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Children’s School Lives Study: Report 7

Children’s School Lives Study: Report 7

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Course overview

This specification focuses on enhancing language and literacy skills through integrated strands: Communicative competence, Language and cultural awareness, and Learner’s self-awareness. It is designed based on a minimum of 240 hours of student participation timetabled over the three years of the junior cycle.

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The Communicative competence strand is the main  strand of the specification, and the two other strands, Language and  cultural awareness and  Learner’s self-awareness actively support it. In order to acquire the language to communicate in the language community, language and cultural awareness and the self-awareness of language learning need  to be sufficiently developed by students. Great emphasis is placed on enabling students to use Irish effectively, including in communicating with other users in the language community.

In the main  strand, students deepen and enrich their communicative competence and language skills. As their language and cultural awareness grows and as they develop self-awareness as learners in relation to this, their effectiveness as communicators and language users is greatly enhanced. Communicative competence consists of student ability in the following five skills: listening, reading, spoken production, spoken interaction, and writing. These  are skills required to communicate with other users of the language. While the learning outcomes associated with each strand are set out separately in this specification, this should not be taken to imply that the strands are to be studied in isolation. The intention is to foster, develop and maintain the various skills and competencies by using  an integrated approach.

Language awareness involves students’ understanding of and reflection on how Irish works as a language of communication. This awareness inspires students’ curiosity in relation to the system and style of the language and encourages accurate and precise acquisition of the language. Students work from their existing knowledge of the language and focus on accuracy and richness. They also direct their attention to normal language usage and to the living culture associated with the Irish language, with Gaeltacht communities and with Irish language speaking communities internationally.

Self-awareness refers to students’ self-awareness as language learners. Each language learner is different and by emphasising self-awareness in learning a language, students concentrate on individual style and their own individual attributes as language learners. This helps them greatly in making the necessary progress. When confronted with difficulties and challenges,students overcome them by reflecting on the reasons for those difficulties and challenges. They understand that they have language learning strategies available to them that will help them overcome difficulties and challenges and help them facilitate learning. They use suitable learning strategies that enable them to overcome challenges relating, for example, to the accurate and vibrant use of language. They know how to deal effectively with feedback as learners. They reflect on their progress and on the progress they still have to make in becoming language users. They understand their own personal motivation for using  the language with other users. They understand how  to make  decisions as learners independently of the teacher and how  to carry out self-assessment on their progress in each skill

This specification gives teachers and students the flexibility to use a range of teaching and learning strategies which are appropriate and relevant to the various contexts in which they use the language. This section outlines the teaching and learning approaches embedded in the integrated strands of the specification.

The learning and acquisition of Irish can be viewed as a journey. The students’ objective or destination on this language journey is to be capable,  independent and self-governing language users. An important part of the language journey is language learning and acquisition in the junior cycle which progresses from the development of the language in primary school and continues into senior cycle.

It should be noted that some students will have more or less acquired the language as a result of their language background on this language journey and others will have acquired or almost acquired the language towards the end of their journey. In addition, students will have opportunities to use and communicate in the language in their environment. Before students reach their destination i.e. self-governing, independent use of the language, and even if they have acquired this independent use of the language, they have to go further on the journey to achieve accuracy, richness, a distinctive style and elegance. Input* helps the student on this journey. Output* is of particular importance for students on their journey, as are effective teaching, opportunities for use and interaction, classmates, the community and learning facilities and sources.

Teachers, in partnership with students, guide students on this journey. It is the teacher’s role to direct and facilitate teaching and learning. This means that they create a rich language input as part of the teaching. Teachers have expertise or special knowledge of the language and have particular knowledge and special skills relating to the teaching of the language (pedagogics) which facilitate learning. When students encounter challenges and difficulties, teachers provide

guidance, encouragement, help, feedback and support so that they may progress. Teachers provide appropriate models  of rich language which stimulate and enable the student in making progress. They guide students in taking advantage of opportunities for language use and communication in the language environment. They encourage a respect for and stimulate curiosity in the language and Irish culture, and encourage students to be observant.

*The term Input refers to the language heard and seen  in the learners’ environment or the language available to learners while Output relates to the language composed or generated by students themselves.

Self-awareness as language learners is the most effective tool students have in order to make progress. With the teacher’s help and feedback and by reflecting on considering what they have to do on a personal level as part of their language journey, students take the necessary steps to achieve effective language acquisition. Effective language learners have certain distinct attributes and students learn about these attributes. As they progress, students assume ownership of the language learning process. To this end, they are encouraged (self-motivation, by teachers, their peers and the language community) to use the language. Language use is the communicative interaction which will ensure acquisition and which will enable students to reach their destination.

Observation is another tool used by students to make  progress: creating a sense of curiosity and a desire to learn, and students become  self-aware. Through this awareness, students acknowledge the disparity between their language level as they learn the language (this is referred to as inter- language) and richer, more accurate, and more natural versions and examples of the language. They understand why they make  mistakes and take responsibility for correcting those mistakes and produce a richer and more accurate language. They keep a blog or a portfolio in which they regularly describe and reflect on their progress and what they observe about the language and about the culture of the language. They also describe the steps they must take to make  progress as a learner and a user. They will not make  progress without these elements.

Classmates play an important role in learners’ progress. By interacting with classmates and through reflection, students’ understanding of themselves as language learners and users is developed. By taking advantage of opportunities to communicate with classmates in group work and in pairs in class and in everyday contexts outside of school, students achieve language interaction.

The language community has a central role to play in students’ progress. Members of the language community are natural language users and students’ interaction with them contributes greatly to language acquisition. They want to be part of the language community and they identify with this community. The language community provides students with examples of the living language and students observe and imitate elements of this language, which in turn act as a stimulus for them. They understand the disparity between their own  language and the language provided by the language community. Without a language community, there would be no need  to learn a language.

There is a significant link between this specification and The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy for Learning and Life (2011)*. Literacy includes the capacity to read, understand and critically appreciate various forms of communication including spoken language, printed text, broadcast media, and digital media.  Literacy acquisition is a central component of language acquisition. As students become familiar with various texts (including multi-modal texts), they develop literacy skills. As students create texts, communicate online, or seek information in the Irish class, their language and digital skills are developed and this significantly enhances their overall digital literacy. The use of modern technology contributes significantly to fostering creativity, the acquisition of literacy and the satisfaction students get from using language. Language awareness is an important element of literacy development. This awareness will help students to make informed choices while manipulating subjects, ideas and concepts in other curriculum subjects. Quantitative and numerical concepts also form part of language learning, deepening students’ numeracy skills.

*Department of Education and Skills. (2011). Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life. The National Strategy to Improve  Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People, 2011-2020. Dublin: Government Publications Office.

Significant aspects of teaching and learning in this specification

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