An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint Colman’s College
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 62260C
Dates of inspection: 3-4 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Colman's College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 learning and teaching. 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, the deputy principal and the teachers of Irish. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without making further comment.
The timetable provides significant support for Irish, particularly in that it ensures daily contact with the target language for the majority of students. First year and Transition Year (TY) students are taught in mixed-ability classes. Students are streamed in accordance with their ability in third, fifth and sixth years. There is banding in second year. This is a new development, first introduced this year. It was intimated that this represents a step towards a system whereby all junior cycle classes will in future be of mixed ability. It should be remembered that the mixed ability class is the most effective system of meeting the individual needs of the whole student body. The teachers were complimented on addressing the challenge posed by this change in the method of distributing students in classes.
Seventeen students have exemption from Irish. Nine of these have learning difficulties and the remainder are either foreign nationals or have received their early education abroad. The low number of students having exemption was noted. These figures indicate that the majority of students and their parents have a positive attitude towards Irish and that the students have acquired a solid foundation in the language.
The Irish teachers convene formal meetings three times a year in order to discuss issues relating to Irish. The minutes of these meetings were reviewed. Among the topics discussed were choosing textbooks, the TY programme, annual schemes, the division of students into classes and extra-curricular events. The attainment of the objectives in the annual schemes is reviewed on an informal basis. It was recommended that the staff of the Irish department should hold meetings more frequently and that the minutes of these meetings should be made available to the school management.
An effort has been made to display signage in Irish. The attractiveness of the signs designed by the TY students was commended. It was felt, however, that there is little evidence of Irish to be seen throughout the school. It was strongly recommended that a policy on bilingual signage should be implemented in the plans to be drafted for a new school building. Meanwhile, it was recommended that some Irish should be included in the students' journals and should also be used in written communication with external parties.
The Irish teachers have been assigned dedicated classrooms, a system which facilitates the storage of resources and which enables the teachers to create a stimulating learning environment. These rooms are equipped with shelving, a tape-recorder/CD player and a press. The majority of teachers have television sets and DVD players, and there is a personal computer in the room of one of the teachers. A data projector is available on request. There are two computer rooms in the school and it is the practice of some teachers to bring their students to them from time to time. The importance of using information and communication technology (ICT), as a means of attracting and motivating students, was drawn to the notice of teachers. It would be advisable that they should be given to understand that Irish has its place in contemporary life, and that activities in Irish create opportunities for the use of a wide range of ICT equipment.
The school management sets a high value on continuing professional development and they encourage all the teachers to continue to develop their teaching skills. Guest speakers are invited to the school in order to provide guidance to the staff on whole-school practices and on classroom practice. Taking account of the major recommendations of this report (see Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations), it is recommended that an input should be sought on how to review the attainment of learning objectives or in relation to Assessment for Learning. A recommendation which emerged from the feedback meeting was that a particular issue relating to the specific group of students who attend this school should be examined:- how best to stimulate and cultivate the opinions and communication abilities of boys from rural areas.
The teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge and they attend its meetings. Three of them have attended the workshop for teachers of first year provided by the Second Level Support Service. They considered the subject matter of the workshop to be very helpful and it was highly encouraging to see some of the strategies recommended at the workshop being implemented in certain classes (see Learning and Teaching).
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students organise the Seachtain na Gaeilge events, with the assistance of the teachers of Irish. These events were being advertised during the evaluation and those who prepared the posters on display are to be commended. A separate event had been organised for each year group – a poster competition, long puck, long kick, a céilí and quizzes.
Further evidence of the goodwill towards Irish which exists among the students is the willingness of many of them to visit the Gaeltacht. During the evaluation, the great majority of second-year students were about to be brought to Corca Dhuibhne for a weekend and it was intimated that a substantial number of students would attend summer courses in Irish Colleges.
The teachers have been involved in subject planning for the past three years. It was reported that the greatest benefit which accrues from the compilation of this documentation is the discussion which it generates.
The Irish file contains the statements and policies of the department, minutes of meetings and information on the timetable for Irish, resources and annual schemes. The work completed to date was praised and guidance was given on those aspects of practice which will need to be addressed in the context of collaborative planning in the future. It was recommended that the annual schemes should be further developed by incorporating in them references to (a) the most frequently used language structures, (b) the class activities which are to be initiated and (c) the resources which are to be used when a particular topic from the syllabus is being covered in class. Teachers were asked to place less emphasis on tasks which feature in state examination papers, particularly in first and second year. For this reason, it was recommended that they should devise lessons in which more extensive use would be made of interactive learning, in order to create opportunities for communication.
Teachers informally review the attainment of the objectives in the annual schemes. It was recommended that a record should be kept of the major findings of every review, so that a clear indication would be given in the Irish file of the learning activities or the learning strategies which were successful during the year and of the challenges which remained to be overcome.
It was felt that the activities of the TY programme resembled too closely the tasks which are to be completed in the examination papers. Teachers were requested to consider alternative ways, apart from essay writing, of giving students experience of creative writing. A film review or a description of a tour could be written, for example. In a similar vein, it was felt that students were practising their speaking skills as if they were preparing for the Leaving Certificate oral examination. It was put to the teachers that the students' speaking skills could be fostered effectively by, for example, involving them in debating or by making presentations to their fellow students.
Eight Irish classes were visited. It was apparent that the majority of teachers had a well-established system of working in operation and that the students were accustomed to the most frequently used methodologies and learning activities. A good work ethic characterised those classes in which the teacher skilfully presented an interesting, lively lesson and, consequently, in which the students participated actively in the various activities initiated. In general, however, it was felt that the range of activities embarked upon was too narrow to meet appropriately the needs of all individual students. It was recommended to the teachers that they should allocate a variety of tasks to the students during class, rather than spending the whole class at one activity only. It might be expected that the various activities would serve to consolidate the language newly acquired by students. In addition, teachers were asked to give as much practice as possible during each lesson in the four skills of language – listening, speaking, reading and writing (cf. Gaeilge don Teastas Sóisearach – Treoirlínte do Mhúinteoirí, p.4: Comhtháthú na Scileanna).
Among the topics discussed were the body, health and illness, a tragic event and pastimes. Prose passages were explored in some classes and other students were preparing for the Leaving Certificate oral Irish examination. For the most part, the students indicated an interest in the topics and the works of literature, and they willingly undertook the tasks assigned. In those instances in which particular difficulty attached to the subject matter of the lesson, it was recommended to teachers that they should make more extensive use of pair work or group activities; these would enable them to move about the classroom, ensuring that the students understood the material while engaged in assisting one another to complete the assigned task.
All the teachers are highly proficient in Irish and they all addressed their students through Irish. In some instances a substantial number of opportunities of speaking were created for the students, and praise was accorded to the resourcefulness of those teachers who initiated interactive tasks in order to encourage communication among students. In these cases the manipulation of relevant speech expressions was effectively reinforced and a positive learning outcome was achieved by the end of class. However, in the main, it was felt that a substantial group of students did not have the confidence to, or were unable to, express themselves in full sentences, to offer opinions or to give a brief description through the medium of Irish. This matter was discussed at length at the post-assessment meeting and it was strongly recommended that the teacher should identify beforehand the language structures which are to be practised in a class, and that learning activities should be initiated during the lesson in order to ensure that students would effectively internalise these structures in accordance with their individual abilities. By way of a guide for teachers while planning class activities, reference was made to the key principle governing the Communicative Approach i.e. that the number of spoken contributions made by the teacher should be less and less as the lesson progresses (cf. Curaclam na Bunscoile, Gaeilge: Teanga. Treoirlínte do Mhúinteoirí, Cur chuige cumarsáideach pp.14-15). It was clear from the practices employed in some classes observed that there is an understanding and experience of the Communicative Approach in the Irish department, and it was recommended that all teachers should openly and frankly deliberate the strategies which they implement in order to involve the students in communication. Possibilities for collaborative teaching arise in this context and some suggestions on the matter were made to teachers and management. These suggestions were accepted and it was indicated that the matter would be further investigated.
Some teachers made exceptionally effective use of a wide range of resources. Not alone was use made of flash cards showing diagrams to stimulate the students' imaginations but the flash cards displaying key words were of great assistance to students when engaged in speaking aloud in class. In addition to the flash cards, the black-/whiteboard, tape recorders, videos, work sheets and photographs from newspapers and magazines were also utilised. The teachers' attention was drawn to the importance of students' notebooks as a personal resource, and for this reason it was recommended that they should introduce a system of working in class whereby all students would keep a personal record of newly-acquired language.
Every effort has been made to create a stimulating learning environment. All the classrooms have been decorated with ready-made posters and with charts containing samples of the students' own work. The posters showing vocabulary lists and points of grammar are of great assistance to both teachers and students.
The assessment policy of the school is being drafted at present. This policy statement will describe the various systems which are in place to assess and record the progress of students, as well as the ways in which this information is communicated to the students themselves and to their parents.
Students are assigned homework every night, whether written work or material to be learned. The homework policy of the department specifies the different ways in which students can consolidate the daily class work. It was felt that the tasks given as homework bore a close resemblance to the questions on the examination papers. It was recommended that other methods of assessing the effectiveness of the teaching should be explored, particularly in the case of junior classes.
The copybooks of some students were reviewed and it was apparent that, by and large, their written work is corrected regularly. The importance of correcting the main language errors was drawn to the attention of teachers and it was recommended that time should be spent on this in class. Some suggestions were made as to how they could initiate interactive tasks whose main objective would be the correction of written work.
Four formal examinations are held during the school year, in November, at Christmas, at Easter and in summer. In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer. The examinations in November and at Christmas involve continuous assessment, in that the overall mark awarded equates to the average of marks gained in class tests. Students due to take the certificate examinations are given preliminary examinations in spring. Reports are sent home following all these examinations.
Formal oral examinations are given to sixth year and TY students. It is the responsibility of each teacher to examine the other classes. Fifth Year students are sometimes examined orally. It was strongly recommended that the speaking abilities of all students should be included as part of the main examinations undertaken.
In addition to sending reports home, meetings are held between parents and teachers and the school journal is utilised in order to keep the relevant parties informed on the progress already made and being made.
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:
(a) the most frequently used language structures;
(b) the activities to be initiated;
(c) the resources to be used.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish, the principal and deputy principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008