An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint Angela’s Secondary School
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 26 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Angela’s Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 Irish classes 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 teachers of Irish. The board of management of the school 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.
Irish has always been held in high regard in this school. The teachers of Irish are dedicated to developing the students’ abilities in Irish and the school management fully supports them in this regard. Irish is understood to be a living language and many opportunities are taken to promote the use of Irish, both inside and outside the classroom. The Irish teachers have a particular interest in making the students competent in Irish and they therefore welcomed the opportunity created by the evaluation visit to discuss frankly the learning and teaching of Irish. This open attitude of teachers and management greatly enhanced the benefits of the evaluation.
The teacher is the most valuable resource in any language class as s/he is the principal source of language for the students. The high level of proficiency in Irish of all the teachers was noted. Furthermore, all the Irish teachers endeavour to develop their professional skills on an ongoing basis. They appreciate the necessity to refresh learning and teaching methods and to adapt them to the needs of the students under their care. They willingly attend the training workshops organised by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish. In addition, a guest speaker has visited the school on a number of occasions in order to conduct a more comprehensive discussion on classroom practice. The teachers of Irish are to be complimented on the professional attitude which they bring to their work.
Fifty-seven students have official exemptions from the study of Irish. This amounts to seven per cent of the total number of students enrolled in the school. Thirty of these students have learning difficulties and the remainder received their early education abroad. Praise is due to the school management for the diligence with which exemptions are processed.
The timetable provides satisfactory support for Irish, in that students have regular contact with the target language. Every effort is made to divide the students into classes in which they will be given the best opportunity of making progress. Having mixed-ability groups in first year and a banding system in place in the other year groups is a generally effective approach. The school management and teachers were invited to give consideration to the benefits to be derived from having mixed-ability groups in second year also.
Teachers have ready access to a range of equipment and resources to facilitate the teaching of the language. There are tape recorders and CD-players in many classrooms and the storage rooms house additional resources such as televisions, laptop computers and data projectors. Learning and teaching resources such as tapes, publications, CD-ROMs, work sheets and reference books are stored in a designated storeroom. A collection of Irish books is available in the school library. It was noted that the equipment and all the resources were well organised. It is convenient that they are all located in one central location. The students and the Irish teachers have access to the school’s computer rooms also.
The initiative Seanfhocal na Seachtaine (Proverb of the Week) was introduced at the beginning of this school year. This is an attempt to extend the use of Irish beyond the confines of the classroom and it is expected that the message conveyed by the proverb will act as a guide to the whole- school community during the week. Students are encouraged to design posters indicating the meanings of the proverbs and these posters are on display in the classrooms. They represent work of a high standard. They are a good example of cross-curricular collaboration whereby teachers exploit the links between the skills practised in Art and in Irish, in order to elucidate particular aspects of the language. Poster competitions and céilithe are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge and programmes in Irish are broadcast on the school radio. Students are taken to plays in Irish, when possible. It was reported that a significant number of students spend a period in the Gaeltacht during the summer. The school funds part-scholarships in support of this. So as to give a clearer indication of the status of Irish in the school, it is recommended that some Irish would be incorporated into the school publications, signage and journals, and in correspondence with outside agencies.
The teachers hold departmental meetings on a regular basis. Subject planning is an integral part of their work. A departmental coordinator has been appointed to direct this process. This teacher is to be highly commended on motivating all staff of the department to participate in the planning process. At present, the focus of the department is on the development of classroom practice through promoting Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies.
The Irish subject planning file gives an insight into the work done in order to ensure a beneficial experience of the learning and teaching of Irish for both students and teachers. Included in the documents contained in the file are a statement of the general aims of the department, information on the organisation of Irish in the school, annual schemes of work and minutes of meetings. In addition, a catalogue of the learning and teaching resources accumulated by the department has been compiled. This documentation indicates that the teachers of Irish work as a team and that they appreciate the benefits of collaborative planning and discussion. It would be of benefit if a practice were introduced whereby teachers would become accustomed to bringing one example of a strategy which worked well in class to departmental meetings and of sharing it with their colleagues. Similarly, these sample tasks and others such strategies could well be mentioned in the schemes of work of the various year groups. If the focus at present is on AfL, then examples of different assessment and learning strategies could also be mentioned.
A plan has been drawn up for the Transition Year (TY) programme, the aim of which is to give students an experience of learning Irish which is somewhat different from normal practice. However, it is considered that there is little in the content of the plan which is significantly different from their experiences in junior cycle or in firth year or sixth year. Various suggestions were put to the teachers regarding ways in which a language programme could be developed which would be functional and innovative. In particular, it is recommended that significant events happening in the world outside should be the subject of discussion in class and that students should be assigned learning activities which would develop a variety of skills of every kind, including language, research, presentation, teamwork and leadership skills. It is also recommended that various competitions should be availed of, so that students might be set to undertaking out-of-the-ordinary learning tasks. It should be possible to identify roles for students of all levels of ability in activities such as writing and producing short films, designing a newspaper page or promoting Irish among the whole school community.
All teachers had planned in detail for the lessons observed. Particular note was taken of how AfL strategies had assisted some teachers in identifying the desired learning outcomes in advance and in planning the lesson activities based on this information. This strategy provided opportunities to practise and re-practise the use of the language which was to be acquired. The teachers’ personal files indicated that they were all accustomed to giving careful consideration to the stages of the lessons which they would present, and to the implementation of the learning and teaching methods which are most likely to ensure an effective acquisition of the language.
A positive learning outcome was evident at the end of each lesson. All the teachers are to be congratulated on their abilities as effective practitioners. The class work indicated that the teachers are highly successful at developing significantly the ability of each student in Irish. Praise is also due to the students, who bring to their work a positive attitude to the language and a willingness to participate.
Irish was the language in use in all the classes observed. For the great majority of the time, teachers and students spoke only Irish to one another and indeed it was mainly Irish that the students spoke while communicating with each another. Students and teachers merit the highest praise for adhering closely to this practice. The creation of as many opportunities as possible to speak Irish is of great assistance to learners. This is precisely what happened in all of the classes observed. The standard of Irish attained by the students shows that an approach such as this greatly enhances their confidence and their speaking abilities.
The positive relationship between teachers and students brought about a spirit of co-operation in all classes. It was clear that the students were accustomed to the methodologies of the teachers and there was therefore little difficulty in encouraging the participation of students from start to finish. The students enthusiastically engaged in the activities and were frequently commended by the teachers.
Every effort was made to engage the students in practising all the language skills ─ listening, speaking, reading and writing. To this purpose they were assigned a wide range of activities. Activities were chosen which presented them with the language which was to be acquired in different forms, and opportunities were created for practising it again and again in a variety of ways. It was noted particularly that certain teachers laid an emphasis on accurate pronunciation. It is recommended that this practice should be implemented more widely.
The extensive range of resources in use by teachers and students was of great assistance in bringing the various activities to completion. Effective use was made of aural items, work sheets, diagrams, flash cards and photographs in order to generate stimulating learning contexts. All the teachers are to be commended on their resourcefulness in this regard. The design and assembly of resources in the future, could place a particular emphasis on information and communication technology (ICT) resources. Teachers were reminded that it is easier still to elicit the participation of teenagers, if it is clear to them that the learning activities and the world around them are closely linked.
A good balance was achieved between individual and interactive tasks. Among the individual tasks completed were reading aloud and silent reading, answering questions orally and in writing, and listening comprehension tests. Working in pairs was extensively used, so as to get the students to communicate with one another. They were set to practising sample dialogues with each other, completing matching exercises and describing what was to be seen in photographs. It is recommended that teachers should make more extensive use of peer assessment during lessons, as a means of generating greater interaction. On the whole, all the teachers are to be complimented on instigating activities which stimulated the creativity and fostered the expression of opinions by students.
Considerable effort has been made to create a stimulating learning environment in the classrooms. Many samples of the students’ own work have been put on display. In addition, word banks and language points have been illustrated on charts. It is recommended to teachers that they should display the verbs and speech idioms most commonly used in speech, so that students can refer to them while communicating orally in class.
In many lessons, points of accuracy were explained and discussed as they arose. This is a commendable practice as students get a better understanding of a grammatical rule if they see it being implemented. It is recommended that every teacher should avail of opportunities to illustrate the functional use of grammar to students. It would be worthwhile to consider the benefits which would flow from setting part of the white board aside for recording the points of accuracy arising during the class. The students could be assigned homework requiring them to investigate these same rules in a grammar book.
A strong emphasis was placed in every class on writing notes from the white board into notebooks. This is a commendable practice as it fosters independent learning in the students. Another strategy observed in many classes, which also cultivated independent learning, was the use of dictionaries by students; rather than providing the students with either the English or Irish version of a word, many teachers required them to look up the word in the dictionary. Not only does such an approach cultivate research skills in students, but they also learn to teach aspects of the language to themselves.
The progress of students is assessed in a variety of ways. These include oral questioning in class, correction of written homework, monitoring of class work, class tests, in-house examinations, mock examinations, listening comprehension tests and oral examinations. The oral examinations are worthwhile and teachers merit particular praise for undertaking this work outside of the school’s timetabled hours. When such an examination cannot be administered to every student, it is recommended that credit be given for the students’ efforts to speak Irish in class in the total marks awarded in the Christmas and summer tests.
Some teachers place considerable emphasis on the correction of the major language errors made by students in their written exercises, to the extent that they require them to supply or copy the correct version. It is worth spending time on corrections in class and, in support of this, it is recommended to teachers that they should use AfL strategies in respect of peer assessment and self-assessment.
All relevant parties are kept informed as to the progress of students by sending reports home at designated times during the school year. Additionally, in the case of every year group, meetings are held between teachers and parents once a year.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish and the principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes this very positive report on Teaching and Learning in the school. The strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the views of the Board and the staff.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
· Irish is being incorporated into school publications as they are updated, commencing with the school stationery.
· While Irish signage was already in place around the school, we have since added to it.
· The emphasis on functional Irish in the Transition Year classes is now reflected in the updated subject plan.
· The school continues to implement further AFL strategies.
· While speaking skills of students were always assessed, this is now noted separately on school reports in 4th, 5th & 6th Years. We will shortly implement this in Junior Cycle reports.