An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Irish
Ballincollig Community School
Ballincollig, Co. Cork
Roll number: 91386O
Date of inspection: 4 February 2010
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballincollig Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 Irish classes and observed learning and teaching. The inspector interacted with the students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school-planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and deputy principal. 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.
The school is situated in a town in which there is an active Irish-language movement. It was also reported that the people of the surrounding areas are favourably disposed towards Irish. An indication of this is that many of the students have a good standard of Irish on their arrival at the school and the fact that the whole school community is committed to fostering this high standard.
Many of the students have daily contact with the target language, since the majority of them have five lessons per week. it is understood that every effort is made to ensure that Irish classes are scheduled to run simultaneously for at least two class-groups, in second and third years. Simultaneous timetabling is in operation in all of the senior-cycle year groups. This is a satisfactory arrangement, because it enables the students to study Irish at the level which best suits their ability.
First-year students are in mixed-ability classes, while streaming is the main system in operation for the other year-groups. Senior management were asked to consider the implications of streaming for the holistic education of the student. The main concern with streaming is that the pace of the class may not suit certain students’ needs, whether that pace be too fast or too slow. It is recommended that the implications – for the students’ learning experience and for classroom practice – of implementing mixed-ability groupings or a banding system be discussed at a whole staff level.
The school management understands the importance of allocating Irish classes evenly among the teachers to ensure that they all gain experience of teaching Irish in the different programmes and at the various levels. Among the other ways in which the management supports the teachers are the provision of time for them to hold formal meetings, the organisation of mentoring schemes for newly-appointed teachers, support for a range of co-curricular and cross-curricular events to promote Irish, as well as facilitating teachers who wish to enhance their professional skills.
All the teachers have their own rooms and this facilitates the storage of resources. There are DVD players, computers and data projectors in many of these rooms. Each room has a tape recorder / CD player and storage. The school also has a library, where students can access a range of textbooks and other reading materials.
The teachers have tried to create a stimulating learning environment in the rooms where they teach Irish. There are charts on the walls showing word banks, common idioms and points of accuracy. Examples of students’ work are also on display. It would be well worth extending this particular practice beyond the classroom because it is a great boost to students’ confidence when they get public recognition for their work. For example, a notice board for information concerning Irish might be placed at a central location.
Seventy-eight students have exemptions from the study of Irish. This figure equates to twelve percent of the total enrolment of students. Forty-four of the exempted students have learning difficulties and every effort is made to provide learning-support lessons for them when Irish classes are in progress. The remainder of the exempted students received their early education abroad and a small number of them are still entitled to English as an Additional Language (EAL) support. The question of exemptions was discussed in detail with the management, particularly the possibility of providing an extra subject for certain senior-cycle students. These classes could be taught while Irish classes are in progress. Such an arrangement would ensure that every student takes a minimum of seven subjects for the Leaving Certificate exam. This extra study might also enhance students’ competence in English.
The management and teachers are aware of the importance of continuous professional development (CPD) as a means of developing pedagogical skills. They all welcomed the evaluation visit as a development opportunity and this attitude is commended. The teachers always welcome opportunities to attend various CPD seminars. There is ongoing discussion on a whole-school basis of the development of students’ literacy and numeracy skills as part of normal classroom practice. The teachers of Irish understand the importance of integrating the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the activities of Irish classes and they are making continuous efforts to equip themselves with the appropriate skills in this area. They have attended the workshops organised by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish. It is the openness of the teachers to such educational developments that enables them to cater effectively for the various needs of the students in their care. It is on this basis that management is asked to consider proposing some emerging learning and teaching strategies to the teachers; co-operative learning and self-assessment, for example. From the class practice observed, it was felt that a small number of teachers need to pay more attention to the accuracy of the Irish they use in class. These teachers are advised to consult their colleagues about the accuracy of the metalanguage used in class and to avail themselves of every opportunity of speaking Irish among themselves and to other members of the school community.
The co-curricular and extra-curricular events organised by the teachers are an integral part of the promotion of Irish in the school. Among these are quizzes, trips to the Gaeltacht and talks from guest-speakers. It was also reported that an important event on the school calendar is Seachtain na Gaeilge, when various events and competitions are organised to encourage the whole school community to use Irish. It is commendable that Irish is on display in different places throughout the school because it makes it clear to the school community and to visitors that Irish is a living language in the school. As a further enhancement of this, it is recommended that the school develop the practice of including some Irish in all correspondence and in their published material and that regular efforts be made to encourage the whole school community to speak Irish.
Subject development planning is ongoing and the teachers of Irish take part in this process. They meet regularly – once a month on a formal basis. The minutes of these meetings were reviewed and among the topics discussed at the meetings are allocation of students to classes, assessment , co-curricular and cross-curricular events, the results of certificate exams, programmes of work, as well as access to and the use of resources. Particularly noteworthy is the investigation carried out of the strengths of the school in the area of Irish and, as an extension of that, an investigation of aspects which would be worth developing. The teachers are commended for the commitment they bring to collaborative planning and it is considered that their work would be still more successful if they included the following in their discussions: classroom practice, effective learning, teaching and assessment strategies and the particular challenges that arise in their teaching of Irish.
There is a separate file for Irish and the information in this folder gives an overview of all the work done in relation to Irish in the school. The contents indicate that the department members have a clear understanding of what is involved in second-language teaching. The department’s mission statement indicates an awareness that the communicative approach is the most effective in giving students a command of Irish. This is commended. The responsibilities of the co-ordinator are also specified in the file. This is praiseworthy, especially since the post of co-ordinator is rotated on a yearly basis. Among the other documents is a report on resources, statements on the support given to students with special educational needs (SEN), as well as long-term plans for every year-group. It is further recommended that a statement be prepared which outlines the practice in the department regarding the use of English and Irish in class. It would also be expected that special reference be made to classroom metalanguage and in particular to the questions asked and the directions given.
The teachers are commended for the work already done on preparing schemes of work for each year-group based on the various programmes they follow. It is considered that, when elaborating on these schemes, it would be worthwhile drafting an overall long-term plan – based on the topics specified in the syllabuses – to indicate the links between the learning undertaken by students in the various year-groups. Such a plan should specify how different elements of syllabus topics are built on, year by year. Regarding each topic, this plan should make reference to language structures and functions, to points of accuracy, to works of literature, to resources, to learning activities, to assessment methods, to cross-curricular links, and to the skills being developed. It is considered that such a plan would encourage even more co-operation among the members of the department of Irish. In addition, it would make everyone aware, before embarking on the discussion of a topic in class, what experience the students already have of learning related to that topic.
All the teachers had made thorough preparation for the lessons observed. It was evident that they had all thought about the various stages of the lesson and the resources needed to implement these steps. The vast majority of them decided to use learning activities that would encourage the participation of all the students. In each case it was clear that the teacher had spent time beforehand considering the aspects of language to be practised during these activities. Based on this information, a range of tasks was designed that would afford students the opportunity to practise and repractise the language involved, as well as practising the four language skills. This practice indicates a clear understanding of how best to facilitate effective language acquisition and all the teachers are commended for their efforts in this regard.
On the whole, the lessons observed were stimulating and the students undertook their tasks with enthusiasm. Many of the teachers allocated a central role in activities to their students and, as a result, a good learning outcome was apparent at the end of the lessons. The encouragement given to students by teachers’ praise for their efforts was remarkable and this enhanced the positive co-operative atmosphere which was evident in the classes.
Irish was to the fore in all the classes observed. In the main, the teachers addressed their students in Irish and many of their students made a laudable effort to speak Irish during the lesson. It was evident that the use of Irish as the medium of communication is the norm in the majority of classes. The teachers are highly commended for their efforts in fostering this practice. Not only does it develop the students’ listening and speaking skills, but it shows them that Irish is a living language that they can speak to their fellow students and to other members of the school community.
Time was the topic in one lesson observed, while Sport and Weather were the subjects of two other classes. By the end of these lessons, it was evident that the students had effectively acquired the new elements of language presented to them. To this end, students had been assigned various tasks which afforded them opportunities to practise and repractise the new aspects of language to be acquired. This practise is commended. Another laudable practice which was widely used was the assignment of tasks which ensured that the students practised the four language skills. A further advantage of this was that the variety of tasks encouraged the continuous participation of students. It was obvious that the students enjoyed the lessons and their teachers deserve much credit for this.
The subject-matter of the other lessons observed was literature or topics linked to literature. In the classes where a work of literature was being discussed, the students showed an impressive understanding of the works. Their ability to discuss these works in Irish was noted and it was encouraging to hear students formulating and expressing their own opinions. It was a good idea, in the case of two other teachers, to conduct preparatory poetry lesson, to ensure that the students had the basic vocabulary of the poems before embarking on reading the actual poem to be studied in a later class. This is an effective way of directing students’ attention to the meaning of a poem when they first come to reading it later, rather than focusing on the meaning of the words.
Many of the teachers assigned pair-work to the students. This is an effective way of creating opportunities for students to communicate and it is recommended that even wider use be made of such co-operative-learning activities. It is recommended that teachers use Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies for this purpose, for example by assigning peer-assessment tasks to students. Teachers are also reminded that it is often worth assigning short co-operative-learning activities right through the lesson.
It was evident that certain teachers were using long-established work systems and teaching methods. Because of students’ experience of approaches, they moved seamlessly from step to step and from activity to activity with no particular need for explanations or directions. These students understood when note-taking was appropriate, or how to role-play. They are accustomed to the use of flashcards and gestures to convey word-meanings and some of them made a commendable effort to provide a explanation or answer in Irish when questioned. This is excellent practice and the whole department would be well advised to discuss these practices on a formal basis.
Among the learning and teaching resources in use were listening extracts, worksheets, flash-cards, textbooks, posters, photographs and video clips. The word banks and examples of language structures on display on the walls were a great help to students, especially in the area of oral language. These charts can also function a reference aid for teachers, when reminding students of correct language structure, or when getting the class to practise accurate use of idioms. Teachers understand the value of visual resources and they are commended for using authentic material which encouraged students to offer opinions, to participate, and to use their imagination.
Some teachers focused students’ attention on points of language as they arose during a lesson. This is a good idea, because students have a clearer understanding of a rule of grammar when they see it applied. It would be worthwhile for teachers to discuss with one another how accuracy in Irish might be taught in an integrated way. Among the strategies recommended are the reservation of a dedicated section of the whiteboard for displaying points of language as they arise, as well as assigning a homework task or a group task in class, which would require students to explain relevant rules of grammar.
It was evident that each teacher has devised a system regarding the use of copybooks. The commendable practice of students keeping their own records of work done in class was noted. It is worthwhile for students to have such a source of information available when they are revising the term’s work.
Students’ progress is assessed in various ways. Among those specified in the department documentation are oral assessment in class, correction of written homework, monitoring of class work, class tests, house exams, mock exams and oral exams. In recognition of the importance of developing and assessing students’ ability in spoken language, special mention is made of oral questioning as an assessment method. Teachers are reminded that there will soon be a significant increase in the percentage of marks allocated for students’ oral ability in the certificate examinations and, accordingly, they are advised to ensure that modes of assessment give formal recognition to the oral skills of every student. There are many possibilities of assessing students’ ability in oral Irish in innovative ways and it would be worthwhile for teachers’ to discuss among themselves and with management how best they might implement a certain number of these strategies, on a formal basis.
The homework policy of the department of Irish is based mainly on the school homework policy. The extra material comprises references to other assessment methods which pertain in particular to Irish – oral language practice, for example. The teachers of Irish understand the value of assigning homework tasks regularly to students, to reinforce classroom work. The practice in the department is to assign homework which is somewhat challenging but which the students can tackle. This is commended.
The management carries out a formal analysis of the results the students obtain in the Certificate Examinations. The results are shared with the teachers and feedback from them is welcomed. This is good practice.
Reports are sent home twice during the school-year. Individual teachers keep personal records of the progress of their students and this information is shared with parents at annual meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to identify areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and deputy principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations above were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010