An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Brendan’s College
Belmullet, County Mayo
Roll number: 72050U
Date of inspection: 27 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brendan’s College, Belmullet conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 one day 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 subject teachers.
Management gives every support to the promotion of Irish in the school. The use of the language is visible throughout the school campus. The promotion of Irish within the school is part of the special duties posts of two of the Irish teachers. This priority given to Irish in St. Brendan’s College is commendable.
First year students are grouped in mixed-ability classes. All other year groups are streamed according to examination level. Senior cycle and third year Irish classes are timetabled concurrently. In the other year groups there is some concurrent timetabling. Learning support is provided for students as required. In the current academic year, such formal support is being provided to first year students and a small group of third year students. The management is applauded for this favourable provision.
Junior cycle students receive four single periods of Irish per week. Transition Year students have three classes on three different days each week. In both senior cycle year groups students are allocated five class periods. These classes are distributed as three single class periods and one double period which takes place in the afternoon. This distribution results in students receiving no tuition on two days of the week. It is recommended that this provision be reviewed. It is important that students receive daily input in core subjects and in particular in language learning. It was reported that the school intends to change the timetable provision for senior cycle next year.
A total of eighteen students has been approved by school management for an exemption from Irish according to the provisions in Circular M10/91. Fourteen of these students did not receive their education in the Irish Republic and four have recognised learning difficulties. It was reported that teachers make every effort to motivate students with exemptions from Irish to participate in Irish class and in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. This inclusive approach is indeed praiseworthy.
There is a broad range of resources for the teaching and learning of Irish in St. Brendan’s College. All Irish teachers are provided with base classrooms. Although there is no formal budget for Irish any requests for resources are provided for. The teaching resources utilised by the department during the course of the evaluation included; CD players, audio-visual aids, diagrams, overhead projectors, newspapers and magazines. Computer rooms are accessible using a booking system. Teachers use www.skool.ie and www.scoil.net as research resources and these sites are recommended by teachers to students as a support for learning. It is recommended that these first steps incorporating the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the learning and teaching of Irish be developed. A list of the available ICT resources for the teaching and learning of Irish in second level schools is available at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Irish version of the encyclopaedic link ‘an Vicipéid’ is also recommended at www.wikepedia.org. The use of such modern media will assist in raising the students’ awareness of Irish as a living language.
A broad range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is organised for the students. There is a strong debating tradition in the school. Each year the school enters a junior and senior team in the Gael Linn debating competition. Teachers are commended for their commitment in giving freely of their time to prepare teams year after year. The school participates in Ceardlann Scríb Cléite organised by Údarás na Gaeltachta in conjunction with Cumann Ealaíne Mhaigh Eo. A pen-friend initiative with a school in Dublin began this year. Seachtain na Gaeilge is organised in the school each year. Activities organised include: a treasure hunt, quizzes, bingo and an Irish Night. The Irish Night is organised with sponsorship from Údarás na Gaeltachta. Parents, past pupils and people from the area attend this annual event. Entertainment includes music, song, dance, speeches and last year the night included a production of the short story “Fiosracht Mhná”. The proceeds from this cultural evening fund six scholarships to the Gaeltacht on an annual basis. A number of other scholarships are provided in conjunction with Coláiste Uisce, a local Irish College. The staff is to be commended for its commitment to exposing their students to Irish and Irish culture in an engaging manner outside the classroom.
Every encouragement and support is given by management to the Irish teaching staff to engage in continuous professional development. Recently, one of the Irish teachers attended a course on the ‘Reluctant Learner’. It is suggested that teachers continue to attend such courses and subject specific courses provided by Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie.
Subject department planning in St. Brendan’s College began two years ago as part of the school’s engagement with the school development planning process. This initiative marked the formalisation of previous informal planning. Formal department meetings take place monthly. Minutes of these meeting have been documented since May 2006. The issues discussed at these meetings include choice of textbooks, rotation of teachers for different year groups, arrangements for common assessment, the Transition Year programme in addition to extra and co-curricular activities for the subject. Teachers also meet informally to discuss subject related issues. The Irish teaching team is to be commended for this co-operative approach. There is an appointed subject co-ordinator. It is recommended that this role is rotated in the future so that more than one member of the team has the experience and understanding of the responsibilities associated with the position.
The long and short-term plans developed by the Irish department are comprehensive and commendable. The long-term plans contain details of the aims and objectives of the department, cross-curricular planning with business subjects, links with the learning-support department, curricular programmes, approaches to teaching grammar and assessment instruments. There is limited use of ICT in the classroom despite reference to its integration in planning documents. It is recommended that a policy is formulated outlining a plan, with practical and achievable steps, to integrate the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Irish. There is a long-term whole school plan for the promotion of Irish with realistic strategies that are growing and developing on an annual basis. This plan is commendable and staff members associated with its implementation are congratulated for this work.
Schemes of work are reviewed once a term for all levels and year groups. They contain detailed information on the sequencing of topics, homework procedures, summative assessment instruments and the broad aims and objectives for the teaching of Irish to the different levels. These schemes contain general reference to differentiated teaching strategies. It is recommended that this section of the plan outline the differentiated methodologies, the resources to be employed and differentiated tasks to be used to assess the breadth of learning outcomes across the range of students’ abilities. It is also suggested that the Transition Year assessment policy be extended to include assessment criteria other than participation in class. The integrated planning in the subject for extra and co-curricular activities is commended.
The curricular plan for Transition Year consists of three elements; a literary, a language and a cultural class. A broad programme is on offer with emphasis on variety and the promotion of participation in extra and co-curricular activities. There are specifically outlined steps to link students with their own Irish identity, the rich heritage of the area and the current cultural environment of the region. Teachers are highly commended for developing such a challenging plan.
In general it was evident from all the planning documentation that the Irish teachers seek to promote Irish as a living language to be enjoyed by students inside and outside the classroom.
There was a high standard of individual planning and preparation in the majority of classes evaluated. Generally effective teaching practice was observed and good short-term planning and preparation impacted positively on the structure, pace and the continuity of most classes. Teachers give a course outline at the beginning of the academic year. There were definite teaching and learning objectives which were shared with the students at the outset and these objectives were also attained in most classes. This is in line with best practice as it gives clarity and focus to the students and fosters individual responsibility for learning. In all classes lesson content was in line with syllabus requirements.
A range of suitable resources was used to support the teaching and learning including, worksheets, a pre-chosen music piece, textbooks, overhead projector transparencies, pictures and a poster on a poem, novel and folklore story. The use of audiovisual aids and worksheets helped the students to engage with the text in a more meaningful way and caters better for the range of learning styles found within a mixed-ability setting. Black/white boards were used effectively to record key words, to explain grammatical points and to structure lesson content. This is good practice as it acts as an exemplar for students in organising their own thoughts when preparing for a written exercise. The pronunciation and recording of new vocabulary and grammar points also affords students the opportunity to record this new information.
A variety of teaching methodologies is employed in St. Brendan’s College. In the majority of classes teachers maintained an even balance between student activity and teacher activity. In some classes the four language skills were integrated. Lessons began with whole class teaching during which the teacher introduced the information or the question to be discussed. Then students had the opportunity to engage with lessons through oral or written pair work or individual listening or written work. This was followed by a feedback session during which a mix of questions was posed to elicit information along a continuum of ability levels. This work was further enhanced by the linking of the learning material to the direct experience of the students. In one class following an analysis of a poem the students were requested to write a personal diary recording their feelings about death as a means of consolidating the learning objective. In this class in addition to diversity in the teaching methods the four language skills were incorporated and poetry and prose were appropriately integrated. In another class there was a thematic debate on two poems. A lively group brainstorming session on the differences between city and island life followed. These approaches constitute best practice and it is recommended that the Irish teachers share these strategies at a collaborative level.
Irish was the medium of instruction and communication in all classes. The students had a good standard of Irish. It was clear that their ability and self-confidence was developing in the language. Students made every effort to use Irish in group work and in general class interactions. The emphasis is on spoken Irish as was evident from the planning documentation and observation of classes. This approach facilitates classes being conducted through the medium of Irish. This is commendable practice. However, its wider use is recommended as a means of stimulating the more proficient students while simultaneously challenging the student with limited Irish. This can be achieved by the increased use of group work, differentiated class tasks, homework (written and oral) and assessment instruments. Such a differentiated provision would facilitate the attainment of the syllabus aims and the articulated aims of the Irish department, “to develop to the best of students’ abilities all the language skills that will enable them to actively participate in the bilingual life of the country”. The expertise of the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie will provide assistance with this work.
A co-operative atmosphere that was supportive of learning was evident in all classes. All teachers have very good classroom management skills. High expectations were set for achievement and good behaviour. There was very good rapport between teachers and students characterised by mutual respect. All students participated willingly in class activities when opportunities were provided. Students displayed a good understanding of the subject matter and they were encouraged to reflect on and develop their own personal response to literature. Their efforts and opinions were always affirmed. In general the learning environment of St. Brendan’s College was stimulating and motivational and mirrored the department’s objective of creating an enjoyable experience in learning Irish.
Teacher-based classrooms were appropriately used to create motivational, print-rich environments. This good practice contributes positively to the learning environment and visually reinforces learning. Irish has a visible presence throughout the school. The school management and Irish teaching team are congratulated for this philosophy. It is recommended that more student work be displayed to further develop students’ confidence and to acknowledge their good work.
Formative and summative assessment is conducted on an ongoing basis. Informal assessment observed during the evaluation included, oral questioning, group work and individual work structured on work sheets. St. Brendan’s College adopted a whole-school policy for homework in September 2005. A homework journal system is in place and a review of some journals showed homework is being set on a regular basis. Journals are monitored regularly by class teachers and are signed or stamped weekly by class tutors. An examination of a sample of student homework copies and grammar/vocabulary notebooks revealed that a comprehensive range of material and topics has been covered in line with syllabus requirements. Student copies also showed continuity and a good build up of completed material. Students’ work is corrected regularly with developmental comments highlighting their strengths and indicating areas for improvement. This is commended as best practice. It was reported that while correcting students’ work, teachers record any difficulties in grammar and syntax and teach a class based on this. This approach is laudable. It was evident from the term schemes of work that a grade is allocated for homework completion at least once a week. Planning documents also outlined that homework is be given on each of the four language skills. This is good practice. Students are also regularly assessed in these skills and leaving Certificate students do a trial oral Irish examination. It is recommended that oral assessment instruments be introduced at an earlier stage in the students’ second level experience of Irish. Mid and end-of-term examinations are also organised. All results are systematically recorded. The level of formative assessment is comprehensive in St. Brendan’s College.
Formal summative assessment for non-examination students occur at Christmas and prior to the summer holiday. These examinations are common across each year group and are assessed using agreed marking schemes as decided at planning meetings during the year. This collaborative planning for assessment is commendable. Pre-certificate examinations are taken by Junior and Leaving Certificate students in spring. Formal reports are sent home after each examination. There are two parent-teacher meetings per year group each year and meetings with individual parents/guardians when necessary. Every year a study skills seminar is organised. This provision is laudable. An analysis of the school’s State examination results is undertaken each year. Comparisons are discussed including comparisons between different classes. This analysis informs future planning.
It is recommended that the Irish department develops its current assessment instruments by incorporating increased use of the principles for learning as developed by the National Association for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
Achievement in Irish is acknowledged by the awarding of annual scholarships to the Gaeltacht. Scholarships are awarded to affirm effort and progress in the language. The school is congratulated for this good 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 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.