An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Sacred Heart College
Carrignavar, County Cork
Roll number: 62130M
Date of inspection: 21st/22nd March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sacred Heart College, Carrignavar. 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 teachers of Irish.
Sacred Heart College is a school which has long been associated with the promotion of Irish. It is specifically stated in the school's Mission Statement that the nurturing of this strong Gaelic tradition forms an integral part of educational provision. The importance of fostering the speaking of Irish outside of the classroom had long been acknowledged and the effects of this are still to be observed in the life of the school.
The students of Sixth Year have six Irish classes per week. Such provision represents a significant degree of support for the learning and teaching of Irish at this level and the school management are to be commended on this. Fifth, Second and Third Years each have five classes per week, First Year has four and Transition Year has three classes per week. It is acknowledged that timetable constraints are the reason that First Year and Transition Year have so few periods. Nonetheless, it is recommended that the feasibility of making an additional weekly class available for Transition Year in particular should be explored, as the more frequent the contact which learners have with the target language, the better.
There are ten students in the school with an exemption from the study of Irish. Two of these are foreign nationals and the remaining eight have learning difficulties as defined in Circular M10/94. When possible, additional support lessons are provided for these students in English, literacy and numeracy during the periods timetabled for Irish. The small number of students having exemption from the study of Irish is a positive indicator. It shows clearly that the study of Irish is considered to be a core element in the educational provision being made by the school.
First Year students are organised in mixed-ability classes until Christmas. Subsequent to the November examinations, First Year students of Irish are divided in accordance with their examination results - Higher Level classes are streamed on the basis of ability and Ordinary Level classes are of mixed ability. This system continues to be implemented until the end of Sixth Year, with the exception of Transition Year where mixed-ability classes apply. The system is considered to be effective as it makes it easier for the teacher to meet the varying learning needs of students in relation to Irish. Classes are timetabled in parallel, in order that students may be enabled to switch from one level to another. This type of flexibility is commendable.
It was noted that the same person teaches the senior Higher Level class every year. Because of this, the other members of the Irish Department lack experience of teaching at this level. This arrangement carries many implications, not only for the acquisition of professional skills but also for the general well-being of Irish in the school. It was recommended that other teachers should be given the opportunity of teaching the Higher Level classes, possibly by introducing a system of rotation.
There are seven teachers of Irish in the school. They frequently meet informally in order to discuss matters relating to Irish. The Irish Department holds formal meetings three times a year. It was suggested that it was difficult to ensure full attendance at these meetings, as other subject meetings are convened for the same times. It was recommended that this anomaly should be raised with management with a view to having it rectified. Among the topics on the agenda for meetings are the selection of textbooks, examinations, the division of classes, extra-curricular activities and planning. The teachers are members of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge (the subject association for teachers of Irish) and they occasionally attend meetings of the Comhar. One of the teachers attends a night class in Irish. This commitment is commendable. Not alone does it give the teacher an opportunity of practising his/her own Irish at a high level, but the teacher also gains an insight into alternative teaching methods which may be adapted to meet the requirements of second level students.
The Irish and bilingual signs in evidence throughout the building are a clear indication that Irish enjoys a high status in the school. The fact that Irish should be so prominent in the environment constitutes a strong affirmation for learners and this practice should be developed and extended.
The school has a Language Room containing a modern computer system, a screen, data projector and tape recorder. This room is spacious and planned so as to make it possible to divide students easily into groups or to assign activities to student without interfering with the layout of the room. The availability of this room is of great assistance to teachers, as it provides both teachers and students with greater freedom to undertake applied activities.
The extra-curricular activities relating to Irish include debates, visits to the Gaeltacht and An Lá Gaeilge. This is a whole day which the First and Second Year students spend playing Gaelic games through the medium of Irish. There follows a prize-giving at the end of the day, together with a social occasion, all of which are conducted entirely through Irish. Praise is due, both to the teachers and students, for their participation in all of these activities. Not only do they stimulate the speaking of Irish outside of the classroom setting but they also demonstrate that Irish has its place in the contemporary lives of students.
The Irish Department holds a planning file in which annual plans have been set down. These plans are an indication that discussions on learning objectives take place among the teachers of Irish. It was noted that objectives were specified in accordance with the tasks that are to be completed for the purposes of the state examinations. It was recommended that these objectives should be reviewed and that the Irish syllabus should be drawn on, in the specification of the main learning objectives. It was further recommended that closer consideration should be given to: (a) the assembling of teaching aids and the effective use of teaching resources, particularly the Language Room; (b) teaching strategies, especially methods of nurturing the students' oral ability; and (c) the Transition Year programme.
It was indicated that only the initial steps had been taken in the formal process of subject planning. For many years, the staff of the Irish Department have given considerable thought to the many factors influencing the learning and teaching of Irish and have implemented their work practices accordingly. It was recommended to the Irish teachers that all relevant documentation should be deposited in the planning file as evidence of all that happens in the school in the interest of Irish.
It was apparent that teachers expend a great deal of effort in the preparation of lessons. They had given thought to the learning objectives, the teaching methods and the activities which they considered to be effective in attaining these objectives.
In the course of the days of the evaluation, all participants engaged in the process of learning and teaching and the majority of them discharged their own particular responsibilities. The students endeavoured to make use of whatever Irish they knew and they undertook the designated tasks with willingness and diligence. They are to be commended on this. Irish was the language spoken by the teachers to the students, a practice to which the majority of students were clearly accustomed.
The subject matter of lessons was interesting for the most part, a factor which stimulated the opinions of students. Concerts, modes of travel and human characteristics were among the topics addressed. In other classes various works of literature were disussed and it was obvious, in general, that the students had a commendable grasp of the main themes of such works.
Overall, the subject matter was presented in a manner which matched the learning abilities and interests of students. In certain instances the students' attention was drawn to a linguistic point, a practice which is commendable particularly in the case of students having a high standard of Irish.
Writing and listening were the activities most frequently engaged in during lessons: the students spent more time at listening and at writing than at any other communication activity. It is widely accepted that it is most beneficial to integrate all communication skills as far as possible while a language is being taught. The greater the degree of variation, as between listening, reading, speaking and writing in the lesson, the better.
In one class, the students sang one of the poems on the Leaving Certificate course. This they did melodiously. The tones and pronunciation were wonderfully clear and tuneful, a situation which indicates that a variation in class activity has an influence both on students and on the process of learning and teaching. In light of this, it is recommended that the range of activities in classes should be expanded. The fostering of the students' speaking skills should constitute a specific subsidiary objective in the case of the majority of activities undertaken during lessons. With this in mind, it would be well to initiate working in pairs and group work as frequently as possible.
A limited range of resources was used during the lessons observed. The white board, copybook and work sheets were largely employed, except for one class where a tape recorder was used. One teacher had a folder of photographs from magazines to hand but did not avail of them during the lesson. No group of learners was brought to the language room during the evaluation. The importance of using contemporary material and modern resources in teaching modern languages was explained to the teachers. Not only are they closer to the students' own life experiences but are also evidence that Irish is indeed a modern language linked to the lives which they themselves lead. In addition, their use is an effective means of stimulating the opinions and imagination of students, thus affording opportunities for true communication.
The students' written work was reviewed. It was apparent that they had done a great deal of written exercises, especially examination questions. It was recommended to the teachers that they should draw the attention of students to language errors and that they should set aside time during lessons for the correction of the work. It must be remembered that the copybook often represents the main source of reference for students during their revision of what has been learnt.
The students are regularly given written homework and this is checked, a practice which is extremely important. The exercises are collected, as appropriate, so as to enable the teacher to analyse the work more closely. This analysis provides the teacher with an insight into the effectiveness of learning and teaching. Additionally, the teacher is enabled to supply the student with more detailed feedback as to how the standard of the work might be further enhanced. In certain classes a mark was awarded for the work of students. This approach is highly commendable, particularly in the case of senior students who are preparing for state examinations, as it gives them an accurate measure of the standard which they are achieving.
In-house examinations are organised twice a year, in November and in the summer. Following the in-house examinations, a report is posted home so as to keep parents/guardians informed as to the progress of the student. Students taking the state examinations are administered preliminary examinations in the spring. These are worthwhile, particularly as experience for the students of the rubrics of state examinations, of the lay-out of papers and of time management.
The speaking skills of Fifth and Sixth Year students are formally assessed and the marks awarded are taken into account in the in-house examinations. This is a praiseworthy practice and the school management is to be commended on allocating time to teachers for the completion of this work. It was recommended that the speaking skills of junior and Transition Year students should also be taken into account in the in-house examinations, by awarding a certain percentage of marks for their efforts to speak Irish in class.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school has a strong tradition of promoting Irish and Irish culture. These are specifically mentioned in the school's Mission Statement, an indication that Irish forms an integral part of the educational provision of the school. The effects of this are to be observed in the various work practices implemented and in the extra-curricular activities undertaken.
· The school building itself is evidence of the status which Irish enjoys in the school. The signs throughout the building are either in Irish or bilingual and a modern Language Room has recently been installed.
· The school timetable generally provides effective support for Irish.
· The teachers of Irish meet regularly in order to discuss various matters associated with the teaching and learning of Irish in the school.
· For the most part, the various participants engage in the process of learning and teaching willingly and diligently. Topics are chosen which match the range of abilities and interests of students. The students apply themselves industriously and are due praise for their endeavours to make use of the Irish which they know.
· All students have completed a significant number of written exercises.
· The Irish Department has an effective system of assessment and is to be complimented on the evaluation of the students' oral skills in senior classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendation is made:
· That the Irish Department should undertake the process of subject planning on even a more formal basis. With this in mind, discussions should focus on the following points:
- general objectives and specific learning targets;
- a language programme for the Transition Year;
- assembling and using resources;
- fostering the communication skills of the students, in particular the speaking of Irish.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.