An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

Dundalk Grammar School

Dundalk, County Louth

Roll number: 63920A

 

Date of inspection: 30 January 2009

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dundalk Grammar School. 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 to the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Irish enjoys a high status on the educational programmes in Dundalk Grammar School. The headmaster has full confidence in the ability of the teachers of Irish and the teachers bring a positive attitude, enthusiasm and commitment to their work. Within the Irish department there are teachers who have wide experience of teaching Irish in this school and in other schools, including an all-Irish school. In addition, teachers provide exemplars of language accuracy and fluency of speech to students. School management offers good timetabled provision for the subject in both junior and senior cycles. Five periods are provided weekly for Irish in the case of four of the six year groups in the school. Four periods are provided weekly in second year with three periods for Transition Year (TY), which is a compulsory programme. A review of timetabled arrangements for the subject, especially in the case of two class groups in first year, is recommended. As obtains at present on two days per week these class groups do not have any class contact for Irish because Irish is timetabled for two periods on two days of the week. A further two class groups in first year do not have class contact on one day per week because Irish is timetabled for two periods on one particular day. In the case of all class groups in the two years of Leaving Certificate there is one day per week with no class contact because classes are timetabled for a double period one day a week. In the course of the review particular attention should be given to the first case referred to above.

 

In the current school year 2008/09 Dundalk Grammar School has an enrolment of 501 students and of these fifteen per cent have an exemption from studying Irish. School authorities grant exemptions under the provisions of Circular M10/94. Approximately one third of all exemptions granted are to newcomer students whose mother tongue is neither English nor Irish and the majority of the remainder have learning difficulties. It was reported that a small number of students have decided not to exercise their entitlement to an exemption from Irish even though they are in receipt of a psychological report which recommends an exemption on grounds of a specific learning difficulty. Students with an exemption from Irish do not attend Irish classes and thus do not intrude in any way on the activities in the Irish classes.

 

In general Irish is not very visible in the school environment however five of the six teachers of Irish are classroom based.  Those rooms are well decorated with stimulating materials which add to the learning atmosphere and create a supportive environment for the subject. During Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) events are organised as an additional recognition of the language throughout the school. Students are encouraged to enter the Irish essay competition in the newspaper Foinse. One of the major prizes in this competition has been won by a student from Dundalk Grammar School which is an inspiration to other students and a source of encouragement to the teachers themselves. One of the Irish teachers has been appointed editor of the school’s annual magazine ‘Spotlight’ which includes material in Irish. It is recommended that students be invited to contribute further work to the magazine where recognition for their efforts is provided.

 

Approximately ten per cent of students studying Irish attend summer courses in the Gaeltacht colleges. TY students are offered an optional three-day visit to the Connemara and Aran Islands’ Gaeltacht. Students also attend stage productions of literature on the Leaving Certificate course. One of the co-curricular events provided is Irish drama workshops. From time to time students are entered for Gael Linn debates. Last year students from Dundalk Grammar School participated in an Irish programme on BBC Northern Ireland. All these efforts to provide Irish to students in a context other than within the Irish lesson are highly commended.

 

Five of the six teachers of Irish have obtained a degree in Irish. School management supports teacher continuing professional development and the records of these activities show that full use is being made of the second level support service for Irish. The distribution of which class level to teach is left to teachers themselves who decide on the levels they will teach and almost all of the teachers have experience of teaching higher level. Opportunities for teachers to work together in partnership are limited and efforts to this end are ongoing in TY. Teachers welcomed the inspector’s recommendation to observe each other’s practice at various times during the year. It is recommended that such opportunities be facilitated and that teachers work together more closely in the future. For example, specialisation in certain aspects of teaching the subject could be promoted and particular elements of courses being taught to the same year groups could be shared.

 

All first year students are assigned to mixed-ability classes and from the beginning of second year onwards classes are formed corresponding to the different levels in the subject. From second to sixth years Irish classes are timetabled concurrently. These arrangements ensure that students who may wish to change subject level are facilitated to do so without any difficulty. Teachers encourage as many students as possible to undertake higher level and very few students undertake foundation level. A significant number of students undertake higher level Irish in Junior Certificate and that number decreases in Leaving Certificate. Efforts are made to maintain the number of students undertaking Leaving Certificate higher level as high as possible. For example, in TY all students who sat higher level Irish in the Junior Certificate examination are assigned to a higher level class even those who indicate a desire to undertake ordinary level in Leaving Certificate. This effort to maintain the maximum number of students engaged in studying the subject at the highest level is commended.

 

School management is supportive of requests for resources for the subject. Beneficial use is made of publications such as Foinse, Dréimire, Céim and teachers avail of authentic texts from various websites. Information and communication technology (ICT) resources for the subject are being increased. The Irish department has received a digital projector, another one is available on loan and another personal one is in use in the department. Two of the teachers use the electronic resource, Vifax, from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. It is recommended that the current ongoing efforts to increase the use of ICT resources in teaching and learning be built upon.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Activities in the Irish department are well managed. Time is allocated for subject meetings three times in the course of the year and teachers meet on other occasions in their own time. At present a senior teacher co-ordinates the subject and all other members of the department are willing to take on this responsibility on their turn. A specific folder is maintained with copies of essential documents: the Irish syllabuses; teacher guidelines; chief examiners’ reports; circular letters from the Department of Education and Science and the circular letter from the State Examinations Commission concerning the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate. All this illustrates the level of organisation in the co-ordination work.

 

Subject plans for all year groups in the school were provided to the inspector. Teachers confirm that they work together collaboratively to agree, review and amend subject plans. Clear guidance is available to teachers from these plans so as to facilitate the implementation of a common teaching programme in the different levels of the subject. Consequently, a good account is provided in the plans of the programme content to be covered with each class level in each year. It is good to note the attention given to timescales in each case as a guideline for teachers of when to complete the work. A good foundation has been laid for the planning work and this should now be built upon. The TY plan is good and is in keeping with the aims of that programme concerning the inclusion of innovation in the learning experiences. The aims, objectives and teaching methodologies are recorded appropriately.

 

Individual teacher planning work reviewed by the inspector was to be commended. It was evident from that planning work that teachers have an excellent understanding of the abilities and of the learning needs of their students. Minutes of planning meetings included a record of discussions which took place on the teaching strategies which were demonstrated on in-service days presented by the second level support service. It is recommended that all teachers avail of the opportunity to attend these courses in addition to the three teachers who have attended to date. Efforts made to invite first and third year students to the lunch-time showing of the TG4 soap, ‘Aifric’ for teenagers, are highly commended. This is a good illustration of the extra efforts being made to engage students in the language for its own sake.

 

The following recommendations are made in order to implement improvements in the common subject plans. It would be worthwhile to include a short introduction with a description of class composition, year on year, to show how students engage with the subject. It would also be worth including in the plan a summary of the timetable for all the Irish classes, year on year. This information would enable teachers to plan for collaboration within the department.

 

It is recommended that the learning outcomes expected from students at the end of the course in all classes be included. In other words, it would be good to include an account of the type and standard of work students will learn in the four skills areas of the language – namely writing, speaking, reading and listening comprehension. Exemplars of the students’ own work could be included in the plan as a reference resource. In this regard a useful guide is to be found in the European Council publication European Languages Portfolio. It is recommended that thought be given to trialling the language pass in that publication in TY. This approach would positively promote the concept of taking responsibility for their own learning among students in that year.

 

As a means of illustrating collaborative planning among teachers, in both the long and short term,

it is recommended that a specific paragraph be inserted in the subject plans to show which aspect of the development of the subject teachers will focus on in any academic year or over a period of years. This is already detailed in the minutes of the planning meetings. It would be worthwhile including it in the plan. For example, if the focus is the promotion of oral work or the further integration of ICT resources in teaching then the corresponding methodologies to be used should be stated. It would not be sufficient to include the heading simply. All resources available for the subject should be stated in the plan and teachers should have access to those resources.

  

Teaching and learning

 

During the inspection visit six Irish lessons were observed, evenly divided between junior and senior cycles. These lessons were well prepared. This high level of preparation was evident, not alone from the amount of extra material distributed in some lessons as a help to students, but above all, from the structure of the lessons and from the variety of the learning activities. Linkages with the work of previous lessons were evident. This connection was obvious from the questions posed at the beginning of the lessons as revision of that work and as preparation for advancing a further stage in the learning process. It was also evident that teachers had already reflected on the learning outcomes which they wished to achieve with the students and, in each case, they were mindful of accomplishing this by the end of the lesson. The content of all lessons was well chosen in so far as the material reflected the interests of the students themselves. In almost all cases the aim of the lesson was clear and it was evident in each case that a teaching structure had been well planned in advance. As a general practice it would be good to share the aim of the lesson with students at the beginning to encourage them to focus on the lesson objective during the period.

 

A good deal of use was made of ICT resources in the lessons which helped to increase student interest and make the presentation more enjoyable. For example, in a lesson in senior cycle a poem by Máirtín Ó Direáin was discussed. A PowerPoint presentation of photographs of the Aran Islands and of Dublin was shown as a stimulus to students of alienation which is the theme of that poem. For a short while, as a respite from the content of the poem, mention was made of a segment from the television comedy Fr. Ted where there is a scene of a boat wrecked on Inis Oírr. Students responded to this stimulus with enthusiasm. This was followed by the showing of a short segment from a documentary film about Inis Mór which gave an insight into the life of the people of the Aran Islands. This gave students a better understanding of island life as lived in the era depicted in the poem. Even though the laptop failed later on in the lesson it did not affect the activities of the lesson. The teacher distributed a questionnaire to review the theme and the vocabulary of the poem. The theme of the poem was developed effectively and students were asked to engage with the theme of the poem as it applied to their own life. This work was challenging. However, students responded well to the challenge of expressing themselves.

 

In a senior cycle higher level lesson the teacher showed a short item from a news broadcast from TG4 concerning unemployment issues that obtain in Ireland at present. This material was topical and up to date. The item concerned well-known companies throughout the country who were letting employees go. Among the companies mentioned was a story about the closing down of a well-known supermarket in Dundalk itself, a story with which the students were familiar. This short item was used very effectively to hone the listening comprehension skills of students based on material that was closely related to the experiences of the students themselves. Students were set to work in groups to find various points of information from the item which was played a few times. Later on focus was directed to the vocabulary of the report and keywords and idioms from the report were noted down. It was evident that students found it quite challenging to engage with the language of the report.  However, as the item was played a few times, they succeeded in understanding the sense of the report without depending on translation to English. The management of this lesson is highly commended. It is recommended that teachers regularly make use of items such as these and that dictation be given on these extracts in order to ensure student aural understanding of the vocabulary and of how to write down the words.

 

In yet another senior cycle lesson use was made of ICT resources to illustrate global warming. This material had already been started in a previous lesson. As the teacher called the roll students had to reply by giving a point of information or expressing an opinion on global warming, rather than merely answering ‘here’. High quality pictures were distributed as a guide for group work. A class survey had already been completed and use was made of that information to add to the discussion. In recognition of their efforts student work was being organised for display on the classroom walls. A class quiz on the theme of ‘green environment’ had been prepared as one of the activities of the lesson. Students were active in their learning during this lesson and it was obvious that they were very taken with the theme they were working on. It would be worthwhile accessing teaching and learning resources in Irish on themes such as these. The website www.trocaire.org is recommended.

 

In a junior cycle lesson use was made of a data projector as a stimulus for conversation and to engage with current news items. Photographs of the Taoiseach, the President of the United States and of the RTE news logo were shown. Pictures of other famous people were shown as an extra stimulus. A listening comprehension item relating to social problems was played and, in order to help students, the teacher distributed keywords from the report on prompt cards. Later, when that work was finished the cards were collected however students were asked to compose sentences containing those keywords. This entire lesson was lively, interesting and challenging with discussion at the outset on major news items which, at the time, were to the fore in the broadcast and print media. It is recommended not to set out too much for students to come to grips with in any one lesson and to give them additional time to engage with a more limited range of content materials.

   

Excellent work was done with weak students in junior cycle to encourage them to take an active part in the activities of the lesson. To this end a segment from the TG4 programme Aifric was shown as a stimulus. Later in the lesson students practised a song from the same programme and they did this with gusto. Students were enthusiastic and impatient to take part in these activities. This was a great credit to the teacher who was very competent and very creative in directing and managing the students. The lesson continued with imaginative work in grammar and students eagerly undertook a verb quiz. It is recommended that the amount of English translation used to facilitate student understanding of the content be curtailed. In interactions with the inspector in due course it was notable that students spontaneously translated the questions aloud to English, as a first step in answering the inspector’s questions. It is recommended that teachers discuss translation as a teaching and learning methodology. At best, this approach should have only a secondary place. Guidelines on the use of translation should be included in the subject plan.

 

In a particular lesson in junior cycle where ICT resources were not used, the teacher was very effective in the management of the students in speaking the language. This lesson was a good example of specific talents which particular teachers have in teaching certain aspects of a subject.  It is on the basis of this premise that the previous recommendation in this report concerning teachers visiting each other’s classes was made. In this particular lesson the teacher succeeded in engaging students in speaking the language effectively and this outcome was achieved using only the whiteboard, an affirming personality and humour. Throughout the lesson attention was paid to accuracy in the language without lessening the enjoyment that students derived from the activities of the lesson. In the course of the lesson the teacher subtly focused attention on the proper use of the plural of nouns and the first person present tense of verbs as used by students. This lesson is commended for the pace of the dialogue with students and for successfully encouraging students to participate actively in discussions. 

 

There was great variety in the activities of all lessons observed. All the principal language skills were practised and these efforts succeeded in engaging students with the language and in students being able to express themselves in the language. In all cases students were fully co-operative with their teachers and a positive atmosphere obtained in all these lessons. The dedication, preparation and stimulating presentations evident in all the lessons observed are commended.

 

 

Assessment

 

Recognition is afforded to Irish as it is one of the subjects included in the scholarship examinations arranged for applicants for a place in first year. This is another illustration of the positive status of Irish in Dundalk Grammar School. The entrance scholarship examination in Irish consists of a written paper only.

 

In the past year significant development has taken place in the type of assessment in use in the subject in junior cycle house examinations. Student competence in speaking the language is now included in assessment in first and second years. Twenty per cent of the total marks are awarded to this section of the examination. Assessment of spoken Irish will be developed for other year groups by degrees. These changes are commended. It is recommended that the mark for the oral competence would increase progressively to forty per cent, as is set out for the certificate examinations. The model of assessment in use to date is an oral examination with each individual student. It would be worthwhile to try other models of assessment, for example, continuous assessment of efforts made by students to engage with the spoken language during all lessons. From time to time teachers could swop their class groups within the same year so as to obtain a second opinion on the oral competence of students. This particular approach would have the advantage of focusing attention continuously on the spoken language as a common practice in lessons, rather than linking this essential language skill to an end-of-term examination which can be prepared for by means of topics which it is possible to predict.

 

To date there has been little discussion on entering students for the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate. It is recommended that this issue be discussed in order to ensure consistency, if possible, between the type of assessment being carried out in house examinations and the model available in the Irish examination in the Junior Certificate, if the optional oral examination were to be included.

 

Teachers are considering assessment for learning. This is evident from the affirming comments written by teachers on student work in copybooks. A very good standard was noted in the copybooks examined in relation to the amount, type and tidiness of the work they contained. As in the lessons, the same care and attention was evident in the copybooks in relation to composition and reading comprehension materials and their content was in keeping with the interest range of students. This attention brings vitality and originality to the work. At the end of a unit of work examinations are organised and results are carefully recorded in teacher diaries.

 

Statistics relating to student participation and achievement rates in the subject in the certificate examinations over a number of years were provided. The statistics regarding participation rates in the Junior Certificate higher level examination are encouraging. It would be worthwhile to keep under review the strategies that are in place which seek to increase the number of students undertaking higher level Irish in Leaving Certificate. The success of these efforts would be a fitting recompense for the dedication of the teachers of Irish in Dundalk Grammar School. It is recommended that greater priority be given to those statistics in the subject plan as a reference point for the status of the subject and as guidelines for developing further strategies.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The headmaster has full confidence in the ability of the teachers of Irish and the teachers bring a positive attitude, enthusiasm and commitment to their work.
  • School management ensures good timetabled provision for the subject in both junior and senior cycles.
  • Five of the six teachers of Irish have their own classrooms which are well decorated with stimulating materials which add to the learning atmosphere and the supportive environment for the subject.
  • Good efforts are made to provide students with co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in Irish in another context outside the Irish lesson.
  • Teachers encourage the greatest possible number of students to undertake higher level and seek to maintain that high number engaged with the subject at the highest level.
  • School management is supportive of requests for resources for the subject and information and communication technology (ICT) resources for the subject are increasing.
  • Activities in the Irish department are well managed, in relation to the provision of essential documents and subject plans.
  • A good foundation has been laid for subject planning and the TY plan is in keeping with the objectives of that programme as regards the inclusion of innovation in the learning experiences.
  • Teachers were clear about the learning outcomes expected in their teaching and the content of all lessons was well chosen and topical.
  • There was widespread use of ICT resources in the lessons observed, such as, data projectors, PowerPoint presentations, and segments from programmes from TG4.
  • All the principal language skills were practised and these efforts succeeded in engaging students with the language and in students being able to express themselves in the language.
  • For the past year assessment of student competence in speaking the language is included in house examinations in the junior cycle.

 

 

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

 

  • It is recommended that a review of timetabled arrangements for the subject be carried out in order to provide a daily lesson, rather than the current arrangements in place, especially in the case of two class groups in first year.
  • It is recommended that teachers be facilitated with opportunities to observe each other’s teaching practice during the year and seek to work together more closely in the future.
  • It is recommended that all teachers avail of the opportunity to attend in-service courses offered by the second level support service for Irish.
  • Attention is drawn to the various recommendations made in the body of this report in relation to implementing improvements in the subject planning work.
  • It is recommended that teachers discuss translation as a teaching and learning methodology.
  • It would be worthwhile to try other models of assessment in junior cycle other than individual student oral examinations, and discussion on the optional oral examination in the Irish examination in the Junior Certificate is recommended.
  • It would worthwhile to keep under review the strategies that are in place which seek to increase the number of students undertaking higher level Irish in the Leaving Certificate.

 

 

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 June 2009