An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Subject Inspection of Irish
Gorey Community School
Gorey, County Wexford
Roll Number: 91492N
Date of inspection: 4 -5 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gorey Community School. 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 to some of the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Classes in the school are mixed ability in first year except for one foundation level class. The majority of the students in that class go on to take part in the Junior Certificate School Programme in second year. The other students in second year are divided between ordinary level and higher level classes. Usually there are six higher level classes, four ordinary level classes and two foundation level classes in second year. The same arrangement applies to classes in third year. There are mixed ability classes again in Transition Year (TY). In fifth and sixth year, there are three higher level classes and six or seven ordinary level classes.
There is a significant number of teachers teaching Irish in Gorey Community School as it is a large school. Up to seventeen teachers could be engaged in teaching the language in any given year. The different classes and levels are rotated between the teachers, with the agreement of the school management, so that all teachers get the opportunity to teach different age groups and levels. This is best practice.
The teachers make commendable efforts to celebrate “Seachtain na Gaeilge” by organising Irish activities and events during that period. Efforts are made to organise a special activity for each year group - for example, a photograph and poster competition is organised in first year, a project on “my home place” or on a famous person in second year and a céilí or quiz in third year. Transition Year students have the opportunity to attend a number of activities during the week, for example a fashion show, a céilí in the hall and short dramas. The fifth years broadcast the school radio through Irish throughout the week and the sixth year have a quiz. The teachers are highly commended for their efforts in organising these activities. The work being done in preparing a debating team for the Gael-Linn debates is recognised and highly commended also. It is recommended, however, that efforts be made to develop and rotate the programme of activities around the various year groups so that there are some events for all the classes during the week. The possibilities of extending the programme of activities throughout the year should also be explored.
It was reported that there is a growing tradition in the school of students attending Gaeltacht colleges and in recent years a significant number of students attend two colleges in particular. Parents are reminded of the importance of the summer colleges and every effort is made to encourage students to go to the Gaeltacht. This approach is commended. In addition, Transition Year students are taken on a weekend visit to a Gaeltacht area every year and the teachers’ enthusiasm in organising this trip is highly commended.
It was reported that an annual budget is available for the purchase of resources to support the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. It is recommended that an audit be carried out of the resources available in the school at present and also that the teachers plan to increase the amount of resources gradually over the coming years. That list of resources should be included in the plan for teaching and learning Irish in the school.
Two of the Irish staff attended the in-service course in Communicative Irish provided by the Second Level Support Service for Irish last year. Two teachers will attend this year’s course also. It was stated that the two teachers who attended the course reported to the rest of the staff on what they had heard and learnt at the course. It was not obvious however, that the recommendations of the support service, regarding the communicative approach, were being implemented in the Irish classes in general. It is recommended that this issue be discussed among the Irish teachers and that they plan to rectify this matter as soon as possible.
A coordinator is nominated among the Irish teachers every year. The practice in the school of alternating this responsibility among all the teachers is commended. As Gorey Community School is a large school, it is good practice to rotate this responsibility every second year in order to have continuity in the Irish department. The coordinator of Irish meets the new Irish teachers in the school at the beginning of the school year and gives them the Irish plan as well as guidance and support concerning the teaching of the language in the school. Although the difficulties associated with finding time for all the requirements are understood, it is recommended that the level of support and advice provided for new Irish teachers in the school be revisited since that it was felt during the inspection that more guidance and support was needed.
It was reported that the Irish teachers meet once a term. They have both formal and informal meetings. Minutes are kept of the meetings and it was noted that some of those were written in English. Among the issues discussed at meetings were the organisation of Seachtain na Gaeilge, the assignment of students to classes, the number of students with exemptions from studying Irish, Gaeltacht scholarships and issues in relation to examinations.
There is a plan available in the school for the teaching and learning of Irish. Although the teachers’ work on the plan to date is commended, the plan needs to be much more comprehensively developed in the future. A plan for teaching and learning of Irish should encompass the following: the department’s mission statement and approach; a description of textbooks and topics to be covered; learning objectives for all levels; an account of teaching methods and strategies to develop and establish communication skills; a policy regarding the allocation and correction of homework; a list of resources and a comprehensive account of their use with the different classes and levels. Planning for the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) should be an integral part of the plan for teaching Irish also. A TY plan was provided during the inspection. Though the work on that plan is commended, the plan needs to be expanded and developed. Students should have the opportunity to gain experience of Irish as a living language during TY. To this end, an interesting and exciting plan needs to be drafted to ensure that students will get the chance to learn Irish in an innovative, creative way.
The use of Irish as a language of management, teaching and communication was good in some classes observed. The appropriate emphasis on the use of the target language in those classes is commended. The efforts made in some classes to avoid the use of direct translation from Irish to English is also commended. Many cases were observed, however, where English was very much to the fore in the class as the language of teaching and communication. In many classes also there was too much use of direct translation from Irish to English. Significant emphasis was placed in some cases on translating prose and reading comprehension texts from Irish to English line by line for the entire class period. It is recommended that this practice be avoided. A couple of cases were observed where all the class instructions were given to the students in English and apart from the occasional sentence in Irish the students heard scarcely any Irish at all during the class. It is strongly recommended that the question of the use of the target language as the language of teaching and communication in the Irish classes be discussed. Irish should be used with the students and English should not be resorted to on a continuous basis to ensure students’ understanding of the content of the lesson. It is recommended that the Irish teachers agree a definite policy in relation to this and it should be specifically mentioned in the plan for teaching and learning of the language in the school. As a result the policy and the approach to using the target language would be available for new teachers on entering the school for the first time. At present the approach among the Irish teachers varies and there is a lack of continuity as a result. It was clear from the classes observed that many students lacked the experience of Irish as a spoken language in the class.
The students were quiet and mannerly in the vast majority of the classes observed. The teachers made effective efforts in some classes to encourage students to speak and to play an active part in the class activities. Certain efforts were made in some cases to use active strategies to create communication opportunities for students. Students were set to work in pairs and in groups in some classes observed. This approach is commended and it is recommended that it be extended to all classes so that students will be given the chance to gain experience of speaking the language regularly in class. It was felt, however, that some of the pair work and group work activities were not effectively planned. It is recommended that teachers ensure there is appropriate planning for such work, that there is a clear aim associated with each activity and that it has a learning objective. For example, a list of questions should be given to groups of students, to ask each other, rather than expecting them to be able to engage in free conversation amongst themselves. Of course the spoken linguistic ability of students depends on the level of the class and on the age group in question.
A couple of classes were observed in which the students were taught in an energetic and stimulating way. The teachers walked around among students ensuring that the work was being done and encouraging them to talk. In one case observed current affairs were under discussion. The students’ attention was drawn to new vocabulary which arose during the class and explanations of the new words were sought in simple Irish as opposed to English. The students’ personal opinions on the subject were sought and they responded enthusiastically. In this way the subject was made relevant for the students and this approach is commended. The white board was used effectively to clarify questions and new vocabulary for students. The manner in which time was left at the end of the class in one case, to give the students the chance to speak in Irish and to answer questions about themselves, is commended. It is a good practice to set time aside to develop communication skills and to give the students a chance to talk informally on matters of interest to them.
There were no additional aids or resources in use in the Irish classes apart from the textbook and white board. Many of the classes were unexciting and un-stimulating as a result. It is vitally important to bring other materials into the class instead of always depending on the textbook to support teaching and learning. Such material need not be expensive – effective use may be made of pieces of music, pictures, posters and video clips to add to the students’ interest in the subject of the lesson and to place the subject in hand in a modern context for students. The Irish-language communications media are a wonderful resource as a source of authentic texts and it is strongly recommended that these media be used on a regular basis.
Repetition was used effectively in some cases observed in order to ensure that students were able to pronounce new words and sentences. However, it is recommended that particular attention be paid to the correction of pronunciation in classes. It was felt that some teachers had difficulties in this regard also and it is recommended that these teachers be vigilant about their own pronunciation.
There was a small problem with time management in the case of some classes observed. The content of the lesson was finished too early with some of the class period remaining and the students had nothing to do. The teachers are advised to monitor this and to take the opportunity to encourage students to communicate in Irish if this occurs or to have some other activity ready to fill the time effectively.
In some cases observed, the format and objective of the lesson was explained to the students at the start of the class. This approach is commended as it is important to share the aim and learning objectives with students on order to give them some of the responsibility for their learning. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes. The aim of some of the classes observed and what exactly was being sought of the students themselves, was unclear in some cases. It is recommended that the teachers ensure that they have a definite plan for each class and that the working aims and learning objectives are clear and planned in advance.
A reasonably high number of students take higher level papers in the Junior Certificate examination. The number of students who take higher level papers falls greatly for the Leaving Certificate examination. The Irish teachers are advised to discuss the reasons for this in order to arrive at ways to improve this situation and improve the uptake of higher level for the Leaving Certificate.
House examinations are organised in the school twice a year, at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are sent home to parents after those examinations. Common examinations are set for all the classes in the school at the different levels. This is good practice and the teachers’ work in planning and compiling the common examinations for the various levels and year groups is commended.
The teachers organise class examinations from time to time and some of the teachers carry out continuous assessment of the students but this decision is left to the individual teachers. It is recommended that the teachers discuss assessment issues together in order to arrive at an agreed policy in this regard. It is also recommended that the teachers look at the possibilities of assessment for learning as a strategy to encourage the students to be active in their own learning and to be responsible for it.
Students’ spoken Irish skills are not formally assessed until sixth year, although it was indicated that orals skills are assessed from first year. This year, however, it is intended to enter the higher level third year students for the oral examinations as part of the Junior Certificate. This approach is highly commended, as is the teachers’ enthusiasm in preparing the students for this oral examination. It is important, however, to formally assess the students’ communication skills from first year onwards. It is strongly recommended that the teachers agree on a strategy which would allow them to carry out oral examinations of each other’s classes during class time from first year onwards. It is essential that the students understand the importance of this aspect of language learning a soon as they start in second level education.
It was felt that there was a lack of continuity regarding the amount and regularity of homework in the classes observed. It was obvious in the case of certain classes that the homework was assigned and corrected carefully and thoroughly. In the case of other classes there was little homework to be seen and little evidence in the homework diaries that homework was being assigned on a reasonably regular basis. In other cases observed, the homework given was not clear enough. In some cases observed, the homework was not reasonably challenging. It is recommended therefore that the homework should be written up on the white board. It is further recommended that the teachers discuss the question of homework with each other and that a common policy be agreed. That approach should be linked to the principles of assessment for learning and to the whole school policy regarding assessment.
· The teachers’ efforts are commended as regards organising a programme of activities for all the classes during Seachtain na Gaeilge.
· Special commendation is given to the work to prepare a debating team for the Gael Linn debating competitions.
· The teachers are commended for their commitment to the Transition Year students’ trip tp the Ráth Cairn Gaeltacht.
· The work of some teachers in relation to the use of Irish as the language of management, teaching and communication in the classes is commended.
· A couple of effective, stimulating lessons were observed during the inspection and the teachers’ work in this respect is commended.
· The teachers are commended for all their work in organising the common examinations for the house examinations.
· The plans to enter students for the Junior Certificate oral examinations this year are commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a wider programme of activities be organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge and throughout the year.
· It is recommended that a list of resources be compiled for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school and it is strongly recommended that such resources be used on a
regular basis in the classes.
· It is recommended that the plan for the teaching of Irish in general be further developed and that significant additions be made to the plan for Irish in TY.
· It is recommended that a policy be agreed among teachers regarding the use of the target language in the classes.
· It is recommended that all the communication skills be formally assessed, including spoken language ability in Irish, from first year onwards.
· It is recommended that a common approach be agreed in relation to assessment in general and that the possibilities for using assessment for learning be explored.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the Irish teachers, with the principal and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009