An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Mary’s Secondary School,Ballina, County Mayo
Roll number: 64520M
Date of inspection: 30 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mary’s Secondary School, Ballina, County Mayo. 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, deputy principal and 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.
St. Mary’s Secondary School is a voluntary girls’ Catholic school under the trusteeship of the Sisters of Mercy. A favourable allocation is given to the teaching and learning of Irish on the timetable in St. Mary’s school. All year groups have single class periods, with five classes at senior cycle level, four at junior cycle and two and three classes per week allocated to Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students respectively. The duration of these lessons varies from thirty five minutes to forty minutes. It is recommended that the provision for third year and Transition Year students be reviewed and that an additional class be provided for these groups within the constraints of the current timetable. Students are divided alphabetically in first year and in TY and students in the other year groups are allocated to classes based on State Examination level. Classes are timetabled concurrently for these groups and this facilitates the transition from one level to another. Students are encouraged to remain in the higher levels for as long as possible during cycles. Students have the freedom to transfer from one level to a more appropriate level provided this is agreed by the class teacher, the principal or deputy principal and accompanied by a signed letter from parents or guardians. Management and teaching staff are commended for their comprehensive management of the level changes. A team teaching approach is used in first year and in second year so as to provide students with additional support in the core subjects. The Irish department has developed strong links with the learning support team. This student centred support is commendable.
The school has a good range of materials and resources for the teaching of Irish. The Irish teachers do not have their own classrooms and the Irish resources are kept in the teachers’ own presses in the staffroom. At the time of the inspection there was no specific budget for the provision of resources for Irish. The teachers indicated that there is no difficulty in accessing resources for any requirements that the department identifies provided school management is made aware of these on the appropriate form. The school has a library that is not used to support the teaching and learning of the language because the library has no collection of Irish books. It is recommended as part of the school development planning process (SDP) that the department would research the resources and learning materials available to post-primary students on www.cogg.ie. A list could be compiled and a reasonable annual budget allocated to this. A resource bank that would enhance the teaching and learning of the language could be incrementally gathered. The school has a computer room but it is very difficult to access it. Computers are also available in specialist rooms in the school. It is recommended that practical steps be adopted, in accordance with the school’s facilities and resources, to begin the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. Pupils should have an understanding that Irish is a living language in modern media and ICT also forms an integral part of students’ own life experience.
All teachers engaged in the teaching and learning of Irish are graduates of Irish. Every encouragement and support is provided by management to the staff to attend ongoing professional development courses. The school has organised many whole school inservice days in recent years. No representative from the school availed last year or so far this year of the inservice courses for Irish organised by the second level support services (SLSS). It is recommended that attendance at such courses would begin and that the information gained at such courses would be shared, as part of the school development planning process, with the whole department which would also be in keeping with the mission of the school.
Teachers make efforts to enrich students’ experiences of the language outside the classroom. Students participate in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities including debates, quizzes, TG4 film competition, and Seachtain na Gaeilge, and the school also has an Irish club which is supported by the youth organisation Feachtas. A core aspect of students’ cultural life is ‘Feis Bhéal Átha an Fheádha’. Students participate in the various competitions that are locally organised on a year by year basis. Teachers’ diligence in regard to these matters is commendable.
The school has a tradition of planning that extends back many years and this was integrated into the school development planning (SDP) process in the year 2002. Detailed work has been completed in certain areas of planning. The department’s objectives are described in terms of student learning outcomes across the four language skills and the different aspects of the syllabuses. This approach is commendable because these objectives provide strategic guidance for teaching and learning and for assessment throughout the department. The Irish teachers meet formally on a monthly basis. A record has been kept of these meetings since August of this year. It is recommended that the Irish department create an action plan for the subject that would provide a structure for these monthly meetings in terms of achieving the department’s objectives. The department has appointed a coordinator and this position is rotated on a regular basis. This is good practice because more than one individual gains the experience and understanding of the responsibilities pertaining to coordination. As a further support to the formal communication teachers also meet regularly on an informal basis. Management and the Irish department are highly commended for the priority they attach to planning in St. Mary’s Secondary School.
It is recommended that further cooperative work take place on long term planning for curriculum delivery, so that language functions and topics can be taught in an integrated way in line with the key principles of the syllabuses. A similar situation applies to the work schemes that were presented to the inspector. It is also recommended that information in regard to the communicative approach, which the department will have from the SLSS support service, would form part of the planning for teaching and learning in future. Research should be conducted on the differentiated approach for all class groups. It is recommended that the website of the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie be reviewed as a reference point in this regard.
A good plan has been put in place for TY this year. It would be advisable that the aims of the Irish plan be more closely aligned to the three main objectives of TY as outlined by the Department of Education and Science in the Transition Year Programme, Guidelines for Schools at www.transitionyear.ie, particularly in regard to promoting self-directed learning. It is also recommended that some of the assessment and review instruments that form part of the general Transition Year file be translated to Irish. Such development would enhance the level of assessment for the language and student input on the programme of study for TY will be very valuable for future planning.
A very good standard of short term planning was evident during the inspection in all classes in St. Mary’s Secondary School. Preparation for this was in the form of support materials for teaching and learning. Specific learning and teaching objectives were evident in all classes. In the majority of classes teachers informed pupils of the learning objectives at the beginning of the lessons and throughout the lessons as the learning intention changed during lessons. It is recommended that a debriefing session be conducted at the end of lessons to clarify what has been achieved in terms of learning outcomes as this encourages students to become independent learners when they have to identify what they have achieved in terms of learning. The outcome of this detailed planning and preparation was that the majority of the lessons were structured, well sequenced and well paced.
Irish was the language used in all classroom interactions. Such an approach is commendable because frequently the teacher is the only exemplar of pronunciation and the accurate use of language available to students. In some classes students were at ease with the vocabulary of the classroom but this was not the case in other classes. Phrases such as ‘What is the meaning of ’, ‘How do you say, ‘How do you spell, ‘Underline’ and similar should only be heard in the target language in all Irish classes. It is recommended that the department agree a consistent approach to the use of the target language amongst learners of Irish. Students, in general had a good standard of Irish as well as a good understanding of the subject and they willingly participated in the target language when given an opportunity to do so. The majority of teachers skilfully simplified the vocabulary which avoided the overuse of translation as well as directing students’ attention to points of grammar and pronunciation within the context of the extract rather than as single atomistic items. It is recommended that this good practice in the teaching of languages be shared with all members of the team. All teachers made every effort to enrich students’ vocabulary. This practice is commended and it is recommended that learning strategies be explicitly taught to maximise the possibilities for vocabulary learning for all students.
Effective teaching and learning methods were used during the inspection. The four main language skills and different aspects of the syllabus were taught in an integrated manner in the majority of lessons observed. The department is highly commended for using this approach within the period of the lessons. This integration highlights the mutually reinforcing interdependent relationship that exists between the skills in language acquisition and it also provides for variety in the learning experience of students. The majority of teachers responded well to the individual needs of students during aural comprehension sessions. Students were provided with different hints and guidance in order to complete the task. This scaffolding of learners’ work is commendable. It is recommended that greater use be made of this approach rather than leaving aural comprehension to students with no help from the teacher apart from the central correction of the aural questions. It is recommended that no new skill be introduced without first conducting the necessary pre-skill work that would provide students, according to their abilities, with an understanding of the text and the associated questions.
All teachers used an array of effective questioning strategies to encourage students to participate in the development of their own learning. A variety of types of questions was asked that elicited responses at different ability levels. The questions were focused and clear and provided students with the opportunity to participate in classes. It is recommended, as an alternative approach to the teacher asking the questions, that students work in pairs so that they can practice both their productive and receptive language skills.
The majority of teachers provided clear directions on the board to display the key words of the lessons, to record answers to the aural exercise and other tasks or to structure the lesson. In one particular class the teacher divided the board in two at the beginning of the lesson to record the feelings emerging in a prose extract as well as recording evidence of those feelings on the board. This is good practice because it models for students how they might organise their thoughts when preparing for a writing task and this custom and clarity is particularly helpful to less able students.
All teachers displayed good skills in classroom management. Good manners and good behaviour were promoted on an ongoing basis in classes. There was an empathetic and mutually respectful relationship in evidence between students and teachers. Almost all teachers had very high expectations of their pupils. Most teachers praised students and provided them with positive feedback on the quality of their answers.
Although the Irish teachers do not have their own base classrooms many examples of the language were visible in some classes. Those teachers who display students’ work in Irish are commended as this raises the status of the language in the minds of the students and it improves their self-confidence in Irish. It is recommended that the dedication of the Irish team and the good will of management be combined with a view to the provision of more permanent signage in Irish as part of students’ language experience in St. Mary’s Secondary School.
A range of formative assessment methods was used to good effect in classes during the inspection in order to monitor the learning process and progress of students. The effective strategies used included oral questioning at different levels, individual work, aural comprehension tasks, and assessment of reading and ongoing enrichment of pupils’ vocabulary.
The usual arrangements apply for summative assessments for the various year groups. It was indicated that common examinations with an agreed marking scheme are given to first year students. Reports based on the outcomes of these summative examinations are issued to homes twice a year. The Irish department, in conjunction with school management, has agreed that external oral examinations will be used as part of the assessment of fifth-year students this year. The school is highly commended for the provision of this holistic approach. It is recommended that a review be conducted of these oral examinations in order to explore the possibilities of providing oral Irish examinations, in some form, for all students of the school at least once a year. It is also recommended that recognition be given to all the language skills in the reports sent home, in line with the department’s own objectives. Teachers meet with parents or guardians of all year groups once a year and more frequently if necessary.
A whole school homework policy has been developed in St. Mary’s Secondary School for over five years. This policy needs to be reviewed in order to provide for all language skills as part of students’ homework experience. The school uses a homework diary and these are monitored by the class tutor on a weekly basis. It was evident from samples of these diaries that homework was regularly assigned. It is recommended that the full range of language skills form part of the task because this provides for a reinforcement of students’ skills in all areas rather than prioritising any one particular skill. The random sample of diaries observed indicated that homework was recorded in Irish or sometimes bilingually. Teachers who avail of this opportunity to use the recording of homework as a learning and teaching opportunity are commended. It is recommended that this practice be extended throughout the department.
A sample of copybooks examined during the inspection confirmed that detailed work was being undertaken on a range of topics in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. Continuity was evident in copybooks indicating a good level of development, with the exception of the Transition Year folders. In general corrections were developmental in nature providing clear guidance to students on work that was of a high standard as well as providing advice on how the weaker elements of the work might be improved. Those teachers are highly commended regarding their diligence in the standard of corrections. In some copybooks the number of corrections made in one piece of writing removed from students a sense of ownership of their work. It would be advisable for the department to reflect on the value of corrections to ensure that this process doesn’t impact negatively on the intrinsic motivation of the learners. In other copybooks, however, students’ work, including substantial pieces of work, was only being monitored. This is not acceptable and it is recommended that this omission be attended to immediately. It was indicated that corrections were used as a means of predicting students’ grammar and spelling errors and that lessons are taught based on this. Teachers are commended for this approach because it provides students with personal clarification on specific errors as well as providing clarification on common errors that occur at the different levels. It is recommended that the department extend its range of assessment instruments and to this end there are good supports on assessment for learning available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), www.ncca.ie. It is recommended that the department come to an agreed decision regarding procedures for corrections provided by teachers for the learning of Irish based on the information provided on the above source and on the department’s own experience.
The results of State examinations are analysed and the outcome of this analysis informs future planning. This is good practice.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teaching and learning of Irish are prioritised and receive favourable treatment in St. Mary’s Secondary School.
· The school has a good range of resources and learning materials for the teaching and learning of Irish.
· Good work has been completed on some aspects of the planning process for Irish.
· A good standard of short-term planning and preparation had been completed for all classes during the inspection in St. Mary’s Secondary School.
· The majority of teachers used effective teaching and learning methods in classes which provided learners with the opportunity to internalise the content and the specific vocabulary associated with the lessons during the classes.
· Systematic arrangements have been developed in the school for assessment and for homework and these were regularly reviewed with a view to their development.
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 department research the materials and resources that are currently available for secondary school students.
· It is recommended that teachers avail of the support structures that are in place for teachers’ professional development in Irish.
· It is recommended that the language planning be further developed and that the five aspects recommended above form part of that process.
· It is recommended that all language skills receive equal recognition in homework, assessment and in the reports issued to homes so as to increase students’ motivation across the skills in line with the department’s stated objectives.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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 January 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
It is proposed to introduce an oral/aural component in assessments – summer 2209
Two Teachers have attended “Múineadh agus Foghlaim na Gaeilge” on 4th December 2007 and one Teacher on 2nd October 2008
Three Teachers attended day 2 of above courses on 10th December 2008