An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Macroom, County Cork
Roll number: 71030J
Date of inspection: 05 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in McEgan College. 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 to the Irish 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.
McEgan College is situated adjacent to Gaeltacht Mhúscraí. The teachers of Irish and school management recognise that this location offers many opportunities to provide the students in their care with a taste of the Irish way of life in the Gaeltacht and of Irish culture. For this reason their principal objective is to make every effort to foster a positive attitude towards Irish in their students. To this end they wish to further raise the status of Irish in the school through the development of lesson activities and of activities that take place outside the classroom. School management acknowledges that this attitude is praiseworthy and management gives full support to teachers in their work. They are all to be congratulated on their resourcefulness and on their enthusiasm.
From First Year to Transition Year (TY), students are offered four lesson periods in Irish per week. Students in Fifth and Sixth Years are allocated five periods per week. It is recommended that each student has daily contact with the target language, especially second- and third-year students. In the case where only four periods are provided weekly it is recommended that one of these lesson periods is timetabled on a Friday. The inspector was given to understand that the school intends to carry out a review of the way in which classes are allocated in each subject area and that the recommendations from this inspection report will be discussed as part of that process.
Classes in First and Second Year are of mixed ability. Students in the other year groups are streamed according to ability. On the whole, the current system is considered suitable, for students in junior cycle in particular. It would be worthwhile for teachers to reflect on the benefits to be gained from offering mixed-ability classes in TY as well.
Each teacher of Irish is allocated a designated classroom with storage space for teaching aids, resources and documents. These rooms are attractively decorated by teachers. Charts with collections of words and speech idioms as well as samples of student work are displayed on the walls. Reading material has been collected in a small library in the co-ordinator’s classroom. Facilities such as television sets, tape recorders and DVD players are provided in these classrooms and it was stated that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities such as laptop and data projector are easily accessible.
Twenty-seven students have an exemption from the study of Irish and do not study Irish formally.
The majority of these students have learning difficulties and the others are either newcomers or students who obtained their early education outside the State. Those students who, despite being entitled to an exemption, decide to study Irish are to be commended. The teachers who support these students and encourage them to study Irish formally are to be commended also. Teachers of Irish work closely with the special educational needs department to ensure that the best service possible is being provided to students with particular needs.
Teachers display an interest in enhancing their own skills as teachers. They welcome opportunities to attend talks by guest speakers who visit the school, or to attend Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshops, especially workshops presented by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish. Many issues have been examined on a whole school basis, issues such as mixed-ability teaching; the TY programme and student inclusion. Teachers recognise in particular the benefits to be derived from frank discussion on classroom practice, both among themselves as a group and with others working in the same area. Teachers are commended for this open outlook, especially as it added to the value of the inspection activities.
A good number of cross-curricular and co-curricular activities are organised to promote Irish outside the classroom. It was reported that various activities, including competitions, are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge. Students are brought to films screened within the Irish programme section of the Cork Film Festival. Place names are studied as part of the folklore study in English. It is common practice for a number of students to spend time in the Gaeltacht during the summer and funds to support this activity are available from County Cork Vocational Education Committee, the JCSP and from the scheme UCC+.
Subject development planning is a whole school activity. A co-ordinator has been selected to direct this process for the school’s Irish department. In addition to being a link between the Irish department and school management the principal duties of the co-ordinator are: to organise and manage subject meetings; record minutes; distribute relevant information to members of the department; collate the subject plan for Irish and all other relevant documents. These formal arrangements are worthwhile and their effect is evident in the comprehensiveness of the documentation contained in the Irish planning file. One particular document in the file, where an analysis has been completed of the strengths and weaknesses of current provision, is noteworthy. This document identifies desirable developments, an approach which provides a particular focus for all members of the department. The commitment, mentioned at the beginning of this report, which seeks to further raise the status of Irish, stems from this approach.
Teachers of Irish meet regularly to discuss matters concerning Irish, either on a formal or an informal basis. Minutes of meetings show that the most frequently discussed issues are: yearly schemes of work; choice of textbooks; student ability; organisation of examinations; assessment methods and strategies to encourage students to speak Irish. It is good to note that discussion is taking place during these meetings regarding classroom practice. It is recommended that this particular topic would be a foundation stone for teachers when they are reviewing and reorganising their common schemes of work for the year.
Long-term plans have been set out for each year group. Primarily these plans consist of a schedule of topics to be covered each term. In addition these plans refer to the activities that will take place in the class and to the sections of the textbook to be used. With a view to further developing these plans, it is recommended that specific focus be placed on the elements of the language which will be covered during the discussions on those topics. It is to be anticipated, therefore, that the schemes of work would specify (i) the language structures to be practised, (ii) the new vocabulary to be acquired and (iii) the grammar points which will arise during the discussion of each of the topics. The completion of this work should further stimulate discourse on classroom practice among teachers, especially with reference to the most appropriate activities and resources required to achieve the learning outcomes.
Teachers are to be commended on their preparation for the lessons presented during the inspection visit. It was evident that a deep level of thought had been given to the steps involved in the lessons, the tasks to be accomplished by students and the resources that would be beneficial to the process. On the whole, it was evident that they had a good understanding of the needs of the students in their care and that they designed learning activities and resources accordingly. It is recommended that this good work be continued. It is also recommended that, when planning lessons, the principal learning objective of each teacher would be to develop the communication ability of all students within the individual’s ability range.
Irish was the principal language used in all the lessons observed. Students had a reasonably good understanding of what the teacher said and the vast majority of students made a very good effort to answer in Irish the questions posed. Students had acquired the meta-language of the classroom and therefore it was in Irish that many of them asked questions and sought clarifications.
A good number of opportunities were created for students to speak Irish. Most of this conversation was under the teacher’s direction. Teachers listened carefully to students as they spoke and frequently praised the students in their efforts to speak in Irish. Some of the mistakes made by students were corrected in a kind, caring manner. It is suggested that, in certain cases, further benefit could be gained from the use of interactive tasks in order to encourage students to engage in conversation with each other. The inspector made a number of suggestions regarding pair work and group work. The teachers understood the benefits of such tasks and they welcomed the suggestions made.
In lessons where students were offered a range of activities, an increased level of participation was noted. This variety ensured that not only were students active from beginning to end of the lesson but also that newly-acquired language was reinforced through practice in different contexts. In one or two instances it was noted that the pace of the lesson was too slow for some students and teachers were reminded of the importance of providing a specific challenge in the tasks that they set. This phenomenon applies to each learning context and especially in mixed-ability classes. Therefore, it was recommended that teachers differentiate between the learning outcomes they expect from learners with diverse abilities.
All in all, it was evident the teachers operated a long-established system of working with which students were familiar. The manner in which some teachers made effective use of the material displayed in the classrooms to stimulate student opinion or imagination, or, to remind them of aspects of the language which had already been covered, was noted particularly. This is good practice and its use should be extended. The emphasis placed by certain teachers on taking notes was also observed. This process ensures that students have their own record of what they have learned. Again, the widespread use of this good practice is to be encouraged.
Resources used include video items, work sheets, aural extracts and hard copies of pages downloaded from websites. The emphasis placed on the use of modern authentic materials was a source of satisfaction. This methodology shows that teachers have a good understanding of how important it is to weave as much as possible of contemporary life into Irish lessons, if they wish to stimulate student participation.
The school has homework and assessment policies. These policies recognise the role of all participants – students, parents, teachers and school management – in the assessment process.
The policies direct the manner in which student progress in Irish is assessed, even though it was evident from discussions with teachers that they have developed, and are continuing to develop, their own assessment methods.
Student homework is checked on a daily basis. It was encouraging to note that it was not only written work which was assigned to students but they also have to learn language structures and vocabulary.
Students had completed a good number of various written exercises. The tidiness of the work in all the copybooks was noted. In relation to written exercises, teachers were reminded of the importance of spending time in class correcting the major language mistakes. This approach offers many possibilities for self-evaluation and peer evaluation. To support this work, teachers are referred to the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, www.ncca.ie , where information is available on Assessment for Learning strategies.
The oral Irish ability of students in first, fifth and sixth years is formally assessed. Teachers are conscious of the motivation that is provided for students to participate when their competence in speaking the language is acknowledged and therefore they intend to enter Junior Certificate students for the optional oral examination from 2011 onwards. This development is to be commended.
Approximately six key examinations are set for each student in the course of the school year and reports are sent home following each of these examinations. In addition class tests are set for students on a regular basis. It is advised that examinations for first-, second- and TY students would not replicate the state examinations and that the Irish department would adopt this approach as policy.
Every effort is made to keep parents informed about student progress. To this end meetings between parents of each year group and teachers are held once a year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Teachers consider it important to foster a positive attitude towards Irish among the students in their care.
· Teachers have their own classrooms which are attractively decorated and this creates a stimulating learning environment.
· Teachers have access to all types of resources, especially ICT resources.
· A strong link has been established between the Irish teachers and the special educational needs teachers.
· Teachers are keen to add to their own skills as teachers on a continuous basis. Their openness in relation to their classroom practice enhanced the value of the subject inspection.
· A wide-ranging programme of cross-curricular and co-curricular activities is organised to promote Irish outside the classroom.
· Teachers of Irish participate fully in the subject development planning process.
· Teachers are aware of the benefits to be gained from discussion of classroom practice during meetings.
· Teachers have a good understanding of the learning needs of the students in their care and they make comprehensive preparation for their lessons to ensure that the appropriate provision is made for each student.
· In all lessons observed Irish was the principal language in use. The meta-language of the classroom had been acquired by the students.
· Considerable opportunity was created for students to speak Irish and teachers frequently praised students for their efforts to speak Irish.
· It was evident that the teachers operated a long-established system of working with which students were familiar.
· In those lessons where emphasis was placed on taking notes independent learning was in progress.
· Beneficial use was made of a wide range of resources.
· A comprehensive assessment system is in operation which informs all participants of the progress that has been, and continues to be, made.
· Assessment methods are being developed which, in the course of time, will provide formal acknowledgement of the oral competence of all students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that further use be made of differentiated learning strategies to ensure that the pace and activities of the lessons are appropriate for each student.
· It is recommended that the development of new, innovative ways of assessing student progress be continued, regardless of whether that assessment is being carried out on a formal or an informal basis.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2009