An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Kevinís College
Ballygall Road East, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60581M
Date of inspection: 13 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report of the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Kevinís 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 Kevinís College, an all-boys school under the trusteeship of the Christian Brothers, is situated in the established suburb of Glasnevin on the north side of Dublin city.† The bulk of the students come from local primary schools but a number also travel from outside the immediate area to attend the school and there is currently an upward trend in enrolment.† Having completed the junior cycle, all students enter the schoolís transition year programme.† After this, they follow either the Leaving Certificate Established or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
Six teachers are involved in the delivery of English in St Kevinís College.† One is the schoolís learning support teacher and also takes a number of mainstream class groups.† Another is a resource teacher who provides literacy support to individuals or small groups.† The good liaison between those delivering literacy support and the other teachers of English is commendable.† Following recommendations made in a previous subject inspection report in English in 2003, the school facilitated learning support training for a member of staff.† This teacher has now moved away from Dublin and currently the school has no trained learning support teacher.† However, both teachers working in this area have attended relevant courses and one of them plans to do the diploma course in special needs teaching with the co-operation of school management.† This should be seen as a priority in the context of the management of the teaching resource in the school.† The five teachers with mainstream classes have a substantial timetable allocation to English and in most cases teach the subject in both junior and senior cycle.† This is good practice as it promotes planning for and delivery of English in a continuum from first to sixth year and gives teachers an opportunity to increase their experience and expertise.
In forming classes, the school seeks to ensure that students with learning support needs are in smaller class groups where a greater level of individual attention is possible.† English is timetabled six times a week for these groups rather than the standard allocation of five.† This generous allocation is commended, and indeed the number of English lessons timetabled for all years and programmes is satisfactory.† However in some cases English is not timetabled every day, which would be the optimal distribution for the subject.† Where timetabling difficulties preclude the provision of one lesson per day, it is strongly recommended that the day missed be a mid-week day and not a Monday or Friday so as to minimise the gap between lessons.† This is particularly important in the case of class groups where students have literacy difficulties as regular contact and reinforcement are essential for the effective development of skills.
Students are streamed in first year on the basis of pre-entry assessments and reports from primary schools.† The school management believes this to be the most effective way of meeting the needs of the intake.† However, it is important to ensure that potential negative effects of streaming are mitigated by setting the highest appropriate standards of attainment for all students and by recognising that high levels of ability may be masked by poor levels of literacy.† Transition year classes are of mixed ability in keeping with the spirit and aims of the programme.† In fifth and sixth year, classes are set for English along lines that broadly correspond to higher and ordinary levels, and lessons are timetabled concurrently to facilitate student movement between levels.† This concurrence is commended and it is suggested that further uses of concurrence, such as co-operative teaching and whole-year activities, be considered by the English teaching team.
Arising out of recommendations in the earlier subject inspection report, some additional resources have been put in place, including class library boxes to promote the habit of reading among students, and a shared laptop and data projector to enhance the preparation and presentation of relevant material.† These are commendable developments.† A number of the junior cycle classrooms visited had displays of studentsí current work and other illustrative material, and this good practice should be extended to create a print-rich and visually stimulating environment in all rooms in which classes are based.† In the senior cycle both teachers and students move from room to room and this system requires considerable planning involving all subject departments to ensure that the rooms available are fully developed as learning environments.
In relation to provision for literacy support, there is one learning support room and the support team has occasional access to the language room.† Sets of books aimed at students with reading difficulties have been purchased and are reported as working very effectively to increase studentsí confidence and enjoyment.† With the schoolís inclusion in the DEIS initiative, it is hoped that more ICT resources, both hardware and software, will be obtained to assist in the delivery of learning support.† The school management is to be commended on the steps already taken to provide staff development for the whole staff in the area of learning support and special needs.
The school provides a number of co-curricular activities for students including drama, debating, participation in various youth forums and visits to the theatre and cinema.† Visits to the school by various speakers and theatre groups have also been facilitated.
The school is actively engaged in the process of school development planning and this has had an impact on subject planning and on the formal organisation of subject departments.† It is the schoolís policy that subject co-ordination is part of the schedule of posts of responsibility and subject planning and development meetings are held at least once a term.† This level of commitment to planning is commendable.† The regular meetings should help to ensure that planning is collaborative and inclusive; one of the possible drawbacks of the policy of having a post holder co-ordinator is that other members of the team may remain at a distance from the subject planning activity.† Records of decisions taken at subject department meetings should be kept to assist in the process of review, which is an important aspect of planning.
A copy of the current subject department plan, which follows the template on the School Development Planning Initiative web site (www.sdpi.ie), was made available during the inspection.† This document was commended by the inspector and its further development was discussed with the English team.† The current plan incorporates statements from the Junior Certificate syllabus and guidelines, the transition year programme guidelines and the Leaving Certificate syllabus.† The next phase in the planning process should see the English teaching team making the aims and objectives of the syllabuses their own through specific and detailed statements reflecting the priorities they have identified and the choices in relation to texts and to sequence of topics that they have made.† This more specific and targeted approach to planning is in fact well established in the school as shown in the very detailed individual plans drawn up by teachers.† Using these as a model and keeping a very clear focus on the development of skills, the teaching team can be certain of producing a yearly plan that will be tailored to meet their studentsí needs and will underpin good collaborative practices.
In further developing their own yearly plan for English, the teaching team should decide on and name the particular means by which they intend to meet the various syllabus objectives, for example giving details of the texts to be used and the links between the texts and the development of specific skills.† The plan should identify desired learning outcomes and should place the work to be done in achieving these within a time frame.† The current section on teaching methods could usefully be expanded as teachers try out various approaches and share with their colleagues those that have proved successful.† The need to incorporate more strategies for differentiated teaching and learning has already been identified in the subject plan, and both the Second Level Support Service (www.slss.ie) and the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) can offer advice and assistance in this area.† The commendable level of reflective practice seen in some individual plans should also be a feature of the subject departmentís collective work, and the subject plan should always be seen as a work in progress, flexible and responsive to changing needs.
The English teaching team and the co-ordinator are to be commended on their use of ICT in planning.† To extend this good practice, it is suggested that the yearly plan for English be part of an electronic folder for the subject to which all the team have access.† Such a folder could also hold templates, writing frames, explanatory notes and other useful documents, including all the official syllabus documents.† The regular schedule of meetings in place provides an opportunity to review plans and to decide on adjustments to other documents, such as in-house exam papers or templates.† All changes agreed on can be swiftly made using ICT and the electronic folder can be constantly and easily updated.
Planning for literacy support involves the identification of students with difficulties through assessments held before entry to first year and through further testing where necessary.† Commendably, where a student is identified as possibly having difficulties, the learning support or resource teacher may work with the student in the regular classroom for an initial observation before deciding on the appropriate measures to take.† Continuation of this practice rather than withdrawal of a student should be further explored if considered a useful intervention.† Profiles and learning plans for students with literacy difficulties are drawn up following consultation with their teachers and support is offered through various means, including small group withdrawal and one-to-one sessions.† The learning support and resource teachers reported good levels of communication with other members of the teaching staff, including liaison on vocabulary lists for various subjects and discussions on individual studentsí needs.
Six lessons covering all years except third year were observed during the inspection.† All were delivered competently and confidently and had been carefully planned.† In many instances, lesson objectives were stated at the outset so that students had a sense of purpose and direction.† Best practice was observed where these objectives were stated as learning outcomes in a way that was appropriate to the age and level of the class, and this practice should be generally followed.† Pacing of the lessons was well judged and in all cases considerable ground was covered.† Good links with prior knowledge were established through the teachersí introductory remarks and questions and in all cases a sense of context for the topic of the lesson was created.
Teachers had prepared a variety of resources including material on writers displayed via laptop and data projector, templates to help students to structure their written work, short quizzes to test recall of salient points in a story and handouts giving the main points of a topic.† These were used effectively.† In general, the board was underused, especially as an aid to the development of studentsí vocabulary and spelling accuracy.† Where new words are encountered during a lesson, it is good practice to record them on the board, allowing students to note them down and assimilate difficult spellings at their own pace.
Teachers used a variety of methods in the lessons observed, and there was a commendable emphasis in the methods chosen on active student engagement and participation.† In an example of effective group work observed in a senior cycle lesson, the students had a clear sense of the task assigned to each group, moved swiftly into the groups once instructions had been given and participated fully in the plenary session that followed, during which a student recorded the points made on the board.† It is suggested that, to gain maximum benefit from such an exercise, students be required to take their own notes from the board which they can later expand. †In a junior cycle lesson just before lunch when students might easily become disengaged from work, a lively vocabulary and spelling quiz took place, where the class was divided into teams and an atmosphere of friendly competition was created to encourage engagement from all students.† Again, to consolidate such an exercise, the board could be used to provide a visual reinforcement of difficult words and spellings.† A transition year group working on film genres and techniques acted out a short scene which the class then storyboarded in pairs or individually.† In all these instances, the level of student participation and the extent to which teachers had planned in order to encourage it was striking and commendable.
The balance between teacher and student talk was generally good and effective questioning encouraged students to respond and participate.† Very good use of probing questions was observed in some junior cycle teaching to lead students towards a more precise and thoughtful response than their initial overhasty answer.† Teachers generally resisted the temptation to answer their own questions, allowing students time to think and formulate their own responses.† A range of responses to open questions was encouraged and affirmed.† In a senior cycle lesson, students were asked to suggest the preoccupations they would expect to find in a poetís work, having listened to a brief outline of her life.† This then led into a fruitful group work exercise involving the reading by each group of a different poem.† While the students had a number of valid suggestions to make in the initial discussion, it was clear that the group reading of the poems brought to light further material which was shared more confidently with the whole class.† This is an effective strategy to encourage students to be less dependent and to discover and articulate their own responses.† Where students are working on a task and have been given clear instructions, teachers can often best contribute to the atmosphere of concentration by remaining silent and keeping a watching brief, giving students valuable experience of working in silence.† This is particularly important for examination classes.
A feature of all the lessons observed was a good level of class management and a clear emphasis on affirming studentsí efforts and progress.† The learning environment was supportive and well organised, and good instances of a firm yet friendly control were noted and commended.† For example, the tendency towards chorus answering was checked without dampening studentsí enthusiasm, and students who might tend to dominate were well managed and controlled.† Students were very well behaved and co-operative, and a pleasant and respectful atmosphere prevailed in all classrooms visited.
Monitoring of studentsí progress and levels of understanding was managed through targeted questioning, observation of studentsí participation in class discussion and activity, and circulation by the teacher to check on individual progress and to give help as required once students were engaged in a task.† The practice of beginning a lesson with a brief recapitulation of previous work was noted and is commended particularly in junior cycle classes, as it gives the teacher immediate feedback as to areas that may require revision.
During the inspection, teachers made available representative samples of studentsí work.† In most cases, homework is being regularly set and corrected.† Some very good examples of helpful comment on studentsí work were seen.† These comments are both a validation of the efforts students have made and a pointer towards improvement and they are essential where students have done substantial written work.† Shorter pieces of homework and drill-type exercises can be checked effectively in the classroom as was observed in some instances.† It was also notable that students who had failed to enter work in their journals were picked up on this.† The practice of having parents or guardians sign the journal is a good one and regular checking will help to ensure that this is done.
The school has been reviewing its internal assessment procedures and has decided to schedule formal Christmas examinations in the next academic year.† Students not taking certificate examinations sit in-house examinations in May.† There is an element of common assessment in the first term of fifth year after a six-week common programme of work and it is highly recommended that, in keeping with good collaborative practice, a system of common assessment be established wherever possible.† This will give teachers the opportunity to discuss and agree on marking criteria, and will also ensure that assessment is an integral aspect of skills-based subject planning, as there should be a natural continuum from identifying the skills and learning outcomes desired to designing methods of assessment that will test whether these objectives have been achieved.
The English teaching team is commended for its commitment to improving studentsí levels of attainment and the encouragement given to students to have the highest realistic expectations.† Continued attention to the various forms of in-house assessment and to the close and careful monitoring of studentsí progress has a significant role to play in this.
Finally, as part of their planning and review practices and as a preliminary to addressing any of the issues raised in this report, the English teaching team and the schoolís senior management should consult the recently published report on the teaching and learning of English in post primary schools, Looking at English.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The school has acted on a number of recommendations made in an earlier report.
∑ Provision for English both through the deployment of teachers and the timetable is generally good.
∑ Subject planning is well advanced and individual planning is of a high standard.
∑ There is a strong emphasis on active learning and on strategies that will engage students.
∑ Classes are managed effectively and teachers support and affirm studentsí efforts.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ All classes should have one English lesson per day and provision of this should be prioritised for classes requiring high levels of literacy support.
∑ Members of the learning support department should be facilitated in obtaining the necessary qualifications.
∑ Collaborative work on the year plan for English should focus on skills and learning outcomes and should specify teaching approaches, materials and modes of assessment.
∑ A system of common assessment should be established wherever possible.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.