An Roinn Oideachais and Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
St. Kieran’s College
College Road, Kilkenny
Roll Number: 61560J
Date of inspection: 25 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Kieran’s College, 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 to the subject teachers.
The school operates a banding system with two bands in each year-group. There are two mixed ability classes in each band. The fifty students who achieve the best results in the assessment examination, taken before they enter the school, are placed in the first band. The next fifty students are placed in the second band. The various levels in the core subjects are flexible, however, in that students can undertake the higher level in one subject and the ordinary level in another if they so desire. Classes are held concurrently and this also aids students’ access to the different levels. Mixed ability classes apply in Transition Year.
There is satisfactory provision for Irish on the school’s timetable in the junior cycle with five periods in first and second years and four periods in third year. It would be preferable however, to provide the fifth period in third year rather than in the first or second year. There are three periods of Irish a week available for Transition Year (TY). It would be advisable to provide a fourth period for Transition Year if possible within timetable constraints. It is difficult to provide an interesting and beneficial TY programme over three periods a week. The provision for classes in the senior cycle is quite satisfactory with five periods per week for fifth and sixth year. Two of those five periods in sixth year are provided as two individual periods on the same day. The management is advised to look at the possibilities of providing one period per day for sixth year students next year.
At present there are eight teachers teaching Irish in the school. All of them have many years experience of teaching the subject. The school’s management decides who takes the various classes and levels but it was reported that classes are rotated as much as possible and that teachers get the opportunity to teach the various levels and age groups.
In recent years commendable attempts have been made to extend and develop the students’ experience of Irish as a living language outside of the classroom. The school participates in a quiz organised locally by Feachtas, an Irish-language youth organisation, and students are brought to Irish plays when possible. In addition efforts are made to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge in the school by organising a quiz for first and second year students and by organising a poster exhibition. These efforts are highly commended. It is understood that this aspect of promoting the language in the school has grown in recent years. However, it is recommended that the work done to date be extended and that a wider programme of extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities be developed gradually. These additional events and activities strengthen the teachers’ efforts in the classrooms and they add to the students’ understanding of Irish as a living language outside of the classroom.
The vast majority of the Irish teachers have their own classrooms. Although some posters, students’ work and other material connected with the teaching of the language were displayed in certain classrooms the amount of material on the walls could be greatly increased. The fact that the teachers have their own classrooms offers a great opportunity to create an Irish environment and it is recommended that an attempt be made to create a pleasant learning atmosphere in all of the Irish classrooms.
The teachers can make applications to the principal for materials and resources for teaching the various subjects. The Irish teachers are advised to record and list the current resources available for teaching Irish and that such a list should form part of the plan for Irish in the school. Also one should be continually looking for new resources which could be used in the classes. It is recommended, if possible, that these resources be provided in a central location so that all teachers can access them easily.
It was reported that students are given information annually on the various Gaeltacht courses. As part of the development of the profile of Irish in the school this year, the Gaeltacht brochures were displayed on the “Green Board” together with Irish phrases and the proverb of the week. This approach is commended but it is also recommended that parents be informed about the summer courses. A local Irish course is available in Kilkenny in summer, as well as the many Gaeltacht courses. These courses have great advantages for students as they give them the opportunity to experience Irish as a living language and to speak the language in a variety of informal situations.
Planning and preparation
The Irish teachers meet once a term to discuss matters dealing with class allocation, textbook selection and planning for teaching of the language in general. The department plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was provided on the day of the inspection. The plan was provided in two parts, the first part dealing with a general description of the department itself, the layout of classes and a general description of resources and additional activities for students. A new version of this general plan is compiled at the start of each year. The second part of the plan was comprised of the individual teachers’ plans. Those plans were fairly general and based primarily on a list of topics to be covered during the different school terms. Some of them contained some details about basic methodologies and learning objectives. The teachers are commended for the amount of work done to date on planning for the teaching and learning of the language. However, it is recommended that all the planning aspects be compiled into one comprehensive plan for the teaching of Irish. Parts of the plan could be further extended and developed - for example, the plan should cover a description of the following items: a list of topics to be covered with the different year groups and levels; a description of the different methodologies and of strategies to develop and improve communications; a description of the resources to be used with the different classes; learning objectives and assessment methods. It was not clear from the planning documents that much consideration had been given to the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the Irish classes in general. Planning for the use of ICT should form an integral part of the plan for teaching the language.
An interesting plan for teaching and learning of Irish in Transition Year was provided during the inspection. It was not clear, however, that the various aspects of the plan were being implemented in the Transition Year classes. The Irish teachers are advised to look again at the Transition Year programme and to discuss the different ways in which it can be made available to the students. Transition Year affords teachers the opportunity to teach subjects in innovative and creative ways. The teachers are advised to take this opportunity and to portray Irish to students as a living language by developing and delivering a varied and interesting programme to them.
There was good, careful planning for all the classes observed. Notes and worksheets were prepared for the different classes and distributed to the students. In one case very good notes were prepared on one aspect of the course and shown on the data projector. In another case, a very effective lesson had been prepared on the computer and shown on the screen in the class. This work is highly commended.
The use of Irish as the language of teaching, communication and management was very good in the Irish classes observed. Successful efforts were also made in certain classes to avoid the use of translation from Irish to English by a range of different devices and the teachers’ dedication in this respect is commended. Some cases were observed, however, where translation was used in order to confirm students’ understanding of the lesson content, where it was unnecessary. It is recommended that the Irish teachers implement an agreed approach in relation to the use of the target language in classes and that this aspect of language learning should be included as part of the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school.
The teachers were dynamic and enthusiastic in charge of all the classes observed. Teachers circulated among the students encouraging them and ensuring that the work was being carried out. There was clearly a good interaction between the students and the teachers and discipline was excellent. Some students made good attempts to answer questions with full sentences and this is commended. It would be worthwhile for all the teachers to implement this practice in the Irish classes. Of course, the standard of spoken Irish would depend on the students’ own level of ability.
Teachers used open and closed questioning continuously throughout the classes to encourage the students to talk. Some cases were observed where pair work and role-play were used also to provide students with opportunities to communicate through Irish. This approach is commended. In one case, however, it was not very clear to students what they had to do. Pair work and group work must be structured properly so that students gain the most benefit from these opportunities to use the language. In general, there were insufficient opportunities for students to talk and communicate through Irish in the classes observed. There is a need to ensure that all language skills are developed in the classes, including oral skills. The teachers are advised to discuss developing communications strategies for the classroom that would be suitable for students at various levels of ability. Pair work, role-play, games and group work should be used regularly. In addition, it would be worth investigating and discussing some of the strategies recommended by the Second Level Support Service for Irish. It was reported that some of the staff availed of the opportunity to attend the in-service courses last year and this year. It is important that opportunities be provided for staff to give feedback to all the teachers on the work done on those in-service days.
A good range of activities was observed in many of the classes. The lessons were laid out based on different tasks and, as a result, there was a good pace to the classes. This is good practice. Good continuity was also seen in a couple of cases observed between work covered in previous classes and work in hand during the inspection visit.
The way in which grammar was taught in a couple of cases observed is commendable. In one case, it was clear that the students knew the rules extremely well. However, it would be worth ensuring on a regular basis that students can implement what they learn, in speech and writing, in a practical way. One case was observed where students were asked to put grammar rules and new words into sentences to show that those were understood and that the students were able to use them in a functional way. This approach is highly commended.
The use made of ICT in a number of cases observed is commended and use was also made of material downloaded from the Internet. Apart from these examples few other resources were used during the Irish classes. It is extremely important to use a range of resources in the classes apart from the textbook in order to make learning the language more interesting for students. The lesson content, especially prose and poetry, must be placed in a contemporary context for students also. Therefore it is recommended that continual use be made of video clips, excerpts from documentary programmes, music, pictures and the Internet to stimulate the pupils’ interest and to help them experience the language in different ways apart from the textbook. The Irish-language media is an excellent resource and should be used regularly. A list of resources for teaching Irish is also available on www.cogg.ie .
The way in which the students’ phonetic mistakes were corrected in a sympathetic manner during certain classes is commendable. This must be done in all classes on a regular basis but in a way that will not adversely affect the students’ self-confidence.
House examinations are held in the school twice a year, at Christmas and in the summer. Internal class examinations are held at the midterm break and at Easter, as well as small class examinations from time to time at the end of a unit of work, depending on the teacher’s intentions. Four reports are sent home to parents during the year. Parents are informed of their children’s progress as well at parent-teacher meetings and through the homework diary.
It was reported that last year’s sixth year class were given the opportunity to do an oral Irish examination with an external examiner. This is good practice as it gives students the experience of speaking Irish to a stranger. It was also reported that various teachers set informal oral examinations for the classes from time to time but that no formally agreed system is in place. It is recommended that the students’ oral skills be assessed from first year onwards and that the mark be included as a separate item in the end of year results. It is important that students understand the importance of the spoken aspect of the language from the outset and that they have practice in the functional use of the language. It would be worth considering getting an external examiner for Transition Year also and maybe organising the award of “fáinní” to the students as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge.
There was a considerable amount of work done in the copybooks observed. It was clear that homework was assigned regularly. It would be worthwhile for the teachers to have some discussion among themselves about agreeing a common correction system which would provide feedback for students on progress as well as the marks they achieve.
The number of students taking the higher level paper in Irish for the Junior Certificate has risen in recent years and the level of achievement is good. The number of students taking the higher level paper for the Leaving Certificate is also satisfactory but the number of students changes significantly from year to year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The efforts of the teachers to widen the experience of the students of Irish as a living language, outside of the classroom, by organising activities during Seachtain na Gaeilge
and by attending Irish dramas, are commended.
· The work done by the teachers on planning to date, both the general plan for the subject and the individual teacher’s plans, is commended.
· Careful planning was carried out for all classes observed and there was a good pace to the lessons as a result.
· There was good use of the target language as the language of management, teaching and communication in the Irish classes observed.
· The teachers were energetic and diligent in the classes observed and discipline was excellent.
· The pair work and role-play observed in the case of a couple of Irish classes are commended.
· There was a good range of activities as part of the classes observed.
· The use of ICT in a couple of classes observed is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school management are advised to look again at the Irish timetable and to resolve some issues for next year.
· The Irish teachers are advised to expand the work done to date regarding the development of extra-curricular and cross-curricular activities, and to set out an interesting
programme of activities for the entire year, over time.
· It is recommended that a comprehensive plan be compiled for the teaching and learning of Irish, taking into account planning for the use of various teaching methods, resources,
ICT and planning for the development and implementation of the Transition Year programme.
· It is recommended that the teachers discuss among themselves the development of communications strategies to add to the opportunities for students to use the language in class.
· It is recommended that a wider range of materials and resources be used during the Irish classes.
· It is recommended that the students’ oral skills be assessed from first year onwards on a formal basis and that those marks be included in the end of year results.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2010