An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of History

REPORT

 

 

Newbridge College

Newbridge, County Kildare

Roll number: 61680T

 

Date of inspection: 11&12 May 2006

Date of issue of report:  15 December 2006

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History

This Subject Inspection report

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Newbridge 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 two days 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.

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

History is an integral component of the four curricular programmes provided for the students, namely the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year Programme (TYP), the Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).  Junior cycle students study History as a compulsory subject for their Junior Certificate.  The school’s TYP is optional.  The TY students who elect to pursue this programme study a year-long History module as part of their coursework.  Leaving Certificate students decide between the LCE and the LCVP for their preferred programme and may elect to continue their study of History as an optional subject choice. The accessibility of History to the students of Newbridge College throughout the different stages of their secondary schooling is commended.   

The school has a formally established History department and a complement of eight History teachers.  Management supports the collaborative work of the History Department in maintaining the continuous development of History throughout the school.  Departmental meetings are scheduled and funding is provided on a needs basis.  The importance of in-service training is recognised and the attendance of the members of the History subject team has been accommodated at the in-service courses for the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus.  Management also appreciates the importance of field trips in enriching the students’ study of History and facilitates teachers who organise these activities.  It was reported that the attendance of the full complement of the History teachers at the scheduled departmental meetings was affected by the fact that the majority of the History teachers also teach at least one other subject.  It is suggested that management discuss this matter with the History subject team with a view to overcoming this difficulty.

The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to the school’s facilities that are available to the History teachers and their students support the teaching and study of History.  The range of teaching aids that the History teachers have at their disposal includes audio-visual equipment, information and communication technology (ICT), photocopiers, a well-stocked library and access to the school’s computer room for class lessons.  The History teachers have been allocated their own base classrooms apart from one colleague for whom alternative arrangements have been made.  The teachers’ classrooms and the school library are equipped with ICT facilities.  Every classroom has a computer, complete with a broadband connection and e-portal facility.  The provision of such supports is laudable because they provide the means of exploring a wide range of teaching and learning methodologies in the presentation of lessons and the consolidation of student learning.

Study of the timetabled allocation and distribution of History class periods reveal the efforts made by management to ensure a reasonable allocation and supportive pattern of teacher-class contact time.  Junior cycle classes have two History periods per week; TY students have one class period for History per week and fifth- and sixth-year History students have five periods of History per week in their respective classes.  It is school practice to reorganise the first-year class groups at the end of that year and to form an additional class group for the students when they enter second year.   Consequently, second- and third-year class groups have a reduced number of students because of the additional class grouping that is formed. The History teachers assigned to the second-year History class groups remain with them until the students sit their Junior Certificate examinations.  This arrangement affords the History teachers time to bond with their students, to acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework.  Yet notwithstanding the positive aspects of the school’s reorganisation of class groups in second year, the coverage of the History coursework is proving strongly challenging to the History teachers and their students based on the allocation of two class periods per week.  It is suggested that this allocation be kept under review.  The avoidance of a long interval in teacher-class contact time between the last History class in the week and the first History class of the following week is encouraged.  The efforts made by management to avoid this undesirable pattern have already been acknowledged but classes 2B, 2D, 3C and 3D experienced this situation on their timetables. 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The planning documentation received and studied during the History inspection visit indicated that the History subject team place importance on the role of subject planning.  The results of their collaborative work at departmental level are evident in the departmental folder of documented material that has been compiled.  The folder is in effect a framework History plan that gives shape and focus to the important work that takes place in the classroom.  It includes details of the school’s mission statement, the aims and objectives of the History department, agreed year plans, and a range of subject-related matters.  So as to build on the good work being done, it is recommended that the year plans be further developed to include details of recommended classroom methodologies and suitable resources for the teaching and study of the various coursework topics.  One suggested way of doing this is for the format of the year plans to be presented in four linear columns that outline the list of coursework topics, the intended allocation of time for the coverage of each topic, the teaching and learning methodologies that will be incorporated into the study of the topics and the resources to be used.  This information will be collated from the History teachers meeting together formally over a period of time and drawing on their own experiences of teaching History.  Proactive year plans are always best viewed as work in progress rather than a finished product so it is fundamentally important that they be informed by teachers’ own experiences but that they should also encourage teachers to continue to explore a wide variety of classroom strategies.

 

The History department is a vital forum for promoting the continuous development of the subject and supporting good quality teaching in the classroom.  It is a structured means of enabling the History teachers to meet together to discuss formally issues impinging on the subject, pool skills and develop long- and short-term strategies.  The involvement and collaboration of the entire History team is crucial to its success.  In this respect, it is advocated that the position of coordinator be rotated biennially so that the responsibilities of the position are shared and to encourage the individual History teachers to make their contributions towards the common goal.  The departmental discussion of initiatives to promote an increased uptake of History among senior-cycle students and the assessment of efforts already made will help to maintain focused attention on this challenging issue.  A comprehensive, itemised list of the audio-visual resources, ICT software including DVDs, History books, wall maps, artefacts and other teaching aids, should be compiled.  The list could be stored on computer and a copy included in the departmental folder.  How the potential of ICT can be used to enhance the teaching and learning of History should continue to be discussed at departmental level.  Again, a History departmental folder could be set up on computer into which the teachers could input details over a period of time of exemplar ICT-based lessons and learning activities that would be available to colleagues. Alternatively, a departmental folder could be made available in which the individual teachers could store hard-copy accounts of exemplar ICT-based lessons and activities that could act as a reference manual for the History teachers.

 

The Transition Year Programme (TYP) makes an important contribution to the breadth of education provided by the school for the students.  The inclusion of the History module in the school’s TYP makes in turn a valuable contribution to the programme.  It also helps to maintain the TY students’ contact with History and provides the opportunity to nurture and develop their continued interest in the subject.  It is advocated that the members of the History team discuss and document their view of the purpose and merits of the TY History module in the wider context of the overall educational goals of the school.  The documented statement should be inserted into the departmental folder alongside the detailed description of the current TY History coursework.  It is recommended that as many History teachers as possible become involved in teaching TY History.  Towards that end it is advocated that the members of the History subject team consider the benefits of collaborating on the compilation of a History module in order to support and facilitate the involvement of the History teachers in this programme.  It is also advocated that all History teachers who are interested in teaching TY History should discuss this matter with management through the appropriate channels.

 

The good work currently being undertaken in teaching History to TY students is commended.  The coursework seeks to develop and stimulate the TY students’ interest in local, national and international History.  The coursework is presented in six units and each deals with a different topic.  A variety of teaching and learning methodologies is employed, including visits to places of historic interest, talks by guest speakers and the use of ICT.  The students are continuously assessed.  They complete a project or task for each of the six units of their coursework and the grade given for each project or task informs the overall grade awarded in History to the individual students at the end of the year. The delivery of the coursework has been organised to encourage students to develop their personal and study skills through questioning, the critical evaluation of historical source materials, class discussion, debating and research.

 

There was ample evidence of individual planning and preparation for all the lessons observed.  The teachers displayed a good grasp of the syllabus and chose a definite topic for each lesson.  The placement of the topic in the context of the wider syllabus was made abundantly clear from the year plans provided.  The advance readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of printed handouts, a powerpoint presentation, the review of selected pages in the students’ textbooks and the selection of written assignments including homework.  The teachers’ lesson planning reflected their commitment to teaching their students well and frequently detailed the aims, objectives, teaching and learning methodologies and resources that were to be incorporated into the lesson.  It is recommended that this approach be universally adopted with due emphasis being placed on the aforementioned aspects of lesson planning as well as stating details about the topic to be taught.  Planning for single lessons and for extended schemes of the coursework is more effective when the focus is placed on how the lesson will be taught and how student learning will be consolidated.  It is important that lesson plans state the student activities that will be incorporated into their study of the lesson material.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

There was purposeful teaching of the lessons observed and student learning was encouraged at all times.  The choice of a definite topic enabled the students to engage quickly with the lesson.  Classroom management was uniformly good and the classroom skills of the teachers ensured that the students were maintained on task. The interaction between the teachers and their classes was marked by a mutual respect.  The positive teaching and learning environment of the classrooms visited was often enhanced by the display of students’ projects and History materials.  This practice is commended because it helps to affirm students publicly for their work and promote their interest in History in a visual way.

 

A variety of teaching and learning strategies was incorporated into the lessons.  The continuance of this practice is encouraged because it enables teachers to provide their students with a range of learning experiences and ensures that teachers do not unwittingly confine themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching.  Similarly, the inclusion of a combination of classroom methodologies gives variety to the pace and structure of individual lessons.  This was frequently exemplified by the many different ways in which the teachers used the class textbook to increase their students’ knowledge of the lesson topic.  The teachers actively engaged their students’ interest by orchestrating the reading about the subject of their study, posing questions, clarifying points to consolidate the students’ grasp of the lesson material and drawing attention to key terms and pictorial illustrations in the textbook.  Individual teachers subsequently set their students a short written assignment based on what the class had been reading.  It is recommended that several students be selected individually to read aloud rather than the teacher undertaking this task unless there is a definite reason for doing so.  The selection of students to read aloud is a means of increasing their participation in the lesson and can help to balance the verbal input provided by the teacher and students.   The written tasks gave further variety to the pace and structure of the class and helped the students to apply their knowledge of the lesson material.

 

The questioning techniques of the teachers contributed to the quality of the lessons. The addressing of questions globally to the class and to named students helped to draw out the class’s knowledge of the lesson topic, introduce new content and clarify students’ understanding of the lesson material.  The students in their turn listened attentively, responded well and sometimes asked their own questions.   The teachers’ questions ranged from those seeking the factual recall of information to questions that challenged students to give more considered answers to the questions put to them.  The importance of   key points and terms that emerged during the course of the questioning was often emphasised verbally to impact on student learning.  Good use of the classroom board was also observed for the same purpose in a number of lessons.  Yet, there were some occasions when the emphasis given to a particular point of detail could have been further strengthened by recording it on the board.  For example, during the questioning of class groups that sometimes took place at the start of a lesson, opportunities were overlooked when the verbal emphasising of points and terms for the students could have been strengthened by recording them on the board.

 

The potential of ICT to impact on student learning was also demonstrated by individual teachers.  A powerpoint presentation of slides gave students a clear visual depiction of several changes that took place in farming life during the early period of the Agricultural Revolution in Britain.  The slides increased the students’ knowledge of the lesson topic and the study of them provided opportunities for both questions and class discussion.  Material sourced on the internet provided another class group with a more informed understanding of how the land use and holdings of an English manor changed between the period 1747 and 1839.  The colour-coded handout enabled the teacher to draw the students’ attention to the reasons for the transformation of the manor, such as the impact that the 1813 Enclosure Act had on rural life.  In both lessons the ICT material facilitated and complemented the structured progress of the lessons to a study of the subject in the students’ textbooks.  In another instance, the class’s extended study of Northern Ireland 1920-1995 in their textbook was consolidated with the help of a typed, synopsised account of the period that was given to the students.  The content of the handout was well laid out and important points of information were highlighted to facilitate easy recognition and revision.  It is suggested that the above-mentioned ICT lesson materials be saved in a folder on computer and be made available to the History subject team.  The folder of ICT based lessons and activities should then be steadily augmented over a period of time and built up as a reference manual from which the teachers could download material.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Assessment and evaluation of students’ progress are vital aspects of classroom teaching and of the educational policies of the school.  The oral questioning of students was a feature of all the lessons observed.  The students’ responses enabled the teachers to gauge the students’ knowledge and understanding of the lesson material.  The clarification of points, where it was deemed necessary, was also an element of classroom assessment.  Class assignments and homework are other means employed to monitor students’ progress.  The setting and correction of homework are part of each teacher’s custom and practice.  The inclusion of a teacher’s comment at the end of a student’s homework assignment is always to be recommended and was noted in the students’ written work perused.

 

In keeping with school policy, first- and second-year History class groups are assessed continuously and the results are informed by their performances in class-based tests, their homework assignments and their results in a formally organised written examination at the end of the academic school year.  The third and sixth-year examination classes sit formally organised Christmas tests and trial certificate examinations, “Mocks”, during the spring term.  The TY History students are continuously assessed during the course of their modular programme.  Fifth-year students sit formal examinations around the time of the mid-term breaks of the first and second school terms, and before the summer holidays commence.  School reports are sent to the homes of the students and keep parents and guardians well informed of progress.  A parent-teacher meeting is organised for each year group.  The meetings afford the opportunity for parents and guardians to meet the subject teachers and discuss the progress of students individually.

 

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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 key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.