An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Roll Number: 61141M
Date of inspection: 20 January 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, Carlow, conducted 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 subject teachers of Irish.
Prior to their arrival in school students are assessed in Irish, as well as in the other core subjects, in order to obtain information on their standard in Irish. First year students, based on those assessment tests, are then divided into one higher-level class and three ordinary-level classes in which there are some foundation-level students,. Second and third year includes one higher-level class, two ordinary-level classes and one class at foundation level. In Transition Year some ordinary level students are included in the higher-level class and the other classes are all at ordinary level. There is one higher-level class in fifth year and three ordinary-level classes. Sixth year would normally have one higher-level class, two ordinary-level classes and one foundation-level class.
The provision for Irish on the timetable is on the whole quite satisfactory with five periods a week provided for first and second year students and four periods a week for third year students. The time allocation for Irish in Transition Year (TY) is quite restricted, however, with a provision of three periods per week. One of those periods is of only thirty minutes duration and it was reported that many students are absent for at least one of the other classes each week. This means that some students have very limited access to Irish in Transition Year. It is recommended, if possible, that the provision for Irish on the timetable would be addressed for next year’s Transition Year. The amount of time provided for fifth and sixth year students with six periods a week is very satisfactory. School management is commended for the additional support provided for Irish in the senior cycle. Unfortunately three of the senior cycle periods are on the same day which means that students do not have access to the language each day. It is recommended that management ensure that three periods are not timetabled on any one day for the future.
There are five teachers responsible for teaching Irish in the school. Most of these have years of experience teaching the language. Classes are rotated between the teachers so that they all gain experience of teaching the various levels and year groups. This is good practice and the system was working well in the college.
Some efforts are being made in the school to extend and develop students’ experience of Irish as a living language. Some events are organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge, for example, competitions in classes and a quiz. It is intended to prepare a debating team next year to enter in the Gael Linn debates. The Irish page on the school’s website which was made available for the first time this year is commendable. It was evident that a lot of work and effort went into this and it was completed to a very high standard. It is recommended that the teachers would discuss various ways in which the extra-curricular programme for Irish might be further developed. It is recommended that a programme of activities extending throughout the year would be developed to include extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that would provide all teachers and students with an opportunity to participate in one way or another. Such programmes are essential to support the efforts of teachers in classes and to provide students with opportunities to practice the language outside the classroom.
It was reported that the school does not have a strong tradition of students attending Gaeltacht colleges. There is some discussion on establishing an Irish summer college in Carlow this year and it is recommended that teachers and school management would inform parents and students of this local Irish course and other courses further afield. Every effort should be made to encourage students to attend some one of these summer courses. Attendance on an Irish course would greatly improve students’ standard of Irish as well as enhancing the profile of Irish in the eyes of students.
The majority of the Irish teachers have their own classrooms and the manner in which these have been decorated is commendable. A considerable amount of material including posters and students’ work pertaining to the teaching and learning of Irish was displayed. Teachers are commended for the motivational learning atmosphere which they have created in their classrooms and it is recommended that this practice would continue and that the materials displayed would be regularly renewed.
An annual budget is available for the Irish teachers. The teachers store their own materials in their rooms, but it was reported that there are good materials available in the school for the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that a list of materials and resources available in the school would be compiled as part of the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish and that those materials would be made available in a central location where they are easily accessible to all teachers.
The post of coordinator for the planning of the teaching and learning of Irish has in recent years been a post of responsibility in the school. That situation has now changed and the post rotates amongst the teachers. This practice is commendable as it provides each teacher with the opportunity to take a leadership role in the development and promotion of Irish in the school.
The Irish teachers usually meet as a group three times a year. Further meetings were arranged between September and December 2008 as a specific emphasis was being placed on subject planning. Minutes in Irish were available from these meetings and the items discussed at the meeting included: the distribution of students in classes; selection of textbooks; planning for the development of a plan for Irish; and an account of the methodologies recommended at an inservice course organised by the Second Level Support Service for Irish. Planning documents were made available on the day of the inspection and, although the planning work completed to date is commendable, it appears that planning is at a developmental stage in the Irish department. It is recommended therefore that the Irish department would continue the good work underway and that a comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of Irish would be developed over a period of time, which would include the following areas: a mission statement for the department; a policy for the use of the target language; information in relation to allocation of students to classes; a list of the topics to be covered as well as a description of the methodologies; the use of resources other than textbooks; strategies for the development and promotion of spoken Irish; planning for the teaching of grammar and planning for the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). An emphasis should be placed on the use of a wide range of methodologies and resources in various classes so as to enhance students’ interest in learning the language.
A plan was also provided for the teaching of Irish in Transition Year and it is evident that worthwhile efforts are underway to develop students’ experience of spoken Irish and of Irish as a living language during Transition Year. This approach is highly commended. It is recommended, however, that the Irish teachers should discuss the Transition Year programme on a regular basis and that the emphasis on the communicative approach and on investigating Irish as a living language should continue. A module on Irish media could be established to support this work and students’ project work could be entered for different competitions on radio and television programmes. It is also recommended that the range of visitors to classes throughout the year should be broadened and that an invitation be extended to, for example, a drama company to provide a drama workshop for Transition Year students.
In one instance, observed during the inspection, excellent and comprehensive plans were provided for each year group for whom the particular teacher was responsible, and these documents could be used as a basis for planning in general for Irish. Careful preparation had been completed for all those classes observed.
The use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication was very good in all the classes observed. The teachers also made significant efforts not to depend on translation from Irish to English to ensure students’ understanding of the subject matter. A range of strategies were used to avoid translation and such an approach is recommended. The teachers are commended for their diligence in relation to the use of the target language in classes.
The teachers were diligent and energetic in all classes observed. Teachers circulated around the classes talking to students, encouraging them to work and ensuring that they were completing the tasks in hand. The students were quiet and courteous and discipline was excellent.
Questioning was used to good effect in all classes observed. Some students responded enthusiatically and they often made worthwhile efforts to answer questions in Irish. There were certain instances, however, when students with a good standard of Irish answered questions in English. It is recommended that teachers would continually remind students that communication should be through Irish in class, particularly in higher level classes. Although students were given every opportunity to answer questions there were very few opportunities in the majority of classes to use Irish as a living language. Very little use was made of pair work, group work, or role play. It is essential that students are provided with opportunities to use the target language in each lesson. Depending on the ability of the students, this can be achieved through pair work or group work, games and other work activities whereby students ask questions of each other. As students oral work improves, particularly in the higher level classes, they can be given opportunities to speak in more natural and more informal ways. One particular instance observed, whereby students were given opportunities at the end of the class to practice questions for the oral examination, was commendable.
The lesson observed in which ICT was used in class to support a presentation made by students as part of their year’s work was particularly commendable. It was the students themselves who managed the presentation of the slides on screen while other students delivered the presentation. Great diligence and effort was applied to this work and the efforts of students as well as the direction and support given by teachers is commendable. It is understood that this project work also included cross-curricular work in so far as assistance and support was provided by the technology department in compiling the slides. This was the first time the students made such a presentation but it is intended to give them further practice on this work during the year and such an approach is commendable. The manner in which an extract of an Irish film was shown and questions asked of students at regular intervals throughout its broadcast was noteworthy. The efforts also made in other classes that were observed, whereby a language game was being played by students who had little Irish, was commendable. Students had to complete some work in pairs and they enjoyed this. Recommendations of the Support Service for Irish were implemented in the class and as a result of this the lesson was effective.
Apart from the two examples cited above, there were very few resources in use in the Irish classes observed other than the effective use of the whiteboard and the textbook. It was reported, however, that the journal “Breacadh” and the E-page of the Froebel College were regularly used and the use of such resources is commendable. It is recommended, however, that the lesson should not be dependent on the textbook alone. A wide range of resources must be used on an ongoing basis to develop and encourage students’ interest in the language. It is also important to provide a contemporary context for the content of the lessons so that there is a link between learning the language and their own lives. The Irish media are an invaluable resource and these should be used regularly
The manner in which the grammar was integrated into the language lessons was commendable. One instance was observed whereby students revised the verbs in the form of questions. It appeared that they had some opportunity to use what language they had learned in a practical way. There is a need, however, to correct students’ pronunciation as required without damaging their self-confidence.
There were a few classes observed in which a number of activities were undertaken. Such an approach is worthy of high commendation. However, some classes were observed whereby students were engaged in one activity only for the entire period. This should be avoided, if possible, and a variety of activities should be provided based on one or two topics, in accordance with the content of the lesson. It is important to have two or three activities as part of the lesson to maintain the pace of the class and to encourage students’interest in learning.
Internal house examinations are administered twice a year at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to parents after those exams. Parents are also kept informed of students’ progress by means of parent teacher meetings, a school diary and information evenings for parents. The new approach in Transition Year whereby students have to make an oral presentation on some aspects of their year’s work is commendable. This is good practice and it provides students with the opportunity to use the language in a practical manner.
Quite a lot of work had been completed in the copybooks that were inspected. It was clear that homework was regularly given and corrected and this is commendable. A grade or mark was assigned to the work, and reference was made to the standard of the work and to the progress of the pupils. The manner in which the homework was in some instances written on the white board is commendable and it is recommended that this would be common practice in all classes.
It was reported that students’ communicative skills are not assessed until sixth year when they have an oral examination after their mock examinations. All language skills, including spoken language, should be assessed from first year onwards. It is recommended that such practice should be implemented during the next academic year. At some point during the year teachers could exchange class groups to conduct oral examinations. It is recommended that these marks would be shown as a seperate item in the end of year results for Irish. It is essential that students would understand the importance of the spoken language from first year in secondary school.
There is only one higher level class for Irish throughout the school, out of four or five classes in each year group, and they achieve reasonably well in the higher level. It is recommended that teachers, as a first step, would discuss the possibilities pertaining to increasing the number of students taking the higher level in the State Examinations in Junior Certificate and would progress then to increasing the numbers taking higher level in the Leaving Certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Teachers’ work in organising a programme of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities for students so as to extend and develop their experience of Irish as a living language is commendable.
· A pleasant learning atmosphere had been created in those classrooms that were observed and materials pertaining to the teaching and learning of the language as well as aspects
of pupils’ own work were on display.
· The new practice in the school whereby the role of coordinator of planning for Irish is rotated amongst teachers so that all teachers have an opportunity to experience a leadership role in
the development of the language in the school is commendable.
· The planning work undertaken to date by the teachers is commendable.
· The examples of good practice observed in some classes in regard to the use of ICT, language games and film extracts is commendable.
· Teachers were energetic and diligent in all the classes observed.
· Discipline was excellent.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that school management would review timetables in regard to Transition Year and classes in the senior cycle.
· It is recommended that possibilities regarding further development of the extra-curricular and cross-curricular programmes be considered with a view to extending and
developing these over a period of time.
· It is recommended that a record be compiled of the range of resources available for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school and that this would be included as part of the Irish plan.
· It is recommended that the plan for Irish would be further developed to include a description of methodologies, resources and planning for the use of ICT.
· It is recommended that it would be ensured that more opportunities for communication in Irish are provided on a regular basis for students in classes.
· It is recommended a greater range of materials and resources would be used in all Irish classes.
· It is recommended that all the language skills would be assessed, including spoken language, from first year onwards.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2010