How can I improve my practice so that students spend more time communicating with myself and with each other in the target language?

 

Seán Mac Corraidh
INTRODUCTION

In this assignment I report on an action research project I undertook in an attempt to maximise students’ opportunities to interact through the medium of the target language (TL) during formal teaching time on a part-time BA Honours Course in Modern Irish Language and Literature.  The assignment involves accreditation for a module entitled ‘The Professional as Researcher’, part of the taught element of an EdD degree course which I am presently pursuing.  Nevertheless, it is important to mention here that reflection in and on teaching (Schon, 1983) and modifications of practice have always been integral to my work as a nursery teacher (1984-87), a primary teacher (1989-98), a teacher educator (1998-2002) and a third level lecturer (2002-).  On leaving the primary classroom I published a series of reflective articles (Mac Corraidh, 1998a, b; 1999a, b, c, d, e) in the hope of illuminating their potential contribution to professional discourse around the complexities of Irish-medium education. 

I feel that this action research enquiry afforded me the opportunity to work in the direction of some of my educational values.  Firstly, I feel that adult learners should have opportunities to explore their learning during non-contact times and that learning should take place at all times and in all contexts.  Secondly, I believe that a knowledge of the Irish language may provide adults and children in this society with a much wider cultural and educational experience in much the same way as Baker (1995, pp 10-1) wrote of the advantages of bilingualism as an awareness of ‘different systems of behaviour, folk sayings, stories, histories, traditions, ways of meeting and greeting’.  The outcomes of this project have been educative both to myself and to the students.  The educativity for me lies in learning which teaching methods are least and most effective and for the students in realising that second language learning is a marathon task.      

The first section involves the background to the project, my reasons for wanting to research second language teaching and learning methods, personal and locational contexts of the research and a review of some of the literature on this area.  My engagement with the methodology of action research, and the research design and ethical issues form the second section.  I describe the project itself in section three and findings are laid out in section four.  My learning from carrying out the project and its significance make up section five.  Finally, conclusions and a reflective consideration of the action research approach are offered in section six.

1          BACKGROUND/CONTEXTS

1a        Personal

It would be useful if I gave a short personal history of my involvement in second language teaching.  After graduating with an honours degree in Celtic Languages and Literature in 1982, my first formal experience was to supervise an Irish-medium nursery.  However my fascination with second language learning stems from voluntary work I did as a teenager in the nineteen seventies in a society named Cumann Chluain Ard established in 1936 for the promotion of the Irish language in the city of Belfast (Maguire, 1900, p 30; O’Reilly, 1999, pp 74-7).  I taught ab initio and advanced Irish language courses to adult learners on a voluntary basis there for many years (1975-1984).  I wanted others to share in the insights and educational advantages I had gained from having a knowledge of this language.  This society had an enormous influence on both my personal and professional life. It allowed me to bridge between generations and cultures as I, a teenager, was teaching adult learners of different religious persuasions and nationalities.  It also gave me invaluable practice in second language teaching through the medium of the TL a subject I considered and discussed with experienced voluntary and professional teachers at an early age.  Most importantly, my experiences in trying to teach and learn Irish as a second language enable me to recognize the enormity of the task for an adult to learn a second language.

I spent three years in the Irish-medium nursery (1983-86) and then went to teach a year-one class of six children in a newly established Irish-medium primary school in Belfast (1986-87).  I completed a PGCE course in primary education, began a part-time master’s degree course in Modern Irish Language and Literature, and married in the following year (1987-88) and was then appointed to teach a primary six transfer class in a well-established Irish-medium school in Belfast from September 1988.  Throughout this time I also taught GCSE Irish at evening classes in a technical college and taught Irish also at the three different levels offered in the continuing education department of a university.  These varied professional experiences raised questions in my mind about how best the acquisition and learning of a second language could be facilitated.

I taught for ten years in an Irish language immersion transfer primary classroom (1988-98) and was initially astounded but later fascinated by the grammatically inconsistent interlanguage the pupils created in their attempts to communicate in the second language (Baker and Prys Jones, 1998, p 702).  These systematic, intermediate and aberrant language forms created by pupils as a consequence of receiving the curriculum through the medium of a second language remain my biggest research interest.  I was then employed by a university college in Belfast as a teacher educator, teaching curriculum studies and theories of bilingualism, bilingual education and second language learning.  I spent four years (1998-2002) at this college and moved in January 2002 to another university and to a completely different type of teaching responsibility.

1b        Locational 

Since January of this year I have been teaching part-time adult learners on both Diploma and undergraduate degree courses in Modern Irish Language and Literature.  The work I do now is subject-based whereas my work in second language classrooms and in teacher education had a multifaceted base.  I had gained a masters degree with distinction in Irish Language and Literature (1990) from the institution in which I now teach.  Therefore I was very comfortable with the areas of study in modules I had to prepare and I was quite confident in my teaching competence as well.  However I also recognised from my own teaching experience how enormous a task it is for an adult to try to learn a second language.  I also acknowledged the fact that these learners have very few opportunities to engage with the Irish language beyond the time they spend in formal learning.  Within the state of Northern Ireland there are no speakers of what is termed 'survival' or native Irish. There were small communities in mid and west Tyrone (Stockman and Wagner, 1965), North Antrim (Wagner, 1969), and  South Armagh (Sommerfelt, 1929) where Irish survived into the 1950s but these small isolated language communities no longer exist. 

Presently, however there is huge interest in the Irish language in the city of Belfast. This is indicated by the large enrolments (around sixty in each year) on the diploma and honours degree courses on which I teach and the demand for Irish language classes generally.  Nic Craith (1995, p 14) reported the latest census figure of 142,003 people or 9.5 per cent of the population of the state of Northern Ireland who indicated having ‘some knowledge of Irish’. 

Returning to my current position, there are some fascinating sub-groups within the complex cohort I teach.  There are those who attended controlled schools and did not have the opportunity to learn Irish as it is not offered in this sector, those who have been educated at primary level through the medium of Irish and parents of children who attend such Irish-medium schools.  Others work in various posts such as secretary, and classroom assistant in Irish-medium education schools, and see the need to improve their literacy skills in Irish.  However there is also the driving force of employment in Irish language industries such as tourism and translation at work.

1c        Theoretical:  second language learning in adulthood

Ellis (1996, p 16) acknowledged the complexity of second language acquisition and outlined a framework of interrelated factors in the investigation of the phenomenon. These are: situational factors, input, learner differences, learner processes and linguistic output.  Pertinent to this assignment is age factor, which the author classifies as a key learner difference along with aptitude and intelligence, motivation and needs, personality and cognitive style.  Baker and Prys Jones (1998, p 688-693) cited sustained motivation, materials tailored to the communicative needs of adult learners, teaching approaches, methods tailored to the requirements of adults, autonomy, responsibility, flexibility, and an environment that facilitates learning as the particular considerations in adult language learning.  These considerations undoubtedly reflect the mammoth task of learning a second language as an adult but the same authors also claimed that there is essentially no difference between the way children and adults learn a second language as there is no evidence from research to indicate that adults do not learn languages as well as children do.  Singleton (1989), (cited in Baker, 1996, p 84) in his comprehensive review of age factor in second language learning claimed that ‘there are no age related differences in the process of language learning.  Younger and older second language learners tend to show a similar developmental sequence and order’.

2          THE METHODOLOGY OF ACTION RESEARCH, RESEARCH DESIGN AND ETHICS

Kemmis (1988, p 42) highlighted the self-reflective nature of action research enquiry and the aim of improving and understanding rationality and justice in social or educational practices.  Elliott (1991, p 69) stressed that the validity of hypotheses generated by action research depends on assisting people to act more intelligently and skillfully;  ‘in action research ‘theories’ are not validated independently and then applied to practice.  They are validated through practice’.  Criteria, which distinguish action research from other methodologies, were identified by Hart and Bond (1995, pp37-8).  These authors declared action research to be educative, problem-focused, context-specific, future orientated; to deal with individuals as members of social groups; to concern a change intervention and to be directed at improvement involving a cyclic process of interlinked research, action and evaluation.  McNiff and Whitehead (2002, p15-6) describe action research as a, ‘practical way of looking at your practice in order to check whether it is as you feel it should be’.  They stress the centrality of self-reflection, the absence of the hierarchical distinction between researcher and practitioner and the presence of  ‘others acting as research participants and critical learning partners’. 

These rudimentary descriptions of the methodology of action research enquiry suited well my enquiry for this assignment.  I aimed to check my practices in lectures and seminars, change them in the company of my students, the research participants, in order to maximize the benefits they could gain from using the TL in student/student and student/lecturer interactions.  I reviewed my practice, identified a concern, planned changes, implemented them and evaluated the results by adopting a methodological framework of asking questions, which are addressed in a progressive fashion in Section 3.

Being aware of the ethical issues of protecting individual rights, preserving anonymity and gaining permission to do the research (see ethical statement in Appendix 1), I wrote to the students to ask for their assistance in the project (see Appendix 1b) and to my Head of School for permission to carry out the research (see Appendix 1a).  Participants were kept fully informed of my intentions and progress and I took a sensitive approach throughout the enquiry, an absolute necessity when working with adults.

       
3          THE PROJECT

3.1 Progressive aspects of my action enquiry

What was my concern?

My concern was that students did not have enough opportunities during formal teaching time to interact with each other and with myself through the medium of the TL and also that they did not have many authentic TL opportunities beyond the lectures.  I discussed this concern with the group whom I kept fully informed as research participants, central to the enquiry. 

Why was I concerned? 

I was concerned because students need to gain oral competence in Irish and they were not afforded opportunities to do so beyond their experiences in the lectures and seminars.  Therefore, I planned to change my practice in order to maximise these opportunities during contact time with myself and indeed to make it clear that language learning should permeate almost every aspect of their lives.   

What did I think I could do about it?

Agreeing with Krashen’s (1984) ideas that immersion in the TL and comprehensible input aid language acquisition, I prepared short light topics for conversation for use in break times based on language and literature topics and structured my teaching in order to afford students more opportunities to interact with each other through the medium of the TL.  Lectures on language began at six o'clock with a break at 6.50 until 7.05. Then began a lecture on an area of literature with a break at 7.50 until 8.05 when a seminar took place on either a short story or a novel.  Having identified the concern, I looked at my own practice and planned some action in a facilitating fashion, intervening only to provide vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions when demanded.  I also shifted the emphasis in my teaching from being teacher-dominated to one that encouraged more student-student interaction. This was achieved through discussion groups, immediate use of learned material and students teaching fellow students (see Appendix 2).

How did I show the situation as it was?

While assessing the group's oral competence in the first semester, I had found that the majority of the students struggled to survive both in general conversation and in responding to set questions.  I had discussed this area of the students’ learning profile with my colleague who had also assessed the students and had noted some of his comments.  He had also identified a deficit in oral skills:  ‘they appeared very nervous and were finding it hard to find words to respond to verbal stimuli based on work in the module.  We really need to work on this area. They are lacking in basic vocabulary and are uneasy about conversing in Irish’.  I believed that the results of that assessment also clearly indicated a need for improvement in this area.  Students indicated to me in discussions with them that I should provide more active class participation for them through oral work in small groups, because as one of them remarked, ‘students can learn from each other as well as from the teacher’.

I asked the group of twenty-one students to give a written response to the question:  'How can I improve my practice so that you spend more time communicating with myself and with each other in the TL?'  There were four responses, which was an indication of the students' satisfaction with my teaching, as one wrote, ‘I don’t see how you could improve your practice’.  Another student expressed the opinion that I was not ‘extracting opinions on literature from the students and that there was too much teacher-talking’ and indicated that her main concern was ‘oral/aural competence’.  She proposed an ‘informal, relaxed, unassessed structure’ for people to practise speaking.  Another student felt that ‘my teaching style had begun to acknowledge the maturity of the group’ but that I should, ‘ascertain the knowledge already within the group, draw it out and proceed from there’.  Finally it was suggested that I should ‘discuss with the students how we feel our learning experience could be improved, monitor progress of students and evaluate their learning’.

What kind of data-gathering techniques did I use?

I identified two students who would have indicated to me that they were struggling in oral skills in Irish and asked them to keep a reflective journal until the end of the module. One of the students did not keep the journal but the other diligently did until he realised that it was eating into his studying time, which was sparse enough as he is a teacher, parent and part-time adult learner.  The journal indicated the frantic efforts of an adult, part-time student trying to find time to engage with Irish through listening and reading, ‘nothing. Too tired. At school until 7.30’.  Reading or listening was usually done early Saturday morning, while travelling in the car, or late at night when everyone else was asleep, ‘managed to spend an hour revising in my parents’ home in Roscommon when everybody else had gone to bed’;  ‘did not do anything for the rest of the evening-domestic matters prevailing ‘time won’t give me time’’.  It was an eternal struggle between domestic chores, family commitments and study.  Real dread of the oral examination was clear, ‘the less said about that the better’.  When I mentioned it, he asked, ‘where did those twelve weeks go? Tempus fugit’.  He indicated that passive activities such as watching football on television were a real distraction.  On April 29th he decided to stop keeping the journal, ‘this journal is eating into my time – de thairbhe sin, stopfaidh mé (because of that I shall stop)’.  

I also kept a reflective journal (Appendix 2), which I consider below.  It has two major features:  planning and reflecting.  I divided the three hours into periods of time which facilitated introduction of objectives, collaboration in pairs, discussion, collaboration in pairs with new partner, break conversations, lecturing, larger group discussions, reporting back to whole class, seminars and recap.  Each week I planned for light conversations on linguistic and literary themes and used the themes to facilitate the activities just outlined.

The oral work on language started very successfully with an authentic news item from the Irish language channel TG4.  The students really applied themselves to the task.  Our consideration of learners’ spoken and written errors, ‘brought smiles to their faces’.  However, it also, ‘brought a realisation…that they had still to work at them to eradicate them’. 

Some students took a while to cross the communicative barrier and I used this knowledge, ‘to target those individuals’.  The challenge of the, ‘massive variance in second language competence and knowledge of language and literature generally’ was partly overcome by collaborative learning and more frequent interventions on my behalf.  The few students who really struggled did, with, ‘assistance, praise and practice get to their destination’. 

Having to answer language and literature questions in the TL worried some students however I believe I calmed them with the knowledge, ‘that I was the assessor of their knowledge, knew what the domain of the tests was and that all that they needed to show was creativity and originality’.  Nevertheless the gaps in the students’ knowledge of Irish grammar indicated that these students would benefit from straight grammar lessons in future modules.

The final week brought two very different types of evidence.  One of the students said that The Course Director had noticed a discernible improvement in her oral Irish.  However once again students’ fear of tests was also clearly evident, but ‘I tried to put the whole question into perspective by saying that they represented only half of all the available marks and that they had already successfully completed the other half’. 

The most successful aspect of the oral work on literature was the reading aloud of excerpts from the prescribed texts, ‘in the larger groups I witnessed more able students taking on a teaching role in explaining words and phrases’;  ‘those students who would usually interact through the medium of the TL did so on this occasion but others who don’t, set about the task I felt with a renewed determination’.

Levels of language in the autobiographical writings from the Donegal Gaeltacht proved very suitable for the students and consequently, ‘ this will mean a change in plans for next year in that this type of writing will be used as an introductory text’.  Discussions on literature took place enthusiastically with little intervention and gave the appearance that student confidence was growing.  The plan in seminars to pair people with a student with whom they had interacted minimally was a rewarding exercise for the students.  I saw it as, ‘a magnificent learning exercise for both parties’. 

I believe that students benefited from the breadth of the literature we considered.  The investigation of aspects of the Munster dialect in Machnamh Seanmhná (An Old Woman’s Reflections) by Peig Seyers was highly entertaining – an essential ingredient in successful learning.  Nevertheless one student remarked that, ‘we had not delved deeply enough into the literature’.   I agreed and indicated that, ‘ I would be decreasing the quantity in order to facilitate that deeper consideration’.       

I asked the students for written responses as to the approach I adopted and asked them to consider whether my modified practice had resulted in them having more confidence to communicate in the TL.  I got eighteen written responses from a total of twenty-one students and the following issues arose in them, which I unpack below:

·         progress in students’ spoken Irish;

·         group work;

·         tutor intervention;

·         reading texts aloud;

·         gaps in students’ knowledge;

·         tests;

·         translation work;

·         error analysis;

·         writing;

·         literature;

·         break conversations.

The vast majority of students indicated that they now felt more confident in speaking Irish.  Some declared this without qualification, ‘confidence has improved during the year’; ‘outside of class now it seems more natural to talk Irish to anyone I know, can and wants to – I will have more confidence for this oral’.  Others, however while recognising some improvement still had their doubts, ‘I think I am more confident in spoken Irish but would still need a lot more practice’; ‘I feel a bit more confident in oral Irish but there are plenty of gaps due to my own limitations’; ‘I feel more confident in a way but this year has made me realise how much more I have to learn to become fluent’.  

A small number of students claimed that they had not gained more confidence because of such intrinsic factors as reticence, ‘I find it difficult sometimes still trying to speak in Irish.  The words are there but still it is quite difficult’; ‘At present I don’t feel much more confident.  My spoken Irish is still my biggest concern.  I always feel I have to prepare well for orals rather than conduct a conversation naturally’; fear of erring, ‘Personally, I am reluctant to speak in the language unless I feel that what I am saying is accurate in that language so it probably is a good thing where one is compelled to speak’; and comparing performance to more fluent learners, ‘I have not gained confidence for oral because I compare with others’.  One student was clearly undecided, ‘more confident? - not too sure’.  Another was intimated by the formality of the oral examinations, ‘I think I would feel more relaxed if it was not in a classroom.  I feel I might be able to express myself better’ while finally one student had reconciled himself to being on a journey, ‘I found that the language we were using was very difficult to understand but I did understand that it was part of the learning process’.

Group work attracted a lot of comment which centred on the success of the paired group work and students’ clearly expressed satisfaction with it, ‘I would like to see more pair work and small group work as it is easier to speak out and express yourself in small groups -–very successful’;  ‘working in pairs was very helpful especially when you are struggling with sentences or phrases, the other person can help you out’.  Students had divided opinions of the work in larger groups of six.  Some students felt intimidated by the more fluent students, ‘the large groups sometimes can be difficult as the people with a lot of Irish can be a little daunting’; ‘I enjoyed working in pairs but I didn’t gain practice in speaking in bigger groups because of higher level of ability but I did gain from listening’.  Others thought it a beneficial exercise, ‘work in pairs helpful but work in groups was better so the conversation always moves along.  More ideas to share so more talk generated’; ‘working in larger groups introduced a variety also which helped to keep the interest going’.

Tutor intervention proved to be satisfactory and was described as, ‘sensitive’;  ‘helpful’;  ‘enthusiastic’; ‘about right’; ‘’adequate’; ‘minimal, tolerant, not discouraging and therefore correct’.  One student indicated that there should be more general discussion on literature ‘not led or generated by the teacher’ while another expressed frustration with the amount of intervention directed at her personally, ‘I need a lot of time, probably more than my share and I can’t process language quickly enough for accurate spontaneity required by speech…like being pushed up against barriers of learning, personal barriers of language’.

During literature seminars we read aloud together excerpts from prescribed texts.  Students’ comments deemed it very edifying, ‘reading aloud helped me a lot’; ‘it was the most beneficial and influential part of the course as regards the oral aspect’; ‘reading out loud has been very useful for pronunciation and comprehension’. 

Three students commented on gaps in their knowledge but all indicated overall improvement in linguistic competence.  One student, on the struggle to make space for himself, stated, ‘there is simply not enough time for us to speak Irish in two classes per week’.  A student noted the disparity between the approach I had taken during this enquiry and ‘examination formula’.  One student commented on how informative it was to consider the translations authors did and to compare them to their own efforts to see, ‘how the mind of the writer worked’.  I was surprised that only one student expressed an opinion on the sessions we held on common errors learners of Irish make.  However she made an astute remark about spoken and written language, ‘much of our spoken Irish is reflected in what we write.  I found the session on common mistakes we were all making very useful.’

Writing essays in Irish was reckoned by one student to be, ‘very good practice’.  Literature seminars inspired another student to read literature beyond the prescribed texts, ‘feedback on literature gave me an interest in other authors not so far covered and I got ‘An Chéad Chloch’ out of the library as a result’.   Only one student expressed an opinion on the break-time conversation topics stating that it was often, ‘difficult to concentrate on an allocated topic at break. Conversation tended to stray.  Enough to say, ‘talk in Irish at break’.    

How did I judge progress?

I had to find some evidence to show that the action I took in improving my practice actually had an influence on the oral competence of the students.  I asked a student to keep a reflective diary (Data Archive 1) and requested written comments on progress from students (Data Archive 2).  I also kept a reflective diary, weekly plans and reflections, on each teaching session (see Appendix 2).  I believe that progress can be judged by the student’s reflective journal, from the written responses of the group and from comments in my own reflective journal.  I also believe that self-confidence and a realisation that their oral language skills would not be perfected overnight are key factors, which I hoped to build over the weeks.

How did I make sure that any statements I made were reasonably fair and accurate?

I wrote to The Course Director, to The Co-coordinator of Teaching and Learning in another school in the university and to the Head of Irish in a university college asking them to validate my claims to knowledge as a result of the action enquiry (see Appendix 1c).  The Course Director supported my enquiry from the beginning and has agreed that we will use the findings to restructure our oral language work in the coming years.  I described the nature of the enquiry to The Co-coordinator of Teaching and Learning in another school in the university and he agreed to validate my claims to knowledge. The Course Director is familiar with the kind of improvement in language teaching that I am trying to bring about and with the problems adults face in their strenuous efforts to acquire fluency in Irish.  The Co-coordinator of Teaching and Learning would be aware of generic teaching and learning issues but not those specific to language teaching.  I looked for validation of my claims in the form of their comments.

The Course Director noted (see Appendix 1d) that I had ‘a very healthy appetite to be a reflective practitioner’ and wrote of my ‘strong and worthy conviction’.  He commented that we were both ‘unswerving in our objective to improve the quality of our classes.’  He had noticed a ‘monumental improvement’ in students’ oral competence, a result of my ‘patience with adult learners’.

In the written communication from The Co-coordinator of Teaching and Learning  (see Appendix 1e) the very apt verb ‘energise’ was used to describe my attempts at maximising TL use.  He questioned the rigour of my research and the generalisibilty of my findings.  In discussions with him, I explained that I and my learning were the focus of this action research project, that the results were for this small group of adult learners only and that I was not claiming generalisibility.   

The Head of Irish wrote (see Appendix 1f) that my claims to knowledge were based on direct experience coupled with a readiness to question my professional practice and accept constructive criticism.  It was stressed that I had illuminated methods, which are successful in adult learning.

4          MAIN FINDINGS

I believe that there are a number of significant findings from this enquiry.  The adult, part-time learner faces massive problems in finding space to study due to domestic commitments and responsibilities.  The greater interaction through the TL during teaching time has increased oral competence in the majority of cases but features of personality such as natural reticence can impede performance.  Oral work in pairs with a minimal and unintimidating audience was a very successful teaching strategy and although work in larger groups was flowing, rewarding and interesting it intimidated weaker students.  My level of intervention and response seems to have been well measured although there is always room for improvement.  Reading texts aloud was conducive to improving oracy skills and was entertaining for students.  An examination of common errors was very illuminating for students, reflected their efforts and indicated what was still to be achieved.  Answering questions and writing essays in the TL, although initially daunting was rewarding to students in the end.  Authentic language occasions such as listening and responding to news items appeared to facilitate application to task.  Autobiographical texts contain suitable, comprehensible input for these part-time students and the consideration of these texts was found to augment motivation.  Finally the enquiry illustrated the importance and effectiveness of appropriate planning, reflecting and modifying in language teaching.

5          SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS WORK
5.1       Personal professional learning

I have learned a lot from this enquiry about my own practice.  I learned how successful approaches such as pairing, providing comprehensible input, demanding TL output from students and providing enjoyable, suitable texts are in second language learning.  I also gained evidence of aspects of my teaching, which not only intimidated weaker and indeed naturally reticent students but also restricted them from producing output in the TL.

 
5.2       Potential workplace influence

The diploma and degree courses on which I teach are unique and are at an experimental stage.  They involve teaching part-time students Irish ab initio and bringing them to diploma level in two years or degree level in five years.  Any enquiry that informs pedagogy on such courses will benefit the university and the quality of its provision.  I discussed my enquiry and its findings with colleagues.  The success of the paired work and of the reading of texts will have consequences for their own teaching in the future.  Intimidating features of my approach such as asking students to address the full cohort will be revisited but in a restructured way.

 
5.3       The wider body of knowledge

I believe that I have contributed to new forms of educational research and theory within this field of study in the specific context of the Irish language.  The specificity of my enquiry lies in the lack of osmosis in the TL that students can experience.  My approach as witnessed in this assignment was to maximize the TL use during teaching time.  It is my opinion that I have conducted an important reflective enquiry into the quality of my own practice, modified it and in the process learned a lot which will not only influence my future teaching but will also be significant in the wider field of language learning.

           

6 CONCLUDING REMARKS, REFLECTIVE CONSIDERATION OF ACTION RESEARCH APPROACH

In undertaking this module, I learned about my teaching, students’ learning and the methodology of action research.  Enquiry into my professional practice and reflection on it has always been central to my work.  I spent four years in initial teacher education trying to encourage the employment of an enquiring, analytical and reflective approach by student teachers to their teaching.  Evidence was produced as a result of the present action research enquiry to suggest that learners benefited from my finely tuned and modified teaching, and that there were both positive and negative aspects of my practice.  This bears witness to the suitability of the action research methodology to researching  pedagogy in the complex context of part-time, adult second language learning.                 

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Singleton, D. (1989) Language Acquisition, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Sommerfelt, A. (1929) South Armagh Irish,  Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap, Suppl.  Bind V111.

Stockman, G. and Wagner, H. (1965) Contributions to a study of Tyrone Irish:  some aspects of the vocabulary, grammar and phonology of Tyrone Irish, with texts, in Sommerfelt, A. (Ed)  Lochlann:  A Review of Celtic Studies, 3, pp 43-236, a monograph reprinted from Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap, Suppl.  Bind V111.

Wagner, H. (1969) Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects, Vol. 1V, Dublin:  Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Appendix 1

These are my ethical statement and letters of consent, which were sent to the Head of School, to students involved in research and to the validation group.

I am a university lecturer, teaching adult learners on a part-time honours degree course.  During this research, I will observe the highest possible ethical standards.  Data gathering will be performed with integrity.

I will fully acknowledge the work of others and will report my findings honestly and truthfully.  This research project will benefit both my students and myself.  While acknowledging the rights of all the research participants, I retain the right to report, providing that I have carried out the research in a consistently ethical manner.

Appendix 1a

Letter to my Head of School

Head of School,

Phone Number.

Dear Mr G

As part of my EdD studies, I intend to carry out an action research project in order to investigate how I can improve my practice in affording opportunities for students to interact with each other and with myself through the medium of the target language. I am writing to ask your permission to carry out this research with my second year group. None of the students will be identified.  Your name will not appear in any document and I shall be happy to share new knowledge with other staff in the school

Yours,

Seán

Appendix 1b

Letter to second year students

Dear student,

I intend to investigate how I can improve my teaching so that you are afforded more opportunities to interact with other students and with myself through the medium of Irish.  This will form part of my studies on an EdD course. If you agree to this proposal please sign below.  No student will be identified in the assignment.

Is mise,

Seán

Name: ________________

Appendix 1c

Letter sent to members of validation group and their respective comments

Letter to members of validation group

Dear colleague,

I am writing to ask you for some assistance with research I am carrying out.  I am investigating my practice in language teaching in order to improve it by affording students more opportunities to interact with each other and with myself through the target language, Irish. I would be grateful if you would give me permission to use your feedback on my efforts.  Any information you offer will be handled in confidence.  Your name will not appear in any published documents without your consent and prior viewing of the context.

Yours,

Seán

Appendix 1d:  Written comments of The Course Director:

The initial thought for your project indicates a healthy appetite to be a reflective practitioner and I have a strong sense that your approach is very student-centred.  You show a strong and worthy conviction and the emphasis on extra-curricular learning is excellent.  You could have said more about the mature nature of the cohort.  The modules of the part-time BA basically follow that of the full-time BA where most students enter after seven years of Irish.  We must now restructure in the light of our direct experience and interaction with mature students to tailor it more to their needs (e.g. Use of TL in second year in order to build confidence.  I am extremely pleased to have you as a colleague as we are both unswerving in our objectives to improve the quality of classes we provide.  It was unfortunate that the approach did not apply throughout the module.

The students’ written responses represent monumental improvement.  I certainly noticed a big difference in competence of students at end of module.  The emphasis on oral work is something, which the Diploma students continually ask for.  We are now making oral count for 33% of year two rather than 16.6% in order to meet that demand by the students.

We should with your permission look at the comments in detail and use them as central planks in revising plans for the new course layout.  As tutor for two years previous, I could confirm that their oral competence and confidence has been through your patient strategies.

Appendix 1e:  Written comments of The Co-coordinator of Teaching and Learning:

Your paper explains in a straightforward way your attempt to ‘energise’ oral competence.  My main concern would be, is it rigorous enough research to make significant claims for improvement?  As it stands it reads very much in a narrative, descriptive style rather than systematic and analytical mode. Should you explain ‘action research’ at the outset?  Would four responses from sample group of twenty-one students be statistically significant?  Can you generalise from opinions of two students?

Appendix 1f:  Written comments of The Head of Irish in a university college:

Your claims are based on experience as a teacher from nursery to third level in second language teaching and immersion teaching and therefore reflect accurately your impressions of the needs of students and of your own strengths.  The fact that you asked the students shows that you can take on board constructive criticism and are prepared to question your own professional practice.  The fact that you are thinking about publishing this further demonstrates your own professional critical attitude and your openness to accept criticism and not hide behind your professional mask.  You show that reading aloud really works well with adult learners.  This is very interesting as in my experience with male A level students this would not have worked. These students make a big investment and you are trying to cater for all sorts of needs, all of which you have to cater for.

Appendix 2 Weekly plans and reflections

Newly proposed timetable in lectures/seminars to encourage more teacher/student and student/student interaction through the medium of the target language.

6.00 – 6.10      I introduce teaching objectives and new material.

6.10 – 6.20      Students collaborate in pairs on language work (translation, grammar etc.)

6.20 – 6.30      I lead discussion on results from collaboration.

6.30 – 6.40      I introduce further new material.

6.40 – 6.50      Students collaborate with new partners in oral and written work.

6.50 – 7.05      Students take part in light conversation topics I prepare on various topics.

7.05 – 7.35      I deliver lecture on Modern Irish Literature

7.35 – 7.50      Students (in larger groups) discuss aspects of lecture by ways of questions I shall prepare.

7.50 – 8.05      Students take part in light conversation topics I shall prepare related to literary topics.

8.05 – 8.20      Representative from each group reports back on findings which whole class consider and respond to.

8.20 – 8.50      Seminar in which I shall lead a discussion on specific areas being covered in literature lectures.

8.50 – 9.00      Recap, conclusion and indications of following week's work.

Language and literature topics for light conversation during the two breaks

6.50 – 7.05 and 7.50 – 8.05 respectively.

There are five teaching weeks remaining for this module on Modern Irish Language and Literature. My proposals for topics of conversation during break-times are shown in the table below.  These topics will be discussed through the medium of Irish and I shall have a facilitating role in providing not only vocabulary, expressions, and idioms, but also encouragement and inspiration.

Week 8 (19.03.02)

I shall ask students to describe to their partners what they did during the holiday weekend around St. Patrick's Day and what their plans are for Easter.  I shall explain how difficult yet homely some of Séamus Ó Grianna's language is using the first two pages of the novel and students will ask how others found the language in Caisleáin Óir.

Week 9 (9.04.02)

I shall assist in revision of the past tense as students tell their partners what they did over the Easter holiday period.  I shall tell of my favourite writer in Irish and ask students to discuss their favourite writers.

Week 10 (16.04.02)

I shall facilitate revision of the future tense by asking students to describe what they will do in the summer. I shall tell of my current reading in Irish and get students to discuss these questions: What are you reading presently in Irish? In English?

Week 11(23.04.02)

The conditional mood will be reviewed as I encourage students to consider this type of question: What would you do if you were to win one million pounds?  Students will discuss together all the literature we have covered in this module.

Week 12 (30.04.02)

I shall provide visual stimuli (mainly good quality photographs), which students will discuss.  I shall ask what the students thought of the course in literature through direct and open questioning.

 
Plans and reflections

Week 8 (19.03.02)

6.00 – 6.10

I introduce teaching objectives and new material: I shall explain the changes in my practice and state that we are going to watch and discuss video material in the form of the previous evening's weather and news on TG4, discuss what we did on St. Patrick's Day, have a lecture on Séamus Ó Grianna's Caisleáin Óir, discuss aspects of the novel such as characterisation and use of language, examine the first two pages for insights into the novel and recap on everything.   

6.10 – 6.20

Students collaborate in pairs on language work (translation, grammar etc.):  students will watch the short news item twice and discuss it.

6.20 – 6.30

I lead discussion on results from collaboration:  I shall explain some of the dialectal forms of the newsreaders.

6.30 – 6.40

 I introduce further new material:  we shall watch the weather item twice.

6.40 – 6.50

Students collaborate with new partners in oral and written work:  students will use their notes to:  discuss the news item with new partner.

6.50 – 7.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I prepare on various topics: students will tell in the past tense what they did over the St. Patrick's Day holiday.

7.05 – 7.35

I deliver lecture on Modern Irish Literature: I shall deliver a lecture on the novel Caisleáin Óir.

7.35 – 7.50

Students (in larger groups) discuss aspects of lecture by way of questions I shall prepare: we shall examine and discuss aspects of language in the novel.

7.50 – 8.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I shall prepare related to literary topics:  students will examine the first two pages of the novel together in groups.

8.05 – 8.20

Representative from each group reports back on findings which whole class consider and respond to:  findings will be reported and examined.

8.20 – 8.50

Seminar in which I shall lead a discussion on specific areas being covered in literature lectures: we shall consider a letter the author wrote in 1927, an article on the novel as a source of social history and one on instances of good writing in the novel.

8.50 – 9.00

Recap, conclusion and indications of following week's work: I shall re-cap on the lectures and seminar, ask what their impressions of the new arrangements are and indicate further reading.

Reflection on week 8

Tonight's changes worked fairly well, it seemed to me and there was a lot of student/student interaction.  It was difficult to stick to the planned times exactly but generally my plans were adhered to.  The students thought that the news items were a great idea.  The newscasters were from County Kerry and County Galway and spoke in their respective dialects.  I played the news item twice and explained some of the dialectal forms to the students. I then allowed them to listen again and take notes.  They then worked in pairs to discuss the item, which centred on road accidents.  We then examined their responses and understanding together.  There were also dialectal problems with the news item.  Native speakers of all languages tend to take short cuts e.g. chuile áit = gach uile áit (everywhere).  Once these were explained, students did not have any problems understanding.  They then discussed the weather with a new partner. 

The light conversation at break was also a success and it seemed that the students were really getting into the spirit of the changes.  They applied themselves to the task as I went from group to group intervening only when necessary. 

In considering the language of the novel Caisleáin Óir, there was plenty of verbal communication based on the first two pages of the book.  In the larger groups, I witnessed more able students taking on a teaching role in explaining phrases and words.  As one large group we successfully talked about some of the main themes in the book: the national school system, language contact, corporal punishment, intergenerational attitudes to Irish and the use of humour in the novel. 

Those students who would usually interact in the medium of the TL did so on this occasion but others also set about the task, I felt, with a renewed determination.  A few are still finding it difficult to cross the barrier into second language communication.  At break-time, I had a conversation with a student who would certainly fall into this category and he explained how as a father, teacher and part-time adult learner that he was finding it hard to fit in all the reading and feared that his oral skills were not improving.  This student is worried about his achievement in spoken Irish and is worried about having to talk about literature in an oral examination.  I feel that this student will be a real litmus test for the changes I have introduced. 

Generally there was a buzz about the lecture theatre, which I did not perceive previously.  The main question I have is, is it not too much to expect students to be more or less fully involved in oral and written work for a continuous period of three hours?  Seemingly, not if I can maintain interest at tonight’s levels but that demands meticulous preparation.  Students also need to make a big effort to have both passive and active interaction with the TL beyond the formal teaching hours they get. On these issues, I suggested they listen to Raidió na Gaeltachta, watch TG4, find other Irish speakers and keep a journal.  Not too much to ask!

Week 9 (9.04.02)

6.00 – 6.10

I shall introduce teaching objectives and new material and explain that we are going to examine learners' errors in speaking and writing Irish, discuss what we did over the Easter holiday, have a lecture on Eoghan Ó Dónaill's Scéal Hiúdaí Sheáinín, discuss aspects of it, have a seminar on the first chapter of the book and finally recap on everything.

6.10 – 6.20

Students collaborate in pairs on language work (translation, grammar etc.): students will consider some common errors and discuss them.

6.20 – 6.30

I lead discussion on results from collaboration: I shall examine some of the common errors learners make.

6.30 – 6.40

I introduce further written errors.

6.40 – 6.50

Students collaborate with new partners in oral and written work in discussing their own errors and considering the errors I indicated.

6.50 – 7.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I prepare on various topics: students will tell in the past tense what they did over the Easter holiday.

7.05 – 7.35

I deliver lecture on Modern Irish Literature: I shall deliver a lecture on the novel Scéal Hiúdaí Sheáinín.

7.35 – 7.50

Students (in larger groups) discuss aspects of lecture by way of questions I shall prepare:  we shall examine and discuss aspects of autobiographies in modern Irish with clear reference to Scéal Hiúdaí Sheáinín.

7.50 – 8.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I shall prepare related to literary topics:  students will discuss their favourite writers in Irish.

8.05 – 8.20

Representative from each group reports back on findings which whole class consider and respond to:  findings about favourite writers will be reported and examined.

8.20 – 8.50

Seminar in which I shall lead a discussion on specific areas being covered in literature lectures: we shall consider the first chapter of the novel Scéal Hiúdaí Sheáinín.

8.50 – 9.00

Recap, conclusion and indications of following week's work: I shall re-cap on the lectures and seminar, and indicate further reading.

Reflection on week 9

The first thing I remarked on tonight was that it had been a long Easter break and that I was sure that students would have plenty to converse about.  I introduced the new material as learners’ errors, which immediately brought smiles to their faces.  This was a very worthwhile exercise as it gave the students the opportunity to discuss the errors and to understand how many second language errors are the consequences of first language interference.  Students appreciated having the chance to ask me exactly why these examples were erroneous and there was a healthy discussion both between the students and myself and among themselves.  As we analysed the errors I indicated how many of these features were appearing in the speech of younger children in Gaeltacht areas and in the interlanguage of immersion pupils.  I believe that it brought about a realisation on many students’ behalves that they were making many of these errors and that they had still to work at them to eradicate them.

The conversation at break was also a success tonight and I witnessed most pairs attempting to interact through the TL.  However there are still some students who have not crossed that communicative barrier as yet and I shall have to target these individuals soon.  The past tense is probably the easiest one to handle in Irish and is one that the students have covered comprehensively.  Therefore the interactions I listened to were quite fluent and surprisingly accurate as well! 

The literature being considered tonight was a Gaeltacht autobiography entitled Scéal Hiúdaí Sheáinín.  It is an account of life in the west of Ireland from a man born in 1853.  We considered the life and times of the author and we drew our attention to the themes of the book.  Students have studied this type of literature from other parts of the country and this led to a discussion of the merits of the genre.  It was clear to me from students’ comments that the level of reading in this autobiography was much more suitable for these students those materials I had covered previously.  This will mean a change in plans for next year in that this text will be used as an introduction to the genre.

The second break involved a discussion of students’ favourite writers in Irish.  This meant that they had to express the meaning of favourite in Irish but it also gave me the chance to find out who is reading what beyond the prescribed texts.  This is really the first book these adult students have encountered and the conversations were highly illuminative of the enormous enthusiasm adults learners bring to the course.  Reporting of findings was interesting in that I found that I had to give very few words or assistance.  It appears students’ confidence is growing.

The seminar was a very satisfying exercise.  I asked the students to join with a partner with whom they had interacted very little before.  They then read the first chapter of the autobiography to each other.  The first thing I noticed was that no one was struggling and that there was a high but bearable and acceptable (welcome) noise-level.  I knew that these learners at this point in their acquisition of reading and comprehension skills were comfortable with this type of literature.  I witnessed attempts at native speech intonation, pronunciation and style, which pleased me a lot.  This was a magnificent learning exercise for both parties. 

Week 10 (16.04.02)

6.00 – 6.10

I introduce teaching objectives and new material: the ideas of discourse as a framework for the grammar of the Irish language and of the big, metaphoric watch with large (e.g. paragraphs) and small parts (words). 

6.10 – 6.20

Students collaborate in pairs on language work (translation, grammar etc.): students will consider the material in English and discuss it through Irish with the help of the translated version.

6.20 – 6.30

I lead discussion on results from collaboration: discussion on understanding of written discourse and of the metaphor.

6.30 – 6.40

I introduce further new material: further explanation of written discourse.

6.40 – 6.50

Students collaborate with new partners in oral and written work: students will discuss further the written material.

6.50 – 7.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I prepare on various topics: students will tell in the future tense what they will do over the summer.

7.05 – 7.35

I deliver lecture on Modern Irish Literature: I shall deliver a lecture on the novel Rotha Mór an tSaoil.

7.35 – 7.50

Students (in larger groups) discuss aspects of lecture by way of questions I shall prepare:  we shall examine the telling, writing and editing of the novel.

7.50 – 8.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I shall prepare related to literary topics: discuss what they are presently reading in Irish and in English.

8.05 – 8.20

Representative from each group reports back on findings which whole class consider and respond to: further examination of novel: themes and language.

8.20 – 8.50

Seminar in which I shall lead a discussion on specific areas being covered in literature lectures: a consideration of the chapter Lá Fhéile Pádraig

8.50 – 9.00

Recap, conclusion and indications of following week's work: written discourse and the novel Rotha Mór an tSaoil.

Reflection on week 10

I introduced my objectives for the evening and explained that this was really an exercise in collaborative learning as a way of revising for the class test that was coming up very soon.  I advised the students firstly to read the English version of the section on language as a system of sounds and how we might use the metaphoric watch with its cogs and small parts, which must all, operate in unison in order that the watch might function accurately.  To transfer this to language systems and to consider it in the second language proved an enormous task for a lot of the students and demanded that I intervened to a greater extent than had been my previous practice.  What made matters worse was the nature of the translation of the original English material. It did not facilitate the conveying of the meaning in the original version.  Nevertheless, it produced a lot of interaction including explanations and illuminations on more knowledgeable students to those who have only rarely considered these matters. That is a feature of this cohort, which is a great challenge in that there is massive variance in second language competence and in knowledge of language and literature generally.  We only covered the metaphor and I said that I would provide a clearer translation for next week.

We then followed the same methodology to consider written discourse and criteria used to ascertain the quality of long written pieces such as discussion essays.  This proved more successful as the subject was easier to comprehend and therefore was not as demanding as the other subject through the TL.

In general the student body is proficient in the use of the future tense, which actually is quite straightforward to form and to use in Irish.  A few people struggled but with assistance, praise and patience they eventually got to their destination.

In the lecture we talked about the fact that Seán Ó hEochaidh had written down this account from the telling of Micí Mac Gabhann and how Proinsias Ó Conluain had edited the work.  I asked the students to work in their groups and to consider an abridged version, which I had taken from a recently published book on the subject.  Again this type of natural, homely language is very attractive to the students and points to future methods of instruction and language use.

We did not have time to read the section entitled St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) from the book which I provided for them on but I asked them to consider it in their own time.

Students are worried that they will be answering questions on language and on literature through the TL.  We then had a discussion on second language acquisition in which I alluded to Krashen’s ‘comprehensible input’ theory and other ideas about the use of the TL in the instruction of the language and of other subject areas.  I also strongly indicated that the greater emphasis would be on the conveying of meaning, in communicating and less on accuracy and form.  I do believe they went home a little more reassured of their ability to answer the questions in the class tests. 

Week 11 (23.04.02)

6.00 – 6.10

I introduce teaching objectives and new material: quick consideration of new translation of metaphorical watch; the idea of discourse as a framework for the grammar of language.

6.10 – 6.20

Students collaborate in pairs on language work (translation, grammar etc.): students will consider the material in Irish and discuss it through Irish with the help of the original English version.

6.20 – 6.30

I lead discussion on results from collaboration: discussion on understanding of written discourse and its assessment from the points of view of presentation, relevance, thought content, organisation, coverage and style.

6.30 – 6.40

I introduce further new material: further discussion on the assessment of written discourse.

6.40 – 6.50

Students collaborate with new partners in oral and written work: students will discuss further my translated version of the original English material, ensuring their knowledge of terminology.

6.50 – 7.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I prepare on various topics: students will practise their use of use of the conditional mood - Cad é dhéanfá dá mbainfeá milliún punt? What would you do if you won one million pounds?

7.05 – 7.35

I deliver lecture on Modern Irish Literature: I shall deliver a lecture on the novel Machnamh Seanmhná (An Old Woman’s Reflections) by Peig Seyers.

7.35 – 7.50

Students (in larger groups) discuss aspects of lecture by way of questions I shall prepare: we shall examine the cultural and literary contexts of the book.

7.50 – 8.05

Students take part in light conversation topics I shall prepare related to literary topics: they will discuss the literature we have covered in this module.

8.05 – 8.20

Representative from each group reports back on findings which whole class consider and respond to: further examination of novel: literary aspects.

8.20 – 8.50

Seminar in which I shall lead a discussion on specific areas being covered in literature lectures: a consideration of the last chapter.

8.50 – 9.00

Recap, conclusion and indications of following week's work: written discourse, the novel Machnamh Seanmhná, the sentence and revision of module.

Reflection on week 11

I introduced the objectives for the evening and realised immediately that pupils wanted some idea of the content of the upcoming class tests on language and literature.  We discussed this and it was evident that some students are worried about responding in Irish to the questions.  I explained that I was the assessor of their knowledge, had a knowledge of the domain of the tests which would be examined and that what they needed to demonstrate was creativity and originality.

However, things did go as planned as the students wanted to cover some areas of grammar they were unsure of still.  We did that and also considered various structures and phrases they would need in their written and oral examinations. 

Students demonstrated the student-friendly translations of the language material that I provided for them and said that the level of language was much easier to handle. 

The conversation at break was quite successful and lead to a comprehensive revision of the conditional mood in Irish.  The gaps in the students’ knowledge however has forced me to reconsider the approach taken on this model where language systems in general have been addressed when evidently these part-time students would benefit more from straight Irish lessons.

We considered then both the literary and cultural contexts of the autobiography Machnamh Seanmhná (An Old Woman’s Reflections).  This led to a discussion in the TL about island life and specifically life on the Blasket Islands at the beginning of the twentieth century.  We also made a comparison between the type of language used by Peig and the language of Tomás Ó Criomhthainn the author of An tOileánach (The Islander).  This was also an ideal opportunity to bring in some aspects of the dialect of Munster which was an entertaining aspect of the interaction tonight.

The conversation at break was in preparation for the oral examination and involved the literature that we have covered in the module.  Again students availed of this opportunity to discuss material, which will be assessed.  I moved from group to group and assisted in the construction of utterances indicating a liking or disliking for different authors.  The feedback was informative in that I found that a lot of the students were not able to purchase the prescribed texts and were depending on sections, which I provided in seminars.

In our discussion of the literary aspects of the book, we examined the final chapter of the book and the deeply religious nature of the language involved. A consideration then followed of the social and cultural context, reality for such faith in and reverence for the Creator in spite of the evidently materialistically impoverished life on the Blaskets. Another inspiring concept for the students was the rich oral tradition of the island in contrast to the aforementioned material poverty. These were formally uneducated community but yet a highly learned one.  Students perceived this from the text and talked in an interested fashion about it.

The recap involved ensuring that all students were aware of the content of all examinations, that they should answer the questions in Irish and that the following week would be used to answer all their inquiries.

Week 12 (30.04.02)

6.00 – 6.10 I introduce teaching objectives and new material.  I shall explain that this evening’s time will not be used as planned to introduce new material but instead will be taken up by revisiting the concepts of language and the literature that we covered

6.10 – 6.20 Students collaborate in pairs on language work (translation, grammar etc.) This time will be used for pairs to formulate questions, which we shall discuss.

6.20 – 6.30 I lead discussion on results from collaboration.  This discussion will be driven by feedback from pairs.

6.30 – 6.40 I introduce further new material.  No new material will be introduced.

6.40 – 6.50 Students collaborate with new partners in oral and written work.  Pairs will discuss their understanding of issues I have identified, which will appear, on the upcoming written class-test.

6.50 – 7.05 Students take part in light conversation topics I prepare on various topics.  This time will be used to allow students to discuss some of the topics that will arise in the oral test such as a comparison of the literature in Irish they have considered with literature in other languages.

7.05 – 7.35 I deliver lecture on Modern Irish Literature.  I shall revisit briefly in a general fashion the books we have covered in this module.

7.35 – 7.50 Students (in larger groups) discuss aspects of lecture by ways of questions I shall prepare.  These groups will discuss various aspects including language use, themes, and characterisation.

7.50 – 8.05 Students take part in light conversation topics I shall prepare related to literary topics.  This will be a break for the students.

8.05 – 8.20 Representative from each group reports back on findings which whole class consider and respond to. Feedback about language, themes and characterisation will be considered.

8.20 – 8.50 Seminar in which I shall lead a discussion on specific areas being covered in literature lectures. I shall use this time to give indicators as to the demands of the literature questions in the class-test.

8.50 – 9.00 Recap, conclusion and indications of following week's work.  I shall indicate further reading for both language and literature.

Reflection on week 12

Students were glad that I was going to use the evening’s time to recap on material from previous lectures and that nothing new would be introduced.  The first thing I did was to ask them to write down a few ideas they had on how the methodology I had taken in the five last weeks of the module had influenced their oral competence in Irish.  This proved very useful and we had a short discussion about this. One of the students indicated that he had been in conversation with the coordinator of the course who commented on a noticeable improvement in that student’s spoken Irish.

Students came up with a lot of questions, which I attempted to answer.  These adult learners are extremely anxious about the tests.  I tried to put the whole question into perspective by saying that they represented only half of all the available marks and that they had already successfully completed the other half.  Again many said that they did not find the time to study, as they would like to due to family commitments.

We discussed the idea of language as a system with small and large parts, which operate in unison.  This seems to be a lot clearer now and students showed their appreciation of the student-friendly translations of this area, which I had provided.  Nevertheless, a question of educational equity arose when a student complained that I had covered this area and supplied notes on it during a class for another module.  I had not realised that three of the students were not doing that module and therefore did not get the notes. I rectified the problem immediately by posting the notes to their homes.

In my consideration of the literature, a student aired the opinion that we had not delved deeply enough into the literature.  I agreed with the student and responded by stating that the module as handed to me when I came into the post appeared to cover too much literature within such a short time-span.  I indicated that I would be decreasing the quantity in order to facilitate that deeper consideration.

Students appreciated the indications I offered to them of areas they should revisit for test purposes.  Their anxiety in both oral and written testing cannot be underestimated.  A very important point mentioned was the readability level of some of the literature, which they said, took them a lot of time because they had to have a dictionary on hand.  My reply to that was to forget about the dictionary, to mark words and phrases, which were not immediately discernible, and to come back to them at the end.  This advice was coolly accepted.  

Data archives

1 Reflective diary kept by student during enquiry.

2 Written responses from students as to their progress and my new teaching approach.

What's New

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VALUE AND VIRTUE IN PRACTICE-BASED RESEARCH (2013) EDITED BY JEAN MCNIFF, DORSET, SEPTEMBER BOOKS.

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Go to www.september-books.com to order and to see further information about the book and its contents. 

September Books

Conferences

 

Read about the Value and Virtue in Practice-Based Research conference at York St John University, Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th June 2015. Go to www.yorksj.ac.uk/value&virtue for further information.
Keynote speakers: Dr Tina Cook, Northumbria University

Professor Carol Munn-Giddings, Anglia Ruskin University


Professor Julian Stern, York St John University


Professor Jean McNiff, York St John University

 

 

 

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