An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School
Roll number: 64971W
Dates of inspection: 22/23 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School. 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 and the teachers of Irish. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School is a girls-only second-level school. There are seven teachers of Irish on the staff who, as the Irish Department of the school, are dedicated to fostering a commitment to the native language among the students under their care. In this they are highly successful. To hear students of Irish speaking the language was most heartening: this ability has been nurtured in them by teachers who do their utmost to integrate the use of Irish into many aspects of the total educational provision made by the school.
The teachers come together very frequently in order to discuss matters relating to Irish in the school. This is done both formally and informally. Among the topics debated are assessment, the banding of students, the choice of textbooks, the sharing of teaching practices, the assignment of teachers and extra-curricular activities. It was evident from the various arrangements which have been put in place that priority is given to the welfare of students when decisions are being made at these meetings.
Every effort is made to make Irish visible throughout the school. The initiative whereby art posters showing proverbs and illustrating their meanings are displayed throughout the school, is particularly noteworthy. The workmanship on these posters is of a high quality, inviting people to examine them more closely. This is a good example of cross-curricular co-operation in which teachers draw on the links between the skills practised in Art and in Irish, in order to present aspects of the language. There is some Irish in the school stationery and signs in Irish have been erected, giving an indication of the high status which Irish enjoys in the school. It was recommended that some Irish should be included in the student journals.
There is a library in the school containing a collection of Irish books. The teachers keep themselves informed as regards the most modern aids available as supports for the learning and teaching of Irish. They have accumulated a good number of DVDs, relevant texts and tapes in the Irish store room. All of this work was commended and the attention of teachers was drawn to the advantages to be gained from collecting real life materials such as magazines, information sheets and brochures. Computer equipment is not readily available to the teachers, nor is an overhead projector, a situation which limits somewhat the ways in which the language could be presented to the learners in the context of new technology. It would be of great benefit to them if they were given access to an Irish classroom in which various multi-media aids were available.
Sixty-three students have exemptions from the study of Irish. Fourteen of these have learning difficulties and the remainder are foreign nationals. The Irish teachers would favour more foreign students undertaking the study of Irish because it forms part of the educational provision of the state. This attitude is commendable.
Among the extra-curricular activities providing support for Irish are Gaelic games, traditional music, visits to the Gaeltacht, plays and the annual prize for Irish. During Seachtain na Gaeilge drama productions, poster competitions and a quiz competition are organised. Transition Year (TY) students are deeply involved in co-ordinating these activities. A lunchtime conversation group for Leaving Certificate students meets after Christmas. It is the practice of some students to attend Irish courses during the summer; a number of them go to the Gaeltacht while others attend a day course in the locality.
The Irish Department has a planning file containing the departmental statement, copies of syllabuses, notes from training workshops, the minutes of formal meetings, an index of resources and the annual schemes which have been drawn up for the various class groups. The documentation revealed that it is the teachers' practice to discuss ways of promoting Irish in the school, whether in-class or extra-curricular activities are in question.
The teachers acknowledge that it is advisable to match classroom practice to the differing needs of the students, needs which are constantly subject to change. It is for this reason that they avail of every opportunity of attending training workshops. During the evaluation, the specialist knowledge they as a department displayed of matters pertaining to learning and teaching was notable. In addition to the interest which they all have in professional development, they have a comprehensive understanding of second language teaching. Individual teachers have acquired numerous techniques of enabling students to gain an effective mastery of new aspects of the language. It was recommended that they should share such insights with one another and particularly that they should discuss activities which they initiate in class and also the various aids which they utilise in order to bring about the attainment of the language targets set in the annual schemes. This process could first be attempted with the TY by listing language functions and by discussing the topics, the communicative activities and the resources which would support them, in order that students would use the language functionally.
An atmosphere of courtesy characterised all the classes. The good relations between teachers and students inspired everybody in their work, leading to positive outcomes at the end of class.
The high standard of Irish among the students was remarkable. It was clear that they were well accustomed to hearing and speaking Irish. Numerous opportunities of speaking were created for them during class and all of them successfully applied themselves to these communicative activities. The teachers are to be commended, not alone on having cultivated such a capability in the students, but also on fostering in them a positive attitude towards Irish and a willingness to participate in the learning process.
The subject matter of lessons matched the interest range and experience of the students, a factor which encouraged speaking and the expression of opinions. Among the topics discussed were the school, the family and my home. Works of literature were being explored in the senior classes and many opportunities were provided to the students for expressing their opinions on such works. The teachers are aware of the tendency of certain students to rely on notes rather than expressing their own opinions on a work of literature; it was for this reason that they were asked to make every effort to elicit their opinions on literature from the students themselves.
The interactive tasks were highly conducive to initiating communication among the students. Very effective use was made of pair work and it was used on various occasions to consolidate the newly taught language and to revise language which had been taught in previous lessons. This practice was highly praised and it was intimated to teachers that it would be worthwhile extending its application as much as possible, while always ensuring that a worthwhile task is associated with the activity and that recognised language structures, terminology or vocabulary are being practised. The teachers accepted this idea.
Effective use was made of flash cards, information sheets, diagrams, photographs, wall charts and listening passages, for the purposes of eliciting opinions, of prompting students and of stimulating conversation. In some classrooms a wall chart, on which the teacher jotted down points of grammar as they arose during the lesson, had been hung beside the white board. This procedure is very effective at directing the attention of students to the accurate use of Irish and at integrating grammar into the other aspects of a lesson.
The Irish teachers have adapted the assessment policy of the school to their requirements. They implement assessment processes which test the students and keep all relevant parties informed as to the progress already made and being made.
Students are assigned homework every night, whether a written or a learning task. Either the homework is corrected in class or the teachers collect the written work if closer scrutiny is required. The manner in which the learning task was assessed at the beginning of one class by having students question one another was commended. This was an effective means of getting students to listen to one another, questioning one another and practising the accurate pronunciation and spelling of the newly acquired language. The mark awarded for the work or the note written by the teacher at the end of the written exercise keeps all parties informed as to the standard being attained by the student. The drawing of students' attention to the main language errors, and to the necessity for correcting them, was praised.
Class examinations are administered frequently. In the case of first-year students, the average mark obtained in the class examinations is the overall mark awarded to students at Christmas and in summer. Continuous assessment is implemented in TY also: the average mark awarded to class tests makes up a certain percentage of the in-house examination. It is a laudable practice that recognition is given to progress being made during the school year and it was recommended that this be done in the case of all students, particularly through giving recognition to the effort they make to speak Irish in class.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer, in addition to preliminary examinations in the spring for students due to sit the state examinations. These main examinations are beneficial in that they provide experience for the students of time management, of the layout of examination papers and of the rubrics of the state examinations. Reports are posted home after these examinations. Yet another means of keeping parents informed as to the progress of students are the meetings which are convened between parents and teachers.
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 when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1: Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection