An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Sancta Maria College
Ballyroan, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60341P
Date of inspection: 24 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan Dublin 16 which was conducted as part of 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 principal and subject teachers.
Irish classes are of mixed ability in first year in this school. At the end of first year students’ placement in banded classes is determined by a common examination. It is school policy and practice that each student has every opportunity to attain to the highest level in Irish and this is facilitated through concurrent timetabling of classes. This good practice is commended.
It was reported that there is one Irish lesson per day and it is recommended that this policy continue as students gain most from regular daily input. At the time of the visit it was found that a considerable number of students were exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with Circular M10/94. It is recommended, that within the context of the college, a whole school policy be formulated relating to student participation in Irish.
There are eight teachers of Irish in the school. Use is made of publications such as ‘Dréimire’, ‘Staighre’ and ‘Céim’ as well as video recordings from TG4. There is also a library of Irish material in the college and teachers are aware of the importance of having a wide variety of books made available, particularly to those students with a good command of Irish. Students are informed about and participate in summer courses and also take part in Gael Linn debates. During Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish language week) céilís, table quizzes and other events are organised to highlight that Irish is a living language. It was interesting to note that the fourth-year students had devised differentiated worksheets for first-year students, based on television programmes such as ‘Aifric’ and ‘Paisean Faisean’. As was commented, ‘the students themselves are a resource’. The school is deserving of high praise for such philosophy and practice.
The Irish teachers have use of the school’s computer rooms but it was stated that there is little regular use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that the use made of ICT and its benefits be reviewed, as the students should understand that Irish is also a living language in the modern media.
While teachers do not have their own base classrooms, efforts are made to display student work in the rooms. The school is encouraged to continue to motivate students to do their best by displaying their work publicly to one another and in a variety of ways.
The school is congratulated for its provision and whole school support for the subject.
It is clear that a high degree of planning and preparation occurs on both an individual and on a collective basis as a subject department. As recognised in the planning documentation, the spoken language is at the heart of the Irish syllabuses. The school is engaged in the School Development Planning process, and planning schemes and documentation, at individual and department level, were examined. It was reported that the Irish language teachers have both formal and informal meetings throughout the school year.
It was evident that due regard is paid by Irish teachers to the importance attached to regular self-review in planning for the subject. It is recommended, in order to build on the planning conducted to date, that focus be directed in detail on a particular aspect of teaching the language such as the various methods in use by teachers for promoting the students’ spoken language in the Irish classes. This would in turn provide opportunities for teachers to learn more about the teaching methodologies in use by their colleagues.
With the provision of co-timetabling teachers are in a position to devise common lesson plans, implement them in their classrooms and consequently evaluate the impact of the lesson and the learning outcomes for both students and teachers. Latest research suggests that collaborative practices among teachers assist in improving the quality of learning and in sustaining that improvement over a longer period of time. Such opportunities should be embraced, particularly in light of the exceptional cooperative spirit that exists among the Irish teachers who are both diligent and reflective in their practice. As a result of concurrent timetabling, teachers have the further option of working together, when appropriate, in the same classroom.
Planning and preparation are of a very high standard in this school and the teachers and management are deserving of much praise.
As a result of the detailed individual planning of the teachers, lessons were well structured and well paced in all classes observed. Irish was the medium of instruction and general communication in class. It was noted that a number of the students were happy to seek clarification in Irish and it is recommended that this good practice be extended by incorporating the everyday language of the classroom, required by the students, into further subject planning. In each class visited, there was clearly much attention devoted to planning and there was evidence of continuity between lessons. Each lesson began with a roll call, an examination of the previous day’s homework and ended with setting homework which arose naturally from the class work.
At the time of the visit the lesson content presented was consistent with the Department’s syllabuses and with the students’ range of interests and abilities. It was noted that in all the classes observed there was an open and welcoming atmosphere among students and teachers. The students were clearly willing to participate and demonstrated a good understanding of the subject. It was evident from the copybooks that continuity was ensured from lesson to lesson. Gentle correction by teachers was evident in all classes observed with the promotion of student self-esteem and confidence to the fore. Pleasant relations existed between teachers and students with humour used to good effect on occasion. Grammar was integrated into the lessons with an appropriate emphasis placed upon its communicative value.
A major achievement in all classes was the integration of all the language skills within the class period. Such good practice is significant and merits being shared and developed through the use of audio and video recordings. Communicative opportunities were given to all students in all classes. Lessons were structured so as to allow students practise the spoken language with one another and it was clear that their vocabulary was extended and enriched. In each lesson observed, there was an appropriate balance between whole-class teaching and group work. Differentiated methods were adopted to motivate and to evaluate student learning throughout the lessons.
In the junior cycle lessons, themes such as ‘school’, ‘health’, ‘the Gaeltacht’ and ‘holidays’ were developed. In the senior classes attention was drawn to the students’ lives so that they were able to communicate naturally with one another about daily events. The spoken language is at the heart of the syllabuses and such was the case in the classes observed.
It is recommended that greater use be made of information and communication technology (ICT) in the Irish class where appropriate. It would be incorrect to exaggerate the benefits of use of computers; but students would enjoy and benefit from using and learning the language through a modern medium. Of course computers can be used also to encourage students to draft and redraft written compositions which can in turn be published.
The quality of teaching and learning is of a high standard in this school.
In addition to the daily and continuous assessment in the classes, a comprehensive assessment of the students is conducted through regular examinations throughout the year. The teachers maintain results in their own diaries. Reports of the results achieved by students are forwarded to parents twice a year. Parents are afforded an opportunity to contact the teachers during the year. Students are set formal examinations at Christmas and at summer and in addition class examinations are conducted. ‘Mock’ examinations are conducted in springtime for third and sixth- year students. Common examinations are conducted when appropriate and such practice is commendable. It would be worthwhile to formulate these common assessments at the beginning of the term of work which allows for agreed learning outcomes and teaching methods to be discussed in advance.
It was reported that examinations in the junior cycle are mainly concerned with writing, reading and listening skills. As evident from the school documentation and the classes visited, the spoken language is at the heart of the syllabus and, of course, listening and speaking are of no less importance than reading and writing. Therefore, it is recommended that assessment be broadened out to include assessment of the spoken language. The best way to accomplish this would be through observation and continuous assessment in the classroom. Recognition of the importance of the spoken word could be achieved by incorporating marks for same into the overall result at Christmas and summertime and by a suitable comment forming part of the report that is forwarded to home.
The copybooks and folders observed showed that work was carried out and corrected on a broad range of material in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. Work was completed to a high standard on topics that related to the daily life of the students. Continuity between school work and homework was to be seen. Vocabulary development took place in each class and the students had notebooks for noting words, points of grammar etc. One of the first steps in independent learning is learning to organise note making. It was noted in lessons and in copybooks and folders that the teachers gave personal direction and guidance to explain corrections. This is commendable work and impacts positively on students. Corrections are part of the learning process and it is recommended that the regular checking of the students’ written work continues so that they have affirmation and guidance on how to improve on their work. Recommendations could be presented orally in the target language to the students beforehand and written in copybooks when appropriate.
Comprehensive and continuous assessment is conducted in the subject, including common examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The quality of teaching and learning is of a high standard in this school.
· The timetable is suitable and facilitates daily contact with the subject.
· It is both school policy and practice to afford each student every opportunity to attain to the highest level possible in the subject.
· There is a high level of support in the school for Irish and good provision is made for it.
· There is a wide range of purposeful extra-curricular activities.
· There is an exceptionally high standard of planning and preparation.
· Through co-planning teachers are conscious of improving their instructional skills to enhance the quality of their students’ learning.
· Every effort is made to use Irish as the medium of instruction and normal language of communication in every class.
· The care for students was at the heart of every class observed.
· The lesson content observed was appropriate to the syllabus and student interest.
· All the language skills were integrated into the classes observed.
· A pleasant atmosphere of co-operation existed in the classes and the students appeared willing to participate and to have a good understanding of the subject.
· Comprehensive and continuous assessment is conducted in the subject, including common examinations.
· Assessment of oral proficiency occurs in senior cycle classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the commendable joint planning continue and that collectively the teachers examine ways in which the good practice observed during the inspection might be shared and celebrated.
· It is recommended that the department as a whole examines various methods of assessing the spoken language in every year group.
· It is recommended that a comprehensive policy relating to student participation in the subject be developed.
· It is recommended that, where appropriate, greater use be made of information and communication technology (ICT) in learning and teaching Irish.
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.