An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Christian Brothers College
Monkstown Park, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Roll number: 60180R
Date of inspection: 30 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers College, Monkstown Park, County Dublin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal, and the History teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
History is well-supported and well provided for in the school. Junior cycle History has three class periods a week in first and third years and four class periods a week in second year, which is good practice. In Transition Year (TY) which is taken by almost all students, History is compulsory and is run in two rotating modules, each student receiving a half-year course of two periods per week. These are reported to work well. In fifth and sixth years, History, which is chosen by a large number of students, has five class periods per week in each year. Typically, these are divided up as one double period and three singles, which both students and teachers find workable and successful for teaching and learning the syllabus. This year there are sufficient students to merit two History classes in fifth year: this has not happened for some time and the classes are working well in their two mixed-ability units.
The subject choice system is well-developed and permits students an initial ‘open’ choice from the full list of optional subjects available. When these are analysed, and broken up into ‘choice blocks’, students’ final selections are in almost all cases successful. In this year group, all fifth-year students are reported to have received their preferred subjects. This is commendable, as is the information and consultation process leading up to the actual subject choice. Parents and students are well supported in this important area.
All classes are mixed-ability units, in both junior and senior cycles, although some class groups in the junior years have been rearranged to suit numbers and local requirements within years. All classes are of a reasonable size, and, although some of the classrooms are a little small, they are adequate for the numbers occupying them at present. The teachers report satisfaction with the mixed-ability system and are well supported by management in their work.
Classrooms are teacher or subject-based, except in the case of teachers with limited hours or a minority subject, or diploma teachers, whose hours mean that they have to use classrooms as available. Nevertheless, the nature of the classroom base means that all rooms visited were well fitted out with equipment and also gave the opportunity to the teacher to develop their own themes and materials on the classroom walls. Some of these were extremely good and provided stimulating historical material for the classes taught in them. This practice is to be commended.
There is a school library with a History section used by teachers and students. There is a librarian in attendance, and students have good access to the library which is of particular use to senior cycle classes whose researches are facilitated by the resources available.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is developing well in the school. There is a fully equipped computer room and the school’s broadband system is extended currently to four classrooms. It is intended to spread it further when this is possible. There are digital projectors available: some are fixed in specialist areas and there are portable projectors available by agreement. Management aims to integrate the various elements of ICT, which is positive. All rooms have been equipped with television monitors and DVD/video players, and overhead projectors are readily available. The school is thus well provided-for with hardware in both audio-visual (AV) and ICT areas. Continuation of the policy of provision and integration of ICT and AV systems is recommended.
Management’s support for History is apparent in the ways described and management is enthusiastic about the creation of a second fifth-year class in the subject this year which is stated to re-establish the strength of the subject in the school. This support is appreciated by the History teaching team.
The History teachers meet as a group three times a year. The role of coordinator rotates by agreement, and the teacher taking this job chairs the team meetings. The matters discussed at these subject planning meetings largely comprise syllabus, methodology, examinations, historical visits and department organisation. It would be a positive practice to record the agenda and minutes of these meetings, preferably electronically, as a resource for future development of the subject. It would also strengthen the planning and preparation aspect of teaching if a full inventory of all History resources, including hardware and software could be made, and an indication as to where these resources are located in the school.
The History team has also produced well-developed planning documents for their subject which reflect serious thought and discussion. The main document covers planning for junior cycle, TY and Leaving Certificate, and is a comprehensive account of needs, resources, policies, procedures and learning skills. While there is a final section on long-term planning for curriculum content, it is also important that the History team extend their discussions to include a longer term strategic plan for History in the school. This should go beyond curriculum, and take into account students’ subject choice, ‘taster’ lessons, a clear statement of their subject and its position in the school, as well as a mid-term to long-term view of History in the school over the next few years. It is recommended that at least one meeting per year should be devoted to this aspect of strategic subject planning which would strongly complement the good work already done.
Classrooms, which are teacher-based, have good displays of History subject materials on the walls and notice boards, and reference is made to these in class, which reflects good preparation practices. Good handouts and worksheets are prepared by teachers for their lessons: they are clear and informative. Addition of colour, especially to illustrations and maps, would enhance the material. Overhead Projector (OHP) transparencies are prepared for use in class and were well integrated into the History lessons observed. An increasing number of lesson materials are generated from ICT by the History teachers, and development of this practice is to be encouraged.
There was evidence in some cases of teachers researching the media for relevant and current documentaries and historically relevant films. Some thought had gone into this, and positive indications to students as to what to expect, along with brief summaries and times of screening, indicated good planning and preparation for the relevant lessons. The processes used in preparation for lessons were shared with students, including how and where to source materials for themselves, often from the internet: this was an example of best practice and is commended.
Teachers participate in Continuous Professional Development (CPD) in a variety of ways. Two teachers have attended the History Inservice Team (HIST) sessions for the new History Leaving Certificate syllabus, and are enthusiastic about its support and provision of materials and ideas. They continue to attend currently. All History teachers belong to their subject association, the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland (HTAI) and attend their meetings and inservice activities from time to time. They enter their students annually for the HTAI History table-quiz and have had marked success in that competition, which is to be applauded. The school supports this membership by paying the teachers’ annual membership fees to the HTAI. Annual subscriptions are also paid to relevant History magazines which greatly assist in preparation, particularly for the senior cycle students. The school is to be commended for this.
Good classroom management was apparent in the classes observed during the inspection. Students were prepared for work and quickly got down to their tasks or engaged with the process of teaching and learning which rapidly had the relevant material presented to students in various ways. Some, though not all, of the teachers observed, wrote the topic for the day’s lesson on the board or OHP, developing this by adding key words or phrases as the lesson developed. This is good practice and should be adopted for the teaching of all classes. In these instances, students were generally, but not always, given time to write the material from the board into their notebooks. The advantage of recording such information was evident in several classes, where students had well-ordered and useful notebooks, which they kept throughout their course. These learning strategies should be extended to all classes and lessons, as excellent material can otherwise be inadvertently lost.
Most lessons commenced with roll-call, a check being made to ensure that all students were accounted for. In some instances, homework copies were handed out at that stage, thus completing the formal business of the class prior to the start of the day’s lesson topic.
In almost all instances, the lessons observed started with question and answer sessions, either to recap on the previous lesson or to prepare the class for a revision exercise, as subject tests were approaching for some classes. The questions posed were generally very well balanced, with a variety of straightforward factual queries interspersed with higher-order questioning. In most cases, questions were directed to named individuals in the class. This is good practice and aids the inclusion of all students in the process. Where this was not the case, it is important that teachers should develop a system whereby all questions are carefully directed and not left as general or rhetorical questions, which do not advance the lesson as effectively. Students in almost all instances responded well to questions and were clearly well on top of their topics. Teachers, in most lessons observed, changed the pace and activities of the class as soon as the question sessions ended. There was a variety of methods in evidence including use of the OHP with diagrams or headings, worksheets, information pages, use of blank maps, and short references to the textbook. These methodologies were good, and kept students on task during their classes.
Use of illustrative material, where observed, was very good, with student input and reaction part of the learning process. Students in some lessons were required to respond to material on the board or the OHP and sis so with confidence and good basic knowledge of their topics. It was also clear that several strands of cross-curricular material were woven into History lessons, and students were well capable of dealing with these references and activities. This is to be applauded. In Leaving Certificate material, where evidence, documents and research are of great importance, students were required to ‘brainstorm’ certain issues, and to write down their reactions to aspects of the topics being discussed. Rights and wrongs, morality and ethics came into play in these lessons which show good understanding of the requirements of the syllabus, and ability on the part of the students to participate in critical situations and controversies presented by study of the topic. In some instances, collaborative and group work took place, while in other situations, students were made to justify their statements and back up opinions with examples and evidence. Both these methods are important in the teaching and learning process in the current History syllabus, and were examples of good practice. This is to be commended. Good progress was being made with the syllabus and the pace established is good and should be sustained over the period from now until the presentation of research studies and the terminal examination. It was also clear from interaction with the students that they are enjoying their History course and are participating well in the process. This is to be applauded.
ICT and video clips are used in the teaching of lessons. During the course of the inspection, there were references to work done, videos seen, and material to be used in the near future in the study of History across all the classes inspected. There was much evidence of such material, and the equipment in the school is reaching a point at which much more active use of ICT can be made in the classroom, so it is important that the impetus is sustained in using good reliable material.
Teachers discussed, with the classes observed, upcoming episodes of films, videos/DVDs, and material relevant to the History syllabus. Students were familiar with the material being discussed. Continued and expanded usage of contemporary material especially in AV or ICT form is to be greatly encouraged as it strongly supports the material in the syllabus. The progress made in this direction so far is good, and its greater expansion will further enhance the teaching and learning of History in the school.
The History teachers take students on History outings and visits, as well as involving them in History projects, at appropriate times and levels for the classes involved. This is good practice, and the outcomes were reported to be positive, which is to be commended.
In all classes inspected, students worked well, with a good working environment and an atmosphere of mutual respect in evidence. Students are encouraged to aspire to taking this subject at the highest level appropriate to their abilities and the success of this approach is well reflected in the students’ achievements in state examinations. They are to be commended for this.
Classes are given homework assignments most evenings, usually in the form of written exercises or learning work based on the day’s classes. The latter are checked by question and answer sessions in the next History class, while the written work is monitored by teachers in the students’ History copy books. In many instances, this monitoring consists of correcting the work with formative assessment processes in use to encourage students to improve their work in the subject. In other examples, work was monitored by ticks, dates, initials and other methods as appropriate. The formative assessment techniques used are good and should be extended to all classes, depending on the level and the type of work involved. Teachers keep good progress record books for their classes, which they report are very useful for discussing progress at the parent-teacher meetings. These meetings are held once annually for each year in the school. There are also information meetings for parents each year, concerning courses and activities in TY and subject choice information for the Leaving Certificate.
There are regular tests held in all History classes, usually at the end of a topic or a section of the syllabus. In-house examinations are held at Christmas for years one, two, three, five and six. For third and sixth years, this examination takes the place of a ‘mock’ examination: this has long been school policy and hey report the practice as being good as it provides better periods of time for teaching and revision after the Christmas vacation. Summer examinations are also help for years one, two and five.
It is not standard practice for teachers to compile common examination papers for their students at Christmas or summer, as classes have reached different stages in their courses. It is recommended that the History teachers work on a system whereby they can share the work of compiling examination papers, collaborating over particular sections, in order both to save time and effort, and to provide for students a similar level of test and content. This may require some adjustment of term plans and arrangement of parallel topics, but this should benefit all concerned. It is also better to assess students, particularly in mixed-ability classes, across the board, thus creating a more accurate picture of general and individual progress in any one programme.
Printed, computerised, reports are sent to parents twice a year, after the Christmas and summer examinations. In Junior and Leaving Certificate classes, there is one report per year, in January.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.