An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65300D
Date of inspection: 26 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rockwell College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 the 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.
Rockwell College is a co-educational school. It is a Holy Ghost school under the patronage of the Des Places Educational Association.
First-, second- and third-year classes have four English lessons per week. This is adequate provision. Transition Year classes have three English lessons per week, which is adequate. Classes in fifth and sixth year have six English lessons per week and this is good provision. The repeat Leaving Certificate class has five English lessons per week and this is good provision. Classes normally retain the same English teacher between first and second year. Classes always retain their English teacher between second and third year and between fifth and sixth year. This is positive as it allows the development of consistent pedagogical practices with particular class groups.
Classes in junior cycle are of mixed ability. Classes in Transition Year are also of mixed ability. This is worthwhile as it reflects the spirit and aims of the Transition Year programme. Classes in fifth and sixth year are streamed. Students are free to choose their preferred level in fifth year. This decision is informed by advice from English teachers and their results in the Junior Certificate examination. It is suggested that a factor which might further aid in such decisions might be students’ performance during their Transition Year studies. Should a student wish to change levels during the course of their senior-cycle studies, teachers meet to discuss the situation and contact between the school and the student’s parents facilitates the change of level. Students’ ability to change levels is greatly aided by the fact that classes in fifth and sixth year run concurrently in almost all instances. In the case of the one sixth-year class which runs separately to the other sixth-year classes for just one lesson, it is suggested that this variation might be eliminated if practicable within the inevitable constraints of the timetabling system. The spread of lessons across the week is generally good, but it is suggested that opportunities to ensure class contact with the subject on every day of the week should be explored in the case of fifth- and sixth-year classes where students do not have an English lesson on a Wednesday. This suggestion is made, once again, with an acknowledgement of the necessary limitations of the timetabling system.
There is a school library and major plans are underway for its redevelopment, with a newly adjoining computer research room and a computer classroom. The school staff and senior management are to be complimented for their commitment and educational vision in seeking to develop these facilities. There is a post of responsibility in connection with the library and a library policy has recently been created. It is particularly noteworthy that, rather than waiting for the new library facility to be completed, moves have already been made to enhance library services. An imaginative approach has been taken, beginning with the updating of the library stock with new fiction which might be of interest to students. Surveys have been conducted among the student body to inform book choice and input has also been sought from book retailers in the area. A wide variety of novels has been placed in the first- and second-year study room. These are accessed by students twice a week before study and once a fortnight during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time in English lessons. More books are stored in a separate room which is opened twice a week at break times for all students to avail of, but particularly with a view to encouraging reading for pleasure among Transition Year students. The English department also seeks five book reports to be completed by students during the course of their first-year studies. The pro-active approach displayed towards the development of library services is most laudable. Further ideas which might be of service, particularly after the redevelopment of the current library, might include the purchase of periodicals and magazines to entice reluctant readers, occasional reading competitions, teacher modelling of library use, the display of peer reviews and the provision of some ‘cosy corners’ in the library. The recent publication Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project might also prove useful as a source from which to garner new ideas. .
Access to audio-visual equipment for English teachers is good. This is positive, given the importance of film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus. However, the importance of ensuring that televisions have an adequate screen size should be emphasised. It must be stated that this observation is made in the context of the already planned enhancement of audio-visual facilities in the school as part of the overall redevelopment of the building. This anticipated improvement is to be welcomed. English teachers are provided with baserooms. This is very worthwhile, allowing opportunities for the storage of teaching materials and the development of an ‘English atmosphere’ in these rooms.
There is an ICT (Information and Communications Technology) room, along with another ICT room for use by students who are boarding in the school. Teachers have access to the ICT room as required. There was some evidence of ICT use in English classes. Given the planned expansion of ICT facilities in the near future, it is recommended that English teachers increase their use of ICT where possible. This should be done, not only as a means of enhancing students’ technological literacy, but also as a motivational tool to encourage an awareness of the importance of research, drafting and redrafting as a part of the writing process. Useful areas to explore might include the setting of webquests for use as focal points in project work, the adoption of word-processing packages for use by students in further developing written homework and the creation of a list of ‘favourite’ web-based resources for the English subject plan.
New teachers are met by the subject co-ordinator. The co-ordinator discusses best practice with the new teacher and aids in their integration into the school. These arrangements are commendable and it is suggested that they might be noted in the subject plan. The subject plan, in turn, should form a key part of any new teacher’s introduction to the teaching of English in the school.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. Material from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) is distributed to staff and a teacher has recently attended an inservice training course on film studies. This is creditable and the English department is encouraged to continue to avail of inservice training opportunities. These might include the possibility of one teacher attending inservice training and ‘bringing back’ the ideas encountered as an element in a departmental meeting. Equally, the possibility of the English department arranging a school visit from one of the support services might be explored.
The English department is involved in organising a number of co-curricular activities for students. These include debating, public speaking, drama outings and a toastmasters’ course for fifth-year students. English teachers are to be praised for the commitment displayed through these activities.
It is commendable that the school has engaged in the school development planning process. There is evidence of good collaboration between teachers in the English department. A faculty group for English has been established and a subject co-ordinator has been appointed. Formal meetings of the faculty take place once per term and minutes are kept. An additional meeting is often held at the time of the mock examinations. Informal meetings of the department are also organised. Recent meetings of the English department have focused on the use of the diagnostic window provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to analyse current needs and policy decisions regarding text choice and class organisation in the subject. The arrangements around departmental planning are creditable.
A subject plan has been developed for English. Plans have been created for each year group and areas such as catering for students with special educational needs and cross-curricular planning have also been explored. English results are regularly compared to national averages. The department is to be complimented for its work in these areas. It is suggested that, in order to enhance the ability of the department to view the subject plan as a developing, changing document, the ICT template available on the SLSS website at www.slss.ie should be exploited. This may be downloaded from the resources section of the site and will allow for constant revision of the plan as and when such revision is necessary. This would also obviate the necessity for the more laborious rewriting that a handwritten document would demand. Further areas for development with regard to the subject plan might include the expansion of the current common plans to incorporate a skills-based approach linked to common time scales and syllabus objectives, a list of methodologies used in the teaching of English along with a rationale for their use, the increased use of ICT in the subject, the expansion of the section regarding students with special educational needs and links to the primary curriculum.
Texts are varied in junior and senior cycle. However, in junior cycle this variation occurs within a relatively narrow band of texts and teachers are encouraged to expand their choice of texts for these classes. Two resources which might prove useful are the English area of the SLSS website and www.childrensbooksireland.com. Greater variation would facilitate the suiting of particular texts to specific class contexts, thus enhancing students’ engagement with the texts being studied, along with the literacy skills which the syllabus demands. A very positive aspect of the department’s planning is the study of two separate dramas in second and third year, allowing for greater exposure of students to the genre. In almost all instances, planning for the study of senior-cycle texts was within syllabus guidelines. Where this was not the case, the study of a third comparative mode in senior-cycle classes, as is required by the syllabus, is recommended. Texts in senior cycle vary depending on teachers’ choices. It is suggested that the department, as part of its subject planning, might examine the impact of these arrangements on ease of movement between levels and classes for students and whether an agreed level of synchronisation might be of benefit.
The Transition Year (TY) programme for English currently includes a ten-week toastmasters’ course as an element in students’ evening study, book reports and oral presentations. The possibility of Transition Year students entering a drama festival has been discussed and a visiting teacher from America has taught a module on American literature. These positive aspects of the programme should be consolidated and developed through the creation of a subject-specific syllabus for Transition Year English. This document could provide a focus for the review of the Transition Year programme that is mentioned in the minutes of recent departmental meetings. Support in this endeavour may be accessed through the resources area of the Transition Year Support Service website at www.transitionyear.ie. It is suggested that the opportunity to expose TY students to literary experiences they might not otherwise have had should be an important element in the programme. This would involve ensuring that texts they will subsequently study as elements in their Leaving Certificate course are avoided during Transition Year.
There are a number of students in receipt of language support. Students who might benefit from language-support lessons are identified through assessments which are administered on the first day of their stay in the school. Normally such students reside in the college for one year. The school provides language-support lessons for these students from its own funds. A resource which may prove useful in this area is the Integrate Ireland Language and Training website at www.iilt.ie. Integrate Ireland Language and Training provides material to aid in the teaching of English as a second language, as well as organising seminars twice yearly for principals and language support teachers.
A number of teachers have undertaken courses in the area of learning support. As the teacher allocation for the school is above the normal quota for the number of enrolled students, resource hours are distributed among the existing staff allocation. A school report is sought from students’ primary schools to inform the college whether incoming students are receiving literacy support. An assessment test is also administered on the first day of school in September to new first-year students.
A combination of one-to-one withdrawal and small group withdrawal is used in literacy support. Individual education plans (IEPs) have been developed and these are reviewed twice yearly. IEPs are discussed with parents at parent-teacher meetings and contact is maintained with parents throughout the school year. The school is encouraged to continue with the development of IEPs. Literacy-support students’ progress is also reviewed through mainstream participation in end-of-term examinations. High-interest/low-reading-ability books are provided for literacy-support students through a local library. Peer learning is occasionally used and shared reading is employed as a strategy by the learning support teacher. Visiting students from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh have also provided assistance for literacy-support students in the past.
English teachers liaise with literacy and language support teachers through a combination of formal and informal consultation. Time for inputs regarding special educational needs is set aside at staff meetings. This is positive.
Meetings are held with the local representative from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) twice yearly. The school has recently developed a special educational needs policy in light of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. This is creditable and the work involved in producing the document is recognised. It is suggested that this work might be continued and built upon through the revisiting of the policy to incorporate a number of other areas with regard to students with special educational needs. Some of these areas might include the setting out of a staged approach towards the identification of and provision for students with special educational needs, the assessment instruments to be used in this identification, the involvement of parents in the creation of students’ education plans and increased detail with regard to the role of subject teachers. A number of subject departments should be involved in the further development of the policy, including the English department. Support in this endeavour can be accessed through the Special Education Support Service (SESS).
Overall, a good standard of teaching and learning was observed. Lesson objectives were clear and planning was presented in almost all cases. In some instances, the level of preparation by teachers was most impressive. There was a good relationship between teachers and students. Classes were well managed and humour was, on occasion, used as an effective management tool. Pacing was good in the majority of lessons. Where this was less evident, a variation in the teaching methodologies being utilised would have been of benefit.
A range of resources was used to good effect by teachers in English lessons. These resources included the blackboard, photocopies, an overhead projector, speech cards, television and DVD. . Teachers are encouraged to continue to expand the use of concrete and visual resources as these may appeal more to some students’ learning styles than purely verbal presentations. There was some evidence of the use of dictionaries in a number of English classes. This was worthwhile and English teachers are encouraged to expand this practice throughout the department and, potentially, to include the use of thesauruses as a further aid to students’ vocabulary acquisition.
The blackboard was used in a number of lessons and teachers’ work was clear and direct where this was the case. However, in a number of lessons where student contributions were very good and worthwhile ideas were created by the class, it would have been beneficial had the blackboard been used as a tool for the consolidation of this work. In one instance, the excellent work of the class and the teacher might easily have led to the scaffolded construction of a complete examination answer had such an approach been taken.
Questioning was used effectively in lessons as a teaching and evaluative tool. A number of lessons incorporated the reading aloud of texts and this worked well as a means of highlighting the sound features of the language being studied. An equally effective strategy was employed in a lesson where the teacher used a pre-reading exercise to focus students on techniques used in a piece of writing. In another class a teacher utilised a guided-reading exercise to increase students’ personal engagement with the text in question. A further extension of these strategies might have been the division of students into pairs or groups to facilitate differentiation and as an aid in the development of oral communication skills. In general, however, there was little evidence of the use of pair work or group work in English lessons. It is recommended that the English department endeavour to expand its use of pair work, group work and other active methodologies. The Second Level Support Service (SLSS) would be a useful resource when seeking to investigate these methodologies for incorporation into classroom practice.
There was a good focus on language in most English lessons. This was evident in one senior-cycle class where a focus on answering technique for the State examinations was combined with an approach which strongly emphasised the importance of language and sound in the study of poetry. This was very beneficial. On occasion, the possibility of moving from the study of language devices into the use of these devices by students as an element in written classwork might have been explored more fully in order to approach the skills of reading and writing in a more holistic and integrated fashion. It is recommended that the English department expand the good practice which already exists in the department through the increased integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in classwork.
There was evidence of print-rich and text-rich environments in some English classrooms. This is worthwhile and the English department is encouraged to expand the use of print- and text-rich environments where practicable. Incorporating keyword displays, character diagrams, students’ genre exercises and media posters into the classroom environment would be most effective as a means of enhancing students’ visual literacy while also increasing their awareness of the role of audience in their written work.
Students were attentive in classes and worked diligently. A willingness to answer questions and engage in discussions was evident. In one instance, students were particularly responsive to a teacher’s efforts to link the material being explored to current events. Spontaneous note-taking was also in evidence during the course of the inspection and copybooks were well organised.
Homework which was assigned and corrected regularly was of a good standard. In one instance, an imaginative approach was adopted as students were encouraged to write a report about a recent rugby match in the guise of a well-known commentator. It is suggested that in classes where students may occasionally neglect to present homework, an appropriate strategy might be to assign an additional exercise to be completed while the rest of the class is focused on the correction of that day’s exercise. In one class, peer correction of each others’ written work was employed effectively. The use of comment-based formative assessment was in evidence in all classes. Particularly notable was the use of the PCLM (Clarity of Purpose, Coherence of Delivery, Efficiency of Language Use, Accuracy of Mechanics) marking system used in the Leaving Certificate examination for the correction of senior-cycle students’ homework. All of this was most positive and teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this practice where practicable and within time constraints.
There were some examples of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in the setting of homework. In one class, students were instructed to write a dialogue based on their study of a Shakespearean play. However, in general, this approach was not in evidence. Consequently, it is recommended that the English department increase the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in students’ homework.
Formal term examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer. Those students who are participating in the State examinations receive mock examinations each year. Class tests and assessments are also organised at the discretion of the teacher. The subject plan highlights the practice of teachers in maintaining records of attendance and achievement in their journals. Common examinations are not currently organised for classes in the same year group. It is therefore recommended that common examinations be co-ordinated between members of the English department as this would allow for the comparison of individual student achievement with the performance of an entire year cohort, while simultaneously avoiding the needless duplication of work by different teachers. The impact of this strategy could be further aided through the use of common marking schemes by teachers. An area which the department might also explore is that of varying modes of assessment in order to facilitate differentiated approaches to student achievement where this might prove beneficial. A further resource which might be helpful in informing the development of the department’s assessment and homework procedures can be found in the assessment for learning area of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie.
Parent-teacher meetings are held annually. Parents receive reports regarding students’ application in English every four weeks. Term reports based on students’ examination results are also sent to parents.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is a good collaborative atmosphere between teachers in the English department.
Lessons were planned and prepared well.
A professional approach has been adopted towards subject planning.
The English department has taken a pro-active approach towards developing library services for students in the school. The school has been supportive of these moves.
There is a special educational needs policy in the school. The school is encouraged to develop this policy further.
A print-rich environment was observed in a number of classrooms. Teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this practice.
Good practice is evident in the department’s approach to Transition Year English. The English department is encouraged to consolidate this good practice through revision of the programme and the writing of a subject-specific Transition Year English syllabus.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The English department is encouraged to expand its use of ICT in the subject.
English teachers are encouraged to increase the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in students’ classwork and homework.
The English department is encouraged to expand its use of pair and group work, along with other active methodologies, in English classes.
The three comparative modes should always be studied in senior-cycle classes.
Common examinations should be used where appropriate.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.