An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

Saint Louis Community School, Kiltimagh, County Mayo

 Roll number: 91494R

 

Date of inspection: 14 December 2007

 

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and Preparation

Learning and Teaching

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Louis Community School, Kiltimagh, County Mayo. 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 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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Junior and senior cycle students have an allocation of five concurrent single classes. Transition year and Leaving Certificate Applied students have three classes per week but these are not concurrently timetabled. The classes vary from thirty five to forty minutes duration. Management is highly commended for the priority given to the teaching and learning of Irish on the timetable.  First year students are divided alphabetically in the first term. All classes follow the same course during this term and priority is attached to communication and to the correct use of language. A common examination, with an agreed marking scheme, is given to all students at Christmas. Students are then re-arranged in accordance with the level they are taking in the State examination. Students continue to be divided on this basis up to Leaving Certificate, with the exception of Transition Year where mixed ability classes apply.

 

This year six teachers are engaged in the teaching and learning of Irish and all these teachers are graduates of Irish. The majority of teachers have experience of teaching in both cycles and at different examination levels. This practice is commendable because it ensures that almost all teachers in the department have the necessary skills for the delivery of the subject. All of the Irish teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. The Irish teachers make a significant contribution to whole staff awareness of Irish as a living language as it is the main language of communication among the majority of Irish teachers in the staff room and throughout the school. Their love of the language, and their diligence, is evident in the number of permanent Irish notices on display throughout the school, something that is in keeping with the Irish department’s plan. The Irish teachers are strongly commended for their commitment in fulfilling the objectives of the department. A team teaching approach is used with students in Transition Year which ensures they derive maximum benefit from the variety of skills of individual teachers. This student centred cooperative approach is commendable. 

 

A small number of all the students have been granted an exemption from Irish in accordance with the directions of Circular M10/94. It was indicated that management and staff make every effort to encourage all students to attempt Leaving Certificate Irish.  Additionally, students who have exemptions from the language are invited to participate in class events in Irish when appropriate. This inclusive approach is commendable. 

 

The teachers have compiled an impressive array of resources, videos, compact disks (CDs) and other teaching and learning materials over a number of years. These resources include a resource folder containing notes, exercises, essay work, examination questions and other materials of a general nature useful to support the various courses.  There is a storage area in one teacher’s classroom and all teachers can access these materials easily. The teachers of Irish deserve high commendation for their professional cooperation in the research conducted by them in the provision of resources for students. These resources are catalogued and updated regularly. The Irish department has developed strong links with the learning support team. Teachers are commended for their diligence and student-centred manner in which they fulfil their roles as professionals.  

 

Only one of the six Irish teachers has a base classroom.  Teachers have access to a multimedia room and to three computer rooms provided they book these in advance. All rooms in the school are in demand and this necessitates the use of the computer rooms as ordinary classrooms. All rooms are broadband enabled. The school has two mobile computers, two mobile data projectors and a television.  Video, CD and DVD players are available on each floor of the school. It is recommended that all opportunities be availed of to integrate information and communication technologies (ICT) into the teaching and learning of Irish.

 

Every effort is made to promote Irish culture both inside and outside the school by providing a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities for the students of Saint Louis Community School. Students attend Irish dramas in various theatres. Drama workshops are organised with special guests and past-pupils in attendance. Students participate in an annual film competition organised by TG4. The school has received many awards in these competitions which are displayed throughout the school.  Trips are organised to the Gaeltacht, to the set of ‘Ros na Rún’, to the newsroom of TG4 and to the offices of ‘Foinse’. Inschool competitions are also organised, as well as a céilí and Seachtain na Gaeilge and a large number of teams are entered for the quizzes that are organised locally by Glór na nGael. The Leaving Certificate Applied students examine the use of Irish in students’ immediate environment. The staff is warmly congratulated on their commitment in providing positive experiences of Irish for students.  

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The Irish department in Saint Louis Community School is engaged in planning for Irish since Transition Year was introduced to the school over fifteen years ago.  This formal planning has come under the auspices of school development planning (SDP) since 2004 when the staff began to plan for whole year groups in the school. The staff members meet three times each year and they have a further meeting as part of the whole school planning work. This priority attached to cooperative planning is commendable. Detailed minutes have been recorded of the staff meetings since September 2005. It is recommended that management’s response regarding resource requests be noted in the minutes.  The staff is commended for the manner in which, during staff meetings, they reflect on how they might achieve excellence  in the teaching and learning of Irish. The professionalism of the department in their presentation of planning documents and the accuracy of the Irish contained therein is also commendable.

 

The department has appointed a coordinator and this position is rotated on a regular basis as is best practice. The plan includes a description of the role of the coordinator.  The department is again to be commended for this good practice in outlining clearly the role of the department head.

 

Detailed work has been completed on many aspects of the plan. This work includes the linking of the three main aims of the department to the school mission and ethos. It is recommended that the challenging objectives identified by the department be reviewed and that some of these objectives be described as learning outcomes for the students as has already been developed in the Transition Year programme. This approach will provide direction for teaching and a framework for assessment as well as providing performance criteria that allow the outcomes to be measured. Long term curriculum plans have been developed for all year groups.  This year, in the plans for third year, an integrated approach has been developed for the delivery of the curriculum.  This is commendable as it is more in keeping with the recommendations of the Department and with the underlying principles of the syllabus and acknowledges the mutually reinforcing interdependent relationship that exists among the skills in language acquisition.

 

Specific planning is in place for students with additional educational needs including students with learning difficulties and high achieving students. It is recommended that the website of the Special Education Support Services (SESS) www.sess.ie be used to access further resources on differentiated learning. To support that aspect of the plan pertaining to the development of teaching methodologies it is also recommended, as disussed at the in-service courses of the Second Level Support Services (SLSS), that the communicative approach be formally tabled at a meeting of the department as soon as possible. A comprehensive list of Irish websites, distributed by the SLSS, is included in the Irish plan. It is recommended that steps be developed to integrate these websites into the teaching and learning of Irish.

 

Learning and Teaching

 

A mutually respectful and purposeful learning and teaching atmosphere was evident in all lessons observed during the inspection. All teachers displayed very good classroom management skills. The teachers had a good knowledge of the pupils they were teaching and this greatly enhanced the interaction in teaching and learning.  There were high expectations for learning and teaching in all classes and students were positively affirmed for the quality of their efforts and opinions.

 

The short term planning and preparation of all teachers in Saint Louis Community School was of a very high standard. In general, all lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. The majority of teachers shared the learning objectives at the beginning of the lesson and again during the lesson when the learning intention changed. It is recommended that a debriefing session be conducted with students at the end of the lesson to clarify what has been achieved in terms of learning because this develops independence in the learners as they have to identify their own learning outcomes.

 

Although all the Irish teachers did not have their own base classrooms, a motivational print environment was evident in all classes, including posters displaying pupils’ own work, grammar charts and other learning aids. These displays, on the classroom walls, were evidence that the department was conscious of the importance of visual reinforcement required by students learning a language. In addition to the classrooms, notices and other artistic displays in Irish were visible throughout the school. This centrality afforded to the Irish language is in keeping with the Irish department’s own goal of ‘promoting an Irish environment within the school’. The Irish teachers are highly commended for their diligence and commitment to ensuring that Irish has a strong position throughout the school.

 

In almost all classes the teaching and learning observed during the inspection period was of a very high standard. What was most evident was the balance teachers achieved between their own input and the activities of the students.  This balance was achieved by having a good variety of whole class work, individual work and pair work. A comprehensive range of worksheets had been prepared by all teachers for their lessons. Students were actively engaged in the development of their own learning due to communicative opportunities that were created.  The majority of teachers attended to the needs of students as they engaged in individual work, pair work or group work. Good review sessions were conducted  where students had an opportunity to display what they had learned while they had engaged in the learning tasks. In another lesson an authentic communicative situation was set up  whereby students had created their own version of the ‘X Factor’, which they named as ‘G Factor’.  They were engaged in peer assessment of each others presentation and language skills.  This assessment was based on criteria that had been determined in advance by the students. The teacher also encouraged students to engage in self-correction in regard to their accurate use of the language and this approach allowed grammar points to be introduced naturally into the lessons.  This lesson is an exemplar of  the locus of learning being placed primaraly with the students while the teacher facilitates the learning process. Singing was also used effectively as a teaching method in this class. This approach is commendable because singing is a very powerful tool in the teaching of languages. An example of the integrated approach was evident in another class. All of the language skills were integrated as well and were connected in a structured manner to a reading comprehension extract and to an essay topic. Very good preparatory work was conducted in advance on ensuring that the vocabulary for the listening task was suitable for the range of abilities of the students. The listening task was based on authentic excerpts from Nuacht TG4. A good post-listening session was also conducted where students then had an opportunity to practice some of the target vocabulary in pairs. This activity gave the students the opportunity to connect the work to their own personal experience. Teachers are highly commended  for these particular methodologies that are employed in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that greater use be made of the effective methodolgies commended above.

  

In another lesson, when a topic for the oral Irish examination was being integrated with a letter composition, the same learning outcomes were not achieved because the lesson was not well paced.  Pair work took place without having the objectives for the task clearly specified and without having a clear time frame for the task.  It is recommended for pair work or group work that the task be clearly explained beforehand and that a suitable time-frame be provided for the completion of the work and that all groups have an opportunity to present the work completed within the period of the lesson.

 

Irish was the language used in all classroom interactions. Pupils demonstrated a familiarity with the vocabulary of the classroom and they had a good standard of Irish. Students had a good understanding of the subject matter and they willingly engaged in the target language when given an opportunity to do so.  All teachers skilfully simplified vocabulary which avoided an over-reliance on translation. All teachers made every effort to enrich pupils’ vocabulary and some teachers used effective learning strategies in the teaching of vocabulary and grammar. The majority of teachers directed students’ attention to aspects of dialect, pronunciation and grammar within the communicative context rather than treating them as single entities. It is recommended that these effective methodologies for language acquisition be discussed to ensure that skills commended are used by all staff members.

 

Assessment

 

Formative assessment is conducted both formally and informally. Various aspects of course work are examined on a regular basis and a systematic record is kept of the results obtained by students. The informal methods used during the inspection period included individual work, oral questioning, assessment of vocabulary, pair work and group work, peer assessment, singing sessions and listening tasks. The department has outlined in the Irish plan its approach to assessment and homework as well as its methods of recording and reporting. It is the practice to give homework in Irish every night.  A homework diary system is in use in the school and these are monitored regularly as well as being periodically reviewed by parents or guardians. It was evident from a sample of these diaries that homework was regularly given. In some year groups there was a variety in the tasks encompassing all language skills and this is in keeping with the guidelines for homework as described in the subject plan. This integrated approach to homework is very commendable and it would be beneficial to extend this good practice throughout all the staff. A sample of the copybooks examined during the inspection indicated that extensive work had been completed on a range of subjects pertaining to the syllabus. Continuity was evident in the work in copybooks indicating a good level of development. This random sample also provided evidence that the majority of the teachers used developmental corrections  on a regular basis. This regular developmental correction of students’ work is commendable and it is also recommended that this method of correction be applied throughout the department. It was reported that corrections are used as a diagnostic tool of students’ grammar and spelling errors and that classes are taught based on this information. The staff is commended on this approach because it provides personal clarification on individual errors as well as providiing information on common errors at different levels.

 

The usual arrangements are employed for summative assessments for the various year groups. These are common examinations and the four main language skills are incorporated in the assessments. This practice is commendable. A report is issued to homes twice a year and the examination results form the basis for these reports. Teachers meet parents or guardians once a year for each year group. It is recommended that the four main language skills be integrated in the reports issuing to homes. This approach would improve the motivation of students across the skills.  

 

It is recommended that the department would extend the range of assessment instruments by developing the area of assessment for learning. This methodology prioritises the learning process rather than placing all of the emphasis on learning outcomes. The website of the National Council of Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), www.ncca.ie should be helpful in this regard.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Very good provision is made in the timetable for the teaching and learning of Irish as well as the organisation of worthwhile co- and extra-curricular activities.

·         An impressive number of notices and other creative displays in Irish were evident in the classrooms and throughout the school.   

·         The Irish teachers are deserving of high commendation for their professional cooperation in providing resources for pupils and in their ongoing research in this regard.

·         The planning and short-term preparation of all teachers was of a high standard.

·         In the majority of classes observed during the inspection period the teaching and learning techniques employed were of a very high standard.

·         In most classes there were high expectations for student learning and behaviour.

·         The target language was used effectively in all classes.

·         The school has developed detailed practices for homework and assessment.

 

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

·         It would be advisable to approach planning, with the support of resources from SESS and SLSS, to further develop differentiated methodologies, the communicative approach and in the integrated use of ICT in the teaching and learning of language.

·         It is recommended that the effective teaching methodologies already employed within the department be used more extensively.

·         It is recommended that the integrated approach to homework and developmental corrections already in use in the department be extended to all members of staff.

·         It is recommended that the four main language skills be included in the reports that are sent home.

 

 

A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish and separately with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 Published November 2008