An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Irish
Terenure, Dublin 6
Roll Number: 60570H
Date of inspection: 12 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Terenure College, Dublin 6. 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and to some of the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
This school has mixed-ability classes in first year. The students are then separated in second year between four higher-level classes and two ordinary-level classes. There are three higher-level classes and three ordinary-level classes in third year and that arrangement is continued in Transition Year. The number of students intending to attempt higher level falls greatly in fifth year and there is only one higher-level class in fifth and sixth year. The teachers have identified this as an issue over the past couple of years and they are working to significantly increase the number of students taking higher level for the Leaving Certificate. They achieved this aim in the 2008 State Leaving Certificate examinations when the number of students who took higher-level Irish papers increased substantially. The Irish teachers hope that up to three higher-level classes will be undertaking the Leaving Certificate examination in the year 2010. The teachers are highly commended for their efforts in this respect.
There are eight teachers teaching Irish in the school. Six of the teachers have degrees in Irish and most of them have many yearsí experience of teaching the subject. The teachers rotate the classes among themselves every year under the direction of the school management. This is good practice as each teacher is given the opportunity to teach all age groups and levels, as appropriate, a practice which helps to develop the skills and professional expertise of all the teachers. It was reported that there is flexibility concerning students moving from one level to another but such movement is taken seriously and the students must have their parentsí signature on a transfer form to do this.
Fifty three of the total of seven hundred and twenty four students in the school have an exemption from studying Irish. Various learning difficulties are the reason for thirty nine exemptions, thirteen other students with exemptions have come from abroad and there is one exemption for which no reason is given. The college management is advised to ensure that circular M10/94 is being complied with and to ensure that, if students are not entitled to an exemption according to the circular, that they study the language. It was reported that students with exemptions are encouraged to learn Irish according to their ability and wishes and at present two students with exemptions are studying Irish. This approach is highly commended.
Certain efforts are made in the school to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge by organising internal class activities as well as a quiz and a couple of other activities. According to the reports provided a great emphasis is placed on debating through Irish in the school throughout the year and during Seachtain na Gaeilge in particular. Some students also take part in the Gael Linn debates and students are brought to productions of Irish plays when these are staged in Dublin. The teachersí efforts in organising this co-curricular and cross-curricular programme for students are commended. However, it is recommended that this programme be developed gradually and that an annual programme of activities be provided which would give students the experience of Irish as a living language in different ways. Irish-language activities and events underpin the teachersí efforts in the classes and accordingly they are very important.
The teachers do not have their own base classrooms making it difficult to create a stimulating Irish-language environment in the classrooms. The Irish teachers and the school management are advised to ensure that signage and other material in Irish is displayed in the school environment to raise the profile of the language in Terenure College.
It was reported that students are advised to spend a period on an Irish course in the Gaeltacht during the summer and that the number of students attending these courses has increased in recent years. There is a significant emphasis on this support for learning the language in Transition Year. It is recommended that students and especially their parents should continue to be informed about the various Irish courses available during the summer in Dublin and in the Gaeltacht regions. The more students who experience Irish as a living language outside of the school, the more the positive the effect of those courses will have on attitudes to the language in the school. Every effort is made to take higher-level students in sixth year on a visit to a Gaeltacht region just before the oral examination in the Leaving Certificate. The work of the teachersí in relation to this trip is commended.
A coordinator of planning for the teaching and learning of Irish has been appointed in the school. The coordinatorís duties are defined in detail. The Irish teachers meet as a group once each term and minutes in Irish of those meetings are available. These meetings relate generally to book lists, allocation of students to classes, arrangements for oral examinations, the organisation of school examinations, class prizes and the issue of the number of students taking higher-level Irish in the state Leaving Certificate examinations.
It is evident that considerable work has been done already in relation to planning for Irish in the school. Details were provided of the Irish departmentís approach to the subject containing an honest assessment of the departmentís own work and progress. The importance of the use of the target language in the class was recognised and the achievements of the Irish department in recent years in stimulating and fostering the studentsí interest in learning language were highlighted. A description of the Irish departmentís policies and decisions regarding teaching approaches and methods was also included. Work plans were provided for each year group and each of the various levels within those year groups. Although the document provided contains very good material it is strongly recommended that the different aspects of the planning work be compiled in one booklet, in electronic format, as one single plan for the teaching and learning of Irish. It would also be advisable to give more details, side by side with the topics and aspects of the courses to be covered, concerning methodologies, approaches and resources to be used in the classroom. It would be of assistance to the teachers to have this as a working document which could be added to and subtracted from annually as necessary.
Efforts are made to widen the studentsí experience of Irish as a living language during Transition Year. It was reported that students from two full classes attend the Gael Linn communications course and that they are given an opportunity to write radio and television scripts and to make radio programmes. The school management are commended for providing these opportunities for students. However, the Transition Year Irish course in general appears to be quite academic. The teachers are advised to do an annual review of Irish in Transition Year to ensure that an interesting and stimulating programme is provided for the students and that creative and innovative teaching methods are used. It should also be ensured that only a small part, at the most, of the Leaving Certificate Irish course is covered during that year.
There was careful and comprehensive planning for the classes observed and the vast majority of the classes were well-paced as a result.
There was very good use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication in all the classes observed. In some classes visited, however, translation was used continuously, even when this was not necessary. The teachers are commended for their diligence in the use of the target language. However the Irish department needs to agree a common policy on the use of translation from Irish to English and to devise other strategies to ensure studentsí understanding of the lesson content. Translation should not be used regularly, especially with higher-level classes.
Although many of the students observed in the classes had a good standard of Irish it was felt that some of the students were inclined to use English with the teachers when asking for clarification, making excuses and asking questions in the classes in general. The teachers are advised to discuss this issue and to agree a policy on the use of the target language in the class among the students in accordance with their ability. It is understood that there is a wide range of ability levels in the Irish classes but higher-level students, even in the junior classes, should be able to attempt to use Irish with the teachers in the course of lessons.
The teachers conducted the observed classes energetically and diligently. Students answered questions and took an active part in the classes. Students were well-mannered and courteous in the classes overall and discipline was excellent. It was clear that there is a very good rapport between the students and the teachers and mutual respect was evident.
Many examples of good practice in relation to teaching methodologies were observed in the classes inspected. In one case the students were told a story which was explained to them in detail and the themes and subject of the story were connected with various aspects of the literature course. An effective atmosphere of suspense was created in the class during the telling of the story and the students were attentive and listening during the lesson. The students were given notes on the story and their attention was drawn to useful phrases to use when writing their own stories. It is always important to draw the studentsí attention to practical aspects of learning the language. Another case was observed in which a grammar class was taught to higher-level students. The students were informed of the lesson objectives at the start of the period and it was explained to them that the teacher would be revising common grammatical errors that had been identified and collected from their work. The class was very effective and it was obvious that the students enjoyed it and benefitted from it. Humour was used to make an impression on the students and this plan worked well. The teacher had created different ways to help the students memorise the grammatical rules. Literary techniques for poetry were covered also and connections were made between these and the grammatical rules. It was felt that the students had a good knowledge of Irish grammar. The teacherís aim was to ensure that they were able to make functional use of the rules and it was clear that that aim was being achieved. In some other classes it was felt that many opportunities were being missed to correct the studentsí Irish, including common grammatical errors, correct pronunciation and the correct use of verb tenses. It is important to confront these difficulties which students have without detriment to their self-confidence. The students must be reminded on a continuous basis to listen closely to the questions they are being asked so that they will answer correctly. †
The way in which a television programme was shown during a lesson focussing on holidays is commended. The video on holidays abroad was shown to students at the outset and then they were asked open questions about their own experiences on holidays. A worksheet was prepared on the subject for distribution to the students also. There was a good variety of activities and there was effective continuity between them where each piece of the lesson built upon previous work.
Another case was observed where students who were not that competent in the language were prepared for an oral examination in an effective way. Although these students were reluctant to speak the teacher had a very good way of persuading the students to work with him and to speak Irish. Considerable patience was shown where students were having difficulties with learning the language in some classes observed and that approach is commended.
In certain classes steps were taken to create opportunities for students to use the target language. For example, pair work, group work and role-playing were used to give the students a chance to speak Irish in class. This approach is highly commended. It is recommended, however, that, that this practice be extended to all the classes. Many other classes were observed in which the students were not given any opportunity to use the target language except to answer the teacherís questions. †This is not considered sufficient opportunity for the students to use the language. The students in each class should be given the opportunity to practise all the language skills including listening, comprehending, speaking and writing. If group work is involved in a class it is necessary to ensure that the groups are not too big. The effect of the work will be lost if the group is too big as not everybody gets an opportunity to speak.
Although there is great emphasis on the use of resources in the Irish departmentís documentation it was felt that this aim was not being achieved on a systematic basis in the classroom. Apart from the effective use of the white board and the showing of a video clip in one case, few other resources were used in the classes. The teachers are advised to discuss this issue in order to stimulate the use of a wider range of resources in the classes. It is important to place the content of lessons in a contemporary context for students especially in relation to the poetry and prose courses. The studentsí interest in Irish language literature would be greatly increased if a link could be made between the themes of the literature and the studentsí own lives. The Irish-language communications media are a very valuable resource and it is recommended that they be used regularly.
In-house examinations are held in the school at Christmas and in summer. There are mock examinations for the examination classes at Easter and internal class examinations for the other classes in the school. Regular reports are sent to the parents about their childrenís progress. Reports about homework are sent to the parents of first year and fifth year students. A homework accreditation system is in place for the classes in third year and Transition Year.
All the students in each class undergo formal class examinations before each mid-term break and before the end of each term. Precise records are kept of the results of these examinations. The students are set regular examinations in the class during the year also.
The first year students undergo oral examinations three times during that year. This approach is highly commended. However, there is no definite policy in place after that regarding assessment of the studentsí oral skills. It is recommended that the first year practice regarding assessment of studentsí oral skills be extended to all other year groups. It is necessary that appropriate emphasis be placed on this aspect of language learning and that students be reminded of the importance of the spoken language on a continuous basis. One class in third year last year attempted the optional oral examination in the state Junior Certificate examination and it was reported that they did well. The teachers are commended for their work in attempting that examination.
It was clear from the copybooks observed during the classes visited that homework is assigned and corrected regularly. There was considerable work to be seen in the copybooks and careful corrections were made of the work in them with a mark or grade and reference to the merit of the work. Folders were in use in the senior classes observed, containing many notes on the literature courses. It was felt however, that there was too much emphasis on translation from Irish to English in some of the copybooks observed. In one case observed there was an English version side by side with each piece of work in Irish. Other measures must be taken apart from translation to ensure studentsí understanding of the written matter.
The studentsí achievements in the state examinations are good at the various levels. As already mentioned, however, efforts are being made in recent years to significantly increase the number of students taking higher-level Irish papers for the Leaving Certificate examination. It is clear from the good results at ordinary level that a greater number of students could attempt higher level without difficulty. The Irish teachers are commended for their diligence in focussing on this issue and it is recommended that this focus should be maintained in future years.
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 key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with some of the Irish teachers and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Staff and Management of Terenure College welcome the Subject inspection of Irish and the subsequent Report.
In Particular we welcome and appreciate the recognition and commendation given to:
In addition the academic nature of the schoolís Transition Year Programme was noted.
Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Having reflected upon the Report the following are some of the actions we have taken and observations we wish to make: