†An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Irish
Oaklands Community College
Edenderry, County Offaly
Roll number: 72540O
Date of inspection: 22 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Oaklands Community College. 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the deputy principal.
Oaklands Community College is a participant in the scheme Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS).
The management and teachers are to be commended on the good level of provision and support made available for the language as part of the school curriculum, and on the work engaged in to raise studentsí expectations as regards Irish. The Irish teaching team consists of two qualified teachers and their competence in oral Irish is satisfactory for the purpose of teaching.
Up until recently, it was customary in first year to allocate students to streamed classes. It is acknowledged that the senior management is engaged in reconsidering this approach to allocating students to classes in first year. This year, there are three class groups in first year and, as a step towards the creation of mixed-ability classes, it was decided to assign students of highest ability to one class and to allocate the remaining students to two mixed-ability classes. It is recommended that the management continue to monitor the manner in which students are allocated to classes and that cognisance be taken of the benefit which would accrue to every student from being in a mixed-ability class drawn from the overall total of students in the year group, for the duration of first year at least. The other year groups are divided into classes on the basis of ability. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that students in a particular class group would undertake the examinations at different levels. The management is commended on timetabling classes concurrently, where possible, particularly when students are approaching the certificate examinations, as this facilitates access to the class which best meets their needs. †††††††
This year, arising from the new arrangement being implemented in first year, the students participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) have been allocated along with their peers to two mixed-ability classes. In the case of second year and third year, the students pursuing the JCSP are in discrete classes. It is recommended, in keeping with the principles of the programme, that this type of organisational system be reconsidered with a view to ensuring that these students be given access to the subject at the highest level commensurate with their abilities in each year of the cycle.
The time allocation available for Irish in senior cycle, and in the top classes in first year and third year, is satisfactory. The management should consider again the benefit which would accrue to each student from having additional contact with the language in at least one year of the junior cycle. In a small number of instances, the timetable indicates that certain students attend more than one Irish lesson per day. It is recommended that management avoid timetabling arrangements such as double classes, or more than one period of Irish per day, as students will derive more benefit from having regular inputs available to them throughout the week.
Twenty-five per cent of the schoolís total enrolment is exempt from the study of Irish at second level. This percentage is high in the national context. It was reported that half of these are students who came to the school with neither English nor Irish and that the majority of the remainder are students with special educational needs. In addition, it was reported that a small number of students come from feeder schools each year carrying an Ďunofficialí exemption. It is acknowledged that the management appreciates how important it is that the primary school authorities would have a clear understanding of second-level requirements regarding Irish, and they are complimented on the steps they are taking to deal with this issue.
Each teacher has an assigned classroom and there is a very good supply of teaching aids and resources available. These include equipment based on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) such as computer rooms, a laptop computer and a data projector which is permanently located in one of the rooms. It is understood that a second data projector will shortly be made available in another one of the classrooms used for Irish. With the support of management, the teachers participate in opportunities for professional development, including such provision as is made on a whole school basis and the workshops of the Second Level Support Service for Irish. Among the areas in which teachers have received inputs on a whole- school basis in recent years are assessment for learning, differentiation, and teaching and learning strategies. These areas are to be commended as they can be used as supports for the promotion of good practice in teaching and learning in the classroom.
Consultations with other subject departments take place when events are being organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week). The teachers and the management are commended on providing opportunities for the students to broaden their experience of the language and culture beyond the confines of formal classes.††††
Very good progress has been made in the development of a comprehensive plan for Irish. The work of the Irish department is well organised and the teachers hold both formal and informal meetings. The management, in collaboration with the teachers, sets out the agenda for the formal meetings, and minutes are kept. Evidence of this was available in the subject plan. The teachers in their turn adopt the role of co-ordinator, each for a two-year period. A period as co-ordinator such as this is to be commended, as it provides an opportunity for identifying, agreeing, and achieving particular targets. Based on the inputs received by teachers on teaching and learning practices, and on the good practices observed in the course of the evaluation, it is recommended that methodologies and teaching strategies be included regularly in the agenda items for meetings, with a view to sharing good practices and to extending their implementation. As an element of this, peer observation by teachers would also be worthwhile.
It is apparent that the template in use for subject planning is gradually being developed, as part of the planning process. The teachers are deserving of particular praise for this work, as it shows that they consider the expected learning outcomes as is indicated in the subject plans for first year and fifth, for example. This template could be enhanced further by laying out additional columns to include material already set out in the plan itself, such as assessment modes and the methodologies and teaching and learning strategies to be employed to facilitate the effective attainment of the learning objectives. There is evidence also of planning for differentiation, for the assessment of studentsí oral competence in Irish and for the teaching of grammar. In addition, specific planning has been carried out for key words in Irish which could be used in other classes as part of the whole-school policy as regards literacy across the curriculum. The teachers are highly commended on these aspects of the work. The aims set down in the plan are based on those listed in the syllabuses. However, these aims should be more closely aligned to the school itself and to the needs of its students.
The management and a member of the Irish teaching staff are working, in collaboration with a teacher from one of the feeder primary schools, on developing a school-transfer examination for Irish. They are highly commended for consulting primary schools when developing this examination, particularly in light of the importance of basing the examination on studentsí learning in Curaclam na Bunscoile: Gaeilge. It should be kept in mind, in designing the examination, that there is an emphasis in primary schools on fostering the four main language skills, as there is at second level. The examination results should be included in the plan and used to inform subject planning for first year.
It was indicated that the subject plan is reviewed at the beginning and the end of each school year. This is commendable and it should be kept in mind that it is a working document and that any monitoring or amendments made to the plans for the various year groups during the year should be noted in them.
The quality of planning and preparation undertaken for the lessons observed was good. Particular praise is due in one case where specific planning and preparation were made for the differentiation of the class content and homework. An appropriate range of resources was used in the presentation of the content in classes. Resources devised or adapted by the teachers themselves for their classes merit particular praise. In order to accord with subject planning, it is recommended that in particular cases a greater emphasis be placed on the language functions when individual lessons are being planned.†
The teaching and learning of Irish in Oaklands Community College was of good quality. The aims of the lessons were outlined for the students and were written on the white board in more than half the classes. This is a commendable practice as it helps to enhance the students understanding of their own learning. In keeping with the work to be completed on the subject plan for various year groups, it is recommended that this practice be developed further in order that the expected learning outcomes are shared with the students. With this in mind, use should be made of a wording which would convey what the students would be able to do at the end of a lesson. It would be worthwhile listing on the white board also the tasks which they would be required to do and, at the end of a lesson, taking a few moments to ask the students to reflect on their learning. With the assistance of technology and the teaching aids available, the prepared resources were skilfully integrated with the content in order to support learning in most classes.
An appropriate range of methodologies and of learning and teaching strategies was used in most classes. Reflecting planning for the subject, a number of very good examples of differentiation of class content and of homework were observed. In these cases, a common input was first presented to the class as a whole, but then tasks at varying levels of difficulty, based on the same theme, were assigned for completion by the students in order to consolidate learning.††
While a variety of tasks was assigned for completion by the students in all classes, their effectiveness varied widely as regards supporting progress in learning. In one instance, for example, there were too many tasks based on the same subject matter as the homework arising from their previous lesson, and on a very narrow range of skills. In a number of cases, the good planning done for tasks supported the effective integration of the cultivation of language skills and responded to the different learning styles of students. It is recommended that this practice be extended. A number of very effective examples were observed of speaking and writing skills in Irish being linked by means of the comprehensive discussion of a topic, the use of pictures as stimuli and establishing links with the studentsí personal experiences. Praise is merited also for the way in which the studentsí own experiences were drawn on in relation to a topic being prepared for a writing task, in order to elicit vocabulary and idiomatic expressions from them and to assist them to understand new material. This strategy helped to create a realistic context for the task.
Questioning was used effectively in a small number of the classes observed. In these cases, an appropriate range of questions was used to collect information and to create a learning challenge for students. In one instance, commendation is due for the use of a strategy such as distributing white boards among the students so that they might record their answers to questions. This succeeded in creating a commendable level of active participation by students. Great praise is merited in those cases in which the students were given opportunities to question one another, by means of paired work for example, or of questioning the teacher.
In some classes, the use of the target language as the language of instruction and communication was very good. In other instances, however, there was too much dependence on translation into English in order to explain words or phrases to students, or to check their understanding of them. The good practices observed, such as linking the subject matter to the studentsí experiences or previous learning, miming or using alternative words, would have been far more effective. Particular praise is due in those cases where attention was paid to the studentsí pronunciation while reading extracts, where opportunities for using the copula were created for the students, where the studentsí vocabulary was enriched and where they demonstrated that they could expand their answers and, for example, use alternative words to express the same idea. This work is commendable due to the importance of developing their language awareness. It is recommended that it should be taken into account in the subject planning for first year and that use should be made of listening texts and reading texts in support of the work. The emphasis placed on studentsí oral skills in Irish in some classes should be extended to all classes so that more of the target language would be heard from the students themselves.
Most students applied themselves very diligently to the work and showed that they were very willing to engage with their own learning. The classroom environment was bright and attractive, thus enhancing the creation of an atmosphere which was supportive of learning. The students were generously praised for their efforts. The work was well paced in most of the classes. However, in a minority of instances, it is recommended that the class contact time available be used more effectively in order to advance studentsí learning, and that it be ensured that they would always be presented with new learning material.
The teachers implement the schoolís homework policy. Homework was checked and assigned in all the classes. This is a good practice which assists the students to consolidate their learning and to develop their skills as independent learners. Particular praise is due in those cases where the homework was differentiated in order to meet the needs of students. This differentiation was largely based on the levels at which they would be taking the subject in the state examinations. There is scope for the further development of differentiation, apart from examination levels. The sample of studentsí copybooks and folders reviewed indicated that their work is corrected regularly. This is a praiseworthy practice and particular praise is due for those corrections which gave evidence of assessment for learning. Considering that different language skills are to be developed, it must be remembered that homework does not need to be based on written tasks nor on vocabulary learning only.
As regards the assessment of language learning, those instances where all the language skills are included in the assessment represent best practice. It is recommended that this practice be extended. For example, a certain percentage of the overall marks available in the in-house examinations could be awarded for the studentsí ability to speak Irish, and their attainments in respect of this skill could be recorded separately on the school reports. Continuous assessment of the studentsí work is carried out in first year and in this case reports are sent home four times per year. This is commendable.
As is indicated by the studentsí attainments in Irish in the state examinations over a period of years, only a minority of students take higher level in the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate examinations. As part of the work undertaken to raise the expectations of students, the management has begun to analyse the attainments of students in the state examinations and to share the outcomes of that analysis with the teachers. This work is commendable, but it is the teachers themselves who should be carrying out this analysis and providing feedback for the management. As part of this process, with the assistance of their planning work and the records they have kept, the teachers should reflect on the most productive methodologies and teaching and learning strategies implemented in supporting the students in the examinations. Teachers should also analyse the attainments of students in the in-house examinations. It is recommended that the outcomes of the analyses completed on the in-house and state examinations be used as a source of reference for planning and for monitoring the implementation of the plan during the school year.
The teachers keep very detailed records of the studentsí attainments, and reports are regularly issued to parents by means of the studentsí journals, school reports and parent-teacher meetings.††††††
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 principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010