An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Mountmellick Community School
Mountmellick, County Laois
Roll number: 91426A
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 April 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 Mountmellick Community School, 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 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 the subject teachers
There are eight teachers of Irish in the school. Teachers are assigned to classes according to their qualifications and experience, especially in the senior cycle, and efforts are made to provide them with continuity regarding classes as far as possible. The allocation of students to classes when they enter the school in first year is based on their achievements in assessment tests based on literacy and numeracy and on the advice of the feeder primary schools. Classes are divided into two bands, with the most able students in one group and students needing additional support in the second band. In some cases, classes at the lower end of the first band and at the higher end of the second band are of mixed ability. Some of the Irish classes are scheduled simultaneously in the junior cycle. This provides students with some flexibility regarding movement to a class which would better suit their needs. Students are allocated to streamed classes in the senior cycle and their achievements in the Junior Certificate are taken into account when this decision is being made. It is recommended that the manner in which students are allocated to classes in the junior cycle is reviewed in order to reduce the extent to which students are currently streamed from an early stage.
All junior cycle and senior cycle classes have four Irish periods per week. Students taking Irish at higher level for the Leaving Certificate are allocated one extra period. This arrangement means that a period is taken from Physical Education which is scheduled for sixth years. Management clearly appreciates that there is a need to allocate extra time to Irish. It is recommended that the amount of time assigned to Irish in the junior cycle and senior cycle is increased and that these periods are formally timetabled. It is also recommended that no class be allocated more than one period per day. In the current school year, for example, sixth years have two Irish periods on a Wednesday, second years have two Irish periods on a Tuesday and fifth years have a double period on a Tuesday. It is important that students have regular daily input in the language. Regular time distribution would assist in the necessary planning for classes as well as giving a more even spread of homework for students.
There is good provision of resources and aids for the teaching and learning of Irish for which management is commended. These are provided by management on request. There is a storage unit for resources such as books and worksheets, as well as audiovisual resources in one of the Irish classrooms. All of the teachers have access to these resources. The school’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities are available to the teachers of Irish. Broadband is available in certain classrooms and the teachers have access to a mobile computer and a data projector for use in their classrooms as well as the school’s computer room. It was reported that the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Irish is increasing. Management and the teachers are commended for this development in methodologies and it is recommended that it is continued.
The school has developed a particular policy in relation to Gaeltacht scholarships. The Parents’ Council provides partial Gaeltacht scholarships to students, in conjunction with the Board of Management. The scholarships are awarded on an interview basis. In addition, an Irish club is held in the school during the school year. This means that students who attend Irish summer colleges have an opportunity to continue practicing and improving their language skills and their experience of Irish culture, outside of Irish classes. Various events are organised to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge and students are taken on trips to Rath Cairn and to attend plays by Fíbín, for example. The Parents’ Council, the Board of Management and the school staff are highly commended for providing this support to students and to Irish in the school.
It was observed during the visit that some students did not study Irish, even though they did not hold exemptions. Management is strongly advised to investigate these cases and ensure that only those students so entitled according to the provisions of M10/94 are given an exemption from Irish. Language or literacy support is provided to those students who are exempt during Irish classes, insofar as possible. Where this is not possible students attend Irish class with their fellow students. Management is advised to review any situation in which there is a greater number of exempt students than students who are studying Irish in a class, as was observed in one particular case.
Management is commended for encouraging and supporting teachers in their professional development. This was illustrated, for example, by the Irish Department staff’s involvement in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth’s TL21 initiative in recent years.
The Irish Department is on a formal footing in the school and members of the Irish teaching staff assume the role of coordinator on a rotational basis. The plan for Irish for the current school year was provided, as were previous versions. The different versions provided showed that good progress has been made in this area and that the plan is reviewed. Various elements of the plan were of good quality.
Teachers of Irish hold formal and informal meetings during the school year. For the past several years, the focus of the formal meetings has been planning for Irish in the context of School Development Planning. The principal, together with the coordinator, sets the agenda, and the minutes and a list of actions are forwarded to the principal after the meetings. Among the subjects dealt with are co-curricular and extra-curricular events which are organised for students, examinations, resources and facilities, as well as the sharing of information on TL21. Although this particular project is nearing completion, it is recommended that the teachers of Irish continue to include methodology issues on the agenda and that they share and discuss their experience and best practice as regards the teaching and learning of language. Responsibility for various planning elements, such as the organisation of the trip to Rath Cairn, is shared among the teachers and this approach and cooperation is commended.
Collaborative planning is undertaken regarding teaching classes studying Irish at the same level. This practice is highly commended as it encourages teachers to agree learning outcomes and assessment methods for their classes. Regarding plans for classes in general, although the material was in line with the syllabuses, it is recommended that it is not organised according to the chapters in any given textbook, but rather that it is based on the language requirements of the students and their environment. It is also recommended, as was the case in certain instances, to use an integrated approach regarding development of the language skills. It would be helpful to the next stage in this work to set out the expected learning outcomes at various stages as a framework.
In certain instances individual teachers provided year plans for their classes. These plans were based on the Irish department’s plan for Irish as is recommended. In one case it was evident that the plan was monitored and reviewed. This practice is highly commended and should be extended.
Planning and preparation for the majority of the classes observed was good.
In some cases the teacher engaged the students in a short discussion on a general topic at the start of class. This is good practice and should be extended to all classes, as should answering roll call in Irish. Such an approach helps students to settle down for class and to concentrate on Irish having come from situations in which a language other than Irish was the medium of communication. The students were informed of the content of the lesson in some cases. A particular case in which learning outcomes were shared with students is highly commended. It is recommended that sharing the expected learning outcomes becomes general practice and that planned class activities would also be shared with students at the start of class. This would help them to understand the reasons for undertaking a certain type of learning and how it integrates with the rest of their learning. It would also be worth taking a few minutes at the end of class to ask the students to reflect on their learning. This could be done orally.
In the majority of classes the subject was linked to the students’ own experience, a practice which is commended. Questioning was used effectively to ensure their understanding of the content in Irish, for example, by addressing the questions posed in the text to students themselves and adapting questions to their level of ability. This practice should be extended.
The audio visual aids which were available were used effectively to develop language skills in the majority of classes observed. These include overhead projectors, ICT and CD players. An overhead projector was used in several cases to show pictures of contrasting situations, to present the class with material to encourage debate on various poetry themes and to show the different stages involved in a task. PowerPoint was used in one case to develop students’ vocabulary on a particular topic, to link previous learning with the subject and to encourage debate. It must be ensured, however, that the material on the screen is legible and visible to every student in the class, as it was in most cases. CD players were used to play authentic aural material to support learning in some cases, as well as for aural tests. In some classes, the blackboard or whiteboard was used to record students’ answers and to illustrate language structure. It is recommended that this practice be extended, especially when students give feedback on group work or share their answers on various tasks.
In the majority of classes students were given a variety of tasks, which were mostly well organised, to complete. Some tasks were completed individually and others in groups of two or more. It is recommended that students are given a time limit for completing tasks and that this limit is adhered to, as was done in some cases. The use of a variety of aids and tasks ensured that the student’s attention was on their work, that they were actively learning and that teachers attended to students’ different learning styles. Teachers are highly commended for their prior preparation and we recommend that this is expanded and continued and that the use of ICT is extended in line with increased availability of this resource in the school. In certain cases where imagination and creativity were used to present material to students, students’ enjoyment of learning was greatly increased. It is recommended that the language needed by students to work in pairs or groups is included in task planning and is supplied to them in order to increase the amount of Irish used by them during the work and also to increase their experience of asking questions. Although the various language skills were developed in most classes, it is recommended that this be done on a thematic basis, so that, for example, the aural material could be integrated with the content of the lesson.
Worthwhile strategies for consolidating the learning of Irish were used and it is recommended that their use is extended. Particularly commendable is the instance in which the context of a piece of text, as well as other words in Irish, were used to explain vocabulary or phrases. Additional questions were asked, based on a reading comprehension text, which helped to remind students of the vocabulary associated with various topics and students were questioned at different levels according to their ability. Adopting a similar approach during aural comprehension work is recommended. It would also be worth taking advantage of opportunities arising during aural or reading comprehension work to develop students’ accuracy in pronunciation.
Most of the classes observed were effectively managed. Irish was used as the general language of instruction and communication in all classes and it is recommended that this practice is continued. Regarding the use of Irish in class, it is advised that care be taken to ensure that the material presented to students is accurate. Students were comfortable with the work and could be set more challenging work in certain cases.
The surroundings of the classrooms in which the teachers themselves were based were stimulating and learning-supportive, in the main. Material in Irish was on display in the classrooms and the exhibition of samples of the students’ own work is particularly commended. It is recommended that such material, which supports student learning and which recognises their work, continues to be displayed and is kept up to date.
The school has developed an assessment policy and structure for house examinations. It is school policy to carry out regular assessments of students’ work: at least two examinations per term. Teachers are advised in the policy document to use a variety of assessment methods, which means that results need not be based on written work. Teachers forward the results to the year heads and they are centrally recorded. These reports are sent home to parents. House examinations are held twice a year, as well as mock State examinations for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes. A mock Irish oral examination is held for Leaving Certificate classes as part of the mock Irish examination. Teachers are commended for making the arrangements required to bring in an external examiner to undertake this work. It is good practice to include all language skills when assessing students’ work and extending this practice to other year groups is recommended. This would not need to constitute a formal oral examination like the state examinations. Students could be awarded marks, for example, for oral attempts in class or for presentations, and the results could be included in house examinations.
In a particular case, the homework assigned to students was differentiated. In this instance the differentiation related to the tasks set while the material was the same. This practice is highly commended and should be extended to other classes as appropriate.
Copybooks reviewed during the visit illustrated that various aspects of work completed were in line with syllabus requirements and that work was corrected on a regular basis in the majority of classes. It was evident from copybooks in one case in the junior cycle that students’ cultural awareness was being developed and it is recommended that this is continued. Included in the material in the copybooks was vocabulary on a variety of topics, writing exercises and grammar, as well as notes and answers on literature, as appropriate. It was evident in several cases that extracts had been translated to English. It is recommended that this practice is avoided. Work was corrected on a regular basis in the case of most classes. Notes of encouragement, marks, and in some instances advice on improving work were noted in the copybooks. It is recommended that teachers continue to correct students’ work on a regular basis and continue the good practice of advising them on improvements. As part of the continuing work on the plan for Irish it is recommended that the teachers of Irish agree a set practice for correcting students’ work. Further information on Assessment for Learning (McF/AfL) can be found in various editions of info@ncca (www.ncca.ie), for example.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Teachers, management and parents’ council are highly commended for providing students with the opportunity to sample Irish culture and to practice the language outside of Irish classes.
· The management supports teachers who participate in professional development opportunities and this information is shared with all members of staff.
· The Irish teaching staff is active in developmental planning for the subject. Various aspects of this planning were of good quality and it was evident that it is monitored and reviewed on an annual basis.
· Collaborative planning is undertaken regarding teaching classes who study Irish at the same level and common examinations are set in such cases.
· Irish was used as the general language of instruction and communication in all the classes observed.
· Students were informed of the content of the lesson, and in come cases the tasks to be completed, at the start of each class. Particular commendation goes to the instance observed in which learning outcomes were shared with students at the start of class.
· A range of methodologies and teaching and learning strategies were effectively used, in the majority of classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Increase the amount of time allocated to Irish and distribute classes on the timetable so as to provide students with one single class per day.
· Base plans for the various year groups on the needs of learners and their environment and set out expected learning outcomes for the various levels.
· Include all language skills when assessing students’ work, as is currently the case regarding the Leaving Certificate class and extend the practice of advising students on improving their work, as was observed in some cases.
· Include the classroom language required by students in planning, enable students to ask as well as answer questions and ensure accuracy in the language presented to students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.