An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Our Lady’s College
Greenhills, Drogheda, County Louth
Roll number: 63850F
Date of inspection: 24 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s College, Drogheda. 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 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 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.
The Music department in Our Lady’s College, Drogheda is currently staffed by three teachers - one permanent teacher (PWT) and two part time teachers (PT).
Support for incoming first-year students is very good. Prior to entry in September, senior management visit primary schools in the locality. Every alternate year, an information evening is provided for parents of fifth and sixth class students, which is complemented by the provision of a booklet. The school also provides information nights for parents of new entrants regarding subject choices. All music classes in Our Lady’s College are of mixed ability. First-year students, prior to entry in September, select three subjects from a group consisting of Art, Home Economics, Business Studies and Music. At the end of the year, one subject is dropped. Providing students with an open menu maximises their choices and takes account of their needs, and the school and its management is commended in this regard. The uptake for Music in junior cycle is very healthy.
In senior cycle, the uptake is also very healthy. The level of subject-choice support is equally good. A careers night is held annually for third and Transition year (TY) students in partnership with other local schools. In addition, teachers provide students with advice regarding subject choices and an outline of course content. Sixth year students also address these year groups with their impressions of programmes and subjects. An information evening is held for parents and a booklet is also provided. The Guidance department also plays a leading role in the provision of career support for all students. This high level of support for students is very commendable.
The timetabling allocation to music is in line with the requirements of the syllabus in both junior and leaving certificate.
TY is optional for students but Music/Drama is compulsory in this programme. TY students can freely choose between Drama and Music but all join together for the annual school musical production. Future planning includes the provision of a music technology module and integration of composition classes, for example, with that module. Building on this plan, the Music department is encouraged to exploit still further the full potential of music technology.
There is no set budget for Music but all needs are met subject to requisition. The school has invested heavily in providing instruments for students, which in turn, has led to the development of the school orchestra. All students can access individual instrumental lessons, for a nominal fee, as the school subsidises all lessons. This very generous provision by the school has enhanced the cultural education of students and management is highly commended in this regard. The school was also allocated a grant by the Department of Education and Science of €20,000 and at the time of the evaluation, was planning for its expenditure.
Provision for Music is good. There is one dedicated specialist music room. The music department has access to a number of pianos, orchestral instruments, electric instruments, Guitars, percussion, DVD player, TV and video players, a data projector, a number of computers with midi compatible keyboards, and a laptop. Sibelius music notation software is also available on some of the computers. Management commendably supports the Music department by providing funding for all costs of any conferences that staff may wish to attend. This has included courses provided by the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA), membership of which is highly recommended as a useful way of encountering other Music teachers in a support network. Teachers have attended courses in music technology, including Teach to the Future I and II, and on Kodaly methodology. This commitment to professional development is laudable and the music department is encouraged to continue in this regard.
A wide variety of Music activities is provided by the Music department. For example, the annual school musical is produced by the Music and Drama departments and performed by TY students. Other activities include the school orchestra, a traditional Irish group with a staff and student membership, the aforementioned instrumental lessons, which are facilitated by the school, and the school choir. Every alternate year, students are also afforded the opportunity to avail of music trips. Students generally sing a mass and/or give a concert at an appropriate venue. In the past, students have travelled to Salzburg/Vienna, Switzerland, Rome and Bavaria. Students are also brought to the National Concert Hall (NCH), Helix and Droichead Arts Centre for concerts. Students have also participated in the National Chamber Choir composition workshops and have enjoyed much success competitively. Strong community links have been forged between the school and the locality as the choir and orchestra have performed in neighbouring venues. The variety and breadth of activities offered to students caters for a variety of musical tastes and the music department is commended for its commitment in this regard.
School Development Planning is ongoing in Our Lady’s College with a number of policies in place. Formal planning has now extended into curricular areas. One member undertakes co-ordination of the Music department. This role could now be rotated, which would assist in the sharing and distribution of the workload and the Music department is advised to consider such a strategy. Formal subject department meetings occur three times during the year and minutes of all meetings are kept. Over and above these formal arrangements, the Music department meets informally as the need arises, a commitment which is commended.
Evidence was found of very extensive planning documentation. A department plan was available which outlined aims, objectives, timetabling allocation, core textbooks, resources, extra and co-curricular activities, long-term curriculum planning and an outline of the number of assessments allocated to each year group. This very good work could now be enhanced by the inclusion of short-term targets with specified deadlines, and methods of assessments. In addition, opportunities for collaboration among teachers regarding the sharing of best practice on teaching strategies could also be exploited with a view to including a range of such strategies in the overall department plan.
Good planning is also evident in the level of Music activities on offer to the students. Such a wide variety could not occur so successfully without an appropriate level of advance planning and the support of management and staff. Planning for all lessons observed was very good. In some cases, planning beyond the textbook was very evident as teacher-devised handouts were clearly aimed at complementing the students’ learning and this good practice is commended. In all lessons observed, the good practice of sharing the learning outcomes occurred. All records of attendance, homework assignments and assessments were available on the day of the inspection.
Four classes were visited during the course of the inspection: two junior cycle groups and two senior cycle groups. In addition, at the schools’ request, an orchestra rehearsal and school choir were also visited informally. In all lessons, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers. Discipline was very well maintained. An atmosphere of mutual respect existed which contributed to the very good learning environment that was in evidence.
The classroom atmosphere was enhanced by visually stimulating material that had been produced by the students themselves. Project work provided an additional outlet to re-enforce learning while simultaneously providing skills for students to use their own initiative and work independently from the teacher, which is commendable practice.
Lessons which contained a variety of teaching strategies were stimulating and led to a good learning environment. For example, in a junior cycle lesson on syncopation, the students, as a group, were required, from the board, to clap through a rhythm pattern which contained syncopated rhythms. This was then linked to the theme tune from Eastenders. Students were asked to identify specific rhythms (syncopated) from the tune through a series of questions, which were targeted to particular students or let out to the entire class. Students were then requested to perform this tune on their recorders. Once again, students’ attention was drawn to specific bars from the tune through more questioning, which re-enforced their learning. The content of the lesson was summarised through more active methodologies. Students were required to stand in a circle and recall, through clapping, the rhythm patterns from the opening of the lesson. In the format of a game, a student named by a peer was asked to invent a pattern, using any type of vocal or clapping/tapping sounds, as the remainder of the class sustained a steady beat as an accompaniment. In conclusion, flash cards containing rhythm patterns were clapped by the students and served as a final tool for re-enforcing the students’ learning. This lesson is a good example of sound methodological practice where students were actively engaged with their own learning throughout the lesson. The level of enthusiasm was palpable, while the level of learning was equally evident. Such a strategy is commended and its wider use is encouraged.
A further example of sound methodological practice occurred in a senior cycle lesson. The topic-at-hand was a prescribed work by Gerald Barry. Students, in a previous lesson as a homework assignment, had been directed to practise singing the main themes in preparation for the lesson. Individual students were targeted and required to sing. This task was handled skilfully and students were encouraged and affirmed. The class then performed the motifs as a group, where errors were amended. One of the central Irish tunes featured in the work, Sí Bheag Sí Mhór, was distributed to the students, who then performed, at sight, the tune on the recorder. This was accompanied on the piano, and during the course of the activity, links were made to chords used in the accompaniment to cement their understanding of harmonic composition. Students then listened to the work and followed scores. This integration of performing and composing into a listening lesson and making links to music is very good practice and led to a dynamic and innovative lesson.
In general, lessons were logical and well sequenced with content appropriate to the age and ability of the students. Where there is a range of abilities, it should be borne in mind that pair work and/or group work activities, once carefully managed, can provide a useful outlet for enhancing their learning. This strategy, combined with individual work, can help to motivate students.
Questions were either let out to the entire class or directed at specified, named students. The use of questions which are more open-ended and which allow students greater scope to form opinions and develop their own independent thinking skills is encouraged.
Formal written examinations are held for first, second, TY and fifth year students in the summer and two additional assessments are also held. A formal assessment is held for third and sixth years in the first term and “mock” examinations are held in February. Reports are issued to parents following all formal assessments. Practical activities currently do not form a percentage of these assessments. As practical work is a significant percentage of examinations in junior and leaving certificate examinations, it is recommended that the Music department now plan for its inclusion. This would help broaden the students’ experiences of examinations. The school journal is also used to inform parents who are required to sign it every week. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent-teacher evenings and, if requested, individual meetings are facilitated readily. Continuous monitoring and assessment occurs during practical and written activities in lessons.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. Examination of students’ work and questioning of individual students indicated that they were at an appropriate level and well equipped to answer questions. In some cases, responses, both written and oral, were of a commendably high standard. Monitoring of students’ written work by teachers is also ongoing in the department and this practice should be extended. In addition, in some cases, students had A4 folders with all notes, handouts, worksheets and composition assignments logically stored. This very good practice could now be extended across the department – it will also aid the development of the students’ organisational skills. A review of certification data indicates that students are generally encouraged to participate at the highest level of which they are capable and participation at higher level is very good. The Music department is commended in this regard and is encouraged to maintain such successful trends.
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 Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.