An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Jobstown Community College
Tallaght, Dublin 24
Roll number: 70141N
Date of inspection: 15 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Jobstown Community College. 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 one day 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 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.
Jobstown Community College is a participant in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme.
A team of five teachers teach Irish in the school. Two of these teachers are responsible for the majority of the Irish classes while a further two members of the team teach one class group each. One member of the team is a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) student who has total responsibility for teaching Irish to two class groups. When classes are being assigned to teachers it is recommended that, in so far as is possible, the classes be more evenly allocated to the teachers who are fully qualified. In addition, it is recommended that a PGDE student not be given complete responsibility for any class. Management is commended for having assigned a mentor from the Irish department to the PGDE student and for having ensured the student’s participation in the Vocational Education Committee’s (VEC) induction programme. Management provides support for teacher professional development by organising whole school sessions for issues such as challenging behaviour and assessment for learning (AfL) in addition to attendance at workshops offered by the Second Level Support Service for Irish.
Time allocations for Irish in senior cycle for the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes are satisfactory. However, only four class periods per week are allocated to each year group in the junior cycle. It is recommended that the time allocation for Irish in junior cycle be increased. More regular contact with the language would enable students to enhance their progress in their learning, consistent with their ability. While time allocation for Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the LCA programme is very good, three of the classes are timetabled in the afternoon and it is recommended that this arrangement be avoided.
Although it is possible that students within particular class groups could be taking certificate examinations at different levels, students are allocated to streamed classes based on their ability when they enter the school in first year. It is recommended that the school reviews the rigid streaming of students and, that students be allocated to mixed-ability classes in first year at least.
It was reported that twenty four percent of all students enrolled in the school have an exemption from the study of Irish. In keeping with the aim of the school’s Irish department to provide an input for each student in the language and culture, exempted students who attend Irish classes are encouraged to participate. Management and teachers are commended for implementing this policy because it is important that every student receives input in the culture and language. Management is also to be commended for timetabling classes for resource, learning support or English as an additional language concurrently with Irish classes for students who have such entitlements.
During Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) various activities such as competitions, dance and music are organised for students. In addition, a Club Sprioc is organised for students and the school participates in the VEC scheme which offers scholarships to support students who wish to attend courses in colleges in the Gaeltacht during the summer. Teachers and management are to be commended for providing these opportunities because it is so important to develop students’ experience of the language and culture outside the classroom. Very good efforts are being made by management and teachers of Irish to help and support parents in developing their confidence in Irish. As part of this initiative a coffee morning for parents of each class group in first year is arranged. On these occasions a member of the Irish team is always present to provide information and answer questions. Additionally, Irish classes are organised for parents through the Back to Education Initiative (BTEI). As part of these classes, parents are provided with copies of the Irish syllabuses and samples of past examination papers.
Very good provision of aids and resources, including information and communication technology (ICT) resources, is made for teachers of Irish. There is a library and the services of a librarian which are available to teachers and to their students. The Irish department is to be commended for the development that is planned for collecting reading and audio-visual materials in Irish.
Teachers of Irish hold both formal and informal meetings. Each member of the team takes on the role of subject co-ordinator in turn and they are commended for undertaking this role for a two year term. This arrangement provides the co-ordinator with an opportunity to identify, agree and achieve certain development objectives. An agenda is set out for each meeting and minutes of meetings held during the past few years were available. Very good progress has been made in subject planning. The aims, which have been identified by the teachers of Irish, show that they reflect on the teaching and learning of the language in the school and on the needs of their students. Teachers are to be commended in particular for their aims to develop student confidence in the use of the language and create a positive image of the language in the school in tandem with encouraging and enabling students to study Irish at higher level. Additional evidence of this approach is to be found in the school prospectus which includes a special paragraph on Irish. All of these efforts create a very good foundation for the development of a whole-school policy for Irish.
Subject plans for the different year groups and a plan for the Irish module in the LCA were made available to the inspector. Some of the year group plans had specified aims and this is commended as it provides an indication of the development of skills and grammar from year to year. Developing these statements further would be worthwhile. Plans were set out per term and detailed the specific topics to be covered in each term. Some of the plans set out for individual classes were more detailed than others and different templates were used in their development. Best practice was evident when plans detailed the different language skills to be developed through the various activities, and included the different aspects of grammar to be covered during the course of work on specific topics. This approach is commended. Statements regarding ‘work objectives for the year’ and which identify what is involved in assessments are also to be commended.
Based on what has been said above, it is recommended that a common planning template be used in order to clarify development and continuity from year to year for each class group. In this regard and based on work already completed, it is recommended that a framework of expected learning outcomes be developed for each year group for the various stages in the school year. This framework should be based on the language functions set out in the syllabuses. When planning for first year groups it would be beneficial to consult Curaclam na Bunscoile: Gaeilge. It is also recommended that more attention be given to planning for assessment. It is important also that the subject plan includes details of the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies to be used to achieve the learning outcomes identified.
At this stage in the planning process, it is necessary to focus particular attention on specific aspects of teaching and learning in the classroom in addition to the lesson content. It is recommended therefore that teaching and learning methodologies and strategies be included on the agenda of department meetings. This would enable the team to discuss and share good practice. It is recommended that the team places special focus on the strategies which will assist effective differentiation of lesson content in particular. In addition, it would be beneficial to use the plans as working documents and to include evidence of any monitoring and reviews carried out.
Planning and preparation for most of the classes visited was of good quality. Individual plans were made available in all cases. Best practice was evident in lessons where thought was given to planning for the development of learning and this good practice should be extended so that effective use can always be made of class contact time. There was very good quality planning and preparation evident in cases where clear learning objectives were laid out and where the various tasks set for students supported the integration of the development of language skills. This approach also facilitated the preparation of lesson content in ways which best served the inclusion within the planning process of different learning styles and resources developed and adapted for the students.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident in most of the classes observed. Most classes had a clear structure and continuity with previous classes. A review of prior learning was carried out and homework was checked at the beginning of some classes. In more than half of the classes, the expected learning outcomes were shared with students verbally and through slide presentations. This practice is highly commended and its widespread use is recommended. In addition, opportunity should be provided at the end of class for students to reflect on what they have learned through the use of stimulating questions.
Reflecting the planning undertaken, effective use was made of an appropriate variety of teaching methodologies in most classes. Lessons where a good balance was evident between whole class teacher input, students working in pairs or in groups, and students working individually are especially commended. Examples of good practice were also evident where the activities chosen supported the integration of language skills development.
Literature was presented in both cycles in an enjoyable manner. This was achieved with the aid of ICT resources and games used to helped students learn cooperatively. The approach used in the case where students were developing their skills through the use of Irish-English/English-Irish dictionaries in the completion of their work is also highly commended. However, in the case of a minority of lessons observed both the content and the order of content was too much influenced by the textbook. Priority must always be given to the needs of the students in the class and the most effective means of responding to those needs must be used. When students are learning vocabulary and idioms on particular themes, it is recommended that learning be situated in the immediate familiar environment of the student at first rather than using strange and unfamiliar situations.
In most of the lessons appropriate emphasis was placed on the development of the students’ oral competence in Irish. As a central part of the development of students’ oral expression, attention should be paid to accuracy of their pronunciation. The use of reading and listening texts are very beneficial to this work. In one lesson very effective use was made of a picture from the media as a stimulus for students to express their opinions and even for revision of vocabulary.
Some students demonstrated confidence in the use of the language. The good practice of using Irish as the medium of instruction and communication was evident in the majority of classes. In certain cases there was too much translation to English. The use of more effective strategies to facilitate students in acquiring the language is recommended. In the case of one class observed, it is recommended that exemplars of language presented to students be accurate. Questioning was used primarily to ensure student participation and for recall of learning. However, it is recommended that more effective use be made of questioning to offer further challenge to students, in keeping with their ability, and that questions posed would encourage them, for example, to express their own ideas, to defend or contradict information or opinions.
Classes were very well managed and the atmosphere created was supportive of learning. Students received high levels of praise for their efforts and positive relationships between teachers and students were evident.
The school’s homework policy is being implemented by the teachers of Irish. This policy is of very good standard and specifies the success criteria and the duties of all partners in its implementation. The policy recognises that students need to develop different skills and that homework need not be based solely on written work. In light of the input that teachers have received regarding AfL, it would be worthwhile including this aspect when next reviewing the policy.
For the most part appropriate assessment modes were in use and very good records were being maintained. Special commendation is due to teachers for the planning undertaken for the assessment of students’ oral competence in Irish. However, all language skills are included in the assessment of students’ learning only in certain cases. It is recommended that it would be common practice to include all the language skills in the assessments for each class. It is further recommended that a percentage of marks allocated in house examinations be awarded to spoken Irish and that student achievement in this skill be noted in the school reports that are sent home. In addition, it would be worthwhile for teachers to develop common examinations in the different year groups for students studying Irish at the same level. Furthermore, it is recommended that use be made of the framework for learning outcomes suggested earlier in this report in order to set out assessment criteria. In a few cases an over emphasis on translation in written examinations was noted. It should be remembered that such a task will not be required of students in the state examinations and for this reason it is recommended that the tasks to be completed by students, even in class tests, should be based more closely on the skills they are required to develop.
Reflecting good practice, homework based on the work of the lesson was assigned in the majority of lessons observed. Copybooks reviewed showed that students are assigned written homework regularly. There was evidence in the copybooks that homework is corrected regularly in most cases and that it was monitored in other cases. In some instances there was too much translation in copybooks and, as already stated, it is recommended that this be avoided. Best practice was evident in corrections where students were praised for their efforts, where the teacher dated and signed the work and where direction was given to students as to how improvements could be made. It is recommended that the department develop an approach for the correction of student work based on the principles of AfL; that these assessment criteria be shared with students; and that they be given direction on how to improve their work. Examples of what is entailed are available at www.action.ncca.ie/ga/afl.
The principal carries out an analysis of student achievement in the certificate examinations and results are made available to teachers. However, these results are not discussed in detail. It is recommended that teachers conduct an analysis of student achievement in state and house examinations and that the results of the analysis be used to inform planning. The subject plan should therefore include an account of any analyses carried out.
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, March 2010