An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ardscoil Chiaráin Naofa
Clara, Co. Offaly
Roll number: 72530L
Date of inspection: 6 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Chiaráin Naofa. 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 conducted over two days, 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Very good provision is made for Irish and the whole school community, including the parents’ association, the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and the local Gaelic Athletic Association club offers very good support. The amount of Irish prominently displayed in the school environment, the development of a school policy on Irish and the Irish classes organised by the home school community liaison co-ordinator for parents were indicative of this support. These efforts to enhance the status of Irish in the school are highly commended.
There are four teachers involved in the teaching of Irish in the school. Three of the teachers are fully-qualified, have long experience of teaching Irish, and their proficiency in the language for the purpose of teaching is satisfactory. The fourth teacher has a teaching qualification but does not have Irish as a degree subject and is acting as substitute for another member of the school’s teaching-staff. The Irish-teaching team works closely with the substitute teacher, providing support and guidance on the implementation of the syllabuses. This collaboration is praiseworthy indeed.
The teachers themselves decide on which classes they will teach. It is recommended that they ensure that every teacher, according to qualifications, gets an opportunity to teach Irish in the different programmes and at the various levels in turn. This is an important element of their professional development. It is commendable that every effort is made to provide continuity in teaching for the students during their course of study, in the junior cycle and in the senior cycle.
The students are allocated to streamed classes in both junior and senior cycles. Nevertheless, it was observed that the students study Irish at different levels in the majority of classes. The students are allocated to streamed classes in first year on the basis of the results of standardised tests in Maths and English. They are also required to take a written test in Irish which is devised by the teachers themselves. The results of this test are used to get an overview of students’ ability in Irish and as a guide for planning. Taking all these factors into account, it is recommended that the teachers discuss the advantage that students might derive from being in a mixed-ability class, for the first year of the junior cycle at least. The management is commended for timetabling Irish classes simultaneously for the various year-groups. This facilitates students in moving to a class more suited to their needs if necessary. It is the aim of the department of Irish to encourage all students to take the subject at the highest level commensurate with their ability and they are highly commended for this. It is normal practice in the school that the students participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) study Irish as outlined in Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge and are in the same classes as their peers, at an appropriate level. This is a very praiseworthy provision.
The amount of time allocated to Irish in senior cycle and in third year is satisfactory. In first and second year of the junior cycle, however, only four class periods per week are allocated to the subject. It is recommended that the management ensure that there is no further reduction in the allocation of time for Irish in the junior cycle, but that, rather, every effort be made to increase the allocation. The time available is allocated on the basis of a single Irish class per day, as recommended. The timetable for the Leaving Certificate Applied programme shows that An Ghaeilge Chumarsáideach classes are scheduled for the last class-period of the day. It was explained that this is an exceptional arrangement for this current year only. It is recommended that such an allocation of the time available for Irish for any class be avoided.
It was reckoned that 15% of the total enrolment of 223 students are exempt from the study of Irish. 85% of these are students with attested learning difficulties and the remainder are from overseas. Resource classes or learning-support classes to serve the needs of these students are timetabled, as far as possible, to run concurrently with Irish classes. The management is commended for making these arrangements. It is noteworthy that students who have an exemption but who remain in class during Irish lessons are encouraged to participate in the Irish class and some students who have exemptions were studying Irish. The management and teachers are commended for the encouragement and support provided for these students.
There is a good provision of aids and resources in the school for the teaching of Irish. There are cupboards, shelves, an overhead projector, a television set, as well as CD and DVD players available in the classrooms. The school computer-room is available, but must be booked in advance and, additionally, laptop computers are also available to teachers. It is recommended that plans be made to make at least one data-projector available for the department of Irish, so that the teachers could integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the range of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies used. Two of the teachers of Irish have their own rooms and there is a dedicated storage space for resources for the teaching and learning of Irish in one of those rooms. It is also worth noting that the weekly newspaper Foinse is made available for use in the Irish lessons and that the publication Breacadh was also on order. This provision and the planning engaged in to facilitate students’ access to Irish in different media are highly commended.
Various events are organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge to enhance the students’ experience of the language and culture. Particularly commendable is the role assigned to Transition Year (TY) students, in organising and running these events, as part of their programme. The teachers are commended also for providing students with opportunities to engage in debating in Irish with their peers in their own classrooms. It would be worth considering ways of organising inter-class debates at a level suited to the students’ ability, to further their confidence in using the language. The Vocational Education Committee’s scholarship scheme is utilised to offer students opportunities of attending summer colleges in the Gaeltacht.
The management provides time for regular formal meetings of the teachers of Irish and they also meet informally. It is the practice in the school that the teacher who teaches sixth year, higher level, acts as co-ordinator for Irish. It is recommended that each teacher in turn adopt the role of co-ordinator, in order to develop the skills involved in this area and that the teachers, in collaboration with senior management, agree a role description for the co-ordinator. It would be advisable for the teachers to assume the role for a period longer than a single year so that, for example, certain development targets could be set and achieved within a given time-limit. Agendas are set for the meetings and minutes are kept. Minutes of recent meetings held by the department of Irish were included in the plan and they were available to the management. This is good practice. The management encourages the teachers to participate in opportunities for professional development, including workshops provided by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish. It is worth mentioning that the groundwork had been done for representatives of the department of Irish to attend a workshop on the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Irish shortly after this evaluation visit. The VEC also pays for the teachers’ membership of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge.
The plan developed for Irish is of good quality, as is the long-term plan for Irish in the various programmes and for the different year groups. The plan is monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. This practice is particularly praiseworthy, as is the level of co-operation that such work promotes among the team.
As a focus for the planning work to be undertaken in the coming three to five years, and as already identified by the teachers themselves, it is recommended that there should be a particular focus on increasing the level of student participation at higher level, in line with their ability. As a guide towards that target, it is recommended that a framework of the expected learning outcomes at the various levels and at different stages be devised. There should be an incremental structure to the development of the topics and the grammar as well as integration in the development of the language skills and the different aspects of the courses. This work would facilitate the differentiation of the content for individual classes. It is recommended, as part of this work also, and according to the experience of the teachers and the skills being developed by them, that planning be undertaken for the use of ICT in teaching and learning.
It was observed, in the case of certain classes, that the students were being empowered to use the necessary classroom language. This is highly commended because it enhances the opportunities available to promote Irish as the normal language of communication in class. It is recommended that this aspect of the work be included in the programme for first year and that the content order be restructured so that priority would be given to topics which give rise to students urgent need for communication such as the ability to discuss ‘My New School’. It would be advisable, therefore, to bring such a topic forward to the beginning of the school year and place more emphasis on the functions and notions outlined in the syllabus.
As regards the TY plan for Irish, it is recommended that other texts, besides those prescribed on the Leaving Certificate course be used. This would broaden the students’ experience of Irish language literature while developing the desired skills. It is also recommended that other modules be developed for the TY Irish programme, based on the contemporary status and use of Irish, for example.
Very good preparation had been done for the majority of the classes observed. Worksheets and other material such as pictures and excerpts from television programmes relevant to the content being dealt with in class had been prepared by the teachers. Particularly praiseworthy were those cases where the teachers themselves had devised the sheets and had made preparations to facilitate differentiation of the content in class. In some cases, plans for individual classes were provided and these were of a good standard, especially when the aims, objectives and the various steps in the learning process were set out, as well as an account of the aids and resources that would be used.
The quality of teaching and learning of Irish in Ardscoil Chiaráin Naofa is good.
The roll was called and answered in Irish at the start of most of the classes. This is good practice and it is recommended that its use be adopted as the norm in all classes. It is also recommended that a few minutes be taken at the outset to engage in conversation about a topical subject, to help students to settle into their Irish class, especially given that they are coming to class from situations where English or another language was the medium of communication.
In all classes, the students were informed of the aim of the lesson and this was written on the whiteboard. Particularly commendable were those cases where the expected learning outcomes were shared with the students. This practice should be more widely used and an opportunity created at the end of class to ask students to reflect on what they had learnt, by posing questions such as ‘what have you learnt today?’ and ‘how did you learn it?’
The development of language skills or of various aspects of the courses was integrated on a thematic basis, as appropriate, in the classes observed. Effective use was made of a variety of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies in this work. In all the classes, the students were required to undertake a variety of tasks and worthwhile efforts were being made to develop students’ ability in oral Irish. In a certain case, where there was a small group of students, the desks were arranged in a U shape and this created a situation which was very conducive to the discussion being conducted on literature.
The students were divided into groups for most of the tasks undertaken, in all classes. This is commendable, especially when the students have acquired the language necessary to tackle the task. This should be taken into account when planning group work or pair work. The case where the tasks to be undertaken by the students were differentiated, although all students in the class were working on the same content is highly commended. In the majority of cases, the lessons were very well structured and suitably paced. To implement a class plan, it is recommended that a time limit be set for the tasks and that this be communicated to the students, as was done in those cases where the plan was effectively implemented.
In some cases, slides were used to present pictures and new vocabulary to the students. This worked effectively also when used to provide a stimulus to remind the students of prior learning. When text is presented on a slide, it is recommended that teachers ensure that there is not too much text on the slide and that it is legible.
Those instances where an account of a recent school-outing was used as a basis for various writing and reading-comprehension tasks are particularly praiseworthy. This is a very effective way of encouraging students to express their own opinions, experience and feelings, while simultaneously developing their writing and reading comprehension skills. It is recommended that such strategies be used in other classes as appropriate.
As recommended, Irish was used as the medium of instruction, learning and classroom management. In some cases, grammar was integrated into the work in a very appropriate manner, based on the content in hand. In another case it was clear that students’ understanding of the syntax of Irish was being incrementally developed by giving them practice in putting adjectives into sentences. It is recommended that this practice be more extensively used, to help develop students’ language awareness. As part of this development of language awareness, it is recommended that teachers place a particular emphasis on the development of their accuracy of pronunciation, especially in the early years of the junior cycle. It was observed that students were answering in English when asked the meaning of certain words. It is recommended that alternative strategies such as miming, gesticulation or dictionaries be used. These strategies would be more effective in helping the students to acquire the language. Questioning was effectively used in certain cases to further challenge students in their learning. It is recommended that this practice be more extensively used.
In every class homework, based on the content of the lesson, was set as recommended. Particularly praiseworthy was the case in which the homework set for the students required them to frame questions based on a reading text. This is a highly effective way of assessing students’ understanding of a text and it affords them an important opportunity of practising the interrogative forms of verbs. It is recommended that the teachers continue this development of students’ ability to frame questions, both orally and in writing.
The atmosphere in the classrooms was supportive of learning and it was evident that there was a very positive relationship between teachers and students in the majority of cases. The students were affirmed and praised for their efforts in all the classes and samples of their work, as well as posters were on display on the walls of classrooms along with labels in Irish on the teaching aids and on some of the furniture. Cases were observed where this material was effectively used to check the learning done by the students as homework. It was clear that great progress was being made by the staff in cultivating a positive attitude to the language among the students. The students showed that they had made good progress in their learning and, in certain cases, they demonstrated a good command of the language and self-confidence in using it.
A good standard of assessment practice and procedures are employed.
The school’s assessment policy is used as a guideline for the assessment of Irish. There is no reference in the policy, however, to the Irish examination taken by prospective students as part of the school-transfer examination. If it is the intention to continue to use this Irish examination, it should be included in the policy document.
House examinations are conducted twice a year and ‘mock’ state examinations are taken during the second term, by third-year and sixth-year students. A report on students’ achievements in these examinations is sent home to the parents. Furthermore, interim reports on the achievements of first-year and fifth-year students are sent to their parents. This is good practice. The guidance provided in the policy, concerning conducting class tests regularly and using students’ homework diaries to report on their progress, is praiseworthy. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each year group. The Irish examinations consist mainly of written papers and listening comprehension tests. It is recommended that all the language skills be taken into account when assessing Irish. This would accord closely with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses and it would ensure that students would get credit for their progress in developing the various language skills. In this context, it is recommended that the assessment policy be reviewed in order to take account of the requirements of the Irish syllabuses and, specifically, to ensure that all the language skills are assessed.
In addition to examinations, teachers also monitor students’ participation in class and their homework as part of the assessment. The school’s homework policy sets out its aims and objectives clearly, and indicates the roles and responsibilities of teachers, parents and students in implementing the policy. This is commended. Homework based on the class-content was assigned in all lessons observed, as recommended. It was noted in some diaries inspected that not all students were regularly writing in the homework assigned. Teachers should ensure that students acquire the habit of recording the homework in their diaries. Students’ work in the copy books reviewed was very well organised in certain cases. This should ensure their usefulness as valuable assets for students’ revision work.
It is recommended that, during the next review of the homework policy, student needs in learning Irish be taken into account, keeping in mind that a variety of language skills must be developed. It is recommended also that teachers’ responsibility for correcting homework be mentioned. The copybooks reviewed indicated that homework was being regularly monitored and corrected, although it was evident in certain cases that the levels to which the work was being completed by the students varied. It is recommended that, during the review of homework and assessment policies for Irish, assessment for learning (AfL), as well as the possibilities of using it in the assessment of Irish, be discussed. Furthermore, it is recommended that its basic principles be mentioned in the policy: that students be given recognition for work well or correctly done, as well as guidance on ways of improving their work. Further information on AfL is available at www.ncca.ie.
The management and teachers conduct an analysis of individual student attainment in the state examinations. This practice is commended. An account of its findings should be written, for inclusion in the subject-plan for Irish and the practice should be taken into account in the school’s assessment policy.
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 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 were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009