An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Mary’s Academy
Roll number: 61120E
Date of inspection: 25 February 2009
report on the quality of learning and teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mary’s Academy, Carlow. 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 teachers of Irish. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
First year classes in this school are mixed ability. The students are then divided in second year based on summer examination results at the end of first year. It was reported, however, that there is flexibility when it comes to assigning students to classes and that every effort is made to encourage students to remain in higher level for as long as possible. A reasonable number of students take higher level papers for the Junior Certificate but that number decreases significantly for Leaving Certificate examinations. It is recommended that the Irish teachers and school management discuss this issue with a view to substantially increasing the number of students taking higher level at Leaving Certificate.
There is satisfactory provision made for Irish on the school timetable at junior cycle with four periods a week in first year and five periods a week in second and third year. However, Transition Year (TY) students have only two periods of Irish a week. Access to the language for students during this year is insufficient. It is recommended that school management review this provision for the forthcoming year. The provision at senior cycle is satisfactory with five periods a week in fifth and sixth year. There are five teachers involved in the teaching of Irish in the school and they all have years of experience in teaching the subject. There was a substitute present for one of the Irish teachers during the inspection.
Fifty three students out of a total of five hundred and sixty nine students in the school are exempt from studying Irish. Students with exemptions from Irish are encouraged to study the language at an appropriate level if they wish. Some newcomer students avail of this facility and do study the language. Students who have specific difficulties with learning Irish are given extra weekly tuition in order to help them overcome these difficulties. This approach by school management is commended.
The teachers make significant efforts in the school to broaden and develop students’ experience of Irish as a living language outside of Irish classes. Students in second year, TY and fifth year participate in Gael Linn debates which is highly laudable. Also, every effort is made to organise a series of enjoyable and motivational activities for the students during Seachtain na Gaeilge. For example, a poster competition is organised along with poetry, essay and storytelling competitions for different year groups. TY students organise a table quiz for first years and Irish music is played in the school throughout the week. Student groups are brought to an Irish play from time to time when one is staged locally. Moreover, two half scholarships to the Gaeltacht are awarded to students in first and second year. It is planned to take second year students on a week end trip to the Gaeltacht in Co. Meath, and this year, the teachers intend to take the students in TY on a day trip to the Ring Gaeltacht for the first time. The teachers are highly commended for their dedication in organising the aforementioned. These efforts strengthen the perception of Irish as a living language as well as underpinning the work of the teachers in the classroom. It is recommended that the programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular events be developed on a yearly basis so as to ensure that there are varied and interesting activities available for each year group.
The school endeavours to encourage students to attend Gaeltacht summer colleges. The school’s system of awarding scholarships helps to further this aim. It was noted that there is a small growth in the number of students attending colleges in the Gaeltacht in recent years. It is recommended that teachers and school management give parents information on the benefits of these courses as well as information about the courses, both those available locally and those further afield.
Most of the Irish teachers have teacher based classrooms. Although there was a certain amount of material relating to teaching and learning the language on display in the classrooms, this material could be significantly increased. It is important to create an Irish atmosphere in the classes as well as an inspirational and creative environment. There is a substantial amount of resources, posters and materials available at little cost.
There is a certain amount of resources available for teaching and learning the language in the school and they are stored in both the library and in a locker in the staff room. It is recommended that a list of the school’s aids and resources be compiled and made available as part of the plan for the teaching of Irish. It is recommended that teachers be aware of relevant websites such as those of the Second Level Support Service for Irish and of An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, which provide the most up-to-date information about Irish resources on the market.
The Irish teachers meet as a group once a term but it was reported that they also meet on an informal basis approximately once a month. Issues discussed at these meeting include the organisation of Seachtain na Gaeilge, the allocation of students to classes, students switching levels, in-service courses and common examinations.
An Irish planning coordinator is nominated from among the teachers and this responsibility is rotated every second year. This is good practice as it affords all teachers the possibility to undertake a position of leadership in relation to the promotion of Irish and language planning.
A plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was provided during the inspection. The plan includes a description of the aims and objectives of the department as well as general information about the Irish department with class organisation, examination arrangements etc. Schemes of work for each year group and level are also included. In general the schemes of work include details of textbooks for the different year groups as well as lists of topics to be covered. The teachers are to be commended for their work in setting out the current plan. It is recommended, however, that the plan be further developed to include more details regarding various aspects of teaching and learning the language. The plan for teaching and learning Irish should include the following: an introduction providing information about the department; methods of work; data about the year groups and the various levels; a description of the topics to be covered as well as information about teaching methodologies, communication strategies; resources for use in the various classes as well as learning targets and methods of assessment. The plan should also include a section on the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the classes.
A very short plan was presented for TY as part of the overall plan for teaching Irish. It was evident that it involved much revision of topics covered for the Junior Certificate and that a reasonably limited programme was being presented to students. TY affords the teachers the opportunity of teaching Irish in innovative, creative and interesting ways. This year’s planned excursion to the Ring Gaeltacht is a good start but a comprehensive development of the TY plan for Irish is required for next year. It is recommended that the teachers meet to compile a beneficial, enjoyable and interesting programme which would give the students a taste of and an appreciation for Irish as a living language.
Very good planning went into all the classes observed. ICT material was prepared as well as material for the overhead projector, handouts and worksheets, and a film was shown in one class, and in general there was a good pace in the classes resulting from the careful preparations.
Very good use was made of Irish as the language of classroom management, instruction and communication in all the classes observed. Every effort was made to ensure that there was maximum use of the target language in the Irish classes and the teachers are to be praised for their diligence in this regard. It was considered, however, that translation was needlessly employed at certain times. It is recommended that the teachers be careful in relation to this and that they use other strategies to ensure students’ understanding in class. There were other instances, however, when the teachers made every effort not to directly translate from Irish to English and this approach is commendable.
Some students made good attempts in certain classes to answer questions in Irish and to communicate in Irish with the teachers according to their own ability. The students were asked questions continually during the classes and teachers ensured that every student had an opportunity to answer instead of concentrating on those who had raised their hands. Some classes commenced with open questions for the students about their own lives and about other topics of interest to teenagers, which gave them the chance to speak in Irish at the start of the class and this approach is commendable. The teachers set about providing the students other opportunities for communication and various techniques were employed such as pair work, group work and role-play to ensure that regular opportunities were given to students to use the language. This is good practice. It is recommended that these practices should be extended to all classes and that the teachers discuss various communication strategies among themselves so as to come up with techniques suited to different classes at different levels. It was clear that certain students in the school had difficulties in forming simple sentences and in answering simple questions. Experience of speaking the language even at a very simple level is essential for students from first year on. An extra emphasis placed on spoken Irish in the school should help to increase achievement generally. The students were asked to read aloud also in certain classes and good use was made of repetition to ensure that students were able to correctly pronounce new words and phrases.
The teachers were energetic and diligent in the classes observed. The teachers circulated around the classrooms checking the students’ work, questioning them and ascertaining that work was completed. It was clear that a good relationship existed between the teachers and the students and discipline was very good. The teachers were successful in encouraging students to work diligently.
A certain number of resources were used in classes observed. Effective use was made of ICT in some cases observed and the use of an overhead projector and the showing of a film were observed in other instances. This use of resources is highly laudable. It is essential for teachers not to depend exclusively on textbooks and on material photocopied from other textbooks. It is necessary to use a range of materials and resources in the Irish classes to make language learning more relevant and interesting for the students. It is recommended that teachers continue with the practice of using additional resources and that they continue to actively source resources which can be used in Irish classes. The use of resources also helps to contextualise the content of the lesson, especially poetry and prose, for the students which is vital if interest in the language is to be fostered and developed in the students.
Every effort was made to link lesson content with the life of the students in some of the cases observed. One instance was observed where the students were encouraged to attend Gaeltacht colleges and to do the interview for the Gaeltacht scholarships in the school. The way in which students were questioned and in which a video was shown about the subject in order to stimulate student interest in Gaeltacht courses is commended. Email addresses were given to the students so that they could carry out further research at home. This research could be linked to homework so as to ensure that the students looked at the websites and they could be questioned about them the following day. It is also recommended that the students fill out real application forms from summer colleges in class rather than application forms copied from textbooks or workbooks. One case was observed where student learning was based on the theme of sport. A broad range of activities involving sports personalities, games and rules formed the basis of the class. The teacher covered a range of grammar rules and other material using this theme and the approach was effective and enjoyable for students. It is recommended that when pair work takes place, the teachers provide only one worksheet for each pair thus ensuring that the students work together. Full sentences were sought from students as answers to questions in some cases observed. It is recommended that this become normal practice in all classes. Single word answers are not sufficient. Eliciting full sentences from students gives them another opportunity to experience forming simple sentences and develops their knowledge of Irish syntax.
House exams are organised four times a year, in November, at Christmas, at Easter and in the summer. The mock examinations also take place for third and sixth year students in February. First and second years sit their house examinations during class time. Reports are sent home to parents after the various examinations. Common Irish examinations are set, where suitable, and the teachers put a lot of effort into the organisation of these assessments. This good practice is to be commended.
Students’ communication skills are assessed in first, fifth and sixth year. This approach is highly commendable. It is essential to impress upon students from first year onwards the importance of the oral aspect of any language. It is necessary, however, to extend this practice to all year groups and it is recommended that the school assess Irish oral skills in second and third year as well as TY. An oral exam for TY could be linked to the presentation of fáinní as part of the end of year ceremony during which certificates are presented. It is necessary to address the issue of an oral examination for students who are less able in the language, on a phased basis from first to sixth year, building on the oral work in a structured fashion.
A significant amount of work was completed in the copybooks observed and it was evident that homework was assigned and corrected regularly. The copybooks had been carefully and thoroughly corrected in the main, with a mark or a grade, and in some instances, with detailed comments noting the standard of the work and guidance for the student.
The number of students taking the higher level papers for the Junior Certificate is satisfactory although that number is lower than last year (2008). It would be worthwhile to explore ways of substantially increasing the number of students who sit the higher level papers in the Leaving Certificate.
The following are the main strengths identified during the evaluation:
· The work carried out by teachers in the school to develop and broaden the students’ experience of Irish as a living language outside the classroom by providing a programme of
extra-curricular and cross-curricular events is commendable.
· The work carried out to date on the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish is to be commended.
· There was excellent planning for all the Irish classes observed.
· Very good use was made of Irish as the language of classroom management, communication and instruction in all the classes observed.
· Significant efforts were made in the majority of classes to afford the students opportunities for communication in various ways.
· It was clear that a good relationship existed between the teachers and the students and discipline was excellent.
· A range of resources was used to support teaching in the Irish classes observed. This approach is highly commendable.
· Every effort was made to link lesson content with the life of the students in many of the classes observed. This is good practice.
· The teachers are to be commended for the common Irish examination planning in the school. The practice regarding oral examinations for first, fifth and sixth
year is to be commended also.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that school management increase the number of periods for Irish for TY classes.
· More material relating to the teaching and learning of Irish could be displayed in the Irish classrooms in order to create a pleasant and motivational Irish atmosphere.
· It is recommended that the work carried out to date on the programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular events be extended and that more Irish activities and occasions
be added to the school calendar.
· It is recommended that the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish be further developed including significant development of the TY plan.
· It is recommended that work continue on the creation of opportunities for communication in the classes and that the teachers discuss this issue between themselves in order to
find an agreed common approach especially with regard to students who have continual learning difficulties in Irish.
· It is recommended that teachers continue to use and source a range of materials and resources for Irish classes in order to make learning the language more interesting and
relevant for students.
· It is recommended that students’ communicative skills be assessed in every year group.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school accepts the Report as an accurate reflection on the subject, Gaeilge, in St Mary’s Academy CBS
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· The number of class periods for Transition Year has been increased
· An oral test will be included in all assessments
· The plan for Irish has undergone significant development since September 2009
· Materials for display in classrooms are being sourced