An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Muckross Park College
Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60710U
Date of inspection: 3 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Muckross Park College. 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 deputy principal and the teachers of Irish. 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.
There is a banding system in operation in Muckross Park College and there are three bands in each year group. The students are placed in one of these bands in first year based on their performance in assessment tests undertaken before coming to the school. There are two classes on average in each of these three bands and those classes are of mixed ability. A very high number of students take the higher-level papers in the state examinations at Junior and Leaving Certificate level and there is a very high rate of achievement in Irish.
There are eight teachers teaching Irish in the school. They all have years of experience in teaching the subject. The classes are rotated between the teachers every year so that they all have the opportunity to teach all age groups and every level. However, every effort is made to leave the same teacher with each class from first year until Junior Certificate and the same arrangement is implemented for fifth and sixth years. This approach is commendable. An extra teacher is sometimes provided in third and fifth year to create an extra class for students who have language learning difficulties. School management is to be commended for providing this extra support.
The provision for Irish on the school timetable at junior cycle is satisfactory with five periods a week. Transition Year (TY) classes have three periods of Irish a week and two of these are a double class on one day. Management should review this arrangement from year to year to ensure that it is the best solution for the students when it comes to having access to the language from the point of view of continuity and regular contact with the language. There are five periods of Irish a week in fifth and sixth year.
There are very few students in the school who are exempt from the study of Irish. There are fifteen students out of six hundred and sixty seven who are exempt from studying Irish.
The teachers make every effort to develop and foster the students’ experience of Irish as a living language. A broad range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities are organised and the work of teachers with regard to the programme of activities is highly commended. The school actively participates in Gael Linn debates both at junior and senior level. The language is used in liturgical services in the school and there is an annual Irish Mass in the school to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Moreover, Irish social occasions are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge for example céilis, a table quiz, a treasure hunt and a poster exhibition. Also, social nights have commenced between Muckross Park College and an all Irish boys’ school to afford the students the opportunity to practice their Irish with other students in a pleasant and informal environment. The school intends to take part in a new Irish competition “Gleo” organised by Foras na Gaeilge. Some teachers in the school want to initiate a conversation circle for students in certain year groups and this is commended as a plan to provide further opportunities for conversation among the students. It is evident that the teachers have an above average appreciation for and interest in the promotion of Irish as a living language among the students. They are highly praised for their work in this vital area of language learning.
The students are encouraged to attend Gaeltacht colleges and it was reported that up to seventy per cent of them attend at least one Gaeltacht course during their time in school. This was evident from the students’ oral ability in Irish. This practice is commendable as a period on an Irish course instils confidence in students to speak the language.
The Irish teachers have their own rooms and this gives them the opportunity to decorate their rooms with material relating to teaching and learning the language. The teachers are to be commended for the work done on creating a pleasant learning atmosphere in the classrooms. In some instances observed, the material on the wall was used during lessons to clarify a point or to explain a word or phrase to the students.
There is a range of language teaching aids in the school and they are kept in the teachers’ rooms for the most part. There are resource files for each year group in the school and all the teachers can access them. It is recommended that a list be compiled of all the resources in the school and this should be part of the plan for language teaching and learning. It is recommended that relevant websites should be monitored for new resources coming on stream.
The teachers meet once a term at least and it was reported that they meet regularly for informal discussions. The good working relationship among the teachers was evident as was their experience of working as a team. Minutes in Irish are kept of the meetings. Among the items discussed at these meetings are the allocation of students to classes; booklists; individual student needs; common exams; the TY plan; Seachtain na Gaeilge and other events.
One of the teachers was nominated as planning coordinator of language teaching and learning. This responsibility is shared among all the teachers every two years. This is considered good practice.
It was evident that much work had gone in to planning Irish language teaching and learning over the years. A good plan was presented on the day of the inspection which contained a general description of the organisation of the subject in the school. Particular note was taken of the introduction which recognised the importance of target language usage. Teachers’ individual plans were also provided which contained descriptions of the topics to be covered in each class in various ways. Although these individual plans are to be commended it would be better to integrate these with the general plan for teaching and learning Irish so that all plans would have the same lay out facilitating legibility and continuity. The subject plan should include the following: material to be covered, teaching methods, resources to be used with the various classes and levels and planning for the use of information and communication technology (ICT) Two teachers with ICT qualifications gave in-service to staff and it is envisaged that the use of ICT in the classroom will gradually increase over time.
The efforts made to produce a pleasant and enjoyable programme for TY students is laudable. The annual programme is divided into four modules and this approach is commendable. The work of teachers is to be commended in events like the homework club with the local gaelscoil, the work experience with various Irish language organisations and the participation in the Gael Linn Radio Programme competition. The school used to take the students to the Gaeltacht for the weekend in the past. If possible this practice should be revived. It is recommended that the TY plan be reviewed regularly to ensure that the students are interested in the subject and to provide opportunities to engage with new material as appropriate.
Very comprehensive planning went into all the classes observed. It was evident that the lessons and the learning aims had been thoughtfully prepared. There was a good variety of activities as part of all the classes and there was a good pace in all the lessons as a result.
Very good use was made of Irish as the language of classroom management, instruction and communication in all the classes observed. Moreover, a range of strategies was employed to avoid translation from Irish to English. The teachers are to be highly commended for their dedication in using the target language.
The roll was called at the commencement of the lessons and it was answered in Irish. Then in some cases observed, the content and the aims of the lesson were shared with the students. This is good practice. It is recommended that this approach be adopted for all classes as well as presenting the learning targets to the students at the beginning of the lesson.
A range of techniques was used to provide the students with opportunities for communication in the classes. The way in which role playing, pair work, group work and games were exploited to initiate conversation among the students is to be commended. Many examples of good practice were observed in the Irish classes. In one case observed, the students had to set out a menu for homework based on class work. Then, they had to create a role play in various situations in different restaurants. The class was very successful and it was clear that the students both enjoyed and benefited from it. In another case observed, the students had to compose questions and pose them to each other as a pair work exercise and in yet another case, a game was played which had a rule that forbade students from using English.
Most of the students observed had very good Irish and it was evident that they were accustomed to using the language on a regular basis. The students were comfortable when using the language in a range of different situations for example informal conversation, pair work and responding to questions. In one case observed the students continually asked the teacher questions regarding the aspects of the class they did not understand. Their confidence and diligence in posing questions demonstrated how comfortable they were with the language. All the students, including those not as able in the language, made a great effort to speak Irish. The dedication of the teachers in encouraging and inspiring the students to use the language is to be commendable.
The teachers were very energetic and diligent when teaching the Irish classes. They circulated around the classrooms to encourage the students and to ensure that work was completed. The teachers succeeded in ensuring that students worked diligently and discipline was excellent.
The way in which lesson content was linked to the contemporary life of the students was noted in some of the cases observed. This approach is highly commendable as it is important to place language learning in an every-day context for students. The use of such a practice is recommended for all Irish classes. ICT was used in some of the cases observed and the hard work in the preparation of these classes is commendable. A range of materials was presented to the students in a pleasant and interesting manner. The aural lesson used in one instance is especially worthy of note where the students had to listen to the words of a song from the computer and fill in the blanks on a worksheet. It is important to develop the listening skills of the students in various ways without an over-reliance on listening comprehension lessons using material from the exam system. It is recommended where possible that those lessons be used with the examination classes only to give them the opportunity to gain experience of the state examinations’ system. There should be a range of authentic texts from the Irish language media employed as aural tests.
A small range of other resources was used in the class besides the textbooks, for example worksheets notes and an overhead projector. It is recommended that a broader range of resources and aids should be used to increase student interest in learning the language. A broader range of aids like music, pictures, extracts from films and documentaries, could all enhance students’ understanding of Irish and of lesson content if they have difficulties with the language. This would also help to contextualise lesson content, especially prose and literature, for the students.
House examinations are organised twice a year, at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to parents after these examinations. Also, midterm class exams are organised and some teachers also use continuous assessment. Communication skills are informally assessed in all year groups. A formal oral examination is carried out in TY and in sixth year and this approach is laudable. It is important to assess all language skills from first year, including communication skills. Therefore, it is recommended that students be given a short oral examination from first year onwards and that these marks be indicated as a separate item in the end of year results for Irish.
It was evident from the copybooks observed that homework is assigned and corrected regularly. There was significant work in the copybooks observed and all was carefully corrected. It was reported that teachers spend a lot of time going over the common mistakes in the written work with the students. This is good practice.
A very high percentage of the students in this school take the higher level papers in the state examinations at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. The achievement of the students in those exams is excellent.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Strenuous efforts are made in the school to broaden and develop students’ experience of Irish an a living language outside Irish class. There is a praiseworthy list of extra-curricular
and co-curricular activities taking place in the school and the teachers are highly commended for this work.
· The work of teachers in decorating their classrooms in a pleasant and insightful fashion is commended.
· The amount of work invested in planning for Irish is commendable and the reference to the use of the target language is noted.
· The layout of the TY plan is commended as are the efforts made to ensure that the students have an interesting and beneficial year learning Irish.
· Very good use was made of Irish as the language of classroom management, instruction and communication in the classes observed.
· Students were continually encouraged to speak the target language during the Irish classes.
· Many examples of good teaching practice were observed in the classes inspected.
· The students’ spoken Irish was very good and it was noted how comfortable and confident they were in using the language.
· A high number of students take the higher-level papers in the state examinations, the Junior and Leaving Certificate, and there is excellent achievement in those examinations.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a list of the resources in the school for teaching and learning Irish be compiled and that the list be contained in the language plan.
· It is recommended that the various aspects of planning for Irish be combined in one plan and that this plan be gradually developed.
· It is recommended that teachers use a broader range of resources in the Irish classes to contextualise lesson content for the students, especially prose and literature.
· It is recommended that students’ oral skills be formally assessed from first year.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2010