An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Limekiln Avenue, Greenhills, Dublin 12
Uimhir Rolla: 70130I
Date of inspection: 22 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Greenhills College, 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 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 subject teachers.
Valuable efforts are being made by management to strengthen the status of Irish in the school.
There were four teachers teaching Irish at the time of this evaluation. Two of these were permanent members of the staff who had lengthy experience of teaching Irish in the school. Another permanent teacher was on sick leave and two substitutes were replacing this teacher. One of these substitutes had studied Irish to degree level but neither had a teaching qualification.
The time allocation provided for Irish at senior cycle is satisfactory. With regard to the junior cycle, however, there are only four class periods allocated to Irish in each year. It is strongly recommended that management would not further reduce the time provided for Irish at junior cycle and that a minimum of one additional period be allocated in at least one year of the junior cycle. The distribution of the Irish classes throughout the week is satisfactory in the case of most classes. Timetables indicate that there are two periods allocated to second years and fifth years on Friday and on Monday respectively. It is recommended that such an arrangement be avoided as pupils will derive more benefit from having regular daily contact with the language. The classes in the various year groups are timetabled concurrently thus facilitating students’ access to the most appropriate class level.
In recent years a written Irish examination has been included as part of the school transfer examinations completed by students prior to entering first year. It is recommended that the Primary School Curriculum: Gaeilge be referred to when this examination is being designed and that cognisance be given to the emphasis also placed in this curriculum on the development of pupils’ listening and oral language skills. The allocation of students to streamed classes is primarily based on the numeracy and literacy tests that students do, as well as on the written Irish examination. It is recommended that teachers and management would look at the opportunities and benefits that accrue to students from mixed-ability classes at least for the first year of the junior cycle, and that their allocation to streamed classes thereafter would be based on achievements in common examinations. It was indicated that one class group in each year of the junior cycle was involved in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). These students were provided with the same programme as their fellow students studying the Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge. Such provision is highly commendable as it ensures equality in curriculum provision for students. The JCSP profile statements were not, however, being completed by any of the JCSP students. It is strongly recommended that this requirement be addressed without delay and that students would be actively included in the process.
Students at senior cycle can choose between the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the first year of the LCA programme and it was indicated that all participating students partake in this aspect of the programme. This arrangement is highly commendable as it provides students with continuity in learning after the junior cycle and it gives all students an opportunity to receive an input in the language and culture. No class was in the first year of the programme at the time of the evaluation.
It is the policy of management, in co-operation with the teachers of Irish, that all students experience Irish culture and language. This is laudable indeed. Consistent with this policy, it is expected that every student participates in the classes attended, including those who are exempt from the study of Irish, and that they sit any class and house examinations set. Management informs parents of this policy. A review of state examination results over a period of years reveals that students rarely study Irish at higher level in either cycles. It is recommended that students’ expectations as regards Irish and their achievement levels in the certificate examinations be raised and that planning to this effect be undertaken. At the time of this evaluation it was noted that eleven students from a total enrolment of 161 students at second level were exempt from studying Irish. Over half of these students had learning difficulties. Although no first year student had a specific exemption, management reported that four first-year students had additional learning support available to them at the time when Irish classes were timetabled. With a view to providing greater clarity in communications between the partners involved in the students’ education, it is recommended that the draft documents entitled “Irish Exemptions School Policy” be further developed. This should include an account of the types of provision made for students who have additional learning requirements and how the school would provide for their exposure to Irish language and culture. The aim of this document should be further developed and it should detail the responsibilities of the members of the school community in its implementation. It is recommended that the draft document be made available to all partners before it is forwarded to the board of management. In addition it is recommended that the date of approval of the policy by the board of management and the date on which it will be reviewed be included, as well as the titles of other related policy documents that will impact on its implementation.
Apart from a broadband connection, the provision of materials in those classrooms visited was very basic. It was reported however that teachers had access to overhead projectors, portable screens, televisions and CD/ DVD players, a mobile library and computer rooms, and that management provides resources and materials as requested. It is recommended that the Irish teachers compile a list of the resources and materials available to them and that these would be included in the subject plan. Posters and printed materials in Irish were displayed on the walls in the classrooms as well as samples of students’ work in one particular instance. It is recommended that these displays be further developed and that particular emphasis is placed on displaying students’ own work and that materials displayed would be updated. Such displays would provide a supportive atmosphere for the language, for the students and for their learning.
Opportunities are provided for students to develop their experience of Irish culture and language outside the formal classes, through events organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge, visual displays in Irish throughout the school, and tours organised by subject departments such as visits to cultural sites by the history and geography departments. Furthermore, grants are provided by the Vocational Education Committee and the Schools’ Completion Programme to assist students wishing to attend summer college in the Gaeltacht.
Management makes provision for teachers to have four or five formal meetings during the school year. Such provision and support is commendable. Teachers rotate the role of coordinator. This arrangement is commendable as it gives every member of staff an opportunity to develop their skills in the area. The role is currently assumed on an annual basis but it is recommended that the role be adopted for a period of two years. This would provide the coordinator with an opportunity to achieve certain planning objectives as well as fulfilling the other responsibilities attached to the role. Furthermore it would be beneficial if the teachers, in consultation with management, defined the role of the coordinator. Although teachers receive the support of management in participating in further professional development opportunities, only one member of the Irish teaching staff had attended a workshop organised by the Second Level Support Service for Irish.
A plan for Irish was provided and it was clear that the department was in the initial stages of the planning process. The document outlined the commendable aims and objectives for the subject and plans for certain classes for the first term. These plans were mainly based on a list of the topics, and the language skills were mentioned in some instances. It is strongly recommended that greater intensity be applied to the work on long term and short term subject planning for the various year groups. This should include plans for those classes undertaking Gaeilge Chumarsáideach (Communicative Irish) as part of the LCA programme and for students participating in the JCSP. Short-term plans should be outlined on a monthly basis for each term.
In order to guide this work, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish agree an action plan, with achievable time frames. As a starting point for the planning to be undertaken, it is recommended that the teachers develop and agree a framework for the expected learning outcomes at the various stages and levels. These should be based on the language functions referred to in the syllabuses, on the language skills and on the different aspects of the courses that need to be integrated, including language awareness and culture. It is recommended that the aspect of the plan entitled “Modhanna múinte éifeachtacha” (Effective teaching methods) be further developed and that pair work and group work be included to achieve the learning outcomes and to differentiate content as appropriate. Teachers should also engage in planning for the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and for the assessment methods to be used. Evidence of any monitoring and review of the plan should be available in the documentation.
There was preparation in place for all classes observed and this was of a good quality in some instances. The ability levels of students and the available resources should be taken into account when planning and preparing for classes.
The teaching of Irish was of good quality in some of the classes observed. The roll was called and answered in Irish and conversation took place at the beginning of the lesson in most of the classes observed. It should be common practice to do this in all classes. In a particular instance the date was elicited from the students and written on the board. This practice is also commendable and again should be extended to all classes. Such practices help the students to settle into the Irish lesson, particularly as they are arriving from situations where communication is through another language.
In some cases students were informed of the content of the lesson and this is commendable. As a further development of this practice, and prior to focusing on the content of the lesson, it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes be shared with students and written on the blackboard. Additionally, it is recommended that the various tasks to be completed during the lesson would also be noted on the blackboard and explained to the students. This would provide them with a better understanding of their learning and of the work required of them. At the end of one particular lesson pupils were informed of the next stage in their learning. Such practice is highly commended. Furthermore, it would be worth taking a few moments at the end of the lesson to allow students to reflect on what they have learned and, for example, to ask them questions such as ‘What new words did you learn today? How did you learn these?’
Students had different tasks to complete in most classes. In the majority of cases, these tasks were based on different language skills and in each case students completed this work alone. It is recommended that the practice observed whereby students were assigned different tasks would be extended and furthermore it is recommended that these would be based on a common theme. This would help students to consolidate the specific focus of their learning by applying what they are learning through the various skills and this would also provide to a greater extent for the various learning styles of students. It is also recommended that pair work and group work be included when the tasks are being planned. This type of work would provide opportunities for students to ask questions as well as answer questions and it would support the emphasis being placed on developing students’ oral language ability, particularly in the junior classes. Additionally, it is recommended that a wider range of the resources available in the school, such as televisions, overhead projectors and ICT resources, would be used to present the material to students in different ways. The application of these resources would also demonstrate to students the various means by which Irish can be used and would present the language as a living modern language. It is also recommended, as occurred in some instances, that the content of the lessons be connected to students’ own experiences.
The teaching of grammar was attended to in all classes and this is commendable. In those instances where grammar was formally presented it is recommended that cognisance be given to the ability levels of students when preparation is taking place for teaching grammar. In some instances grammar was linked to conversation, or to reading in other cases, and this approach was helpful in providing an opportunity to check students’ learning and understanding, and to show them in a practical way how what they had learned could be applied.
In the majority of classes students’ behaviour was very good. They were focused on their work and they displayed what learning had occurred. Questions were directed to individual students in every class and this is good practice. Those instances where students were given time to answer questions and where questions were asked at varying levels of ability appropriate to the ability levels of students are worthy of particular commendation. Students in all classes were praised for the efforts they made. Students displayed self-confidence in speaking Irish and displayed a good level of competence in Irish and an enthusiasm in some cases to study Irish at a higher level. The provision of opportunities for students to develop their competence and confidence in using the language should be extended and it should be ensured that students are afforded the opportunity to study the language at a challenging level. In one particular instance the material displayed on the wall was used to good effect as a support for students when working in class. In the case of a minority of those classes observed, it is recommended that the class contact time with students be used more effectively and that they are provided at all times with opportunities for new learning.
In most classes Irish was the general language of instruction and communication. Students indicated that it was common practice for them to communicate their needs in the language of the classroom. This is very commendable and this practice should be extended. In some instances there was an over-use of translation to explain vocabulary or phrases to students or to check their level of understanding. It is recommended that other strategies be used, such as dictionaries, gesturing or mime that would be more beneficial to students’ language acquisition.
Assessment of students’ work is primarily based on participation in class, on homework, and on class and school examinations. Formal reports on students’ achievements are sent home to parents twice a year. Pupils taking state examinations have their mock examinations in the second term. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for all year groups.
There is no whole school policy for assessment nor do teachers have an agreed approach to the assessment of Irish. The examinations given to students are based almost exclusively on the skills of writing, and reading comprehension. It is the responsibility of teachers to include the aspects of aural comprehension and competence in spoken Irish as part of the results of the house examinations. The assessment of all language skills is good practice consistent with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses. It is recommended that the Irish teachers would agree an assessment policy that would accommodate all language skills and that they would ensure that the school policy to be developed for assessment reflects the requirements for Irish. Additionally it is recommended that they work co-operatively on planning for assessment of classes or students who are studying the language at the same level in the various year groups and that the expected learning outcomes be used to establish the criteria for assessment.
In most classes homework was checked and in all classes the homework assigned was based on class work. Pupils were asked to write their homework in their diaries, which they did in some instances. It is recommended that this good practice be extended. Assigning homework to students helps to reinforce learning, to give them responsibility for their own learning and to develop their organisational skills. Although the content in those copybooks reviewed was in line with course requirements, in most cases there were significant differences in the quality and organisation of the work. It is recommended that the Irish teachers would agree an approach to the correction of students’ work which would be based on assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL can be obtained on www.ncca.ie.
It was reported that the analysis of students’ achievements in state examinations began this year. This development is commendable. It is recommended that a report of the outcomes of the analysis would be included in the plan and that these would be considered when planning for the teaching and learning of the subject.
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:
· It is recommended that the Irish teachers commit to the development of a subject plan as outlined in this report.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, January 2010