An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Classical Studies
Saint Michael’s College
Ailesbury, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60561G
Date of inspection: 28 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Classical Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Michael’s College, Ailesbury Road. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Classical Studies 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.
St Michael’s College provides Classical Studies in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes. The school has offered the subject in the Transition Year (TY) programme in the past but not in the current academic year. This is regrettable. TY not only ensures continuity of learning for those progressing to the senior cycle, but also provides a useful introduction to Classical Studies for those students unable to choose the subject in the junior cycle. Moreover, TY affords schools an opportunity to develop a dynamic subject plan that challenges learners: Classical Studies is, by nature, multidisciplinary and therefore cross-curricular links are easily facilitated; the subject lends itself to a variety of pedagogical approaches and experiential-learning opportunities. It is reported that the current TY Media Studies syllabus establishes links with the subject and this serves to illustrate how well Classical Studies relates to a wide variety of subjects, including Mathematics, the sciences, literature, drama, Art and games. Therefore it is recommended that the school review its current Transition Year programme with a view to reintroducing the subject. The subject association, the Classical Association of Ireland-Teachers (CAI-T), has developed some materials in relation to TY and the department might consider contacting CAI-T representatives.
Timetabling allocation is good. Four forty-minute periods are provided in the Junior Certificate programme, five in the Leaving Certificate. Timetabling is optimum for first years, with four single periods well distributed over the week’s timetable. This is commended since frequent class contact helps to develop skills and consolidate learning. Ideally, such a pattern should be replicated in each year of the junior cycle.
Classical Studies is offered on an option band of six subjects in the junior cycle. Uptake is good: there are two class groups each in first and second year and one class group in third year. In the Leaving Certificate programme, students are offered a free choice from two option bands. Students receive advice on Leaving Certificate subject choice both from the guidance department and from subject teachers. It is reported that uptake in the Leaving Certificate programme is low. The issue of falling numbers is a matter for concern. The lack of continuity from the junior cycle may not be helpful to the subject. It is acknowledged that the range of subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination places a considerable strain on any school’s ability to cater for all students’ interests. However, consideration should be given to offering Classical Studies on more than one band in order to extend students’ choice range. The Classical Studies department should carry out a full review of all aspects of subject delivery and of examination and other learning outcomes in order to inform planning, to advise management on provision, to consider ways in which to develop the subject throughout the school and to devise a range of strategies that would promote Classical Studies at pre-entry level and all other progression points.
Students are taught in a mixed-ability setting. Class numbers are relatively low, particularly in the senior cycle, and this allows students to receive individual attention. The third-year group of twenty five is the largest.
The subject is well resourced. There is easy access to audio-visual equipment. The school has good information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and resources: there are two computer rooms that can be booked and it is reported that some teachers take classes to the computer room. Classrooms are connected to the internet. There is access to data projectors, and, in the context of the school’s whole-school ICT development plan, it is hoped to install data projectors and/or interactive whiteboards in all classrooms. Training in all new hardware and software is planned for the next phase of development. Given this very good level of support and access, ICT should be fully integrated into all aspects of the teaching and learning of Classical Studies and this should be clearly documented in planning and implemented in practice.
An annual budget is made available. Most teachers are classroom based. The school could consider developing a subject classroom in which all teachers are timetabled at least once a week. This would be particularly advantageous to peripatetic teachers. Ideally such a room should have permanently based computer and data projector, and have internet access. This would facilitate the generation of slide presentations appropriate to the subject. A good range of suitable subject material is available on the internet and the Classical Studies course requires a great deal of visual support in order to teach the relevant topic areas. All audio-visual and other departmental resources such as DVDs could be concentrated in the subject room and this would eliminate the potential for duplication of resources. Such an arrangement would not militate against individual teachers developing personal resources.
A good range of materials has been built up by the teaching team. There is a strong emphasis on the sharing of resources and this is commended. The department has produced substantial folders of material for each year group. It is also clear that the team engages in professional dialogue outside the school and has availed of support notes from a variety of sources, including other professionals working in the area. Classical Studies enjoys the benefit of a strong collegial network. Other supporting materials such as illustrations and fun activities (downloaded from the internet) were included in the folders and this indicates an innovative approach to the subject. The team is congratulated on its work in developing resources for the subject.
The subject is currently taught by a team of four teachers. Team members are both enthusiastic and open to innovation. Continuous professional development is accessed through the professional association.
It is reported that the teaching team plans to take a group of students to Italy in the next academic year. This is an excellent undertaking and deserves whole-school support. Co- and extra-curricular activities extend students’ learning and create opportunities to cater for a wide variety of learning styles and intelligences.
There is a departmental structure. While it is reported that the role of co-ordinator rotates, in practice, it is undertaken by the most senior teacher. The department should develop a clear policy with regard to co-ordination, so that planning is undertaken in a consistent and coherent manner. Rotation can be helpful in that each member of the team experiences the leadership role.
In the past, the department has met infrequently, approximately twice a year. However the area of subject department planning has recently received an impetus with the devotion of a whole-school planning day to this theme. In the context of the school planning day, the Classical Studies team worked collaboratively to produce an embryonic plan for the subject. Following the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template, a number of key areas have received attention. For example, some teaching methodologies are listed and there are brief notes on homework and assessment procedures and on provision for students with special educational needs (SENs). The plan also provides space for team members to log continuous professional development (CPD) courses. The department might now consider auditing their professional needs to identify areas that could be targeted in the context of whole-school professional development. While the plan may be skeletal at present, it represents a good start and will be developed further through a programme of planning meetings. The department should meet at least three times a year both to work on planning and to engage in professional dialogue. Agendas should be set and minutes kept in the departmental folder.
The subject evaluation has highlighted some areas that should be prioritised. The teaching team should write up a Classical Studies plan for Transition Year, taking due cognisance of the spirit and principles of the programme. Secondly, more detail is required with regard to homework and assessment policy. A variety of modes should be clearly documented in the subject plan and should reflect the objectives of each year group’s planned programme. Detail should be documented with regard to the strategies that the team members will use to assess syllabus aims and objectives and the specific skills of each class group, taking due cognisance of age, level and ability of students. The department should agree the number of substantial written homework assignments that is considered appropriate for each year group and implement clear and consistent practice with regard to the presentation and recording of homework assignments. There should be a policy on the maintenance of folders. Given the fact that the subject is taught to mixed-ability groups, the department should focus on differentiation with regard to content, materials, teaching methodologies and assessment. While it is reported that work is amended to suit students, evidence of documentation and implementation is not clear. The team could seek advice from the school’s learning-support department and agencies such as www.sess.ie in relation to students with special needs. In addition to the writing up of planning documents, it is advisable to draw up action plans in key areas.
Alexander the Great, Roman painting, Homer’s Iliad and Greek archaeology were the themes of the lessons visited and all were appropriate to syllabus and to level. The standard of lesson preparation was good for the most part. In most lessons, resources were well planned and in some, they were both stimulating and challenging for learners so that students’ attention was engaged. Good use was made of an overhead projector; the use of ICT in one lesson is particularly commended. Support notes were made available to students. The board was effectively used for a graphic organiser in one case and this is commended. More use should be made of maps. Consideration should also be given to the use of classroom wall space to mount timeline charts so that students are made more aware of chronological sequence. Such timelines charts could be designed and made by students themselves as a very useful group project. It is recommended that desired learning outcomes, (expressed in “I can do” phrases), be written on the board at the outset of all lessons. In this way, learning can be evaluated in the exit phase of the lesson and actions can be designed to remediate areas needing consolidation and revision. The pace of some lessons was somewhat slow and, in such cases, lesson plans should be reviewed.
There was a good deal of emphasis on interaction between students and teachers and the development of students’ oral skills is commended. In their interactions with teachers and the inspector, students were articulate and this was appropriate to the school’s context. Care was taken to ensure that dominant, confident individuals did not monopolise lesson time. As an area for development, the team should review its practice in relation to differentiation and teaching mixed-ability groups, since it was noted that there was a considerable range of ability in the lessons visited. Examination outcomes confirm the ability mix in the class groups.
Question and answer sessions were used to review material already covered and to evaluate learning in the immediate context of the lesson. It is recommended that students’ responses (and, where relevant) teachers’ clarifications, be written on the board to consolidate learning, to focus attention on key ideas and terms, and to provide a rubric for written answers that should be set as either homework or class tasks. There was a good balance between global and targeted questioning. In one lesson observed, links were made with earlier lessons and questioning strategies were designed to ensure transfer of learning and to develop higher-order thinking skills such as evaluation and synthesis. In other lessons, students examined visual aids to extract information and skilful questions directed them to speculate and hypothesise based on the evidence they had gathered. This is highly commended.
In general, it is recommended that more emphasis be placed on the development of students’ writing skills. It is acknowledged that there is some good practice in this regard, and assignments appropriate to age group were noted, for example, the role of a key character in a prescribed literary text. However, this was not universally the case.
Students were actively engaged in lessons visited and this represents good practice. Good examples included students reading out speeches they had written; students being instructed to write an answer based on the material covered, with the task being time bound to replicate examination conditions; and pair work being organised for the purpose of gathering evidence and for revision in areas of the course where learning deficits had been identified. This is commended. To complement group or pair work in the context of revision, questionnaires/worksheets could be distributed and roles assigned in order to give a specific, achievable and measurable goal to the activity. While the majority of students were on task, it was noted that some had finished early and it is therefore advisable to be prepared for such eventualities through the preparation of additional worksheets or differentiated tasks. The balance between group, whole-class and individual activity requires review. The exit phase of the lesson should also be carefully managed to maximise learning. For example, classes could formulate an answer together based on the evidence pairs or groups had gathered and this could be done on the board with a follow-up written activity.
The attention to the development of skills such as distinguishing between primary and secondary sources is highly commended. A junior cycle class was particularly engaged and challenged by the activities designed around the development of this key skill. Advanced reading skills were taught when students were instructed to identify and highlight key points in a text. Good practice was observed where students learned to create a simple graphic organiser in their copybooks to help them categorise and log information in relation to the four styles of Roman painting.
Evidence gathered from folders of notes, copies, planning and class work indicates that a good body of syllabus work has been covered. Very good practice was noted in one instance where the classroom itself was used as a teaching resource and great efforts were made to create an attractive visual environment for the subject. This good practice should be replicated in all relevant classrooms and the classroom space should be used to create a print-rich and stimulating environment for the subject.
Classes were taught in a positive and supportive learning environment. The maintenance of discipline was relaxed but firm for the most part, the smaller class groups being particularly conducive to ease of management.
Formal in-house assessment takes place at Christmas and summer, and “mock” examinations are held for the examination classes in spring. Reports are sent home. Personal contact is made with parents when deemed necessary. The school journal is also used as a medium of communication.
To develop important writing skills, more substantial written homework and class assignments should be set. Appropriate feedback on progress should be given, both orally and in writing (as appropriate), in order to direct and guide students’ learning. In general, assessment should be informed by the principles of assessment for learning, and advice in this regard is available at www.ncca.ie. It is advisable to share criteria for assessment with students at the start of each year. Included in these criteria, it is recommended that a strong emphasis be placed on the presentation of written assignments, the organisation of folders of notes, and general management of personal materials such as books, copybooks and the school journal. All students should be instructed to have their journals on their desks at the start of the lesson so that they are ready to note down homework assignments or any other information deemed appropriate by the teacher.
Records of attendance and assessment are kept and this is commended. In some cases, more specificity is advisable for accurate profiling so that feedback and advice can be provided to parents, students and other relevant school personnel. In the context of departmental review, examination outcomes should be evaluated, and, where necessary, strategies designed to remediate identified weaknesses.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support is good with regard to timetabling provision and the allocation of resources.
· Students were confident and articulate.
· A good body of work had been done at the time of the evaluation.
· The subject is taught by an enthusiastic team with an innovative approach to the subject.
· The team has worked collaboratively to develop planning documentation and to build resources and there is an emphasis on the sharing of resources.
· Lessons were generally well planned and content was appropriate to the syllabus.
· Most class groups were very well managed and class time was efficiently used.
· Students were actively engaged in the lessons observed.
· The development of higher-order thinking skills is commended.
· Resources used for lessons were very good in some instances.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The department should develop its assessment policy and practice and should agree a minimum number of substantial homework assignments to be completed by each year group. The department should insist on high standards of homework presentation and the maintenance of both folders and the student journal.
· In view of declining uptake in the senior cycle, the Classical Studies department should carry out a full review of all aspects of subject delivery and of examination and other learning outcomes in order to inform planning and practice, to advise management on provision, to consider ways in which to develop the subject throughout the school, and to devise a range of strategies that would promote Classical Studies at pre-entry level and other progression points.
· Given that classes are taught in a mixed-ability setting, greater emphasis should be placed on differentiation.
· The school should strongly consider providing Classical Studies in the Transition Year.
· A print rich environment should be created for the subject.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Classical Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.