An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School
Granard, County Longford
Roll number: 63730S
Date of inspection: 25 September 2007
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 Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of the 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 one day 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.
An inspection of Irish at junior cycle level was conducted in Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School in 2003. This report is based on an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching of Irish in the school at both junior and senior cycle levels.
There were five teachers engaged in teaching Irish in the school at the time of this visit. The vast majority of them had Irish in their degrees and had long experience of teaching Irish at the various levels. When recruiting staff, the management should ensure that prospective teachers have the requisite ability in Irish to teach the subject and should provide appropriate supports where necessary. Ways of giving guidance and support to a teacher in such a case were discussed at the feedback meeting and the management is strongly advised to act accordingly.
The management leaves it to the teachers to decide which classes each will teach. The teachers discuss this responsibility and make their arrangements at a subject teachers’ meeting. Every effort is made to provide for a teacher to remain with the same class from second year onwards in junior cycle and from fifth year onwards in senior cycle. Such an approach is praiseworthy. It provides continuity for the teachers with their classes and, by teaching Irish at different levels up to the certificate examinations, the teachers gain experience of implementing various prescribed courses, which is important for their professional development.
Students are assigned to mixed-ability groups for first year. This is good practice. They are allocated to second-year classes according to their ability and their achievements in house examinations at the end of first year. The majority of the students take either higher or ordinary level. Both management and teachers are commended for encouraging the students to study Irish at a challenging level. Although the banding of Irish classes for second and third years provides a certain flexibility to accommodate student access to the subject at the level which best suits their requirements, it is recommended that the allocation of students to classes according to their ability so early in the junior cycle, be reconsidered.
The Transition Year programme (TY) is optional and there is one mixed-ability class-group at this level. Students are allocated to fifth-year and sixth-year classes according to the levels at which they are studying Irish for the Leaving Certificate. Once again, there were ordinary-level and higher-level classes. Classes are banded for fifth and sixth years and this is a good timetabling arrangement.
Four class-periods per week are allocated to Irish for each year of the junior cycle. This is reasonably satisfactory. Three class-periods per week are provided for TY students and six class-periods per week for fifth- and sixth-year students. The amount of time allocated to senior cycle classes is satisfactory. It is recommended that every effort be made to provide an extra class-period per week for the classes in at least one of the junior cycle years. Regarding the distribution of classes during the week, the timetables showed that sixth-year students had two classes on Tuesday and two on Thursday. It is recommended that Irish classes be distributed more equitably throughout the week because a regular daily input of the language is more beneficial to the students. The distribution of Irish classes throughout the week in the junior cycle is satisfactory.
It was reported that a small number of students in the school were exempt from the study of Irish. The management are advised to have accurate information readily available concerning the number of students who have exemptions in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94. Classes in English as a second language and learning support classes or resource classes to suit their needs are provided, as far as possible, for the students who have exemptions, while Irish classes are in progress. The management is commended for making these arrangements.
Competitions and various events are organised for the students during ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’. The students are encouraged to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht. The efforts of the teachers and the management in providing opportunities for the students to use Irish outside of formal classroom situations are praiseworthy indeed. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish keep an account of any events or supports provided for the students, in the plan for Irish.
Three of the teachers of Irish have their own classroom. Such a provision creates opportunities for the teachers to develop a particular space for Irish in the school, to support student learning. This had been done in a few cases. A good up-to-date supply of resources was available in the classrooms. Among them were CD and DVD players, television sets, overhead projectors, presses and shelves for storage of materials. There is a computer room in the school which is available to the teachers of Irish for use with their classes, once they book it beforehand. Great credit is due to the management for making this provision for the teaching and learning of Irish.
The Irish-teaching staff has engaged with the school development planning process and the development of the plan for Irish as part of the school curriculum is ongoing. It was evident that there was good co-operation among the teachers of Irish. They take it in turn to act as co-ordinator for the subject. Such an approach is praiseworthy because it affords each member of staff the opportunity of filling the role and, accordingly, an opportunity for professional development. The management provides time for the teachers of Irish to hold formal meetings three times a year. The management, in consultation with the teaching staff, sets the agenda for each of these meetings at the beginning of the school year. Minutes of the meetings are recorded and presented to the management. This practice is praiseworthy. The teachers have begun to plan collaboratively and they are highly commended for having made a start on this approach to planning.
Clear aims and objectives were laid out in the plan for Irish and these accorded with the aims of the syllabuses. The content in the plans for the various year-groups was set out on a term-by-term basis, as recommended. Teachers are advised that the plans for the various year-groups should accord with the overall plan for Irish, in which, for example, there were worthwhile references to poetry and to developing students’ cultural awareness in the junior classes, as well as references to the students’ learning needs, instead of listing chapters in any particular textbook. An outline plan for Irish in TY was available and its further development is therefore recommended. The importance of developing students’ ability in oral Irish is recognised and the emphasis on this aspect of teaching in the plan drawn up is commended. In the development of the TY plan for Irish, it is recommended that it be clear that the year would be utilised to afford students a wider range of experience of learning Irish in accordance with the spirit of the programme. It is recommended that, when the plans for the various year-groups are being reviewed, the teachers of Irish should agree a framework of the expected learning outcomes at various stages in the programmes. It is recommended that this framework be based on the various language-functions referred to in the syllabuses and on the various language skills. It is also recommended that the integration of the development of language skills and of the various aspects of the courses be evident in the plans and that they also include an account of the teaching and learning methodologies and strategies to be used to achieve the learning outcomes. In light of the fact that the school’s ICT facilities are available to the department of Irish, but are seldom used, it is recommended that appropriate planning be undertaken in order to further integrate their use in the teaching and learning of Irish. It would extend the range of methodologies used by the teachers and it would present Irish to the students as a living, contemporary language.
Good planning had been done for the classes observed. The subject-matter prepared was well chosen and suited to the students. Among the resources were worksheets, material presented on transparencies, listening texts and authentic texts. The teachers are commended for this planning and preparation.
A good standard of teaching and learning of Irish was evident in the majority of the classes observed. The high level of planning done in preparation for the classes ensured that the vast majority of lessons were well structured. There was an obvious continuity between the classes observed and preceding lessons. Work was undertaken in the classes observed on the development of language skills based on various topics and on aspects of the curriculum such as literature.
The roll was called and answered in Irish at the start of classes and it is recommended that this practice be continued. A conversation on general topics was conducted at the beginning of some classes. This is good practice and it is recommended that it be used as the norm in all classes. It is also recommended that the date be elicited from students at the opening of class and that it be displayed on the whiteboard. Practices like this help the students to settle into their Irish class, when they have come from situations where another language was their medium of communication. The aim of the lesson and the activities to be undertaken during class were communicated to the students at the start of certain classes. It is recommended that this practice be further developed and, in accordance with the recommendations on planning for the subject, that, at the start of class, the expected learning outcomes be shared with the students. This would give the students a better understanding of their learning.
Instances in which the development of language skills is integrated on a thematic basis and where the development of students’ ability in oral Irish is emphasised are highly commended. This is good practice and it is recommended that it be more widely used. Such an approach affords the students the opportunity to practise what they are learning by using various language skills and it also reinforces what they are learning. Besides this, it is a good way of catering for the students’ various learning styles. Particularly praiseworthy is the example observed where an authentic text from the broadcast media was used in this context. It is recommended that the use of authentic broadcast-media and printed texts in the teaching and learning of Irish be extended. Another example of this was observed when authentic material displayed on the walls was used to scaffold a written task. This is an effective way of illustrating to the students that Irish can be used as a living language of communication in situations apart from the classroom.
The approach to the presentation of a piece of poetry to the students in a certain case is commended. The students were given an opportunity of studying the illustrations that enhanced the text of the poem on the page and they were gradually encouraged to hazard a guess at the subject-matter of the poem and at the emotions being expressed in it by the poet. A discussion of the different verses ensued, with every student taking part, and the class demonstrated that they were accustomed to this kind of approach in their learning.
Use, which in most cases was effective, was made of the teaching aids available in the classrooms, to present the content of the lessons to the students. Transparencies were used, for example, to pose questions aimed at stimulating students to converse in Irish, as support material for pair-work, and to present key words and points concerning a piece of poetry to the students. It is vital to ensure that the amount and type-style of text presented on a transparency allow for legibility by all students, as was done in the vast majority of cases observed.
In some instances observed, there was overemphasis on translation to English to ensure that students understood Irish vocabulary or phrases. It is recommended that this practice be avoided and replaced with other strategies that would enrich and reinforce their learning. Strategies such as using other Irish words or phrases to explain those encountered, mime, gestures, dictionaries or pictures should be used to help the students’ language acquisition and to ensure that they get an appropriate input of Irish.
Irish was used as the medium of instruction and as the general language of communication in the vast majority of the classes observed. Such use of the target language is praiseworthy indeed and it is recommended that this good practice be extended. To facilitate this, especially in the junior classes, it is recommended that the classroom language the students require be included when planning for the teaching and learning of Irish and that students be enabled to use it. In some cases, students were asking questions in Irish during pair-work and in seeking guidance from the teacher. This deserves great praise. It is vitally important that students be able to ask questions in Irish so that they can take an active part in any communication they are engaged in through the medium of the language.
The atmosphere in all the classes was conducive to learning and it was evident that the majority of the students were interested in the work and they took part eagerly in the classes. Their participation was ensured by the activities to be undertaken and by appropriate questioning. When subject-matter is being discussed with the students, teachers should make sure to ask questions at varying levels of challenge, as was done in some cases, questions which would afford students opportunities of expressing themselves at levels suited to their ability. Students were given time to think before answering questions in some instances. This practice is commended and it should be more widely used as it encourages students to present their own opinions or feelings about a subject in Irish and it helps to develop their ability and confidence in spoken Irish. In some cases, teachers need to ensure that a more balanced amount of time is allocated to developing students’ oral Irish. Effective use was made of the whiteboards to record new vocabulary or students’ answers to aural tests.
Material in Irish was on display on the walls in some cases. It is recommended that further material be added to the amount already on display, especially examples of students’ own work, and that the displays be regularly updated.
Students’ learning is assessed through their participation in class, homework and midterm tests. House examinations are administered twice a year and third-year and sixth-year students take mock state examinations during the second term. Teachers keep a record, in their school diaries, of student achievements throughout the school-year. Students’ homework diaries and formal school reports keep parents informed of their children’s achievements. Although the school’s assessment policy is not available in writing it was clear from the plan for Irish that the teachers of Irish had discussed the matter. The main language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing – are taken into account in the assessment of students’ work. This practice is highly commended and it accords with the aims of the syllabuses for Irish. It is recommended that the teachers continue development in the area of assessment and that the plan contain an account of the modes of assessment used in the case of the different language skills.
The material in the copybooks reviewed accorded with the requirements of the syllabuses. Students had separate copybooks for different aspects of their courses and the teachers are commended for helping the students to organise their work. In the classes observed, homework was set which suited the subject-matter of the class and which the students could undertake independently. Homework was appropriately checked in class. In most cases, the students’ work was being regularly corrected. Marks, grades, or notes in praise of the students’ work were recorded in the copybooks. In some cases, guidance was given to the students on how to improve their work. This approach to correcting student work is particularly praiseworthy and it is recommended that all the teachers of Irish adopt it as their normal practice. To help students to understand their achievements, it is recommended that the assessment criteria be shared with them when tasks or assessments are being assigned. This, as well as the guidance provided on ways to improve their work, would help to develop students’ understanding of their learning and of themselves as language learners. As part of this development, it is recommended that the teachers discuss Assessment for Learning (AfL). Further information on the AfL can be accessed in various editions of info@ncca and 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 June 2008