An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Wilson’s Hospital School
Multyfarnham, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63300Q
Date of inspection: 30 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Wilson’s Hospital School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of 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 the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, inspected the 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 to the subject-teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Both girls and boys, of Irish and overseas nationality, attend Wilson’s Hospital School, as day students or as boarders. The Irish-teaching staff are dedicated to promoting Irish and preserving its status in the school. There are four teachers of Irish in the school, all having Irish in their degrees and most of them having long experience of teaching the language. The fact that Irish is one of the subjects that students must take in the school scholarship examination is an indication of the management’s support for the language.
Students are allocated to mixed-ability classes in first year and to streamed classes in second, third, fifth and sixth years. It is good practice to have the students in mixed-ability classes in first year and the management and teachers are commended for this arrangement. Students taking Transition Year (TY) are allocated to classes according to their achievements at the various levels in the Junior Certificate examination. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed and that students be allocated to mixed-ability classes, which would accord with the spirit of the TY programme. From first year onwards, Irish classes are timetabled concurrently. The management is commended for making this arrangement which facilitates students’ ease of access to the class that best serves their needs.
The amount of time allocated to Irish in both junior and senior cycles is satisfactory, even generous in the case of TY. A daily Irish class is timetabled for all classes except second years, who have two classes on Mondays, and third years, who have two on Fridays. It is recommended that where five class periods per week are available for Irish, students are allocated one per day because they derive most benefit from a regular daily input in the language.
The management supports the teachers of Irish in availing themselves of opportunities for professional development in the subject and in other areas of education; this support is commendable.
Three of the teachers of Irish have their own classrooms. A collection of reading material in Irish, targeted at teenagers, has been developed and is available to the students. The teachers and management are highly commended for this provision. There are CD/DVD players, television sets, as well as computers with broadband connections in the classrooms. Not all of these resources were functioning properly during the inspection visit, however. The management provided assurance that the problems would be solved. It was reported that teachers use an on-line dictionary and an electronic magazine occasionally, as well as the newspaper Foinse, in their Irish classes. The teachers are commended for the start they have made on using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a teaching and learning tool and it is recommended that they continue to develop their skills and experience in this area. It is also recommended that teachers compile an inventory of the resources and aids they use in the teaching of Irish, that they update it regularly and include it in the plan for the subject.
It was reckoned that 22% (87) of the total number of students in the school had exemptions from Irish. 78% of these are students who got their early education abroad, as defined in section 1(a) of Circular M10//94 and the other 19 have been identified as having various learning difficulties. The management endeavours, as far as possible, to provide appropriate supports for the students who have learning difficulties while Irish classes are in progress and these efforts are praiseworthy. The other students go to the study-hall where they are supervised, during these periods. The management is commended for providing an opportunity for these students to study another subject, such as Geography in the senior cycle, while Irish classes are being taught.
A number of events are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) to develop the students’ experience of Irish language and culture. Among these events are a poster competition, an Irish lunch, an inter-class quiz, dancing classes and ‘poc fada’ competition. During the current year, students attended a production by the Gaeltacht based puppet theatre company Fíbín in a theatre in Moate, and TY students were brought on a trip to Eamhain Mhacha. It is also noteworthy that, as a result of encouragement during Irish classes, students from the school took part in and enjoyed considerable success in the Deis Roc competition on TG4. The teachers and management are highly commended for providing these opportunities to support the students’ learning.
The department of Irish is at the initial stages of developing a plan for Irish as part of the school curriculum. One of the teachers was recently named as co-ordinator for the subject. The management and the teachers are commended for placing the department of Irish on a more formal basis in the school. It is recommended that the responsibilities of the co-ordinator be set out, in co-operation with the management.
The teachers provided schemes of work for their classes and certain aspects of those schemes were of a good standard. They were praiseworthy in particular because it was evident from them that the teachers had thought about how best they might implement the syllabuses and that they catered for a gradual development of learning. They are also commended for having assessment of all the language skills as an integral part of the teaching and learning.
It was evident that there was an emphasis in the TY plan on broadening students’ cultural awareness, as well as their experience of Irish literature. This is commendable. It is recommended that the Irish plan for TY be further developed in accordance with the aims of TY. In this context, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish consider the benefits that students might derive from Punann na dTeangacha Eorpacha (European Language Portfolio) in developing their awareness of themselves as language learners and as independent learners. Further information on Punann na dTeangacha Eorpacha may be accessed at www.tcd.ie/slss/clcs.
The department of Irish should expedite the development of a plan for Irish that would include the long-term plans developed for various year groups and levels. An outline plan already exists, based in particular on the provision made for Irish in the school. In developing the plan it is recommended that the teachers agree aims and objectives for Irish in the school and that these should accord with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses and with the needs of the students in Wilson’s Hospital School regarding the learning of Irish. Furthermore, it is recommended that a framework of the expected learning outcomes at the different stages and levels be set out, and that these be based on the language functions referred to in the syllabuses, and on the different language-skills; that it would be evident from the plans for the different year groups that the development of the various language skills and different aspects of the courses, including language and cultural awareness, would be integrated; that the plan would describe the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies to be used to achieve the expected learning outcomes and to differentiate the subject-matter appropriately, including the use of ICT and the assessment methods to be used; that the plan contain an account of the aids and resources available for Irish and of the co-curricular and extra-curricular events organised to enhance students’ experience of using the language. The plans should be regularly monitored and reviewed.
Good planning and preparation had been done for the majority of the classes observed.
Classes based on a range of topics and language skills, and on various aspects of the courses, were observed. The roll was called and the students answered in Irish at the start of classes; this is good practice. It would be worth conducting a general conversation in Irish, on a topical subject, at the outset, to help students settle into their Irish class, especially when they have come from situations where another language was being used as the medium of communication.
Students had to undertake a variety of tasks in the majority of the classes and, in most cases, the lessons moved along at a suitable pace. It is important always to ensure, when planning a lesson, that the best use is made of the class-contact time available, in order to facilitate students’ progress.
The aim of the class was communicated to the students in a small number of cases. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes, and that it be developed to also include the sharing of expected learning outcomes with students at the start of classes. These learning outcomes could be used as a guide to the tasks being set as homework for students. Additionally, it would be worth setting a few minutes aside at the end of class to ask the students to reflect on what they have learnt and how they learned it.
Particularly praiseworthy was the way in which one of the teachers checked that students had learnt what had been assigned as homework, by devising a game of diagram-labelling. This ensured that the attention of all students was focused on the task and that they were co-operating with one another. In another case, the resources available in the classroom were effectively used to help the students to develop computer related vocabulary, in preparation for a writing task. It is recommended that these practices be more widely used.
In one of the classes observed, the students were encouraged to discuss orally a theme on which a poem to be presented in a subsequent class was based. An appropriate range of questioning styles was used to give every student an opportunity of taking part and to provide extra challenges to cater for students’ diverse abilities. This practice is highly commended. Students were also encouraged to identify links between the theme of the poem and themes dealt with in other literary texts and in their study of the history of literature. This approach is highly commended and it is recommended that the practice of integrating the development of language skills and of various other aspects of the courses be more widely used.
An example of group work was observed. It is recommended that pair work and group work be more widely used as strategies, always ensuring that students understand their role and that a time limit is set for the task so that it can be effectively accomplished. Attention was paid to students’ language awareness in some cases by focusing their attention on points of grammar as they arose in the lesson. This is a praiseworthy approach.
Irish was used as the medium of instruction in all classes, as recommended. In some cases words were explained by translating them to English; it is recommended that this practice be avoided and other strategies be used instead, strategies which would be more effective in promoting students’ language acquisition. In certain cases, students showed a good command of the language and an ability to use an appropriate range of language structures and to discuss concepts according to their level of ability.
There was a positive atmosphere, very supportive of learning, in all the classes and it was evident that the teachers and students respected each other. The students were active in their learning in most cases and in some instances it was clear that they were enjoying their work. In all the classes, students were afforded opportunities of speaking Irish and of developing confidence in using the language; this is commended.
The homework set was in accordance with the content of classes, as recommended. Students’ copybooks were reviewed during the visit and the work was satisfactorily organised in the majority of cases. It was evident that a wide range of content had been covered, in accordance with the requirements of the syllabuses and that, in certain cases, the work was being regularly corrected. This is commended. Particularly praiseworthy was the practice, observed in a few cases, of giving guidance to students on ways of improving their work. It is recommended that this practice be extended and that the teachers agree an approach to correcting students’ work based on Assessment for Learning (McF/AfL). Further information on this may be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
Homework is based mainly on written work, on ‘learning by heart’ and on reading. It is recommended that the other language skills that must be developed be taken into account also, to broaden the range of homework set, by using a variety of media. It is further recommended that the management take account of the needs of boarders, with regard to access to aids and resources during study periods, in any planning they undertake concerning provision in this area.
The teachers of Irish design exams for their classes on an individual basis, even in the case of first years, who are in mixed-ability classes. It is recommended that common exams be devised for all first years and such a practice could be extended to other year groups as appropriate.
Formal house examinations are administered at Christmas and in the summer, as well as ‘mock’ examinations in the second term for students taking the certificate examinations. Reports on students’ achievements are sent home twice a year. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each year group. All the language skills are taken into account in assessing Irish. This practice, which accords with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses, is highly commended. The principal analyses student achievements in the state examinations and compares them to the national averages. This is very good practice and it is recommended that the teachers take this information into account when planning for the subject from year to year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The Irish-teaching staff are committed to promoting Irish in the school and preserving its status.
· The allocation of time to Irish on the timetable is satisfactory.
· The management supports the teachers in availing themselves of professional development opportunities and also support the various events organised for the students to enhance their experience of the language and culture.
· Irish was used as the language of communication in all the classes observed.
· Appropriate steps have been taken to place the department of Irish on a more formal basis and on developing a plan for Irish.
· In the majority of the classes, students had to undertake a variety of tasks and in most cases the lessons moved along at an appropriate pace.
· There was a positive atmosphere, which was very supportive of learning in all the classes and it was evident that the teachers and pupils respected each other.
· All the language skills are taken into account in the assessment of Irish.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The development of a plan for Irish should be expedited as outlined in this report.
· Where classes are allocated five class periods of Irish per week, these class periods should be distributed so that the students get a regular daily input in the language.
· The expected learning outcomes should be shared with the students at the start of class.
· The allocation of TY students to classes according to their ability should be reviewed.
· The practice of correcting students’ work regularly and constructively should be extended.
· When planning for classes, it should always be ensured that the best possible use is made of the contact time available, to promote student progress.
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 January 2009