An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Benildus College
Kilmacud, Stillorgan, County Dublin
Roll number: 60261R
Date of inspection: 30 September-1 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Benildus College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of this subject in the school. The assessment was conducted over two days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed the teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, inspected the 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 to the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Students are allocated to mixed-ability classes in first year. They are then divided into ordinary-level and higher-level groups at the beginning of second year. It was reported that every effort is made to encourage the students to remain in the higher level group, as far as possible. Over half of the students attempt the higher-level course for the Junior Certificate. The students are again streamed, into two ordinary-level and two higher-level classes, in Transition Year. At both fifth- and sixth-year levels, there are two higher-level and three ordinary-level classes. Students’ achievements in Irish in the state exams are good, in accord with the teachers’ efforts to encourage students to choose a level that suits their ability in the language.
The provision for Irish on the timetable is adequate, with four class periods per week allocated to all Junior Cycle classes and five class-periods per week to all Senior Cycle classes. However, the possibility of allocating an extra period per week for third years should be examined. The allocation for Transition Year students has been cut back this year from four to three class-periods per week.
The teachers of Irish are commended for the interest and enthusiasm they invest in trying to broaden the learning of the language beyond the confines of the classroom. Impressive efforts are made to offer the students a wider experience of Irish as a living language by organising language-based events outside the classroom. Sixth-years are taken on a weekend visit to the Gaeltacht before the state oral exams are held. There are plans in train to extend this practice to first- and second-year students by means of a one-day visit to Ráth Cairn Gaeltacht and historic places in that area. Those trips will be organised by the department of Irish in collaboration with the department of History in the school. In collaboration with the department of English, the students are also taken on a visit to the Writers’ Museum. This cross-curricular collaboration in the school is commended, but it is recommended that teachers develop this by investigating the possibility of working with other departments, such as Physical Education or Geography, especially in Transition Year.
Representatives from the Gaeltacht Colleges are welcomed to the school to speak to the students and it was reported that a high percentage of the students attend summer college every year. Research on the number of St. Benildus College students who attend Gaeltacht colleges, and the benefit they derive from the experience, could be set as a practical project for Transition Year students. A weekly conversation circle is organised for sixth-years and the teachers share responsibility for this. This undertaking is highly commended. Some events are organised in the school also to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge; examples of these events are Question Time, a poster competition organised in co-operation with the department of Art, and a crossword competition for the teachers, and Irish music is played in the school during lunch-time throughout the week. Students are brought to Irish language plays in the city during the year, when appropriate productions are being presented. It is recommended that the teachers continue to organise such events and that a new element be added to the programme every year, to build on the work already being done. A possible new element might be to invite various guests to the school to conduct workshops with the students, or give talks on different aspects of the course. It would also be advisable to encourage specific students to take part in various courses and competitions.
A good range of resources is available in the school for the teaching and learning of Irish and every effort is made to update this range regularly, a commitment which is highly commended. It is necessary to ensure, however, that those resources, and others from everyday life, are used regularly in class.
Two teachers share the responsibility for co-ordinating the department of Irish at present. It is good practice to share this work and for staff members to assume the responsibility in turn. The department of Irish holds regular meetings to discuss a wide range of administrative and planning issues. Minutes of those meetings are available. The impact of those meetings and of the planning work is evident in the good planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school.
It is clear that the teachers of Irish have invested an impressive amount of time and trouble in planning matters in recent years. The work done on planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school is highly commended. The plan for Irish includes the following elements: the department’s mission statement, objectives for the future, subject planning for all year groups, an overview of the current year groups in the school, learning objectives and learning outcomes for the various year groups, teaching approach, a work plan, a description of assessment methods and a plan for Transition Year. It contains a specific account of the policy of the department of Irish regarding the use of the target language in the classes, a policy which could be a model for any other school. The approach outlined in it is praiseworthy indeed. The teachers of Irish plan to develop the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in their Irish classes later on: it is recommended that this objective be a significant element of the plan for Irish. It was reported that there is continuous assessment of the various elements of the plan for teaching the language. That approach is commended; plans should always be subject to change, according to the needs of both students and teachers.
A plan for teaching Irish in Transition Year (TY) was made available on the day of this evaluation and efforts are made to teach Irish at that level in novel and creative ways. It is considered however, that the TY programme could be further developed, to ensure that there is an appropriate emphasis on communication skills and on a variety of teaching methods. It is also felt that TY students could be involved in organising events for Seachtain na Gaeilge and other projects undertaken during the year. That would enhance the development of students’ independent learning ability also, a basic principle of Transition Year philosophy.
Good planning had been done for all the classes observed and, accordingly, there was a good pace to the lessons. Notes and worksheets had been prepared for all the classes and these were distributed among the students.
The teachers of Irish are highly commended for how effectively Irish was used as the language of management, teaching and communication in the classes observed. Teachers made concerted efforts to use the target language and that is really good practice. In none of the classes observed was direct translation from Irish to English used to ensure that students understood the subject-matter of the lesson. A wide range of clever strategies was used to avoid the use of translation. These teaching principles concerning the use of the target language are specifically set out in the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. Those are basic principles in the teaching of any language and the teachers are commended for their enthusiasm and understanding in this regard.
In the majority of classes observed, the students made admirable efforts to answer the teachers’ questions in Irish and to participate fully in the lessons. Teachers did their best to encourage students to use the language, by asking both open and closed questions during the various lessons. Other strategies, such as games and pair-work, were also used in some classes to encourage the students to speak. These strategies were used in only a small number of classes, however; their use could be extended to all classes and the strategies further developed.
There was a very pleasant atmosphere in the classes observed. It was evident that there was a very good relationship between teachers and pupils and discipline was excellent. The teachers continually praised the students for their efforts and showed great patience when certain students had difficulties with the language.
In some of the classes observed, great efforts were made to depart from the textbook and to use a variety of other resources to teach the lessons. Highly creditable also was the use made of TG4 in some classes observed. It was clear that the students really enjoyed those classes and that the use of extracts from television programmes, in most cases, increased the students’ interest in the subject-matter of the lessons. In one class observed, the overhead projector was effectively used. On the whole, however, it was felt that more resources could be used in the classes. It is recommended, therefore, that a wider range of extra materials be used in the lessons, for example, music, posters, charts, magazines and Irish-language media in general. It is understood that a better range of computer resources will be available in the school when all of the current building work is finished and that software for the teaching and learning of Irish has already been bought. It is recommended that the school get in touch with the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish to request advice on the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It is of considerable help to use a wide range of resources in every class, to arouse and encourage students’ interest in the language and the learning of it.
The way in which teachers linked the subject-matter of lessons, in certain cases observed, to the students’ everyday lives, by talking about their experience of certain areas of life and asking questions about their lives outside of school, is commended. A particular case was noted in which the teacher began the lesson with open communication about aspects of the students’ lives. This approach is highly commended. It is vitally important to link the learning of the language to students’ lives in various ways. It is also necessary to put the different aspects of the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate courses in context for the students, by using resources such as the communications media and music. Because teachers do not have dedicated rooms for Irish, it is difficult for them to arrange displays on classroom walls which would facilitate students in composing sentences and framing questions. It is recommended that teachers bring materials to class occasionally and display it on the walls as an aid to students, especially those who are experiencing difficulty in learning the language.
The teaching of grammar was woven through the lessons observed and that approach, which accords with the guidelines in the syllabus, is commended. Good use was also made of repetition, to ensure that students pronounced words correctly. The way in which the students were taught to formulate questions, in one case observed, was impressive. Students frequently have difficulty in framing questions, because, on the whole, the main emphasis is placed on answering questions.
The way in which all the language skills were developed, in certain classes observed, is highly commended. In these classes, teachers ensured, by using a range of activities, that students got the opportunity of listening, understanding the subject-matter, engaging in a certain amount of conversation and undertaking some writing tasks. This is good practice and teachers should ensure that those skills are integrated in all the lessons. Effective use was made of the whiteboard in the classes observed.
Students take written assessment tests in Irish, Maths and English before coming to St. Benildus College, so that teachers can assess their ability in those subjects. This practice is commended because it gives teachers an overview of the incoming students’ standard of Irish. First-year students are assigned to mixed-ability classes, but teachers are aware of students’ standard of Irish from the outset, which is very helpful when they are planning various lessons.
House exams are held in the school at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to parents after those tests. Furthermore, continuous assessment is used to monitor students’ progress. Common tests are set for students in various classes which are at the same level. The communicative skills of fifth- and sixth-year students are assessed by means of oral tests based on the state examinations system. The department of Irish has made a start on assessing the communicative skills of first- and third-year students. This is done in class. The same system of assessment will be used with second-year students also, this year. This approach is highly commended. It is vitally important that students understand the importance of oral Irish right from the start. It was reported that every effort is made to persuade students to keep to the higher level for state examinations, as far as their ability will allow. An analysis of the results of the state examinations is undertaken every year. The subject co-ordinator does an internal analysis of the results and the principal compares the school results to the national averages. The students’ achievements in Irish in the state exams are good.
There was plenty of evidence of work done, in the copybooks inspected. It was clear that homework is set and corrected regularly. Marks, grades and comments on good standards of work, as well as corrections, were noted in the written work.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings with the teachers of Irish and with the principal were organised at the conclusion of the evaluation, meetings at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published April 2009