An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

Mary Immaculate Secondary School,

Lisdoonvarna,

Ennis,

Co. Clare

Roll Number: 62000W

 

Date of inspection: 14th May 2007

 

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment

Summary of the Main Findings and Recommendations

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish

 

 

 

 

 

Subject Inspection Report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna, Ennis, County Clare. 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 Irish 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.

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Priority is given on the timetable of Mary Immaculate Secondary School through the allocation of daily input for the teaching and learning of Irish. Transition Year students are  provided with four classes per week. The school management is commended for this comprehensive allocation to the language.

 

First year and Transition year classes are mixed ability groupings. Pupils in second year are divided according to the exam level they intend to sit. All classes from second year onwards are timetabled concurrently and arranged by examination level. The school has clear arrangements in regard to moving from one class level to another. Parents / guardians and the class teacher must sign a transfer consent form if they wish a student to change levels. School management and the teaching staff are commended for their management of transfers from one level to another. Teachers have an opportunity to teach at the different levels in both junior and senior cycles, as should be the case, and every effort is made by management to timetable the same teacher with the same year group throughout the cycle.

 

A wide range of co-curricular and extra curricular activities are organised. Students participate in music and art competitions as part of ‘Féile na hInse’ during Seachtain na Gaeilge. Other events are organised in the school throughout the year such as quizzes, ‘céilí craiceáilte’, radio Gaeilge and singing evenings as well as trips to Irish plays in the Taibhdhearc in Galway. The staff is commended on its diligence in providing students with enriching experiences of the language and culture outside the classroom.

 

School management provides every support to teachers of Irish to attend ongoing professional development courses. Recently one of the teachers attended a course on methodologies for language teaching which was provided by the Second Level Support Services at www.slss.ie. All teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge.  Some teachers have experience as examiners for the written examinations and for the oral Irish examination. All members of the Irish department have associations with Irish events outside the school. Information gained on inservice courses, and experiences gained from examinations and from teaching in general is shared amongst the Irish staff. This collaborative approach is highly commended.

 

A total of 13 students have received exemptions from Irish in accordance with Circular M10/94.  It was indicated that two of these were students did not receive their education within the state and the remaining eleven are students with recognised learning difficulties. It was reported that teachers make every effort to encourage those students with exemptions from Irish to participate in co-curricular events and extra-curricular activities. This inclusive approach is commendable. 

 

Mary Immaculate School has good facilities and resources for the teaching and learning of Irish. These facilities include two computer rooms, a television, a digital ceamara, CD players, a collection of posters from Foras na Gaeilge, newspapers and magazines. The Irish teachers have access to the computer rooms based on an advanced booking system. Broadband is available throughout the school. Laptops are available, seven classrooms have had data projectors installed and arrangements have been made to provide projectors in five additional classrooms this summer. It was indicated that computers were used regularly with certain classes for the teaching and learning of Irish.  This practice is commended, as students should understand that Irish is a living language in modern media.  It is recommended that the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) be extended throughout the department. A list of all teaching materials and resources available for post primary pupils is available at eolas@cogg.ie. Vicipéid, the Irish version of the encyclopedia Wikipedia, is also recommended and is available at www.wikepedia.org, and lessons based on extracts from Nuacht TG 4 are available at www.nuim.ie/langauge/vifax. Teachers do not have base classrooms.  It is recommended that a central storage place be provided where the teaching and learning resources can be accessed by all Irish teaching staff.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The teachers of Irish began the school development planning process (SDP) two years ago as a further development to the informal planning that had already been taking place. The Irish teachers meet formally at the beginning of the year. A record is kept of these meetings. In addition to this formal contact teachers meet informally on a regular basis. It is recommended, that some elements of the plan be further developed in order to ensure that planning work already carried out is further developed. In regard to the aspect of the plan relating to the curriculum, it is not sufficient to refer to the names of textbooks or to a list in the Department of Education and Science’s (DES) own syllabus as a means of  long term planning  for the delivery of the curriculum in the context specific to this particular school. It is also recommended that advice, as well templates that would enhance the development of the planning process in the department, be sought on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie. It would also be well worthwhile to extend the department’s objectives to include planning for the integration of the four main language skills when teaching the language, which would, like other objectives in this subject plan, reflect the underlying principles of the syllabus.

 

 

The Transition Year (TY) plan places an emphasis on providing students with a variety of language experiences which include the frequent use language games, problem solving approaches to learning and the use of song as a language learning technique. Similarly there are links to co-curricular and extra curricular activities and ICT is integrated into the planning. This type of planning is commendable. It is recommended that all the Irish teachers develop that aspect of the subject plan pertaining to teaching methods and that discussion take place on the impact that techniques already in use has on learning and teaching. In order to develop other new methodologies, the website of the SLSS, mentioned above, would be helpful.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

A high standard of short term planning and research was evident in the individual documents of some teachers observed during the inspection. Teachers’ files reviewed revealed that plans were prepared on a termly basis and consideration was given, in the various worksheets prepared in advance for lessons, to a range of learning styles. This short term planning is commendable and it would be worth sharing this good practice with the whole department.

 

All teachers were effective in the management of their classes.  A mutually respectful and cooperative atmosphere was evident in the lessons observed during the inspection period.  The teachers knew the students in their care well and this enhanced the teaching and learning encounter.

 

Although the teachers in Mary Immaculate school did not have base classrooms a motivating print rich environment had been generated in the classrooms. This included posters displaying students’ own work, grammar charts and other learning resources. In certain classes students’ project work describing the year group’s interests and experiences was displayed in Irish in a visually appealing manner. This practice is commendable as it raises the status of the language in the minds of the students and it improves their self-confidence in Irish.

 

In general the teaching was effective in the classes observed during the inspection period.  Teaching techniques were used that integrated the four main language skills thematically.  In one class group work on a television programme was taking place.  The teacher explained the task clearly, and ensured each member of the group had a specific role as well as setting a clear time frame within which the work was to be completed.  It was evident from talking to the groups that they were engaged with the task. It is recommended when group work is taking place that extension task(s) be prepared in advance for those students who complete the main task before the allocated time. The teacher attended well to the needs of the groups.  The extent of the learning that was occurring amongst the students themselves when they were helping each other was also significant.  A feedback session followed whereby every member of the group presented the work they had completed.  In another class where the main language skills were integrated the presentation varied  whereby the teacher consolidated whole class work with an individual task and pair work that followed that task.  These teaching approaches are effective because they provide students with opportunities to engage with the content of the lessons in a more meaningful way and afford students the time to be active in the construction of their own learning. Variety was further achieved in this lesson through the thematic integration of the four main language skills. This teaching method is most effective because of the mutually reinforcing relationship between the four main language skills in language acquisition. In a small number of classes the same variety did not apply in lesson presentation and the same balance was not apparent between  teacher input and students activity in the lesson. It is recommended that the good practice already employed in the department should be extended to include the whole department.

 

Every effort was made to use Irish as the teaching medium in all classroom exchanges.  In some classes, however, an English translation was provided immediately after the Irish.  It is recommended that care should be taken in this regard because students will become dependent on the translation instead of making sense, from the context, of the target language.  Classroom vocabulary such as ‘Cad is brí le ? ‘, ‘Conas a deirtear’, ‘An dtuigeann tú’, should not be used in English in any Irish class.  It is recommended that this aforementioned classroom vocabulary, and similar, be taught at an early stage in secondary school as part of all Irish lessons. Strategies should be developed so that these phrases are visible on a regular basis to students until they have acquired them naturally.

 

The board in the classroom was used effectively in all the lessons.  In one class a mind map was drawn to provide a structure and a context for the lesson and in another class a diagram was displayed on the board to explain in detail the differences between isteach/istigh and amach/amuigh. It is recommended, with a view to giving prominence to this good practice, that a section of the board be reserved and used on a regular basis to display the key vocabulary for the lesson.

 

The teachers made effective use of various questioning strategies to assess students’ understanding and to entice students to participate in the class.  In certain classes students were encouraged to explain their answers including answers that were incorrect.  Sometimes other students were invited to participate in providing these explanations. This clarification process was given an appropriate time allocation in some classes. This practice is commendable as it enhances students’ understanding of the subject as well as providing students with opportunities to engage in co-operative learning or peer learning. 

 

Assessment

 

{0><}100{>The department’s approach to assessment methods, homework, methods of recording and reporting progress are outlined in the Irish plan. Formative assessment is conducted both formally and informally.  Various aspects of the course are regularly assessed and records of the results obtained by students are systematically recorded. Records are also  kept in the teacher’s assessment diary of class work, homework and student behaviour. The staff is commended for this comprehensive assessment. The informal assessment methods in use during the inspection period included oral questioning, individual work on worksheets, questions from examination papers as well as feedback on pair work and group work.

 

All students are assessed in November and again in December. Mock examinations are conducted in the Spring for those studying for State examinations. Those students not sitting State examinations have exams at Easter and again at the end of the year. It was indicated that these examinations are common and give due consideration to the four main language skills. This is commended as best practice.  A report is issued to homes after the examinations which includes a mark for students’ effort, conduct as well as the marks obtained in the examinations. It is recommended that the four main language skills be integrated in reporting procedures in line with the recommendation made above for inclusion in the department’s objectives.

 

A homework diary system is used and the class teachers monitor these on a weekly basis   parents/guardians also review diaries on a regular basis. A sample of these diaries indicated that homework was regularly given and that the tasks included a variety in the language skills in keeping with the homework guidelines included in the subject plan. This integrated approach to homework is highly commended. The homework was often recorded in Irish or bilingually in the diaries. Those staff that use the opportunity to record the homework through the target language deserve high commendation. A sample of copybooks that were examined during the inspection indicated that comprehensive work had been completed on a range of topics in line with the requirements stated in the syllabuses.  The work observed in copybooks provided evidence of continuity and a good level of development. In some cases, student homework was regularly corrected with clear explanations as well as affirmation for work well done. In a small number of other copybooks, however, feedback was by means of a tick or a grade without any clear guidelines for learning. It is recommended that the good practice regarding corrections that already employed in the department should be extended to the entire department, and the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), www.ncca.afl.ie , will be helpful in this regard.

 

Summary of the Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         There is good provision made for the teaching and learning of Irish.

·         Some teachers displayed a high standard of short-term written planning.

·         A mutually respectful and cooperative working environment was observed in all lessons viewed during the inspection. Irish was the language used in all classroom interaction.

·         There was a print rich environment in some classrooms.

·         The teaching methodologies employed in almost all classes observed during the inspection were exemplars of good practice. In these classes students had an opportunity to engage with the content in a meaningful and communicative manner. There was variety in the lessons in that the main language skills were integrated together with some aspects of the course, which is consistent with the fundamental principles outlined in the syllabuses.

·         Examination procedures developed for students include assessment of all four language skills. A systematic record is regularly maintained of students’ progress in learning. Student effort and behaviour also form part of this record base.

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It would be desirable that the practice that applies to short term planning in some areas of the Irish department be extended to include all members of the department.

·         It is recommended that each lesson include as an objective, to achieve a balance between  teacher  input and student activity.

·         It is recommended that the four main language skills be integrated into the reports issued to home.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published June 2008