An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coláiste Cholmcille, Aille Thiar,
Roll number: 71250A
Date of inspection: 26 and 27 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 Coláiste Cholmcille, Aille Thiar, Indreabhán, Co. Galway, conducted 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 subject teachers.
The agreed school policy is that Irish is the normal working language in the school. Priority is given by school management to the preservation and establishment of Irish in the school and in the area. Students experience in Coláiste Cholmcille is a total immersion in Irish as all subjects are taught through Irish, which in itself provides a great structure for the teaching of the language.
Gender grouping is used for the division of classes in first year. Management opted for such a division this year rather than ability grouping classes determined by beginning-of-year examinations. This arrangement is in pilot phase and will be reviewed at Christmas. Management is to be commended for their ongoing efforts to provide in the best way possible for first year students. Second year, Transition Year and first year Leaving Certificate students are divide on the basis of ability. Certificate classes are arranged in accordance with the exam level being undertaken that year. Additional support classes are provided for students when necessary. These additional classes are provided in association with ‘Cumas’ and include twenty-five hours per week for twenty six weeks. This year nine students are benefiting from this scheme.
Four Irish classes per week are provided for Junior Cycle students, three for Transition Year, and five classes at Senior Cycle level. All of these are single classes distributed throughout the week.
No student in the school has an exemption from Irish. Students who arrive in school with little Irish are encouraged and supported to acquire a proficiency in the language. The school is to be commended for their philosophical approach in this regard.
There are five Irish teachers in Coláiste Cholmcille, one of whom is responsible for teaching resource Irish and the other four teachers teach main-stream classes. Two teachers teach junior classes only and the remaining two teachers teach at both junior and senior cycles. It is recommended that all teachers would have an opportunity to teach at both levels.
Every effort is made to have the same teacher available to students through their junior cycle, and also during the two year senior cycle in order to ensure that the needs of students are met from one year to the next and that there is continuity for both students and teachers.
The school has a substantial range of teaching and learning resources for Irish. Most of the Irish teachers have their own base classroom. A support fund available from the VEC provides a budget for Irish activities throughout the year and any other resources required are also provided for the subject. The Irish department seeks sponsorship and support from a number of sources for Irish events held in the school. The resources for teaching and learning the language include a CD, audio-visual equipment, displays, grammar charts, overhead projectors, newspapers, journals, and video-recording equipment. Most of the Irish classrooms have a computer with broadband access. A substantial range of Irish books are available in the classroom of one of the Irish teachers. These books are used in part for the certificate courses and other books provide a research resource for various projects. This year First Year and Transition Year students will participate in Pléaráca’s ‘Léigh Leabhair’ initiative. The Irish department is to be commended for its ongoing work in extending the range of Irish books available and engendering a habit of reading in students. The opportunities for using information and communication technologies (ICT) as a teaching tool in Irish are evident from speaking to the Irish teachers, and from their written language plans. Students are encouraged to use the Irish resources available on the website. It is recommended that this initiative in using ICT as a teaching and learning tool be extended. A list of the available teaching resources and facilities for post-primary students may be accessed on firstname.lastname@example.org . The Irish version of the encyclopedia Wikipedia is also recommended www.wikepedia.org . Such development will support the objective in the school’s Irish plan which cites ‘promoting Irish amongst students and making them aware that Irish is a live modern language’.
The provision of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in Coláiste Cholmcille is impressive. All students are given every incentive to participate in a wide range of co-curricular activities. Arrangements are made for students to participate in writing, debating, poetry and reading competitions, as well as quizzes and radio skills. Students in Coláiste Cholmcille have won prizes annually in these competitions. Writing workshops are facilitated in the school by well-known authors. Drama workshops and examination-skills’ workshops are also arranged for students. This extensive range of activities enriches students’ cultural and educational experiences. The school’s co-curricular work is particularly valuable in establishing and developing the culture of the school and of the immediate area. Coláiste Cholmcille deserves high commendation for its promotion over many years of a rich tradition of co-curricular activities. Teachers are to be congratulated for their diligence and generosity in this regard, as is management for the support provided for these activities each year.
All teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoir Gaeilge and teachers attended the local lectures organised in association with Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge until these came to an end recently. Three of the teachers are experienced examiners for the oral Irish examinations. A whole-school seminar on cooperative learning was organized last year. The Irish teachers are encouraged and supported by management to attend professional development courses. The dismay of teachers in this school was noted with regard to the lack of inservice support available to them until recently for the teaching of Irish.
The school’s Irish plan is a core element of Coláiste Cholmcille’s overall school plan. One of the aims cited in the school mission statement is to ‘promote a respect for our Irish heritage, the Irish language and the Irish culture’. The plan for Irish recognises the important role of the school in preserving and maintaining the particular culture and language of the area. The agreed school policy is that Irish be the normal working language of the school. The plan acknowledges the need to create a language action plan for the implementation of the school language policy. It is recommended that a language action plan now be developed to respond to the current state of Irish in the school, and also to implement the wishes of interested parties in regard to the ongoing development of Irish.
The Irish language teaching staff in Coláiste Cholmcille initiated their school development planning for Irish two years ago as an extension of the informal planning undertaken up until then. The Irish teachers hold a formal monthly meeting, as well as having ongoing informal communication on a regular basis. The staff is to be commended for this cooperative approach. A subject plan for Irish has been developed by the department which includes long-term plans for each year group. In keeping with the principles outlined in the syllabuses, the four main language skills and various aspects of course-work are integrated in these plans. The department’s aims and objectives are also outlined, as well as plans for the learning environment and for cross-curricular projects, co-curricular activities, links with learning supports and methods of reporting, recording and evaluation. The staff deserves commendation for the comprehensive plan developed. Although strategies for differentiated teaching methods are mentioned in the plan it is recommended that this element of the plan be extended by outlining the methodologies for differentiation, detailing the resources to be used, as well as the differentiated tasks used to assess the learning outcomes across the range of student abilities. It also recommended that the monthly meetings be used to establish more formal links with the resource teacher.
The school has appointed a subject coordinator. It is recommended that this appointment would be rotated in the future, so that more than one person would gain an experience and an understanding of the duties and responsibilities attached to the role of coordinator.
The classes observed displayed an appropriate level of planning and the content and aims for each lesson were clear, relevant and in keeping with the requirements of the syllabuses. The outcome of such detailed planning and preparation was that the lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. The materials used by teachers included worksheets, examination questions, a writing frame for a roleplay, textbooks, posters, pictures, photographs, overhead projectors and a preselected piece of music.
All teachers in Coláiste Cholmcille displayed a high level of teaching strategies. In each class observed during the inspection the four main lanuage skills were integrated through a variety of tasks. There was a good balance at all times between teacher activity and student activity. In one class a variety of pair work and individual work was used when a poem was being examined, and worksheets supported the structure of this activity. In other classes there was a discussion on two poetic techniques. The discussion was followed by a role play activity where students in pairs engaged with the subject matter of the poem. The teacher connected the theme of the poem with the students’ life experiences and the lesson finished with a lively discussion of the pressures on young people today. In another class students were preparing for a radio programme for the Gael Linn radio competition. The teacher acted as facilitator for the brainstorming session in which students were working in groups for various aspects of the programme. The students themselves selected the theme for the programme, wrote the poetry and composed some of the music. In another poetry lesson, the emphasis was again on composition. The teacher discussed the differences between poetry and prose with the the group in an effort to guide the students towards improving the poems they had already written. The teacher skilfully guided the class towards the differences by providing examples and concrete learning materials. All teachers used a variety of questionning techniques to good effect. Students were guided in a developmental way to extend one question to the next question in order to provide for an indepth discussion and all students had an opportunity to participate in the class. All these teaching methods are exemplars of good practice and teachers would benefit greatly from sharing their experiences and skills with each other as part of the process of school development planning .
In certain classes the blackboard/overhead projector was used to present an outline of the lesson. This is very good practice as it provides a summary of the main points of the lesson and students have an opportunity to record it. In other classes the white/black boards were not employed to similar effect as a method of recording the main vocabulary of the lessons. It is recommended that maximum benefit be derived from this teaching and learning resource so that the visual literacy of students is being continuously developed.
An open and welcome atmosphere was evident between teachers and students in all classes observed during the inspection. The relationship between teachers and students was characterized by an ease of exchange and teachers had a good knowledge of students’ lives and hobbies. This empathetic relationship improved the cooperation evident in the teaching and learning relationship. Positive motivational feedback was always provided to students for their efforts and opinions. It was obvious that students were pleased to be involved in their own learning and that they had a good range of understanding of, and an interest in, Irish.
Teachers used the base classrooms available to them to best advantage by creating a motivating print rich environment. Posters displaying students’ own work, grammar charts, maps and learning materials were evident. This is a commendable approach because it not only reinforces learning visually but it improves students’ self-confidence when they see their own work displayed. In one classroom photographs that extended over a number of years showing students receiving prizes in various competitions were displayed. On display also in this classroom were awards for the best essays in State examinations for 2003 and 2004. Such celebration of students’ work in Irish enhances the status of the language in the minds of students as well as improving the confidence of those students sitting the examinations or participating in competitions in the current year.
In addition to displays in the Irish classrooms, picture displays and notices in Irish were visible throughout the school.
Students are formatively assessed both formally and informally. Some of the informal methods used during the inspection period included oral assessment through questioning, brainstorming, pair work and individual work. A whole-school homework policy is in place in the school. A homework diary system operates and it was evident from these that a wide range of homework was regularly given to students. Class teachers monitor the homework diaries on an ongoing basis and they are also signed on a weekly basis by parents/guardians at home, as well as being signed each month by an assistant principal. A sample of copybooks examined during the inspection indicated that work had been comprehensively covered on a range of areas relevant to the syllabuses. Continuity indicating a good level of progression was evident in the copybooks. Students’ work was corrected regularly and explanations noted on the copybooks clarified their errors to students as well as acknowledging work well done. This approach is commendable and it is advisable that all members of the Irish department would agree to extend this good practice to all corrections. The written documentation on planning for homework indicated that tasks are assigned across the four main language skills. This good practice is preferable to written work only. Class examinations based on all language skills and on different aspects of the courses take place regularly. All examination results are systematically recorded.
Formal summative assessment of each student takes place at Christmas. Certificate students have mock-examinations in Spring, and all students not sitting State examinations have end-of-year examinations. Reports are issued to homes after these examinations. It was indicated that arrangements regarding common assessment and marking schemes are agreed as appropriate at planning meetings throughout the year. Parent-teacher meetings are held twice a year for certificate students and once a year for the other four year-groups. Teachers discuss the student’s own results and provide comparative information on the average marks obtained nationally in State examinations. Teachers use the information drawn from these analyses as a guide to improve their own planning. This is commendable as the dialogue provides an opportunity for an ongoing review of planning. It is recommended that the Irish department, within its overall planning for assessment, extend its range of assessment tools based on the principles of assessment for learning as developed by the National Council for Assessment at www.afl.ncca.ie .
Transition Year students receive a questionnaire after each module in order to assess their views. The information from these questionnaires is used to improve the module. This approach is commendable.
Teachers review their own progress as a teaching team on a monthly basis.
Achievements in the language are celebrated at a prize-giving evening organized annually.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
learning support is provided for Irish.
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.