An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coláiste Éinde Threadneedle Road
Roll Number: 62981P
Date of inspection: 29 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection as part of a whole school evaluation in St. Enda’s College, Threadneedle Road, Galway. 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 timetable provides good support for Irish in so far as daily contact with the target language is ensured. First year and Transition Year students are arranged as mixed ability classes. Students are streamed at the end of their first year based on the outcomes of a common examination. Other year groups in the school are organised on the basis of examination level. Classes are concurrently timetabled from second year on to Leaving Certificate. Management makes every effort to ensure continuity by assigning the same teachers to students for the duration of the cycles. The students are permitted to change from one level to another provided they have a transfer form signed by parents or guardians. It is commendable that most of the teachers are teaching both cycles and at the various examination levels, an approach that ensures most of the department has experience of teaching the subject from first year through to Leaving Certificate.
All teachers responsible for the teaching and learning of Irish are graduates of Irish. Management gives every encouragement and support to the staff to attend ongoing professional development courses. All the Irish teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. This year representatives of the department participated in inservice courses for Irish provided by the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) and the intention is that different members of the department will attend the courses next year. It is recommended, as part of the school development planning process (SDP), that the information from these courses is made available to all members of the department.
The department has compiled a significant number of learning and teaching resources. These include an electronic file that the department has produced. Most teachers have their own classes and one of these rooms has a storage area which all teachers can access easily. These resources are organised and renewed on an ongoing basis. During the school year 2006-2007 an Irish language section was included in the school library with support from a Cló-Iar Chonnachta scheme. The Irish teaching staff deserves high commendation for this professional cooperation and for their initiative in providing materials and resources for their students. The website www.cogg.ie. is suggested as a reference point where lists of teaching and learning materials and resources suitable for post primary pupils can be accessed.
The school has granted an exemption to a significant number of pupils in accordance with Circular M10/94.
Every effort is made to promote an Irish culture inside and outside the school by providing a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The number of teachers in the school who use Irish as their normal language of communication is impressive. Those teachers are highly commended. Seachtain na Gaeilge is a big event in the school calendar. Guest speakers visit the school on a regular basis. Students are given every encouragement to spend time in the Gaeltacht. It is recommended that an Irish language award might be presented to a student, based on the criteria agreed by the department, at the annual prize-giving event.
The Irish department in the school has been established for a number of years and the teachers meet formally four times each year. A coordinator is appointed to the department and this appointment is rotated on a regular basis, a practice which is advisable as it affords more than one person the opportunity to gain an understanding and experience of the responsibilities pertaining to coordination. It is recommended that the department develop a subject action plan that would give structure to the monthly meetings in terms of the objectives they wish to prioritise. As a support to their formal meetings the teachers also meet regularly on an informal basis. The school management and the Irish department are highly commended for the manner in which they prioritise team planning in St. Enda’s College.
Detailed work has been completed on some aspects of the school plan. Particular emphasis has been placed by the department, as is appropriate, on students’ learning objectives across the four language skills. It would be advisable that the same objectives that form the basis of teaching and learning would also be included in assessment. Long term plans for curriculum presentation have been developed for each year group. It is recommended that further development on these long-term plans take place on a team basis so that language functions and themes are taught in an integrated way, as set out in the key principals of the syllabuses. It would be desirable to outline what teaching and learning activities will be used, as well as the resources and the assessment modes already outlined. It was indicated that the department had identified the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into the teaching and learning of Irish as a priority for next year. It is recommended that practical steps be adopted, in line with the materials and resources available, to make more use of ICT as part of the learning experience of students in Irish. Research needs to be conducted into the differentiated approach for all year groups. It is advised that staff discuss the differentiated techniques that they already employ in the department and the Special Education Support Services (SESS) www.sess.ie can be used for reference materials for this initiative.
A good plan has been designed for Transition Year (TY) this year. The aims set out in the Irish plan are in line with the three underlying objectives of the TY as described by the Department in the Transition Year Programme, Guidelines for Schools and on www.transitionyear.ie. The objectives focusing on personal development and skills as well as on the development of awareness in students of their cultural heritage, particularly the Gaeltacht heritage, are commendable. It would be desirable to have a TY plan as part of the overall plan for Irish from the beginning of each school year and in order to progress the planning process for TY it is recommended that the Irish programme be linked to the specific cultural heritage of the school and of the city of Galway. It is also recommended that some of the assessment and review instruments that are on the TY website be translated to Irish. This development would enhance the standard of assessment of the language and it would give the students an opportunity to have an input into the Irish programme for TY, a project that would be most valuable for future planning.
All teachers had a high standard of short-term planning and preparation. Almost all lessons had a developmental structure and an appropriate pace characterised the steps of the lessons. The majority of teachers made students aware, either orally or on the board, of the intended learning outcomes both at the beginning of the lesson and also at points during the lesson when the focus of learning was altered. Teachers are commended for their diligence in this regard. It is recommended that a debriefing session be conducted with students at the end of the lesson to determine what learning has occurred, as independence is nurtured in learners when they have to identify their own learning outcomes.
A mutually respectful and purposeful learning atmosphere was observed in all lessons during the inspection. All teachers had effective classroom management skills. Teachers had a good knowledge of the students in their care and this greatly enhanced the interaction in learning and teaching. High standards of learning and behaviour were evident in all classes and positive reinforcement was always given to students for the quality of their efforts and opinions.
Every effort is made to provide a stimulating learning environment in teachers’ classrooms. The walls of the classrooms were decorated with posters created by students themselves as well as grammar charts and other learning resources of a high standard. These displays focused on specific content and they were legible and appealing, indicating that the department had given thought to the visual scaffolding required by students when they are learning the language. The Irish teachers are highly commended for their diligence in this regard.
The teaching and learning strategies employed in the Irish lessons were effective and spoken Irish was to the fore in every class during the inspection. Students, as well as having a good standard of Irish, were at ease with the vocabulary of the classroom. Students’ good level of understanding of the subject matter was evident and they willingly participated in the target language when given the opportunity to do so. All teachers simplified the language well avoiding an overuse of the translational method. In most classes overhead projectors, worksheets, coloured pictures and the white board were used to good effect to focus students’ attention on the new vocabulary, on aspects of dialect and grammar in the communicative context of the extract rather than as single entities. Such an approach is commendable and those teachers who combine the aural and the visual at the same time by using visual resources to support pupil learning are commended. In one particular class students provided the spelling for certain words and the teacher recorded these on the board. It is recommended that discussion take place on these effective methods for language acquisition to ensure that all members of the team employ these techniques.
The integration of the language skills, as well as various aspects of the syllabus, was used to good effect in half the classes observed. Pre-skill work was very well conducted for written work, oral language and listening skills whereby the teacher adapted the language to suit the range of abilities of the students. In one particular class, however, reading was done with a class without any preparation in advance on the vocabulary or pronunciation of the extract. It is recommended that the good practice already employed in the department for the teaching and learning of other skills be applied to reading also.
In general, teachers achieved a balance between their own input and student activity by providing a variation in terms of whole class presentation, group work, individual tasks and language games. An exemplar of this group work was in use in some classes where the teacher explained the task clearly. In one particular class the task was modelled in advance by the teacher with one of the students. An appropriate length of time was agreed with the students for the completion of the task and students participated enthusiastically in the work. The teachers circulated the classroom attending to the needs of students. Communicative situations were created in these lessons whereby students had opportunities during the lesson to practice both their receptive and productive language skills. It is recommended that greater use be made of this approach rather than teacher and student questioning dominating interactions. This will reduce the language input of the teacher and more opportunity for communication between students will be created. In those classes where group work was taking place good feedback sessions were conducted at the end of the lesson. The work completed by students during the tasks was evident from the standard of their inputs. Teachers who facilitate this form of active learning are highly commended. In line with this high standard of teaching and learning problem-solving techniques were used to good effect during a poetry lesson and a differentiated approach was used during a series of revision questions conducted on a poem with another senior class. It would be commendable if these methodologies were shared with all members of staff as part of the cooperative planning for the subject.
The school is using a homework diary system and parents or guardians regularly monitor these. At the time of inspection, school management was reviewing staff supervision of these diaries. The review of how effective the diaries are working in the school is commendable. It was evident from a sample of the diaries examined that homework was being regularly assigned in line with the homework guidelines in the subject plan. There was a variation across all language skills in the work recorded in the diaries for some year groups. An integrated approach to homework is strongly recommended and it would be helpful if all staff were employing this good practice. The number of times that homework was recorded in Irish only, or bilingually, was significant. Commendation is due to those teachers who avail of the opportunity to use the recording of homework as an opportunity for teaching and learning. A sample of the copybooks observed during the inspection suggested that comprehensive work had been completed on a range of topics in line with syllabus requirements. Continuity, and a good level of progress, was evident in the work in copybooks. This random sample of copybooks inspected confirmed that they were being regularly monitored and that developmental corrections were frequently made by most of the subject teachers. Such developmental corrections are very helpful in improving students’ learning and this method of correction is recommended for all staff. It is also recommended that the department reflect on the learning value of corrections to ensure that the correction process impacts positively on the intrinsic motivation of the learner. Students are given exams each month and a record of the results are kept in the teacher’s diary. It would be advisable to award an agreed percentage on a continuous basis for students’ participation in the target language. It is also recommended <0} that the department extend its range of evaluation instruments by developing the area of assessment for learning (AFL). This method of assessment focuses on the learning process rather than placing the emphasis on learning outcomes. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) www.ncca.ie would be helpful in this regard.
Comprehensive summative assessment is conducted for all students. Assessment of aural skills also forms part of the certificate examinations and oral Irish examinations are formallly conducted for Leaving Certificate students. Although oral language skills are informally taken into account for all students in the school, it is recommended that formal recognition be given to all skills in summative assessments from first year onwards. It is also recommended that the four main language skills be integrated in the reports sent home.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Priority is given to the language on the timetable and a favourable level of support is provided for the Irish department.
· Good work has been done on some aspects of the planning process for Irish.
· Short term planning and preparation was of a high standard for all classes.
· A high standard of teaching and learning methodologies was used during the inspection period and this gave students an opportunity to be actively engaged in their own learning.
· Systematic practices are in place for assessment and for homework and these were being developmentally reviewed on a regular basis.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that some aspects of planning for the language, as outlined above, be developed in terms of teaching and learning methodologies, review instruments and in particular, the TY plan.
· It is recommended that the high standard of teaching methods already employed by some members in the department be shared with all staff as part of cooperative planning for the subject.
· It is recommended that from first year onwards all language skills be taken into account when assigning homework, assessing students, and in the reports issuing to homes as this would improve students’ motivation across all skills in keeping with the department’s own objectives.
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 November 2008