This Literature Review seeks to explore the current research that underpins the Irish Language and Curriculum that exists today. The initial section of this chapter gives a background to the Irish Language, detailing its decline and the attempts at its revival. The second section seeks to inform the reader of the Irish Curriculum in general followed by a focus on the Irish subject curriculum. The third section concentrates on assessment, both formative (AfL) and summative (AoL). The importance of assessment within the Irish curriculum and its role within the new specification will also be covered. The final section discusses the importance of active teaching methodologies and their significance in L2 language acquisition.
2.2 Irish as a Language
Numerous attempts have been made to revive the Irish language. In recent years strategies have focused on increasing the number of Irish speakers throughout the country. O’Laoire (2012), argues that the language has long been of interest to second language (L2) educators and notes the extensive effort that has been made over the years to revive it. This is not solely limited to the classroom as O'Laoire (2005), aptly summarises the government's strategies for the revival of Irish from the 1920’s to 1960. He notes that this consisted of a ‘dual policy of maintenance and restoration’; maintenance of the language where it is still a community language and its restoration in the remaining areas (O’Laoire, 2005, p.251). The Great Famine (1845-49) was a pivotal point in the decline of the Irish language. O’Laoire (2005) writes that by 1911 the number of Irish speakers had declined to 17.6%.Corcoran (1925) believed that Irish could be fully restored through school alone without the use of the home. This contrasted greatly with the views of Eoin MacNeill. MacNeill believed that: ‘A language never survived when it is not survived by the hearth. Even though teaching Irish is important, it is not the most important thing. The first thing we need to do is to keep the language alive at the hearth' (cited in O'Laoire, 1996, p.54).
In 1965 the government produced a White Paper entitled, ‘Athbheochan na Gaeilge: The restoration of the Irish Language’. The aim of the paper was to ‘restore the Irish language as a general medium of communication’ (White Paper, 1965, p.4). This paper was not naïve in its aims and noted, ‘it would take much time and effort to achieve,’ this; ‘notwithstanding the present state of knowledge of Irish and the general goodwill which people feel towards it’ (White Paper, 1965, p.4). This paper was a step forward in realizing that improved language teaching methods coupled with encouraging a wider audience such as families, would aid this restoration. In this report, one of the recommendations was that ‘Irish should never be regarded merely as an academic subject' but, rather, the language should be ‘integrated into every aspect of school life' (White Paper, 1965, p.108-110). Furthermore, this paper also set out to increase the number of television and radio programmes in Irish. Until more were to become available, care was to be taken that they would not clash (White Paper, 1965, p.148). Since then, numerous efforts have been made to implement such recommendations via the creation of Raidió na Gaeltachta in 1972 and Teilifís na Gaeilge in 1996. Even though these efforts have been made, ‘several decades of language acquisition via the educational system have not resulted in an active use of the language in everyday society’ (Moriarty, 2017, p.16-17). However, the blame cannot be solely pinned on the teachers of the syllabus. This is supported by Kelly (2002), who found that the the lack of speech community was hindering the success of Irish Language revival via the education system (cited in Moriarty, 2017, p.82). Furthermore, he argues that ‘The problem was that schoolchildren and their parents realized there were limited opportunities to use Irish in the broader society, while teachers themselves were the only group charged with effecting the revival' (Kelly, 2002, p.103).The formulation of the 20- Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 along with curriculum changes would set the tone for a change in the Irish Curriculum at Junior Cycle.
2.3 Irish as a Curriculum
Junior Cycle reform is a key topic of discussion in Post Primary schools around the country. The Junior Cycle reform affects all subjects within the curriculum. There are a number of key changes that are being made which will be discussed further in this section. In 1989 the Junior Certificate programme was introduced in order to provide a unified programme and equal access to certification for all students in the junior cycle (NCCA, 2004). The OECD wrote in 1991 that, ‘the basic goals and values of the education system have tended to be tacit rather than explicit’ (OECD, 1991, p.76).The curriculum was reviewed again in May 1996, concentrating on the range of subjects and participation rates (NCCA, 2004). The NCCA issued another report in 1999 which looked at ‘whether the principles which underpin the curriculum are being fully realized' and ‘whether the current assessment arrangements are appropriate to the curriculum and syllabus aims and objectives’ (NCCA, 1999). One of the key issues that emerged was an overlap and overload of the Junior Cycle. The report also dealt with inordinate focus on a one-off, end of year exam.
The Irish curriculum has also been examined by the CEB which stated that teachers and students were ‘frustrated’ with the syllabus (CEB, 1985, p.29). The CEB found that the syllabus was vague and unrealistic. The syllabus overemphasised literature with too much emphasis on reading and writing (CEB, 1985, p.29). Little (2003) meanwhile, undertook a study on the current provision for languages in the post-primary curriculum. He stated that ‘though little has changed in the intervening decade and a half, there may still be time [to] reshape the curriculum accordingly’ (Little, 2013, p.9). His report echoed what the CEB had previously stated. The curriculum recognizes ‘the importance of oral communication but manage(s) to retain an emphasis on reading and writing at the expense of listening and speaking’ (Little, 2003, p.9). Furthermore, Little (2003) points to a recent study that suggests students did not recognise Irish as a modern language like French or German but, rather, a subject rooted in rote learning. (Ó'Laoire, Burke, and Haslam, 2000, p.52-59). In addition, O’Laoire (2007) further emphasises this as he states that students can perceive FL teaching as preparing them for communicative transactions in that target language. He further states that ‘Irish language teachers have to work hard to convince students that they can use their Irish outside the classroom’ (O’Laoire, 2007, p.456).Little (2003), recommended that there should be a separate curriculum for the L1 and L2 Irish learner. This in turn agreed with a report from the CEB in 1987, that stated ‘at present there is no recognition in terms of curriculum and syllabus of any linguistic differences between the learners of Irish as L1 and L2’ (CEB, 1987, p.17). In 2010, the Government published their 20- year strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 (Ireland, 2010). The main ‘objective of Government policy in relation to Irish is to increase on an incremental basis the use and knowledge of Irish as a community language’ (Ireland, 2010, p.1). This policy, in conjunction with junior cycle reform, led to the new Junior Cycle Specification for English-Medium Schools (L2) and another specification for Irish-medium Schools (L1). The new curriculum aims to focus on the ‘language community’ which corresponds to the vision set out in the 20- year strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 (Ireland, 2017). That is to ‘give life to the Irish language outside of the classroom for the young people who study it in formal education’ (Ireland, 2010, p.12). The new specification would lead to a change in the assessment of Irish at Junior Cycle, particularly in assessment methods and teaching methods.
Assessment is an important process in teaching and learning. Assessment is a means by which a students’ learning can be enhanced. The NCCA defines assessment as ‘the process of gathering, recording, interpreting, using and reporting information about a child’s progress and achievement in developing knowledge, skills and attitudes’ (NCCA, 2007, p.7). O’Leary (2006), similarly states that ‘the topic of assessment is one that has begun to feature more and more in debates about Irish education’ (O’Leary, 2006, p.7). O’Leary (2006) defines assessment as ‘the process of gathering, recording, interpreting, using and communicating information about all aspects of a learner’s development (social, emotional, physical, cognitive) to aid decision making’ (O’Leary, 2006, p.8). The INTO (1997) when referring to assessment, states: ‘the primary purpose is to assist teachers in enhancing their pupils learning by providing information about their knowledge, their understanding of concepts and their mastery of skills, with a view to planning appropriate learning programmes for each pupil’ (INTO, 1997, p.67). Current research suggests that assessment can be either summative (AoL) or formative (Afl). According to the INTO, formative assessment or AfL is ‘child centered’ and ‘takes place during the process of learning and involves teacher observation’ (INTO, 2008, p.23).Summative assessment or Assessment of Learning ‘focuses on medium and long-term assessment at the end of a given period of time after teaching and learning has taken place’ (INTO, 2008, p.23).
Black and Wiliam have been leading researchers in this area of assessment. In their book Inside the Black Box (1998b), they conducted a study into classroom assessment practices and found that formative assessment increases the learning of the students. Black et al (2007) describes assessment as an ‘activity that can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback by teacher and by their students… to modify the teaching and learning’ (Black et al 2007, p.17). Thus, ‘such assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs’ (Black et al 2007, p.17). Therefore, the student and teacher will only benefit from the feedback if they act upon it and make changes. Research has shown that formative assessment has started to trump summative assessment. This is echoed in Jones (2014) which states that ‘there has been a shift in recent years in assessment in classrooms, from summative modes towards a more dynamic, collaborative and pupil-centred formative assessment’ (Jones, 2014, p.275). Berry (2003) suggests that AfL opens up deeper learning opportunities that AoL. Furthermore, she states that AfL is the key to good teaching (Berry, 2003, p.47). From Black et al’s study in 2003, the four aspects of formative assessment that were implemented successfully were: questioning, feedback, self and peer assessment and formative use of summative tests. The use of ‘scaffolding’ can also help to deepen a learning opportunity and can support AfL. The Zone of Proximal Development is the term Vygotsky used for the range of tasks that a child would find too difficult to master on their own. Therefore, by being assisted by an adult or a more skilled person, a child can reach the upper limit of the ZPD and accept help in order to achieve the task (Santrock, 2009, p.51). It is more active than passive as ‘it is about teaching to enable developmental readiness, not just waiting for the students to be ready’ (Horowitz, 2005, p.105). Probing questions and effective questioning is an excellent way for a teacher to develop more sophisticated thinking skills within the classroom. The implication of Vygotsky’s theory for teaching is that students need many opportunities to learn with the teacher and also more skilled peers (Rogoff et al, 2007).
Although formative assessment is the most dominant method of assessment in recent times, some argue that summative assessment should work in conjunction with formative. Biggs (1998) states that ‘sensible educational models make effective use of both FA and SA’ (Biggs, 1998, p.105). This is echoed in Black (1998) which argues that teachers need to be involved in both summative and formative assessment. Therefore, both types of assessment can be used together to enhance learning. Furthermore, Black et al (2003) states that ‘active involvement of students in the test process can help them’ (Black et al, 2003, p.56).The new Specification for Irish ‘places a strong emphasis on assessment as part of the learning process’ and thus ‘requires a more varied approach to assessment’ (Ireland. 2017, p.25). The new specification will include two classroom-based assessments as well as an end exam as ‘final assessment still has a role to play’ (Ireland. 2017, p.25).
2.5 Active Learning
Active learning has received considerable attention over the past number of years. In fact, it is ‘often presented or perceived as a radical change from traditional instruction’ (Prince, 2004, p.223). Prince (2004) states that ‘Active Learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process’ (Prince, 2004, p.223). Therefore, ‘active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing’ (Prince, 2004, p.223). Extensive research has shown active learning to be favoured over passive learning. In traditional teaching ‘passive learning predominates and typically involves one-way delivery of information and course content from teacher to learner’ (Gleason, Peeters, Resman-Targoff, Karr, McBane, Kelly, Thomas and Denetclaw, 2011, p.2). Passive learning according to Gleason et al (2011) requires less effort from a student resulting in rote memorisation. This traditional style of teaching is more common as sometimes active learning can be difficult to implement within certain classrooms, something that was evident from the interviews. John Dewey disagreed with the notion of traditional education as passive and receptive learning (Dewey, 1933). He believed that children learn by experience rather than following a standard curriculum. He also argued that rather than a child was better served by being active in learning than being a passive recipient of knowledge. Freire’s ‘The Banking Concept of Education’ is very much in line with Dewey. Freire passionately explains the flaws that are embedded within the current system. The flawed concept is the oppressive ‘depositing’ of information by teachers upon their students. Teacher narration leads the students to mechanically memorize the content. Thus, it turns them into ‘containers’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher (Macedo, 2005, p.71-72).
The PDST website states that teachers need to actively promote independent learning within a classroom. In order for students to become active learners, teachers must create supportive learning environments. Shen and Xu (2015) state that ‘active learning encompasses a wide variety of forms, including guided, self-directed learning and cooperative learning’ (Shen and Xu, 2015, p.83). Guided and self-directed learning involves students making learning decisions in accordance with a guided expert. This links to Vygotsky’s theory of guided learning and the concept of scaffolding. According to Shen and Xu (2015) ‘studies have shown that in second language (L2) classrooms, students who undergo guided, self-directed learning have a positive attitude toward their ability to study’ (Shen and Xu, 2015, p.84).Gunderson and Johnson (1980) have shown that in the L2 class cooperative learning promotes positive attitudes towards learning and a more supportive relationship among teachers and peers. Current research suggests that active learning is beneficial in a L2 classroom. With this research, some teachers prefer to use traditional methods within the classroom. Implementing active learning is not always easy as the interviewees’ eluded to in their interviews. Gleason et al (2011) maintain that ‘active learning often requires more time and sacrifice of course content coverage in class’ (Gleason et al, 2011, p.5). Furthermore, they suggest that there exists barriers to change which include time taken to create active-learning tasks and a lack of confidence to implement active learning (Gleason et al, 2011). Thus, we can conclude that even with such barriers, it is crucial that teachers move away from traditional learning towards active methodologies
The literature reviewed gave a contextual background to the decline and attempted revival of the Irish Language. Curriculum change within the Junior Cycle, both past and present as well as the new specification for Irish were reviewed and discussed. The link between the revival of the Irish Language and the new specification was made and will be reviewed again in a later chapter. Assessment both formative and summative were discussed in detail along with key theorists in relation to both types. Finally, the significance of Active Learning within a classroom context was explored, particularly the importance it can have on the L2 language learner.