An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Johnstown, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70600T
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhuire, Johnstown. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was carried out in the course of one day, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the 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.
All classes in both Junior and Senior Cycles consist of mixed-ability groups of students. Normally there are two mixed-ability classes in the Junior Cycle, and one taking the Junior Certificate School Programme. Students are encouraged to attempt various levels according to their ability and up to now no student in the school has taken foundation-level papers. Decisions on which level the students will take in the Junior Certificate exams are not made until the end of the second year. There is one ordinary-level class in the Senior Cycle and another class with some students who are attempting ordinary level and others attempting higher level. It is recommended that the school management consider the possibilities of creating a higher-level class in fifth and sixth years, to help those who choose to attempt the higher level to raise their standard and to encourage more students to take the higher level.
Of the full enrolment of 370 students, 46 have an exemption from the study of Irish. Some students have an exemption, but, nevertheless, have an interest in the language; an effort is made to entice these students to attempt to learn Irish, a really praiseworthy practice. Two students who have an exemption are attempting to learn Irish at present. It was reported that students sometimes enrol in the school who have not got an exemption, but say they had not been studying Irish in the primary school for some years back. The school management is advised to investigate this problem.
The provision for Irish on the school timetable is satisfactory enough. Four class-periods per week are provided for every class in the Junior Cycle and five class-periods per week for every class in the Senior Cycle. Transition Year students have four class-periods per week for Irish. There are four teachers of Irish in the school and they are given an opportunity to take different classes every year, so that every teacher gets experience of teaching various levels. Most of the teachers had attended an in-service course under the auspices of the Support Service for Irish and it was reported that the teachers both enjoyed and benefited from the course. It would be important now for the teachers to ensure that the various teaching methods and methodologies recommended at the course are implemented in the Irish classes.
A number of scholarships to the Gaeltacht are awarded in the school, a worthwhile practice. It was reported that, for the first time in recent years, a number of occasions with a distinctly Irish flavour, as well as social occasions, were organised, to coincide with Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week). Teachers ran a Question Time, a poster competition and various activities in their classes. Notices in Irish were displayed and a genuine effort was made to promote the Irish language during that week. The teachers deserve great praise for their efforts in this regard. It is recommended, however, that social and inter-class cross-curricular events be organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge. A programme of special events could be devised with the help of Transition Year students and of winners of the school’s Gaeltacht scholarships. Pleasurable events and occasions run outside the classroom enhance the work of teachers in Irish classes. A group of sixth-year students was brought to the Gaeltacht last year and the teachers’ efforts in regard to that trip are praiseworthy indeed. It would be advisable to include a trip to the Gaeltacht in the programme for Transition Year, or even in the sixth-year programme.
Two rooms are set aside for the teaching of Irish in the school. A certain number of posters in Irish and of examples of students’ work were on display in the classrooms observed. It is of the utmost importance to create an environment of Irish language and culture in the classrooms, to enhance students’ learning. It is recommended that teachers build on the material already on display in the classrooms and ensure that the displays are regularly updated.
A co-ordinator is nominated every year to take charge of co-ordinating planning for Irish. This responsibility is taken on by a different teacher each year, a practice which is highly commended. It was reported that the teachers of Irish hold regular meetings, once a term at least. At these meetings the teachers discuss the following, among other topics: students’ progress, problems that arise, Transition Year subjects, support for new teachers in the department of Irish and assessment of the homework policy.
A lot of work on School Development Planning has been undertaken in the school in recent years. The teachers have formulated a plan for Irish, a plan made available on the day of the inspection. The plan incorporates aspects of the work such as the aims of the department of Irish, a short account of teaching methods, a report on cross-curricular planning and a description of the lay-out and implementation of the curricular programme for the various classes. The planning-work done by the teachers is very impressive. It is clear that time and commitment were invested in planning for Irish. It is recommended, however, that the plan be written-up in Irish only, with a summary in English if necessary. Aspects of the plan could be elaborated on, giving further information on teaching methods and an account of the aids and resources to be used in class for the various activities. In cases where teachers’ individual plans were made available, they were very comprehensive.
It is important that future planning involve the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Irish classes. It is further recommended that teachers consider the possibilities of cross-curricular planning involving other subjects taught in the school, especially for Transition Year classes.
A short plan for Irish for Transition Year students was presented on the day of inspection. The inspector considered that there was an over-emphasis on the Leaving Certificate course in the plan. Transition Year affords both teachers and students an opportunity of experiencing Irish as a living language in a variety of ways. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish compile an innovative, creative and interesting programme for Irish for Transition Year classes, based, perhaps, on different modules. Various teachers might be offered the opportunity to teach specific modules, according to their experience and their particular range of interest.
It was reported that the school has a certain amount of resources for the teaching and learning of Irish, but that these are not all available in a central location. It is recommended that an inventory of the resources available be drawn up and that appropriate arrangements be made to place them in a central location where every teacher has easy access to them. The list of resources should be made available as part of the plan for teaching Irish in the school. It is also recommended that research be undertaken on new resources available for the teaching and learning of Irish and that the supply of resources in the school, as well as the range of books in the library, be gradually increased.
Good preparation had been done for the classes observed. Worksheets and vocabulary sheets were prepared, for distribution to the students in class. This preparatory work is commended. In one case observed, an overhead projector was used to illustrate correct answers to the homework, for the students. In another case, use was made of pictures of sports events, to enhance the students’ interest in the lesson. Both of these approaches are praiseworthy. It is necessary, however, to gain access to a wider range of aids and resources for use in class, to make the subject-matter of lessons more interesting and more relevant for the students.
In one case, a lesson was observed whose objective was that the students would write a review as homework. Although the lesson had been well prepared for, an opportunity was missed to show the students examples of different reviews and an opportunity was also missed to get students talking about their own experience of, and interest in, modern films. It is strongly recommended that teachers use modern resources, which students are interested in. It is also recommended that authentic texts, especially examples from the communications media, be used, to encourage and awaken students’ interest in learning Irish. TG4 is a splendid resource and teachers are advised to use excerpts from its programmes regularly. It is not necessary, of course, to show complete programmes; frequent use of excerpts of a few minutes duration is sufficient.
The use of Irish as the language of communication, teaching and management, in the classes observed, was very satisfactory, on the whole. In one case, however, far too much use was made of English as a teaching medium. It is recommended that an agreed policy on the use of the target language should operate in the Irish classes and that this policy should get specific mention in the plan for teaching and learning Irish in the school. It is vital that a particular emphasis be placed on the use of the target language in class.
In many of the classes observed, great efforts were made to encourage the students to answer questions in Irish. In one case observed, the teacher started the lesson with an open-ended conversation on a theme related to the students’ current life-experience. That approach is highly commended. Opportunities were lost, however, in a few other cases observed, to get the students to talk on subject-matter of interest to themselves. Pair-work was used in another case, a praiseworthy approach also. On the whole, however, the inspector felt that more time could be spent on developing students’ communicative ability, an aspect strongly emphasised in the plan for Irish. It is strongly recommended that the development of students’ communication skills be further discussed among the teachers of Irish. It is suggested that a wide range of strategies be used to get the students to talk, starting in first-year classes. Pair-work, group-work and games could be used to promote this development.
It is recommended that the teachers of Irish consider various innovative ways of promoting students’ experience of Irish as a living language and ensuring that this experience makes a lasting impression. Irish and the study of the language should also be presented to Transition Year classes in creative ways; it is vital to ensure that the subject-matter of the lessons is not focused on the Leaving Certificate exams.
In the classes observed, good use was made of the whiteboard, to present new vocabulary and correct answers to questions, to the students. Teachers succeeded in getting students working and there was a good learning atmosphere in the classrooms. It was also felt that there was a good relationship between teachers and students. Careful preparation had been done for the various classes and, as a result, lessons moved along at a satisfactory pace.
House examinations are run twice a year in the school, at Christmas and in the summer. A mid-term class test is also set during the first term and ‘mock’ exams are taken by classes preparing for the state exams. School reports are sent home twice a year, after the Christmas and summer exams.
It was reported that a great emphasis is placed on monitoring students’ progress closely. Homework is checked, as are exam results, and teachers keep in continuous contact with parents and with other teachers. This approach is commended. It is recommended, however, that students’ communication skills be assessed from first year onwards, as part of the internal assessment system for Irish. It is necessary to make students aware of the importance of this aspect of language-learning, from the outset. It is more important than ever to get this message across to the students, since the assessment system for state examinations is due to be changed within a few years. Teachers could conduct oral tests in each other’s classes twice a year, perhaps, or even at the end of the school-year. This would offer students an opportunity of practising communication in Irish with another adult besides their own class-teacher. It would also help to prepare them for the oral exam which is an integral part of the Leaving Certificate exam.
The fact that the teachers of Irish have designed a new certificate, ‘An Teanga Bheo’, to be awarded in recognition of special efforts made in the area of spoken Irish, is acknowledged. This approach is highly commended. It is necessary, however, to create appropriate opportunities, inside and outside the classroom, for students to merit the award of these certificates. The presentation of fáinní could also be organised for certain classes, as part of whatever award-giving ceremonies are usually organised by the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The efforts of teachers to organise occasions and events in their own classes as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) are commended.
· The provision for Irish on the school timetable is satisfactory enough.
· The system in operation in the school, by which a co-ordinator of planning for the subject is named and this responsibility passed on regularly to another teacher, is commended.
· The work done to date on the plan for Irish in the school is commended. It is obvious that considerable effort has been invested in it.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, instruction and communication was very good, on the whole, in the majority of classes observed.
· Some admirable efforts were made to encourage the students to speak Irish in the class.
· Discipline was good in the classes observed and there was a satisfactory work-atmosphere in those classes.
· The new system in operation in the school, by which certificates are awarded to students who make a sincere effort to speak Irish, is commended.
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 management consider the possibility of creating a separate higher-level class in fifth and sixth years, to facilitate those who choose to take higher level and to entice extra students to attempt it.
· that the teachers build on the work done to date on organising occasions with an Irish emphasis during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week), by organising an interesting stimulating programme on a whole-school basis.
· that the plan for teaching and learning Irish in the school be further developed, to include planning for the use of Information and Communication Technology and that the plan for Transition Year be significantly developed.
· that the supply of teaching aids available at present for the teaching of Irish be examined, that an inventory be drawn up and that the resources be made available at an accessible central location. It is also recommended that a wider range of teaching aids be accumulated gradually, according to the resources of the school.
· that a much wider range of aids and resources be used to encourage and entice students to learn the language. Use should be made of the Irish-language communication media, especially TG4, which is a very valuable resource for teaching the language.
· that student’s communicative ability in Irish be further developed in the classes.
· that students’ communication skills be formally assessed, from first year onward.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2009