An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Sancta Maria College
Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60341P
Date of inspection: 22 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sancta Maria College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days 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. 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The provision of four English lessons a week in first and second year is satisfactory. First and second-year students also have timetabled speech and drama lessons, which is a good link with English. The provision of five English lessons a week in third, fifth and sixth year is good. Transition Year (TY) students have three English lessons a week and also study a film studies module for two class periods a week for one-third of the year. This is good provision. Three periods a week for English and Communication in both years one and two of Leaving Certificate Applied is satisfactory. Overall, there is good whole-school provision for English in the college. The concurrency of all English class periods from second year is also a good facility.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes for first and second year and students are then set into ability groupings in third year. Management has provided an extra teacher from the learning-support and resource allocation so that there are five English classes; three higher level and two ordinary level. One of these ordinary-level classes contains students in receipt of learning support. The same situation occurs in second year. Students are placed in third-year classes on the basis of teacher recommendation and student choice. Fifth-year classes are banded. Students are placed in these class groups based on teachers’ judgements, students’ choice and results in Junior Certificate state examinations. There are currently three higher-level and one ordinary-level classes in fifth year. Sixth-year classes are streamed. The different practices used for placement of students in class groups are indicative of the willingness of English teachers to collaborate in order to benefit their students as much as possible. Transition Year (TY) is an optional year and students are placed in mixed-ability groupings.
It was reported that the allocation of class levels to teachers is rotated. It is necessary to ensure that no one teacher becomes associated with teaching a particular programme and that all teachers have the opportunity to teach higher and ordinary-level English. It is suggested that a clear policy be prepared by management around the allocation of teachers to programmes and levels.
English teachers expressed satisfaction at the level of resources, including audio-visual resources, available for the teaching and learning of English. It is suggested that a central area be made available for the storage of these resources to ensure ease of accessibility by all English teachers. It was reported that teachers receive additional resources on request. Teachers use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with their students to type up projects and key assignments. This is good practice and it is suggested that ICT be used further to enhance the teaching and learning of English, for example by students preparing PowerPoint presentations on aspects of their course. One English and Communication class a week takes place in the computer room so that students can type up key assignments, which is good practice.
At present, teachers do not have base classrooms. However, there was evidence that teachers make good efforts to surround their students with a print-rich environment in their classrooms. Students’ projects and samples of students’ work, for example, were observed on display. In addition, the good practice of regularly changing wall displays was observed. It is suggested that key quotes from texts could also be displayed on classroom walls.
There are currently eight teachers teaching English in the college. All teachers are fully qualified to teach the subject. Efforts are made for English classes to retain the same teacher from second into third year and again from fifth into sixth year. Some English teachers share their classes with higher-diploma students. There was evidence of good liaison between the English teachers and these student teachers.
The school has a well-stocked library which is run by a librarian and used by all students. First and second-year students are brought to the library on a regular basis by their English teachers to borrow books. It was reported that students are given recommended booklists and are encouraged to write book reviews. These strategies to promote reading in the school are commended. Students are brought on theatre and film visits to see dramatised or film versions of their studied texts.
Management facilitates one formal subject planning meeting in May for teachers to discuss booklists. In addition, subject meetings are facilitated on a needs basis. There is no co-ordinator of English in the college. Instead, it was reported that teachers work together democratically and alternate chairing of meetings. Teachers have commenced recording the outcomes of these meetings which is commendable. However, it is recommended that one teacher take on the role of subject co-ordinator annually in order to disseminate information pertaining to English among the teachers and to chair meetings and record key decisions taken at these meetings.
English teachers have produced a praiseworthy common plan for English which focuses on the learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. The plan also outlines teaching methodologies that could be used in lessons to achieve these outcomes. For example, the plan outlines that first-year students should read for pleasure in their library classes and that second-year students will do project work on their Shakespearean drama and their novel. Commended also is the fact that the plan promotes the integration of language and literature so that students are encouraged, for example, to write diary entries and letters from the point of view of characters in texts. There is also good emphasis on the need to encourage personal response of students to literature. To further develop this plan it is suggested that a list of suggested suitable poems to be covered in first, second and third year be included. In addition, and in the absence of a college homework policy, it is recommended that the plan include a homework and assessment policy for English.
The plan outlines how all aspects of the English course are covered in each year and how they are integrated which is very good practice. It outlines relevant websites for Leaving Certificate students and the introduction of the criteria of assessment. The plan also outlines how students are assessed by examination questions and ‘against the clock’ questions. Most of the material for Leaving Certificate is covered in fifth year which is good practice. In addition, the fact that students are expected to initially read their comparative texts independently is appropriate.
There is good collaboration among English teachers. For example, English teachers share good teaching practice, share resources and make joint decisions on texts. All second years, for example, study the same novel and drama. The drama text studied in junior cycle is Shakespearean which is commended. Good practice is also seen in that teachers introduce an extra novel in third year so that the year does not simply become a revision year for students. First-year students also study an agreed novel and are encouraged to read for pleasure which is also very good practice. Teachers are aware of the need to agree some texts but at the same time have the flexibility as appropriate to choose their own third-year and fifth-year texts. Texts for students are chosen on the basis of suitability and challenge and there was evidence that teachers regularly change texts to avoid staleness and to meet their students’ needs.
English teachers are willing to experiment with different methods of course delivery. For example, in the past, fifth and sixth-year students were taught on a modular basis so that each teacher taught each class group a particular aspect of the course. Teachers evaluated the outcomes of this system and have, at present, reverted to one teacher being assigned to one class group.
Transition Year is an optional programme in the school. Transition Year students are taught on a modular basis. All students and class groups commence the year by doing a writing skills module and then students are taught different modules by different teachers. All TY students are expected to produce an autobiographical work called the ‘Senior Memory Book’ as part of their writing module which is a record of memories of their life to date. Students are given a clear outline of what this book must contain and how the project will be assessed. The memory books examined were impressive and showed how the project gave students the opportunity to write in different genres and styles. Generally students study short stories, novels and poetry. Care should be taken to ensure that there is not too much crossover between the literary content of the Leaving Certificate English course and the TY English course.
English and Communication students cover a range of appropriate work and there are good cross-curricular links with other subjects. In addition, they are taught a range of challenging texts and have completed good key assignments. It is recommended that the LCA English and Communication plan be incorporated into the overall English plan.
Students in need of literacy support are well provided for by the college. Incoming first-year students are assessed on a range of tests and students with literacy-support needs are identified through these tests and by teacher referral. Likewise students with language-support needs are identified through assessment tests and links have been created with Integrate Ireland Language and Training which is good practice. First-year students are generally supported in literacy if they have an Irish exemption. The small English class in second and third year is created from the learning-support allocation. Generally students also receive individual support in literacy through individual withdrawal in fifth and sixth year. Students in receipt of resource teaching have education plans.
Lessons were well planned, their content was appropriate and they proceeded at a suitable pace. A variety of tasks was usually a feature of lessons and transitions between these tasks were seamless. It is recommended that teachers share the purpose of their lessons with their students and evaluate if they have achieved this purpose at the end of each lesson. Explanations were always clear and there was a high standard of teaching. Good links were created between texts and between texts and the contemporary world so that the topics that students were studying were put in context. For example, students studied a contemporary newspaper article on the death of a ‘tyrant’ when studying Macbeth. Links were created between events in poems and modern life.
Students were generally involved in their lessons and their learning. For example, the emphasis on personal response meant students were invited to react to various texts. Some very effective teaching techniques were observed. These included: the use of a ‘happiness monitor’ for recording emotions in the first-year novel; asking students to draw images to illustrate what they had read; the students’ response journal to record their personal responses to the novel; the integration of the teaching of grammar with text, the integration of language and literature, the use of creative modelling and of pair work. The use of pair and group work are strategies which could be more widely used in the college to allow students more opportunities for independent learning. Effective use of pair work was seen when a class group was divided into two halves. One half of the class had to search in pairs for various examples of cultural context in one comparative text while the other half of the class had to search in pairs for examples of cultural context in a second text. The pairs then had to feed back their information to the whole class so that comparisons between texts could be made and good discussion was generated. Learning was consolidated by giving the students a further specific task based on the two texts. In this way students were learning independently and there was whole-class involvement. Overall, it is recommended that more opportunities for independent learning take place.
Good practice was seen when students were asked as opposed to being told the meaning of lines of poetry or drama or when they were asked to identify certain language techniques. In this way they were more involved in their learning by being given specific tasks as opposed to listening and recording. Questioning was generally effective. Teachers generally encouraged students to develop their answers fully so that higher-order thinking skills were encouraged. Skilful questioning focused students to concentrate on certain key points. There was a tendency for some teachers to ask global questions of the class group as opposed to asking individual students questions. It is recommended that teachers ask questions of individuals to ensure that all are on task. The blackboard was used to record key points which students in turn freely recorded.
Students had good practice in justifying their points and looking for evidence. In addition, they were well versed in the technicalities of language and an appropriate emphasis on writer’s choice and use of language was observed. Students were also encouraged to draft and redraft pieces of writing and there was evidence that students have done a lot of writing and essay work. Good practice was also seen in the use of newspaper articles as a feature of many lessons and the use of these articles as the basis for creative modelling and for teaching language effectiveness.
There was a good relationship between teachers and students in all lessons. Overall English teachers presented as being enthusiastic and committed to their subject and their students. As a result students were also enthusiastic about English. Teachers were well organised and solid work was being done in all classes. As a result students were also well organised. There were no classroom management problems observed. In addition, the semi-circular seating arrangement in some of the smaller classrooms was good. There was clear evidence that learning was taking place, often in an enjoyable way, and that students felt comfortable in expressing opinions and discussing issues.
The uptake of higher level at junior and senior cycle has remained relatively stable over recent years although a number of students are now taking English at foundation level in the Junior Certificate examination. The majority of students are encouraged to do higher level which is a successful policy in the school. State examination results are evaluated annually against national averages which is good practice. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations which are externally corrected. Students sit formal Christmas and summer tests and reports on these tests are sent home. Common examinations are set for all year groups as appropriate which is commendable practice as it ensures transparency and consistency. There is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group.
Students’ copies revealed that a range of appropriate and often enjoyable homework activities is regularly set and that homework is well corrected. The expectation that students should have different copies for different aspects of their English course is good and students’ folders also contained good work and notes. Students’ copies were well corrected and appropriate constructive feedback on areas where students should improve was given by teachers. Teachers are now experimenting with a new form of assessment marking for students from first to fifth-year where students are marked on five areas which are annotated in copies from A to E representing Ideas and Content, Organisation, Style, Voice, and Mechanics. The meaning of these letters has been conveyed to students and the experiment will be reviewed in consultation with the students at a later date to see if it is working appropriately. This is a typical example of collaboration between teachers and between teachers and students. The discrete criteria for assessment are used as appropriate for sixth years.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole-school support and provision for English in the college.
· The strategies in the school to promote reading are commended.
· Good efforts are made to surround students with a stimulating print-rich environment. Key quotes could also be displayed on classroom walls.
· There is good collaboration and co-operation between English teachers.
· English teachers have developed a good common plan for the subject, which focuses on learning outcomes and key methodologies. The plan could be further developed by including a list of suitable poems to be covered in each year of junior cycle and a homework and assessment policy for English.
· Appropriate and challenging texts are chosen and good assignments and project work set. Care should be taken to avoid too many Leaving Certificate texts on the TY course.
· Students in need of literacy support are well provided for by the college.
· Lessons were well planned, the content was appropriate and they proceeded at an appropriate pace. Some very effective teaching techniques were observed.
· There was a good atmosphere in all classrooms.
· Learning was clearly taking place.
· English teachers presented as being enthusiastic about and committed to their subject and their students.
· The uptake of higher level at junior and senior cycle has remained relatively stable over recent years and the majority of students are encouraged to do higher level which is a successful policy in the school. State examination results are evaluated annually against national averages which is good practice.
· Common examinations are set for all year groups as appropriate.
· A range of appropriate and often enjoyable homework activities is regularly set, there are high expectations of students’ work and homework is well corrected.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Management should develop a policy around the allocation of teachers to programmes and levels.
· A centralised resource area should be made available for the storage of English resources.
· ICT could be further used to enhance teaching and learning.
· The English plan should be further developed and should incorporate the English and Communication plan.
· One English teacher should take on the role of subject co-ordinator on an annual basis.
· Teachers should share the purpose of their lessons with their students and evaluate if they have achieved this purpose at the end of each lesson.
· More opportunities for independent learning could take place.
· Teachers should ask questions of individuals in their lessons to ensure that all are on task.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.