An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Andrew’s College
Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll Number: 60650F
Date of Inspection: 11 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Andrew’s College, Co. Dublin. 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 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 board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The Irish classes in first year in Saint Andrew’s College are mixed-ability classes. Second year students are then divided into classes based on the first year results. The wishes of parents, and the recommendations of teachers are also taken into account. The students are divided in second year into two blocks accommodating five higher-level classes and two ordinary-level classes. The same arrangement of classes applies in third year. There are usually four higher-level and three ordinary-level classes in Transition Year (TY). An extra class is organised in this year for students from abroad and students with exemptions from Irish. Students undertake a course in Irish culture where they learn about the country’s heritage and culture with some Irish language covered as part of their study. School management is commended for providing such a course, as it is important that other students who are not learning Irish as a subject at school would have an opportunity to experience the heritage and culture of Ireland. In fifth year there are three higher level classes and four ordinary level classes. The number of higher-level classes may decrease in sixth year and sometimes there are two higher-level classes and five ordinary-level classes. The number of students attempting the higher-level course has been increasing in recent years and achievement in the state examinations, at both levels, is very good.
The provision for Irish on the school timetable is quite satisfactory with five periods a week provided for all classes at junior-cycle level. Four periods are provided for Transition Year students which is commendable and there are five periods a week then allocated to fifth and sixth year students. Concurrent timetabling ensures flexibility for students in relation to moving from one level to another providing permission has been granted by the class teacher and parents.
There are nine teachers engaged in teaching Irish in the school. Some of these are newly appointed teachers who are still engaged in obtaining their full teaching qualifications and the majority have many years of experience in teaching the language. Teachers stay with their class for junior cycle and the same situation generally pertains to senior cycle in order to ensure continuity for students. The principal, however, decides which teachers take the higher level classes. It is recommended that all teachers are given the opportunity to teach different age groups and levels up to leaving certificate level as appropriate.
Two hundred and thirty of the total of nine hundred and seventy six students have an exemption from studying Irish. One hundred and sixteen of these exemptions are held by students who lived overseas up until the age of eleven, forty six exemptions are held by students who have come to the school from abroad, and the other sixty eight exemptions are held by students with specific learning difficulties.
The school makes worthwhile efforts to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge by organising Irish activities and events during Irish classes and in the school environment in general. The work undertaken in this regard is commendable. A significant amount of debating work is also undertaken in Irish with the students in the school and particular year groups are taken to productions of the drama company Fíbín. It is recommended that the activities taking place outside the classroom would continue and that the extra-curricular and cross-curricular programme would be developed so that an enjoyable and interesting programme runs throughout the year. An extra-curricular and cross-curricular programme strengthens teachers’ work in class and this can be very beneficial for students. It is recommended, for example, that the possibility of establishing an Irish club in the school would be explored to provide students with a further opportunity to speak Irish. It is also recommended that part of the Transition Year programme would include assisting teachers in organising events for younger students.
A number of students from the school go to the Gaeltacht each year but it was not clear that a significant number attend Irish summer courses. It is recommended that the Irish teachers, with support from school management, would remind students and their parents of the advantages pertaining to spending a period of time during the summer on an Irish course in the Gaeltacht or on some one of the courses that are available in the city.
A resource and administration room is available for the Irish department. Although the space available is limited, it is organised in an effective manner and the resources are easily recognisable and visible. It was indicated that work was being undertaken to record a list of the resources available for Irish in the school. It is recommended that this work would be completed as soon as possible so that a list of the resources can be made available for every Irish teacher. It is much more likely that the various resources and materials would be sourced and used in Irish classes if teachers had access to a list of the available resources.
Some of the Irish teachers have their own classrooms. Some of those classrooms were presented in a very attractive manner with posters and other materials pertaining to language teaching and students’ own work on display. It is recommended that an effort would be made wherever possible to create a pleasant Irish environment and that plenty of useful phrases and sentences would be displayed on the walls of the classrooms.
School management provide every opportunity for teachers to attend continuing professional developement courses in their own subject areas. Practically every Irish teacher has had the opportunity to attend the courses provided by the Second Level Support Service for Irish, in the past couple of years. Two teachers attended a course in the use of information and comunications technology (ICT) in teaching Irish. Post graduate courses in Irish and in other subjects are being pursued by teachers also and school management operates a fund in relation to fees. The school pays for teacher membership in Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. Management is commended for its support for teachers’ professional development.
One of the Irish teachers has been nominated as the coordinator for planning for the teaching and learning of the language. This is a post in the school and the duties of the post have been detailed succinctly and carefully. The duties of the coordinator include the following: providing leadership for the subject teachers and motivating them to engage in the work as a team, being responsible in general for the coordination of schemes of work and subject plans, encouraging discussion and debate on the use of a range of methodologies, assessment methods, and resources. The coordinator is also responsible for organising and directing meetings, and for communicating with parents when a student wishes to change from one level to another. The organisation of common examinations and marking systems is also within the remit of the coordinator. The role of the co-ordinator is a comprehensive one and it was evident that the Irish department and documentation pertaining to the department, was well organised, professional and effective.
The Irish teachers meet as a group once a month during the year. Minutes of the meetings in Irish and a translation in English were available on the day of the inspection. The minutes indicated that a wide range of topics is discussed at these meetings including: book lists; work schemes; the content of the cultural programme, information for teachers about promoting the language, the budget, ‘fáinne’ examinations, Seachtain na Gaeilge and resources.
During the inspection a very good plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was made available. The plan presented was clear and easy to read. The general subject plan describes the school mission statement, programmes and levels, and subject aims and objectives. There was also information in the plan on the time allocation for Irish, on the ranking of students, on cross-curricular planning, methods of record retention and methods of reporting, incareer development for teachers and the range and variety of resources for teaching the language. Additionally, excellent work schemes have been developed for all year groups including details regarding content, aims, objectives, resources, methodologies, assessment and accommodation for students with specific needs regarding aspects of learning. The Irish teachers are highly commended for the amount of work they have covered on planning in general and for the high standard pertaining to that work.
An effort is made to provide an interesting programme for Transition Year students and to give them an opportunity to experience Irish as a living language. Transition Year students are brought on a cultural visit to two Gaeltacht areas and a significant emphasis is placed on the Irish language during that visit. TY students are given an opportunity to participate in poetry workshops with a renowned Irish poet and it was indicated that this workshop works well. The presentation of “fáinní” forms part of the assessment structure of the Transition Year. It is recommended that teachers would continue seeking various creative ways to present the language to the students during that year.
St. Andrew’s College participates in an international assessment system entitled The International Accreditation School Process, and the school is engaged on an ongoing basis in the self- assessment of the work of the school and teacher self-assessment. The Irish teachers assessed the plan for the teaching and learning of the language during the school year 2007/08 and methodologies, resources and student assessment were examined as part of the process. The teachers are currently reviewing methodologies and assessment methods. The review of the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in Irish classes is also intended. The number of interactive white boards available in the school is increasing and it is intended to have some of these in the Irish classrooms. Teachers are commended for the self-assessment they are undertaking and for their forward planning in relation to the use of ICT.
Comprehensive lesson plans were provided for some of the lessons observed. These lessons had been carefully and comprehensively prepared and the commitment to preparing the work was evident. Notes and work sheets were provided in many of those classes observed.
The use of Irish as the language of management, instruction and communication was excellent in all classes observed. With one exception, involving some small degree of translation from Irish to English when there was no need to do so, teachers made every effort to avoid translation as a methodology. The commitment of teachers in using the target language is commendable. Answers to questions and other communications, such as excuses for latecoming, were sought from students in Irish and this is good practice. It is essential that students would at least make an effort to use Irish as the language of communication in the classroom.
In the majority of the classes observed students were made aware of the aim of the lesson at the beginning of class. The aim was clearly written on the whiteboard or displayed on screen. Such practice is effective as it provides students with information and a degree of responsibility in regard to their own learning.
The manner, in most of those classes observed, whereby opportunities to communicate in Irish were created for students by using strategies such as pair work and group work is commendable. It is recommended that this practice would be extended to all classes and that students would be given regular opportunities to speak in Irish in class. Merely answering the teachers’ questions is not sufficient opportunity for speaking Irish. It is also recommended, when questions are being prepared as pair work for students, that the appropriateness of those questions would be considered and that it would be ensured that those questions would prompt discussions amongst the students. Although opportunities were created for students to communicate during classes many of them had difficulty with the spoken language in terms of fluency, the correct use of verbs and other aspects of grammar. It is recommended that teachers would discuss this amongst themselves and agree some strategies that might initially be implemented in first year. It is recommended that more emphasis would be placed on oral language and on the functional use of verbs. It is also essential to focus particular attention on correcting pronunciation and errors in grammar.
The manner in which information and communication technology (ICT) was used in some classes is commendable. In cases when ICT was used it worked well and the classes were more effective and appealing as a result. The work of those teachers using technology to prepare their lessons is commendable. In one of the instances observed a lesson was prepared based on music which included questions, photographs and notes on the slides displayed. Some slides had pieces of music added and these were particularly effective.
In general different activities were covered in every class and this provided teachers with an opportunity to practice all language skills, and the lessons as a consequence were well paced. There was a great effort made in those lessons observed to make the lessons relevant and interesting to students and such an approach is highly commendable. There were good efforts made to connect the content of the lessons to the everyday lives of the students. References were made to current issues that would be of interest to students such as music and sport, and students were asked about their own lives in the context of the content of the lesson. It was also evident that some of the recommendations of the Second Level Support Services for Irish were being implemented in some classes, and this is commendable. A range of additional resources were used in lessons such as ICT, the use of a film extract, a poster, and the overhead projector. It is recommended, however, that the development and use of a compliation of additional resources in classes would continue. The use of media, films, music and other materials greatly enhances students’ interest in learning Irish as a contemporary language and their appropriate use is helpful in contextualising aspects of literature, prose and poetry, for students.
The teachers were very diligent and energetic in those classes observed. They circulated amongst the students during the lessons ensuring that they were all working and that all students understood the work in hand. Teachers displayed great patience with students who displayed difficulty with various aspects of learning and students making an effort were regularly praised. Discipline was excellent in all those classes observed.
In house examinations are conducted at Christmas and in the summer. Students also have class examinations at mid-term and at Easter. The school places significant emphasis on asssessment and students work is assessed by means of continuous assessment throughout the year. Very detailed records are maintained on students’ progress. Reports are issued to parents at the end of each term providing them with information on students’ progress and effort during that term. In fifth year two additional reports are issued to parents and monthly reports are issued to parents of sixth year students. The commitment of management to keeping parents very comprehensively informed is commendable.
In first and second year students are required to spend a particular amount of time each evening studying various subjects. They maintain a record in a special notebook of the amount of study they do and parents sign this notebook at the end of each week. This is good practice in so far as it places a responsibility at a young age on students for their own learning and study, and it develops good work habits that will be very helpful when they prepare for state examinations.
It was evident from copybooks that homework is given and corrected regularly. In a few of the instances observed the homework was written on the white board before the end of the class. This is a good idea as students are required to take down and complete the assigned homework. There were, however, various practices in evidence in regard to correcting copybooks in that, while they were all corrected in detail and with care there was, in some classes, no mark or grade or comment on the students’ progress in evidence on the copybooks. It is important that students would always be informed of their progress and it is recommended that teachers would agree an approach in relation to this.
All the language skills are assesed at Christmas and in the summer, including oral language. This is good practice and the staff is commended in this regard. Students from first year onwards need to be reminded of the importance pertaining to the communicative aspect of language learning.
These are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is commended for the cultural class provided for Transition Year students who do not study Irish as a subject.
· The work done in organising the resource room, and the work currently underway in compiling a list of the resources available in school for the teaching of Irish, is commendable.
· The planning work of the Irish teachers is of a very high standard and the self-assessment in relation to their plans and to other aspects of teaching is commendable.
· Teachers were energetic and diligient in their work in the Irish classes and there appeared to be a very good relationship between students and teachers.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, instruction and interaction was excellent in those classes observed.
· Opportunities were provided in most of the classes observed for students to communicate in Irish during the lessons.
· The effective use of ICT as observed in some classes is commendable.
· School management is commended for the ongoing emphasis placed on assessment and for the regular reports issued to parents.
· In recent years the number of pupils taking the higher level papers in Leaving Certificate Irish has been increasing and the achievement in general of students in the state examinations
at both levels is good.
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 further development of an extra-curricular and cross-curricular programme for Irish would continue so that an encouraging and interesting
programme is provided for students throughout the year.
· It is recommended that students and parents would be reminded of the advantages pertaining to spending a period of time on an Irish course during the summer so to improve spoken Irish.
· It is recommended that teachers would agree strategies, initially for first year students, to develop oral language skills.
· It is recommended that the number of resources and materials used during Irish classes be increased so as to present a wider context for students on the content of the lessons
and on the language itself.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2010