An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Convent Road, Longford Town, County Longford
Roll number: 63760E
Date of inspection: 10 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in MeŠn-Scoil Mhuire. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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; the board chose to accept the report without response†
History has a strong presence in the breadth of education provided for the students of MeŠn-Scoil Mhuire.† The schoolís complement of seven History teachers are all actively involved in teaching the subject.† History is compulsory study for the 345 students currently following the Junior Certificate Programme.† The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is optional for students and at present comprises one class group.† The TY students do not study History as a discrete subject but the Tourism Studies programme that forms part of their TY coursework draws upon the historical heritage of Ireland.† The students are helped to appreciate the important place that History holds in contemporary life in their Tourism Studies coursework and are taken on outings to places of historical interest.† Senior-cycle students choose their preferred Leaving Certificate programme from a choice of the Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and are provided with the opportunity to study History as one of their optional subject choices.
The timetabled allocation of History class periods and the pattern of their distribution are important means of providing support for the subject.† The first-year class groups are allocated two History class periods per week and this allocation is increased to three periods per week in second and third year.† Leaving Certificate History students form one class group in fourth and fifth year respectively and have five History class periods per week.† The overall provision is supportive of the teaching and learning of History and the efforts made by management to ensure that this support is provided are acknowledged.† Mixed ability History classes are the norm.† Teachers may be assigned to first-year classes for one year only but teachers assigned to second-year History class groups normally take the students through to their Junior Certificate examinations.
Management supports the collaborative work of the History department and responded positively in the recent past to the request of the History teachers for History to be reintroduced into the senior cycle after a gap of several years.† The successful reintroduction of Leaving Certificate History into the school is commended and the work undertaken by both management and the History teachers in bringing it about is applauded.† It is hoped that the inclusion of History as a module or a discrete subject in the TYP will be kept under review particularly as History has a strong contribution to make to this programme.† The accommodation of management in facilitating attendance at the in-service courses for the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus and the willingness to fund all necessary purchases for the teaching of History are acknowledged.
The pedagogy of modern History teaching places great importance on the availability of learning resources and supportive school facilities. A strong provision of audio-visual equipment including data projectors is available to the History teachers.† The schoolís computer room with its information and communication technology (ICT) is relatively easily accessed by the History teachers for class lessons.† There is a library facility in the school which it was reported needed further development.† Given the supportive environment that exists in MeŠn-Scoil Mhuire, it is advocated that management continue to promote the exploration of the potential of ICT as a teaching and learning device for History.† The History section of the school library is a resource worth developing, particularly in view of the research requirements for senior students studying the new syllabus at both higher and ordinary level.† The contribution that field trips can make to the enrichment of studentsí study of History is also recognised by management and the History teachers are facilitated in organising these activities.
The History subject team share a commitment to teaching their students well and to ensuring that they make progress in their study of the subject. The teachers displayed a good grasp of the coursework.† The purpose of every class was clearly identified.† Care was taken to include variation in the pace and structure of the lessons to maintain the engagement of the students.† The advance planning of the lessons involved the preparation of class handouts, the review of selected pages in the studentsí textbook and the choice of homework.† The handouts were prepared with the intention of providing a rounded account of the topic to be studied in order to consolidate student learning and to assist students in the undertaking of lesson assignments.† Individual teachers incorporated interesting newspaper articles into the prepared handouts, which were related to the lesson topic or to material previously studied.† Such initiatives are encouraged, whenever they can be usefully introduced, because they convey to students the relevance of History in contemporary life.
The collaborative action of the History teachers in formally establishing a History department and appointing a subject coordinator is commended.† The formal History department has a very real role to play in promoting the continuous development of the teaching and study of History throughout the school. It is advocated that the position of coordinator should be rotated at agreed intervals to enable every member of the History subject team to engage with the work of the department.† The documentation of the Subject Department Plan is a progressive step and a worthwhile initiative.† This informative document details subject aims and objectives, the year plans for each year group, effective teaching methodologies, studentsí access to History, planning for students with special educational needs and many other issues pertinent to the teaching and study of History.† It is important that formal meetings of the History teachers be held once per term during the academic year in order to maintain the impetus of subject planning.† At this juncture it is recommended that the agreed year plans be further developed to include a detailed 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 each topic and the resources to be used.† The inclusion of strategies and resources for teaching particular topics can be gleaned from the recommendations made by the teachers meeting together as members of the History department for that purpose and drawing on their experience of teaching History.† It is not envisaged that the formulation of agreed year plans in the manner suggested would stifle teachersí own initiatives for effective year plans are always best viewed as work in progress that can be adapted as the need arises.†
The inspection visit to MeŠn-Scoil Mhuire included the observation of five lessons, one in each year group involved in the study of the Junior and Leaving Certificate History syllabuses.† The range of lessons observed helped to provide an informed overview of the teaching and learning of History in the school.† The hallmark trait of the lessons was the positive teaching and learning atmosphere in all the classes visited.† The classroom skills of the teachers and their interactive style of teaching ensured that the students were maintained on task.††† The prior preparations that had been undertaken by the teachers meant that each lesson had a defined purpose and structure.† The students were encouraged to learn and discipline was sensitively maintained.
In keeping with good teaching practice the students were informed of the aim and purpose of the lesson from the outset.† The engagement of the students was then strengthened in a variety of different ways such as the correction of homework, the review of a class test and the exploration of a History essay question to consolidate the revision of a lesson topic.† The History question was always displayed on the board.† The strategy of directing the students to write down in their copybooks what they considered to be the main points that should be treated in the essay before engaging the class in more in-depth questioning was observed being used to good effect in the case of this activity.†† There was an instance, too, where the attention of a class was drawn to the recent discovery of a medieval burial ground in Kinnegad.†† They were also given a photocopy of a newspaper article on the work of a young archaeologist that related to an earlier coursework topic.† These strategies are commended.† They encouraged the students to engage quickly with the lesson as well as affording the means to consolidate studentsí knowledge of material previously studied.
The thoughtful and purposeful teaching manner of the teachers was apparent in the good use that was made of the classroom board during the lessons.† Individual teachers steadily recorded information on the board while engaging their students in specific activities such as the preparation of a History essay for homework and the review of a class test.††† The necessary information required to write the History essays was obtained by the teachersí addressing questions globally to their respective classes and to named students to refresh and draw on the studentsí knowledge of the topic.† This information was subsequently recorded on the board and elaborated on through further interaction with the students.† The review of a class test, which had set the students a number of questions requiring brief factual answers, was conducted along similar lines.† It involved the elicitation of information and the recording of examples of model answers on the board in order to convey to the students what information to include in order to write strong answers to test questions on the period in question.† The explanation of key terms such as the meaning of the Renaissance was also ably undertaken and the learning consolidated using the classroom board.†
The prepared handouts facilitated the study of the lesson topics and the assigning of learning activities to students.† Handouts were used to consolidate studentsí learning and increase their understanding of lesson topics that had required an extended study.† For example, a class, which had previously completed a study of Northern Ireland 1920-1963 was provided with a handout containing a concise, synopsised account of the period.† The content of the typed handout, which was studied in class, was well laid out and the key terms and the names of the political figures were highlighted to impact on student learning and for easy recognition.† Handouts containing accounts of the lesson topic were also used to introduce students to new material and provide a more focused treatment of the subject than was available in the studentsí textbooks.† In another instance, a handout containing a treatment of the essay question prepared in class was given to the students to supplement the notes recorded on the board after they had transcribed them into their copybooks.† Individual teachers included lesson assignments in the handout containing the account of the lesson topic or distributed handouts prepared specifically for that purpose.† The assignments required the students to write answers to questions based on the lesson material studied or to engage in paired work.† The assignment handout given to pairs of students followed upon a classís study of the Renaissance and Renaissance paintings in their textbook, and was an effective follow-on learning activity in consolidating the studentsí knowledge of the material studied.††† The teachers are commended for the considered ways in which they made effective use of the handouts to impact on student learning.
The teachers encouraged the participation of their students in their own learning and affirmed them for their inputs into the lessons.† The students remained attentive throughout the lessons observed and contributed to them.† They responded well overall to the teacherís questions and sometimes asked their own questions.† Reading aloud in class was another activity that was undertaken by the students.† It is advocated that selected students read aloud in class rather than the teacher unless there is a definite reason for doing otherwise.† The class-based assignments during the course of the lessons were another important means of enabling students to engage actively in the lesson.† The studentsí homework and notes copies reflected their application to their studies and their steady progress through their coursework.††††
Assessment and the monitoring of studentsí progress are intrinsic parts of the teaching methodologies observed.† The oral questioning of the students and the random spread of questions throughout the classes enabled the teachers to gauge the studentsí learning and understanding of the lesson material.† The clarification of points by the teachers, where it was deemed necessary, was supportive of studentsí progress.† The standard of work in the studentsí copybooks perused showed that the teachers motivated their students to make progress in their studies.† The setting and correction of homework is part of each teacherís classroom practice and clearly helps to encourage autonomous learning on the part of the students.† The writing of a teacherís comment at the end of a homework exercise is always to be recommended and was noted.† The setting of class tests provides another means of tracking and evaluating student progress.
Formal examinations are organised for all students at the end of the first term and before the summer holidays commence.† Each student is awarded a grade denoting the studentís performance in the term examination and a grade to indicate the studentís application to her study of History during the term.† The third and fifth year students sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term.† School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the formal examination sessions.† A parent-teacher meeting is organised each year for first, third and fifth-year students to keep parents and guardians informed of progress.† The teachers prepare their own test papers for the Christmas and summer examinations.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Whole-school support for History is indicated by the accessibility of the subject to students following the Junior Certificate Programme, the Leaving Certificate Established and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
The timetabled allocation of History class periods shows that efforts are made to ensure that a supportive distribution of class periods and a favourable pattern of teacher-class contact time are provided.
The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to school facilities, which are available to the History teachers and their students support effective coverage of the coursework.
There was a positive teaching and learning environment in the classrooms visited.† The teachers displayed a good grasp of the syllabus.† The lessons had a definite focus and structure.†† The teachers encouraged learning and engaged their students at all times.
Assessment and the monitoring of studentsí progress are actively pursued.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is advocated that the position of History coordinator be rotated at agreed intervals to enable every member of the History subject team to engage with the work of the department.
It is recommended that the agreed year plans be further developed to include a detailed 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 each topic and the resources to be used.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of MeŠn-Scoil Mhuire and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.