An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Meánscoil Iognáid Rís
Walkinstown, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60480G
Date of inspection: 11-12 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Iognáid Rís. 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 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. 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The hallmark of whole school support for History in Meánscoil Iognáid Rís is the opportunity afforded to the students to study History in all the curricular programmes provided by the school, namely the Junior Certificate Programme (JCP), Transition Year Programme (TYP), the established Leaving Certificate (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). History is compulsory study for all junior-cycle and TY students. Senior-cycle students choose between the LCE and the LCVP for their preferred programme and may elect to continue their study of History as an optional subject choice.
A study of the time allocation to History shows that every junior-cycle class has three periods per week. The TY students study a history module that alternates with a classical studies module midway through the academic year and has a time allocation of two single class periods per week. History is a popular subject choice among leaving certificate students and this has resulted in the formation of three history class groups in both fifth and sixth year. Each of these senior-cycle class groups has five history periods per week. This allocation comprises one double period and three single class periods. This provision is quite clearly supportive of the teaching and study of History throughout the school.
The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to the school’s facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support the teaching and study of History. The range of teaching aids that the history teachers have at their disposal includes audio- visual equipment, information and communication technology (ICT) and photocopiers. They also have access to the school’s demonstration room, computer room and the school library. The provision of such supports is praiseworthy because they provide the means of exploring a wide range of teaching and learning methodologies in the presentation of lessons and the consolidation of student learning. It is advocated that management continue to encourage the fullest use of these resources.
Management supports the collaborative work of the history department. Meetings of the history department are facilitated and budgetary assistance is provided on a needs basis. The importance of in-service training is recognised and management has accommodated the attendance of members of the history subject team at the in-service courses for the new leaving certificate syllabus. Management’s support for the inclusion of a history module in the school’s TYP is commended because it enables History to make an important contribution to the breadth of education provided by the programme for the students.
The collaboration of the history teachers in formally establishing a history department and appointing a subject coordinator is commendable work. The formal history department is a vital forum for promoting the continuous development of the teaching and study of History throughout the school. It is a structured means of enabling the history teachers to meet together to discuss issues impinging on the subject, collaborate on curricular planning and pool skills. The documentation of the History Department Plan 2006/2007 is a laudable framework policy document that helps to give shape and focus to the work of the history subject team. This informative document details subject aims and objectives, the year plans for each year group, students’ access to History, class organisation, assessment procedures, planning for students with special educational needs and many other issues pertinent to the teaching and study of History. So as to build on the good work being done it is recommended that the position of subject coordinator be rotated every two years so 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 reflect the commitment of the history teachers to teaching their students well. They set out the sequence in which the various coursework topics will be taught, the proposed timescale allocated to their coverage, the provision of time for revision and time for practice in answering examination questions for the year groups sitting the state examinations. It is recommended that the work on year plans be progressed to include mention of useful resources and classroom methodologies in relation to the various topics in order to maintain the development of the year plans as a planning resource for supporting good quality teaching. One suggested way of doing this is to draw up year plans in linear columns that outline the list of coursework topics, the intended allocation of time for the coverage of each topic, the teaching and learning methodologies that will be incorporated into the study of the topic and the resources to be used. The collaboration of the history teachers in documenting proven strategies and resources for teaching particular topics will enable the year plans to draw upon the experience of the history teachers and continue to help subject planning to evolve in the light of that experience. It is not envisaged that the development of agreed year plans in this manner would stifle teachers’ own initiatives in proactively exploring other classroom strategies.
The development and inclusion of the history module, “U.S. Society”, in the school’s Transition Year Programme (TYP) has enabled History to make a valuable contribution to this important programme. The modular study, which was compiled by a member of the history team, was introduced into the school’s TYP for the first time during the current academic year, 2006/2007. The objective of the coursework is to give students an insightful understanding of important aspects of U.S. society. This is achieved through the study of several interesting component parts of the module such as politics, sport, music, the destruction of native American culture and the impact on the country of the tragic occurrence of 9/11, 2001. A variety of teaching and learning methodologies is employed including discussion, audio-visual presentations, reading, written assignments and project tasks. It is recommended that as many history teachers as circumstances permit become involved in teaching the TY history module on U.S. society in order to establish firmly its presence in the school’s TY programme. Moreover, the teaching of the TY module on U.S. society has the advantage of enabling the history teachers to explore a wide variety of teaching and learning strategies without the pressure of formal state examinations.
The prior planning of the lessons observed was indicated by the choice of a definite topic or task. The placement of the lesson in the context of the wider teaching scheme of the coursework was made quite clear from the year plans provided. The advance readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of a powerpoint presentation of slides, class handouts, the review of selected pages in class textbooks and the selection of written assignments. The best examples of the lesson plans detailed the aims, objectives, resources, and how the teaching and learning strategies were to be integrated into the treatment of the lesson material. This type of lesson format is commended because it provides teachers with a more informed insight into how the lesson topic will be taught than lesson plans that mainly emphasise the factual content. The teachers’ use of ICT in compiling their lesson plans and in the presentation of their lessons, as in the case of the powerpoint presentation, is encouraged. It is recommended that means of making greater use of ICT in the teaching and study of History be discussed at departmental level.
In keeping with good teaching practice the students were informed of the purpose of each lesson at the outset. The choice of a specific topic or task gave the students a definite focus for their attention and helped them to engage quickly with the lesson. The prior planning of the lessons enabled the teachers to guide the pace and structure of the lessons in the ways intended. The teachers sought to encourage student learning at all times. They frequently interacted with their students and affirmed them for their answers. Discipline was sensitively maintained. The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers.
During the initial phase of the lessons observed the teachers engaged their students in a variety of different ways such as the addressing of questions to the class and to named individuals, the introduction to the class of a powerpoint presentation, reading and the setting of a written assignment. These methodologies were effective overall in engaging the students in their study of the lesson material. The questioning techniques of the teachers helped the students to gain a more informed understanding of the context of the lesson topic from which they could then proceed. The practice of noting key words and points of information on the classroom board was also observed being used effectively to impact on student learning during this activity. The use of powerpoint provided an immediate focus for the students’ attention and facilitated both teacher comment and the display of key points of information. The teacher’s reading of short extracts about ancient Rome from the students’ textbook was another means used to introduce students to their lesson topic. The setting of a written assignment at the commencement of the lesson worked best where it was of short duration rather than an extended task because it facilitated the greater use of a variety of teaching and learning methodologies to consolidate student learning during the course of the lesson.
The active engagement of the students in their study of the lesson topics was maintained as the lessons progressed. Individual teachers used prepared handouts to increase steadily their students’ knowledge of the lesson material. The guiding of the students’ learning by this means was interwoven with questions posed by the teacher and additional comment that helped to convey a clear understanding of the topic to the class. Good use was made of the classroom board to record information in verbal and diagrammatic form. The powerpoint presentation of slides was used in a similar manner to the handouts. The ordered presentation of the slides provided the students with an informed understanding of the lesson topic and the teacher’s instruction that the students were to make written notes in their copybooks of the information displayed on a number of the slides ensured that the students were maintained on task. The inclusion of a prepared handout on a noteworthy aspect of the aforementioned lesson material is commended because it strongly consolidated the students’ knowledge of the lesson topic not least by the interactive classroom discussion that ensued. Similarly, the handout that was prepared as a revision aid and given to a class group facilitated their study and retention of the lesson material.
The pace and structure of most lessons observed incorporated a range of teaching and learning strategies. This practice is always to be recommended because it enables the teachers to provide their students with different learning experiences and ensures that the needs of the many different kinds of learners are met. The teachers’ verbal interaction with their students, for example, encouraged the students to listen attentively, articulate their knowledge of the lesson material in response to the teachers’ questions, and ask questions of their own. The verbal interaction also facilitated the teachers’ introduction of new content and the revision of prior material. The visual display of material was demonstrated by the use made of audio-visual and ICT equipment, the recording of information on the classroom board, the pictorial illustrations in the class textbooks and prepared handouts. Reading aloud by students and teachers as well as silent reading also helped to vary the pace and structure of the lessons. It is advocated that students be selected individually to read aloud rather than the teacher unless there is a definite reason for doing otherwise. The selection of students to read aloud is a means of increasing their participation in the lesson. The written tasks that were integrated into the development of several lessons also impacted positively on student learning.
The setting of homework took place near the end of the lesson and the importance attached to homework assignments was quite apparent from the study of a selection of students’ copybooks and folders. The teachers’ regular correction of written homework and the use of variation in the types of questions set were also evident. The teachers’ practice of regularly setting homework tasks for their students is commended because it helps to consolidate work done in class and encourages students to assume responsibility for their own learning. The use noted of the teacher’s feedback comment at the end of a student’s written homework exercise is encouraged as it is a means of helping the students to assess their progress individually. The NCCA website, www.afl.ncca.ie, Assessment for Learning, provides additional information in this regard, which may be helpful.
Assessment is an intrinsic part of classroom practices and of the educational policies of the school. The new first-year entrants are organised into mixed-ability class groups. At the end of first year the class groupings are reorganised on the basis of academic ability and performance. Students who display special educational needs are brought to the attention of the learning support team and receive learning support. A close liaison between the learning support staff and subject teacher is maintained.
In the classroom the history teachers use a combination of classroom questioning, the setting of assignments, homework, class tests and project tasks to assess continuously their students’ progress. Oral assessments were clearly demonstrated by the questioning of the students and the students’ responses enabled the teachers to gauge the learning and understanding of their charges. The teachers’ setting of classroom assignments and homework tasks are also used to assess students’ progress. The class-based tests that are organised within the teachers’ teaching schemes of the coursework provide another means of tracking student progress and informing judgements.
Formal school examinations are organised for every year group at the end of the first term before the Christmas holidays commence. The third- and sixth-year students sit their trial certificate examinations during the spring term in preparation for the state examinations in June. All other year groups sit in-house summer examinations at the end of the academic year. School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the school’s formal examination sessions. A parent-teacher meeting is organised for each year group to keep parents and guardians informed of progress.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Whole-school support for History is indicated by the subject’s strong presence in the school’s curricular programmes and the accessibility of History to all students.
The allocation and distribution of the timetabled history lesson periods support the teaching and study of History.
The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to school facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support the teaching and study of History.
The teachers displayed a good grasp of the syllabus. The lessons had a definite focus and were underpinned by prior planning and preparation. Student learning was guided and supported at all times. The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers.
Assessment is an intrinsic part of classroom practices and of the educational policies of the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that the position of subject coordinator be rotated every two years so that the responsibilities of the position are shared and to enable every member of the history subject team to engage with the work of the department.
It is recommended that the work on year plans be progressed to include mention of useful resources and classroom methodologies in relation to the various topics in order to maintain the development of the year plans as a planning resource for supporting good quality teaching.
It is recommended that as many history teachers as circumstances permit become involved in teaching the TY history module on U.S. society in order to firmly establish its presence in the school’s TY programme.
It is recommended that means of making greater use of ICT in the teaching and study of History be discussed at departmental level.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.