An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Roll number: 61070P
Date of inspection: 8 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Cavan. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Music 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 inspectors 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 teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Management in Loreto College, Cavan is anxious to provide students with the opportunity to avail of a range of different music activities and experiences and the organisation of the mainstream Music timetable has taken due regard of this objective. In consultation with the Music department, four lunch periods are scheduled for choirs, orchestra and traditional Irish music and four compensatory periods are provided elsewhere on the timetable. The Music department normally comprises one teacher and, therefore, as a direct result of the extended provision, two additional teachers have been employed to teach the remaining class groups. This structure appears to be working very well as students are benefiting from the range of activities which are possible for them to access.
The availability of additional personnel in the department provides opportunity for professional collaboration which could be further exploited. While it is acknowledged that time for meetings of staff may be difficult to arrange, it is important that the current contributions of the individual teachers to music education in the school be harnessed to maximum effect within the department in order to provide a sound basis for future planning of provision in the subject. In that context, it is recommended that management would facilitate the Music department, to the extent possible, to meet regularly to share good work practice and provide mutual support in their teaching.
Music is a compulsory subject for all first-year students. All subjects are sampled throughout first year, at the end of which students are obliged to make their subject choices. Support for students choosing subjects at junior cycle is good. An information evening is provided for parents of all incoming first years, where an information leaflet is provided. In addition, parents are provided with the opportunity to meet with subject teachers and with the Guidance department, to direct them in making subject choices. Senior management will, from 2006/2007 onwards, also visit primary schools to provide additional information to students. In senior cycle, support for students arises from the direction provided by subject teachers and the Guidance department. Students are given an open menu of choices and the timetable is created around these decisions, a practice which is commended
The timetabling allocation for Music is good. Three periods are allocated to first-year students and four periods to second and third-year students. Fifth and sixth-year students are allocated five periods per week. In most cases, a combination of single and double periods is provided.
The uptake for music is healthy in junior cycle. There is a slight decrease in uptake at senior cycle, but management is committed to reversing this trend and is very supportive in this regard. Music currently does not play any part in the Transition Year (TY) curriculum – the opposite was the case in the past. As the TY curriculum is currently undergoing a review, this could now be the opportune time to plan for the re-introduction of Music as an additional option. The provision of a creative and accessible module of Music for TY students, regardless of their prior experiences, with an adequate timetabling allocation, may attract additional students into senior cycle and enhance uptake in time. In that context, it is recommended that management, in consultation with the Music department, now plan for the inclusion of Music in the TY curriculum.
Provision of resources for Music is very good. There is one large dedicated specialist Music room and a small rehearsal room nearby with a piano. The Music room contains choir platforms which can accommodate a significant number of students for choral singing. Two upright pianos, one for class teaching and a second in an alternative location for choir, a digital piano, stereo, drum kit, white stave board, blackboard, two computers with Sibelius 11 music notation software and Cakewalk software installed, are also provided. An overhead projector with fitted screen, a large quantity of books and CD’s and music stands are also on hand for the exclusive use of the Music department. The management of the school is commended for the level and quality of support for Music in this regard.
Although there is no allocated budget for the Music department, all needs are met subject to requisition. The Music department itself is commendably pro-active in seeking funds. For example, grant-aid was sought from Cavan County Council and a grant of €1270 to the Music department was approved. At the time of the inspection, the Music department was preparing for a “Musicthon” music marathon in order to obtain additional funding. Management commendably supports the department to the extent of funding travel and subsistence costs for any conferences that staff may wish to attend, such as those provided by the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and ICT courses.
A wide variety of Music activities is provided for the students. In addition to those outlined earlier, the Music department has established strong links with a neighbouring school. Both schools join together for concerts to form a mixed voice choir, and for musicals. Forthcoming plans also include a trip to Prague as part of an exchange programme. Students involved in the traditional Irish group will participate in a Gael Linn competition. These links have proven to be very beneficial for students in broadening their musical experiences, and in that regard, the Music department is commended.
School Development Planning is ongoing in Loreto College, Cavan and has very recently extended formally into curricular areas. A member of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) team, to facilitate future curricular planning, provided in-service training in January 2006. As yet, formal planning times are not yet set aside for subject departments, including Music. Instead, planning time is facilitated by management as the need arises. While such a strategy may be necessary and appropriate in the short-term, it would be advisable in the long-term to ensure that formal planning time is allocated at regular intervals to ensure that the Music department, in this case, has adequate planning time. Currently, one member of the Music department voluntarily acts as coordinator. Informal meetings are held and minutes are kept from all meetings.
Planning documents were presented on the day of the inspection. Some plans were broad and outlined main aims for the year. In other cases, planning was very detailed and included long and short-term targets with specified dates and included very detailed content planning. Future planning meetings could now provide the opportunity for all members to discuss and share the planning of programmes and to work collaboratively on the development of precise medium-term targets for completion of specified topics. This will, in turn, enhance the individual planning that already exists. It is recommended that, in addition to increased collaboration on planning, teachers should document best practice concerning teaching methodologies.
Good planning is evident in the level and range of in-school and extra-curricular music activities available to students. These could not occur so successfully without effective advance planning and the Music department is commended in this regard. Planning for all lessons observed was good. Learning outcomes were shared with the students, which is good practice, as it allowed students to gain a sense of the direction in which the lesson was heading and an inner sense of achievement when objectives were attained.
Good advance preparation was equally apparent in the manner in which all resources, worksheets and hand-outs were ready for use during lessons. It is commendable that worksheets contained additional material to complement textbook content and approaches. Records of attendance, homework assignments and assessments were evident on the day of the inspection.
Music technology is in an early stage of development in Loreto College, Cavan. To date, its use has been limited to meeting the requirements of the Leaving Certificate practical examination. There is scope to integrate music technology as an additional teaching and learning tool in, for example, composition lessons. Given the close links already established between Loreto College, Cavan and the neighbouring school, this may be an additional opportunity for the music department to exploit the potential of music technology further.
Four classes were visited during the course of the visit: three junior cycle groups and a senior cycle group. In addition, a choir lesson and traditional Irish music session were also visited informally at the invitation of the Music department. In most lessons observed, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers. The experience of the teachers showed in their ability to manage the classes effectively. Students in all lessons were constantly affirmed for good work and where necessary, criticism was handled sensitively. There was a strong atmosphere of learning in all lessons visited. Students were kept engaged with the content by the variety of teaching methodologies deployed which increased in accordance with the level of teaching experience.
The classroom atmosphere was richly enhanced by the provision of professionally produced printwork materials. These included posters with the orchestra, various rhythmical concepts and a number of composers. In addition, there was evidence, displayed on the walls, of project work that had been produced by the students. Such display emphasised the fact that visually stimulating material provides a useful source of learning for students (especially when the students themselves have produced it) and is an additional strategy for reinforcing learning. The Music department is commended in this regard.
Teaching experience was evident in lessons which were well sequenced and paced accordingly to suit the students. Particularly good practice was observed when the content of the lesson was varied, as was evident, for example, during a junior cycle session which contained elements of composition, performance by the students, both singing and instrumental, and performances by the teacher. This array of content ensured that students were stimulated and their interest never waned.
A variety of teaching methodologies also ensured that students were engaged with the content. Very good practice was evident when the students were very involved with their own learning through the deployment of active learning strategies. In a junior cycle lesson, for example, where the main topic was Irish music, a variety of traditional Irish dances were performed by the teacher and students followed the music on the hand-outs which were provided. Students were then invited to clap the opening four bars of some dances to reinforce their understanding of the intricate rhythms involved. To stretch their knowledge, the students were questioned on theoretical concepts such as key signatures and beats. This led to a discussion comparing jigs, reels and hornpipes. Students were divided into two groups and given contrasting rhythms to clap, (one smooth and even, and the other dotted as found in a hornpipe) which were then alternated between both groups, heightening their understanding of these rhythm patterns and in particular, that of the hornpipe. A dance tune was then used as the basis of a composition assignment where students were asked to study and place backing chords to it. This lesson provided a very dynamic learning environment which was very skilfully handled. The students exuded obvious enthusiasm and were motivated and challenged by all tasks set.
A further example of sound practice was equally evident in a second junior cycle lesson. Students were asked to sing a passage of music based on melodic intervals. The students were questioned regarding the structure of the piece and were then divided into two groups to sing the piece as a round. Subsequently, students were divided into three groups to demonstrate the formation of a triad. Above this, a melody was improvised by the teacher. Students therefore were very musically engaged with composition and such strategies ensured that it was a lively and musically engaging experience. In a following recorder class, students were guided through the Minuet from Handel’s “Water Music”, arranged for performance in two parts. Any rhythmical section which caused difficulty was isolated and reinforced by documenting these rhythm patterns on the board so that students could clap through it. The main objective, which was to perform the piece in two parts, was attained and once again the level of motivation and enthusiasm by the students was very evident.
Pacing was generally very appropriate in lessons observed. Activities were very suitable to the age and abilities of all students. The learning activities were well selected and the timing was appropriate. This was evident, for example, in lessons where the students were brought through different learning activities such as singing, clapping and recorder playing and where group-work was integrated into lessons to add variety to their learning.
It is commendable that lessons also incorporated the synthesis of the different disciplines in Music. This was evident, for example, when elements of composition were taught through performing and where students were directed to compose using a melody that had already been performed during an earlier section of the lesson. This approach is very good practice and ensures that the three disciplines in Music of listening, performing and composing are interlinked. The Music department is commended in this regard.
Lessons employed good questioning strategies directed at specific students or to the class as a whole. In some cases, questions were open-ended and this led to lively and stimulating discussions on the music. This is good practice as it encourages students to develop their own critical thinking skills and to form personal opinions about music in general. This was evident in a lesson on Irish music where students were asked to describe their own personal experiences of Irish music. Students were very forthcoming with their responses and expressed opinions easily.
The board was used effectively to highlight concepts, isolate difficulties regarding rhythm patterns in music, or to record students’ responses.
Formal assessments are held at Christmas for all students. Mock examinations are held for third and sixth-year students in February. Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year students at Easter. Written reports are issued to parents of all year groups following these assessments. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent-teacher meetings and are kept informed of students’ progress through the school journal. The Music department also sets end-of-topic tests as an additional mode of assessment. Continuous monitoring also occurs during practical and written activities in lessons and this is complemented by external monitoring which is very good practice. Wider use of this practice would be of considerable benefit to the quality of students’ work.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. Questioning and examination of students’ work indicated that students were at the appropriate level and well equipped to respond. This was particularly evident in lessons where discussion was encouraged so that students could utilise newly acquired technical skills in a meaningful way. Practical activities further indicated the very good work being done by the department and all performances were appropriate to the age group. The standard of practical work was good in lessons and the music department is commended in this regard. A review of certification data indicates that students are generally encouraged to participate at the highest level of which they are capable. Participation at higher level is very good. The Music department is encouraged to maintain this successful trend.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Music at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
SDP (School Development Planning) is an integral part of the process of school development in Loreto College Cavan. It is on the agenda of every staff meeting and most Board of Management meetings. We have opted for a flexible formal model to provide planning times for subject department meetings. This suits our local context as a semi-rural school locked into bus transport timetables and causes minimum erosion of valuable teaching time. Each subject department meets three times a year to plan for the on-going development of the department. These meetings are formal but do not occur within the structure of other planning sessions such as staff meetings, as these are reserved for other review and developmental work. From September 2006, the dates of these three meetings will be agreed by each department at the start of each school year and will continue to accommodate different subject and teacher requirements. We take the view that this arrangement suits our local context and best meets our needs at this time. Therefore we consider it appropriate to continue to operate our flexible formal model into the future.