An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Blackwater Community School
Lismore, County Waterford
Roll number: 91509E
Date of inspection: 28-29 November 2007
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Blackwater Community School. 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, Deputy Principal and the teachers of Irish.
Both girls and boys attend Blackwater Community School and all members of the school community strongly support the promotion of Irish. The school has been in existence for only four years and much has been achieved by the Irish teachers towards consolidating the status of Irish in the life of school. The fact that the senior management of the school are competent in Irish, and are very positively disposed towards the language and to Gaelic culture, has been of undoubted assistance.
The timetable is strongly supportive of Irish in that every learner is guaranteed regular contact with the language. Furthermore, from second to sixth year, the various class groups are scheduled concurrently, so that students can move from one level to another should the need arise.
Most of the teachers of Irish have designated classrooms. There is a computer installed in each of these rooms and a data projector is available on request. There is an emphasis on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) throughout the school and teachers are afforded every opportunity of developing appropriate skills in this area. The school has a library which was being renovated during the evaluation. It was intimated that the school possesses a collection of Irish books but that these are somewhat outdated as reading material for the teenagers of today. It was recommended that the collection of Irish books in the library be expanded to include copies of modern short stories, novels and plays.
Forty-two students have exemptions from the study of Irish. Twenty-eight of these have learning difficulties and the others are newcomer students. It was indicated that the number of students with exemptions from Irish is on the increase. It was therefore recommended that the number of exemptions granted be kept under close review from year to year and that every effort be made to ensure that those who do not study Irish formally are given some degree of contact with Irish language and culture.
Teachers are regularly afforded the opportunity of meeting on a formal basis in order to discuss aspects of their subject. In addition, they meet informally as required. Included among the topics discussed at such meetings are examinations, the banding of students, the assignment of teachers, the choosing of textbooks and extracurricular activities. A copy of the minutes of these meetings is forwarded to school management.
Irish is given a high visibility throughout the school and it is reported that as many opportunities as possible are availed of to have Irish spoken in the school. An Irish language notice board, Clár na bhFógraí Gaeilge, is displayed giving information on various activities relating to Irish, and a conversation group for first-year students is convened at lunchtime. Seachtain na Gaeilge is a major event for the whole school community during which a cultural night and various competitions are organised. It is the practice of some students to go to the Gaeltacht in the summer and, by way of support for this, teachers encourage them to apply for Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) scholarships. A gold medal and a cash prize are presented to the Irish Student of the Year at the annual prize-giving ceremony. All of the teachers are deserving of the highest praise for the time and energy which they expend on promoting the use of Irish in extracurricular activities.
Many initiatives have been taken in the school which confirm the significance of the informal discussions engaged in by teachers regarding ways in which Irish might be advanced, both in class and out of class. The department holds a planning file containing copies of various syllabuses, annual schemes for certain class groups and the minutes of meetings. It was recommended that all the information relating to Irish be recorded in the Irish file, particularly any documentation arising from teachers' deliberations on learning and teaching strategies, for example, the discussions on co-operative teaching, which is, this year, being piloted by them in sixth year. Teachers were advised that notes from training workshops or presentations by guest speakers, and on the discussions which have taken place on such occasions, should be centrally available to all members of the subject team
A desirable outcome of collaborative planning would be the specification of language targets among the objectives set down for the various class groups. In addition, it was recommended that the most effective way of realising these language targets be explored, and that a formal description of the learning experience which resulted from the implementation of the strategies employed be retained.
Another recommendation made was that the Transition Year (TY) plan should be developed by designing a specific programme in which priority is given to the applied, practical use of Irish. Teachers were reminded that it would be advisable to regularly review the attainment of the objectives in the various plans.
It was clear from the documentation provided that certain teachers go to great lengths in respect of individual planning. Many of them have an extensive range of individual notes and the degree to which this methodical planning of sequenced steps influenced the quality of the learning experience was notable, both in relation to activities and the use of resources. The diligence of these teachers was accorded the highest praise. The practice of one teacher of writing a note on the extent to which a lesson had succeeded, the challenges yet to be overcome and the techniques/activities which had been successful, was particularly commended. It was strongly recommended that every teacher should, while planning lessons, give thought to the elements of language which are to be practised during the class and to the activities to be set in train, in order that the students might acquire the language at a level consistent with their abilities.
An atmosphere of courtesy permeated all the classes visited, an indication of the positive relationship fostered by the teachers with the students under their care. A further indication of this positive relationship was the manner in which all students applied themselves, with eagerness and enthusiasm, to the various class activities. The students are deserving of praise for the excellent effort they made to participate in the lessons.
Irish was the language in use in all the lessons observed in that Irish was the medium of instruction. It was apparent that a good number of students were familiar with this practice. They understood the directions of the teacher and many of them were capable of supplying answers in Irish, which were quite comprehensive for their ability range. Much credit is due to those teachers who have succeeded in cultivating such a level of speaking competence in the students under their care. All students should understand that teachers give instructions in Irish only and that they themselves should, likewise, pose questions, seek clarification and furnish answers only in Irish in class, insofar as that is possible. It would be advisable for teachers of Irish to make students aware of this on their entry into first year, as well as ensuring that they have acquired the necessary competence in Irish, early in the school year, to enable them to do this.
Most lessons were effectively presented. It was clear that the majority of teachers had evolved their own methods of presentation and accordingly that the students had become accustomed to their systems of working in class. In one instance, two teachers were working co-operatively in a class where music was being discussed. This is an initiative being piloted this year and it was indicated that the emphasis in these classes is on the students’ oral skills. The degree to which teachers largely succeeded in initiating a range of activities leading to the realisation of the major objectives of lessons was commended. The attention of all teachers was drawn to the overarching importance of specifying the explicit language objectives of a lesson when that lesson is being planned. It was with this in mind that it was recommended that teachers should have specific language objectives in mind for every lesson and that they should make a judgement at the end of each lesson regarding the degree to which these objectives had been attained. That is to say, they should assess the level of acquisition by the students of the language elements being practised.
The Irish classrooms have been decorated with charts displaying students’ work, vocabulary lists, diagrammatic representations of the major themes of literary works, linguistic points and suchlike. High praise was accorded to the teachers' endeavours to create a stimulating learning environment. Teachers were reminded of the benefits of using display charts showing the more common language structures as reference aids while various topics are under discussion.
Among the teaching aids used were work sheets, photographs, brochures, information sheets, reading passages, textbooks, tape recorders, whiteboard, data projector and computers. These resources were effectively exploited in order to present new aspects of language and to stimulate oral practice, opinions and discussion. The use made of ICT had a positive influence on the learning and teaching experience. In one instance, photographs from a website were discussed, and in another, different landscapes were displayed on an interactive board while music evoking the atmosphere of these scenes was played.
On the whole, there was a link between the language being practised and the activities instigated during classes. The activities most frequently engaged in were pair-work and group work. These activities created many opportunities for speaking and for co-operating, as well as consolidating what had been learned in the formal stage of the class. This is a praiseworthy practice. Teachers were reminded that they should assign a specific task to active-learning tasks, so that students are aware of the ancticipated learning outcome. A further suggestion put to them was that they should expand the range of active-learning assignments, by making more use of language games, class surveys, research projects and similar practical assignments.
The subject matter of lessons matched the interest range and experience of the students. Included in the topics discussed were sport, concerts, the rooms of the house and work experience. In the classes where works of literature were under discussion, the ability of students to express their opinions was noteworthy. The acknowledgement by teachers of the ideas and experience of students, while various topics were being explored in class, is commendable. Undoubtedly, this approach greatly enhances their learning experience. It was for this reason that teachers were asked to ensure that all students have acquired the 'tools' necessary for expressing themselves, that is, that they are able to manipulate verbs and speech idioms, as well as acquiring the appropriate vocabulary.
The students' written work was reviewed. In addition to the notes taken in class, they have completed many written exercises which have been corrected by the teachers. Some exercises were typewritten and assembled into projects. In the case of Leaving Certificate students, marks had been awarded so as to give them an insight into the standards being attained. It was recommended that all teachers should require that students correct major language errors and that time should be allocated to this in class, as appropriate.
The school has drawn up an assessment policy which sets out the various systems of evaluation being implemented, in order to measure the progress of students and to keep all parties informed accordingly.
Students are assigned homework on a regular basis and teachers monitor the standard of this work by correcting the exercises and by questioning in class. It is the practice of some teachers to award marks, based on the marking schemes of the state examinations, to the written work of students due to sit the Certificate examinations. It was recommended that this approach be further extended, so that all students due to sit a state examination in June would be aware of the grades which they are achieving throughout the school year.
Continuous assessment constitutes a formal part of the assessment system and thirty per cent of the marks awarded in the main Christmas and summer examinations are allocated for elements such as the effort made in class, homework or project work. This practice is commendable and it was recommended that teachers ensure that a specified percentage of marks are designated for the students' efforts to speak Irish in class. Not only does this ensure that students realise the importance of the development of their oral skills, but it is also an effective method of encouraging the speaking of Irish.
The main examinations are held at Christmas and in summer. The students due to take the state examinations sit preliminary examinations in spring. These examinations are worthwhile as they give students experience of time management, of the layout of examination papers and of the rubrics of the state examinations. In addition to written and aural examinations, the students of fifth and sixth years are given oral examinations, which is a commendable practice. It is the intention of teachers to introduce formal assessment of students’ oral skills in first year and they are at present considering the most effective way of going about this.
Feedback on the progress of students is given to themselves and to their parents in a variety of ways. Reports are sent home four times a year indicating a mark or grade, together with a short note from the teacher. The homework journals of students are used to communicate with teachers and parent-teacher meetings are held once a year.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish, the principal and deputy principal at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2008