An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Rosmini Community School
Grace Park Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 9
Roll number: 91344V
Date of inspection: 04 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rosmini Community School. 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 two days 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 principal and the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The standing of Irish in Rosmini Community School is located within a challenging context. This is clear from an inspection of the numbers of students undertaking the different levels and also from the number of students who have an exemption from Irish. Twenty nine per cent of students have an exemption from Irish. This is a significant number and an exemption on grounds of recognised specific learning difficulties applies in most cases. From the resources that accrue from these numbers the school offers learning support classes which are arranged, as far as is possible, when Irish is timetabled. Therefore Irish classes are not affected in any way and these arrangements are satisfactory. Students with an exemption are welcome to study Irish and a small number have taken up this invitation. This welcoming approach to studying the subject is commended.
School management and the teachers of Irish are well aware of the challenge facing the subject. The teachers are meeting this challenge with great diligence and with the support of the school’s senior management. A positive attitude to Irish is reported among other members of the teaching staff and consequently that Irish is the medium of discussion occasionally between these members and the teachers of Irish. Some staff members, including members of senior management, who spoke with the inspector and who are not teachers of Irish, are fluent in the language. This is a valuable support for teachers of Irish and for the standing of the subject in the school. Teachers of Irish should investigate all possibilities for providing students with a broader experience of the greatest possible number of teachers speaking Irish. Having exchanges in Irish happening in a natural way throughout the school and among teachers, as was reported to the inspector, is a good method of promoting Irish among students. In this manner students obtain exemplars of Irish being spoken as the language of communication outside the classroom and are encouraged to imitate. It would be beneficial to encourage teachers who can speak Irish to do some of their teaching through the medium of Irish as part of the activities during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week). It would not be necessary to keep to the dates set in March to run this week in the school and it would be worthwhile considering getting some publicity for such a project. This would be a good productive effort in the promotion of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).
All the curricular programmes for Irish are provided by the school, namely the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate and Communicative Irish (Gaeilge Chumarsáideach) as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) course. In the case of certain JCSP students the discrete subject Irish Studies is offered to them as an alternative to Irish. School management and the teachers of Irish are committed to developing student proficiency in the language commensurate with their ability and to encouraging them to undertake the study of the subject at the highest level appropriate for them. Providing students with experience of learning the language in an environment that is pleasant and positive is stated as a primary objective in the mission statement of the subject plan. This is a good illustration of teachers being positive in the work that they are undertaking.
Good timetabled provision is made for Irish in the number of class periods allocated. Each year group is given five periods per week, except the TY and the LCA classes where three periods are allocated in the case of each. With the exception of first year, where classes are of mixed ability, all classes are concurrently timetabled, an arrangement which ensures that students have freedom to change subject levels at any time. It is recommended that a review be carried out of the present arrangement in second year whereby classes are timetabled concurrently on only three days of the week. On the other two days the levels are mixed together in three class-groups and there is too broad a range between higher and foundation levels in each case.
Management strongly supports teacher professional development and all teachers of Irish have a very good attendance record at courses for the subject run by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). It is planned that at least one person will attend another course in information and communications technology (ICT) skills for the Irish class, offered by the SLSS in early 2010. In addition, the SLSS regional development officer has offered to provide school based in-service. It is recommended that these opportunities be fully exploited and that careful consideration be given to the subject matter chosen for the school based in-service. Good relationships and co-operation are evident among the teachers of Irish. It is recommended that the teachers now add to their professional development through working together more closely and collaboratively in teaching the subject in the school. For example, with proper planning certain classes could be brought together and teachers could teach together or they could visit each other’s classes to observe teaching and learning
It is not customary in the school for many students to attend summer courses in the Gaeltacht. At present teachers are trying to encourage senior students to take a short two to three day visit to a Gaeltacht area and have organised events for the new year to support this project. These efforts to provide students with experience of Irish being spoken in a recognised all-Irish speaking area are to be commended.
Teachers are allocated their own classrooms and they have made very good efforts to establish a stimulating atmosphere for the subject in those rooms. They have collected good quality resources especially for young learners such as bingo games, cards, ‘spot the difference’ and ‘guess who it is’. A small collection of attractive books in Irish is prominently displayed in the classrooms for the subject. There are no computers or internet access available in the Irish classrooms however, teachers are comfortable with using ICT resources and knowledgeable about websites relevant to Irish. The most common use made of the internet to date is downloading materials from these websites for use in lessons. It is stated that classes are brought to the computer room from time to time to use interactive learning resources and good material has been recorded from TG4 programmes for use in class. It is recommended that the resource Vifax, accessible on the website of the Languages Centre, National University of Ireland, Maynooth (www.nuim.ie/language), be included, for senior students in particular.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
Teachers have made good efforts to develop a subject plan. The plan is based on the subject planning template designed by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). It was reported that the duties of co-ordinator are shared equally among the three teachers. This practice is commended and it is clear from the teachers that they consider the subject on a whole-school basis rather than as a subject for which they have responsibility for teaching to their own individual classes. Therefore, it is recommended that, in addition to the good schemes of work already detailed in the plan at present, an account also be included in the subject plan on the current status of the subject as teachers perceive it to be in the school in general, the major challenges to be overcome in order to initiate improvements and an action plan for both the short and long terms.
It would be very worthwhile to develop an achievable action plan which would seek to attract into Rosmini Community School more students who would have a greater range of proficiency in Irish on entering first year than is currently the case. This is a sensitive issue and should be dealt with on a whole-school basis. It would be helpful to consult the feeder primary schools and focus on the aspiration of Rosmini Community School to raise levels of expectation and achievement in Irish for students and parents. A more balanced range of student proficiency in the language would undoubtedly add to the good work taking place in the Irish department. From a planning point of view it would be useful to identify in the subject a desirable starting point in the learning achievement of the incoming first year students. It would be helpful to compare this with the learning objectives in the subject in the revised primary school Irish curriculum and to discuss this on a collaborative basis with the principals and teachers in the primary schools. Before engaging in any aspect of developing a plan of this type it would be necessary to obtain the approval and the support of the management of Rosmini Community School as a first step. High standards were evident in the teaching of Irish in the lessons observed during the evaluation visit, for the most part. The potential exists to greatly enhance the status of Irish in the school. If it is possible to obtain greater balance in the range of student proficiency in the subject from the outset then a good foundation will be laid down to initiate improvements in the subject. From then onwards it would be a matter for the teachers of Irish to enhance the status of the subject. There would be advantages to be gained for the whole school if the action plan for Irish were to be successful.
There is good interaction between management and the teachers of Irish regarding subject matters. At the beginning of the school year the principal meets with the co-ordinator of Irish, along with the co-ordinators of the other subjects, in order to obtain up to date information about subject matters. Teachers of Irish hold planning meetings once a term and meet informally once a week.
Students with special educational needs are included in planning for Irish. This was especially evident in the classroom practice in relation to students with visual impairments. There is good collaboration with the co-ordinator of special educational needs and teachers of Irish have received constructive guidance in working with these students. It is recommended that care be taken also when planning of differentiated teaching and learning which is necessary in the case of students who have particular aptitude in the language, especially in mixed-ability classes, so as to ensure that these students are set appropriate challenges in the subject. It was noted in one of the lessons observed that this objective was not included in the teaching practice.
Cross-curricular planning is well directed to the cultural events organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge and links have been established with Physical Education (PE), Home Economics, History, Music and Art. This collaboration is useful and supportive for the subject as a whole. The school is reminded of a previous recommendation in this report regarding building on this work and to go a step further, from the point of view of the language itself, with a CLIL project if possible.
Planning work is of a good quality. The subject plan contains a very good account of the teaching and learning programme set out on a monthly basis for the whole year for every year group and for every level. Appropriate reference is made to the resources to be used. These resources include the Irish syllabus which, rightly, is given pride of place as a guide for planning. The plan contains a worthwhile list of the ICT resources which are available and are being used. It would be useful to review this list in relation to its impact; the learning objectives which these resources seek to develop in the language; and to include alongside the groups of students for which these resources are suitable. Throughout the plan focus is placed on teaching methodologies and on the development of the four language skills all together. References are made throughout the plan to the development of speech and conversation. This is good. In the course of any review of the subject plan it would be helpful to record the amount of time spent on this aspect. This information would provide a clearer guide to what would be involved in having ordinary conversation practice as a regular section of the lesson. This should be done over and above oral question-and-answer sessions which are based only on lesson content.
The Irish plan in TY contains material which offers an opportunity to students to engage in learning the language in a fresh new manner. Included are materials from the broadcast media in Irish, Irish on the internet, projects on Irish place names and Irish within the students’ own environment of Drumcondra. In addition, particular emphasis is placed on spoken Irish and students are entered for the oral examination to gain the silver fáinne (emblem) as a sign of their proficiency and desire to speak Irish.
It would be useful to write down brief guidelines on the learning objectives under the four language skills as a foreword to the plan for each year. This would provide clarification of the standard expected from students in the four language skills by the end of the year in each group. Guidelines should show differentiation in proficiency in the skills rather than the amount of work that is required. A good quality summary on the languages competences to be developed by the different groupings of learners in the various language skills is available in the publication the European Languages Portfolio. The document offers guidelines on the appropriate proficiency of learners of Irish in the Junior and Leaving Certificates. This publication is accessible on the Trinity College website (www.tcd.ie/slss/clcs).
During the evaluation visit six lessons were observed, three in junior cycle and three in senior cycles. In each case the lesson was well prepared with, in many instances, extra materials available to support learning. Lesson content closely reflected the content detailed in the subject plan. Teaching and learning were most effectively achieved where input into the lesson activities was sought from students and they responded well to the encouragement given by teachers. In certain cases special planning was done in advance for active learning in order to ensure student input and this planning was effectively implemented during those lessons.
For example in one mixed class in senior cycle the learning objectives were clearly set out at the beginning of the lesson. The objectives were very limited and concerned practising vocabulary used to describe the weather and to name the different types of food. Work on the required vocabulary was done enthusiastically at the beginning with well designed prompt cards. This work was completed quickly and all students were given the opportunity to name the word associated with the picture. At the end of this exercise students were asked to look out the window and to describe the weather outside that day without the help of the prompt cards. The same approach was taken in the case of the types of food. The best efforts were enticed from the students through the effective management of the work and the encouraging personality of the teacher. Students eagerly competed with each other to name as many words as possible. The group included one student with special educational needs who was participating voluntarily in the lesson even though he had an exemption from Irish. Students fared well in their efforts. This lesson ended with a bingo game which related directly to finding the words that had been practised earlier. This work was achievable for the students who were given clear direction at the outset. They were praised throughout and the learning outcomes were confirmed at the end of the lesson. The teacher was completely in charge of the lesson activities but moved aside after a while and left some of the challenge to the students. This work was well done and a good foundation was being laid for vocabulary in those two subject areas in a manner that was enjoyable and lively for students. The approaches used were wholly in keeping with the primary objective which is the mission statement of the subject plan.
Teachers should ensure that enthusiastic learners such as these are brought forward to the next level of learning. That is to say that, once they have a good grasp of the basic vocabulary, they are able to express themselves without help on these topics, consistent with their abilities. A very positive stimulus for this work would be an item of weather forecast from TG4 or a segment from a television programme about food or from the language learning resource Turas Teanga which was available. A differentiated challenge could be set for certain students as they listen to these extracts. In the case of students who are not very proficient it would be enough for them to identify some of the words they had previously learned. It would be worthwhile asking other students to identify new words and to make an effort to write them down. At the highest level students could be asked to give a summary of an account that had been played for them a number of times.
In other instances however there was too much talk from the teacher during the lesson and students had only limited opportunity to express themselves, or, were not asked to do so often enough. For example in a higher level lesson in senior cycle an appropriate question from a past examination paper had been selected as a guide for discussing a literary work. Continuity between this and previous work was evident from the copybooks. A good handout had been prepared containing a synopsis of the main points which would help to answer the question. Fostering independent thinking was one of the objectives stated, appropriately, in the lesson preparation and the content was very suitable to achieve this aim. However, the teacher began to read the handout with the students too early in the lesson and to base the answer on the information that had been put together by the teacher. It would be better to leave the handout aside until students had made good efforts to express their own understanding of what they had read. At this level especially, students should not be relying overly on the teacher to do the work. If they do so the examination will consist only of an effort by students to learn the teacher’s work off by heart and to reproduce it. This negates the objective of promoting independent thinking.
In the first lesson referred to above students were impatient to show off their knowledge, even when it was limited, and the teacher gave them every encouragement. In the second case it appeared that students were more used to listening than to being active. There was one exception in the lesson however the information being given in an answer was not the information sought in the question. In another instance a good attempt was made to express an opinion and give evidence from the text in support. However, the effort was not successful and the answer was provided for that student. In such a case it would be better to praise the students for whatever information he could present, give credit for what he had said and then to ask other students to help finish the answer rather than providing the answer too early.
Teachers were very confident in their presentation in the majority of lessons. This greatly assisted the effective management of the work and for the students who followed instructions and cooperated with their teachers throughout. This was particularly true in relation to the effective management of active learning. Active work was well directed in a junior cycle class. Students were required to do research by asking each other questions about pastimes. This work was done with enthusiasm. Written answers were collected and the teacher continued with oral questioning on the information gathered. Students then worked in groups summarising the different types of pastimes and the enjoyment or lack of it that other students in the class got from these activities. This work was well directed and by the end of the lesson the teacher ensured that students had the appropriate vocabulary to speak about these matters. However, it was noted that students had a tendency to ask for help from the teacher in English. From first year onwards it should be common practice for students to ask questions in Irish and they should have the vocabulary and register necessary to do this, especially in a higher level class. In interactions between the inspector and students later in the lesson many of the students were hard pressed to give the lesson objective even though this had been made clear at the beginning. A correct answer was given a little later. This was an illustration of the limited understanding students had in the language and their limited proficiency in expressing what they had done.
Lesson objectives were clear for the most part, or they were made clear at the beginning. In one case in junior cycle however quite an amount of time had passed before the subject of the lesson was stated. This lesson involved giving and following directions in one’s own area. In this case it would be better to use a map of their local area rather than the resource in the textbook. Efforts were made to use the direct method by giving directions to a student to make his way from the room but these efforts were not successful. This type of work needs to be very well planned in advance.
The first part of this lesson involved an examination of vocabulary which was to be learned off by heart, names of countries; the names of counties in Ireland; types of shops and buildings. This work was completed through translation to and from English. Translation is not recommended as a methodology to develop students’ vocabulary. A context should be provided for these words first and the vocabulary learned in that context. There is no reference to translation in the subject plan. Translation should not be central in learning or in assessment. Later in dialogue with students the inspector met a student who was fluent in Irish. No appropriate challenge had been set for this student in any of the activities of the lesson. It is recommended that attention be paid to the needs of all students or there is a danger that students with good proficiency in the language will regress unless they are set appropriate challenges.
Other lessons were well measured with regard to clearly stating the lesson objective at the beginning. The target language was used throughout, authentic texts were used as new and challenging resource materials and differentiated questions were posed to various students. For example in one lesson in senior cycle effective use was made of an item from a podcast of a radio programme in which students were being interviewed and talking about themselves. The teacher effectively developed the questions from the radio interview with the students in the class. These questions suited the proficiency range of the students and they responded well to the challenge. In a mixed-ability class in junior cycle the same teacher succeeded in getting students’ attention throughout the lesson. This was achieved through the use of new reading resources, clear instruction, differentiated questions and praise for student efforts. Even though the work was very limited in the case of one group, students were keen to participate. Translation was in no way central to any part of this lesson. Great benefits in teaching skills and management of learning activities could be derived by teachers from arranging visits to each other’s classes.
Teachers are focussing on the further development of spoken Irish with students. This goal is commended. Oral questioning was used to support this goal. Regular practice of ordinary conversation should also be included in addition to talk based on lesson content.
Appropriate focus is placed on assessment in the subject plan for all year groups. Assessment measures consist of questioning in class, homework and house examinations. Teachers maintain very good records of student progress in the subject. Comprehensive work is evident in student copybooks. In some of the copybooks the amount of translation to English alongside the Irish version was a source of concern. However, in other cases there was no evidence of translation. In instances where new vocabulary is being noted translation is acceptable. That is the way in which Irish dictionaries are compiled and only bilingual dictionaries are available. However, translation should involve no more than this.
An excellent start is being made on assessing oral Irish in the Transition Year and accordingly, as should be the case, all the language skills are included in the assessments carried out in senior cycle. The same emphasis is not placed on assessing student oral proficiency in junior cycle. Teachers intend entering the current second year students for the optional oral examination in Irish in the Junior Certificate examination in 2011. Therefore, as soon as possible house examinations should conform to the Irish examination that the students will undertake in the Junior Certificate in 2011. Building on the amount of oral work involved in question-and-answer sessions is recommended as a preparation. The more ordinary conversation is developed the better able the students will be to express themselves in the oral examination.
It is recommended that some thought be given to assessing the proficiency of incoming students in Irish at the beginning of first year. Assessment of all four language skills should be included. It would be worthwhile also sharing these results with the primary schools as part of the discussions recommended earlier in this report. An analysis of student participation and achievement rates in the subject in the certificate examinations should be included in the subject plan. The analysis provided to the inspector showed that students are achieving well in these examinations at the different levels when compared with the national norms. However, the same balance does not exist in the numbers of students undertaking the different levels. It would be beneficial to focus on improving this imbalance in the interest of the standing of Irish in the school. This analysis provides a good reference point as a guide to initiating a development plan for the subject.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management supports teachers of Irish to good make use of opportunities for continuing professional development.
· There is good timetabled provision for the subject with regard to the number of periods on the timetable. Other than one timetabling glitch in second year, classes from then onwards are timetabled concurrently, an arrangement which ensures freedom to change subject level at any time.
· A stimulating atmosphere prevails in the classrooms. Good resources have been built up including a good choice of materials recorded from TG4 programmes. Teachers are well informed about internet sites relevant to the subject and interactive learning materials are used from time to time.
· Within the planning process good relationships and collaboration exist among the teachers of Irish and it is evident from the teachers that they consider the subject on a whole-school basis rather than as an individual responsibility to teach their own classes.
· Teaching and learning were most successfully achieved where attention was paid to involving students in active learning methodologies. The best efforts were encouraged from students through the confident presentation of teachers, pleasant personality and effective management of work. Progress was made in learning in an enjoyable way through active learning even with students who had a very limited grasp of the language.
· A good start is being made in assessing spoken Irish in TY and the school intends to enter students for the optional oral examination in Irish in the Junior Certificate examination.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that teachers would enhance their professional development among themselves by closer collaboration in working together jointly in the school when teaching the subject.
· It is recommended that consideration be given to the needs of all students in the class and that teachers ensure that appropriate challenges are also set for students who have good proficiency in the language.
· It is recommended that care be taken with the practice of translation as a means of enhancing vocabulary for students and that translation should not be central in the learning or the assessment process. A context should be provided within which students can acquire new vocabulary.
· It is recommended that the house examinations in junior cycle be amended and recognition given to oral Irish as a preparation for the Irish examination that students will undertake in the Junior Certificate.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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 April 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Thorough report, providing a comprehensive description of the delivery of Irish. Well received by the teachers as fair, constructive and encouraging.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. Assist teachers to enhance professional development through facilitating team teaching and group collaboration.
2. To incorporate oral Irish in the house examinations.
3. Assist teachers to provide a balanced programme with appropriate challenges and to enhance vocabulary for students through appropriate contexts.