An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

St Joseph’s Secondary School

Rush, County Dublin

Roll number: 60343T

 

Date of inspection: 13 May 2009

 

  

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish

  

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s Secondary School. 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 principal and to the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

St Joseph’s Secondary School is a co-educational school with an enrolment for the school year 2008/09 of slightly less than five hundred students. Some sixty per cent of the students are boys. School management provides good support for the teaching and learning of Irish. This support is particularly evident in the timetabled provision made for the subject. Five class periods are allocated to Irish per week for each year in junior cycle and in established Leaving Certificate classes in senior cycle. Three class periods are allocated to Irish in Transition Year and to Gaeilge Chumarsáideach (Communicative Irish) in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). This allocation is satisfactory in every case. With regard to the three classes in fifth and in sixth years which are currently timetabled after lunch, it is recommended that these classes, or some of them, be changed to before lunch, if it is possible. However, it is accepted that management is curtailed by the various competing demands on the timetable.

 

Particular factors apply in the case of the standing of Irish as a subject in St. Joseph’s Secondary School. Twenty per cent of all students have an exemption from Irish. This number is substantial. Sixteen per cent of these students have a recognised learning difficulty and a further four per cent are students from abroad who satisfy the exemption criteria of CL M10/94. The school makes every effort to provide other resources to students with an exemption who have such an entitlement during Irish lessons, but this is not always possible. The result is that students with an exemption from Irish may frequently be present in the Irish class. Although it is reported that this only rarely results in any interruption of the activities of the Irish lesson, having an average of five students sitting in the class who are not participating in the class or studying the subject is not a motivating factor for those students who are studying Irish. It is accepted that students with an exemption are given every encouragement to study Irish, especially those students who study other languages. It is recommended that these efforts be continued in order to reduce the large number of students who are given an exemption.

Teachers are of the opinion that, in general, students perceive Irish to be a subject that is difficult for them. The participation rates in the various levels of the subject in the certificate examinations provide an indication of the standing of the subject among the students. The school faces a considerable challenge to increase the number of students undertaking higher level and to reduce the numbers taking foundation level. An optimistic sign is that teachers perceive a more positive attitude to Irish among students coming in to first year now and believe that the revised primary curriculum for Irish is responsible for this. It is good to note that information regarding the ability of students in Irish is being shared with the feeder primary schools. The school is also commended for its discussion of funding a Gaeltacht scholarship scheme which will encourage junior cycle students to progress in Irish in secondary school. These approaches demonstrate the positive steps being taken in the interests of promoting Irish as a subject in the school.

 

Management supports the promotion of continuing professional development among teachers and all teachers of Irish have attended courses organised by the Second Level Support Service for Irish (SLSS). The school was very involved with the TL21 project initiated by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. In addition, members of the teaching staff in general have attended SLSS workshops to promote differentiated teaching and all staff members are involved in progressing assessment for learning. Teachers of Irish all participate in these activities and are keen to implement improvement in teaching and learning in the subject.  

 

In order to present the teaching and learning of Irish in a more attractive and a more effective manner the school is adding to the resources available. The provision of information and communications technology (ICT) resources is being developed at present. A store of worthwhile, interesting materials from the broadcast media is being accumulated. Among these are programmes from TG4 such as Bean an , Paisean Faisean as well as the DVD course Turas Teanga. It is recommended that the use of these resources be extended in the interests of presenting authentic spoken Irish texts to students. It would be worthwhile to formulate differentiated questions based on clips from these programmes and that the same material would be in common use among all the teachers. The school has just installed data projectors in almost all the classrooms. The openness and collaboration among the teachers of Irish is indicated by the report that newly appointed teachers are helping other teachers who, heretofore, have not had experience of the use of ICT resources. Examples of the benefit of this in teaching and learning were observed during lessons later in the inspection visit. This form of collaboration is helpful and supportive and is to be commended. 

 

In the school year 2008/09, for the first time, St. Joseph’s Secondary School has established mixed-ability classes in first year. Thus first year is the only year in which a discrete foundation level class is not provided. This change towards the provision of mixed-ability classes is to be commended on the basis that targets which are not unduly limited are being set for students from their first day in school, and, first year students are given an opportunity to engage with the language before the school makes any division of classes which are based solely on ability. It is important always to be cognisant of the requirements of students who demonstrate ability in the language and there is a particular need for differentiated teaching and learning in mixed-ability classes where there is a very wide range of ability.

 

Efforts are made to attract students to Irish through organising enjoyable interrelated cultural activities such as school céilí dances during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish language Week). A bilingual musical is regarded as one of the most successful of these events to date. Transition Year students are brought to the Gaeltacht for a weekend visit and to a stage production by an all-Irish drama company. The LCA class is brought on an outing to a shopping centre to enhance their awareness of notices in Irish in the shops. All of these efforts are commended.

A library is being re-established in the school and one of the Irish teachers is responsible for purchasing the books and the appropriate additional reading materials. Irish will be included. The students in collaboration with the teacher will decide what is to be acquired and students will be brought to a book shop to make the selection. This project is to be commended. It is recommended that, in advance of making choices, catalogues of books be requested from companies which publish Irish books or students could be set to research websites of publishers of Irish language books. This type of project would be particularly suitable to a Transition Year group. This project could also be linked to inviting an author of Irish language books to the school to discuss his or her work.   

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

A good foundation has been laid for collaborative planning work among the teachers of Irish and this collaboration is evident in the document ‘School Development Plan – Irish 2008/09’ which was presented for inspection. The teachers have accumulated a collection of related documents and reference sources which are readily available in the workroom beside the staffroom. The plan demonstrates teacher familiarity with the aims and objectives of the different Irish syllabuses. The planning work contains appropriate attention to the topics included in the syllabuses. Among the reference work in the plan is a useful summary of the aims and targets of the revised primary school curriculum for Irish. It is good to note that teachers have an understanding of this curriculum as a guide to planning for learning right from the beginning of first year. A table of contents at the beginning of the subject plan would be helpful to the reader, this means putting a summary of the titles of the different sections of the plan at the beginning of the document. In addition to the reference sources reports of the chief examiners of the certificate examinations in Irish merit inclusion. These reports frequently include constructive guidance for models of good practice in teaching and learning in the classroom as well as useful information on assessment matters.

 

It would be worthwhile to focus attention more clearly in the subject plan on the standard of the language skills expected from students, year on year and level on level. To this end the learning outcomes should be identified under the four language skills, that is, speaking, writing, reading and listening comprehensions for each year group, corresponding to the various levels in the subject. In addition, it would be helpful for teachers to assemble the best examples of student work in the language skills as an exemplar resource for themselves on the effectiveness of the teaching programme in any particular year group. Such specific clarifications would be much more beneficial than the general guidelines included in the plan at present. The general guidelines relate only to the topics listed without giving any indication of the language ability expected from the students who will be studying these topics from year to year. An exemplar resource as recommended above would be helpful for reviewing and amending the teaching programmes. Guidance is available in the European Languages Portfolio on the type and standard of those skills corresponding to the objectives of the Irish syllabuses for the Junior and Leaving Certificates. It would be good for students to have a clear understanding from the beginning, not only of the programme content to be covered during the course and of the type of questions coming up in the examinations, but also of the language skills they will have to acquire and of the standard of those skills from one year to another. It would be worthwhile giving some thought to the further development of the subject plan as a document which would be available to students, parents and primary teachers as a guide to second level Irish courses. It may be necessary to translate a summary of the plan to English.

 

It is to be commended that self-review is evident in the school’s Irish plan. The challenge facing teachers of Irish in the school to overcome the rather narrow mindset towards Irish is stated in the plan. Steps are being taken to promote a positive, open attitude to Irish among students. In addition a deeper relationship, from the point of view of Irish, is being fostered with the feeder primary schools. This encouragement and promotion of collaboration is worthwhile.

 

A further aspect of this effort is the cross-curricular activities promoted by the Irish department. The school claims positive outcomes regarding Irish arising from the link which St. Joseph’s Secondary School has formed with a school in Spain and the exchange visit that resulted this year. It is claimed that students who participated in that project had more interest and more pride in the Irish language as an identifying feature of their Irish identity. Cultural awareness is one of the objectives of the Irish syllabuses and a measure such as this which encourages and promotes student interest in Irish is to be commended. Success to date should be built upon and the next practical step should be to enhance student competence in the language. Good efforts are being made to acknowledge students who make the best attempts in the Irish class. It would be worthwhile building on the current goodwill that is now developing towards the language and steps should be taken in collaboration with the students to promote and progress the use of Irish outside the classroom. To this end it is recommended that the support of other teachers with competence in the language be sought. 

 

The role of department co-ordinator is shared among members of the department. This is good practice. Time is provided by the school to hold a collaborative planning meeting in the subject once every term and it is stated that teachers also meet regularly on an informal basis. It is positive to note a reference in the collaborative planning documentation of the Irish department to teacher discussion of teaching methods. The subject plan states that teachers are attempting to introduce into their own classes the different interactive methods which they saw in use in the SLSS in-service courses for Irish. It is recommended that agreed guidelines be noted down on the teaching and assessment methods in use as part of the review of the Irish plan for the school. For example, it is stated at the beginning of the plan that Irish is the language of instruction. In another part of the plan reference is made to the promotion of Irish among the students as the normal language of conversation. However, no reference is made to the ensuing implications of this for the approach to be used in class. That is, how exactly this objective is to be achieved or, whether there is any flexibility, depending on the ability levels in the class. There should be clearer guidance on these points in the planning work, the success or otherwise of the efforts made to maintain the target language as the primary language should be discussed as part of the review of classroom practice and the planning work should be amended or affirmed as necessary. 

 

In the interests of adding to these efforts and in order to share their own good practice, it is recommended that teachers include visits to each other’s classes, as part of the planning work at the beginning of the year. A one page timetable showing all the Irish classes for the week was prepared by the inspector so that choices could be made easily. In the course of the discussions which took place during the inspection visit teachers showed they were favourably disposed to this recommendation. It is recommended that teachers prepare sample lessons on specific aspects of teaching and learning in Irish and that they invite their colleagues to sit in on these lessons.

 

In addition to the subject plan the planning work of individual teachers was reviewed. This involved comprehensive work of a high standard in each case. It is clear that teachers make great efforts to accumulate resources to provide extra support to students in the different aspects of the courses, especially in the literature courses, in composition and in reading comprehension. The work in the subject plan relating to a module which had previously been drafted for TY Irish was commended. This work was based on the theme of safety on the roads and is a good example of the thought that had been given to designing a module which reflects the interest range of students. This work includes the objectives of the module, the learning outcomes, teaching resources, cross-curricular links, assessment methods and the promotion of giving students responsibility for their own learning. This last objective is very much in keeping with the objectives of the transition year programme.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

Six Irish lessons were observed, four lessons in junior cycle and two in senior cycle. These lessons were well prepared and extra material was provided for students to help them understand the lesson content. The teacher was central in guiding the work of each lesson and oral questioning was used to ensure that students understood the content being presented. These efforts to elicit satisfactory answers to the questions posed were most successful with higher level students. In the case of students in the other levels it was evident that their competence was limited or that they were reluctant to express themselves in the spoken language.

 

It is to be commended that instructions in class are given through the medium of Irish and that students quickly become accustomed to this practice however, a further step should be taken by the use of the target language as the normal language of communication. In keeping with what is stated in the subject plan regarding Irish as the language of communication, it is recommended that efforts are made to establish conversation on everyday events as a regular part of the Irish lesson. This is challenging work especially in the case of students with poor ability in Irish. The best exemplar of this approach is for students to hear normal conversation initially and to be given opportunities to speak the language among themselves, in addition to just answering the questions posed by the teacher. They also need to gain experience of asking as well as answering questions and there is very limited time for this when only the teacher is doing the talking. It would be worthwhile availing of every opportunity where students could hear teachers talking Irish among themselves, or hear well chosen appropriate clips of TG4 programmes. For example, as a means of demonstrating living, natural conversation, it would be worthwhile trying a timetabled arrangement from time to time whereby a second teacher could come into the lesson and provide additional encouragement for speaking Irish.

 

In five of the six lessons additional resources other than printed texts were used, an approach which introduced variety into the lesson activities. This involved audio resources in two lessons and video and visual resources in the three other lessons. This variation is to be commended. The audio resources consisted of readings of various poems being studied. It is very worthwhile to provide a resource like this in addition to having the poem read aloud by the teacher alone. In one of these cases the sound recording was of an excellent standard and it is good that the Irish department is putting together an archive of audio material such as this. It is recommended that students be given more practice of accurate pronunciation of texts especially when provided with such an excellent example. In cases where students are asked to read aloud, they should be given constructive guidance regarding the accurate pronunciation of words.

 

Lesson management was good for the most part and it was evident that teachers were confident in their presentation and in their ability. The vast majority of students showed respect for their teachers and co-operated well throughout. In one case a small number of students were allowed to be inattentive to the content of the lesson from time to time. All students should be directed to pay attention and to focus on the lesson activities.

 

Certain teachers demonstrated particular accuracy in the language and it is recommended that if teachers are in any doubt regarding these matters, guidance should be sought. When there is a good level of collaboration among teachers, as was observed to be the case, no teacher should be reluctant to ask for guidance in this regard. Accuracy of language in teaching could be included as one of the points for feedback when teachers visit each other’s lessons, as has been recommended earlier in this report. It is in the interests of learning from each other that accuracy in language would be included.

 

Irish classes are often of mixed ability even from second year onwards when teachers have already divided the classes according to ability. One reason for this is that the number of students who undertake higher level is smaller than the school would wish for. Therefore it is important that differentiated teaching and learning be made available to provide for both groups. In the interaction which the inspector had towards the end of a lesson, the conspicuous understanding of correct use of language which one student demonstrated was noted. This student had attended an all-Irish primary school. An appropriate level of challenge in the language should be set for such a student, while at the same time meeting the needs of the other students in the class. If this approach is not adopted then there is a danger that the competence of such students will diminish rather than be enhanced.

 

In another junior cycle lesson where a third of the class were taking higher level and two thirds were doing ordinary level, it was noted that the content and level of challenge of the lesson were focused quite a good deal on the higher level group. By the end of the lesson very few students showed an ability to discuss the material which had been presented. Differentiated teaching is one of the themes being developed by the whole staff as part of the school development planning process. It is recommended that special attention should be focused on this aspect in the context of the planning work within the Irish department. Considering how central questioning was to the work with students, it is recommended that good questioning strategies be developed to support differentiated teaching.

 

In certain classes students were given excellent help and were well motivated by the handouts provided. In the case of a senior cycle poem which was being revised students were given a series of humorous pictures as a prompt to remind them of the content of the poem. Students were set a challenge with a short lesson on recognising and explaining the vocabulary of the poem and were given an opportunity to work together to discuss questions on the poem. These included basic information questions about the poem as well as questions which sought opinion on the various themes in the poem. Prior to this certain students were asked to read aloud extracts from the poem. It was evident that they were familiar with this practice and the work was well done. There was variation in the activities throughout this lesson and students were successful in their efforts to express their opinions about the poem.

 

In another lesson a video clip of a conversation between two television personalities was shown as an exemplar for students of interviewing another person. Later on in the lesson students were set the task of working together to compose questions and answers and students were put in front of the class to take the role of interviewer and interviewee. These tasks involved variation and challenge and the students undertook them with enthusiasm.

 

There was a high standard of teaching and learning observed in another junior cycle lesson even though it was obvious that the ability of students in Irish was quite limited. The lesson was lively. Students were asked oral question very quickly at the beginning of the lesson about topics they were familiar with such as the weather and the date. Students were well able to handle these questions. Corrected homework was returned to students and a certificate was awarded to two students for the standard of the essays they had written. A limited content of material was chosen to practise in class and this was well done in a manner which avoided dullness or boredom. In the interests of introducing further variety into the lesson a segment of listening comprehension material was played. The same lively approach was adopted in another lesson and the showing of good quality photographs of well known figures on the screen was most effective in stimulating students to talk and to take notes.

 

On the whole the standard of teaching is to be commended for the level of preparation and for the diligence displayed during the lessons. Further efforts will be required, especially with students at ordinary or foundation levels, in order to entice them to participate in normal conversation over and above simply answering information questions on topics which are carefully chosen to be covered in lessons. 

 

 

Assessment

 

It is good that incoming first year students are assessed on their ability in Irish as a basis for informing teachers of the achievement levels obtained by the students in the subject as they leave the primary school. Irish classes are timetabled concurrently and students are evenly divided between classes according to their ability in the language. Teachers in St Joseph’s Secondary School are satisfied that the standard of spoken Irish of students coming from the primary school is improving and this information is being made available to the primary schools. In recognition of those students who perform best in the entrance assessment in Irish, the school is now awarding a voucher to the first three students from each feeder primary school. This is a positive step in promoting achievement in Irish. 

 

Since spoken Irish is acknowledged as a positive aspect of student experience of Irish in primary school, student ability in speaking Irish should be included in the assessment carried out to determine student progress from the very beginning in post-primary school and should be recorded in the reports prepared for parents. It would appear that a common approach has not yet been agreed among teachers in junior cycle regarding the essential aspect of acknowledging language skills in the assessments carried out at school level. It would be worthwhile examining the possibilities of entering students for the optional oral examination in Irish in the Junior Certificate where forty per cent of the total marks will be awarded to oral Irish from 2010 onwards.  Accordingly, changes should be made to the school’s internal assessment system for Irish. There is sufficient scope within these changes for much closer collaboration among teachers to provide a second opinion of students’ standard of spoken Irish. It is not necessary to have individual oral examinations for each student in order to evaluate their standard of spoken Irish. Teachers could exchange classes now and again to facilitate this type of assessment.

 

It is common practice among teachers of Irish to assign homework regularly. Work contained in copybooks examined in a number of Irish classes was to be commended. The work examined was comprehensive; of a high standard; teachers had written in comments; copybooks were tidy. Student efforts were highly praised in the teachers’ comments. It was evident that examination class students had had wide experience of the type of questions they will face in these examinations. Composition work was corrected however it was not clear in all cases if students had been asked to pay particular attention to those corrections and to rewrite them. It is recommended that corrections not be written into student work unless the correction is to be rewritten. It would be worthwhile to put the most important corrections that arise in a particular set of copybooks on one page, give students an opportunity to correct those mistakes and then to distribute a corrected version as a future reference source for the correct use of the language. 

In future the school intends to analyse student results in all subjects in the certificate examinations and to make comparisons with the national norms, as a source of information for all subject departments. This information is missing from the current planning work in the Irish department and it is now time to remedy the matter. Those statistics clearly illustrate the scale of the challenge facing the school to increase the number of students undertaking the higher level and to reduce the numbers taking ordinary and foundation levels. It is good that this challenge has been identified and taken in hand by the Irish department. The progress of these efforts should be clearly recorded in the subject plan, reference points and targets should be identified and the strategies developed for this purpose should be regularly reviewed. Progress in these matters would be heartening for teachers who are diligent and enthusiastic both for the subject and in their work.  

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • School management and the teachers of Irish are to be commended for taking positive steps to enhance the promotion of Irish among students.
  • The move towards mixed-ability classes in first year is to be commended on the basis that targets which are not unduly low are being set for students from the first day and first year students are given the opportunity to engage with the language before classes are divided according to ability.
  • A good foundation has been laid for collaborative planning among teachers of Irish and it is to be commended that self-review is evident in the school’s Irish plan.  
  • Lessons observed were well prepared with additional materials distributed to students, teachers were confident in their presentation and in their ability. 
  • Teaching and learning were most effective in the classes where a variety of activities was in use.
  • It is beneficial that incoming first year students are assessed on their ability in Irish before entry to the school as a basis for informing teachers of their achievement levels in the subject as they leave the primary school.
  • It is good that the challenge of increasing the number of students undertaking the higher level and reducing the numbers taking ordinary and foundation levels has been identified and taken in hand by the Irish department.

 

 

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

 

  • Attention must always be given to the needs of students who show ability in the language and it is particularly important to provide differentiated teaching and learning in mixed-ability classes where there is a very wide range of abilities.
  • Learning outcomes should be identified under the four language skills of speaking, writing, reading and listening comprehension for each year group corresponding to the different levels in the subject.
  • It is recommended that teachers include visits to each other’s classes as part of the planning of their work at the beginning of the year.
  • Student ability in speaking the language should be included from the very first day when assessing student progress and should be recorded in the reports made available to parents. 

 

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 2009

  

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of management of St. Joseph’s Secondary School is encouraged by the findings of this Inspection. The noting of good practice and the involvement of teachers in TL21, cooperative learning and collaborative practices, is affirming of the staff and pupils. The Board congratulates the principal and Irish teachers for their commitment to the Irish language and their students.

 

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

As an integral part of ongoing School Development Planning, the school management and the Irish team will carry out the recommendations of the Inspection report.