An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
De La Salle College
Churchtown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60310E
Date of inspection: 9 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Churchtown, Dublin 14. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
History is well provided for in the school. Classrooms are teacher-based so that History has two natural bases in the school, as well as access to the computer room. Students have the benefit of a print-rich environment in the History rooms. There is a school library to which students have access and also a well-equipped audio-visual room which can be booked for classes in advance.
The teachers of History are well-qualified and very experienced in the subject. They also have qualifications in other subject areas which allow for good cross-curricular influences and links. This enriches the provision for History in the school.
Junior cycle classes are streamed. The third stream in years two and three are smaller in numbers to allow for greater individual attention where appropriate. The numbers in the first year are currently a little lower than the last two years which allows for only two class groups in the first year. All junior cycle History classes are allocated three class periods per week. Class periods are forty minutes in length.
Transition Year (TY) students all take History. There are currently two class groups in TY History and each of these has two class periods per week. In senior cycle, there is a consistently high uptake in History, particularly in the Leaving Certificate year where there are two class groups. There is one class in fifth year and all the senior cycle History classes are allocated five class periods per week.
In selecting subjects for the senior cycle, students have the support of the guidance counsellor as well as the subject teachers. Information meetings on subject choice are arranged by the school, for both students and parents. The school then arranges blocks of subjects from which students can select their options. While there is a high uptake in History, and most students are reported to receive their favoured subjects, there is a concerned articulated by teachers of History that the arrangements for the subject blocks may prohibit the more able students from selecting History. The enthusiasm and experience of the History teachers is clear, and while the numbers selecting History for fifth year are consistently high, it is recommended that the arrangements for option blocks should be reviewed. Notwithstanding these issues, the uptake allows of one and sometimes two History class groups to be created for the fifth-year and sixth-year students.
There is no formal structure to the History teaching team, but informal planning meetings are held. In the past year, a formal meeting was held with records kept of the issues raised. This is to be applauded, particularly at a time when the Leaving Certificate syllabus has just been changed, and detailed planning needs to be done to organise and teach the new course. Teachers have attended the History Inservice Team (HIST) sessions and these have proved to be beneficial.
It is clear from the minutes of this year’s formal meeting that there are several issues which need to be prioritised in the preparation, provision and teaching of History. It is also apparent from the meeting, and from the profile of History in the school, that a formal strategic planning meeting for the subject should be held in allocated planning time once a year. It is also recommended that one teacher should take on the role of co-ordinator of the subject, a role which could rotate. This co-ordinator should ensure that the planning of History for the future, including the issues raised at the meeting this year, is actively addressed. This should take place within the context of overall school development planning. Involvement with the subject association for History should also be considered as a positive way forward, particularly in the context of changing courses and methodology.
There is good use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the preparation and planning of History in the school. This is of particular value in the development of research skills for students, as was evidenced in classes visited during the inspection. There is positive use of relevant websites, particularly the HIST dedicated History website and the BBC History website. These were used in preparation for classes and are used on an ongoing basis in encouraging students to prepare for their research study as required in the Leaving Certificate syllabus. This is to be commended. The computer room, which is well equipped, is used in the teaching of History and by students in conducting their research. Accessibility is arranged by teachers using a timetable, and this is good practice.
One of the features of Transition Year History in the school is a study of Dublin, from its origins, through its development, to the present. This is largely taught by organising walking tours of the city and availing of important historical sites and buildings to reinforce the study. This is to be applauded, both in concept and in the preparation and planning put into arranging the tours.
Preparation and planning for History are facilitated by the provision of a well-equipped audio-visual room which is used to show DVDs and video-clips. There is a school library which is used in the preparation of History lessons and for research. History teachers have their own subject-based rooms, which are a great advantage to the subject. This has been exploited to some extent in the creation of a print-rich and historically stimulating environment. There is scope to enhance this environment further by greater display of student work and relevant historical material.
In the lessons observed there was a wide variety of teaching and learning methodologies in evidence. In all cases it was evident that the teachers knew their students well, and were thus able to ask questions of named individuals and to reinforce and commend positive and accurate answering. In most of the classes visited, dialogue formed a major part of the dynamic of the class, and learning was reinforced by key words being written on the board, by reference to maps and illustrations in the room, or to the text book on occasion. This positive methodology moved the lessons forward in both junior and senior classes and was an example of best practice.
Although classes in junior cycle were streamed, there was quite a range of ability in each class inspected. The use of parallel examples to modern life; the introduction and development of quite complex issues through use of contemporary narrative; and the use of the board to good advantage in drawing basic diagrams and noting key concepts and definitions; were the methods deployed in the lessons inspected. All of these methods worked well and were born of long teaching experience. They succeeded in assisting students in the comprehension of ideas, developments and controversies from history, and in eliciting interested questions and various contributions during the lessons. These practices are commended.
If there was one omission, it lay in not taking the opportunity to allow students to lead the work in the class through discussion, group-work, or maybe role-play. This would have further reinforced both learning and experience for the students as well as varying the pace and dynamic of the lessons. Student-centred activities would enhance the learning experience for the students and are recommended.
There was an interesting project being developed in Transition Year involving the poets, writers, artists and architects of Dublin. This culminates in visits to the city and to various locations, museums, buildings and areas referred to in the literature of Dublin’s writers. This scheme of work has been in use and has been developing for some years. To date it has proved successful in linking subjects, disciplines and areas of interest. Involvement in such a project encourages cross-curricular work and co-curricular activities. The experience gained by the students leads on naturally to fifth and sixth-year studies, themes and skills. While not all students choose Transition Year, all those opting for it take History as a core subject. This module of study has reportedly been successful in the past, and is put forward as one of the reasons for the strong student uptake in History for the Leaving Certificate. While this is a tried and tested module or project, it is one which could benefit from greater visual material to reinforce the study of locations, personalities, works of art and architecture, and maps, to set the experience in a three-dimensional context.
Visits to places of historical interest are not confined to Transition Year classes, and there is a tradition of bringing students to visit museums and galleries, especially in the junior cycle classes. This is to be commended as it augments and enhances the teaching of History, especially at a stage in the syllabus which has many visual components. The visits, sometimes assisted by Transition Year students who accompany the teachers and students on the outings, are well structured. Worksheets are prepared and issued to students to assist the learning process during visits. It was noted that basic ground rules for outings are circulated to parents in advance. The planning, the educational content and the organisation of such visits are to be commended as good practice.
Good use is made of the audio-visual room where DVDs and other material can be experienced by classes. In an example seen, interesting use was being made of excerpts from a feature film to illustrate major points of a topic in the syllabus. The reactions of the students to questions asked following the showing of the DVD clip displayed understanding and imagination concerning the topic. This is to be commended. The fact that mixed media were employed in such classes illustrates an understanding on the part of the teachers of the impact of varied and well-planned inserts into classes.
The use of ICT not only as a preparation tool but as a teaching and learning method in the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus is to be commended as good practice. There was an emphasis on students’ understanding of the technology and how to use it to best advantage in their own researches. Hands-on work in the computer room was of great advantage to students preparing to start their research, which will lead in their sixth year to the submission of a report and explanation of their research topic, some time before their Leaving Certificate examination. The preparatory work being carried out is a good example of how History and ICT can be linked in a positive way for students embarking on the new syllabus. It is to be commended, and the use of ICT by students in more junior years shows great promise for the extension of this technology across all class groups. It clearly, from the examples shown, enhances the abilities of the students and develops the teaching and learning of the subject.
It was apparent, in the various classes inspected, that the teachers were at ease in utilising their other skills and disciplines to optimum effect in their teaching of History. They demonstrated both enthusiasm and expertise in many facets of their subject and related areas. The students were clearly benefiting from such input, which included art, drama, language, narrative skills, and technology. This gave their History lessons a perspective beyond the syllabus and the textbook, and is to be commended.
Given the time of year of the inspection, it was good to see positive information on examination preparation and technique being shared with the students, not just in certificate years, but in all classes about to embark on their summer examinations. This practice, which was useful and thorough, was well received by the students. Helpful ideas, key words and advice written on the board helped to reinforce the message being delivered by the teachers. This is positive preparation of students and is to be applauded.
Students’ work in History is assessed regularly by their teachers. Homework is set regularly and monitored, though not always graded. Assessment and grading is more usually carried out in the marking of class tests. These grades and progress records are kept by the teachers and are used in the annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group, and in the writing of reports.
Homework takes various forms in the different year groups, with projects, written and learning homework being set for junior classes, and more research-based and essay-type work for the senior students. While the variety and frequency of homework is good, it would enhance the work if more formative assessment procedures could be applied. This would assist students in building on their own work and developing a more accurate knowledge of their topics for future reference. It would also be a useful development to display student work, particularly projects, in the classroom, where it would augment the stimulus material already in evidence.
Examinations are held at regular intervals in the school year, with ‘mock’ examinations being organised for third and sixth years in the second term. Written reports on students’ progress are sent home quarterly, in October, December, March and May. In addition to the annual parent-teacher meetings, information meetings are held for parents, especially in relation to subject choice, before students make their decisions regarding the senior cycle.
Students are well prepared for assessments and examinations, at levels appropriate to their ability range and work record. The outcomes reflect well the preparation and input of students at all levels.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
History is well provided for in the school.
There is a high uptake in History in the school; nevertheless, the arrangements for the option blocks require some revision.
The History teachers are very experienced and attend inservice courses. Further contact with the subject association would be beneficial.
Planning for History takes place annually and otherwise on an informal basis.
Appropriate and varied teaching methodologies are in evidence across the curricular programmes. ICT is in use in several class groups, with students actively involved in the process.
There is regular assessment of students’ work and parents are sent written reports four times a year.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
It is recommended that more formal planning for the subject take place, with a co-ordinator for the subject, possibly rotating, and that strategic planning for the future of History in the school be addressed within planning time provided.
Teaching methodologies should be augmented by more student-centred activities and student-led learning in History lessons.
It is recommended that greater use of formative assessment methods be employed in assessing students’ work, and that project work should be displayed to augment stimulus materials on classroom walls.
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.