An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Deansrath Community College
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 70040H
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deansrath Community College as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of this subject in the school. The assessment 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.
Good provision is made for Irish in Deansrath Community College. The Irish teaching team aims to promote Irish in the school as a living language and the senior management supports this aim. This objective and the support offered are commendable.
There are four teachers of Irish in the school for the current school year. Three of those are fully qualified to teach the subject and the competence of all the teachers in Irish, for the purpose of teaching, is satisfactory.
Apart from one class group which is focused on the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), students are allocated to mixed-ability classes in first year. It was reported that students allocated to the JCSP class are normally those who have learning difficulties and that they study Irish Studies instead of Irish as outlined in Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge. The JCSP class is allocated two class-periods of Irish Studies per week. Students participating in JCSP remain in the same class for all of junior cycle. The remaining students are allocated to streamed classes in second and third year. However, these classes in some instances are also of mixed-ability with students studying Irish at different levels. In senior cycle, students are afforded the opportunity to study Irish at a challenging level and they are allocated to streamed classes. Irish classes are organised concurrently on the timetable and this eases the students’ access to the subject at an appropriate level. The management is commended for this provision. In addition to these classes, one class group in each year participates in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. These students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the first year of the programme. This provision is commendable as it creates continuity in their learning from junior cycle for the students.
In discussing the creation of discrete classes for students participating in the JCSP, with the teachers and the principal, it was reported that the intention is to change this arrangement in the medium-term, so that these students would be in the same classes as their peers. It was also reported that it is intended that the teaching-staff will focus on pedagogy suited to mixed-ability classes as part of their continuous professional development, to help them to implement their aim regarding JCSP classes. The management and teachers are commended for this. Meanwhile, and as observed, valid efforts are being made to provide a programme of Irish which accords with the Syllabus for Junior Certificate: Irish for the students in the JCSP classes, a praiseworthy development. To facilitate this development, however, the amount of time allocated to Irish for these classes must be increased so that every student will have a fair chance of taking Irish in the Junior Certificate examination at a level commensurate with his/her ability. Profile statements for Irish available for second-year JCSP students were not available at the time of this evaluation visit: it is recommended that these be agreed immediately.
The amount of time allocated to Irish and the timetabling of class-periods throughout the week for both junior and senior cycles are satisfactory. The management is commended for providing enough time to support students’ acquisition of the language.
Of the total school enrolment, 22% (78 students) are exempt from the study of Irish. It is reckoned that 13 of these students have learning difficulties and that the majority of the remainder are students who received their education outside the state up to the age of eleven. The management makes every effort to organise learning-support and resource lessons, or lessons in English as an additional language, as appropriate, to coincide with Irish on the timetable. These arrangements are praiseworthy indeed. Where such an arrangement is not possible, the students who are exempt sit in the Irish class with their fellow students. When this situation arises in one particular instance, and as the teacher’s roll-book indicated, the number of exempt students far exceeds the number of students actually studying Irish. It is recommended that the management, in collaboration with the teaching staff, explore options that would avoid such an arrangement.
Students are classroom based. This presents certain challenges regarding teachers’ ready access to teaching aids. It is recommended that the possibility of having at least one dedicated room for Irish be investigated, with that room suitably equipped and with all members of the team having the opportunity of using it with their classes. There are three computer rooms in the school, all available to the teachers of Irish for use with their classes, once they are booked in advance. It was reported that little use is made of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that, in accordance with the objectives of the department of Irish, the teachers should use the ICT facilities available in the school to enhance the students’ experience of Irish as a living modern language. Every teacher has a CD-player, and a number of TV sets, a DVD player and an overhead projector are available, but must be booked in advance. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish include the aids and resources available, on the agenda for meetings of the department of Irish, from time to time, and that they include them when planning for the teaching and learning of the language.
Information on summer colleges in the Gaeltacht is provided for the students every year and the VEC scholarship scheme as well as the DEIS scheme (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) are utilised to support students who wish to attend these colleges. Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) is celebrated in the school and, as part of this celebration, management announcements from the office use Irish where appropriate. Various events are organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge, to enhance students’ experience of the language and culture. The staff and management are commended for providing these opportunities for the students.
Each of the teachers of Irish in turn acts as co-ordinator of the department of Irish. This arrangement is praiseworthy because it gives each member of the team an opportunity of assuming the role, thus developing their individual experience and skills. In the interest of long-term planning it is recommended that each teacher assumes the role for a two-year term. The management provides time for the teachers of Irish to hold formal meetings once a term and minutes of those meetings are maintained: this is good practice.
A plan has been developed for Irish as part of the school curriculum and some aspects of it are of good quality. The subject plan includes the topics to be covered on a long-term basis by the various year groups, for the Junior Certificate and for the Leaving Certificate. It is recommended that plans for Irish as part of the LCA and JCSP be also included in the overall plan. The long-term and short-term plans provided for individual classes were of a good quality in one particular case. The teachers of first year are commended for their collaborative approach to planning for those classes. It is recommended that this good practice be adopted by teachers of other year groups also, as appropriate. Such an approach would facilitate the needs of students who choose to change levels or classes as necessary.
As part of the work remaining to be done on plans for the various year groups, on a long-term and short-term basis, it is recommended that emphasis be placed on improving student participation and achievement at the highest levels of the subject. For this purpose, it is recommended that a framework of expected learning outcomes at the various stages and levels be set out. It is also suggested that the development of the different language skills be taken into account here and that the work be based on the language functions outlined in the syllabuses. Additionally, the plan should also contain an account of the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies, including modes of assessment and the use of ICT, to be used to achieve the learning outcomes; an account of the events organised to support the students in learning Irish; a list of the aids and resources available in the school for the teaching and learning of Irish, including authentic texts; and evidence of any monitoring and review of the plans. It is further recommended that appropriate planning be undertaken for the teaching of the classroom language required by the students, especially in the early years of the junior cycle.
Good quality planning and preparation had been undertaken for the majority of the classes observed. Among the resources pre-prepared by the teachers were worksheets which helped to adapt the material to the students’ needs and flash-cards which helped to prompt the use of spoken Irish among the students. When preparing material in Irish for presentation to the students, it is vital to ensure that it is accurate, as it was in most cases. Plans were made available for individual classes in a couple of cases and these were of a good quality.
Elements of good practice in beginning a lesson were seen in use in every class observed. The roll was called and answered in Irish at the start of the majority of classes. This good practice should be adopted in all classes. The aim of the lesson was shared with the students at the outset of most classes, a praiseworthy practice. Highly commended are those cases in which the expected learning outcomes expected were shared with the students, and then written on the whiteboard, together with the activities to be undertaken. This practice should be more widely adopted. The date was elicited from the students in some classes, another praiseworthy practice. In some cases, the teacher initiated a conversation on a topical subject at the start of class: this, too, is a practice that should be more widely used.
In all the lessons observed, there was an appropriate emphasis on developing students’ ability in oral Irish. It is recommended, however, that teachers use strategies that ensure that more Irish is heard from the students themselves and that they should be able, for example, to ask questions spontaneously during class. It is also recommended that more time be spent on discussing literature orally in class, which would help the students when writing about the subject.
In all the lessons observed, the students’ were required to undertake a variety of tasks: this is praiseworthy. In most cases the good planning ensured that the class was well-structured and the work well-paced. Particularly praiseworthy were those cases in which the language skills were integrated on a thematic basis. Particularly noteworthy is the case in which a well-chosen poem based on the topic being discussed was presented to students in the early junior cycle years. The students were given opportunities for group-recitation of the poem. It is recommended that more use be made of poetry to help students gain a better feel for rhythm and rhyme in the language and it could also be effectively used to develop accuracy of pronunciation.
Tasks undertaken in class were based on pair work in some cases and on group work in one case. This work was effectively done where there was a clear objective involved, where clear instructions were given, where the students played a definite role and where a time limit for the task was set and adhered to. It is recommended that these methodologies be more widely used. It is further recommended that the presentation of subject-matter be differentiated, particularly in those classes where there is a wide range of ability levels and that appropriate teaching and learning methodologies and strategies be used to support the differentiation of content. This would support the good practice observed in some cases, where effective use was made of questioning to challenge students further according to their ability and to encourage them to give longer or more intricate answers to questions.
In some cases, the teaching of grammar was integrated into the work on hand; it is recommended that this practice be more widely adopted. It is also suggested that greater emphasis be placed on integrating the various aspects of the courses, especially in the senior classes.
Irish was the medium of instruction, communication and classroom-management in all the lessons observed. In a few cases, however, it was clear that this was not the norm. Besides, there was over-reliance on translation to English in some cases, to ensure that students understood vocabulary or idioms. In other cases, effective use was made of gesticulation and of drama to help students understand the subject matter. It is recommended that such strategies, as well as the use of dictionaries, be more widely adopted, strategies that would be more beneficial to the students in acquiring the language.
The atmosphere in the classrooms was conducive to learning. The students were praised for their efforts and the majority of them demonstrated their willingness to participate actively in the work. The environment in some of the classrooms was conducive to learning and there were posters in Irish and examples of the students’ work on display. It is recommended that these displays be regularly updated and that teachers continue to acknowledge the students’ efforts by displaying samples of their work.
The students take a test in Irish as part of their school-transfer examination. This examination is set in order to give the school an overview of the students’ ability in the language. It is recommended that a brief account of the results of this assessment be included in the plan for first year. An analysis of student achievements in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations has been initiated: this is a praiseworthy development. It is recommended that the information gathered from the results of state and other examinations taken by students in the course of their studies, be used as a guide in planning for the teaching and learning of the subject in class.
The assessment of students’ progress is based on their participation in class, homework, class tests and house examinations. In certain cases, the teachers keep very accurate records of students’ progress in their school-diaries; this is praiseworthy. The material in the copybooks inspected during this visit accorded with the requirements of the syllabuses. It was clear that the work was being regularly monitored and corrected. Occasional notes of commendation were written on the work and, in the case of a small number of classes, guidance for the students was included. It is good practice to acknowledge work well or accurately done by the students and to give them guidance on ways of improving it; this practice should be more widely adopted. With this in mind, it is recommended that teachers agree an approach to correcting students’ work. In this context, it is recommended that teachers consult the website www.ncca.ie for further information on assessment for learning (AfL).
All the language skills are taken into account in assessing Irish at Christmas in sixth year, and, at the discretion of the individual teacher, in fifth year. It is good practice, which accords with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses, to include all the language skills when assessing students’ work. It is recommended that the practice be more widely used. The teachers are commended for the progress they have made in analysing the possibilities of students’ participation in the optional Junior Certificate oral examinations and the benefits they might derive from this.
House examinations are held twice a year. Students preparing for certificate exams take ‘mock’ exams in the second term. Reports on student achievements are sent to their homes following these exams. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each year-group. Students’ school diaries are also used as a means of communication with home, a praiseworthy practice.
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 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, November 2009