An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Causeway Comprehensive School
Causeway, County Kerry
Roll number: 70540E
Date of inspection: 29 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Causeway Comprehensive School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching 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 Irish classes and observed learning and teaching. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and the teachers of Irish.
A significant number of teachers are engaged in the teaching of Irish in this school, some of them whose main teaching subject it is and others who are involved in other aspects of school life but whose wish it is to continue to pass Irish on to the next generation, a praiseworthy attitude indeed. Reference is made to this practice because such an approach indicates to the students of the school that Irish has its place outside of the classroom and that it is not only the teachers of Irish who speak Irish. Nevertheless, it is recommended that a greater number of Irish classes be assigned to those teachers whose main teaching subject is Irish, so that these teachers would gain greater experience of teaching Irish to a variety of year groups and levels. Furthermore, substitute teachers who are not fluent in Irish should not be asked to teach the language to any group. The teacher is the principal source of language for students and the teacher is seen as an exemplar for them, as a person who is competent in Irish and who is at ease in speaking the language.†††††
First year and Transition Year (TY) are comprised of mixed-ability groups. Banding is implemented in the other year groups and it is reported that this is an effective method of enabling as many students as possible to study Irish at the highest level appropriate to their abilities. School documentation and classroom observation indicated that the students are divided into ordinary-level and higher-level classes in both second year and third year. It is strongly recommended that the effectiveness of this system be monitored on an ongoing basis and that consideration be given to having mixed-ability classes in second year also. This recommendation is made particularly in the context of the higher-level classes observed, all of which had significantly more girls than boys. The exact opposite applied in the ordinary-level classes.
Sixty-four students are exempt from the study of Irish. According to the school, all of these exemptions have been granted in accordance with the terms of Circular M10/94 with forty-seven having learning difficulties and the remainder have received earlier education outside Ireland. The high number of students with exemptions was discussed at the feedback meeting, and management and teachers were asked to reflect on the implications of allowing such a large group of students to have no contact with one of the core elements of the education system of this country. It was pointed out to them that students who are entitled to exemptions can benefit from exposure to Irish language and culture in a variety of ways and that these ways could be explored further in the school.
Irish was quite visible throughout the school during the inspection. Signs in Irish have been posted on various doors and there is some Irish on the school stationery. A specific room has been set aside for the teaching of Irish in which an abundance of charts and posters is on display. This room contains a storage space for resources as well as audio-visual aids: a television/DVD player and a CD player. Students find this classroom environment highly stimulating and it was recommended that those teachers who have not been assigned rooms, and their students, should be given greater access to this facility. A collection of books and of other resources such as dictionaries and CDs has been assembled in the library.
The teachers are of the opinion that the internet is an invaluable resource for accessing information or for planning class activities. Their resourcefulness in providing up-to-date material for the students was commended. The importance of making use of information and communication technology (ICT) as a means of encouraging the participation of students was briefly discussed. It would be advisable that students would be given to understand that Irish has its place in contemporary life and that activities through Irish create opportunities for the use of a broad range of ICT equipment. Because of this, it was recommended to the teachers that they should consult with the students themselves as to the many possibilities which exist for integrating ICT into the Irish class activities.
There is a programme of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities in place which promotes Irish outside of the classroom situation. It was reported that Seachtain na Gaeilge is a major event in the school calendar, when the activities organised are many and varied and the school community as a whole is encouraged to speak Irish. Guest speakers are invited to the school from time to time. The award for Irish, Gradam na Gaeilge, is presented to a student at the annual prize giving. Students are also taken on a day visit to the Gaeltacht. It is the practice of a considerable number of students to spend a period in the Gaeltacht during the summer and the school makes some scholarships available for fifth-year students for the purpose of attending a course in the Gaeltacht.†
The Irish Department was set up in the school a number of years ago. The duties of co-ordinator are shared between two of the Irish teachers. At the time of the inspection, the specific role of either of these teachers was not clear, apart from the fact that one of them had been appointed Head of Department and the other Department Secretary. It would greatly enhance the value of the subject-planning process if the range of duties of each was clearly specified. One teacher, for example, could be nominated as co-ordinator of the Junior Cycle and the other co-ordinator of the Senior Cycle. Alternatively, a co-ordinator of curricular activities and a co-ordinator of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities could be appointed.
A plan for Irish has been compiled under the direction of the co-ordinators. Among the documents included in the plan are various statements setting out general aims for the subject as well as learning objectives, a description of the administration of the department, references to methodologies and resources utilised, work schemes and policies on homework, assessment and reporting. The standard of Irish in this documentation, the product of discussions among teachers on matters relating to the learning and teaching of Irish in the school, was commended.† The teachers made reference to the constraints imposed by the lack of time available for advancing the planning process. It was strongly recommended that priority be given to the development of the work schemes in future discussions. Teachers were requested to come together and hold comprehensive discussions on (a) the more common language structures, (b) the most beneficial learning activities, (c) the most effective resources to be used when syllabus topics are being covered. The main objective of the subject-planning process is to ensure an enjoyable, beneficial experience of learning Irish for all the students of the school. It has the further advantage that the plan itself acts as a source of information for newly-appointed and substitute teachers. Such a plan would have been of great assistance to the substitute teachers in the school during the evaluation and to the teachers appointed in the last two or three years.
The readiness of all teachers as regards their classroom practices forms the foundation for the subject-planning process and teachers are asked to reflect carefully on, discuss and regularly review the effectiveness of the activities undertaken during lessons.
It was further recommended that a policy on the speaking of Irish in class should be formulated, so as to ensure, as far as possible, that all students are given the same experience of using Irish in class. It was brought to the teachersí attention that resorting to English during the Irish class should occur only rarely and that it would be of benefit to consult with one another on ways in which the use of English in the Irish class might be avoided.††
Irish was the language in use in only half of the classes observed. In the classes in which Irish was being used, the teachers spoke to the students in Irish and the students showed a good understanding of the questions asked and of the instructions given them. It was in these classes that opportunities for speaking Irish were created for the students, whether among the students themselves or between individual students and the teacher. On the whole, the speaking ability of students in these particular classes was generally satisfactory, in that the majority of them were capable of putting questions and expressing opinions through the medium of Irish.
It was felt that the senior studentsí Irish could be enriched by orally revising the accurate manipulation of common speech idioms with them. It is extremely important that students, particularly senior students of high ability, would understand that they must be accurate both in their speech and in their written work. It is widely accepted that it is easier to make progress in Irish if grammatical points are integrated into the language lesson. It is in this way that students will gain an appreciation of the functional use of grammar.
It was evident from the lessons observed that the great majority of the teachers are highly proficient in the language. However, the extent to which they created opportunities for their students to develop their own proficiency was limited. The importance of promoting the speaking of Irish during the Irish lessons was drawn to the attention of all the teachers. It needs to be understood that it is not by means of translation that learners will soonest and best acquire a language, but through hearing, understanding, repeating and speaking it.
In the lessons observed, students were assigned a variety of activities. They read aloud, worked in groups, viewed a video clip and wrote answers to factual questions based on it, wrote letters, listened to music and poetry and answered questions aloud. In one poetry class observed, the intensive oral practising of the manipulation of language structures, which would be used by students while discussing the poem, formed an integral part of the lesson. A positive learning outcome was apparent at the end of this lesson, particularly in that the vocabulary and the language proficiency of students had been enhanced in accordance with their individual abilities. The manner in which students profitably practised the four skills of language - listening, speaking, reading and writing - was noted during this particular lesson, and it is recommended that all the teachers of Irish should extend the use of this practice.††††††††
The resources utilised included the white board, textbooks, photographs, pictures and diagrams, audio clips, video clips, work sheets, dictionaries and previous examination papers. In some instances, effective use was made of real life materials in order to stimulate the imagination and opinions of students. A number of visual and audio teaching resources were used in lessons, appealing to the studentsí senses.† As not all learners acquire a target language in the same way, it is good practice to present the language in a variety of ways. The resourcefulness of those teachers who understand the best way in which to confront this challenge is highly praiseworthy. As it was felt that limited use was made of the white board in many classes, all teachers were strongly urged to ensure that a record of the newly-acquired language be visible on the white board and in the studentsí notebooks at the end of a lesson. Frequently the white board was still blank at the end of the lesson observed. It was also recommended that the language structures to be practised in the course of a lesson be identified in advance and that these basic structures are shown on the white board, as well as having various forms of them written by the studentsí into their notebooks. Writing is an intrinsic element of the process of language acquisition. In addition to this, it is necessary for students to keep a written account in order that they might be in a position to review the structures at home and make use of them in the various activities they undertake in the future.†
The Irish department has a homework policy setting out the various types of tasks assigned to students. The teachersí practice is to check the homework orally every day. The studentsí copybooks are taken up, as necessary, in order to analyse the written work more closely. It was apparent from the copybooks examined that the students had completed a wide variety of written exercises. It was recommended to the teachers that they should devote class time to the correction of major language errors, by initiating interactive tasks in which the students would discuss with one another the language points arising. It was also recommended that the written work of the certificate-examination students should be marked in accordance with the marking schemes, so that they would be given an accurate estimation of the standard being achieved by them.†
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer to students of first, second and fifth years. These are common examinations in the case of first-year and second-year students, a commendable practice. The students of TY are subject to continuous assessment whereby they are awarded a mark for their work each month. They also sit in-house examinations in summer. The certificate-examination students take preliminary examinations in spring and, in addition, teachers give them class tests on a regular basis during the year.†
Reports are sent home after all of the main examinations. In addition, meetings between parents and teachers are convened once a year. Parents are also welcome to make an appointment to meet with individual teachers should they wish to discuss in greater detail the progress that their son or daughter is making.
It was indicated that the speaking abilities of the students of TY and sixth year are assessed. The teachers intend to include the oral assessment of first-year students this year by awarding marks for the efforts they have made to speak Irish in class during the year. This initiative was commended and teachers were asked to adopt the same approach in the case of all year groups.†
The results of certificate examinations are analysed each year and compared with results nationally. It would be advisable that the results from year to year, and in particular the number of students taking Irish at the different levels, would be kept under review.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Irish and the deputy principal, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2009