cases. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used, so that students could participate at a level which would challenge them according to their ability and would help their cognitive development. The questioning and the various tasks to be undertaken ensured student participation. The students showed an interest in the work and the majority of them were active in their learning. The teachers moved around among the students, giving individual help. Students were given great praise for their efforts.
In some classrooms there were displays of material in Irish on the walls. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used, especially the display of students’ own work, and that the material displayed be used to support the learning process.
Student learning is assessed through their participation in class, through class tests, and through house examinations conducted twice a year. ‘Mock’ state examinations are conducted in the spring for students in third year and in sixth year. Student achievement is assessed mainly through written papers. Their achievement in aural comprehension tests is taken into account in the case of the majority of year-groups and in some cases, their competence in spoken Irish is included in the results of house exams. It is good practice, in accordance with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses, to assess all the language skills and to include students’ achievement in these in the results of house examinations. It is recommended, therefore, that it becomes the normal practice to assess all the language skills in all classes.
Reports on student achievements in the house examinations and in the ‘mock’ examinations are sent home to the parents. Parent/teacher meetings are held once a year and parents who wish to discuss aspects of their children’s achievements are welcome at other times during the school year too. Parents are also advised to check their children’s homework and sign the homework journal regularly. The school management is commended for encouraging parent participation in the students’ learning.
The work in the copies reviewed in the classes visited was in accordance with the requirements of the syllabuses. The work was being regularly corrected. The students were given credit for work well done. There were notes of praise, grades or marks on the work. It is important to continue this practice of giving credit to students for work well done. Particularly praiseworthy were those cases where guidance was given on how students might improve their work. An information document on Assessment for Learning (AfL) was included with the plan for Irish. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish discuss this document and that they agree an approach to correcting students’ work which would incorporate the good practices already in use in the school.
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.