An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Maryís Diocesan School
Roll number: 63841E
Date of inspection:†† 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: †21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Maryís Diocesan School 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 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 subject teachers and† principal.
The teachers indicated that the school management allocate a reasonable amount of time for subject meetings in Irish. Time is provided for this four or five times during the year Ė in the initial days of the school year and on other in-service school days organised during the year. In addition to these activities it was reported that the Irish teachers meet on an informal basis at lunch time to discuss matters relating to the subject. Despite the fact that most of the Irish teachers have responsibility for two subjects they were satisfied with the time allocation for joint planning. These arrangements are regarded as satisfactory.
It was indicated that the Irish department had a coordinator as opposed to a head of department and that this duty is undertaken in rotation. A post of responsibility was associated with this duty until recent years. The coordinator has a two year term on a rotation basis. This arrangement amongst the Irish teachers themselves, which ensures that both responsibility and experience are divided evenly among all members of the Irish department, is commended.
There are eight Irish teachers in the school and most of them have a broad experience in teaching the subject at all levels. Attempts are made to ensure continuity for the students and the same teacher is kept for the same class from year to year as much as possible. The principal makes the final decision on the level in the subject for which teachers are responsible in any particular year. That decision takes account of the principalís assessment of the quality of teaching and learning. These arrangements, which are indicative of the principalís interest in instructional leadership, are regarded as transparent, fair, and beneficial to the teaching of the subject in the school.
With regard to attendance at in-service courses in the subject, it was understood that this was mostly restricted to examination matters in that subject association meetings focus on examination issues.† Three of the teachers have relevant experience as advising examiners in the Junior Certificate Irish examination and two as assistant examiners in the oral tests in the Leaving Certificate Irish examination.† Both teachers and management indicated interest in professional development in the subject and two teachers attended a recent workshop on the optional film now on the Leaving Certificate Irish course.
The amount of time allocated to the subject in the school timetable is very satisfactory. This involves five class periods per week in the case of classes in the junior cycle, four periods in the case of Transition Year, and six periods in the case of Leaving Certificate classes. This means that, on average, more than three hours of teaching of Irish is provided per week in the junior cycle, two and a half hours in Transition Year, and three and three quarter hours in the case of Leaving Certificate classes.
In recent years a variation has been implemented in the long-established tradition in the school by which classes were streamed form the start of first year onwards. Two bands are now established in first year containing three classes focussing on higher level and three classes focussing on ordinary level from the first day Ė based on an entrance examination in the subject. These classes are reviewed based on a common examination held before the Halloweíen midterm break. From the start of second year onwards classes are arranged according to the levels provided in certificate examinations.
It is recommended that the current approach by which students are allocated to classes in first year be reconsidered. It is recommended that consideration should be given to trying mixed ability classes in first year. To this end it would be worthwhile initiating a common teaching programme which would concentrate on the speaking of Irish from the first day in order to give students the chance to prove themselves in spoken language acquisition. The current arrangement is regarded as very rigid especially for those students in the second band who only get the opportunity to engage with the subject at ordinary level from the outset.
There was a good provision of resources for the teachers in the teaching of the subject including a portable television, CD players, dictionaries for the teachers, a stock of grammar books for the students. The appearance of the classrooms was to be commended for the material in Irish displayed on the walls, which enhanced the learning atmosphere in the subject. Most of the Irish teachers had classrooms in their care and those rooms were bright, clean and well-decorated with notices in Irish, some dealing with the studentsí own work and some others purchased from the subjectís budget.
It was understood that the school management provides one thousand euro per year as a budget for the subject, a significant sum. It is recommended that consideration be given to setting some of this money aside for the purchase of televisions and DVD players for all classrooms on the understanding that teachers would work together to record and use appropriate programmes in the class. It would also be worth considering inviting visitors to the school to encourage the students, for example drama companies or Irish writers in the Arts Council scheme. It would also be worthwhile gradually compiling a stock of contemporary books in Irish to promote reading. Book catalogues may be obtained directly from publishers or found on websites. It would be worth testing these books with students gradually at first rather than making a large investment at the start.
Though one teacher has a computer in the classroom it was understood from the teachers generally that there was too much demand for the computer rooms from other subjects and that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is for the most part not included in teaching and learning Irish in the school. It is recommended that this issue be reviewed, especially since a broadband internet connection is now available in each classroom, and that an ICT item be agreed for junior classes at first so that students might obtain a taste of the contemporary use of Irish on certain websites.
One of the teachers organises a lunchtime conversation club once a week to promote the speaking of Irish among the students. This initiative is greatly commended.†
The Irish departmentís written plan was presented, relating to the various years in the school. The planning was in accordance with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), a commendable approach, and it is clear that this work is at a developmental stage. It is recommended that an electronic copy be made of this document and a hard copy presented to all members of the Irish department. The planning document contained comprehensive information including the following:
ō the teachers taking the various classes for the current school year 2006-2007
ō the level of each Irish class for the current school year
ō time allocation for all classes
ō the arrangements in place for students to change level in the subject
ō the current arrangements for the teaching of the subject in the school timetable
ō the textbooks and other resources in use for each class in the current school year
ō practices regarding homework and assessment of the studentsí work
ō practices regarding recording of the progress with work in the classes
ō practices regarding reporting of the studentsí progress
Websites relating to Irish were registered among those resources as well as TG4 programmes, Raidiů na Gaeltachta programmes and a visit to the Gaeltacht. These entries were innovative and commendable. In addition to this there was an account of the long-term planning of teaching matter with the various years. This planning work was worthwhile in order to give an overview of the work to be implemented and provided an illustration of the various topics chosen. The account was very much in accordance with the certificate examination requirements, a necessity in itself, and commendable. As against that it would be worth registering the teaching aims and objectives as specified in the Irish syllabi, including specifically the acquisition of spoken Irish.†
A summary was provided of effective teaching methodologies which included speech, reading, playing tapes, playing CDs, playing videos, clear writing on the whiteboard, pair work, individual research, paired conversations, class debates, role play in small plays, placing the studentsí work on display in the classrooms. This was commendable. However it was not clear what was the agreed approach amongst the teachers regarding the implementation of these methodologies or if it was an optional list from which teachers could draw as wished. It would be worth clarifying this much in the plan so that active work among the students would be an integral part of the planning work. It would also be worth including appropriate reference in the planning to the principal language skills and to the necessity of teaching and practising those skills in an integrated manner.
The Transition Year Irish plan was commendable for its novelty. The plan concerned aspects of heritage and culture, placenames, songs, prayers, and creative writing, Irish-language journalism, promoting conversations, and films in Irish.††
The short-term planning done by the various teachers was in keeping with the work implemented with the classes. It would be worth always considering at the start of a class the objective regarding the learner for that particular period and reviewing how reasonable that objective was at the end of that class. It is recommended that the teachers consider, on a departmental basis, inviting their colleagues to visit each otherís classes on various occasions in the year to assess the quality of teaching and learning. That recommendation is made on the basis of the excellence of the teaching in certain classes and the openness and cooperation observed among the Irish teachers.†
Six classes in total were observed during the inspection. Four of those classes were in the junior cycle and the other two were in the senior cycle. The six classes were divided equally between ordinary level and higher level.
There was a very positive atmosphere in all the classes and it was clear from all the students that they wished to make every attempt to engage with the subject before them. As an indication of the respect shown by students and teachers for each other this opinion relates to students in classes where they had limited ability in the language as well as students who were comfortable with the language. The work of the teachers in the classes observed was diligent. The manner in which different teachers undertook interaction with the students differed. In certain cases the students were active in the class and in other cases the students only took an active part in the class when the student was asked a question individually.
For the most part it was the teachers who were almost completely in charge of directing the work of the class and equally it was the teachers who did most of the talking. This meant that the teaching of the subject mostly had a traditional appearance, in that the teacher was working diligently throughout, with the students answering questions. The questions were well-chosen for the most part which sought to motivate the students to engage with the content of the class. In certain classes active work was put before the students and those attempts to set the students talking worked well. These activities were competently conducted and the students obviously gained enjoyment and benefit from the work.
In certain cases with junior classes it was felt that the teacher had planned too great a workload to implement with the students. A great attempt was made in the preparatory work in one case in order to present a vocabulary to the students which related to a topic that was both timely and well-chosen. Good diagrams were displayed on the overhead projector as a stimulus to the vocabulary and the same vocabulary was well-practised towards the end of the class. The students responded well to the presentation. Good attention was paid to the required vocabulary relating to the festivalís entertainment aspects. In addition word mazes were set as challenges to the students to revise the basic words. In another case, where the same subject was being presented the vocabulary being presented to the students was a heavy workload. It would be worth filtering the vocabulary and clarifying the learning objective at the start of the lesson as a guide to the students.
It is recommended in such cases that the lesson objective should be accurately measured as regards the learners and to set out the amount of vocabulary that it would be reasonable to acquire, in accordance with the studentsí ability in the language. It would also be worthwhile attempting to establish a conversation with the students on the usual activities of the festival, as they pertain to the studentsí own life. Such an approach would be better than acquiring a load of vocabulary without practising it in conversation form. There would also be novelty in using a television or radio news item in the class relating to the actual activities of the festival. This would entail close collaboration in the joint planning work as such a story would not be available in the broadcasting media before the actual festival. Such an item would have to recorded a year in advance and registered.
In another case two different tasks were focussed on, a reading comprehension piece from the textbook and writing a letter to a penpal. The students were asked well-chosen questions about the reading comprehension piece, questions which varied as regards the level of answer expected from the students. It was obvious that the teacher had a good understanding of the various abilities of the students. It would be worthwhile giving the students a chance to read parts of the excerpt aloud instead of the teacher doing this work. It would also be worthwhile having a conversation item on the studentsí usual activities as a normal part of the class work. Though these students responded well to the work implemented with them, that work concentrated on the textbook and on work provided by the teacher for them. It would be well worth trying other resources as a stimulus for these students to encourage communication among them.
In another class in the junior cycle capable revision was made of one of the prose stories read for the Junior Certificate examination. A good examination was made of the different themes of the story and the students showed in their answers that they were fully able to answer any question in the examination. It would be very worthwhile widening out the storyís themes and making reference to aspects of the studentsí own life in order to initiate communication among them, especially since the studentsí efforts displayed spoken ability.
Creative work was observed in a class in the junior cycle where students were coming in front of the class and performing a spoken piece prepared in advance on a pastime in ancient Ireland. The students made a great effort with the acting and presentation. This was greatly aided by the teacherís stimulating, encouraging presentation. A modern song in Irish relating to one of the old Irish stories was also practised. It was clear that the students were very familiar with the song and they were very happy to sing it aloud. Another student played a traditional tune on the tin whistle. All in all the class was enjoyable and fresh.
Appropriate care was taken with aural comprehension in a junior cycle class which showed that the students were obtaining good practice in this aspect of the language skills and the Leaving Certificate examination. As well as the aural comprehension work itself good practice was made of the vocabulary involved in the various excerpts, vocabulary which had context in the various notices and conversations. The notes which the teacher had prepared for distribution to the students on all aspects of the course were very well-organised and the studentsí copybook and notebook work were well-organised. Appropriate work was evident in the copybooks observed in the various classes and recognition of the studentsí efforts was evident.††
An entrance examination in Irish is set out for new first year students, a written examination which determines for most of them into which of the two ability bands in the first year the student will be placed. A recommendation regarding this approach is made on page three of this report.
House examinations are organised at Christmas and in summer as well as mock examinations for students of the certificate examinations in the spring. The Irish departmentís plan contains a reference to a monthly examination as an option for the teachers as each unit in the textbook is completed. It would be better to agree and register this approach in the plan. Though oral examinations are included with the classes in the senior cycle it was indicated that the teachers had the freedom to assess the speaking of Irish in the junior cycle. It would be well worthwhile agreeing an approach in this respect and directing attention to assessment of spoken Irish in the junior cycle as well as the senior cycle.
†It was understood from the teachers that they keep a close eye on the studentsí progress in the subject and that this is regularly discussed at joint planning meetings. It was also understood that all the Irish teachers had information on the studentsí achievements in general in the subject. It would be worth registering a record of the studentsí achievements in the subject in the certificate examinations in the Irish departmentís plan. This information would be valuable as a reference point and as a basis for comparison with the national averages and as a guide for reviewing teaching and learning plans.
The school has a homework policy which sets out between twenty and thirty minutes for the subject every night and written work at least twice a week. It was clear from the copybooks observed that this guidance was being followed.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.