An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St Aidanís Community College
Roll number: 71101G
Dates of inspection: 22-23 September 2008
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Aidanís Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching in Irish and makes recommendations for the development of the teaching of the subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited Irish classes and observed learning and teaching. The inspector interacted with students and with teachers, examined studentsí work and held discussions with teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the teachers of Irish. 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 is held in high regard in Saint Aidanís Community College. The teachers are very committed to the holistic development of the students in their care and recognise that the learning and teaching process in Irish provides opportunities for students to develop a number of skills, whether it be communication, social, research or organisational skills. School management is well disposed towards, and supportive of, Irish and it was a source of satisfaction that the evaluation was conducted almost entirely through the medium of Irish.
One example of the status of Irish in the school is the way in which the vast majority of students participate in formal Irish lessons, even those students who qualify for an exemption from the language. A total of sixteen students do not study Irish formally because they have an exemption. This figure represents 2% of the total student population in the school. Twelve of these students have learning difficulties and the other students receiving an exemption are either newcomer students or have received their early education outside the country. The teachers are to be commended for the manner in which they motivate students to participate in the Irish life of the school.
Irish is visible throughout the school as well as on school stationery. Four of the teachers of Irish have individual designated classrooms and efforts are made to ensure that all Irish lessons are accommodated in one of these classrooms. Teachers have access to resources such as televisions, DVD players, tape recorders or CD players, computers and overhead projectors. These resources are located either in the class rooms or are available from a central storage area in the school. An individual budget is allocated to the Irish department and school management keeps a detailed account of the expenditure of the Irish department on (a) facilities such as information and communications technology (ICT) equipment or reading materials purchased for the library, (b) resources used in the course of lessons, including videos, magazines, posters, charts and handouts and (c) cultural activities such as Seachtain na Gaeilge.
Timetabled access for students to Irish is satisfactory, especially in senior cycle. The majority of these students have daily contact with the target language. In fifth and sixth years, classes are timetabled concurrently to facilitate students to move from one level to another if necessary. As they begin post-primary school, students are streamed according to ability. The issue of streaming was discussed with senior management and with the teachers as it was evident, during the evaluation visit, that the pace of lessons was not appropriate for all students, whether that pace was too slow or too fast. The implications of streaming for the holistic education of the student were presented to the teachers and to management as an issue for reflection. They were requested to discuss the implications of providing mixed-ability teaching or a system of banding at this level having regard to the learning experiences for students and the teachersí own practice.
Cross-curricular and co-curricular activities are organised as a means of promoting Irish. Students are brought on either day or week-end trips to the Gaeltacht areas. A number of students spend a period of time in the Gaeltacht during the summer holidays. Scholarship support for these visits to Irish summer colleges is provided by County Cork Vocational Education Committee and University College Cork (as part of the UCC+ scheme). Students are encouraged to enter various competitions, especially competitions run in conjunction with the JCSP. It was reported that Seachtain na Gaeilge is an important event in the school calendar. During this week a variety of activities and competitions are organised to promote Irish within the whole school community. Another successful project within the school is the team-teaching scheme between first and transition year students where the focus is on the development of oral skills of all the participants. The teachers are to be commended for their resourcefulness with regard to the provision for students of learning experiences in Irish that are a little different to the norm.
Planning is an integral part of the work of the teachers of Irish, in particular individual planning. The comprehensiveness of their individual folders was noted. It was evident from reading the content of the planning folders that it is usual practice for each teacher to give considerable thought to the stages involved in the lessons that they present.
The vast majority of the teachers demonstrated good understanding of the requirements of the students in their care and a programme of work had been set out within which the response to these needs was an integral part of the learning and teaching process. In the case of the lessons observed, the most common approach was the design of activities which would provide opportunities for students to put into practice the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. This approach is in keeping with best practice. As a guide to teachers when planning lessons in the future it was recommended that idioms presenting in the lesson be identified with the students in advance. It is to be expected also that emphasis would be placed on the acquisition, manipulation and consolidation of these idioms in the activities of the lesson. The number and level of difficulty of the idioms acquired would depend on the ability of the individual student.
The schoolís Irish department has been established for the past number of years and a co-ordinator has been appointed. In the event that school management is aware of the absence of the co-ordinator for a period of time, it is recommended that a temporary co-ordinator be nominated. This recommendation is made for two reasons: (a) so that a contact person is available in the subject department for the school community and for outside organisations and (b) so that emphasis continues to be placed on the planning process for the development of the subject.
Planning documentation gave a clear indication of what is provided within the school, both inside and outside the classroom, to promote Irish among all of the students. Among the documentation reviewed within the planning folders was the schoolís mission statement, general information on the organisation of Irish in the school, information on individual lessons, minutes of meetings as well as information leaflets and work sheets disseminated at seminars. It was suggested that the Department itself should keep its own account of funding received from the school and from outside agencies and of yearly expenditure on resource material. Assessment methods and reporting procedures were also documented. However, it was apparent that it is not the practice of teachers to develop common schemes of work. This matter was discussed with teachers both at an individual level and at subject-department level. All of the teachers recognise the benefit of setting out common learning objectives for different year groups and the merits of having discussion on how these objectives are to be achieved.
On the whole, however, teacher participation in the planning process for subject development is limited. It was indicated that a certain amount of discussion of learning and teaching strategies takes place informally. However, pressure of time - three formal meetings arranged during the school year - limits the level of formal discussion. In the course of planning meetings it is recommended that priority be given to discussion on class room practice. It is also recommended that teachers of Irish would bring to these meetings one example of a successful learning activity and one example of a challenge that has been, or is still to be, resolved. With regard to schemes of work, it is suggested that two or three teachers, who teach class groups of the same level, would begin working together to establish learning targets and desired learning outcomes. This system of setting learning targets is adopted by teachers individually and therefore a collaborative approach would provide them with opportunities to discuss their individual methodologies.
There was evidence that the majority of teachers had their own method of working and that students were well acquainted with these methodologies and approaches. While there was a significant variation between teacher methodologies the application of basic teaching principles were evident.
Irish was the language used in an all lessons observed especially in so far as the teachers spoke in Irish to the students. There was a good level of understanding among the students of what the teacher was saying and a sizeable number of students made determined efforts to speak in Irish. In one instance the emphasis placed by the teacher on accurate pronunciation was noted and the result of this approach was evident in the speaking skills of the students. This practice is commended.
In the majority of lessons opportunities were provided for students to practice their oral skills. The promotion by teachers of speaking in Irish during lessons is commended. The creation of increased opportunities for students to practise oral skills in class was discussed with a number of teachers individually. The range of possibilities associated with pair and group work among students was presented to teachers and, especially, the potential for speaking in Irish. The principal advantage of this methodology is that the attention of the whole class group is not focused on the ability of individual students and therefore students are more comfortable in their efforts to communicate.
The walls of the classrooms were attractively decorated with posters and multicoloured cards displaying idioms, sayings and proverbs, verbs in common usage, illustrations of sentences and word collections. It was noted that teachers had begun also to display student work on the walls as well as aspects of the language that have been practised to date in the current school year. The manner in which both teachers and students referred to these displays during lessons was also noted. It was an excellent example of the benefit to be derived from them by students as a reference resource.
On the whole the content of the lessons reflected the range of interest and experience of the students and this encouraged their participation. Targeted questioning was used effectively to assess individual understanding of lesson content and to elicit ideas and opinions from students. Continuity was maintained between lessons by discussion of the topics from previous lessons and prior learning was further developed in the lessons observed during the evaluation visit. In some of the lessons observed grammar was integrated into teaching by directing the attention of students to points of language and grammar as they presented within the course of the lesson. This approach is widely accepted as the most effective means of providing students with an understanding of accuracy in Irish and its widespread use is recommended in all lessons.
Good use was made of resources such as tape recordings, flash cards, work sheets and text books. The majority of teachers used the white board effectively to present new aspects of the language to students. In one lesson a song was played that had been downloaded from the internet and it was evident that this item provided a lively listening stimulus for students. It was recommended that teachers use as much real life materials as is possible such as magazines, brochures, photographs, broadcast items and information leaflets.
There was evidence of widespread independent learning in the lessons observed. Each student had a copybook for taking notes and students were obliged to record their learning in the copybook during the class. Another example of independent learning noted was the manner in which students were set to undertake research on the internet. It was strongly recommended by the inspector that teachers would avail of other strategies in order to facilitate students to become more responsible for their own learning. In this regard it was recommended that students be encouraged to use dictionaries and research materials. Teachers were requested to encourage students to express their opinions through eliciting knowledge from, rather than providing it for them. It was suggested also to some teachers that the use of interactive group tasks not entirely under the direct control of the teacher could be further exploited.
The school operates an assessment system that informs all the participants of the progress that has been or is being achieved by students.
All students are assigned homework for every evening. In the course of the evaluation a number of copy books were examined which showed evidence of a good number of different written exercises having been completed. These exercises were corrected either by the teacher or by the students themselves. It is worthwhile to have students undertake correction of their own or of each otherís work as it focuses their attention on how best to set about doing the particular exercise. In some cases where the teacher had corrected the work, direction was given to students on how to improve the quality of the exercise. Teachers who take time to correct work and provide feedback to students are commended.
The inspector reminded all teachers of the importance of spending time in class on the correction of major errors in language. Some ideas were shared with the teachers of Irish on how to set students to correct their own work in a manner that they would find enjoyable and useful.
Students sit tests in class regularly as well as house examinations at Christmas and Easter time. Records of all results are maintained by teachers in order to facilitate the continuous monitoring of the progress of each student. It is common practice for some teachers to conduct an examination of oral skills as part of the assessment procedure; however, for the most part testing is completed in written form. It was strongly recommended that student ability in oral skills be included in all assessments. For example a mark could be allocated to the effort that students make to speak Irish in class.
Students taking the state examinations sit pre-examinations in the spring. These examinations along with the house examinations provide excellent opportunities for students in the practice of time management, in familiarisation with the layout of examination papers and in the rubrics of the state examinations.
Parent teacher meetings are arranged to inform parents of student progress. It was suggested by the inspector that students could benefit also from a self-evaluation of the progress they have made or are making. Therefore discussion took place with teachers regarding the promotion of Assessment for Learning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Irish is held in high regard in the school.
∑ Almost all students study Irish in a formal way, even those students who qualify for an exemption from the language.
∑ The majority of teachers of Irish have their own designated class room which enables them to provide a stimulating learning environment for students. These teachers have class rooms that are attractively decorated.
∑ There is good timetabled provision for Irish in senior cycle.
∑ Co-curricular and cross-curricular activities are organised to promote Irish.
∑ Individual planning is an integral part of the work of teachers. The principal objective of teachers when planning lessons is to design activities that serve the individual needs of the students in their care.
∑ Teachers have long-established systems of working and students are well acquainted with the learning and teaching methodologies of teachers.
∑ Irish was the language in use in the lessons observed. Teachers addressed students in Irish and in the majority of the lessons opportunities were provided for students to speak in Irish.
∑ All in all, the content of the lessons reflected the range of interest of the students and this encouraged their participation.
∑ Targeted questioning was used effectively to assess individual student understanding of lesson content.
∑ In a small number of the lessons observed grammar was taught in an integrated manner.
∑ Independent learning was evident in many of the lessons observed.
∑ The school operates an assessment system that informs all the participants of the progress that has been or is being achieved by students.
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 with the principal at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, March 2009