An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ardscoil na Tríonóide
Athy, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 68077S
Date of inspection: 25 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na Tríonóide, conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of the 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 the 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 to the subject teachers.
Irish is of good standing in Ardscoil na Tríonóide and it is evident that the teachers of Irish are committed to promoting Irish as a language of communication among the school community. There was signage in Irish in the school environment and the principal intimated that management intends to increase the use of Irish through the communications media in use in the school. Besides, it was reported that worthwhile links have been forged with local organisations which are active in promoting Irish. The teachers and the management are highly commended for all this work.
It was evident that there was a very good level of co-operation and support among the teachers of Irish. There are eight teachers of Irish in the school. Six of these are fully-qualified as teachers and the remaining two are doing the Post-graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). All of the teachers are afforded opportunities of teaching Irish at the different levels and in the various programmes offered in the school. This is praiseworthy as it is important for the teachers’ continuous professional development that their experience of implementing various programmes and syllabuses be facilitated. One of the PGDE students did not have Irish as a degree subject and was not being supervised by the college in the subject, but was timetabled to teach a sixth year Irish class. It is recommended that the management take account of teachers’ qualifications and experience when assigning classes, especially in the case of teachers who are not fully qualified to teach Irish.
It is clear that the management supports teachers in availing themselves of professional development opportunities and evidence was provided that two teachers had attended workshops focused on first year, offered by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish. It is recommended that other members of staff also utilise these opportunities. The management is commended for asking teachers to fill out feedback forms on the professional development opportunities they take part in and for making these forms available in the subject plan. It is recommended that the feedback form be further developed so that it would offer prompts that would encourage feedback which would be more specifically focused on how the input would benefit the teaching and learning in the school.
First years are in mixed-ability classes. The distribution of these students, however, is based on the alphabetical order of their surnames. It is recommended that this method of allocating students to mixed-ability classes be reviewed in co-operation with the guidance teacher and that a more effective method be devised, which would ensure that the classes actually are mixed-ability groups. It would also be worth considering the advantages students might derive from spending a longer period in mixed-ability classes while in the junior cycle. In accordance with the spirit of the programme, students are allocated to mixed-ability classes for Transition Year (TY). With the exception of the two year groups mentioned, students are organised in classes based on the examination level for which they are preparing from second year onwards. Students are arranged in two bands in each year and there are one or two higher level classes as well as ordinary level classes in each band. Classes in the various bands are timetabled to be taught simultaneously, a commendable arrangement which facilitates the movement of students between levels, if necessary.
The time allocated to Irish in the senior cycle is satisfactory. The number of class-periods provided for Irish in each year of the junior cycle, however, must be increased. As is evident from the timetables, three of the first-year classes have two class periods each for Irish on Tuesdays. As a result, they get 50% of their weekly input in the language on a single day. The principal explained that this arrangement was made to accommodate one of the PGDE students. It is strongly recommended that priority be given to the learning needs of the students, and the requirements of the subject, in laying out the timetable. It is further recommended, that students receive a regular daily input in the language.
It was noted that 13% of the total enrolment of students (771) had an exemption from Irish in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94. It was reported that 48% of the exempted students had been educated overseas until they were eleven year old and that the balance of the students had special educational needs. Information on how the needs of these students are served is available in the report of the subject inspection undertaken on Special Educational Needs in the school at the time of this inspection of Irish.
The teachers have their own classrooms and, in the majority of cases, an environment which is very supportive of the teaching and learning of Irish has been developed in them. There were posters, material from the printed media, examples of students’ work and material developed by the teachers themselves on display in the classrooms. This is praiseworthy indeed. There is a very good provision of resources for the teaching and learning of Irish, including television sets, DVD/CD players, overhead projectors, a language laboratory, an exhibitions room, computer rooms and a school library. The teachers are commended for the work they were doing at the time of the inspection visit to augment the stock of reading material in Irish in the school library. They are also commended for the research they were doing on the possibilities of awarding the qualification European Certificate in Irish to Transition Year students under the aegis of the National University of Ireland Maynooth and on ways of providing more scholarships for students who would be interested in attending summer colleges in the Gaeltacht. It is recommended that the teachers make an inventory of the aids and resources available in the school to support the teaching and learning of Irish. It is also recommended that the list be electronically stored, that a copy of it be included with the plan for Irish and that it be regularly reviewed.
The department of Irish is formally established and the role of co-ordinator is assumed by the teachers in turn. At present, this responsibility is taken on for a year at a time; it is recommended that this be extended to two years. The teachers hold formal meetings once a term; minutes of these are kept, copies of which are available in the plan. This is good practice. Besides these meetings, various staff-groups hold informal meetings regularly, to work on various aspects of their programmes. This is commendable work.
A very good range of opportunities is provided for the students to develop their experience of using the language and encountering the culture outside the formal Irish classes. Particularly commended are the opportunities provided for them to take part in debating competitions, the range of events organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) and the Gaeltacht visits organised. It is recognised that the management and teachers realise that events need not be confined to Seachtain na Gaeilge and that the use of Irish can be linked to other events taking place in the school. This approach to promoting the language is highly commended.
Very good progress has been made in planning for Irish and great praise is due to the staff for what has been achieved. The plan for Irish is of a good quality and the planning for assessment is particularly praiseworthy. The collaborative planning engaged in for first-year classes and for other year groups where students are taking the subject at the same level is highly commended. Praiseworthy also is the plan developed for Leaving Certificate Applied. This gives a good insight into the methodology and material used to complete the tasks. The link established with a local Gaelscoil at primary level, to develop students’ understanding of Irish and of the Irish-speaking community, is also commended. The TY plan, however, should be comprehensively developed, and far more information provided in it about the material to be covered.
To direct the planning for individual classes and for assessment more closely, and particularly for differentiating material in class, it is recommended that a framework of the learning outcomes expected at the various stages and the different levels be set out. The integrated development of the various language skills and of the different aspects of the courses, and of the language functions and notions mentioned in the syllabuses, should be the basis for this work. It is also recommended that this work would demonstrate how the students’ language awareness would be developed incrementally. In the context of this work it is further recommended that the teachers plan for the language that the students require in class, especially in first year. Additionally, it is recommended that teaching and learning methodologies and strategies, including the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), be part of the agenda of the meetings held by the department from time to time. This would provide an opportunity for sharing good practice and experience and for planning collaboratively to increase the use of the ICT resources available in the school, in the teaching and learning of Irish. A further recommendation is that the department provide an account of the methodologies and strategies used to encourage the students to take an active part in their own learning and that this report be made available with the planning documentation.
Weekly plans were provided for a minority of the classes observed. They indicated how the subject would be gradually developed and this is commended. It is recommended that the teachers make more use of the subject department’s planning documentation as working documents and that the documents bear evidence of any monitoring and reviewing undertaken.
Planning and preparation for most of the classes observed was good. This ensured that the classes were well structured and that the class-contact time available was being effectively used to the benefit of student learning. Authentic texts from the print media, song on CD and worksheets developed by the teachers themselves were among the teaching aids effectively used. The selection and preparation of such materials for use in class is highly commended.
The teaching and learning of Irish was of good quality in most of the classes observed.
The roll was called and answered in Irish at the outset of classes. This is good practice. To enhance this, and considering that students come to the Irish class from situations where a different language of communication is used, it would be worth spending a few minutes on conversation in Irish on a topical subject while they are settling down.
At the start of most classes, the teacher informed the students about the objective of the lesson and questioning was effectively used to link the subject matter of the class to what the students had already learnt. This practice is highly commended. In order to help the students to acquire a better understanding of their learning, it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes be shared with them at the start of class. It is also recommended that, at the end of class, teachers provide an opportunity for the students to reflect on what they have learnt, by asking questions to stimulate this process.
An appropriate range of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies was effectively used in most classes. The use of pair work, group work and the devising of games helped to create situations which encouraged the students to take an active part in their learning. When planning tasks for a class, the students’ needs should be taken into account and pair work, as well as group work provide excellent opportunities for differentiating material for mixed-ability classes. When organising pair work or group work, it is important to ensure that the students have the language necessary to carry out the task through Irish, that each individual has a defined role and that students be made aware of the time limit for the task, as was done in certain cases.
Those cases in which the development of language skills or various aspects of courses were integrated by means of using a variety of tasks with a common theme are highly commended. Also laudable are those instances where very effective use was made of authentic texts on compact disc and from the print media to support the students in their learning. Such practices should be more widely used. Further examples of good practice include the use of role-play based on weather forecasts, as well as the use of classroom resources as props to support the students in their work.
Irish was used as the medium of instruction and communication in most classes. The use of the target language should be improved in certain cases and it is particularly recommended that students be empowered to use the normal classroom language they need. This would enhance the use of Irish in certain cases. Very good examples were observed of mime being used to help the students develop their understanding of class content. This strategy ensured that translation to English was not over used. There was due regard to the development of the students’ language awareness and to enriching their vocabulary in the majority of classes.
Student behaviour was very good in all classes. The students were highly commended in all classes for their participation and their efforts. The inspector’s interaction with the students and an examination of their work indicated that they were making satisfactory progress. The very good level of competence in oral Irish achieved by certain students was particularly noted.
The range of assessment modes employed to assess students’ learning in Irish is appropriate. The results achieved in the Christmas tests are based on continuous assessment. This practice is highly commended. Common tests are set for first-year classes for the summer examinations and this practice is also adopted in the case of other classes studying the subject at the same level. This practice, which ensures that common assessment criteria are used for all students in any year group who are studying Irish at the same level, is praiseworthy indeed.
In accordance with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses, all of the main language skills are taken into account when assessing the students’ work in house examinations. ‘Mock’ state examinations are held during the second term, for third-year and sixth-year students. These include a ‘mock’ oral examination for sixth-year students.
Homework was set in the classes observed and it was evident that the students’ work was being regularly monitored. In some cases, copybooks and folders were very neat and the content was well organised. It is recommended that this standard be more widely set as a criterion, because of the importance of students’ being able to use the content of copybooks and folders as reference resources for their study, or as support material when completing homework on their own. Particularly praiseworthy are those cases where the corrections on students’ work offered guidance on ways of improving their work and making better progress. It is recommended that this approach be more widely adopted. It is also recommended that the department of Irish consult www.action.ncca.ie/ga/afl to source information on Assessment for Learning (AfL) and consider how they might implement its basic principles. Furthermore, the students should be encouraged to assume more responsibility for their own learning, by, for example, empowering them to undertake self-assessment of their work. To this end, the assessment criteria should be shared with them.
Formal reports on students’ achievements are sent home twice a year and parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each year group. Student achievements in both state and house examinations are analysed; this is very good practice. It is now recommended that a report on these analyses be included in the plan for Irish so that it will be readily available for consideration when reviewing long-term and short-term plans. The team is also advised to consult the reports of the chief examiners, which can be accessed on the State Examinations Commission website (www.examinations.ie).
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:
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, January 2010