An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
St. Joseph’s College
Lucan, County Dublin
Roll number: 60263V
Date of inspection: 28 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Joseph’s College. 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 and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Whole-school support for History in St. Joseph’s College is indicated by the subject’s strong presence in the school’s curricular programmes, the supportive allocation and pattern of History class periods on the school’s timetable, and the accessibility of History to all students. History is a compulsory subject in the Junior Certificate Programme and is therefore, studied by every junior cycle student. Transition Year students are provided with the opportunity to choose History as an optional subject component of their coursework. Senior-cycle students choose their preferred Leaving Certificate programme from a choice of the Leaving Certificate (Established) (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The students select four optional subjects from a list comprising fifteen Leaving Certificate subjects that includes History. Management deploys the nine History teachers to teach the subject throughout the school. This practice is commended as it enables every member of the History subject team to remain actively involved in supporting the continuous development of the teaching and study of History.
Study of the timetabled allocation of the History class periods shows that the junior cycle classes in each of the three years of their Junior Certificate Programme have three History class periods per week and that efforts are made to provide a favourable pattern in the teacher-class contact time. The junior cohort of students comprises four class groups in the current first year, and five class groups in second and third year respectively. There are 394 junior-cycle students attending the school and they are organised into mixed ability class groupings in keeping with school policy. The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is presently catering for 131 students of whom seventeen elected to continue their study of History. The seventeen students form one History class group and have been allocated three History class periods per week. The three TY History class periods comprise one double and one single period and, support coverage of the planned coursework for this programme. There is one History class group in fifth year comprising twenty-two students and one class group in sixth year comprising sixteen students. Both class groups have five History class periods per week and the timetabled allocation of the periods supports the study of History in the senior cycle.
Management facilitates meetings of the History department and an annual budget has been allocated to the department to assist the teachers in their subject planning. The importance of in-service training is recognised and the attendance of teachers at the in-service courses for the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus is accommodated. The organisation of field trips for the students is also facilitated. The History teachers have their own base classrooms, one of which has become a designated History room. The strong provision of teaching resources available to the History teachers includes audio-visual equipment, a History noticeboard, and the school’s library. There are heavy demands on the computer room so it would be desirable that management discuss with the History department how best to avail of this facility. The importance of access to information and communication technology (ICT) will increase in the future and this has been emphasised at in-service courses. The continued augmentation of the school library with suitable books and learning materials recommended by the History teachers is encouraged. This is advocated in view of the fact that a researched report must be completed by Leaving Certificate students of History as part of the new syllabus requirements.
The commitment of the History teachers to their students was readily apparent in the planning documentation and information provided on the day of the subject inspection visit. The progressive steps of establishing a History department and appointing a coordinator have been taken. Evidence of the effectiveness of the collaborative work that has taken place at departmental level is demonstrated by the framework History policy document that contains year plans and a range of policies such as those relating to differentiated learning, teaching resources, international students and co-curricular activities. The vitality of the History department and the contribution being made to the continuous development of the teaching and learning of History through this forum is commended. It is advocated that the position of coordinator should be rotated at agreed intervals to ensure that the responsibilities of the position are shared and to encourage the individual history teachers to make their contributions towards the common goal. The departmental year plans that have been prepared for each year group are an important means of assisting teachers in their coverage of the coursework. So as to build on the good work done, it is recommended that classroom methodologies be documented in year plans in order to maintain the development of the year plans as a planning resource for supporting good quality teaching. The inclusion of proven strategies and resources for teaching particular topics will enable the year plans to draw on the experience of the History teachers and continue to help subject planning evolve in the light of that experience. It is not envisaged, however, that any agreed year plan would become so rigid a blueprint as to stifle teachers’ own initiatives in proactively exploring other classroom strategies.
How the potential of ICT can be used to enhance the teaching and learning of History should continue to be discussed at departmental level. The History teachers might consider the merits of collaborating on the establishment of a departmental folder in which could be placed details of successfully delivered History lessons and activities involving the use of ICT material. The folder of exemplar ICT based History lessons would in time provide the history teachers with a useful reference manual. It is advocated that the potential of ICT as a teaching and learning device continue to be incorporated into students’ project work. The development of the students’ research and writing skills in doing projects will stand in good stead those students who continue their study of History in the senior cycle where an individual research topic is a requirement of the new Leaving Certificate syllabus.
The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is an important component in the breadth of education provided by the school for the students. A generally accepted aim of TYP is to prepare young people for their roles as participating and responsible members of society and to help them make more mature and informed choices regarding their future development and learning. The inclusion of a History module in the TY programme is a powerful way of helping students to realise these aims and the history teachers are commended for their work in this regard. The TY History module is entitled “Bridging the Gap” and has proved popular with the school’s TY students. The module is based on the life stories of a variety of people of different ages, backgrounds and nationalities and its format is flexible. For example, the current year, 2006, is the ninetieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising and “Bridging the Gap” has afforded the TY students the opportunity to study this event through the account of an individual’s life story from the programme. The students in turn, research their own individual oral projects as part of their coursework. In this and in many other ways the History modular programme has made it possible for History to make a strong contribution to the holistic education of the students. It also maintains the TY students’ contact with History and therefore, encourages students to consider History for their Leaving Certificate studies.
The planning and preparation undertaken for the lessons observed was quite apparent. In keeping with good teaching practice the purpose of each lesson was clearly identified. The advance readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of class handouts, the incorporation of a range of teaching resources that included audio-visual materials and models of medieval weaponry, the review of selected pages in class textbooks and the selection of homework. The individual teachers have given thought as to how the physical layout of their classrooms can enhance the quality of the teaching and learning that takes place there. In one instance, where the class was commencing their study of the French Revolution the seating arrangements and layout of the room were laid out in three distinct groups to convey to the students the social divisions based on the three estates that were a feature of French society at that time. The teachers’ lesson plans displayed a range of teaching and learning methodologies. The continuance of this practice is always to be encouraged as it assists teachers in meeting the needs of the many different kinds of learner through the use of a range of appropriate teaching styles. The display of history materials on the classroom walls also enhanced the setting for the lessons. These practices are commended.
There was a positive teaching and learning environment in all the classes visited. The pace and structure of the lessons were underpinned by the preparations undertaken by the teachers. The clear purpose of each lesson helped the students to engage quickly with the lesson topic and gave them a definite focus for their attention. The teachers sought to encourage learning at all times and frequently interacted with their students during the course of the lessons. The students were addressed by name and the classroom skills of the teachers ensured that the students acquired an informed understanding of the lesson topic.
During the initial phase of the four lessons observed the teachers engaged their students in a variety of different ways such as the correction and checking of homework, questioning the students to ascertain their knowledge of prior material relating to the topic and providing them with a clear understanding of the context of the topic from which they could then proceed. The individual approaches of the teachers during this stage of the lesson included reading short excerpts from primary and secondary sources that were supplemented by teacher and student input to establish the impact of the topic being studied. Also observed were the notation of key aspects of the lesson topic on the board that were gained from the addressing of questions to the class, and the consolidation of students’ knowledge through the correction of homework. The study of medieval castles was both facilitated and visually enhanced by the manner in which use was made of a poster of Trim Castle that was affixed to the board. Selected students were summoned by the teacher to place labels denoting particular parts of the castle in the correct location on the poster. The strategies of the teachers worked well and the students showed a good knowledge and understanding of the material covered.
The students were drawn into a more in-depth study of the various topics as the lessons progressed. The teachers continued to incorporate a variety of teaching and learning strategies that actively maintained students on task. Good use was made of the board to provide a clear structure of the framework of an intended essay. The necessary information was steadily built up through interaction with the students aided by the study of the class handout provided. Similar effective use of the board was shown in recording information through the teacher’s questioning techniques, which provided students with a strong grasp of the lesson topic before proceeding to the study of related documentary materials. The addressing of questions globally to the class and to named students was also effective in facilitating a switch in approach where the teacher sought to incorporate paired work or group work into the structure of the lesson. In such instances the time spent in questioning and interacting with the class equipped students with the information that they needed to participate profitably in cooperative learning. There were instances too, of students being guided to a greater understanding of the lesson topic through their study of material displayed on an overhead transparency and the viewing of a DVD clip, which visually enhanced their knowledge of the lesson material. The class textbook proved a useful source of visual materials also and was appropriately used to consolidate students’ learning.
Note-taking and written tasks were a feature of several lessons observed and they were used effectively to support the students’ study and retention of the lesson material. For example, notes taken by a senior class helped to equip them to write an essay on the lesson topic in a fixed length of time as part of their preparation for their final examination in History. In other lessons note-taking and short written tasks served to vary the pace and structure of the lessons at pre-determined points and became active learning strategies for which the students undertook responsibility. Study of the students’ copybooks showed that note-taking and homework are effective means of nurturing progress. The assignment of homework usually took place near to the end of the class period and good planning was evidenced by the fact that time was given to ensuring that the students clearly understood what the homework entailed.
Assessment and evaluation are important aspects of classroom teaching and of the educational policies of the school. The oral questioning of the students and the random spread of questions throughout the lessons enabled the teachers to gauge the students’ grasp and understanding of the lesson material. The clarification of points by the teachers and their encouragement of the engagement of their students were also indicative of classroom assessment. Homework is regularly assigned and provides another means of monitoring students’ progress. The commitment of the teachers to setting and correcting homework is noted. The History teachers give class based tests at appropriate times within their teaching schemes of the coursework. The results provide another means of tracking students’ application to their studies and informing judgements.
Formal school examinations are organised for all students at the end of the first term before the Christmas holidays commence. The certificate exam classes sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term to help them prepare for the state examinations in June. All other year groups sit in-house summer examinations at the end of the academic year. The history teachers prepare a common paper for each year group in the end-of-term examinations. Formal school reports are sent to the homes of the students bi-annually in the case of first, second and fourth- year students and thrice yearly for third, fifth and sixth-year students to keep parents and guardians informed of students’ progress. A parent-teacher meeting is organised annually for each year group and provides the opportunity for parents and guardians to meet and discuss issues in greater detail.
The recognition and celebration of student achievement are a vital part of school life. Students are encouraged to make progress in their studies and to experience success during their secondary school years. The annual awards day is a notable celebratory occasion when students are publicly acclaimed for their meritorious achievements and presented with awards.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management welcomes the very positive report received following the recent history inspection. It reflects the high standards and dedication of the History department.
However, while fully recognising the value of using ICT in the class, we have to point out that the ICT facilities provided by the Department of Education and Science are insufficient for a school of over 800 pupils. The recommended use of ICT in the teaching of history, studied by 450 pupils, would ideally require the provision of a data projector in every classroom. This is unfortunately way beyond our financial resources.