An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coláiste Phádraig CBS
Lucan, County Dublin
Roll number: 60264A
Date of inspection: 25 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection as part of a whole-school evaluation in Coláiste Phádraig CBS. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of 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 the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparations. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teachers.
The students are streamed and allocated to two bands in the junior cycle. The students are streamed again in senior cycle. There is one mixed-ability class group in Transition Year and this accords with the spirit of the programme. All Irish classes for the various year groups are taught simultaneously and this facilitates student access to the class which best suits their needs. It is recommended that the school management review the placement of students in streamed classes so early in the junior cycle and that students be assigned to mixed-ability classes for the duration of first year at least. This would allow for greater flexibility in timetabling for the classes while also benefiting the students. Each year of the Leaving Certificate Applied has one class group and the students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the second year of the programme.
The amount of time allocated to Irish is satisfactory for each year group except second year. It is recommended that every effort be made to allocate an extra class period to Irish in the junior cycle. The distribution of the classes on the timetable is satisfactory for the majority of the classes. However, in the case of first-year and third-year classes, two class periods for Irish are scheduled for Monday. It is recommended that this arrangement be reviewed to allow for one class period only per day because students derive more benefit from a regular daily input in the language.
There are seven teachers engaged in the teaching of Irish in the school in the current year and all but one have a degree in Irish. It is worth mentioning that another teacher on the staff also has a degree in Irish but is not teaching the subject this year. Decisions on the classes and levels taught by the teachers of Irish are made by the management. As part of their professional development, and to ensure that more of the staff are able to teach Irish at the highest level, it is recommended that the management consult the teachers when classes are being assigned, and that teachers be given opportunities to teach the language at the different levels and in the various programmes offered in the school. It is further recommended that the management take account of a teacher’s proficiency in the language when allocating a teacher to a particular class. Management supports the teachers in availing themselves of professional development opportunities. At the time of this evaluation visit, two of the teachers of Irish had attended a workshop run by the Second Level Support Service for Irish. Management and teachers are commended for availing of this opportunity. In this context – and in the case of a very small number of teachers observed during this inspection visit – it is recommended that guidance and support for teachers who need to develop their competence in the language be included among the professional development opportunities being provided.
All the teachers are classroom based. These rooms are bright and, in some cases, well-equipped. Among the facilities available are whiteboards, screens, CD/DVD players and televisions, as well as shelves and storage presses. The management is commended for this provision. Examples of the students’ work and other material in Irish were on display on the walls in every classroom, which helped to create a supportive learning environment. It is recommended that teachers continue to develop these displays and update them regularly. There is a computer in one of the classrooms and the language laboratory and computer rooms in the school are available to the teachers of Irish once they are pre-booked. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish avail themselves of professional development opportunities to develop their skills in the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a teaching and learning aid and that the management, in consultation with the teachers of Irish, consider the most effective ways of augmenting the ICT resources available for the teaching of the language.
It was reported that a high percentage of the total enrolment of students is exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with the provisions of circular M10/94. The management endeavours to provide appropriate support programmes for these students while Irish classes are in progress. The management is commended for making these arrangements.
Students are encouraged to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht and events are organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge. The teachers are commended for this because it is important that students get opportunities of practising the language and experiencing the culture outside the confines of the Irish lessons. It is recommended that teachers continue to develop these co-curricular and extra-curricular areas of support and that they be included as an integral part of the plan for Irish.
The number of announcements from the office during some of the classes observed was considered excessive. The management acknowledges that there were too many interruptions to these classes and it is recommended that the practice be reviewed and that the time, subject matter and the daily number of announcements be agreed.
So far this year the teachers of Irish have had two formal meetings to plan for the subject. It would be advisable to lay out a timetable for the formal meetings at the start of the year. The teachers have informal meetings regularly. One of the teachers acts as co-ordinator and they take this role in turn. This is good practice which affords every teacher an opportunity for professional development in this area. It was reported that not every teacher can attend all the formal meetings. Accordingly it is recommended that minutes of the meetings be kept, distributed to all the teachers of Irish, and that copies be included in the plan for Irish. It would be worthwhile exploring how ICT might be used for this purpose.
It was reported that the teachers of Irish have started to plan collaboratively for the subject and this approach is commended. The plan for Irish was made available and plans for Transition Year and Leaving Certificate Applied were included, as well as plans for the certificate courses. The plan indicated that aims and objectives for Irish have been developed and reference is also made to teaching methodologies and assessment. The development of these aspects of the work and the inclusion of schemes of work for the various courses in the plan for the subject is commended. It is recommended that the aims and objectives be further developed so that they would be more precisely focused on Irish in the school and on the experience and learning needs of the students. It is recommended that, in the further development of the plans for the different year groups and courses: the expected learning outcomes at the various stages be set out and that these be based on the language functions mentioned in the syllabuses and that the different language skills be taken into account; that a graded development of grammar and topics be discernible; that the integrated development of language skills and the various aspects of the courses be emphasised; that the plan would offer an account of the assessment methods to be used to test the various language skills, as well as a comment on the ways in which the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Irish would be extended. It is also recommended that the plan be regularly monitored and reviewed.
Plans for individual classes were made available in a few cases and these were of a good standard. Good planning and preparation had been done for the majority of the classes observed. In some cases, the teachers had prepared posters, pictures from the media and worksheets for the students. This work, and the development of resources focused on bringing life outside the school into the classroom and on creating opportunities for the students to engage in real communication in Irish, are commended. It is recommended, as a general guideline that the time available for the lesson and the amount of time needed to complete the various tasks to be undertaken during class, be taken into account in planning for lessons.
The quality of teaching and learning in some of the classes observed was very good. The majority of the teachers had a really good presence and approached their work with enthusiasm. The use of Irish as a medium of instruction and communication was very good in a small number of cases and it is recommended that this good practice be more widely used. To support this, it is recommended that other strategies besides translation to English be used to help students to understand the target language. Among the alternative strategies observed in certain cases were the use of mime, gesticulation and dictionaries; these helped to avoid dependence on translation and were more effective in helping the students to acquire the target language. Teachers must always ensure that the language used with the students is accurate, as it was in the majority of cases.
The roll was called at the start of class in some cases and the students answered in Irish. It is important to call the roll and it is recommended that the practice be more widely used. It would also be worth spending a few minutes discussing a topical subject before embarking on the formal content of the lesson; this will help the students to settle into an Irish class, especially in cases where they have come from situations where another language besides Irish was the medium of communication.
In some cases, the aims and objectives of the lesson were communicated to the students and, in a few cases, the learning outcomes expected were shared with the students. In another few cases the day’s date and the title of the lesson were written on the white board. These are good practices and particularly praiseworthy is the practice of sharing the expected learning outcomes with the students. It is recommended that this strategy be more widely used. It is also recommended that the expected learning outcomes, as well as any tasks or activities to be undertaken during class, be written on the whiteboard at the start of class and that the students are afforded an opportunity to reflect on their learning at the end of the class.
A very good range of teaching and learning methodologies and strategies were used in some of the classes. In some cases, the development of language skills was integrated on a thematic basis as recommended and this approach should be more widely adopted. In all the classes, subject-matter of interest to the students was used to stimulate their interest. Noteworthy also was the example observed of developing the students’ cultural awareness through music, singing and dancing. It is recommended that this work be continued, but always remembering that the main aim of the work is to foster the students’ own language competence.
The students had to undertake a variety of tasks in all the lessons observed. Great use was made of mime to check the learning of vocabulary and to ensure understanding in some cases. Drama was effectively used in one case to give the students experience of using language structures they have learnt and it is recommended that this methodology be more widely used. Some examples of pair work were observed, as well as the encouragement of co-operative learning among the students. These are good practices and it is recommended that teachers continue to develop them and that they be more widely used. To ensure the effectiveness of the work, teachers must always check when pair work or group work is being organised, that there is an information gap to be filled by the students in the course of their conversation. Also commended are those cases where students’ ability to learn independently was being developed by using a dictionary or reading relevant material on a website as part of their study outside of class.
Very effective use was made of pictures of sports stars in some cases, to stimulate students’ ability and confidence in oral Irish. It is recommended that this strategy be more widely used. A poster was effectively used, in another case, for oral discussion and revision of relevant vocabulary before embarking on a writing task and worksheets were used in some cases to reinforce learning. The preparation for these various resources and their use in the lessons is praiseworthy indeed. In some cases clever use was made of the material displayed on the classroom walls, as a stimulus and as a support for the students in their learning. The use of such material to support classroom learning is highly commended.
Various questioning styles were effectively used in some classes to challenge the students according to their ability and to ensure their participation. It is recommended that this practice be more widely used. Examples of the enrichment of students’ language were also observed and the context of the work was used to weave in points of grammar in a way that suited the students. These practices are commendable.
There was a positive rapport between teachers and students in the classes observed and the atmosphere was supportive of learning. The students’ efforts were praised in every class and the majority of them indicated that they were prepared to get involved in the work.
Students’ learning is assessed through class tests and house examinations, as well as by monitoring homework and student participation in class. The house examinations are conducted twice a year and the students preparing for state examinations sit ‘mock’ examinations. Reports on students’ achievements are sent home twice a year and parent-teacher meetings are held once a year.
Listening comprehension, as well as reading comprehension, writing and literature, are taken into account as appropriate, in assessing students’ achievements at every year level. Oral Irish is included in the case of some classes. A teacher from another school is invited to Coláiste Phádraig to conduct oral examinations with the sixth-year students. The teachers are commended for providing this experience for the students as part of their preparation for the state examinations. It is good practice to take account of all the language skills when assessing students’ work and it is recommended that the good practice already used in some cases be more widely used. Such a practice corresponds more closely with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses.
The school homework policy was being developed at the time of this evaluation visit, but there were guidelines in operation regarding homework and both students and parents were aware of these. The account of homework in the subject plan for Irish indicates that the teachers are aware of the different requirements of the various courses and programmes. It is recommended that, as part of the development of the policy, teachers of Irish get an opportunity to test a draft of the policy to ensure its suitability to serving students’ learning needs for Irish, taking into account that a variety of language skills must be developed, that students have different learning-styles and that homework need not necessarily be always based on writing or reading.
The material in the copybooks checked during the evaluation visit was in accordance with the requirements of the syllabuses. It was clear that in some cases the work was being regularly corrected and occasional notes of commendation had been written by the teacher. This is good practice. Particularly praiseworthy are the cases where the correction of students’ work was constructive. It is recommended that teachers of Irish agree an approach to the correction of students’ work, so that it would become the norm to give students credit for work well or correctly done, and give them guidance on ways of improving their work and making better progress in their learning. It was reported that a member of the Irish-teaching staff had received an input on Assessment for Learning (AfL) at a recent in-service meeting. It is recommended that this knowledge be shared and taken into consideration when discussing an assessment policy. Further information on AfL may be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.
Published November 2008