An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Enniscorthy, County Wexford
Roll number: 63570W
Date of inspection: 13 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Bríde. 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 subject teachers. 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 response.
First year in Coláiste Bríde is composed of mixed-ability classes. All students are given an assessment test before entering school and the school management consults with the primary schools from which they come, in order to be better informed in relation to all aspects of the students’ development. As a result, the school is in a position to place a small group of students, who are experiencing difficulties with Irish, into a separate small class, with a view to enabling them to undertake Irish in the Junior Certificate at ordinary level. If students progress well during first year, they can be moved back into one of the other first year classes. The school management is complimented on providing this additional support for students. In second year, the students are divided into higher-level, ordinary-level and foundation-level classes, based on the end-of-year results in first year. It was reported that a strong emphasis is placed on encouraging as many students as possible to remain in the higher-level classes. Typically, there are three higher-level classes, three ordinary-level classes and one foundation-level class in second year and in third year. Transition Year (TY) is optional and students are placed in two mixed-ability classes in that year. In fifth and in sixth year, there are two higher-level classes, three ordinary-level classes and one foundation-level class. All the classes are taught contemporaneously and it is possible for students to move from one level to another, as appropriate.
The classes in Junior Cycle have four periods of Irish a week. It would be worthwhile for the school management to examine the feasibility of allocating a fifth period during the week, at least in third year. There are only two periods per week allocated to Transition Year and this level of provision is unsatisfactory. It is not possible to provide a sequenced, interesting programme for students and to maintain their contact with the language by means of two periods per week only. The provision for fifth and for sixth year, amounting to five periods per week each, is satisfactory.
There are eight teachers involved in teaching Irish in the school. Seven of these are graduates in the subject or in an associated subject with long years of experience of teaching Irish. It is recommended, if possible, that only qualified teachers should be engaged in teaching the language.
Seventy-seven students in the school, out of a total of seven hundred and eighty-three, have an exemption from the study of Irish. The school is strongly committed to a policy of exhorting and encouraging students, even those holding an exemption, to study Irish at the appropriate level. Thirty students with exemptions are studying Irish at present and the school is justifiably proud of what has been achieved in this regard in recent years. The positive attitude shown by both management and teachers in relation to this matter merits the highest praise.
A considerable effort is made to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge by organising various Irish language events in the school, including a céilidh for first and second years, and a quiz and a poster competition for other year groups. In addition, a social event is organised at lunchtime during the week for students who wish to speak Irish. While this initiative is highly commended, it is felt that it could be more effectively structured. It is recommended that modern Irish music would be played in the background and perhaps that different year groups would be invited to attend on the various days of the week. TY students could assist with the organisation and put on language games for the junior students so as to facilitate communication. That work could be developed and an Irish club established for Transition Year or for the senior classes in the future, where they would be given an opportunity of coming together and practising their Irish regularly. Such an arrangement would be extremely useful particularly for those who would have attended Irish summer courses. It is also recommended that the programme of cross-curricular and extra-curricular events would be expanded over time, in order that an interesting, stimulating programme would be in place throughout the school year.
It was not apparent in the course of the inspection that many students from the school spend time in the Gaeltacht, although a number of teachers who are involved with summer colleges are making every effort to encourage students to enrol in a summer course. It is recommended that parents and students should be made aware of the courses available, both locally in the county and in Gaeltacht districts, and that the advantages to be gained from spending some time on an Irish course in summer should be brought to their attention.
Fifty per cent of the teachers of Irish have teacher based classrooms and the opportunity to create a stimulating learning environment in these rooms has been availed of. The work done in these rooms is commended and it is recommended that this practice should be extended as far as possible.
Teachers are given the opportunity of meeting as a group once a term but it was reported that they come together more frequently on an informal basis whenever a specific issue needs to be discussed. Minutes of meetings in Irish were made available on the day of the evaluation and the following are the matters which are considered at planning meetings for teachers of Irish: the allocation of students to classes, assessment, book lists, keeping the number of students who undertake study at the higher level as high as possible, in-service, examinations, results and resources for the teaching of the language.
A co-ordinator has been nominated for the Irish department. It is generally the most senior and most experienced teacher who accepts this role. In the interest of sharing this responsibility among the teachers, it is recommended that the management should explore the feasibility of rotating this role among the teachers of Irish every second year or so. This would ensure that every teacher would be given an opportunity to play a leadership role in promoting planning for the subject in general.
A plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was made available on the day of the inspection. This plan, which was drawn up by the teachers, is most comprehensive and the work of the teachers in respect of it is highly commended. The plan includes the following: a description of the structure of the Irish department and of how it functions; minutes of meetings; information on assessment; policies on the use of Irish as a target language in class and as a language of communication among the teachers themselves; policies on maintaining the number of students studying at the higher level; yearly plans; a list of resources; an account of in-service courses attended; a policy on homework and common examinations. While the plan as a whole is excellent, it could have included additional data on the resources available in the school for the teaching of the language and on its use in the classes with the different levels and year groups. If there were more time allocated to Irish on the Transition Year timetable, that programme could be expanded and developed more, so as to provide extra opportunities for the students to experience Irish as a living language. The emphasis placed in the plan on the use of Irish as a target language is most laudable and the highlighting of the self-assessment of the teachers’ work, and the work of the department in general, is also commended.
Very detailed, comprehensive planning had been done for all the classes observed. Numerous information sheets and work sheets had been prepared for distribution among the students in class. Time-allocation had also been carefully planned and in one instance, where the class work had been completed before the end of the class period, the teacher had prepared extra work for such an eventuality and effective use was made of the total time available.
The use of Irish as the language of management, of teaching and of communication was excellent in the great majority of classes observed. Teachers made considerable efforts to avoid the use of translation from Irish to English and they are complimented on their diligence in this regard and in regard to the use of the target language in general. There was one instance where too much English was used with the class and it is recommended that this practice would be avoided.
Classes began with the calling of the roll through Irish. In some cases the aim of the lesson was written on the white board or communicated to the students orally. That is a good practice and its use should be extended to all classes. The teachers were active and diligent in their teaching of the classes observed. They circulated among the students encouraging them to work and ensuring that the work was being completed. It was felt that all students were working diligently, although they were somewhat silent in a number of classes observed. It was apparent that a good relationship existed between teachers and students and the discipline was excellent.
The standard of the teaching and learning of Irish in Coláiste Bríde was very high. The manner in which the class time-periods were divided up among various activities is commended. This meant that there was great variety in the Irish classes and, as a result, that the lessons were conducted at a very lively pace. Because of the variety in the activities, the teachers had ample opportunities of practising all the skills of language and this is an effective approach. It was also felt that the continuity between the various lesson tasks was excellent and that one activity followed on from the previous one in a highly effective fashion. In one case observed, for example, the students were discussing a poem. When the students had outlined the narrative of the poem and discussed it in class, an aural comprehension exercise based on the subject matter of the same poem, and prepared by the teacher beforehand, was undertaken. In a number of classes observed, recommendations of the Second Level Support Service for Irish were being implemented, and this is highly commended. It is recommended that the teachers should discuss the recommendations they bring from the in-service courses, so as to facilitate and ensure their implementation in class.
Opportunities for communication were created for students in the majority of classes observed, through the utilisation of strategies such as paired work, role play and group work. A quiz was organised for one class less accomplished in the language and it was successful. The teachers are commended for organising such activities. The majority of students made substantial efforts to participate in the classes and to speak Irish to the teachers. It is extremely important that students would be given opportunities of speaking Irish on a regular basis during Irish lessons. It is recommended that this practice should continue and that the teachers would deliberate various strategies for encouraging all the students to speak regularly in the classes.
A range of teaching resources was utilised during the lessons observed. Teachers used pictures, photographs, music, VIFAX and original documents in class. Effective use was also made of information and communications technology (ICT) in two classes observed and this approach is highly praised. It is extremely important that such technology would be used during Irish lessons, so that the language might be presented to students in an interesting, enjoyable way. It is also important that students would look on the language as a living language, having links to contemporary life and to modern technology. It is recommended that the teachers should continue to search for materials and resources for use in the Irish classes. Teachers made substantial efforts in all the classes observed to place Irish in a contemporary daily context for students, through establishing connections between the subject matter of lessons and the range of interests of students themselves outside of class. Students were asked an abundance of questions in relation to their own lives and they were encouraged to express their opinions on those aspects of teenage life in which they have an interest. This approach is highly commended.
The teaching of grammar was integrated into some of the lessons observed and in certain instances use was made of very ingenious strategies in order to teach grammar in a way which was applied but interesting. For example, students were given photographs of famous places in different countries throughout the world and they were required to name the countries in which they were located. This was a very effective way of teaching students the language structures which they needed. However, it is recommended that errors in the students’ pronunciation would be corrected more regularly without undermining their self-confidence, and also that complete sentences would be sought as answers to questions, in preference to accepting single-word replies only. This type of approach gives students additional practice in composing sentences and in the use of Irish syntax.
In-house examinations are administered twice a year, at Christmas and in summer. Reports are sent home to parents following these examinations. The teachers of Irish organise common examinations for the same levels in the various year groups and this is a sound and praiseworthy practice.
A considerable amount of work had been done in the copybooks reviewed and it was clear that homework is given and corrected on a regular basis. The copybooks examined had been corrected carefully and comprehensively with many references to the quality of the work and to the progress of the student. This is a good practice. The writing of the homework on the white board in many of the classes observed is also commended. This ensures that every student has an opportunity of noting down the homework accurately and there is a much greater probability that the work is done and that time is devoted to it.
At present, oral examinations are administered to the students of Transition Year and of sixth year. Fifth year students are also given oral examinations from time to time. The teachers are commended on their commitment to organising these examinations but it is recommended that the practice would be extended to other year groups. It is essential, from the beginning, that the students would appreciate the importance of the oral aspect of language. It is recommended that oral examinations would be administered to all students in the school from first year onwards and that the marks achieved in these examinations would be indicated as a separate item in the end-of-year results.
The management and the teachers of Irish are commended on their efforts to motivate a large number of students to continue studying at the higher level for the state examinations. The students’ attainments in those examinations are creditable, at both the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate levels.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The support given in first year to students who experience difficulties with the language, by setting up a small separate class for them, is laudable.
· The attitude and actions of the school management and teachers, in relation to encouraging students with exemptions from the study of Irish to undertake the learning of
the language, are commended.
· The work done by teachers as regards organising activities during Seachtain na Gaeilge,is commended.
· A comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of Irish has been drawn up in the school and the emphasis in the plan on the use of the target language and on Irish
as a language of communication is noted.
· Careful planning had been done for the lessons observed in which there was a commendable variety in the activities, and the lessons were accordingly well paced.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, of teaching and of communication was very good in the classes observed.
· The manner in which opportunities for communication were created in class through the use of paired work, role playing and group work, is commended. In addition, it was noted that the
recommendations of the Second Level Support Service for Irish were being implemented in some of the classes.
· The school succeeds in encouraging a large number of students to undertake the higher-level papers in the state examinations and the levels of attainment in those examinations are good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the school management should examine the level of provision for Irish in the Junior Cycle and Transition Year classes, with a view to increasing it.
· It is recommended that the teachers of Irish should augment the programme of events for Seachtain na Gaeilge in order that a more extensive cross-curricular and
ex-curricular programme would be implemented throughout the year.
· It is recommended that the concept of an Irish Club would be further developed so as to structure the idea more effectively.
· It is recommended that the possibilities of regularly rotating the role of the Irish co-ordinator among the teachers would be explored.
· It is recommended that oral Irish examinations would be administered to all the students in the school from first year onwards, in order that the importance of that aspect of the
learning of the language would be brought to their attention and to give them an opportunity of gaining experience of that mode of assessment.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010