An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Joseph’s Secondary School
Foxford County Mayo
Roll number: 64640W
Date of inspection: 22 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection as part of a whole school evaluation (WSE) in St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Foxford, County Mayo. 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 the teachers of Irish.
The timetable gives good support to Irish to the extent that daily contact with the target language is ensured for the senior students, three classes for Transition Year (TY) pupils and four periods for junior cycle students. All year groups are concurrently timetabled. First year and TY groups are mixed ability in nature. Students are streamed at the end of first year on the basis of a common examination and are organised according to State examination level. Management tries to ensure continuity by assigning the same teacher to students during cycles. Students are permitted to change from level to level on receipt of a letter signed by parents or guardians.
Half of the teachers who are involved in the teaching and learning of Irish are Irish graduates. It is noteworthy that these teachers are teaching the various examination levels in the two cycles, this practice ensures the department has the appropriate experience to teach from first year up to the Leaving Cert classes. Management gives every encouragement and support to the staff to attend continuing professional training courses. The school has organised many whole school in-service days on general educational themes. Last year, staff representatives attended an Irish in-service course given by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). It is recommended that such courses be attended and that the information gained be shared with the entire department as part of the school’s development planning process. It was also mentioned as a recommendation that the support material distributed at SLSS courses should be kept in the planning file as a point of reference when the staff is carrying out joint planning for teaching and learning.
The school has been granted approval for a significant number of student exemptions from Irish according to the provisions of Circular M10/94. It was indicated that most of these students had recognised learning difficulties and that there was also a small number of them who had not received their primary schooling in the State.
The vast majority of the Irish teachers have their own rooms and teaching and learning aids are freely available to them. The Irish teachers have laptop computers and there is broadband access throughout the school. The computer lab is also available using a booking system. An application form is used in the school to procure extra language resources as well as an annual budget. The teachers have developed good resources which are stored centrally and are added to on a regular basis. This provision is commendable. It is recommended that the list of resources available to post primary students on www.cogg.ie and the link on the Irish webpage of the SLSS on www.slss.ie be used as points of reference when resources are being developed in the future. A listening comprehension archive on various themes may be made using students in the school with a good level of proficiency in the language. The library is also used to support the learners of Irish. The management and the Irish teaching staff are to be congratulated for their diligence in providing comprehensive aids and resources for Irish language teaching and learning.
Every effort is made to promote Irish language culture both inside and outside the school by providing the students with a broad range of extra-curricular and co-curricular events. Seachtain na Gaeilge is a big occasion on the school’s calendar. Moreover tours to the Aran Islands are organised every year as well as visits to companies involved in the Irish language media. Irish plays are attended regularly. An annual music programme with musicians from this school and from other local schools is broadcast in conjunction with Raidió na Gaeltachta. The school is highly commended for its diligence in providing students with a vibrant and living experience of the language and the culture both inside and outside the classroom.
The Irish department is involved in the school development planning process (SDP) since 2005. The teachers have a meeting each term. A record has been kept of these meetings since August 2006. The department and management are to be congratulated for the priority which has been given to language planning. The department has developed holistic aims and goals which prioritise the development of the main language skills, especially conversation. This practice is commendable. The staff members are also congratulated for the special recognition given to fostering emotional intelligence in learning the language.
The curriculum plans are set out on the basis of terms for the teaching and learning of Irish in both cycles. Generally, the best planning was done in the junior plans. The time frames are more specific and are suited to the length of the topics. It is also recommended that planning be carried out to teach language functions and topics in an integrated fashion across the skills as recommended in the syllabuses. It is recommended that the same thematic integration be used in planning for the senior cycle curriculum. It is necessary to re-examine the section of the template relating to teaching and learning resources in order to ensure that all the details are included for the different themes covered during each term. The subject plan contains a description of departmental practice in relation to a differentiated approach and the contact the department has with the learning support staff. It is recommended that this unit of the plan be developed by creating stronger links with the learning support staff in the school.
The Transition Year plan is based on three modules and there is an effort made to provide the students with a different experience of learning Irish. It is also commended that the aims and goals for Transition Year are very much in line with the national aims of the Transition Year programme with respect to the fostering of self confidence and to providing a bridge between the two cycles.
It was also clear that there were cross-curricular links being forged during the year with other subjects and programmes. In order to improve the Transition Year programme three suggestions are proposed. Firstly, it is recommended that the authentic texts which exist for the teaching and learning of Irish at present be increased by employing Irish resources which are to be found in the specification leaflet at the back of the general Transition Year plan. It is recommended that a different assessment experience of Irish be provided during the year by using a learning portfolio, information about this can be accessed at www.coe.int/portfolio. Finally, it would be worthwhile for the students to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Irish programme during the year in order to include their opinions in curriculum design for the subject on an ongoing basis.
The department developed a long-term plan this year containing the department’s priorities. This action plan is worthy of praise. To realise these aims, it is recommended that practical steps be devised by all staff. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) among students and teachers is mentioned as a priority for the department. This initiative is strongly encouraged. It is recommended that external links to Irish websites should be created on the school’s homepage www.stjosephsfoxford.com as part of this development.
All rooms had motivational printed materials displayed. There were posters of the pupils’ own work, grammar charts and other learning aids which were useful, legible and helpful during the classes. In some classrooms the type of vocabulary required by students during the Irish classes was also displayed on the table, for example ‘Cad is brí le (what is the meaning of)’, ‘Cad í an Ghaeilge ar’ (what is the Irish for) and ‘Scríobh síos é sin’ (write that down). This display demonstrated the consideration given to the visual scaffolding necessary for students’ language learning. It is recommended that all staff members should adopt this as good practice. In addition to the classrooms, there were notices in Irish, including green schools’ notices to be seen around the whole school. It is a priority of the department this year to increase the amount of Irish around the school. There is a great deal of credit due to the Irish staff for the central place they have created for the language around the school.
The learning environment was characterised by an atmosphere of mutual respect and diligence in all lessons observed during the inspection. All teachers employed good classroom management skills. The teachers had a good knowledge of the students in their care and this greatly benefited the learning and teaching encounter. Motivational affirmation was always given to the quality of the students’ efforts and opinions.
All teachers had carried out good short-term planning and preparation for lessons observed. A significant level of work and research was is evident in the class notes used by some of the teachers. In general, different stages of lessons had a developmental structure and a purposeful pace. All teachers stated the learning objectives at the beginning of the classes, orally or on the board and again when the learning intention changed. The teachers are to be praised for their attention in this regard. It is recommended that a debriefing session be held with the students at the end of the class to specify what learning has been achieved as this fosters independence in the learners by making them recognise their own learning outcomes.
Effective use was made of learning and teaching techniques in the vast majority of the lessons during the inspection. There was variety in these lessons as different aspects of the courses were covered during the classes. In some of the classes various aspects were presented in a thematic manner. This thematic integration greatly benefits learning instead of covering different aspects of the course without any connection between them. It is also recommended that thematic integration of tape extracts be used more regularly in the students’ learning experience.
The vast majority of teachers succeeded in achieving a balance between students’ activities and their own input through a combination of whole-class work and individual work. In these classes students had the opportunity to engage with the subject of the lesson in an active way and all teachers attended carefully to students’ individual needs. This practice is commendable. It is recommended when an individual task is being carried out during lessons that the amount of time necessary for the completion of the task is suitable and is agreed at the outset. In this way the pace of the lesson will not diminish as a result of doubts about time needed to complete the task. It is also commendable that extension tasks were prepared by the vast majority of teachers for individual work during the lessons. The students actively participated in the tasks given to them and their engagement in learning was very clear especially in the lesson where authentic material was used on PowerPoint and had a close connection with their own life experience.
In many of the lessons students were asked to read aloud or to themselves. In one such class very good pre-skill work was carried out for reading to adapt the vocabulary and the sounds to the students’ ability. It is proposed that this technique should be used by all staff members to ensure that neither a new language skill nor a new aspect of the courses is commenced without first doing this kind of preparation. In these classes good use was made of questioning techniques to encourage students to participate in lessons. It is recommended, as an alternative approach to teacher student interaction that students are divided into pairs, according to ability as a way to facilitate peer learning. In this way teacher-talk would decrease and the students would have the opportunity to work together on their receptive and productive skills.
The vast majority of teachers used clear instructions on the whiteboard of on PowerPoint to list the key words of the lessons and to demonstrate lesson structure. This is good practice because it is a model for students on how to organise their thoughts when they are preparing for a written task and this clarity and practice are especially helpful for weaker students.
Irish was used in all class interactions. This approach is commendable for often the teacher is the students’ only example of phonetics and correct language use. Overall, the students had a good standard of Irish as well as a good grasp of the subject and they willingly participated in the target language when afforded the opportunity to do so. All teachers simplified vocabulary which avoiding over use of translation. The teachers directed the students’ attention to grammatical points in the communicative context of the piece instead of as single unrelated entities. In some of the classes vocabulary learning was being given as homework. In one lesson the teacher grouped the words which were to be learned for homework by the students instead of giving words or phrases which had no relation with each other as was done in another class. This practice is encouraged and it is recommended that, in order to further develop the students’ vocabulary ability, learning strategies be explicitly taught in order to achieve maximum vocabulary learning for all students.
The school has developed a homework policy and all students are using a homework journal as appropriate. The year head manages the homework journals and both parents and teachers use the diaries as a means of communication. The random sample of diaries which were examined demonstrated that homework was given on a regular basis but that there was much emphasis placed on writing and learning. It is recommended that a variety of language skills, in line with the homework policy of the school, should be included in the task assigned. This approach would strengthen the student’s ability in all skills instead of giving a disproportionate emphasis to any one skill. Homework was often recorded in Irish or bilingually. The teachers are to be congratulated for using the opportunity of recording homework as a source of teaching and learning.
The sample of copybooks examined during the inspection showed evidence of comprehensive work in line with requirements of the syllabuses. Overall, the teachers were employing developmental corrections which gave clear guidance to the student regarding work which had a good standard as well as structured advice regarding the improvement of the weaker aspects of the work. The teachers are highly commended for achieving such a standard of corrections. In other copies there were corrections made which took ownership for the piece of work from the student given the number of mistakes which were corrected in one piece of writing. It is recommended that the department consider the value of learning from corrections to ensure that the correction progress does not have a negative influence on the learner’s intrinsic motivation level. There were also copybooks with long tracts of English and it is recommended that overuse of the translational method be reviewed. It was reported that the corrections are used as a diagnostic tool for grammar and spelling mistakes and that classes should be taught based on that analysis. The staff is to be congratulated for this approach because it gives a personal illustration of individual errors as well as insight into common mistakes which are usual atat various levels. It is recommended that this diagnostic analysis should also be sometimes used as a correction lesson for the students, either individually or in pairs. One of the articulated priorities of the Irish department for this year is the development of a trial oral exam as part of the assessment experience of all the students of the school. The staff is to be congratulated for being proactive in developing assessment tools. It is recommended that an agreed mark be given for student participation in the target language as part of continuous assessment. It would be of benefit to include a mark for oral skills in the reports issuing to homes, in line with one of the main aims of the department; ‘to give recognition to the four major language skills’.
Some of the teachers were fostering organisational skills in the recording of learning by systematically keeping various aspects of the course in different sections of the copybooks. This good practice is commendable.
Summative assessment comprises common house exams and continuous assessment which are carried out biannually during the year for all pupils in the school, except for those who do State examinations in the summer. A report is sent home based on the results of these assessments.
· The language is well prioritised in the timetable and there is favourable support for the Irish department
· Comprehensive work has been carried out on certain aspects of the planning process for Irish
· There were good standards of short-term planning and preparation for all the classes.
· There were effective teaching and learning techniques being used in the vast majority of the classes observed during the inspection.
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 and the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2009