An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Crescent College, Comprehensive S.J.
Roll number: 81014R
Date of inspection: 22 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report was written following a subject inspection, as part of a whole-school-evaluation (WSE), in the Crescent Comprehensive College, Limerick. It presents the findings of the evaluation of the quality of the 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 in which the inspector visited the classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, examined the students’ work and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed the school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector gave oral feedback of the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, and to the subject teachers.
The teaching and learning of Irish is well supported in the timetable insofar as most of the students have daily contact with the target language. In first year and in Transition Year (TY), the arrangement of year groups is done according to mixed-ability. The students are streamed at the end of first year based on a common test and all other year groups are organised according to the State examination level. The lessons are concurrent from second year to Leaving Certificate. The students are allowed to change from one level to another more suitable level, if they discuss this change with the subject teachers and also if their parents or guardians sign a change-of-level form. The management tries to ensure continuity by assigning the same teacher to the students for the duration of a cycle. It is commended that the most of teachers teach the two cycles and to the levels required for the examinations, thus ensuring that the majority of the department would have the requisite experience of teaching the subject from the first year to the Leaving Certificate.
Strong links have been forged with the learning support staff, and three pupils are getting extra support in Irish this year. The school is strongly commended for this holistic approach.
The teachers who are dealing with the teaching and learning of Irish are all graduates of the subject. It is appreciated that there is a mentoring scheme in place for newly-appointed teachers. The management gives every encouragement and support to the department for attending courses in ongoing professional development. Representatives of the department attended inservice courses run by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish in the past few years, and it has been decided that other representatives from the department will attend these courses next year. One of the teachers was a facilitator with the SLSS on the inservice days, which were held in 2006, on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. This teacher has also given a talk on the integration of ICT in teaching to the whole staff in the school. It is commendable that the staff members are sharing their knowledge and skills with each other.
The majority of the teachers are classroom-based. The department has accumulated a sizeable amount of teaching and learning resources. One of the teachers has developed ICT resources as well as the information management system ‘Moodle’. These resources are to be found at www.folum.com. It is reported that the library is used as a support for the learning of Irish. The Irish department is highly praised for the professional co-operation and for the innovative approach in supplying resources and aids for students. The site www.cogg.ie is listed as a reference point for the procurement of further teaching and learning resources for post-primary students. The teachers endeavour to enrich the students’ experiences of the language outside the classroom. The students take part in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities; quizzes, Seachtain na Gaeilge, guest speakers come to the school, and the students also attend plays organised in the locality. These activities are praiseworthy. It is recommended that the Conradh na Gaeilge website www.snag.ie would help develop further projects such as Seachtain na Gaeilge.
The Irish staff meets formally once each team. Minutes of these meetings are being maintained and they form part of the planning for Irish. Among the items discussed are; streaming of pupils for the various examination levels, resources that support the teaching and learning of the language, choice of textbooks, the programme for TY, arrangements for examinations and cross-curricular and extra-curricular activities for the subject. As well as formal planning, the teachers meet informally on a regular basis. The staff is commended for this cooperative approach. The department has appointed a coordinator and this role is rotated annually, in line with good practice. It is recommended that an action plan for Irish be discussed at the meetings held once a term. It would be desirable to devise practical steps to achieve the agreed priorities of the department in a manner that is shared across all department members.
Good progress has been made in various aspects of subject planning. The aims of the subject have been articulated in terms of learning objectives for the students. This practice is to be applauded because it provides a framework for teaching, learning and assessment. It is recommended that these learning objectives would be used as performance indicators to facilitate a review of success in achieving these objectives. Cross-curricular planning has been done with other languages with regard to handwriting, literary concepts, creative writing and reading ability. Solid links have been forged with the support team. The planning documentation recognises the necessity for differentiating the content of the learning, the learning process, as well as the formative task across the range of ability levels among the students. At the moment the discussion of such differentiation strategies is being conducted on an informal basis. It is recommended that differentiation techniques form part of formal planning in the future to take into account in a more strategic manner the language background of the students, in particular students from feeder Gaelscoileanna.
Long-term plans have been developed for all the year-groups. It is recommended that this good work be developed by devising short-term plans for the various year-groups and at the different examination levels. It is recommended that the templates for the short-term planning, made available to the inspector, be used as a guide in this development. One of the best aspects of these short-term planning templates was the integrated planning that was done for the teaching of the topics. The details that were given on methodologies, resources, as well as methods of assessment within certain time-frames, are praiseworthy.
A comprehensive plan for Transition Year (TY) has been developed, especially in the areas of teaching and learning methodologies, as well as evaluation tools for students, parents or guardians. Congratulations are merited for the practice of allowing the students and their parents to present their opinions on the programme of study to the Irish department. Groups of students prepare Irish lessons for the first year students under the guidance of the teacher. The teachers teach these lessons with help from the appropriate groups. This practice is highly commended. At the moment, however, there is an overemphasis in the TY curriculum plan on themes completed by the students for the Junior Certificate as well as some which will form part of the syllabus for the Leaving Certificate. It is recommended therefore that the programme for the TY be expanded to give the students new learning experiences as is recommended in document The Programme for the Transition Year, Guidelines for Schools. It is recommended that a learning diary be kept as part of the development of the Irish programme, the particulars for which are to be found at www.europeanlanguageportfolio.ie
Short-term planning for all the lessons that were observed during the inspection was of a high standard. As a result of this, all of the lessons were well-structured and the majority of them were suitably paced. The teaching and learning resources prepared by each teacher were of a high standard; worksheets, Power point presentations, slides for the overhead projector, audio and visual texts and authentic language games using ICT. The teachers are praised for their professional approach towards short-term planning.
The Irish language was the medium of all classroom interaction. This is a good approach as often the teacher is the only exemplar of precise pronunciation and correct usage that the students may have. Overall the students had a high standard of Irish, as well as a good understanding of the subject, and they partook willingly in speaking the language when they were given the opportunity. All teachers graded their vocabulary, and gave synonyms and antonyms to help explain the meaning. There was limited use of the translational method by teachers as a result of this good practice. The teachers directed the pupils’ attention to points of grammar in a communicative context rather than as isolated points in themselves. Some of the teachers directed the pupils’ attention to points of grammar as they arose during the lesson. The teacher related new vocabulary to previously learned vocabulary. For one lesson, the teacher had chosen to focus on one targeted grammatical point. The teacher returned to this point again and again during the lesson. This teaching and learning technique is commended for the teaching of grammar and it would be advisable to use it more widely. The students had not acquired classroom language, phrases like; ‘What is the Irish for that?’ ‘What does that mean? ‘I do not understand.’ ‘I did not get that answer.’ and ‘Do you agree with that answer?’ It is advisable to think about what kind of vocabulary each year group needs for questioning, completing lessons, making requests, and for demonstrating their difficulties in the target language during the Irish lessons. This specific vocabulary could be written on charts and hung on the wall of the room and changed each term. In this way, all year groups could learn a range of useful vocabulary each year. This kind of presentation will add to the physical learning environment in the base classrooms to which most of the Irish teachers have access.
The majority of the teachers used the white board and PowerPoint in a systematic way to record the key vocabulary of the lessons and to illustrate the structure of the lesson. This good practice can act as a model for students to organise their own thoughts as they prepare for a written task, and the practice and clarity of such a visual summary helps weaker students in particular.
The teachers all had effective classroom management skills. There was a supportive and positive learning atmosphere in the classes observed during the inspection. There were high expectations for learning in most of the classes observed and good behaviour and discipline were being promoted continuously. The teachers knew their students well and this added to the interaction in class. It was evident that the teachers and the students had respect for each other. The students were always praised and positively reinforced for the standard of their answering.
In the majority of the classes very good teaching and learning techniques were observed during the inspection. One of the merits of the teaching and the learning was the thematic integration done by the teachers with regard to the four language skills as laid out in the syllabus. Noteworthy were the excerpts from audio-tapes or from television as well as worksheets, pre-prepared by the teachers. The teachers are to be commended for this approach in their lessons, as it not only provides variety in the lessons, but provides for the range of learning styles as well as acknowledging the interdependent mutually reinforcing relationship that exists between the skills in the acquisition of language. In most of the lessons the teachers served the individual needs of the students as they performed a listening task. It is recommended that instead of the teacher staying at the top of the classroom, this practice be used more widely.
The majority of the teachers did thorough preparation when starting a skill or a new aspect of the course for the first time. This preparation ensured that the vocabulary was adapted to the range of abilities in the year-groups. This practice is commended. In lessons in which the pupils were asked to read aloud, the same necessary pre-reading preparation was not done on the vocabulary or pronunciation. As a result, the students were reading without fully understanding the meaning of the piece of text and some students had difficulties with the pronunciation of the word(s). It is recommended that this practice be reviewed in order to ensure that the reading task does not have a negative effect on the learner’s motivational level.
Many of the classes used group-work to good effect during the inspection. The pairs worked well during the lessons where the criteria for the task had been explained beforehand. It is commended that in lessons where oral skills were being practised that a spoken frame was provided on a work sheet or as part of a PowerPoint presentation for the groups who required it, to enable them to complete the task. In general, the time allocated was sufficient for the task to be completed. The majority of the teachers catered for the needs of the pairs or groups as they circled from group to group giving hints to the students and scaffolding the learning. Once again, the teachers who use this opportunity to get an overview of the students’ learning as they complete the task are to be highly commended. It is suggested, that to bring this good group-work one step further, some groups should get the chance to show the whole class the results of their learning. It is very worthwhile to record the findings of the spokesperson in each group as a record of the valuable work done in the group and of their achievements.
In some classes questioning techniques were used as a principal methodology for teaching and learning and many questions were asked which elicited participation in the lessons. It is suggested that in order to complement the interaction between teachers and pupils that communicative situations be created for the students, so that they get an opportunity to practise their productive as well as their receptive skills.
The integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Irish was exemplary. Excellent authentic language games, in which there were images from the students’ locality or which pertained to the life of the school, were developed for the lessons. Vocabulary and phrases were being taught during these games. For whole-class work, the interactive white board, through which the teacher presented the vocabulary and images with an emphasis on the pronunciation, on the spelling and on accuracy, was used in an effective, innovative way. This vocabulary was reinforced through group-work. The lessons ended with an individual test using ‘Activote.’ The students were wholly engaged with the game and the results of the learning just completed were immediately displayed on the interactive white board. It was reported that the vocabulary test is done again after a certain amount of time and that there is the same level of achievement. It is suggested that class time should be spent on the students’ errors between the two tests in order to raise the level of achievement of the pupils to whom the learning vocabulary does not come easily. It is recommended that this technique of teaching and learning be extended to other members of staff as well as the delivery of other aspects of the syllabuses.
The usual arrangements are in place for summative assessment. Listening tests form part of these examinations. The Leaving Certificate students undergo a mock oral-examination as part of the tests arranged in spring. The teachers are highly commended for this development. It is also recommended that a test of the students’ oral fluency form part of a test in language proficiency from the first year onwards, as was suggested in the Irish report completed in 2005. It is also advisable to emphasise all the language skills in the reports sent home. The students are regularly assessed and the teachers keep a record of the results in their diaries. The students are required to get a signature from their parents or guardians on these tests as well as completing the corrections of their errors.
A homework diary is used by all the students in the school. A random sample of the diaries that were reviewed showed that homework was regularly given and that in some cases there was sufficient variety in the homework task. This approach is laudable and is recommended to be used by all department members instead of an over reliance on writing and learning by rote. The homework was being recorded in Irish, or bilingually, in some of the diaries. The teachers are to be commended for using the recording of the homework as a source for teaching and learning. A sample of the diaries showed that one aspect of the syllabus is set as homework over a period of time. It is recommended that this practice is reviewed in order to avoid the tedium associated with the same homework exercise day after day.
The copybooks and folders showed that a good level of work was being done in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. Overall the students’ work was being corrected regularly and developmentally as is beneficial for learning. Corrections were being directed at specific mistakes in some copies. This practice is good as it avoids too many corrections, as overcorrection might have an adverse affect on the motivational level of the student. It was reported that correction was being used as a tool for diagnostic assessment and that the students do their correction under the guidance of the teacher. This is commended as it ensures that the students have more responsibility in the process of their own correction, which might not happen if the teachers did all the correction for the students. These exemplars of good practice should be shared with all Irish teachers. The Irish plan contains the department’s procedures for corrections. Staff members are congratulated for their initiative and it is recommended that these procedures are developed as part of an action plan for the subject.
Some of the teachers foster organisational skills through the recording of the learning by systematically keeping different parts of the courses in separate areas of the copybooks, or in folders, from first year onwards. This practice is good and teachers are to be praised for fostering these organisation skills in the students under their care.
· Good provision is made for the teaching and learning of Irish in the timetable.
· The Irish teaching team is praised for the professional co-operation in the development of resources and the level of their own continuing research ability.
· Aspects of planning for the language were of a very high standard.
· Short-term planning and preparation was of a very high standard among all the teachers.
· A high standard of teaching and learning methodologies was employed in the majority of the classes observed during the inspection, in terms of the use of an integrated approach and the synthesis
of ICT in particular.
· There were high expectations of the learning and behaviour in the majority of the classes.
· The school has in place some good arrangements for homework and for assessment, which recognise the importance of all the language skills.
· Some teachers used good correction procedures as part of their overall practice.
The following recommendations are made, in order to build on these strengths and to address areas for further development:
· It is recommended that a planning process be further developed for Irish and that the above recommendations be incorporated into that development.
· It is recommended that more widespread use be made of the effective methodologies already in use in the department.
· It is recommended that a balance is maintained among the four language skills in the homework, the assessment and in the reports sent home for all the students of the school.
· It is suggested that correction procedures be devoloped as part of an action plan for the subject.
Post-inspection meetings were arranged with the Irish teachers and with the principal, where the draft findings and recommendations were presented and discussed.
Published June 2009