An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9
Roll number: 60420L
Date of inspection: 23 and 24 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection carried out as part of a whole-school evaluation in Ardscoil Rís. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Irish in Ardscoil Rís and offers 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.
The school management is commended for their support and provision for the teaching and learning of Irish. There are seven teachers of Irish in the school, most of whom have long experience of teaching Irish at various levels. The management is commended for encouraging the teachers to teach Irish at different levels. This enhances teachers’ experience and understanding of implementing different syllabuses and the particular requirements of each.
First-year students are in mixed-ability classes and each student is encouraged to attempt higher-level Irish for that year. According to their achievements in all subjects in summer exams at the end of first year, students are allocated to streamed classes for the second and third years of the junior cycle. It was stated, however, that students are given the opportunity, up to Christmas of their second year, to move to the class that best suits their needs. The single class in Transition Year is of mixed ability. Students are divided into higher-level and ordinary-level classes for fifth and sixth years. In some cases, as was observed, students within a single class study Irish at different levels, for example at ordinary level and foundation level. It is recommended that every student be encouraged to attempt Irish at the highest level commensurate with his ability.
It was stated that four students were exempt from the study of Irish in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94. These students remain in class with their fellow-students during Irish classes.
Junior cycle classes have four Irish lessons per week. In the senior cycle, Transition Year students have two Irish classes per week, while fifth and sixth years have five Irish classes per week. It happens this year that one year group is timetabled for a double class; this should be avoided because students derive greater benefit from a regular daily input of Irish.
Although there is no specific budget for Irish, the management provides funding on request for teaching and learning aids and resources. The computer room which was being developed when the school was last visited is now fitted out and available to the teachers of Irish once they book time there. Teachers of Irish do not use this room with their classes very often. It is recommended that teachers include the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. This would help to present Irish to the students as a living contemporary language. Besides, it would give the students an opportunity to practise transferable skills, for example, to evaluate critically information sourced on the internet.
The student council presents scholarships to a number of students to enable them to attend a summer college in the Gaeltacht. This supportive initiative for their fellow-students and for Irish is praiseworthy indeed and both teachers and management are commended for developing respect for and interest in the language among the students.
A central storage area for resources is available to the teachers of Irish. Among those resources are audio-visual aids, books for teenagers and worksheets. The teachers have done admirable work in this area and it is recommended that development of the unit be continued and that the resources be regularly updated.
The teachers of Irish have three formal meetings per year. These meetings are mainly concerned with selection of textbooks, planning for exams and for the school year in general, including the allocation of students to appropriate classes and school events. It was intimated that teachers consult one another very regularly outside of the times set aside for formal meetings. There is no co-ordinator for Irish in the school at present. It is understood that this situation is under discussion and it is recommended that a co-ordinator be appointed for the subject. This could be organised, for instance, through the role being rotated among the teachers.
The teachers of Irish have made great advances in planning since the school was last visited. Plans were provided for each year-group. In some cases individual teachers also provided year plans or class plans. Planning documents were of a good standard, especially those for second and third years. Collaborative planning is undertaken for teaching and learning Irish in first year and this approach deserves great praise. It is recommended that the same approach be adopted in the case of other classes taking Irish at the same level in the various year groups. The Transition Year plan indicated that the teachers were utilising opportunities to heighten students’ cultural awareness through music and singing, a very worthwhile strategy. In order to develop planning further, it is recommended that the model devised for planning for second and third years be analysed and that this be used as a guide to planning for the other year groups. It is also recommended that the plans include an account of any monitoring and review of planning undertaken during the year.
A plan was also provided for co-curricular and extra-curricular events being run for the students during the current year, insofar as these were relevant to Irish. This plan indicated that each year-group would participate during the year in some event that would enhance their cultural awareness during the year: Irish-medium sports events, events involving Irish music and dance for Seachtain na Gaeilge, visits to places of historical interest, interviews for An Fáinne. Events such as these offer the students opportunities to use Irish outside the Irish class and in different contexts. The management and teachers make great efforts to provide these opportunities for the students.
A very good standard of preparation had been made for the vast majority of the classes observed. The strategies and methodologies used ensured active participation by students in most of the classes. They also showed that the teachers were able to use their imagination and creativity in order to present the subject-matter of the lessons to the students in ways that were attractive and that encouraged their active participation. It is necessary, however, when preparation is undertaken, to ensure that account is taken of the needs of all students in the class so that everyone receives an input and an opportunity to participate in the work.
Some examples of best practice were observed during visits to the classes. In the majority of the classes, the students had to undertake a variety of tasks based on pair work, group work, role-play and individual work. Some classes began with roll-call and correction of homework. In a few cases the teacher informed the students about the objectives of the lesson and in one case reference was made to those objectives at appropriate times during the lesson. It is recommended that the practice of informing students of the learning objectives of lessons be more widely used. This would facilitate a greater understanding by the students of their learning, of how this links with the other work being undertaken by them in the subject and a greater awareness of their progress. It is also recommended that an opportunity be taken at the end of a class to ask the students to reflect on what they have learnt and how they have learned it. This could be done orally.
A very good example of the teaching of poetry was observed. Effective use was made of pictures and of the white-board to prepare the students to use and discuss vocabularly that related to the emotions and themes in the poem. This approach ensured that the students’ attention was focused on the task. Clever use was made of teaching aids to develop the students’ vocabulary on different topics – audio material, projector and white-board for example. It would be worth using authentic texts that are available, for example Irish-language material from the broadcasting media, to develop the students’ vocabulary and listening skills. A really effective example of this approach was observed in the case of role-play based on the news. This method affords opportunities to link the subject-matter of the lesson to the students’ own experience and to deal with current affairs. It is important to remember, when developing written resources, that the text should be within the reading range of all students in the class.
In the majority of classes observed the variety of tasks, based on a common theme, being undertaken by the students, were very effectively managed. The development of oral ability in Irish was central to all the work and it is recommended that this be continued. This was facilitated by dividing classes into pairs or larger groups according to the task in hand. These groups later provided feedback to the class. In some instances the arrangement of the desks in the classrooms was very conducive to creating situations suited to conversation. The development of the other skills was handled in an integrated way, as recommended.
Irish was used as the medium of instruction and as the general language of communication in all the classes. It was obvious from the students that this was their everyday experience. The ability of the students in oral Irish in some of the classes was of a good standard and the students in general demonstrated self-confidence in speaking Irish. The teachers are commended for promoting this confidence in the students and it is recommended that they continue doing so. In some instances grammar was integrated into the lesson in a way that suited the students and they demonstrated their familiarity with a variety of structures. It is recommended that teachers continue to use this strategy because of the importance of students’ understanding of the syntax and grammar of the language if they are to communicate effectively.
Homework based on the lesson content was assigned to the students in every class. This practice is commended. In some cases teachers focused on developing independent learning skills through assigning particular kinds of homework or through exercises aimed at developing dictionary skills. Particularly praiseworthy was the task in which students were directed to frame questions based on the subject-matter of the lesson, questions which would be used in the next lesson. Such an exercise encourages students to think about what they are learning and to take responsibility for it.
The students were given great praise and encouragement in all classes. The vast majority of the students showed that they were able for the work and that they were prepared to take part.
Displayed on the walls of most of the classrooms were posters, examples of the students’ work and other materials that would support the students in their work, for example, authentic matter from the media. These displays in the classroom environment are commended and teachers are advised to update the material regularly.
Students’ progress is assessed through regular class tests, at the end of a unit of work, for example. House exams are held twice a year. Reports on students’ progress are sent home to the parents twice a year and parent-teacher meetings are convened once a year.
Examples of students’ written work were examined in copybooks and in folders during the inspection visit. Teachers’ corrections were noted in some instances. Any work assigned to students and its correction by the teacher forms part of the assessment of student work. To help with students’ learning, constructive corrections must be made on their work, as was done in some instances. The students should have a clear understanding of the criteria being used by the teacher when correcting. Students should be given credit for what is done correctly or well and should be given guidance on how to improve their work, so that they can make better progress. Further guidance on Assessment for Learning can be read in various editions of info@ncca.
The inspector was informed that students’ oral ability in Irish is not assessed as part of the house exams. Since the development of all the language skills, and oral Irish in particular, are a fundamental objective of the syllabuses, and a central part of the classes observed, it is recommended that all the language skills be covered in the house exams in Irish. This would give recognition to all the work being done by the students and would give a clearer picture of their progress in the various skills.
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:
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.