An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
De La Salle College
Churchtown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60310E
Date of inspection: 27 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Churchtown, conducted as part of a 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 the teachers of Irish.
Students are placed in streamed classes from first year depending on the results of their assessments prior to coming to the school. Ability in Irish is assessed as well as ability in Mathematics and English. Usually, there is one ordinary-level and one higher-level class for each year group in junior cycle but it was reported that the higher-level class in third year comprises higher-level students and some ordinary-level students. Classes are of mixed ability in Transition Year (TY). Students are divided again in fifth year into higher-level and ordinary-level classes. In sixth year there is one class consisting of higher and ordinary-level students and another class consisting of ordinary and foundation-level students.
All the classes in junior cycle have four periods a week and this is barely adequate provision for the subject. It is recommended that a fifth period be made available for Irish, as a core subject, for at least two of the years in junior cycle. The two other core subjects, Mathematics and English both have five periods a week. Three periods per week are timetabled for Irish in TY. It would be advisable to provide another period for TY as it is difficult to carry out a comprehensive programme with only three periods a week. Provision for Irish in the timetable at senior cycle is very satisfactory with six periods a week provided in fifth and sixth year.
Currently, there are three teachers teaching Irish in the school. The teaching team will be reduced to two teachers next year, both of whom are qualified and have many years experience of teaching the language. The two main Irish teachers have the opportunity to teach all age groups and levels and there is continuity in relation to teachers remaining with a junior cycle class or a senior cycle class, where possible.
The Irish teachers have their own base classrooms, which allows them to create a pleasant learning environment for Irish. The teachers are to be commended for their work in decorating the rooms in an inspirational and interesting way. More useful words and phrases in Irish should be placed on the walls of the classrooms to help students construct sentences when talking to the teachers.
It was reported that Seachtain na Gaeilge was to be celebrated in the school during the week following the inspection. Irish films were to be shown and a table quiz was to be organised as well as some competitions. The efforts of the teachers in this regard are to be highly commended. It is very important to avail of every opportunity to show the students that Irish is a living language outside the confines of the classroom. It is recommended that the teachers continue to gradually develop a programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities which would continue throughout the year.
It was reported that students are encouraged to attend Gaeltacht colleges in the summer. A teacher from one of the Donegal Gaeltacht colleges comes to address the students every year. It was mentioned during the inspection that seven students intend to go to a Gaeltacht college this year. It is recommended that students continue to be encouraged to attend Irish summer courses. Moreover, it is recommended that the students’ parents be made aware that there are also Irish courses available in Dublin during the summer months. An Irish language summer course would benefit individual students enormously and raise the profile of Irish in the school.
There is no specific budget for the teaching of Irish in the school but the teachers are welcome to make requests of the principal for funding. It was reported that there was a small number of Irish teaching resources available in the school at the moment. It is recommended that the teachers plan to identify, and to gradually acquire, new resources for the subject and that these would be stored centrally. An updated list of the language resources in the school should be compiled annually and that list should be included in the plan for teaching and learning Irish.
The Irish teachers hold a formal meeting once a term. It was reported that the teachers also have many opportunities to meet together on an informal basis. Teachers record notes of these meetings in Irish. It is recommended that more comprehensive records be kept of these meetings so that recommendations and decisions may be accurately recorded.
A plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was provided during the inspection. The plan at present is quite basic. It is necessary therefore to compile a more comprehensive plan on the teaching of the language in the school. The plan for teaching and learning Irish should include the following: a list of topics and subjects to be covered by each level and year group; a description of communication strategies; various methodologies; aids and resources to be used in lessons; a set of learning objectives for each class group and details of assessment methods. It is also necessary to focus on planning for the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning. The teachers could attend the forthcoming courses in ICT being planned by the Second Level Support Service for Irish in the autumn of 2009.
A short plan was provided during the inspection for the teaching of Irish in TY. It was considered that the plan was too general and too focused on preparing the students for the Leaving Certificate examination. It is recommended that the teachers discuss the principles and ethos of TY in detail. TY affords the teachers the opportunity of teaching subjects in innovative, creative and interesting ways. In particular it allows teachers to show students that Irish is a living language and to arouse their interest in learning it. It is recommended that a broad-ranging plan be set out for TY. The programme should focus on the basic language skills, especially communication skills, but it should also give students the opportunity to gain experience of Irish as a living language in a myriad of enjoyable and beneficial ways. A broad range of interesting and inspirational methodologies should be employed. The programme could be based on a system of modules and these modules could be based on various aspects of language awareness and language learning. It was reported, for example, that students get involved with radio programming during TY as part of other subject programmes and that the school has access to a sound studio. A very interesting module could be designed for TY students based on Irish language media. Students could also enter the various radio and television programme competitions available.
Good comprehensive planning was carried out for the lessons observed and the majority of those lessons moved at a good pace as a result. The CD and the questions prepared as part of the table quiz observed are especially commended. It would be worthwhile to base one round of a table quiz on questions dealing specifically with Irish, when organising in future table quizzes.
The use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication was very good in the classes observed. The teachers made every effort to ensure that the target language was to the fore in the Irish classes and they are to be commended for their dedication in this regard. Significant efforts were also made not to rely on direct translation from Irish to English in order to ensure student comprehension of the lesson content. This approach is highly commendable. The students made good attempts in certain classes to answer and to ask questions of the teachers in Irish according to their ability. There was one instance however, in which the students continually spoke English to the teacher even though they were at a level of ability where one would expect that they would try to speak Irish. It is recommended that the teachers agree a policy in relation to the use of the target language and that they remind students from first year onwards that an effort must be made to use Irish in class.
The teachers were energetic and diligent in the classes observed. The teachers circulated to help individual students and to ensure that work was completed. It was clear that a good relationship existed between the teachers and the students and discipline was excellent. Students who made a good effort in class were continually affirmed.
In some lessons, great efforts were made to provide the students with numerous opportunities for communication. In one instance, the class commenced with open conversation and the students were given the opportunity to answer questions on matters relating specifically to their daily lives. This approach is to be commended. In another part of the lesson the students were given the opportunity to engage in pair work and this was followed with a role playing exercise in front of the class on the work which they had prepared together in pairs. Many opportunities were given to the students to speak Irish during all of the activities employed. This is good practice. In some instances, however, the students answered questions with one or two words. It is recommended that full sentences be sought as answers to questions where possible. This would allow the students the opportunity to gain more experience of the syntax of the language.
During one lesson observed, a poem was presented to the students in a very effective way. The background of the poem was explained to the students and while the poem was being read, the events happening were ably described. A poetic and artistic description was given of the atmosphere of the poem. Then a great effort was made to set the students thinking about the words and themes of the poem. In order to further add to the students’ comprehension of the poem and of their interest in the themes of the poem it is suggested that pictures of the various locations and themes mentioned in that piece of poetry be used. Soundtracks or music could also be used to enhance the teacher’s commentary. It is recommended that teachers use a range of aids to contextualise lesson content for the students, especially in relation to prose and literature. The whiteboard was used to great effect in the Irish classes as well as resources such as a poster and a CD. Apart from those materials however, practically no other resource or material was employed in the Irish classes. It is recommended that a far broader range of resources should be used in order to arouse and develop student interest in the language. The Irish language media are a significant resource and should be used regularly.
There was good variety in the teaching and learning activities employed in some of the lessons observed and this approach is commendable. It is important that various tasks be included in each class period to ensure that the students’ interest is maintained and that they get the opportunity to practise various language skills. There was one instance where students were asked to immediately put new vocabulary into a sentence to illustrate their understanding of the words. This is good practice as it ensures that the students understand the meaning of the new vocabulary and that they can apply the new words effectively.
House examinations are organised twice a year, at Christmas and in the summer. In addition class examinations are held during November and at Easter. Reports are sent home to parents after each examination which means that parents receive four reports a year. This is good practice.
An external examiner comes to the school every year to give sixth-year students a mock Irish oral examination. This is a good learning exercise for students as they get the opportunity to do an oral examination with an external examiner. It was reported that communicative skills were not formally evaluated for any other year groups. It is therefore recommended that the students’ communicative skills should be evaluated from first year to sixth year. These marks should be included in the results awarded at the year end. It is important that communicative skills be duly emphasised from first year and that students are aware of their importance. It is further suggested that an examination for the Fáinne could be organised for TY students as part of their programme.
The outcome of students’ performance in the state examinations are analysed each year. It was noted that there are significant fluctuations in the numbers sitting the various levels in Irish in the state examinations from year to year. Furthermore the overall number of students sitting higher- level Irish, in the Leaving Certificate, in particular, is quite low. It is recommended that teachers look at various strategies to increase the number of students who take higher level in the state examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The provision made for Irish on the timetable at senior cycle is very satisfactory.
· The teachers are to be commended for decorating their base classrooms in an artistic and pleasant way and for creating an atmosphere conducive to learning Irish in them.
· Teachers’ preparation for Seachtain na Gaeilge is to be commended.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication was very good in the lessons observed.
· The teachers were energetic and diligent in the classes observed and discipline was excellent.
· The teachers are to be commended for the examples of good practice in teaching and learning observed in some Irish lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that school management examine the number of Irish periods available for classes at junior cycle and in TY in order to increase provision for next year.
· It is recommended that the teachers build on the work during Seachtain na Gaeilge and that a broader programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities be
planned for the school year.
· It is recommended that teachers and management remind parents of the advantages of Irish courses in the summer and that they inform them that they are available locally as well as in the Gaeltacht.
· It is recommended that a list of the resources in the school for language teaching be compiled and that teachers plan for the acquisition of a broader range of resources for the subject.
It is recommended that these resources be used regularly during lessons.
· It is recommended that a comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of the language in the school be drafted, including planning for TY and for the use of ICT.
· It is recommended that the students’ communicative skills be evaluated from first year through to sixth year.
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 February 2010