An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Roll Number: 64130W
Date of inspection:
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Pól Secondary School, Kilfinane, Co.Limerick. 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, deputy principal and Irish teachers.
There are two mixed ability classes in first year and classes in all other year groups are organized in accordance with the examination level the students are taking. Classes in both junior and senior cycles are timetabled concurrently. All year groups have five Irish classes during the week except Leaving Certificate students who have an additional class period per week. Three classes per week are provided for students following the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. All these classes consist of single periods which are well distributed throughout the week. School management is commended on the favourable allocation given to Irish on the timetable in Scoil Pól.
Students, together with their parents/guardians, and with the support also of the career guidance teacher when necessary, are advised and guided regarding a move from one examination level to another. A record is kept of parents’ written agreement for students to change levels. Every effort is made by management to provide the same teacher to the year groups throughout the junior or senior cycle in order to ensure that students have continuity in teaching.
A total of 14 students have an exemption from Irish in accordance with Circular M10/94. It was indicated that eight of these students were students who were educated outside the State and the remaining six students have recognised learning difficulties.
Some co-curricular and extra curricular activities are arranged for students including quizzes and visits from well-known writers. It is beneficial to students to raise their awareness of the Irish language outside the classroom. The website of Conradh na Gaeilge www.snag.ie is recommended in this regard as it would be helpful in developing activities such as Seachtain na Gaeilge.
All teachers involved in the teaching and learning of Irish have a degree in Irish and they regularly visit the Gaeltacht. All teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. School management gives every encouragement and support to teachers to attend ongoing professsional development courses. A representative of the staff attended a course pertaining to the LCA for Irish. In the last two years whole staff in-service courses were arranged on various educational themes in the school. This level of professional development is commendable. It is recommended that attendance at such courses would continue and also on Irish courses such as those provided by the Second Level Support Services at www.slss.ie
Scoil Pól makes good provision for resources and facilities for the teaching of Irish. These facilities include a computer room, data projectors, overhead projectors, televisions, DVD players, CD player, notices on display on the walls, newspapers and magazines. There is a computer in one of the Irish classrooms and the computer room is also available through an advanced booking system. Broadband is available throughout the school since last summer. It was reported that computers are not used on a regular basis in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed, because students should understand that Irish is a living language in modern media. It is recommended that the department should agree on realistic objectives for the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in students’ experiences of learning and teaching in Scoil Pól. It is recommended that Vicipéid, the Irish website of the encyclopedia www.wikepedia.org be accessed, as well as Irish lessons based on extracts from Nuacht TG 4 at www.nuim.ie/langauge/vifax. A list of teaching materials and resources for post-primary students is also available at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be helpful for the department to establish a priority list and to submit a request annually to school management for resources. All teachers have base classrooms which affords easy access to teaching resources which supports students’ learning.
The department’s main aims are comprehensive and they reflect the mission of the school in so far as the department aims to holistically motivate students through the medium of the language. The Irish department has been engaged in the process of school development planning (SDP) since 2005. A formal subject plan for Irish was compiled for the first time in 2006 augmenting the informal planning that was taking place up to that point. This year the staff has met formally every Thursday. This significant allocation for planning is commendable. The subject plans for the various year groups are presented on a term or weekly basis. Most of these plans are content plans with details of topic lists, the order in which they will be taught, the textbooks used, and other additional resources such as magazines, aural listening exercises and references to regular assessment during the year. A record has been kept of the meetings of the Irish department since the beginning of 2006 and these include accounts of the progress made by the department in the various aspects of planning.
In order to further develop the good work achieved to date it is recommended that collaborative work on subject planning for all year groups, which at this point is at various stages of development, be progressed. It would be desirable, in the senior cycle at least, to have agreement on the order in which the literature is taught to the different levels in order to facilitate movement from one level to another. It is also recommended that discussion take place on the various teaching methodologies employed by the department and on the effectiveness of these methods in achieving the teaching and learning objectives set out in the department’s plan. The planning file should also include a copy of the syllabuses, the chief examiner’s reports and marking schemes.
A chairperson and a secretary have been nominated for the planning meetings. It is recommended that these appointments be reviewed and a co-ordinator appointed. The collaborative nature of planning is more effective if a coordinator is selected and if there is agreement to rotate the position on a regular basis.
The results that students obtain in the State examinatios are analysed each year. This practice is commended. It is recommended that this analysis would form a part of future subject planning review.
A good standard of short-term planning was in place. In a small number of classes weekly work schemes were available which included the teaching of the four main language skills as well as various aspects of the course. This is good practice as the language skills are mutually reinforcing in language acquisition and also provides variation for the learner from day to day. This integrated approach is recommended to the entire department as they undertake short term planning. One of the teachers uses a teaching and learning diary whereby the teacher reflects on the effectiveness of various methodologies in regard to teaching and learning. This practice is exemplary as teaching methodologies are developed and improved by analysing and reviewing them on a regular basis. Most of the Irish lessons observed during the inspection period had clear teaching and learning objectives. In most classes the teachers informed the students of the learning objectives which were achieved in most classes. In a small number of classes the teaching and learning objectives were not achieved within the time frame of the lesson. It is recommended that a specific number of learning objectives be identified relative to the lesson period and the abilities of the students. It is also recommended that the learning objectives be achieved by allowing students to engage with learning activities appropriate to one particular objective before moving on to a different objective and learning activity. Some classes began with a review of homework or a recap of the previous lesson. This is good practice in terms of continuity and there are opportunities also to clarify students’ misunderstandings. Other classes began with a conversation based on students’ life experiences. This also is an effective practice because it provides students with regular opportunities to practice language production relevant to matters that pertain to their own lives.
Effective teaching techniques were observed in most Irish classes in Scoil Pól. In one class there was variety in the structure of the lesson as a consequence of the balance achieved between whole class work and individual work. The teacher presented the subject matter on an overhead projector or from a textbook and students had an opportunity to be involved in their own learning. The teacher rotated around the class assisting particular students who had difficulties and providing them with prompts to complete the task. In one class students were encouraged to use their own dictionaries to find the meaning of words instead of the teachers providing translations for the students. Pupils were also given the opportunity to record this researched vocabulary on the board. The learning activities were appropriately paced from beginning to end. The homework assigned was directly connected with the subject matter of the lesson. This is an example of good practice in teaching because teachers were functioning as facilitators aiding students in becoming actively involved in the development of their own learning. It is recommended that this approach be extended to include the whole department.
In another class a compulsory prose extract on the Leaving Certificate syllabus was integrated with oral skills and listening skills. Most of the students displayed a good competence level in Irish and displayed a good understanding, when given the opportunity, of the characters. It is recommended as an alternative approach that students are grouped in pairs and that they would assess each others knowledge of the characters based on predetermined criteria agreed by the class under the guidance of the teacher. It is also recommended that one skill would not be used as consolidation of another skill without having completed the appropriate preparation work in advance on ensuring that the vocabulary is appropriate to the range of abilities in the class. An integrated tape extract is always more successful in a language class when there are clear objectives identified for the listening. It is recommended that an integrated approach to teaching the language that thematically links the four main language skills and aspects of the course be developed, in keeping with the underlying principles of the syllabus.
Irish was used as the normal language of communication in all classes. There was an emphasis on pronunciation and grammar when these points arose naturally in the lesson. This practice is commendable. Some teachers were developing in students learning strategies particularly in regard to vocabulary. The strategies that received attention included word grouping and connecting the word in the target language with a similar word in the mother tongue. It is good practice to teach learning strategies explicitly as students who find language learning difficult have often only developed a limited number of strategies.
A cooperative atmosphere, supportive of learning, was evident in classes. All teachers displayed good classroom management skills. Teachers and students had an empathetic relationship and it was evident that the teachers knew the students well which positively enhanced the learning process. Students enjoyed opportunities for interaction in classroom when these were provided. Students’ efforts and opinions were regularly affirmed. The learning environment for Irish in Scoil Pól was, in general, enticing and motivating and in keeping with the department’s objectives to ‘provide everyone with the fluency to communicate with confidence through the medium of Irish’.
The teachers made beneficial use of having base classrooms by creating a motivational print rich environment. Charts, posters, diagrams and key words or points from prose and poems were in evidence. This is good practice as it not only enhances the learning environment, but it also provides a visual consolidation for learning. As well as providing base classrooms for Irish the name of every classroom in the school was also in Irish. Teachers and school management are congratulated for this philosophy. It is recommended that the materials displayed be extended by further displaying students’ work around the school and this would further enhance the status of the language as well as improving students self-confidence in the language.
Formative and summative assessment of students in Scoil Pól takes place regularly. It is a stated aim in the Irish department’s plan that research would be conducted on the principles of assessment for learning in order to extend and develop this aspect of assessment. The department intends to begin this process with first year students in September of next year. This practice is commendable because assessment for learning places more emphasis on the learning process rather than placing all the emphasis on the learning outcomes.
Continuous assessment on language takes place in every class. The teachers record the assessment results in their own diaries and in some classes the results are recorded in the students’ workbooks. It is recommended that this detailed continuous assessment be acknowledged by agreeing a certain percentage for this in reports sent home. This recognition would motivate students to take more care in their preparation of work for ongoing assessment which is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning.
A whole school policy for homework has been developed by the school since 2004. Guidelines for Irish homework have been outlined in the Irish policy. A homework diary system is used and the class teachers monitor these diaries regularly and they are also frequently reviewed by the year head. A sample of these diaries indicated that homework was regularly given and that a variety of tasks was given in most classes. A sample of copybooks, folders, and other written work observed during the inspection indicated that comprehensive work had been completed across a range of topics, which was in keeping with the syllabus requirements. The work observed in copybooks provided evidence of continuity and a good level of development. In some cases students’ homework was regularly corrected with clear explanations of errors as well as affirmation for work well done. In certain copybooks the number of errors corrected in particular pieces of writing was such that the ownership of the written piece was removed from the student. It is advisable that the department would reflect on the learning value of corrections to ensure that the method of correction does not result in a negative influence on the learners’ motivation. It was evident from the department’s planning notes that corrections are used as a diagnostic tool of the students’ mistakes in grammar and spelling and classes are taught based on this analysis. The teachers are commended on this approach because it provides personal clarification on individual student’s errors as well as providing an insight into common mistakes at different levels. It is recommended that the decision not to allocate a particular number of essays to the particular year groups be reviewed and that decisions be agreed on the expectations for each year group in regard to extensive pieces of written homework. It would also be beneficial if the department came to a decision regarding the balance to be afforded to the four language skills in homework.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good provision made for teaching Irish and planning for Irish.
· Long-term subject plans are available for each year group, and well designed work-schemes are available for some year groups.
· Good teaching techniques were employed in most Irish classes in Scoil Pól. In these classes there was variety in the structure of lessons, there was a balance between the work of the whole class and individual work and some of the language skills and/or various aspects of the course were integrated.
· Irish was the language used in teaching and was also the language of communication in classes.
· The classes inspected displayed an atmosphere that motivated students; they were praised for their efforts and the mutual respect that teachers and students had for each other was evident.
· Systematic practices are in place for assessment and homework and these are developmentally reviewed on a regular basis.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that students’ experience of Irish be extended and enriched by developing the use of ICT and by using the most recent information on resources for language teaching at second level as a reference point when the department is making decisions in regard to adding to its resources for the subject.
· It is recommended that collaborative planning be undertaken for the subject plans that are currently at various stages of development, for each different year group. It is recommended that discussion begin on the teaching methods employed within the department and on the effectiveness of these methods in achieving the teaching and learning objectives set out by the department.
· It is recommended that in the future the four main language skills be given a fair allocation in student homework, assessments and progress reports.
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.