An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
De La Salle College
Roll number: 64950O
Date of inspection: 21 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College. 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 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, deputy principals 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.
Music has a high profile in De La Salle College and is available to all students in all years as an optional subject. At junior cycle, students choose two subjects from Home Economics, Art, Music, Materials Technology (Wood), Technical Graphics, Home Economics, French and German. Students have an open choice in senior cycle and choose four subjects from a list of seventeen and the school forms blocks which give the ‘best fit’ based on student preference and mindful of timetable and staffing constraints. At senior cycle there are large class groups in both fifth and sixth year, and all Transition-year (TY) students take Music as part of their programme with an additional optional choir module. The number opting for Music continues to grow and this is to be commended. Management is to be commended for its continued support of Music in a boys’ school. The fact that it is one of very few boys’ schools in the area providing Music to Leaving Certificate level is noted and applauded. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines, with all classes having the required allocation.
As well as the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a wide variety of musical activities take place during the school year. The school is fortunate in having a particularly long lunch-break, which in addition to having sufficient time for lunch, allows for a multiplicity of activities to take place. The school has two choirs, the College Choir and the Senior Choir. They perform at school events and concerts arising in the course of the year, participate in choir days and also compete very successfully in a number of choral competitions, mainly in Cork, Sligo, New Ross and Waterford. Choir rehearsals take place twice a week during lunchtime, and all incoming first years are given the opportunity to join the college choir and progress to the senior choir.
Begun in 2000 as a millennium project, the school’s brass ensemble continues to grow and performs in a number of concerts both in the college and in other venues in the city. The college also has a very vibrant traditional Irish group, Na Crusty Blaas which not only performs for various events, but also participates in many competitions, one of which was the Gael Linn Siamsa competition last year where it reached the semi-finals.
The college has been staging a musical in the Theatre Royal for the past twenty-seven years. This normally takes place during the second term. This event constitutes one of the highlights of the Music department’s annual programme and serves as a useful resource which links into the curriculum studied by all Music students in the school. The show is aimed primarily at TY and fifth-year students, and the college collaborates frequently with the local girls’ schools for some of the roles. This year it produced Les Misérables to huge success. The school also facilitates a range of different concerts, talent shows and school bands throughout the academic year. The shows are very popular with the students.
In addition, the students’ Music experiences are continually enriched by trips to concerts and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers. Examples of these include drum workshops for TY and visits by professional musicians, some of whom are past-pupils of the college. Waterford Music offers free access to eight chamber-music concerts per year, and students are encouraged to attend the Symphony Club of Waterford. Individual instrumental tuition is also available in brass, guitar and percussion. This system enables students to attend instrumental tuition outside school time and complements the curricular activity provided by the school. This impressive range of activities is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in De La Salle College. The Music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise.
De La Salle College has a dedicated Music room which is bright and spacious, acoustically satisfactory and arranged into a teaching and performing area. A good stock of resources is available: classroom instruments, piano, music stands, audio resources, amplifiers, sheet music, television, VCR, DVD, overhead projector and three computers with Sibelius software installed. The walls are adorned with posters, charts and photographs of students playing a variety of instruments and engaging in many different types of performance. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended. In addition, the Music teachers have access to another room which is primarily used for teaching and is adequately resourced. The college chapel is used for rehearsals, concerts and the practical examinations. As the chapel is equipped with a digital piano only and is used for many high-quality concerts during the year, the need for a proper piano has arisen. A fund has been put in place in an attempt to redress this problem, the aim being to purchase a good quality acoustic piano. This is commendable and it is hoped that this project will come to fruition in the very near future. Of particular note also is the fact that in the multimedia room, Sibelius software is installed on eighteen computers. This extensive investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved, and is deserving of the highest praise.
A few shortcomings were immediately noticeable in relation to resources. One pertains to the speakers for the sound system, which are positioned incorrectly. The positioning of these speakers militates against quality aural development as all audio sources come from the right of the room from the students’ point of view, and from an incorrect height. It is recommended that the speakers be positioned on the wall, on both sides of the whiteboard as it would, in this case, improve the situation considerably and allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students.
As three sides of the room consist almost entirely of windows, there is an inordinate amount of glare, making teaching very difficult especially when using an overhead projector (OHP). Furthermore, as there is no screen for the OHP and the whiteboard is quite small, the available projection area is limited, resulting in constant adjustment by the teacher of the overhead slides. In order to alleviate these problems, it is recommended that blinds be acquired as soon as is practicable and that a screen be purchased and positioned above the whiteboard and lowered when required.
Another item of concern is the size of the small television screen. Given the size of the class groups, adequate visibility is questionable and is further hampered by the glare in the room. In time, replacing the TV should be given some consideration, especially as this resource is constantly utilised.
There exists an impressive level of collaborative planning for the development of Music in this school. The planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. As school development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage, a thorough curricular audit has taken place and detailed documentation outlining the running of this department is now available. Comprehensive programmes of work scheduling the topics to be covered were presented. These were relevant to the syllabuses and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level of ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, and included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets, and an organised and comprehensive stock of support material suitable for all levels. An extensive range of cross-curricular planning was presented, along with a particularly well-planned and interesting TY programme. This included instrument making, creating and editing a short soundtrack for a piece of film and a variety of practical music-making opportunities incorporating activities from the Religion, Art and Woodwork departments.
The Music teachers work effectively as a team, planning programmes of work for the year and organising activities for the many extra-curricular groups. From discussion with the teachers it was found that considerable thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all Music courses in the school. There is regular contact and cooperation between them in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabuses with their classes. Classes are assigned on a rotational basis and, where possible, extra-curricular activities are assigned, which allows each teacher to focus on his or her individual strengths.
In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general a high level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, audio resources etc. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
The Music teachers are also members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords them 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 teachers avail of any ongoing training courses which contribute to their 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 and work-orientated atmosphere prevailed. Material was presented in a coherent, confident and animated manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a warm friendly rapport between the students and the teachers at all times. There was a high level of student engagement in lessons seen, with a strong emphasis on music-making activities. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. Teachers valued students’ contributions to class discussions and used praise effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
A wide variety of methodologies was seen in the lessons observed. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability. Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were utilised to very good effect. In a lesson focussing on the cantata by Bach, Jesu, der du meine Seele, for example, cadences were identified aurally, the bass line, harmonies and theme were played by students, and the theoretical material was reinforced and consolidated through further skilful questioning by the teacher and thorough scrutinising of the score by the students. This linking of activities and active participation by the students is commendable, does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material, extends the range of musical experience of the students and is highly effective in developing critical listening skills.
In the lessons focussing on preparation for the impending practical examinations, a very high standard of both vocal and instrumental performance obtained. The students perform regularly for the whole school and this contributes to their development as confident, competent players. The in-class performances also add to their experience and the concentration and attention from their peers, paired with very insightful observations and constructive criticism, are to be commended. Total student participation in all these ensembles and supportive and assured accompaniments by the teachers, enhanced the quality of these performances. This atmosphere of autonomous learning, with the teacher as facilitator and enabler, is highly commendable and contributes to students taking responsibility for their own learning. Furthermore, this focus on examination performance coupled with sound advice from the teachers on the nature of performing ensures that students are extremely well prepared for their practical examinations and are very familiar with the process.
The teachers employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. In these lessons, a collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-peer interaction ensued, where the Music teachers provided guidance through various stages, used skilful techniques to elicit ideas from the students and provided a highly stimulating and challenging music-learning environment. Despite the shortcomings relating to the OHP and others discussed above, in the main, resources were used appropriately. However, when these shortcomings are addressed the effectiveness of these teaching aids will be enhanced considerably.
The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are very well addressed in De La Salle College, and they are linked and integrated in a balanced way. The commitment to the Sound before Symbol philosophy, the varied activities and methods used to reinforce learning, and the collaborative way in which the more examination-orientated aspects of the syllabus are addressed, allowing for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students, are to be commended.
The teachers’ Music knowledge, skills and experience ensure high expectations and a challenging learning environment for the students with subsequent high standards of performance. In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to these high standards. Some groups exceeded the required standard for their level and this is to be commended. Students’ folders, workbooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, and were generally neat in appearance.
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 daily basis and mostly corrected the following day. A system of continuous assessment, which includes homework, tests at the end of a topic, and practical work, exists for all classes with detailed records kept by the teachers. It was good to note that, in addition to a grade, many of these assessments received a comment or words of encouragement from the teachers. This is to be commended.
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. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their sons’ progress.
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, with the principal and with the deputy principals at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.