An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint John’s College
Ballyfermot, Dublin 10
Roll Number: 60510M
Date of inspection: 25 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint John’s College as part of a whole-school evaluation. 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 to the subject teachers.
There are four fully-qualified teachers teaching Irish in the school this year. One of them has a long experience of teaching in the school and the other three were appointed to the school’s teaching staff within the past year and a half.
There are four class groups in each year of the junior cycle, three class groups are studying Irish in fifth year and there are four class groups in sixth year. Students are streamed in each year of the junior cycle and senior cycle. Two class groups of students in first year are participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) as well as one class group in second year and third year. Though streaming is in place, students are undertaking the subject at different levels within the various class groups, especially in the highest and lowest classes. In addition, a very small percentage of students attempt higher level Irish at present which means that the majority of students are studying Irish at ordinary level or foundation level. Taking these factors into account, it is recommended that the management and teachers consider assigning students to mixed-ability classes, in first year at the very least with a view to extending the practice to the other year groups in junior cycle. The Irish department is agreed on fostering a positive attitude towards Irish in the students and it is recommended in this context that the opportunity be grasped to encourage and enable students to study Irish at the highest level commensurate with their ability. This year, students are studying Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the second year of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.
The time allocated to Irish in the senior cycle is satisfactory, with five class periods per week for Irish in the first and second year of the Leaving Certificate established and four class periods per week for Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the LCA programme. The time allocated to Irish in the junior cycle is low, however, with just four Irish class periods per week for each class-group. It is recommended that the number of class periods allocated to Irish in the junior cycle be increased to provide a fifth class period in, at least, one year of the cycle. The distribution of class periods during the week is satisfactory as the students receive regular input in the language. The management are commended for organising Irish classes simultaneously on the timetable in the case of fifth year and sixth year. This facilitates the students’ access to the class which most serves their needs as they approach the examinations.
The management and teachers are to be highly commended for providing Irish as contained in Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge to the students participating in the JCSP. This gives them equality with their fellow students as regards curriculum provision for Irish.
The teachers are classroom based. The classrooms are well-equipped, including overhead projectors, televisions, CD/DVD players and broadband connection. Some of the rooms have a computer and the teachers have access to a data projector. In addition, it was confirmed that the management intended to provide a laptop computer to the teachers before the end of the current school year. This indicates that the management and the teachers are committed to promoting the use of new technology in the teaching and learning of Irish and they are commended in this respect.
It was noted that 8.6% of the overall enrolment of 245 students have an exemption from Irish. The management makes every attempt to provide learning support, resource or English as an additional language classes for these students when their fellow students have Irish classes. The management are commended for these arrangements. In addition the management and teachers are commended for their illustration of the understanding that the language belongs to all, by encouraging the participation of students who had exemptions but who were present in the Irish classes.
It was reported that the school has a tradition of some students attending summer college in the Gaeltacht each year. In addition to this, efforts are made to develop the students’ experience of Irish and of culture outside of the classroom through the activities organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge. There were labels with names in Irish on classrooms and offices in the school as a result of work done by students. This work is commended. Special commendation goes to the initiative involved in taking a JCSP class on a visit to a Gaelscoil as part of their study programme.
The management provides support and encouragement for the teachers regarding access to continuing professional development opportunities. This includes Second Level Support Service workshops for Irish as well as in-service for JCSP. A member of the senior management team provides an induction programme for new teachers and the subject department co-ordinator supports teachers new to the department. This is commended. During the course of classroom observation and in reviewing documentation it was evident, in some instances, that the language presented to students was not accurate. It is therefore recommended that the management take the teachers’ language needs, both written and spoken, into account in policies regarding the teachers’ continuing professional development and in the provision made.
The Irish department is on a formal basis in the school and the teachers fulfil the role of co-ordinator in rotation. This arrangement is commended as it gives each teacher the chance to take the role and develop his/her skills in this area. It is recommended that a teacher should assume the role of co-ordinator for a period longer than a year and that objectives be agreed accordingly. It was clear that the teachers were open with each other and that there was a good level of co-operation among them. Time is provided for the teachers to have formal meetings about once a month and they also have informal meetings regularly. Minutes are kept of the formal meetings and this is a good practice. It is recommended that teaching and learning methodologies, and strategies which would support differentiation of the subject for the students, including the use of ICT, be included on the agenda of the meetings in order to share and discuss best practice.
A plan has been compiled for Irish as part of the school curriculum. This sets out the aims of the Irish department and the section titled ‘teaching methods’ was of a good quality. Taking into account that the teachers and management recognise that the students’ levels of achievement in Irish need to be raised, as well as participation at the highest levels, it is recommended that the aims and objectives be reviewed to include those objectives. The plan also contains long-term plans for the individual year groups. These set out the material to be covered per term and the individual teachers’ plans for their classes were based on these. Certain items of the plan indicated a lack of accuracy from the point of view of language correctness. It is recommended that attention be paid to language accuracy in the plan when the content is being drafted.
It is recommended that an action plan be devised for development in the area of subject planning in the next three years. As part of this, it is recommended that the Irish teachers should develop, in conjunction with management, a strategic plan to add to the number of students studying Irish at the highest levels and to raise their achievement levels in the state examinations. In this context it is recommended that the following aspects be taken into account in the work on the plan: the development of a framework of the expected learning outcomes at the various stages and levels based on the language functions as mentioned in the syllabuses; the plan should demonstrate the integrated development of language skills and the various aspects of the courses; there should be spiral development of the content and the grammar from year to year; a common template to be used for the plans for the various year groups. Additionally, it is recommended that the class language which would be required of students should be included in the plan for first year and that there would be evidence in the plan of any monitoring and any review made of it.
There was very good preparation and planning made for the majority of the classes observed, which ensured that the work was well structured. Those instances in which the teachers themselves had developed resources for their classes in order to adapt the material better to the students’ needs are highly commended.
The roll was called at the beginning in the case of most classes and the students responded in Irish. This is good practice and it is recommended that the roll be called at the start of each class. The day’s date was on the black/white board in the case of most classes before lessons commenced. Though it is commendable that the date be on the black/white board, it is recommended that the date be elicited from the students, especially in the junior classes, so that the students gain greater benefit from it as regards recall of the days of the week, the months and numbers. While eliciting the date from the students the opportunity could be grasped to elicit a few phrases about the weather from them also, or to have a conversation on a topical subject. There was a suitable pace to the work in most cases. Subject differentiation would help more in maintaining the students’ attention to the subject and making progress at a level commensurate with their ability, especially in the classes in the early years of the junior cycle.
The practice which was observed in all classes of writing class objectives on the whiteboard is commended. In most classes the students’ attention was drawn to these before the work of the class itself commenced. This helped the students to understand the learning to be done during the classes and, in some cases, the tasks to be completed by them. In order to further enhance this practice it is recommended that the expected learning outcomes be shared with the students by using phrases which would indicate to the students what they would be able to do at the end of a class.
ICT and overhead projectors were used very effectively to support learning in most classes. Special praise is due for the preparation made of the images of a poem and the effective use made of this as support for the students, as they discussed the poem. Where transparencies are being prepared, and this is mentioned in the case of the minority of situations in which they were observed in use, it is recommended that particular care be taken in their design so that they are clear and legible for each student present.
In most classes the students had to perform various tasks, organised on a thematic basis as recommended. The tasks provided opportunities to use pair work and group work. This enabled the students to be active in their learning and to consolidate the learning. The tasks had clear aims and the cases in which particular roles were allocated to students to fulfil in their groups are praiseworthy indeed. Time limits were set for the tasks in some cases and it is recommended that this practice be extended. As part of the preparation for pair work or group work, it is recommended that the students be enabled in the language that would be necessary for them to conduct the discussion amongst themselves through Irish. In some cases they succeeded in using Irish while working in groups. There is particular praise for the case where students were being enabled to ask each other questions on a certain topic and it is recommended that this development of their ability to ask questions be continued and extended.
Irish was to the fore as the language of instruction, as recommended. It is recommended that particular emphasis be placed on hearing more Irish from the students in general, something which would support the department’s aim of promoting the students’ ability and confidence to use the language as a language of communication. Translation to English was used in certain cases to ensure students’ understanding of the material. In some classes, the students were using dictionaries and this practice is highly commended as it helps to develop the students’ independence as learners. It is recommended that the use of dictionaries be extended and that other strategies such as gesturing be used, as was done in some cases, which would be of greater benefit to the students in acquiring the language. Drama was used very effectively in the teaching of literature in one case in the senior cycle. It is recommended that the use of drama be extended.
Attention was paid to developing the students’ pronunciation accuracy in one case as part of the preparation of the students for a piece of speech to be recorded for examination purposes. It is recommended that this practice be extended and that there be a particular emphasis on developing the students’ pronunciation accuracy in the junior classes. To this end, it is recommended that use be made of aural comprehension items presented to them, and their reading texts as well as pieces of poetry and songs. It is recommended that this work, and suitable resources, be included in the plans for the different year groups.
In the case of most classes, the atmosphere was positive and conducive to learning and the teachers and students displayed respect for each other. The environment in all the classrooms was supportive of learning. There was material in Irish on the walls in all the classes, including printed material and samples of the students’ work. In some cases this material was used to support the students in their learning during the lesson and this is commendable. The use of posters, containing the keywords of lesson content is particularly praiseworthy. The students were highly-praised in the majority of classes. It would be worth inserting notes of commendation in their homework diaries from time to time also.
Students’ progress is assessed by their participation in class, homework, and class and house examinations. All language skills are included in the Christmas Irish examination in the case of the sixth year classes, and one class in third year. It is recommended that the teachers of Irish develop an assessment policy which would ensure that all the language skills are taken into account when students’ learning is being assessed. This would concur with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses. In addition, it is recommended that use be made of the learning targets which will be developed to plan the assessment and these should be shared with the students also. In keeping with the particular emphasis on promoting a positive attitude towards Irish through the spoken language in the early years of the junior cycle, a weekly prize is awarded to the student who makes the best effort in one class group. This strategy is commendable and it is recommended that it be extended and that other such strategies be established as appropriate.
As observed in certain cases, and as reported, there is a custom of allocating about ten minutes to the students to do homework at the end of the class. In developing the school’s homework policy, it is recommended that the amount of valuable class contact time spent on homework should be reconsidered. It would be important, as part of their development and learning, that students be enabled to take greater responsibility for organising their work and to give them more independence as learners by assigning them the homework to be done at home. It was clear in the copybooks reviewed that regular work was being done in them and that it was being monitored regularly. The examples observed in copybooks of guidance being given to the students of ways in which to improve their work are particularly commended. A small number of examples were observed of the students being enabled to correct each other’s vocabulary examination and this is to be commended as it cultivates their awareness and confidence as learners. It is recommended that the teachers agree on an approach for the correction of students’ work and that it would be based on assessment for learning (AfL). More information on AfL can be found at www.ncca.ie.
House examinations are organised twice a year and mock examinations for classes preparing for the state examinations are organised in the second term. Reports of the students’ achievements in these examinations are sent home to parents. Meetings of parents and teachers are held once a year in the case of the various year groups.
Students’ achievements in the state examinations are not usually analysed. It is recommended that the teachers should analyse the students’ achievements in the state and house examinations in conjunction with the management and that the results be used in the planning for subject teaching and learning. In this context, it is recommended that the teachers consult the chief examiners’ reports on the State Examinations Commission site (www.examinations.ie).
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 at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009