An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

Saint Marys School, Ennistymon, County Clare

Roll Number: 61950W

 

Date of inspection: 22nd April 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mary’s School, Ennistymon, County Clare. 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 one day 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 subject teachers. The board of management 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.

 

Subject provision and whole support

 

A favourable allocation is given to the teaching and learning of Irish on the timetable in St. Mary’s School. The majority of the year groups in the school have single lesson periods on a daily basis. The first year, second year and Transition Year (TY) classes are mixed ability in nature. The other year groups in the school are divided according to level in the State examination. Additional classes are provided for students who are experiencing difficulties in the learning of Irish. The school management is commended for this provision and for the support given to the teaching and learning of Irish.

 

This year four teachers are involved in the teaching and learning of Irish and all are graduates of the subject. All teachers have experience of teaching at both cycles and at the different certificate levels. This practice is commendable because it ensures that the teachers have the experience and the necessary skills to teach the subject in both cycles. All of the Irish teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. The school has a comprehensive mentoring and induction programme for new teachers. Management gives every encouragement and support to the staff to attend ongoing professional development programmes. A representative of the Irish staff attended an inservice course organised by the Second Level Support Services (SLSS). Over the last few years an inservice course on general education themes, including the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) has been arranged for all staff in the school. This type of professional development is commendable.

 

The department has accumulated a good range of resources and these are added to each year. An Irish section has been introduced recently to the library and it is intended that this section will be further developed annually. Teachers have access to overhead projectors, data projectors, portable computers, interactive whiteboards and a computer room provided these are reserved in advance. There are computers in the staff room also. The website www.cogg.ie. is recommended as a source of suitable teaching and learning materials and resources for post-primary pupils.

 

Students in this school participate in a wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Drama is used to good effect as an experience for students of Irish in St. Mary’s. A variety of drama presentations are, therefore, presented at different times during the school year. Seachtain na Gaeilge is celebrated each year in the school as a whole school cultural event. An Irish award is presented to a junior and senior pupil each year. All students in the school are encouraged to participate in a variety of competitions that are locally organised as part of the Féile na hInse Festival. Many accolades and Gaeltacht scholarships have been awarded to students in these competitions. Students also participate in competitions that are organised nationally, such as film competitions organised by TG4 and a radio programme competition organised by Gael Linn. Those teachers who provide students with these opportunities for personal development and for the development of their cultural awareness through the medium of Irish are commended.

 

Planning and preparation

 

This school has been formally engaged in the school development process (SDP) for some years. The structure of this process was enhanced four years ago when guidelines were drawn up for department meetings and minutes began to be recorded and presented to management. Such an approach is commendable and it is recommended that the Irish teachers would set priorities for the department at the beginning of each school year and that an action plan would be agreed in order to realise these objectives.

 

The department organises a planning meeting at the beginning of each term. Curriculum plans have been developed for all year groups in the school and the minutes of these meetings confirm that these plans are reviewed regularly, in particular for first and second year students. This year a greater emphasis has been placed on oral Irish competence for these two year groups, including both receptive and productive skills. The teachers are highly commended for this approach. The subject plans for first and second years are arranged thematically and these themes are taught with a focus on all the language skills as suggested in the syllabus guidelines. It is recommended that this thematic integration be used as a framework for subject planning for all year groups. It is also recommended that those aspects of school planning pertaining to teaching methodologies, particularly differentiated teaching approaches and the Irish department’s communication with the learning support team, be further developed.

 

Good cross-curricular planning has been conducted by the department and it is commendable that strong links have been developed between Irish and students’ experiences in other subjects.  It is recommended that consideration be given to the opportunities for creating links between Irish and other target languages that are being taught in the school.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Short term planning and preparation was of a high standard in the case of all teachers inspected. In general lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. There was very good preparation in the form of work sheets, notes, sample essays, props and PowerPoint slides. In line with good practise all of these learning resources provided for the range of learning styles in each class. The staff members are highly commended for their diligence in regard to individual planning and preparation. Teachers made students aware of the teaching and learning objectives at appropriate times during the lessons. Very effective clarification was provided for these in one class where the learning objectives were recorded on the board.

 

All teachers demonstrated a high standard of class management. Good and courteous behaviour was encouraged on an ongoing basis.  The teachers had a good knowledge of the students in their care and this greatly enhanced the interaction in classrooms. The respect that teachers and pupils had for each other was evident. Students were always affirmed and encouraging feedback was given for the quality of the answers they provided.

 

Effective teaching and learning strategies were used which gave students the opportunity to engage with the content of the lessons.  In some particular classes the four main language skills were thematically integrated across various aspects of the course. This approach provided for variety in the lesson. In one class a balance was achieved between the input of the teacher and the activities of the students whereby the presentation altered from whole class teaching to individual work on worksheets. Specific vocabulary and structures were consolidated through language games. In another class drama was used to good effect to practise basic conversation using puppets as props. Students were eager to participate in this task and they practiced the conversations in pairs in various dialects. Students were motivated by this approach and student learning in terms of receptive and productive skills was evident. In another class, where group work was taking place, pairs were formed based on ability groupings. The task was clearly explained in advance and a pre-prepared worksheet was used as an oral frame for the task. A very good level of peer learning was taking place in these groups. It is recommended that this good practice be further developed by prearranging a time allocation for the group work as well as providing groups with the opportunity to display what has been learned as part of a debriefing session at the end of the lesson. These active methodologies are highly commendable as they place the emphasis on the creation of communicative situations for the learning of Irish. It is recommended that this good practice be shared with all staff as an alternative approach to teacher-led instruction being central to lessons.

 

All teachers used questioning effectively to encourage students to participate in the classes and to connect the theme of the lesson to students’ life experiences. PowerPoint presentations were used in two classes, and these were closely connected to the lives of the students in terms of content and the use of ICT. Such practice is commendable. Students were asked to read in certain classes and very good pre-skill work was conducted on vocabulary and on pronunciation which helped to ensure that the reading task was appropriate for the range of abilities of the students. This type of preparatory work, both in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation, should be undertaken before any exercise of language production. It would be advisable that this approach be used more widely, a technique recommended at the inservice courses delivered by the SLSS which were recently attended by representatives of the department.

 

Irish was the language used for all classroom interaction. Such an approach is commendable because very often the teacher is the only exemplar of pronunciation and correct use of the language that students have. Students were at ease with the vocabulary of the classroom and with phrases such as ‘How do you spell that?’, ‘Underline it’ and ‘Say that again please’ and this is good practice in any Irish class. Generally students had a good standard of Irish as well as a good understanding of the subject matter being covered and they willingly participated in the target language when they were given an opportunity.  The majority of teachers skilfully simplified the vocabulary which avoided the overuse of the translational method as well as focussing students’ attention on issues of pronunciation and spelling in the communicative context of an extract rather than as single entities. In some classes students themselves corrected their own errors or those of their fellow students. It is recommended that this good practice in regard to peer assessment in language teaching be extended to all members of staff. All teachers made efforts to enrich students’ vocabulary and encouraged students to provide an alternative expression for a word or phrase in the target language. This practice is commendable and it is recommended, in order to further extend students’ vocabulary, that learning strategies be explicitly taught to maximise the potential for vocabulary development for all students.  The key words of the lessons and new vocabulary were clearly recorded as they were encountered in lessons. This approach is commendable because such recording strengthens students’ competence in vocabulary and spelling on an ongoing basis.

 

Although the Irish teachers do not have their own base classrooms several examples of the language were visually evident in classrooms. This display of students’ work in Irish is commended because it enhances the status of the language in the minds of the students and it improves students’ self-confidence in regard to Irish. Some notices in Irish were also displayed throughout the school.  It is recommended that the diligence of the Irish department and the good will of management be synergised to ensure that notices of a more permanent nature are part of students’ experience of Irish in St. Mary’s.

 

Assessment

 

The school has developed a homework policy and a homework diary system is operating for all students apart from Transition Year students. The class teacher oversees the homework diary once a fortnight and they are also signed by parents or guardians on a regular basis. It is recommended that the benefits of having such diaries be explored and that all students in the school be made aware of their potential. The random sample of diaries observed indicated that homework was regularly given but the emphasis was placed on written work and on learning. It is recommended that all language skills be included in the tasks assigned as this reinforces the ability of the students in all skills rather than prioritising any particular one. The homework was frequently recorded bilingually. Those teachers who avail of the opportunity to use the recording of homework as an opportunity of teaching and learning are commended.

 

A sample of copybooks observed during the inspection indicated that comprehensive work had been done on a range of topics in line with the syllabus requirements. Continuity was observed in the work in copybooks and a good level of development was evident. In the majority of cases teachers corrections were developmental and they gave the student clear guidance in terms of work that had been completed well and also advice on how to improve weaker aspects of the work. Some copybooks included the use of marking schemes of the State Examinations Commission (SEC). These teachers are highly commended for their diligence in regard to the standard of corrections. In other copybooks the number of errors that had been corrected in a single piece of writing removed the ownership for the work from the student.  It is recommended that the department reflect on the value of corrections to ensure that the correcting process doesn’t have a negative effect on the intrinsic motivation levels of the learner. In a small number of copybooks, however, the work of students was merely being monitored, including substantial pieces of work. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed immediately. Some copybooks also had long extracts in English side by side with Irish and it is recommended that the overuse of translation also be reviewed. It was reported that corrections are used as a diagnostic tool of students’ grammar and spelling errors and that lessons are taught based on this analysis. The staff is commended for this approach because it provides individual clarification for particular errors as well as explaining common errors at different levels. One of the priorities the Irish department has identified this year is to conduct some research on aspects of assessment for learning. The staff is highly commended for being proactive in the development of assessment instruments. As part of this research and discussion amongst the department it would be advisable to come to an agreed decision on correction procedures that the department employs for the learning of Irish.

 

The summative assessment includes a combination of common house examinations conducted four times per year for all non State examinations students in the school and continuous assessment. Reports are issued to homes based on these assessments.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Favourable timetable allocation and good support is provided for the teaching and learning of Irish.

·         Students in the school participate in a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.

·         Good planning work has been done and ongoing review and development are features of the work of the department.

·         Short term planning and preparation was of a very high standard in the case of all teachers.

·         Effective teaching and learning techniques were used in all classes observed during the inspection period.

·         The department has developed systematic approaches for homework and for assessment.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         It is recommended that further development take place on those aspects of planning pertaining to teaching and learning methodologies, communication between the Irish teachers and the learning support team and the annual development of an action plan for the subject by the department.

·         It is recommended that the effective methodologies already employed in the department be more widely used by all teachers.

·         It is recommended that the department would have agreed procedures in regard to corrections provided for students in the learning of Irish.

·         It is recommended that a greater balance be given to all the language skills in homework, in assessment and in the reports issued to homes.

 

 

{0>Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of [insert name of SUBJECT] and with the principal [or deputy principal, delete as appropriate] at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.<}88{>A post-evaluation meeting was 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 January 2009

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management welcomes the positive report on the teaching of Irish in Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon.

 

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

All recommendations will be implemented.