An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Irish
Carrickmacross, County Monaghan
Roll number: 72180K
Date of inspection: 25 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Inver College 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.
All the curricular programmes are offered in Inver College and Irish is a core subject in every programme. There is excellent timetabled provision for Irish as regards the number and the daily allocation of lessons provided for each year group. This ensures a very evenly balanced allocation and is commended. Concurrent timetabling is provided in all year groups which determines that students can readily access their level of choice. The only recommendation made in relation to timetabling concerns arrangements in sixth year where Irish is timetabled late in the afternoon on three days consecutively. These should be reviewed. Other than this, timetabling arrangements are very supportive of the teaching and learning of Irish.
In the current school year 2009/10 a total of 527 students are enrolled in Inver College of which sixty one per cent are male. Thirteen per cent of students have an exemption from studying Irish. Management endeavours to provide resource teaching for those who are entitled to it when Irish classes are timetabled. However, the school is not ina position to ensure this arrangement for all Irish lessons; consequently it happens that students with an exemption from Irish are obliged to sit in the class during Irish lessons. This is principally the case if those students do not qualify for any other resource allocation. In fairness to school management it should be borne in mind that the excellent provision for Irish on the timetable also adds to these difficulties.
Irish is visible in the school building through the use of well designed signage on the all rooms. The subject plan confirms the aim of providing all students with the opportunity to acquire Irish at the level appropriate for them, according to their ability. The comprehensive provision of all curricular programmes and the excellent timetabled provision for Irish show that this opportunity indeed exists. From discussions with school management and with the teachers of Irish during the evaluation process it is evident that the aspiration exists in the school to raise expectations in the subject for students and their parents, This objective is both appropriate and commendable for the subject teachers and on a whole school basis. Analysis of student participation rates at the different levels in Irish in the certificate examinations shows that it would be worthwhile encouraging a greater number of students to undertake the higher level. It is recommended that this objective be specifically stated in the subject plan along with a strategy to achieve it. Teachers must take care that students do not casually change from higher to ordinary level and that concurrent timetabling does not enhance the tendency to make choices early.
An important step in this objective is encouraging the greatest possible number of students to undertake higher level from the beginning of first year. To promote this objective the school previously operated a system of mixed ability classes in Irish from the beginning of first year with an opportunity to offer higher level to the largest number of students through differentiated teaching and learning in those classes. However, the school discontinued this system of mixed ability classes throughout the whole of first year when it was perceived that the range of ability within class groups was too wide and it became evident that it was students taking higher level primarily who were disadvantaged by the arrangement. It is commendable that a review is being undertaken of the best methods of promoting the subject. This requires a clear shared approach.
At present all first year students are allocated to mixed ability classes timetabled concurrently with the exception of one discrete foundation level class. This class follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). These arrangements are satisfactory. School management and teachers of Irish are agreed that more challenging expectations should be set for students from the beginning of first year. Arising from worthwhile discussions with the teachers of Irish and with the principal the following arrangement is recommended for the future. It is recommended that the Irish department include in the subject plan the objective of encouraging as many students as possible to undertake the higher level from the beginning of first year. The ability of first year students in Irish should be assessed and, based on results, students should then be evenly divided into mixed-ability classes from the beginning of first year. It is recommended that setting or groupings should be established from Christmas at the earliest and every effort should be made to retain the greatest possible number of students focussed on higher level. These recommendations are not prescriptive with regard to the level of the classes that are established in the subject from then onwards and this decision should be based on the circumstances obtaining in any particular year. It is assumed that every encouragement will be given to students from the outset to undertake the highest level.
Setting arrangements in the subject from second year onwards are satisfactory. A particular challenge in teaching the subject exists in Transition Year (TY) where there is only one class group. This means that there is a very wide range of ability in the Irish class and the three different levels are being taught in the same class. In these circumstances it is very important that particular attention be given to differentiated learning.
Currently five fully qualified teachers teach Irish in the school. The principal is responsible for the allocation of classes at the different subject levels to teachers, an arrangement which is well supported by the teachers. This current evaluation shows that all teachers are competent to teach the subject at all levels. This decision adds to the school’s objective of strengthening the status of Irish. School management supports and encourages teachers with regard to promoting improvements in the subject. Teacher attendance at activities organised by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish has been excellent. As a further example of the support for the subject at management level the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) met recently with teachers of Irish to discuss the status of Irish and to promote models of good practice in teaching and learning. Further support for sharing good practice in Irish is being sought for teachers in Inver College and for teachers of Irish within the VEC scheme from the regional development officer of the SLSS. All these supportive measures are commended.
Teachers enjoy strong support from school management in relation to the provision of teaching resources. All the teachers have been assigned their own designated classroom each of which is equipped with excellent information and communications technology (ICT) resources such as computers, internet access, data projectors, whiteboards as screens and a television set. ICT resources were very central in the teaching observed. And, thanks to the efforts of the teachers, a stimulating learning environment was achieved in all these rooms. This diligence is commended.
County Monaghan VEC provides considerable funding to support the scholarship scheme to colleges in the Gaeltacht during the summer. It would be very worthwhile to seek to provide regular opportunities for students to speak Irish normally and casually outside the classroom. In addition it would be worthwhile to encourage students to establish a conversation circle at a specific time during the week. It would be reasonable to assume that students who have been awarded these scholarships would be supportive of such a forum. It would be most supportive if other members of staff who are competent in speaking Irish were to visit the conversation circle and be prepared to have ordinary conversation with the students. Inviting some well known personality with Irish to speak to a group of students would also provide great incentive for example; a writer in the Irish language, a publisher of Irish language books or a figure from the broadcast media identified with Irish.
The teachers of Irish form a well integrated team. They present as confident teachers of Irish who have as their principal responsibility, both as individual teachers and collectively, the promotion of Irish among the students. This is a very healthy approach and it is to the advantage of their students that the teachers of Irish relate very well to each other and have huge interest in the subject.
One of the teachers is currently responsible for co-ordinating the subject and has held this role for a while. This function affords the co-ordinator the opportunity to obtain an overview of the status of the subject in the school and to put his or her own mark on the efforts to promote improvements in Irish in the school as well as being responsible for their own classes. For this reason it is recommended that the role of subject co-ordinator be rotated in the interests of the professional development of all members of the department and to promote fresh thinking.
Teachers in the Irish department have laid down a good foundation for collaborative planning within the department in relation to agreeing and reviewing common teaching programmes. Meetings are arranged once a term and more frequently on an informal basis. A redord is available of the proceedings of formal meetings. Teachers should ensure that school management is apprised of decisions taken at planning meetings especially in relation to teaching and learning in the subject. The plan for the Irish department for 2009/10 was provided. This plan consists of quality information which is well set out. Included are teacher timetables, name of the co-ordinator, programmes, levels, time allocation for the subject, record of professional development, analysis of student participation rates at the different levels of the subject in Leaving Certificate, objectives, criteria for student allocation to class groups, teaching resources and cross-curricular planning. A contents page should be inserted at the beginning of the plan document to assist the reader. The criteria in use for student allocation to classes in first year should be amended when these have been agreed with school management and have been approved.
It would be worthwhile also to include a section on subject development in the plan as well as the schemes of work for teaching and learning. This would involve an action plan to advance the status of Irish in the school to raise student expectations in the subject. This approach would equate with building extensively on the very valuable efforts made during Irish Language Week (Seachtain na Gaeilge) to present a positive image to the subject. A frank account of these matters and of the current status of the subject should be included at the beginning of the plan. A balanced analysis of student participation and achievement rates in Irish in the certificate examinations, as discussed at the post-evaluation meeting, would provide a very useful indicator. When this work has been completed it would be beneficial to ask for support from parents with the development plan. It would also be helpful to provide principals of the primary feeder schools with details of the development plan and publicise Inver College’s objectives for raising academic standards in Irish. It would be well worth considering including an award for students who make the best efforts in the different Irish classes as part of the awards system in the school.
Good schemes of work for all levels in each year group form a central part of the subject plan. Included are: objectives, teaching and assessment methodologies as well as syllabus topics. All plans make good provision for practising oral Irish. This is commended. It is to be noted that more emphasis is placed on the examination paper in the plans according as they move towards the examination years. It is recommended that a focus be maintained on the syllabus objectives also. The plan for Transition Year is good and contains appropriate references to new learning material which reflects very well the learning objectives of this programme. Attention should be directed to differentiated learning which is essential in the context of the very wide range of mixed ability which exists within the one Irish class in TY. The best improvement recommended for the schemes of work is that learning targets be set out in a gradual manner under the four language skills. It would be good to present this to the students themselves in a manner that is easily read and understood. They would then better understand the continuity of learning from the revised primary curriculum for Irish to the Leaving Certificate higher level. Helpful guidelines are available in the publication European Languages Portfolio which is accessible on the Trinity College website (www.tcd.ie/slscs/clcs). The learning objectives are clearly stated for the JCSP class in the Irish scheme which is included in the subject plan along with constructive guidelines.
Given that the teachers of Irish relate well to each other it is recommended that they would seek to encourage even greater levels of collaboration among them. During the evaluation visit mention was made to the inspector of a new energy and desire to try new teaching methodologies which was evident in the case of one teacher with wide experience of teaching the subject and which arose from the school based course on ICT resources given by the SLSS in 2008. These skills are being developed since then and were to be seen in use in the lessons observed. The preparation and use of ICT resources would be most productive as a theme when teachers are working together jointly. As part of their collaborative planning it is recommended that they would exploit opportunities to visit each other’s classrooms to observe aspects of colleagues’ teaching. Later on collaborative planning meetings could include discussion on teaching methodologies. Another possible option is to take two classes together, at pre-arranged times, in order to practise certain aspects of language skills together. This suggestion was well received at the post-evaluation meeting and it is recommended that teachers would attempt this approach. Team teaching should be attempted in a phased manner. The work needs to be very well planned with students in advance. It would be most beneficial to review and discuss these items at subject planning meetings. Minutes of meetings do not reflect this as a subject of discussion currently.
Good competence in teaching was evident in all the lessons observed. Students receive very good examples from their teachers with regard to spoken Irish and a common approach to lesson and classroom management is obvious among teachers. Teachers demonstrate a good understanding of the ability levels of their students and effective efforts are made to encourage student involvement in learning activities through excellent lesson planning. Teachers have a lively approach in all their dialogue with students and appropriate use is made of humour to support the learning atmosphere. Students were cooperative and participated successfully in the learning process. A good atmosphere obtained in every lesson observed as regards interaction between teachers and students.
An honest self-evaluation of their own teaching methodologies is evident in the qualities displayed by certain members of the Irish department. This evaluation was shared with the inspector and included a frank account given by a teacher of the efforts made since the beginning of the year with one particularly challenging senior cycle class with a view to improving their learning and their behaviour. Some of the efforts were successful and some not so. This same teacher decided to discontinue using the prescribed textbook and to design materials for the class instead because the content of the textbook did not stimulate the interests of the students. The teacher is to be commended for making such a decision. This class was visited by the inspector during the evaluation process. Teaching and learning were successfully accomplished throughout the lesson period and lesson activities displayed mutual respect between teacher and students. It is instructive to recall here the recommendations previously made about including discussion of teaching methods which were and were not successful in the collaborative planning process. Advice and support from colleagues would greatly add to the morale and self-confidence of teachers during a review of their classroom practice.
A total of seven lessons were observed in the course of the evaluation visit. Four of these classes were in junior cycle and three in senior cycle. The visits involved all the teachers of Irish and all levels taught in the school. Individual teacher planning for lessons closely reflects the subject plan and a common teaching course is being followed at the different levels in the subject, an approach which is to be commended. This approach is most frequent at ordinary level because none of the years has a second higher level class as yet. Teachers state that they work collaboratively when preparing lessons. This practice is an excellent sign of the openness and the co-operation among them.
Teachers spoke in Irish during lessons for the most part of the time. In certain cases there was a tendency to check student understanding of lesson content by seeking translation to English. It s recommended that teachers be vigilant of this practice or students will be mentally translating, rather than being immersed in, the language. Misunderstanding and gaps in understanding are both normal elements of learning a language. It is not necessary to understand or to have each and every word explained. In the TY lesson appropriate focus was placed on understanding the keywords in an item of a weather forecast from TG4. This was helpful in presenting students with a learning objective that was achievable. Efforts were not made to explain every word and students were asked to recognise only the keywords. This work was well done.
Lesson objectives were shared with students at the beginning of classes and were referred to from time to time during the lesson. Variation in learning activities was provided for within the planning for, and the execution of, lessons. Group and pair work were used in many lessons. Central to each lesson was the good use ICT resources – a methodology which introduced further stimulus and variety into the lessons. In some lessons high-quality photographs were used in such a way as to suggest that they were taken specifically for that lesson. This was not the case rather the teacher had made an excellent selection of photos from the internet. Particular commendation is merited in one junior cycle class group observed where all the language skills were effectively integrated in one lesson. The lesson content had a specific theme and this same theme was repeated in the listening comprehension item used in the lesson. In this ordinary level lesson it was evident that students had experience of using the dictionary as a resource from the way in which they responded to a question from the inspector with the help of the dictionary which was hurriedly consulted without prompting.
This latter example is an illustration of independent learning. All in all such examples were quite limited and learning was very dependent on teacher guidance and explanation. Teachers preformed these duties very well and learning, based on lesson content, was evident in all lessons.
This meant that teachers were successful in putting across to their students the content they presented in class. It is recommended that teachers be vigilant of the amount of their input into explaining new material. In one particular senior cycle higher level class too much of the work was done by the teacher. Well chosen questions were posed to students on a poem which was read with them in class. However, it was the teacher who gave most of the answers and the best answers. It is certain that this exercise increased student understanding of the content however, independent thinking must also be fostered in learners. It is also recommended that teachers ensure that appropriate challenging work is set for those students who have good ability in the language. In dialogue with students in one of the lessons the inspector learned that one of the students had attended an all-Irish primary school. Teachers must build on the standard of these students also and must not assume that they have acquired the language.
The efforts being made to further promote speaking in Irish with students in the lessons are commended. This approach closely reflects what is stated in the schemes of work and is to be commended. It is recommended that conversation, based on major news topics and on everyday events, be included regularly in lessons even from the beginning of first year. This is challenging work however it is appropriate work which, when successfully accomplished, would give satisfaction to both the teacher and to the learner. Conversations based on such topics offer great advantages for the development of language acquisition. The focus should be on topics of interest to the students and teachers are very aware of what these areas are for their own students. There is a considerable amount of materials from which teachers can draw, in particular from the first class ICT resources that are always to hand in the classroom combined with the excellent ICT skills of the teachers. Short video clips of good standard, taken from sources such as You Tube, could be used as a stimulus for this form of work or good quality photographs from the internet could be easily shown, as was observed in some cases. The most important element is that oral Irish be practised and the ICT resources may be used as support and for motivation without undue intrusion on the objective of speaking Irish. Challenging work such as this was absent, for the most part, in the lessons observed and it deserves to be undertaken on a more regular basis. Both enjoyment and benefit could be derived from making progress in discussing the major topics of the day.
Good attention is paid to assessing language skills however the assessments being carried out on spoken Irish should be extended. All the schemes of work contain good guidelines for, and a useful account of, assessment measures. The guidelines relate to homework, class and house examinations. Continuous assessment is carried out through questioning in class and through monitoring of homework. Proof of this was evident in the classroom practice in the lessons observed. Teachers maintain good records of the assessments carried out on student progress in Irish in their own classes. Information on student progress is shared at planning meetings in order to keep an eye on the level appropriate to particular students. Primarily, this monitoring concerns students who are borderline higher level and where there may be a question of moving to ordinary level. It is recommended that the greatest possible number of students be encouraged to undertake higher level and to continue with it, especially in junior cycle.
Schemes of work contain continuous assessment of student participation in class work in relation to understanding and communication. This approach is very good and is wholly in accordance with the new recognition which will be awarded to candidates in the certificate examinations for their ability in speaking Irish set out by CL 0042/2007. However, the house examinations planned for Christmas 2010 for mixed-ability classes in first year do not include as yet assessment of oral Irish, even though continuous assessment is stated in the schemes of work. Students should be given information early on in the term about the type of assessment to be carried out in the house examinations. They should have a good understanding of the allocation of the marks which will be awarded in these house examinations to their ongoing efforts to speak the language in class. Even though this assessment may be included retrospectively, they should still be given the information in advance.
The same situation applies to students taking the Junior Certificate. Minutes of planning meetings record discussions of the benefit of having students enter the optional oral examination from the year 2010 onwards when forty per cent of the marks will be awarded to competence in speaking Irish. However no decision has been made about this matter as yet. A definite decision should be made. Recognition should be given for ability in the spoken language in the house examinations for all year groups as is currently done formally with oral examinations in senior cycle. It is recommended that the school adhere to the assessment measure detailed in the schemes of work for junior cycle rather than arranging individual oral examinations. It is also recommended that the class practice of regular oral work be adhered to, as previously recommended in this report, regardless of whatever decision is taken regarding having students enter for the optional oral examination in the Junior Certificate. If this is put into practice students will be well able for future oral examinations, be that the optional oral test in the Junior Certificate or the integrated oral examination as in the Leaving Certificate.
A significant number of student copybooks and folders were inspected in the different classes observed. From the comprehensive amount of work shown in all copybooks since the beginning of the year it is evident that homework is regularly assigned and corrected. The work was neat and tidy. Teacher recognition of students’ work was evident in the copybooks and these were signed and dated by the teacher in most cases. Commendations from teachers on the quality of the work presented were included in appropriate places. In some classes students had individual folders which were well maintained. In one case the good practice of showing the folder to parents at the parent-teacher meetings obtained and it is clear that students are proud of their folders. Recognition could be given for the standard of the work in copybooks, especially in junior cycle classes, where a common allocation of marks could be awarded for this work in the house examinations. In the case of the folders of senior students at higher level it was noted that composition work consists almost entirely of exemplars which teachers provide with a great deal of effort and dedication. In relation to the accuracy of the written word, the students’ own work showed that they face considerable challenge in achieving Leaving Certificate higher level standard in Irish. Both students and teachers are to be commended for their efforts in aiming at this standard.
As part of the action plan to raise the standard of achievement in Irish in Inver College it would be worthwhile considering an assessment of the standard of Irish of incoming students from the feeder primary schools, an assessment which is not done at present. The primary schools should be informed in advance about this step and the objective behind it and the school should welcome the cooperation of the primary schools in developing an appropriate assessment test which would closely reflect the learning objectives of the primary school Irish curriculum. Oral Irish should be included as part of this assessment. Later on the results of the assessment should be shared with the primary principals. This recommendation is made in the interests of cooperation so as to foster improvements in Irish in collaboration with the primary school teachers.
A deeper analysis, other than that which is recorded in the subject plan, should be carried out on statistics of student participation in the certificate examinations in comparison with the national norms. Statistics on student achievement should also be included. These will provide valuable reference points. The availability of such statistics is a matter for all the teachers of Irish and for the whole school in general. From an inspection of these statistics for the five year period from 2004 to 2009 it is clear that it is time for improvements to be achieved. An important step in this work is attracting more students and their parents to Inver College as a centre of education which motivates high expectations in Irish and promises high achievement as a reward. It is a finding of this subject inspection report that the teachers of Irish are entirely capable of fulfilling this potential.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was 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 2010