An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Roll number: 63920A
Date of inspection: 30 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been
written following a subject inspection in
enjoys a high status on the educational programmes in
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
a senior cycle higher level lesson the teacher showed a short item from a news
broadcast from TG4 concerning unemployment issues that obtain in
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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:
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