An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Abbeyfeale Vocational School
Abbeyfeale County Limerick
Roll Number: 71870H
Date of inspection: 8 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection as part of a whole school evaluation in Abbeyfeale Vocational School, Abbeyfeale, County Limerick. 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 subject teachers.
In general, a favourable allocation is provided on the timetable for the teaching and learning of Irish in Abbeyfeale Vocational School. All year groups are timetabled for Irish on a daily basis except first years and Leaving Certificate Applied students who have four classes and two classes respectively each week. Classes are either thirty five or forty minutes in duration. It was indicated that first and second year students are organised on the basis of mixed ability groupings. Students taking certificate examinations are divided on the basis of examination level. The first year Leaving Certificate is a mixed ability grouping where all three examination levels are together. It is recommended that this provision be reviewed immediately. The second year Leaving Certificate classes are timetabled concurrently thus facilitating the transfer of students from one level to another. It would be desirable to have this arrangement in place from third year onwards so that students could transfer between levels.
Three of the four teachers have experience of teaching at both cycles and at the different certificate levels. It would be advisable to adopt this practice for all teachers so as to ensure that all members of the team acquire the necessary skills and experience. It was indicated that teachers engage in some team teaching, an approach that is commendable because it promotes a cooperative spirit within the department.
An entrance assessment for students includes an Irish examination. It was reported that some students withdraw from Irish because they are under the impression that they have an exemption from the subject. It is recommended that a system be implemented to ensure that only those students who have officially been granted an exemption withdraw from studying the language for the certificate examinations.
The school has a good range of resources and materials for teaching Irish. The Irish teachers have their own classrooms and Irish resources are kept there. At the time of the inspection there was no specific budget allocation for the purchase of materials for Irish. It was evident from discussions with the teachers that there is no difficulty in the provision of resources for any needs that the department may have provided this is indicated to management. There is a library in the school but it is not used to support the teaching and the learning of the language. It is recommended as part of the process of school development planning (SDP) that the department would research on www.cogg.ie. availability of post-primary learning materials and resources. A list could be compiled and a reasonable annual budget could be allocated for the purchase of materials. A compilation of resources that would enhance the teaching and learning of the language could then be assembled incrementally. The school has a computer room but it is difficult to access it. Computers are also available in a small room in the school. It is recommended that practical steps be put in place, in the context of the resources and materials that are available, to further develop the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. Students should be aware that Irish is a living language in the modern media which is very much a part of their own life experience.
Almost all of the teachers involved in the teaching and learning of Irish at the time of the inspection are graduates of Irish. One of the teachers has experience as an examiner for the oral and written examinations. Management gives every encouragement and support to the staff to attend ongoing professional development courses. In recent years a number of whole school inservice days have been organised. Representatives from the staff have this year attended courses on Irish organised by the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) and two of the teachers attended the courses for the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. It is commendable that the department shares the information from these courses with other members of the team.
The teachers make efforts to enrich the students’ experience of the language outside the classroom. Students participate in co-curricular and extra curricular activities including visual arts and sporting activities, and céilí and quizzes during Irish week. Some activities are supported with bursary support from the Junior Certificate Schools’ Programme (JCSP), and this includes a coffee morning, music classes and a trip to the Gaeltacht. Two Irish college scholarships for the Gaeltacht are awarded to junior students in conjunction with the Irish subcommittee of Limerick Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The commitment of the Irish teachers is commendable in this regard.
The Irish department began the school development planning process (SDP) in 2004. The Irish teachers meet formally twice a year. Plans have been agreed by the department for the teaching and learning of the curriculum for the various year groups. Detailed work has also been completed in various aspects of the school plan. It is recommended that the aims of the Irish department be described in terms of learning objectives for the students across the four language skills. It would be desirable if these aims were used as a guide to teaching and learning and to assessment. These aims would also form the basis for conducting a review on a regular basis of the work of the department. These aims need to be in keeping with the mission statement of the school and with the main aims outlined in the Irish syllabuses.
It is also recommended that it would be an objective of the department to plan cooperatively in regard to teaching methods, interface with the learning support teachers and the department’s approach to assessment and corrections. It is also necessary to develop practical steps to make more use of ICT in the teaching and learning of the language.
A coordinator has been appointed by the department and this appointment is rotated on a regular basis. This practice is commendable because more than one individual should gain the experience and understanding of the responsibilities attached to coordination. It would be advisable to develop the role of the coordinator and to compile a priority list for the department that would form the basis of an action plan each year for the subject.
A very good standard of short term planning was evident in all classes observed during the inspection. Preparation was in the form of resource materials for learning and teaching and a good level of research had been employed in their preparation. Every lesson included specific learning and teaching objectives, and the majority of teachers linked the theme of the lesson to students’ own experiences. This approach is commendable as it supports the consolidation of information.
In the majority of cases effective teaching methods were used that gave students the opportunity to engage with the content of the lessons. In one lesson a very high standard of teaching was observed in which the integrated and communicative approaches were applied in a differentiated manner. The teacher presented the key words on flashcards on the board at the beginning of the lesson and individual consolidation work on a work sheet followed the whole class work. Extension work had been prepared in advance by the teacher for those who had the main task completed ahead of time. Student learning was clearly evident from their participation in task completion and in their confidence level in giving answers based on the work sheets. The teacher attended very well to the individual needs of students while they were engaged in class work. A tape extract based on the same theme followed. The class finished with two differentiated reading comprehension texts. Very good pre-reading work was conducted that ensured the reading comprehension exercises were suitable to the range of abilities of the students. Worthwhile post-reading exercises were conducted that gave students an opportunity to display the work they had completed. This lesson was exemplary and it is recommended that these effective techniques be shared with the whole department.
In another class a balance existed between the input of the teacher and student activity. Students were involved in their own learning as they worked on work sheets with guidance from the teacher. A high standard of preparation was evident in these worksheets. In a small number of classes students were not offered the same opportunities to be actively engaged in the learning process. It is recommended as an alternative approach to whole class presentation that students would have an input into constructing their own learning in an active way.
All teachers used questioning strategies to good effect to encourage students to participate in constructing their own learning. In almost all lessons the questions were clear and specific and provided students with appropriate opportunities to participate in the lessons. It is recommended, as an alternative approach to teacher student questioning, that students be put in pairs to have the opportunity to simultaneously practice their receptive and productive language skills.
Irish was the language of communication in all classes observed during the inspection period. The students had a good understanding of Irish and they were very happy to use the target language when given the opportunity. All teachers graded their use of the target of language which avoided the overuse of translational methods. This practice is commendable as it enriches the vocabulary of students and they become attuned to the structure of the language from being immersed in the target language.
The key words and new vocabulary of the lessons were clearly recorded as they emerged in the lesson. Such practice is commendable because such recording provides support for students’ abilities with vocabulary and spelling on an ongoing basis.
All teachers displayed good classroom management skills. Good practices in behaviour and conduct were encouraged on an ongoing basis. There was a mutually respectful relationship between students and teachers. All teachers affirmed student effort and provided positive feedback on the quality of answers given.
The teachers derived every possible advantage from having their own base classrooms by providing a print-rich environment for students. Posters with useful phrases on them, grammar charts and other learning resources were in evidence. Teachers are highly commended for the thought and the work they have put into the teaching and learning environment.
Formative assessment is conducted both formally and informally. The informal assessment methods employed during the period of inspection included oral questions, individual worksheets and a listening task based on an extract on tape. The school has a homework policy and it is usual practice to assign homework in Irish each night. A homework diary is used and there are procedures outlined in the Irish plan regarding the correct use of these diaries. It was evident from a random sample of these diaries that the homework is not recorded on a regular basis. It is recommmended that the method in which these diaries are used be reviewed. Sample copybooks and workbooks indicated that comprehensive work had been undertaken that was in line with the syllabus requirements and indicated a good level of development. Teachers were monitoring the content of students’ work on a regular basis. In some cases developmental corrections were also employed. It is recommended that a wider use be made of such corrections. It is also recommended that the department would reflect on the learning value of corrections to ensure that the correction process has a positive impact on the intrinsic motivation of the learner. Students are given examinations on a monthly basis and an account is kept of students’ results in the teachers’ diaries. The marking schemes used by the State Examinations’ Commission (SEC) are also used with certificate students. This practice is commendable.
The usual practices are in place for summative examinations for the various year groups. This year an oral examination was also given as part of the first year examination. The staff is highly commended for this good practice and it is recommended that an oral examination would be part of the assessment experience for all year groups. Common examinations are given at the end of the year for those students not undergoing State examinations. A report is issued to homes twice yearly based on these summative examinations. Teachers meet with parents or guardians of each year group once a year. It is recommended that future consideration be given to including the four main language skills when assigning homework, setting assessments and in the feedback at meetings between teachers and parents or guardians. In order to increase the participation levels of students in the target language it is recommended that a specific mark be awarded on an ongoing basis to oral language. This would be in line with the integrated approach mentioned in the syllabuses and recommended above in regard to planning for teaching and learning.
It also is recommended that the department would extend the range of assessment instruments currently in use for Irish by integrating the principles of assessment for learning (Afl), that have been developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie into the assessment plans. It is recommended that the department would formally analyse the participation levels of students in the various State examinations and also the achievements of students at each level.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A favourable allocation is provided for the teaching and learning of Irish by providing daily classes for most of the year groups.
· The school has a good range of materials for the teaching of Irish.
· The department has agreed plans in place for the teaching and learning of the curriculum for the various year groups.
· In the majority of lessons effective teaching and learning methods were used.
· The school documentation included details of good practices that have been developed for assessment and for homework.
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 provision for Leaving Certificate year one in which the three examination levels are accommodated within the one class be reviewed.
· It is recommended that the department would add to the resources and materials already available by researching the website www.cogg.ie.
· It is recommended that the planning process for Irish be further developed and that the above recommendations form part of this cooperative work.
· The very good teaching methods already employed in the department should be shared with all team members. It is also advised that every language lesson would
seek to achieve a balance between the activities of students and the input of the teacher.
· It is recommended that the effectiveness of current procedures for assessment and homework be reviewed and that the value of assessing and reporting on the four
language skills be included in this review.
· It is recommended that the department would conduct a formal analysis of the participation rates of students in the various State examinations as well as the student
achievement at the different levels.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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, January 2009