An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Coachford, County Cork
Roll number: 70960D
Dates of inspection: 26 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coachford College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 learning and teaching. 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, deputy principal and the teachers of Irish.
Irish enjoys a high status in Coachford College. The standing of Irish in the school emanates principally from the dedication of the teachers of Irish to providing a positive, beneficial experience of the learning of Irish for the students. The high standard of Irish among the teachers was noted, as was the particular enthusiasm many of them held for developing the students’ competency in the language. It is also worthy of mention that many of them have made every effort to develop their subject-specific skills as teachers.
The timetable is strongly supportive of Irish, particularly in that it ensures that learners have regular contact with the target language, on a daily basis in the majority of cases. First Year is comprised of mixed-ability classes and setting by ability is implemented in all other years. It is strongly recommended that the method of dividing the second-year and third-year students, as well as the senior-cycle students, into classes for Irish should be modified so as to allow a greater range of student ability in each class group. It was brought to the attention of teachers that the terms ‘Higher Level’, ‘Ordinary Level’ and ‘Foundation Level’ apply to the state certificate examinations and that it was not proper that classes would be set up, especially in Second Year and in Transition Year (TY), based on these examination levels.
Thirty-two students have exemption from the study of Irish. This figure amounts to 6% of the totality of students registered on the school roll at present. Twenty of these students have learning difficulties and the remainder are either newcomers or received their early education abroad. The teachers and school management were requested to continue to review the number of students not studying Irish formally and to make every effort to encourage as many students as possible to participate formally in Irish lessons.
Many of the teachers have designated classrooms, an arrangement which facilitates the storage of resources and which enables them to create a stimulating learning environment. All of these classrooms are equipped with storage, a television, a DVD-player, a computer, an overhead projector, a tape-recorder or CD-player, and a data projector. It would be beneficial if as many as possible of the Irish classes were to be held in these classrooms.
A variety of cross-curricular and co-curricular activities are organised as a means of promoting Irish outside the classroom. TY students are taken to the Gaeltacht and scholarships are made available every year as support for students who wish to spend a period in the Gaeltacht in summer. It was reported that a programme of events such as an art competition, a quiz and a céilí is organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge. Strong links have been established with the Physical Education, French, Technology and Geography departments of the school and various events are organised in conjunction with them.
Planning is an integral part of the work of the Irish teachers, whether on an individual or collaborative basis. The teachers participate actively in the subject development planning process and the Irish plan gives a comprehensive insight into the work of the department.
Among the documents reviewed in the Irish file were a mission statement for Irish, aims and objectives relating to the experience of students of learning Irish, a description of the way in which the learning and teaching of Irish are organised in the school, a list of the available equipment and resources and the minutes of meetings. There is reference also in the file to the manner in which students with special educational needs are supported, to the cross-curricular and co-curricular activities undertaken and to the different courses completed by teachers in order to develop their own professional skills.
Annual work plans have been drawn up for all year groups. These schemes constitute a solid foundation in that, in relation to every topic, they contain reference to aims, equipment and the activities to be undertaken. In some schemes, reference is made to relevant language functions and to the way in which the effectiveness of the teaching is assessed. It would be advisable that all schemes would set out the specific learning objectives, the language structures, the learning activities, the equipment and the methods of assessment for each topic. It would also be desirable that the attainment of the objectives laid down would be regularly reviewed, particularly the learning and teaching strategies which had succeeded and the greatest challenges that remain to be overcome.
All documentation is the product of discussions among the teachers who are to be complimented on their enthusiasm for collaborative planning. A further indication of their diligence is that they come together frequently, on an informal basis, in order to discuss matters relating to Irish. Administrative issues in the main are discussed at these meetings and it was recommended that classroom practices should also be addressed at them. It would be highly beneficial, for example, if teachers were to bring to these meetings an example of a teaching strategy or of a resource which enhanced the effectiveness of learning in their own classes.
As regards the TY plan, it contains too much material from the Leaving Certificate course, especially from the literature section. It is also felt that this plan is directed at those students who are most proficient at Irish and that it does not create sufficient opportunities for practising functional Irish. This plan is not entirely in keeping with the basic principles underlying the TY programme, in that it offers only limited opportunities for fostering interpersonal, presentation, team, research, creative, administrative and other skills in the students. Suggestions were put to teachers and management as to how a language programme could be implemented in which emphasis would be placed on the functional use of Irish and on the development of the communication skills of students of all abilities.
The diligence of teachers in respect of individual planning was noted. It was apparent from the classroom practice that the teachers had planned in detail for the lessons they presented. Many teachers made a lesson plan available, detailing the language structures to be practised, the activities to be initiated and the resources to be utilised. This is excellent practice. Particular praise is due to those teachers who planned to avail of every opportunity to make use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This reveals an understanding of the fact that it is easier to generate student participation if we introduce as many elements as possible of the lives which they live into our classrooms.
Irish was the language in use in all the classes observed. The teachers spoke Irish to the students and the majority of them understood what was said by the teacher. Many opportunities of speaking Irish were created for the students in all the classes. Frequently, homework was examined at the beginning of lessons or the lesson topic was discussed collectively before any student embarked on writing. In fact, it was the approach in one instance, before students were permitted to take notes, to give practice in the accurate oral pronunciation and the methodical manipulation of the language structures which were to be acquired. This is a commendable practice as it ensures that the newly-acquired language has been internalised aurally, the sense on which we are most dependant when communicating. The students are to be congratulated on their efforts to supply answers and to express opinions through the medium of Irish and on speaking Irish to one another when engaged in pair work.
An atmosphere of courtesy was evident in classes, particularly those classes in which it was apparent that good relations had been cultivated between students and teachers. In these cases, teachers had no difficulty in initiating discussions with the students and in eliciting opinions from them on the subject matter of lessons.
The students were assigned various activities which ensured that they were given practice in the four language skills. This approach is praiseworthy. Not alone does the variety of activities contribute to the spirit of a class, but the newly-acquired language is reinforced in various ways suited to the abilities and talents of different learners. Frequently, interactive tasks such as paired work were allocated and the majority of students undertook these with enthusiasm. Where students were reluctant to become involved in pair work, it is recommended that it be ensured that a specific task is given for completion, for example the compilation of three main points. In those instances where individual students were too inclined to note down these points for themselves only, rather than debating them with their partners, it is recommended that they would be asked to put their pens and copybooks to one side.
Independent learning was being practised extensively. Each student had an individual copybook for note-taking and they were required to keep a record in this copybook of the language learned by them during the class. These copybooks function as study aids for students when they are revising what they have learned. It is commendable, therefore, that teachers are creating opportunities for them to refer frequently to the information compiled by them in these copybooks.
The equipment and resources utilised included the data projector, the tape recorder, the video player, worksheets, a laptop computer, flashcards and photographs. The textbook was seldom resorted to and the teachers are to be complimented on the resourcefulness which they have brought to the design of the resources used by them. This contemporary real-life material strongly influenced the students as it encouraged their participation in class activities.
Many teachers have endeavoured to create a stimulating learning environment in their classrooms. It was pleasing to see samples of the students’ work displayed on the walls. In addition, charts had been hung showing vocabulary sets, interrogative particles, proverbs, the more common speech idioms and irregular verbs. These charts were extremely useful during lessons in reminding students of word meanings or of the correct verbal forms. It would be of benefit if this practice were to be extended even further. It would also be advantageous if samples of the students’ work were to be displayed throughout the school, particularly the photographs of TY activities in the Gaeltacht.
There is a system of assessment in the school which keeps all parties informed on the progress being made by the students.
It was clear from the classroom practice that students are allocated homework every night, whether written work or assignments for learning. Samples of the students’ written work were examined. The majority of them had completed many written exercises. It was felt that teachers could supply a greater amount of feedback to the students. It was pointed out to teachers that it was not sufficient to award a mark for a written exercise or to append a single-word comment at the end, without giving the student an indication of how this mark had been arrived at, of the basis for the judgement and of ways in which the mark might be enhanced or a more positive judgement obtained. In one instance certain strategies drawn from Assessment for Learning were utilised. It would be worthwhile extending this practice with a view to making students responsible for some of their own learning. It would also be advisable to promote the use of peer assessment as a method of directing each student’s attention to the most effective way of completing an assignment.
Class tests are given to students, in addition to main examinations at Christmas and in summer. These are common examinations as all students follow the same course. Students due to take the certificate examinations are given preliminary examinations in the spring. These main examinations are worthwhile as they give students practice in time management, the lay-out of examination papers and the rubrics of the state examinations.
The main modes of assessment are written examinations and aural examinations. Oral examinations are given to sixth-year students and a mark is awarded for a written project on the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht done by the TY students. Continuous assessment creates many possibilities of carrying out a balanced assessment of the four language skills, as well as providing for the assessment of other skills. It is strongly recommended that ways of including the speaking abilities of all students in their assessments be explored. It is further recommended that TY students be assigned more functional tasks and that a specific percentage of the total mark in the main examinations would be allocated to the year’s work.
Each year, the school management analyses students’ results in the state examinations. It was reported that this information is shared with the teachers. It is recommended that the teachers themselves should also analyse this information, particularly the number of students who take Irish at the each level every year. It is recommended that attention should be directed in particular to the number of boys and the number of girls who take Irish at the various levels. The teachers were commended on their work in preparing all students for the state examinations and on the results obtained by the students in them.
Parents are kept informed on the students’ progress by sending a report home after each one of the main examinations. Meetings between parents and teachers are held once a year.
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 key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish, with the principal and the deputy principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations above were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009