An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Confey Community College
Leixlip, County Kildare
Roll number: 70691C
Date of inspection: 27 and 28 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Confey Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of 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 the students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation and teachers’ written preparations. 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.
Provision and support for the teaching and learning of Irish in Confey Community College is good. There are eight teachers of Irish in the school for the current year, four having Irish at degree level.
As part of the school-transfer examination from primary school, students take a written test in Irish, in order to ascertain their knowledge of the language. Students are assigned to mixed-ability groups for first year. The classes are set in the various year groups from first year onwards, which facilitates student access to Irish at the level best suited to their needs. It is recommended that the management and the teachers of Irish consider the benefits students could derive from remaining in mixed-ability classes for an extended period in junior cycle. It is further recommended that the allocation of students to higher level and ordinary level classes in Transition Year be reviewed and that the arrangements would be in line with the spirit of the programme.
The time allocated to Irish on the school timetable and the distribution of class periods are satisfactory. Students have a single class period for Irish each day, an arrangement which ensures that they receive regular input in the language. Two class groups each at second, third, fifth and sixth-year levels are studying Irish at higher level and the majority of the others study the language at ordinary level. There are two class groups in Transition Year and one class group in each year of the Leaving Certificate Applied. The management and the teachers of Irish are commended for encouraging and empowering the students to take Irish at the highest level commensurate with their ability.
The prominent location of the classrooms for the teaching of Irish beside the main door of the school is an indication of the status of Irish and the support for it in the school. The management is commended for creating a dedicated space for Irish in the school and the teachers maintain that space admirably. A very good range of aids and resources for the teaching of Irish is available in the school. Among these are a laptop computer for every teacher, as well as access to the school’s two computer rooms, television sets, a CD and DVD players, a link to the local library by which loans of Irish books are organised, as well as storage space for resources for the teaching and learning of Irish, a space to which every teacher has ready access. The management provides funding for the updating of these aids and resources. The management and teachers are commended for this provision.
The management encourages and supports teachers in availing themselves of opportunities for professional development, such as post-graduate studies and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) as a teaching and learning aid. The management is commended for providing these opportunities for the staff and for the support they give the teachers. Regarding the language itself, one member of staff has attended various inservice days focused on the Leaving Certificate Applied. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish include the inservice provision of the Second-Level Support Service for Irish (www.slss.ie) when making decisions about their professional development.
Every effort is made to serve those students who have an exemption from Irish, by providing appropriate support classes for them while Irish classes are in progress. The management is commended for making these arrangements. It was reported that a small number of students enrol in the school each year who have not studied Irish in primary school even though they do not qualify for an exemption from the study of the language. The management is reminded that the exemption of any student from the study of Irish must be in accordance with the provisions of circular M10/94.
Seachtain na Gaeilge and International Languages Day are celebrated in the school. These occasions afford opportunities to the students to experience different languages and cultures and to use Irish outside the classroom. Various competitions and events are organised as part of these occasions. Students are encouraged to attend Irish colleges in the Gaeltacht to enhance their experience of the language and culture. Irish is visible in the school environment, on notices as well as with pictures of prize-winners in various competitions involving the language. The management and teachers are commended for this work.
The management realises that subject planning is a central element of the school-planning process. The teachers of Irish fill the role of subject co-ordinator in turn. This is good practice which affords them opportunities for professional development in this area. The teachers of Irish hold six to eight formal meetings in the course of the school year. The purpose of the meetings is to plan for the teaching and learning of the subject, to plan for aids and resources and to organize co-curricular and extra-curricular events. Minutes of the formal meetings are provided for the school management and copies of these are included in the plan for Irish. The teachers of Irish also hold informal meetings. It is recommended that teaching and learning methodologies and strategies be discussed as part of the agenda of the meetings, as a way of sharing experience and good practice. It was mentioned during the inspection visit that those teachers who have only a limited input into the teaching of Irish cannot attend the subject meetings regularly, however. It is recommended, therefore, that the management discuss with the teachers what would be the most effective way of sharing information, on methodologies in particular, among all members of the Irish-teaching staff.
The plan for Irish indicates that good progress has been made in planning for the subject. Aims and objectives have been developed, common plans laid out for the teaching of Irish in first year and for other junior cycle year groups taking the subject at the same levels. It is also evident that worthwhile efforts are being made to integrate the use of ICT into teaching and that a start has been made on setting out the expected learning outcomes for the junior cycle classes. The work completed on the plan to date demonstrates that the teachers understand that planning for the subject is a continuous process and that they reflect on their practice. The work undertaken by the teachers in this area is praiseworthy indeed.
It is recommended that, in further developing the plan for Irish, the teachers continue to lay out common plans for the different year groups and levels as appropriate; that the development of expected learning outcomes at different levels be continued and that these be based on the language functions mentioned in the syllabuses and indicate a spiral development in learning; that the plans contain an account of the teaching and learning strategies, including assessment methods to be used, as well as methods of serving the differentiated learning needs of the students; that the development of ways of integrating ICT in the teaching and learning be continued and that it be evident from the plans that they are regularly monitored and reviewed.
Very good planning and preparation had been undertaken for the majority of the classes observed. Worksheets, authentic texts and PowerPoint slides were among the resources selected and prepared.
The quality of teaching and learning was very good in some of the classes observed.
The expected learning outcomes were shared with the students at the beginning of most of the classes. The teachers are commended for this good practice which enhances students’ understanding of their learning. It is recommended that the practice be more widely used. In some cases, teachers set a variety of tasks to be undertaken by students, individually or in groups. These tasks were well organised in the majority of cases. The tasks afforded students opportunities to practice vocabulary or language structures by using different language skills. It is good practice that such tasks should have a clear aim and structure.
PowerPoint slides were very effectively used in some cases to present subject-matter to students and to support them in the exercises they had to undertake. In a certain case, an authentic text from an internet site was very well used to present new vocabulary to the students and to encourage discussion of the topic in class. In another case a short film was shown, after which questions asked by the teacher guided a discussion on it in class. The use of these resources and aids is commended. It is recommended that the use of ICT be further developed and that the good practices in using it as a teaching and learning aid which have been already developed be shared among all the teachers.
In a few cases the students were being empowered to develop skills which would allow them to become more independent in their learning. Students’ skills in the use of dictionaries were being developed in one case. This is highly commended as it fosters learner autonomy and the skills are transferable. In another case, the students were checking their own work with guidance from the teacher. This helped to give them a better understanding of their study and of any gaps in their learning. It is recommended that teachers continue to develop these skills and that the practice be extended to other classes.
The students demonstrated that they had made progress in their learning. The majority of them participated actively in the work and in certain cases they showed very good linguistic ability and confidence in speaking Irish. The teachers are highly commended for the level of interest in the language they have fostered among the students in certain cases and it is recommended that they continue to do so. The teaching of grammar was woven into the work in most classes, always in a way that matched the students’ ability level. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used because of the importance of developing students’ understanding of grammar and language structures, so that they can communicate effectively.
In some of the classes, Irish was the sole medium of instruction and communication and it was evident that this was the normal experience of the students. This practice is highly commended. It is strongly recommended that the target language be more widely used and that strategies be used which would be more effective in language acquisition rather than relying on translation to English to explain words or phrases to the students, or to check that they understand correctly. The result of over-reliance on translation in certain cases was that only English was spoken by the students. It is also recommended that teachers avoid the practice observed in a certain case, where the subject content was presented to the students in English on PowerPoint slides; it is also important that material presented be accurate, as it was in most cases.
Homework was set for the majority of classes, in accordance with the school homework-policy. In most cases the work set was based on the material covered in class, as recommended.
There was an atmosphere of co-operation between teachers and students in the majority of classes and students were duly praised for their efforts.
The written examination taken by applicants for places in the school is designed by the teachers of Irish and they distribute sample papers to the feeder schools. It is recommended that they consult Curaclam na Bunscoile: Gaeilge when planning this paper and when drafting their programme of work for the first year.
Students’ work is assessed through evaluation of their efforts in class, their homework, class tests when a unit of work is finished, ‘mock’ state examinations and house examinations. Reports are sent home on students’ achievements in the ‘mock’ state examinations, and in the house examinations conducted twice a year. Parents are kept abreast of students’ achievements through the homework journal, formal reports sent to them twice a year and through parent-teacher meetings convened once a year. Student learning is assessed mainly through written examinations. In certain cases, other skills besides writing and reading comprehension are taken into account in the results of house examinations. It is recommended, in accordance with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses, that it become normal practice to include all the language skills when assessing the students’ work.
It is school policy to set written homework for the students every day. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish adapt this policy to the needs of the subject, keeping in mind that various language skills must be developed; it is also recommended that the students be encouraged to keep an account of the homework in their diaries. Notes of praise for students’ work had been written in the majority of the copybooks examined. In certain cases, the work had been regularly corrected. It is important that this practice be more widely used. In some cases, guidance had been given to the students on how to improve their work and make better progress. This is good practice. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish agree a common approach to correcting work done in the copybooks and that they incorporate Assessment for Learning (McF/AfL) into this work. Further information on AfL is available on the website www.ncca.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, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008