An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Irish

REPORT

 

Roscrea Community College

Roscrea County Tipperary

Roll number: 76069P

 

Date of inspection: 21 January 2008

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Learning and teaching

Assessment

Summary of the main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Roscrea Community College, Roscrea, County Tipperary. 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 one day 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

The teaching and learning of Irish is well provided for on the timetable in Roscrea Community College. All students in the senior cycle have single lesson periods on a daily basis. Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students have three classes per week.  In the junior cycle, second and third year students have five lessons a week the first years have only three class periods each week. Each of these is a thirty-five minute session and they are not well distributed throughout the week. It is recommended, therefore, that this allocation be reviewed within the constraints of the timetable. The practice of streaming the students according to examination level, based on a common examination taken by them at the end of their first year, should also be considered as part of this review.

 

First year and TY students are divided alphabetically. All other year groups are arranged according to examination level in State examinations. Concurrent timetabling is provided for these year groups. This facilitates movement between the higher and lower levels. Students are encouraged to follow the higher level course for as long as possible during cycles. Students are always afforded the freedom to move from one level to a more appropriate level provided this is agreed, in the form of a written application signed by parents or guardians. The management and teaching staff are commended for the comprehensive way in which the transition between levels is managed.

 

The school has a good range of materials and resources for the teaching of Irish. Most of the Irish teachers have their own base classroom. At the time this inspection was conducted there was no specific budget allocation to purchase resources for Irish. It was evident from discussions with the teachers that there is no difficulty in accessing any of the resources required by the department provided a form is completed and presented to school management. There is a library and a multimedia room in the school but these are not used to support the teaching and learning of the language. It is advised this situation be reviewed. It is also recommended, as part of the school development planning process (SDP) that the department research the learning resources and materials available for post-primary students on www.cogg.ie. A list could be compiled and a reasonable annual budget allocated to this. A good compilation of materials that would enhance the teaching and learning of Irish could be accumulated over time. There are four computer rooms in the school. Computers are also available in some of the specialist classrooms in the school. It is recommended that some practical steps be adopted, appropriate to the resources and facilities that are available, to integrate information and communication technologies (ICT) into the teaching and learning of Irish. The pupils should understand that Irish is a living language in modern media and that it is strongly linked to their own experiences.

 

The majority of those teachers who are engaged in the teaching and learning of Irish are graduates of Irish. School management provides every encouragement and support to staff to attend ongoing professional development. A representative of the department attends the presentations given by Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge. Staff representatives did not attend courses provided in 2006-2007 by the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) for Irish but two members of the department plan to attend one of these courses this academic year. It is recommended, as part of the SDP process, that the information from such courses and presentations be shared with the entire department. It is also advisable that the department would examine the feasibility of developing a mentoring scheme for Irish as part of the general mentoring programme for teachers currently available in the school.

 

Teachers make efforts to enrich students’ experiences of Irish outside the classroom as reflected by the mission statement of the school. Students participate in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities including drama, debates and quizzes that occur during the Nenagh Festival and Seachtain na Gaeilge which are sponsored by Conradh na Gaeilge. Competitions are organised to award Gaeltacht scholarships, funded by the Tipperary Vocational Educational Committee (VEC), to eight students from second and fifth year groups. The diligence of the Irish teachers in regard to these projects is commendable.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The Irish department has been engaged in the process of school development planning (SDP) since 2006.  A formal subject plan for Irish was developed for the first time that year as a means of building on what was taking place informally up until that point. The Irish department meets as a team once a month and they have informal contact on an ongoing basis. Sometimes meetings are held for particular year groups. The school management is commended for the priority they attach to subject planning. A comprehensive account is maintained of these planning meetings, as is best practice. It is clear from these accounts that the Irish teachers have begun to engage in effective planning particularly in regard to conducting a detailed review of homework. Another positive aspect of this co-operative planning is the review that has been conducted of the strengths and weaknesses of the department. It is recommended that an action plan be developed for the department in order to develop the ‘areas for improvement’ already identified by the department. Areas that require immediate attention include the absence of strategic planning within the department for students with specific educational needs (SEN), the development of differentiated teaching for mixed abilities as well as increasing skill needs of the department in the area of ICT. It is important to attach a specific time frame to the action plan as these areas have been identified by the department since May 2006.

 

In order to further develop the curriculum planning already developed it is recommended that some aspects of the plan be extended. Long-term plans have been developed for all year groups and describe the course content, the names of the textbooks, the class tasks and the assessment methods employed. The sequence in which particular themes are taught in first year have been agreed and the literature has been selected for the first month of year one Leaving Certificate. It is recommended that this practice be developed in the plans for all year groups, so that maximum benefits can be derived by students moving from one level to another. It would be helpful to plan for a thematic integration of the four main language skills and for various aspects of the course work in line with the principles of the syllabuses. Students’ language acquisition is more effective when the language is taught in an integrated manner allowing for the exposure to the interdependent mutually reinforcing relationship that exists between skills. It would be advisable, so as to assist to this work, that an agreed assessment procedures be devised to assess students’ in the four language skills as early as possible in their experience of Irish at post primary level. Currently the emphasis in the planning documents is on writing tasks.

 

An Irish plan has been designed for TY which connects the programme of study for Irish with the activities that are organised as part of TY. It is recommended that the aims of the Irish plan would be more closely related to the three underlying objectives of TY as outlined by the Department of Education and Science in its Transition Year Guidelines for Schools or at  www.transitionyear.ie. It is also recommended that some of the assessment and evaluation instruments that are available on the above TY website be translated to Irish to improve the assessment of the language and to include an input from students in regard to their opinions of the TY Irish programme. This review should form part of the overall review of the TY syllabus that is currently underway in the school.

 

It is recommended that a copy of the chief examiner’s report, the marking schemes and the information from the SLSS for Irish be included within the planning file.

 

The department has a chairperson and a secretary appointed since the end of 2006. It is recommended that these appointments be rotated so that more than two individuals gain an experience and understanding of the duties and responsibilities attached to these two roles.

 

Learning and Teaching

 

Short-term planning was good in most of the lessons observed during the inspection period. This short term planning had a positive impact on the structure, pace and continuity of the Irish lessons. These lessons had clearly defined teaching and learning objectives and teachers made students aware, as is appropriate, of the intended learning outcomes. Good preparation was carried out in the form of worksheets, colourful diagrams as well as a film extract and a pre-selected tape extract. 

 

Most teachers displayed good classroom-management skills. In these classes a good code of conduct and behaviour was promoted on an ongoing basis and there was a mutually empathetic relationship between students and the teachers.  Every teacher provided positive affirmation and feedback to the students on the quality of their responses. 

 

Effective teaching and learning strategies were employed in the majority of the classes observed during the inspection. In one particular class the review of homework was conducted by means of individual preparation work on a worksheet. The teacher made good provision for the individual needs of students, providing them with hints in regard to completing the task or encouraging them to use their own dictionaries to complete the information gap in order to fulfil the task. This practice of allowing students to participate in the development of their own learning is commendable. In another classes teachers achieved a balance between the input of the teacher and the activities of the students by making very good use of pair work. The students were practicing conversations from language frames of sample conversations that they have seen on the television series ‘Turas Teanga’. Students willingly engaged in pair work and their levels of participation were testament to the good pre-skills work conducted by the teacher. It is recommended that this good practice be extended throughout the department. In other classes various aspects of the course were thematically integrated in keeping with the underlying principles of the syllabuses. The teachers skilfully used questioning techniques and brainstorming sessions that encouraged students to participate in the lessons. It is recommended as an alternative approach to the teacher asking the questions that the students in pairs would ask the questions in order to practice the productive as well as the receptive language skills.

 

In one particular class when a comprehension extract from a textbook was included as part of the lesson the full range of learning opportunities were not achieved. No pre-skill work for reading or clarification of pronunciation was carried out despite students being asked to read the text aloud. Students did not understand what they were reading and almost all students who attempted to read had difficulties with pronunciation. The limited planning for this particular lesson resulted in very little learning during the reading period. It is recommended that preparatory work be carried out on a text, regardless of what skill is being taught, so that the text is accessible to the range of abilities that exist in all classes. It is further recommended that there should not be an over-reliance on textbooks as the main teaching and learning resource.

 

In the majority of classes good use was made of the board to record new vocabulary, to keep an account of the main aspects of the lesson as well as receiving feedback from students. This practice is commendable, most particularly for students with specific learning needs, because it assists the students visually as well as providing a record of the main points of the lesson. In a small number of classes the board was not used at all and the advantages mentioned above were therefore not realised. This good practice of providing a visual account of what has been learned is commendable and should be extended throughout the department. It is also recommended that new vocabulary be recorded and that an emphasis be placed, at least in the junior classes, on the sounds of the words. 

 

Irish was the language generally used in all classes observed during the inspection period. This approach is commendable because the teacher is often the only person that can exemplify the correct use of the language to the student. The good understanding that most students had of the content of the lessons was evident and students willingly participated in the target language when given the opportunity to so do. The teachers, in general, explained the vocabulary well, sometimes with a drawing on the board, which avoided the overuse of translation. The majority of the teachers focused students’ attention on grammar points within the communicative context of the extract rather than focusing on isolated points. Teachers are commended for this approach to teaching and learning in Irish. Such expressions as ‘What is the meaning of?’, ‘Did you have that answer?’, ‘How do you spell?’ or similar should not be heard in English by those learning Irish. It is recommended that the department would establish a consistent method of providing students, as soon as possible after they begin at second level, with the vocabulary and phrases they will need to communicate effectively in class.

 

The displays in Irish that were evident in the school were limited. As teachers do not have their own base classrooms it is understandable that it may be difficult to provide this visual learning environment it is nevertheless recommended that posters, displays and learning materials for Irish be provided for the school. Such a setting would greatly enhance some particular rooms.

Assessment

 

The usual arrangements for summative assessments apply to the various year groups in the school.  A report is issued to homes twice a year and these are based on the outcomes of the examinations. Teachers meet parents or guardians of each year group once a year. It is recommended in future that homework, assessments and the reports sent home, would include the four main language skills as this would reflect the integrated approach outlined in the syllabus, and also the above recommendations for teaching and learning. Such an approach would also improve the motivation levels of students across the range of skills.

 

Formative assessment is conducted both formally and informally. The informal methods observed during the inspection period included an oral assessment in the form of questions, pair work, and individual work on worksheets. In line with best practice, students are regularly tested when a topic has been completed. Records are kept in the teacher’s book of students’ results in these tests. It was indicated that some ordinary level Leaving Certificate students lacked motivation in regard to the learning of Irish. One teacher has developed a system where the outcomes of regular examinations are kept in a folder in the teacher’s own room. A clear record of the student’s results is maintained in this folder. The teacher indicated that this method motivated students in regard to their Irish examinations. This practice of developing new systems, on an ongoing basis, in order to improve student achievement is commendable.

 

The department has had discussions on the matter of homework for Irish.  The outcome of these discussions is that a detailed draft homework policy has been developed for Irish. This policy needs to be reviewed in regard to the type of homework tasks assigned in the various year groups so that a fair balance is given to the different language skills. A homework diary is used in the school and this is monitored by the class tutor and by the year head. It would also be advisable to have parents or guardians involved in monitoring this aspect of homework. It was clear from samples of these diaries that homework was regularly given. It is recommended that the tasks assigned would include all the language skills because this reinforces the ability of students across the skills rather than prioritising any one particular skill.  The randam sample of diaries inspected indictated that the homework was taken down in Irish or bilingually on occassions. Those teachers who avail of the opportunity to use the recording of homework as a teaching and learning opportunity are to be commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended throughout the department.

 

A sample of the copybooks observed during the inspection indicated that comprehensive work had been done on a range of topics pertaining to the syllabus requirements. Continuity, indicating a good level of development was evident in the copybooks. The corrections, on the whole, were developmental and provided students with a clear indication of work that was of a high standard as well as providing advice on how weak areas might be improved. Some teachers focus students’ attention on corrections by basing homework on work that has already been corrected. These teachers deserve to be highly commended for the diligence with which they carry out corrections. In other copybooks, however, corrections involved circling the grammar or spelling errors which emphasises the errors without giving any guide to the students on how to correct them. It is advisable that the department would review the correction methods currently employed to ensure the learners are learning from the different correction methods being used.

 

Some teachers were developing students’ organisational skills through the systematic recording of learning on the different aspects of the course in various copybooks or folders.  This is no small achievement and teachers are to be commended for promoting organisational skills in the students in their care.

 

Summary of the Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified during the evaluation:

 

·         There is good provision in the timetable for the teaching and learning of Irish in Roscrea Community College.

·         The school has a good range of resources and materials for the teaching and learning of Irish.

·         Priority is given to subject planning by holding monthly meetings and good progress has been made on aspects of the planning process.

·         Long-term subject plans have been developed for all year groups for the current year.

·         Good short-term planning as well as effective teaching and learning techniques pertained to the majority of lessons.

·         A detailed draft homework policy and systematic assessment practices have been developed for Irish.

 

 

 

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 current provision for first year students be reviewed as well as the appropriateness of streaming students according to ability at the end of this year. 

·         It is recommended that the department would research the teaching and learning materials and resources available for post-primary students.

·         It is also recommended that the department would explore the possibilities of initiating a mentoring system for Irish to support newly appointed teachers.

·         It is recommended that planning for language in the school be developed and that the above recommendations would act as a guideline for this strategic work.

·         It is recommended that the effective teaching and learning methods already used in the department be extended to include all teachers and that the department would update these methods regularly as part of an ongoing review of its work.

·         It is recommended that the four main language skills be taken into account in assigning homework, when assessing students, and in the reports that issue  to homes.

·         It is recommended that the department would review the practices employed by some teachers when correcting work in order to ensure that the learners are learning from the various correction methods.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were 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 September 2008