An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Saint Kieran’s College
College Road, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61560J
Date of inspection: 7 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Kieran’s College. 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 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 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.
There is good whole school support for History in St. Kieran’s College. There is a large History teaching team in the school comprising eight teachers. Junior cycle classes are concurrently timetabled. History classes are mixed ability with a majority of students opting for the higher level in the subject. There are four or five class groups in each year. Timetabling for junior cycle classes provides three class periods per week for some years and two per week for others on a rotating basis. This makes it difficult to complete the syllabus. It is recommended that the number of class periods timetabled for junior cycle History be reviewed.
Transition Year (TY) is taken by all students. The four mixed-ability class groups in TY have three class periods per week of Social Studies. History is part of the Social Studies module in the Transition Year programme.
In both fifth and sixth-year there is one class group per year. These classes are mixed ability and are allocated five class periods per week, usually one double period and three single periods. There is a fairly good uptake of Leaving Certificate History in the school. The system of subject choice currently in use aims to ensure, insofar as is possible, that students get their preferred subject options.
Classes are taught in class-based, as opposed to teacher-based rooms. Thus there is no History room and teachers have to move their resources from room to room during the day. The lack of subject-based rooms results in restrictions in use of wall space for displays of student work and visually stimulating material. There is also an apparent dearth of modern audio-visual aids available to History teachers, which restricts variety in the methodology used for teaching the subject. While broadband has now been installed in the school, it is not yet available in some classrooms and a limited number of data projectors are available. Some teachers have Information and Communication (ICT) skills, and use these in preparation and research, but are not currently able to bring ICT into action in classroom teaching. This is an area for urgent development as the History teachers are aware.
School management facilitates teachers of History in attending inservice training sessions, in particular in relation to the new Leaving Certificate syllabus. They are also encouraged to develop professionally and to join their subject association.
The History department is facilitated to meet formally twice a year to plan for the subject. One of the teachers acts as co-ordinator of History. The department’s plans and schemes of work are devised partly through these meetings and partly individually. While the planning process is a good feature of the organisation of the History teaching team, it would be advantageous and positive to hold at least one meeting per year for strategic subject planning.
The subject plans provided showed that progress in teaching the syllabus is well up to date and that current topics are being well planned, some in more detail than others. There is an opportunity, when compiling such plans, to think collectively about modern methodology and the possible applications of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the preparation and teaching of History topics. The plans, as presented, coincided with what was taking place in the classroom and with the students’ notebooks.
Some teachers are members of their subject association and those teaching senior cycle have attended the inservice courses arranged for the new Leaving Certificate syllabus in History. These have been run in the nearby education centre which is also a valuable local resource.
There is no school library at present which is a disadvantage in the overall planning, preparation, teaching and learning of History. In the absence of a library individual teachers use their own books and share them with students. There is little room in the school at present to provide a resource room for the subject and these logistical problems have presented difficulties which the History teachers hope to surmount in various ways in the near future.
The school is in the centre of the medieval city of Kilkenny. The teachers try to take advantage of this by bringing students on outings locally and further afield. These activities are discussed and organised as part of the subject planning meetings.
Good student-teacher rapport was observed in the classes inspected. Teachers made efforts to foster good relationships between and with students. This was particularly evident in classes that had international students who were fully included in class activities. The atmosphere in classes was friendly and work focused. Teachers affirmed students positively and appropriately on occasions which also added to a positive atmosphere in the classes inspected. Teachers quickly settled classes by reviewing material and homework previously covered. Junior cycle classes inspected were as far advanced along the prescribed syllabus as would be expected. This had been achieved despite having only two class periods a week during second year, which has the potential to create pressure to cover the course. Teachers and students are commended for the work they have achieved.
While classrooms were quite well organised, it was noted in some cases that teacher mobility was somewhat restricted because of the arrangement of the desks. Teachers maintained good pace and structure within classes and linked new with previously learned material quite skilfully. There was a strong commitment to oral questioning in all classes observed. Students showed enthusiasm for the subject and their responses to questioning were clear and informed indicating good understanding. Most questions were open ended and allowed students to elaborate on their responses. This methodology served to engage most of the students, and teachers went to some length to ensure a global spread of questions. When answering oral or written questions it is suggested that teachers encourage students to give their responses using significant relevant points. This is good practice in general and specifically when it comes to answering examination questions.
A variety of teaching strategies was used to engage the students during the classes visited. Prepared handouts were used in one instance which included dialogue between two people from a particular period in History. This material was used to create a “semi” role-play. This worked quite well and was obviously enjoyed by the students. This type of activity could be expanded into student pair work or acted out role-plays so that students can explore these historical characters in a more active way. In other instances students were given time to explore their attitudes towards an historical agreement and whether or not they would be in favour of this agreement. The consequences of being in favour or against would result in peace or war. This dilemma challenged students’ understanding of the historical issues and their beliefs and values. This worked well and allowed students to empathise with the dilemmas facing people during that historical period. Another challenging strategy was to ask students to use historical sources to draw economic and social comparisons between two countries. This strategy challenged students to extrapolate, analyse and evaluate the relevant information, all of which are valuable higher- order learning skills
At times teachers referred to materials such as illustrations or short extracts from students' textbooks, though in general, it was very good to see how little emphasis there was on mere textbook reading tasks in the course of the lessons. This is important as a single focus during class is less stimulating for students. While all of these teaching strategies worked well, there was the potential to develop them through the use of audio-visual aids. The further engagement of students in the lesson material by use of student-centred activity should also be considered.
Teachers used the blackboard as a means of writing student responses to questions and illustrating key terms. This most basic of teaching tools still has a major role to play in engaging students and developing understanding. In some instances students recorded these notes from the blackboard but it would be more advantageous if all students kept such records. It is suggested that the use of an overhead projector, or maybe a data projector, would facilitate the retention of notes and allow for more efficient use of teaching time. The use of ICT can help stimulate and develop students’ interests in a visual and interactive way. Many students are now familiar with the internet and can also use this medium to conduct research and design projects. These can also be deployed in class either as a presentation or printed out and displayed as colourful posters. Visual stimulation is a vital part of the teaching of History, and, despite current limitations, should be pursued in the preparation of lessons.
A common practice in several lessons was the process of summarising the main points of the lesson and “signposting” to students the direction of the next lesson. This process, accompanied with homework assignments, brought lessons to a natural conclusion and encouraged students to think about the next lesson.
A variety of means of assessment is employed throughout the classes including questioning, encouraging student contributions and recap strategies. Written homework is set regularly and is well monitored by teachers in most cases. Some work has annotations and remarks, but more frequent use of formative assessment methods would develop the students’ work to a greater extent. Homework assignments are not generally graded as grades are retained for use in class tests, mid-term tests, and for the in-house examinations which take place at intervals during the year. Written reports are sent to parents at Christmas and at the end of summer term. Certificate classes have ‘mock’ examinations in the Easter term, and reports are sent home following these.
Teachers keep records of test and examination results and these help to inform the dialogue in parent-teacher meetings, which are held annually for each year group. There are also information meetings for parents where they are informed about developments in, for example, Transition Year and in subject choices available to students for Leaving Certificate.
The standard of students’ work was generally good. Their notebooks and copybooks were mostly well written, neatly kept and up-to-date. There is a tradition of good attainment in History in the school. It would be a good reinforcement of students’ achievements in History if more of their work could be put on display in public areas of the school.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and with the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.