An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Christ King Girls’ Secondary School
Roll number: 62692I
Date of inspection: 24 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christ King Girls’ Secondary 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 and the subject teachers.
Irish enjoys a high status in Christ King Girls’ Secondary School. During the inspection visit the high level of student ability in Irish was noted. Students are motivated to achieve this high standard, primarily, by the commitment of the teachers of Irish. It was reported that each student is encouraged to acquire as much as possible of the language within her own ability range. This approach is reflected in the significant number of students who undertake the higher level paper in the state examinations.
For the most part, first-year classes are of mixed ability and a banding system operates in second and third year. These systems are considered effective because students are selected in ways that seek to serve their learning needs. The fact that teachers of Irish carry out a yearly review of the merits of the systems in operation was noted. Concurrent timetabling facilitates a change of level as necessary. This flexibility is commended.
The timetable provides a satisfactory level of support for the teaching and learning of Irish in so far as a significant number of students have daily contact with the target language. In allocating classes to teachers, every effort is made to ensure teacher continuity for students from year to year. This practice is to be commended. In first year, two class groups have two teachers and one class group has three teachers. These classes are divided among the teachers of Irish in the school and the trainee teachers who are studying for the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). It is strongly recommended that no more than two teachers be allocated to teach Irish to any one of these groups of students.
Eighty-five students have an exemption from studying Irish. This figure equates to eight per cent of the total student population. The majority of these students (96%) received their early education outside the state. Every support is given to students with learning difficulties to pursue formal study of Irish. To this end, a special class is provided for those junior-cycle students in need of additional support. The same scheme of work is followed as for the other classes in the year group but at a slower pace. With regard to the other students who are in receipt of learning support but who are not in the special class, it is recommended that a formal link be established with the special education needs department in the school in order to inform the teachers of Irish of the most effective learning methods suitable for these students.
There is a large team of teachers within the Irish department. They are able teachers who demonstrate a particular interest in the development of their professional skills. They welcome training opportunities such as the workshops currently organised by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) for Irish. The majority of the teachers have a high standard of Irish.
Teachers are aware that participation in cross-curricular and co-curricular activities enhances the ability and the self-confidence of students, especially in the case of oral Irish. Therefore a lot of activities are organised to promote the use of Irish outside the classroom. These activities include: debating; awards for students at the annual prize giving; a day of Irish for sixth-year students and an Irish stand at the open evening. In addition, it was reported that it is the norm for a sizeable number of students to spend a period in the Gaeltacht area during the summer. It was stated that Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Week) is a major event in the school calendar when the entire school community is encouraged and motivated to use Irish. All types of competitions as well as céilí dances are organised in the course of this week. During the inspection visit, Irish was evident throughout the school. School management and teachers of Irish were reminded of the importance of oral and written Irish being evident on a continuous basis to the whole school community. Both management and teachers are requested to ensure that as much Irish as possible is used in school publications and at the various events organised by the school.
Teachers have access to a wide range of facilities and resources. Each teacher has an individual storage area for their own personal resources and the Irish department has a separate storage facility which houses a comprehensive collection of different resources such as books, publications and videos. Maintaining a central store for the department is an excellent idea as it facilitates the sharing of resources among teachers. Each classroom is equipped with a computer which is linked to the internet and, provided it is booked in advance, the multimedia room is also available.
Subject development planning forms an integral part of the work of the teachers of Irish. A co-ordinator has been selected to manage the department’s planning process. All members of the department appreciate the benefit to be gained from the discussions deriving from collaborative planning and, therefore, all members of the department accept the various responsibilities assigned to them whether it be for curricular planning or for the organising of co-curricular and cross-curricular events. Given the number of students in the school, teachers were asked to consider the benefits of having two co-ordinators in the department. Such an arrangement would not only lessen the workload of the current co-ordinator but would also provide an opportunity to further develop the leadership, administrative and interpersonal skills of the other members of the department.
The planning folder provides a good insight into the work of the Irish department with regard to collaborative planning. Among the documents included in the folder were: a list of general objectives; yearly schemes of work; analysis of the strengths, opportunities and principal weaknesses of current provision; analysis of results of state examinations; copies of syllabuses, marking schemes and circulars; references to the cross-curricular and co-curricular activities that are organised and minutes of department meetings. These minutes show that teachers meet formally to discuss the year’s work, the division of students, choice of textbooks, examination results, co-curricular and cross-curricular activities and the content of training workshops.
The year’s work is set out in schemes of work for the various year groups. The inspector was given to understand that an annual review of these schemes is carried out and that they are amended in accordance with feedback from teachers. This approach is commended. Teachers were asked to consider the benefit of establishing task groups which would be responsible for reviewing particular schemes. These task groups could seek feedback from individual teachers and from students on the implementation of the scheme, especially with regard to the most successful aspects. Teachers were also reminded of the importance of flexibility within plans in order to avail of opportunities to discuss major world events appropriate to the interest range of students.
The possibilities of following an innovative, functional programme of learning with students in Transition Year (TY) were discussed with teachers. The TY programme should place emphasis on the development of a range of skills including language, team, research, presentation, creativity and organisational skills.
In the interest of reinforcing newly acquired language, it is recommended that any two teachers teaching the same year group in first year would make appropriate arrangements to cover the same topic in the four Irish classes of the week. This approach is considered to be most useful with first-year students as they already have to address the substantial challenge of dealing with a greater number of subjects than they were accustomed to in the primary school.
From the lessons observed and from the comprehensiveness of their individual folders, it was evident that all teachers spend time on individual planning. They demonstrated a good understanding of the needs of students in their care and of the best means of addressing those needs. They recognise that one of the major goals of the majority of students is to achieve an appropriate standard in Irish so that they can undertake the state examinations. The dedication of the teachers in this regard was noted.
A positive, co-operative atmosphere prevailed in all classrooms visited. It was evident that a good relationship had been fostered between teachers and the students in their care. In addition, teachers have a long-established system of work and, therefore, students are familiar with classroom management methodologies as well as with the teaching and learning methods in operation.
Irish was the principal language in use in all of the lessons observed. The majority of teachers spoke only Irish to the students. Students had a good understanding of what teachers said and of the questions posed. They are commended for their excellent efforts to solicit answers through the medium of Irish. The high standard of Irish among students was noted, as was their ability to express opinions, to give oral accounts and to hold conversations in Irish. Teachers are highly commended for fostering this ability and self-confidence in students.
The enthusiasm of students to speak Irish to each other as part of pair work was noted. It was surprising therefore to observe the reluctance of quite a number of students to use Irish as a normal means of communication with teachers when seeking clarifications or discussing items which were not directly related to the lesson content. Teachers should take steps to ensure that there is a mutual understanding among themselves and among students of Irish that Irish is the primary medium of communication in the Irish class. This policy should also be brought to the attention of the students of the Postgraduate Diploma in Education since they are involved also in teaching Irish to first-year students.
A considerable number of opportunities were created for students to speak Irish. Among the strategies employed to encourage students to speak were open discussion on world events at the beginning of class, oral questioning by the teacher and pair work. Students undertook these activities with enthusiasm. The fact that students had already acquired a good deal of appropriate vocabulary and basic language structures was a great help to them. This was a good demonstration of how newly acquired language is continuously reinforced as the class moves from topic to topic. This practice is to be commended. Teachers are requested to set even more demanding challenges for some students, in particular, the most able students in junior cycle. It is obvious that some of these students could be set tasks that would require an even higher standard of Irish from them. The inspector presented a number of suggestions to teachers in this regard, for example: that each student be asked to answer questions using complete sentences; that more comprehensive answers be sought to basic information questions and that more extended ability questions be posed to students of higher ability.
In the lessons observed, students were set a variety of tasks. These included tasks set for individual students such as listening comprehensions, writing a paragraph, gaps to be filled in sentences or reading aloud in class. At other stages in the lesson interactive tasks were set. Effective use was made of pair work to encourage students to communicate with each other. In one instance a student was asked to question another student who, in turn, posed a question to a third student and so on. This activity was entirely under the direction of the teacher, an approach which provided an opportunity for the teacher to draw the attention of all students to the correct manipulation of the language structures being used. In addition, each student was required to listen carefully to the answer(s) of the other student. This proved an effective strategy for the development of listening skills among students. On the whole, a good balance between individual and interactive tasks was noted in the lesson.
In the majority of lessons observed, the development of language skills was effectively integrated. Teachers used the various resources to facilitate student practice in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Included in these resources were work sheets, photographs, video and audio clips, diagrams, flash cards and textbooks. Some teachers had given a deep level of thought to the most effective means of encouraging student participation in the activities of the lessons. It was these teachers who made the most beneficial use of live material to stimulate student imagination. The widespread use of this practice is recommended and the greatest possible use should be made of material related to the lives of students, for example, photographs from magazines, websites and television items.
Oral materials used in the lessons were closely linked to the various programmes. Among the topics discussed were: pastimes; shops and shopping; the body; health and illness; jobs and careers. These topics were linked to the interests and experiences of students, an approach which encouraged participation. In lessons where literary works were being studied, excellent efforts were made to provide students with an understanding and an appreciation of the circumstances of the characters or the mind of the poet. This was achieved through an effective analysis of the link between the lives of those people and the students’ own experience of life.
Particular commendation is due to those teachers who focussed student awareness on points of language as they arose in the lesson. This was carried out for students of all levels of ability in the language. It is widely accepted that this is the most effective means of facilitating student understanding of the functional use of grammar and therefore the widespread use of this practice is recommended.
Samples of students’ work were displayed on the walls in many of the classrooms. In addition,
charts with collections of words and common speech idioms were displayed in a number of rooms. These two practices are commended. Teachers were reminded of the help that is available to students when the basic framework of common language structures is on display in the class so that they can refer to it while they are speaking Irish in class.
It was noted that some students took notes in their copybooks as the lesson proceeded. This practice is encouraged as it leads to independent learning and is a skill that should be fostered in every student. The teacher can decide whether students take notes on a continuous basis during the lesson, or, whether time be provided at particular stages in the lesson for students to make notes.
A variety of methods is used to assess students’ progress. These methods include oral tests in class, correction of written homework, monitoring of class work, class tests, house examinations, pre-examinations, listening comprehension tests and oral tests. Particular commendation is due to teachers who undertake these worthwhile oral tests outside normal school time. When it is not possible to administer individual tests to students, it is recommended that recognition be given in the overall mark awarded at Christmas and in the summer to the effort made by students to speak Irish in the class.
Widespread use is made of continuous assessment, especially in junior cycle. Giving recognition to student progress during the school year is very worthwhile and teachers are commended for their commitment to preparing and correcting these tests. It is recommended that a specific percentage of the total mark be awarded to the oral ability of students.
Some teachers place significant emphasis on the correction of major language mistakes which students make in their written exercises in so far as they oblige students to seek out the correct version or to rewrite the work. It is worthwhile spending time on correction in class and, to support this work, it is recommended that teachers employ strategies from Assessment for Learning with regard to peer assessment and self assessment.
All relevant participants are informed of students’ progress through reports which are sent home at arranged times during the school year. In addition parent-teacher meetings are organised for all year groups, apart from Transition Year, once a year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Irish enjoys a high status in the school.
· The high level of student ability in Irish was noted. Teachers are commended for fostering this ability in the students under their care.
· The teachers of Irish are competent.
· A wide-ranging programme of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities which supports the promotion of Irish outside the classroom is organised.
· Resources for Irish are available in a central location and teachers are accustomed to sharing their individual teaching and learning resources with their colleagues.
· Teachers actively participate in the subject development planning process.
· Teachers spend considerable time on individual planning.
· In all of the lessons observed a courteous and co-operative atmosphere prevailed.
· Irish was the predominant language in all the classes. Many opportunities were created for students to speak Irish.
· During the lessons students made excellent efforts to use Irish in the discussion on various subjects.
· Students took an active part in the activities of the lessons.
· A balance was achieved between individual and interactive tasks.
· Continuity between current and previous lesson content was evident.
· In the vast majority of lessons observed, students effectively practised the four language skills.
· A wide range of resources was used. Certain teachers made effective use of live material to stimulate student imagination and opinion.
· Topics covered in lessons reflected the interest range and experience of students.
· Students demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of the literary works that were being discussed in particular classes.
· In a number of lessons, the teaching of grammar was effectively woven into the work of the lesson.
· Independent learning was evident in certain lessons.
· A comprehensive system of assessment and effective reporting procedures are in place.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the school ensure that, at most, only two teachers are assigned to teach Irish to any one class group in first year.
· It is recommended that students’ oral ability be included in assessments.
· It is recommended that the Transition Year plan be further developed by increased emphasis on a range of functional skills including language, research, team, presentation and creativity skills.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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.
Published, December 2009