An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Royal School Cavan
College Street, Cavan
Roll number: 61080S
Date of inspection: 15th September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Royal School, 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 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 teacher. 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 the Music teacher. 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.
Music is very well supported in Royal School, Cavan as illustrated, for example, by the resources which the Music department receives. During the evaluation, senior management clearly indicated its ongoing commitment to further enhancing the department. For example, the Music teacher is paid for by the school. Commendably, there is a dedicated Music room for the department. Three small rehearsal rooms, with three pianos, readily afford students the opportunity to improve their practical skills and this generous provision is commended.
The Music room itself is well resourced and includes a plain white board (no staves), an upright acoustic piano of good quality, a keyboard, two computers, with Finale Music software installed, (complemented by access to the computer room, if required) a stereo with CD’s and ample storage facilities containing a variety of books. The addition of a class set of percussion instruments will enhance such provision and provide an additional valuable teaching and learning tool for the Music department. The department has access to a budget, upon requisition, and is urged to avail of it.
The current Music department, staffed by one teacher, is fully established now for three years (although Music has been available on the school curriculum for a considerable number of years). Music is offered as an optional subject to all students. First year students sample elective subjects for one month before making their final selection. However, there is a degree of flexibility inherent in this system if additional time is required by students. The level of uptake at junior and senior cycle is satisfactory. Senior management, in an effort to encourage more boys into Music has now adjusted the subject bands for current first year students. The effectiveness of this strategy will be evaluated at a later stage as part of planning. In senior cycle, the uptake has increased from previous years. It is hoped that this level of commitment by both senior management and the Music department will help to ensure that such positive trends continue. All Music classes are of mixed ability.
Parents of incoming first years are provided with a very good level of support. For example, an induction night is held annually in February where a presentation is made regarding subjects that are available in the school. All staff members attend this meeting, and are available to speak to parents, as required. Such commitment and dedication by staff is laudable and as such, is commended. To complement this induction night, written information is sent to parents by post in June.
Transition Year (TY) is a compulsory programme and all TY students are studying Music. This programme is delivered as a short modular course of ten weeks duration. This is an opportune time to expose students to music technology in a creative and stimulating way. For example, students could be introduced to the fundamentals of music recording and /or editing which could then lead to the production of a project by students. Similarly, students could also be introduced to various theoretical concepts of music including notation and instrumentation through this medium. Exposing students to music technology may also impact positively on numbers selecting Music in fifth year.
Continuous professional development is inherent within the Music department. The teacher is a member of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA), has attended its courses and was also due to attend a course on Teaching Traditional Irish Music in the University of Limerick shortly after the evaluation. Attendance at these courses is facilitated and subsidised by the school, and such generosity is commended. In addition, the Music teacher has attended courses during holiday periods which have, for example, included conducting courses. This commitment to personal professional development is applauded and further encouraged.
Students in Royal School, Cavan, are provided with the opportunity to attend instrumental and/or vocal lessons. A school choir is formed to participate in the annual Church of Ireland Harvest. These rehearsals occur during lunch time and/or after school. In addition, an annual concert is held at Christmas. The students’ musical experiences are continually enriched by trips to concerts and visits to the school by outside Musicians. For example, transition year (TY) students are provided with a variety of music workshops including salsa and samba drumming to complement their Music classes. In this manner, students who may not choose Music as an option can experience some type of music-making activity as part of their second level education. This is commendable and helps to raise the profile of Music in the school.
School Development Planning is ongoing in Royal School, Cavan and has extended formally into curricular areas. Senior management has access to all subject department plans. Formal meetings are held three to four times each year. Single teacher departments, such as Music, use these planning times as an opportunity to meet and share best practice. This good practice is commended. Optimal use of such collaborations could now be maximised by formally recording minutes from all such meetings and including findings to the department plan, where appropriate.
Planning documentation was presented on the day of the evaluation. These documents contained a wide range of information including access and provision, resources, broad descriptions of planning for special needs, cross curricular planning, a description of teaching strategies, aims and objectives of the Music curriculum, and a broad outline of the courses to be covered with each year group. This commendable level of work could now be further enhanced by the addition of the following: an outline of specific, short term targets regarding content with the inclusion of clear, defined timeframes and methodologies that may be used to achieve such goals.
Transition Year documentation was also included in the Music department plan. In keeping with the spirit of TY, these plans commendably outlined a broad range of content and an indication of how this would be achieved. This plan will also be further enhanced by the inclusion of short term aims with a clearly defined timescale. Consideration should also be given to the inclusion of a music technology module as part of the TY plan.
Planning of content for each lesson observed was very good. All lessons began with a clear statement of aims. It should be borne in mind that informing students of what they should be able to do themselves by the end of the lesson will further motivate their learning. In general, the variety of content was generally appropriate to the classes observed. However, to complement the good teaching that was evident, planning for the inclusion of practical and/or active strategies for the students will enhance their learning and ensure that they remain engaged by the content at all times.
Three lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation: two at junior cycle and one at senior cycle. In all lessons, topics were clearly explained and, where appropriate, were made relevant to the students’ every day experiences. Sound methodological practice was evident where students were active in their own learning through, for example, a performance of a traditional Irish song. This helped to sustain their level of engagement with the topic-at-hand. This performing activity was well structured in that students were given various stretching exercises in preparation for their singing.
Composing featured in all lessons observed. Harmonic and melodic concepts were taught, by “lecturing”, by documenting good practice on the board and by eliciting answers from the students through a series of closed questions requiring a specific answer. This type of activity would be enhanced by the addition of active methodologies. For example, when students are working on an assignment, pair work would encourage peer collaboration and mentoring. In addition, given the level of practical abilities within classes, students should be encouraged to sing, clap, or play compositions whenever possible. In that context, it is recommended that attention should be given to the integration of active learning strategies, and that the three disciplines of Music, listening, performing and composing, be synthesised, where possible.
Lessons which contained a variety of content further engaged students. For example, a lesson on Irish Music began with a listening activity followed by a review of the features of Irish Music through student questioning. Subsequently a new concept was introduced which eventually led to a practical demonstration on the piano culminating with a group performance of an Irish song. It should be remembered that, where possible, the Sound before Symbol approach should be integrated into lessons where students are introduced to technical concepts aurally, before a technical explanation is given.
Students in all lessons were seated in rows. Although students were commendably brought around the piano for singing, it might be worthwhile designating a permanent section of the room for performing. This would further add variety to lessons, and in classes with fewer students, would enhance the good rapport already in existence. The addition of professionally produced print work materials will also enhance the learning environment and the Music department should now consult further with senior management in this regard.
Overall, a positive learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. All contributions by students were warmly received and encouraged. Students responded well to questioning and any errors were sensitively handled. High expectations of behaviour were clearly evident and students responded accordingly.
The teachers’ Music knowledge ensures that the learning environment is challenging for students. In all classes observed, students were generally capable and responsive to the tasks set. Homework was corrected or handed back at the start of all lessons and set at the end of lessons. Copies, workbooks and manuscripts indicated that a high level of assessment is ongoing and this practice is applauded. Such assessment will be enhanced by the inclusion of a comment indicating the level of the student.
Other modes of assessment include formal examinations for all year groups at Christmas, summer examinations for first, second and fifth year students and mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students. Three end-of-module assessments are held for TY students at alternative times of the year. Practical assessments form a percentage of formal school examinations, a practice which is commended. Reports are issued following all assessments and the school journal is also used as an additional form of communication. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent teacher meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.