An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Crosshaven, County Cork
Roll number: 62200H
Date of inspection: 22 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Muire. 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 teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Music is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in Coláiste Muire. A taster system operates in first year, at the end of which option blocks are formed according to the ‘best fit’ approach. Two option blocks have been formed for this year’s first-year students after consultation, and Music is in the block with Business Studies and Materials Technology (Wood). All Transition Year (TY) students study Music for the entire year, and an open-choice system similar to junior cycle also operates at senior cycle. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines. At present there is concern about the variable nature of uptake in Music and, despite the fact that it is acknowledged that Music is a worthwhile component in education, the subject has been struggling to maintain viable numbers in both junior and senior cycles at the school. Despite the enthusiasm for any musical activities that take place in the school and the value that is placed on its inclusion, uptake is disappointing. At present there is no class in sixth year and it looks like there will be no fifth year class next year. It is recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake of Music, and raise its profile as a curricular option, as sustaining low numbers in the future could prove difficult.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities occur during the school year. The students regularly contribute to the life of the school through the various fundraising activities which take place there. A notable event this year concerned a successful fundraising project for Zambia which involved a variety show for all students and allowed them the opportunity to showcase their considerable talent. Evidence of very successful fundraising events involving Music abounded, through the many montages and photographs on display in the school. TY students also produce an annual show which constitutes one of the highlights of the TY programme, and students are involved in ensemble work at lunchtime. The students’ music experiences are continually enriched also by trips to concerts and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers. This year, trips to such performances as the Cork Pops Orchestra, and events in the Cork Opera House have been arranged for the students, as well as Beat Box workshops and a visit from the Carducci Quartet. This range of activities is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are to be applauded.
Coláiste Muire has a designated music room which is bright and acoustically satisfactory. A good stock of resources is available, including classroom instruments, a digital piano, a keyboard, audio resources, sheet music and texts, and an overhead projector (OHP). The walls are adorned with posters and charts about Music, photographs, musical and fundraising activities undertaken by students, and student projects on aspects of the Junior and Leaving Certificate courses. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended.
Although the room is spacious and airy, as it is also used for other classes, there are more desks than are needed for a music lesson. These desks are arranged in a traditional layout, which means that ways in which the teacher and students can interact are restricted and this also militates against any flexibility in relation to the arrangement of different music-teaching settings. The furniture takes up most of the available space, so the organisation of a permanent performing area is not feasible, which curtails group performing quite considerably. It was stated during the inspection that a new music room is part of the school’s impending building project. This development is welcomed and it is recommended that much thought be put into the design and layout of this new room in order to maximise its use for the myriad music-teaching settings available. In this light, the introduction of music technology resources would be appropriate as an absence of same was noted during the evaluation. In addition, it is recommended that a portion of the room be designated a permanent performing space to allow for a more fluid learning environment where performing, composing and listening activities could be undertaken with minimal upheaval. It is important to state also that a successful enhancement of the available resources and environment could also help foster an interest in Music and possibly contribute to a significant increase in its uptake.
A good level of planning for the development of Music exists in Coláiste Muire. Comprehensive programmes of work, scheduling the topics to be covered, were presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlining the broad plan for each class group, included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets and an organised and comprehensive stock of support material suitable for all levels.
In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio and visual resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords her the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. In addition, the teacher avails of any ongoing training courses which contribute to overall continuing professional development (CPD). This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.
In all lessons observed, a secure, enthusiastic, work-orientated atmosphere prevailed. Material was presented in a coherent manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. A warm, friendly rapport prevailed between the students and the teacher at all times. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise and suitable rewards used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. A wide variety of methodologies and examples of active music-making were seen, and lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. All these activities contributed to a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment and are commended. The teacher skilfully engaged the students through the use of open-ended creative initiatives, and imaginative approaches. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students through well-structured and varied activities. This was fully borne out during one lesson, for example, which encompassed activities covering aspects of the Irish Traditional Music component for Junior Certificate and made effective use of resources to ensure that students were actively engaged and informed of their learning. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were utilised to very good effect, especially through appropriate practical elements. This linking of activities and active participation by the students is commendable and does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material.
Each lesson observed had either a performing or listening element as its central focus. The repertoire chosen for performance was suitable for the age levels and the listening resources chosen contributed to the quality of learning and are to be commended. Ensemble-playing was at a suitable standard for the levels visited and all classes visited were on target with the syllabus requirements. Student engagement was high and some very good question and answering was observed with student contributions welcomed and affirmed. Effective questioning to named students was employed to evaluate students’ prior learning and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter, which is commendable.
Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. Differentiation was observed in a lesson where groups of students practised with the teacher for the impending practical examinations, while others worked on their programme elsewhere. A collaborative atmosphere ensued, where through refinement, performance, assessment and encouragement, students prepared for their practical examinations and good standards of performance obtained, coupled with appropriate backing tracks or supportive accompaniments by the teacher. This is to be commended. Furthermore, this focus on examination performance as well as sound advice from the teacher on the nature of performing ensures that students are extremely well prepared for their practical examinations and are very familiar with the process.
When the building project is completed and suitable resources are acquired including a computer, it is recommended that an examination of the feasibility of the technology option in the Leaving Certificate music syllabus be undertaken, alongside the acquisition of appropriate resources to include further development of ICT. Its use, coupled with suitable software, could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. In this light, it is also recommended that the music teacher makes the most of any continuing professional development (CPD) currently available, particularly in the area of ICT.
The subject knowledge and skills evident in the music teaching observed impact well on students’ musical thinking, attitudes and skills, and thus a wide range of interesting musical activities was introduced. These varied activities and methods used to reinforce learning, understanding and appreciation of Music, which allowed for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students, are commendable.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, were generally neat in appearance, and contained detailed information sheets, coursework, worksheets and recorder repertoire.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis and is mostly corrected the following day. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. It was good to note that, in addition to a grade, many of these assessments received a comment and/or words of encouragement from the teacher. This is to be commended. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a student’s progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in the state examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and, in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Very good standards of teaching and learning employing sound musical practice, and a positive classroom atmosphere were significant aspects of the lessons seen during the visit.
· Students were motivated and had a positive attitude towards Music. Observation of students’ work, both practical and written, indicates that the skills developed are appropriate and are of a good standard.
· The current music resources in the school are used appropriately and effectively in an integrated way to support the teaching and learning of Music.
· Management and staff are keen to promote and develop Music as a viable subject in Coláiste Muire, and have made some progress in this regard.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Build on existing successes the school has had in raising the profile of Music and explore strategies to encourage a higher uptake of the subject.
· Carefully plan and design the layout of the new room to ensure flexibility for myriad music teaching and learning settings.
· Any opportunities allowing the music teacher to attend courses in music technology should be researched and facilitated.
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.