An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School
Roscommon, County Roscommon
Roll number: 65090S
Date of inspection: 30 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School, Roscommon, County Roscommon. 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 subject 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.
Irish has a strong position in this school. Management provides every support for the teaching and learning of the language. Almost all year groups have Irish on a daily basis, as is good practice. First year and Transition Year students are in mixed ability in nature. All other pupils are arranged according to State examination level. Class periods are timetabled concurrently which facilitates students transferring form one examination level to another. Students are given every encouragement throughout cycles to attempt the higher level paper. The school manages the transfer of pupils from one level to a more appropriate level by requesting the student has a note from their parents or guardians as well as being advised by the subject teacher and school management. Such an approach is commendable.
The school has an Irish language policy in place since 2004 and this policy acknowledges the responsibility of the school in promoting a positive attitude amongst pupils to Irish and instilling in them a love and respect for the language as a key aspect of their Irish culture. Included in the Irish policy is the intention to offer those students who have an exemption from Irish an opportunity to participate in the Irish classes and in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Students from other countries are also given an opportunity to study ‘ab initio’ Irish. The school is commended for having such a comprehensive policy.
The six teachers involved in the teaching and learning of Irish this year are graduates of the subject. They are all members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. The school applied for the ‘Gleo’ scheme with Forás na Gaeilge this year. The school received a merit award for the good practice of, and commitment to, promoting spoken Irish amongst the students.
School management encourages and assists the staff to attend inservice courses organised by the Second Level Support Services (SLSS). Inservice days are also organised on general educational themes for all teachers in the school. The information and knowledge gained at these meetings is discussed at planning meetings of the department. The Irish department and school management are commended for their professional approach in this regard.
The Irish teachers are assigned base classrooms and have easy access to resources that enhance the teaching and learning of the language. The department has a good range of information and communication technology (ICT) resources available using an advance booking system. The Irish teachers have developed good resources and these are supplemented on a regular basis. A resource room is being developed by the department which will in future enhance the teaching and learning of the language. It is recommended that the resource list for post-primary pupils provided on www.cogg.ie be used as a reference point when the resources are being developed. The library is also used as a support for learners of Irish.
An impressive range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is organised to promote the language amongst the students. The Irish language is visible throughout the school and particularly on the Irish wall. This year senior pupils, under the guidance of teachers, organise an Irish Club each week. Students attend plays and workshops that are organised in the school. Seachtain na Gaeilge is celebrated in the school annually and the whole school celebration of this event is enhanced by the inclusion of different events from year to year. Each year those students who make the greatest progress in the language receive a bursary. Students are encouraged to spend two periods in the Gaeltacht while they are in secondary school. The Irish team is highly commended for their enthusiasm and diligence in providing a positive language experience for the school community.
There was of a high standard of collaboratively planning carried out by members of the Irish team on both a formal and informal basis. The teachers meet as a team twice each term. The principal attends some of these meetings or a report on the decisions and a recommendation arising from the discussions is issued to the principal. Staff and management are commended for the importance they attach to prioritising planning for the language. Long term plans were provided for all year groups. The work carried out in these plans in terms of topics, language functions, teaching and learning methodologies is commendable. It is recommended that this good practice be developed by formulating work schemes with specific timeframes based on the long term plans. It would be desirable to have these schemes integrated thematically and to have student learning outcomes articulated across all language skills. This development would also provide a framework for assessment. It is also recommended that the teaching and learning strategies be further developed and that the resources employed be outlined, similar to what has been completed in the Transition Year; plan, rather than having them listed elsewhere in the plan.
A dedicated plan has been developed for Transition Year in which Irish music, culture and language are emphasised. These three areas are presented on a modular eight week basis with different teachers presenting each module. This cooperative approach is highly commended. Two recommendations are made with a view to the further development of the plan. Firstly, the use of differentiated techniques requires more attention in order to respond to the range of abilities in this cohort. Secondly, it is recommended that the aims of the Irish plan would be more closely aligned to the three main objectives of Transition Year as outlined by the Department of Education and Science in its Transition Year Programme, Guidelines for Schools. or at www.slss.ie/transitionyear, particularly with a view to developing self-directed learning. It is also recommended that some of the evaluation and review instruments on this website be translated to Irish. Such a development would improve the level of assessment in the language and students would be afforded an input into the development of the Transition Year Irish programme.
Irish was the language of communication used in all classes observed during the inspection. Classroom specific terminology required by students in class had been acquired by the majority of students and they willingly participated in the target language when given an opportunity to so do. In most classes the meaning of words was skilfully simplified by using gesticulations and diagrams which avoided the overuse of translation. In a small number of classes the same grading of vocabulary didn’t take place and this prevented students from participating in the target language. Many of the lessons focused students’ attention on points of grammar in the context of the extract rather than teaching grammar as isolated entities. The teachers are commended for the particular approaches used in regard to the target language and it is recommended that these effective techniques be throughout the department.
The teachers used to good effect the advantage of having base classrooms by creating a motivational learning environment. In some classes pupils’ own work was displayed on the walls, and such an approach is commendable at it enhances students’ self-confidence in the language. One particular classroom had a small library as well as photographs of students who had been honoured with awards in Irish. Such a display is important because this celebration of students work in the language increases the status of the language in the minds of the students as well as giving confidence and encouragement to other students to participate in similar competitions. In addition to this display the language is visible throughout the school. The Irish team and school management are highly commended for their diligence in promoting the language in the school.
All teachers displayed effective classroom management skills. Good manners and behaviour were promoted on an ongoing basis in all classes. Students and teachers displayed an empathetic and mutually respectful disposition towards one another. Teachers had the highest expectations for all their pupils. Teachers praised their students and positively affirmed students for their efforts.
A high standard of planning and short-term preparation was displayed by all teachers. A comprehensive range of worksheets had been prepared by them for their classes. In general lessons were characterised by a developmental structure and good pace. Most teachers made students aware of the learning objectives at the beginning of each lesson and clearly explained the context of the lessons. These practices are commendable. It is recommended that a debriefing session be conducted with students at the end of the classes to establish learning outcomes as this instils independence in the learners when they have to identify what they have achieved in terms of their own learning.
A high standard of teaching and learning techniques was employed in the majority of classes observed during the inspection. The most significant characteristic of these lessons was that the ownership of the learning belonged for the most part to the learners and the teachers facilitated the learning process. Additionally these same teachers achieved a balance between their own input and the activities of students. This balance was achieved through a good variation between whole class presentation, individual work or pair work and the use of skilful questioning strategies. These activities provided students with opportunities to be actively engaged in their own learning. The majority of teachers comprehensively provided for the individual needs of students as they worked independently on tasks and engaged in pair work or group work. It is recommended that all teachers adopt this methodology as an alternate approach to the teacher remaining at the top of the class while individual work or group work is taking place. Exemplary use of the thematic integration of skills was employed in the majority of lessons. The number of skills synthesised provided variety in the lessons and in most classes no new skill was introduced without completing the necessary preparatory work on the vocabulary. In a small number of classes, where students were working on comprehension questions based on a video extract, the teachers did not conduct the necessary pre-skill work for the task apart from reading the questions. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that the vocabulary be adapted to suit the range of students’ ability before any new skill is undertaken. Such preparation would improve the achievement levels and the motivational levels of students as they complete the tasks.
Drama as a methodology was used to good effect when teaching first year classes. Such an approach is commendable because drama is a very powerful tool in language teaching. Communicative situations were created that provided students with opportunities to practice their oral skills, both receptive and productive skills, in a natural way as reflected in the objectives developed for teaching of first years.
The majority of teachers provided clear instruction on the board or on an overhead projector to record the key words of the lesson or to clarify the structure of the lesson. This is good practice as it acts as a model for students how their own thoughts might be organised as they prepare for a written task. This clarity and practice is particularly good for weaker students. In a small number of classes this visual resource was only used to a very limited extent to support the spoken form of the language. It is recommended that the effectiveness of the latter approach be reviewed with a view to providing for the acquisition of the language by all students.
Teachers are highly commended for the effective methodolgies employed in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that greater use be made of the effective methodologies commended above.
The school has developed a whole school policy for homework and this is reviewed on a regular basis. A homework diary system is used by all students in the school except for Transition Year students. Class teachers review these diaries in order to assess pupils’ progress and the year head is also involved in regularly monitoring the homework diaries. Parents or guardians sign these notebooks on a weekly basis. The school is highly commended for the involvement of the various school parties in their detailed management of homework. It is recommended that the advantages of also having a homework diary for Transition Year students be reviewed. A random sample of diaries was inspected, confirming that homework was regularly assigned. A lot of emphasis however, was placed on writing and reading. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that all skills be provided for equally in homework as outlined in the schools’ own homework policy.
Almost all copybooks and folders confirmed that significant work had been undertaken based on the syllabus requirements. The work in copybooks was of a very high standard and indicated a good level of development. The inspector was not in a position to review copybooks or folders from Transition Year students because such is not used for this year group. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that some form of record be kept of the learning outcomes of these students. The website www.europeanlanguageportfolio.ie. may be helpful in this regard.
In general developmental corrections were regularly conducted on students’ work, as is good practise. The marking schemes employed by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) were also used in the copybooks. It was reported that students corrected their own work under the guidance of the teacher. This is commendable because it ensures that students have more responsibility for the correction process, something that does not occur when teachers correct all errors on behalf of the students. It is recommended that the staff would develop other strategies to enhance the learning for pupils from the correction process.
Students have exams regularly and the results are recorded in teachers’ diaries and on the school computer. In some cases the teachers conduct ongoing assessment of students’ work.
The usual arrangements apply for the summative examinations. Common exams with common marking schemes are agreed for some of the Irish house exams. Such an approach is commendable. It has been agreed this year that 20% of the marks will be allocated to an oral Irish for first year students. The staff is highly commended for the development of such an approach. It is recommended that recognition be given to all the language skills for each year group in the summative examinations and that this would also be reflected in the reports sent home.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Irish has a strong position in this school.
· The school has developed an Irish policy and management and the Irish staff are commended for their ongoing commitment to improving the provision for Irish.
· Good work has been completed on some aspects of planning for the language.
· The planning and short term preparation of all teachers was of a high standard.
· Very high standards of teaching and learning techniques were employed in most lessons observed during the inspection.
· In most classes high expectations for achievement and behaviour were set.
· The target language was used to good effect in all classes.
· Assessment has been developed in a systematic way.
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 planning work for Irish be further developed to include the recommendations mentioned above.
· It is recommended that the effective teaching methodologies already in use in the department be extended throughout the department
· It is recommended that provision be made for all language skills in homework, in assessments and in the reports sent home from first year so that students’ motivation in regard to all skills will be improved.
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 March 2009