An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ballinteer Community School
Ballinteer, Dublin 16
Roll number: 91305L
Date of inspection: 23 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report On the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballinteer Community School as part of a Whole School Evaluation. 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 students are streamed in first year based on the results of the assessment tests that are given to them before coming to the school. They are then divided into three different classes. It was reported that every effort is made to have the first two classes timetabled at the same time so that the students can move between the higher level and the ordinary level if they so wish. It was also reported that the third stream for the most part, take Irish at foundation level. The teachers of Irish make great efforts to ensure that the higher level classes are maintained in the school. This is an ongoing challenge, it was stated. These efforts are recognised and are commended. It is very important that a certain percentage of the students in the school would have the aim and objective of undertaking Irish at higher level.
It was reported that there are seventy nine students in the school with an exemption from the study of Irish. It was stated that thirty seven of these students are international students while forty two students have learning difficulties.
The school had significant difficulties this year trying to get sufficient teachers to provide fully for the teaching of Irish. These difficulties arose because of the retirement of teachers and teachers being on sick leave. It was reported that these difficulties are now more or less resolved.
It was reported that the first two streams have four periods of Irish a week while the foundation class has three periods a week. The same arrangements continue for the three classes up to the Junior Certificate level. However, it appears that one of the second year classes at ordinary level has only three periods a week and that the foundation level class has only two periods a week. This number of periods for Irish is not sufficient and it is recommended that this be investigated immediately. Neither is three periods a week sufficient for the third stream. Another period should be provided for this class. It is recommended that, in future, the school management would investigate the possibility of providing an additional period for at least the third year of the junior cycle. In general, it was felt that the provision being made for certain classes at the junior level should be examined. The provision in the senior cycle is quite satisfactory where all classes have five periods of Irish in the week.
It was reported that certain efforts are made in the school to celebrate “Seachtain na Gaeilge” by organising a concert and by the erection of posters throughout the school. It is recommended that the possibilities of organising extra Irish occasions not only, during “Seachtain na Gaeilge” but also, throughout the rest of the school year, be investigated. Opinions and recommendations could be sought from both staff members and from students. It is intended to bring the Transition Year group to Rath Cairn this year and the enthusiasm of the teacher involved is to be commended in this regard. It is very important to demonstrate to the students in various contexts outside the classroom that Irish is a living language.
It was reported that every teacher keeps his own supply of resources and materials for teaching the language. It is recommended that the quantity of resources available in the school be catalogued immediately and that these resources would be centrally located so that they would be easily accessible to all teachers. It is also recommended that planning be undertaken for the acquisition and provision of a wide range of resources in the future. A suitable budget could be presented to the principal on a yearly basis.
Some of the teachers of Irish have their own base classrooms. A certain number of posters and the work of some students were displayed in these rooms. It is recommended however, that the amount of materials, related to the teaching and learning of Irish be increased in the classrooms and in the corridors of the school, in general.
It was reported that a large number of students from the school do not go to the Gaeltacht. Nevertheless, the Irish teachers try to locate two or three scholarships for students of the school. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended. It was also reported that an Irish course is organised every summer in the school, a course that is well regarded, and that a certain number of students from the school attend this course. It is recommended that the teachers would continue to encourage the students to attend this course if they have not got the resources to go to the Gaeltacht.
A coordinator has been nominated to take charge of the organisation of planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. This practice of one person being responsible for co-ordination of planning is commended. An opportunity is given to the teachers to meet together twice a year, at the beginning and end of the year. The division of classes and the allocation of students to those classes together with booklists and the progress of students are the main topics that are discussed.
It was evident from the planning documentation that was presented on the day of the inspection that a vast amount of work had been done by teachers on an individual basis on formal planning. Plans and schemes of work for every group year were presented and among the items described were class context, learning aims, content to be covered and teaching methods. It is recommended that this planning work be further developed in order to put together a unified, comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. It is recommended that the management of the school investigate the possibilities of creating opportunities for the Irish teachers to come together to draft this plan over a period of time. This type of plan would include the aims and objectives of the various year groups as well as describing lesson content, teaching methods, learning objectives and a list of a wide range of resources for class usage.
It is recommended that there would be debate and discussion among the teachers of Irish about the use of information and communication technology and that a certain amount of planning would be completed before moving into the new building. Some help and advice could be sought from other teachers on the staff who have an understanding of and skills in the use of new technology.
Good, comprehensive planning was done for the classes that were inspected and as a result of this classes were well paced.
The use of Irish as the language of classroom management, communication and instruction was very good in certain classes observed. The enthusiasm of the teachers in this regard is highly commended. However, a few cases were observed in which too much use was made of translation from Irish to English. It is recommended that the teachers would discuss among themselves some strategies to avoid the use of translation as much as possible.
The teachers were enthusiastic and energetic in the classes observed. They moved around the classroom speaking to the students, correcting them, helping them and ensuring that they were completing their work. In certain cases observed students demonstrated great interest in the lesson and they were prepared to answer questions and participate in conversation in Irish with the teacher as much as possible. It is recommended that the teachers would discuss ways to enable the students to speak Irish from first year onwards. It is important that there would be continuity in the methods of encouragement that would be used and also continuity from year to year and from teacher to teacher. The cooperation and mutual understanding of the teachers would be very important in this aspect of the teaching of the language. The practice that some teachers have of easing into the lesson at the beginning of class using informal discussion is highly commended. If however, this practice is not continued, the effect of the good practice is lost when the students move on to another class.
It was felt that the language skills were well integrated in the vast majority of the classes that were observed. Certain opportunities were given to students to use spoken Irish, mainly as they answered questions, in other cases students were asked to read aloud and listening and writing skills were also used. It is important, however, to ensure that sufficient opportunities to speak the language are created for the students. Devices, such as, games, pair work and role-play can be used if the students are not capable of spontaneous conversation from a language ability point of view.
The teachers succeeded in getting the students to work in all the classes observed. There was great energy in a number of the classes. Discipline was excellent and a pleasant atmosphere was experienced in all the classes.
The use that was made of the overhead projector in a number of cases observed is commended. It is very important that extra resources are used in the classroom so that the teaching and learning of Irish is more interesting and relevant both for the teachers and the students. It is highly recommended that any material dispersed in the classroom is modern and interesting. The efforts that were made in a few classes to link the content of the lesson to the lives of the students were recognised. Students were asked questions about their own experience in aspects of life outside school in a way that linked the content of the lesson to areas of concern to the students themselves. It is very important to do this so that the learning of the language is linked to the modern life of the students. Effective use was also made of the whiteboard in the classes observed.
The manner in which poetry was taught in one particular case is highly commended. There was excellent development of the themes and characters in question. The students displayed great interest in the poem, due to the liveliness and enthusiasm of the teacher. Vocabulary was also effectively developed. It is recommended that appropriate dictionaries are available in all Irish classes. This would help to provide opportunities for students to gain experience in the correct usage of dictionaries for homework.
One case observed in which students were expected to answer questions with full sentences rather than just single words, was commended. No specific grammar teaching was seen in any of the classes observed but aspects of grammar were interwoven through most of the lessons.
House examinations are organised twice a year, at Christmas and in summer. Reports are sent home regularly to parents throughout the year. Students are also assessed in October. As well as this, the teachers give regular class tests. It is intended this year to compare the results of the test assessments carried out in February on the students before they come to the school with the results of the assessments carried out in October. It is intended to do this comparison in Mathematics, English and Irish. This will give the teachers a good insight into the progress of the students.
It was reported that no serious assessment is carried out on the students’ ability in oral Irish until Transition Year. It is felt that it is too late to undertake assessment at this point. At this age the students become too shy and too fearful of speaking Irish and it is difficult for them to become accustomed to using the language on an informal basis. It is recommended that this assessment be carried out from first year onwards together with the strategies that will be used to encourage students to speak in the class.
A good amount of work was done in the copybooks that were observed and very careful corrections were done on some of them. Interesting, creative homework was given in one particular case observed where imagination was required by students in order to complete the work. It was recommended that the teachers would discuss a common system of correction among themselves, in order to ensure that students would learn from their mistakes.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The strong efforts of the teachers to encourage students to undertake Irish at higher level if they have the ability is recognised and commended.
· The efforts of teachers in organising events during “Seachtain na Gaeilge” and in locating scholarships for the students are commended.
· The amount of work done by teachers on yearly plans and on schemes of work at an individual level is recognised and commended.
· The use of Irish as a working language in teaching and communication was outstanding in certain classes observed.
· The manner of integration of all the language skills in some of the classes observed is commended.
· It was felt that the teachers succeeded in encouraging students and in getting them to work.
· The manner in which a poetry lesson was taught in one particular case that was observed is highly commended.
· It was felt that the teachers had great energy and enthusiasm and a pleasant atmosphere was observed in the classes.
· The efforts that were made to link the content of the lesson to the lives of the students are commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is necessary to examine the provision for Irish for certain classes both in the short term and in the long term.
· It is recommended that the number of events during “Seachtain na Gaeilge” and throughout the year be extended.
· It is recommended that the resources and materials for Irish be registered immediately and that they be located centrally so that all teachers can access them easily.
· It is recommended that a unified, comprehensive plan be devised for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school taking planning for the use of new technology into consideration.
· It is recommended that the teachers discuss among themselves strategies to avoid the use of translation in the classrooms.
· It is recommended that use be made of a wider range of resources in order to make the learning of Irish more interesting for the students.
· It is recommended that oral Irish be assessed from first year onwards.
· It is recommended that a common correction system be put in place to ensure that all the students can learn from their grammar mistakes.
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.