An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Ringsend Technical Institute
Cambridge Road, Dublin 4
Roll number: 70200D
Date of inspection: 30 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ringsend Technical Institute. 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 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.
There is very good provision of English lessons on the timetable. All year groups have five core English lessons each week. Students in receipt of extra support, including those who follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), receive up to five extra literacy classes each week; for example, first-year students in receipt of additional support have four extra classes, while second-year and third-year students receiving support have five extra classes each week. There is good practice in that English classes are timetabled concurrently from second year, which allows students to move between levels. Further good practice was observed in that there is an even distribution of English lessons across the week and students retain the same English teacher within cycles.
There are two class groups in each year group in the school, with the exception of first year, where there is just one class group. The school has adopted the commendable policy of encouraging all students to aim for their highest achievable level. Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups in first year. They are then set, from the beginning of second year, into one class group which contains a mix of higher-level and ordinary-level students and one class group containing ordinary-level students. Five teachers currently teach English in the school. It was reported that English teachers agree annually which levels they will teach.
Students receiving extra support are withdrawn, in small groups or sometimes on a one-to-one basis, from Irish or Religion for this support. There is no standalone JCSP core class group and JCSP students in each year group are withdrawn together for extra support. JCSP students in first year receive their extra literacy support from three teachers, which requires a lot of collaboration among these support teachers. The Department of Education and Science in their evaluation of the JCSP recommends that “Schools should keep their JCSP teaching teams as small as practicable, consistent with having enough team members with the range of skills necessary to provide an effective programme”.It is suggested that the English teachers also consider team teaching as another strategy for supporting students.
The school operates many initiatives to support literacy development among students; these include ‘Readalong’, ‘Make a Book’ and a ‘Reading Challenge’. This year a new strategy has been introduced. Students are expected to read and review one book a week chosen from book boxes in each English classroom. This is commended. It is planned that more challenging books will also be included in these boxes for the more able student, which is to be encouraged. In addition, the school should continue to explore the possibility of using the ‘Writers in Schools’ scheme, in order to further foster an appreciation of reading and writing among students, from first year onwards.
Incoming first-year students are tested prior to entry to the school. All students are given a reading test at the end of the ‘Reading Challenge’ to ascertain improvements in literacy levels. There was evidence of improvements in reading ages after this initiative.
A small number of students are also in receipt of language support. It is recommended that the Integrate Ireland Language and Training website www.iilt.ie be explored as it is a useful source of advice about accessing good resources, and about testing and teaching newcomer students.
Students of English are brought to the theatre to see plays on their course, and drama groups also visit the school. This is highly commended. Students also have opportunities to write for the school publication ‘Ringtones’. Students can also participate in the Docklands Schools Radio Project.
The school has a well-stocked library containing a range of books which are all catalogued. Although teachers can bring students to the library, it is not used for borrowing books, which is regrettable. The special educational needs (SEN) department has built up a range of useful resources to support students. There is also a well-stocked library of books in the learning support room, from which students borrow books. There is a television available to English teachers which can be accessed on a booking system. Teachers also have access to a video and DVD player.
Teachers have received in-service training on JCSP literacy strategies, training from the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee on teaching students with special educational needs (SEN) and have also received school-based Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in-service training. The organisation of such in-service for teachers in the school is commended.
The school is well resourced in terms of computers. Management reported that it is exploring the possibility of using computers to enhance teaching and learning. This is commended.
There is no designated co-ordinator of English at present although it was reported that the deputy principal, who is also an English teacher, takes responsibility for organising the subject. It is suggested that the English teachers agree on the appointment of a co-ordinator on a rotating basis in order for all teachers to share responsibility for the co-ordination of the subject.
Management provides two formal subject planning meetings each year and it was reported that English teachers also meet informally on a regular basis. It was reported that joint decisions are made on appropriate texts to teach for each year group. It was also reported that English teachers agree on common topics to teach until class groups are finalised. This is good practice. Minutes are recorded of English meetings which is very good practice and they reflect good discussion.
All teachers presented individual curriculum plans which included course content for each term, resources available and assessment procedures. The first-year class group is taught a range of genres, including a novel and a drama. Good practice was also seen in that a Shakespearean drama or extracts from a drama are taught to the top third-year class group. Some class groups study three novels and two plays between first year and third year as well as studying a film. This is highly commended. However, some lower-ability class groups study just one novel and one film across second and third year, which means that students’ exposure to texts is limited and they are not adequately prepared for the greater challenges of Leaving Certificate English. There was evidence that where students were challenged by being introduced to a range of texts they succeeded well and were well prepared for senior cycle. It is necessary that English teachers ensure that students are taught a continuum of skills from first year through to sixth year and that an incremental acquisition of skills and knowledge is achieved. Therefore, it is recommended that English teachers agree the key skills or learning outcomes that each year group should learn. Teachers should also agree on appropriate content for each year group and share strategies for teaching this content.
Planning for assisting students with learning support or special educational needs is generally good. Students with literacy support needs are identified through the assessment tests for incoming students, reports from feeder primary schools, school assessments, teacher observations and, for some students, from psychological reports. There is no SEN policy in the school at present. Given the fact that there are a large number of students in the school with SEN it is strongly recommended that a written policy be formulated.
There is good liaison between the SEN department and English teachers. The SEN co-ordinator attends English department meetings and the JCSP curriculum content plans complement the English teachers’ plans. However, there is a need for mainstream teachers to ensure that they are not duplicating the work done in SEN or learning-support lessons. This is because there was one instance observed where the content being taught in the mainstream English lesson would have been more appropriate in a support lesson.
Lessons were most successful when the purpose of the lesson was clearly articulated by the teacher at the beginning. In order to develop this good practice, it is suggested that the aim of each lesson be written on the board at the outset and that at the end of the lesson teachers and students together determine if the purpose has been achieved. Clear instructions were given to students in all cases.
In most lessons there was good use of differentiation. In these lessons, individual attention was given to students where appropriate, which was possible as class groups were small. In a mixed-ability class group where a short story was being taught, differentiation was achieved by appropriate questioning which led to all students being involved in the lesson and ensured understanding by all of the lesson content. The more able students were suitably challenged, for example by the introduction of new vocabulary, while less able students were also well catered for. Questioning was best when the teachers asked questions of named students and when teachers asked higher-order as well as lower-order questions in order to ensure that all ability levels were catered for. There was one example observed where the most able students in this class were working at the same pace as the less able as there was no differentiation of lesson content. Best practice was seen when the content of the lessons was suitably challenging for all students but where less able students were given extra support on an individual basis or through use of appropriate questioning. Where teachers had high expectations of students the students were challenged and responded well. Overall, when students were sufficiently challenged and were given regular opportunities for writing there was clear evidence of learning.
There was evidence that the extra literacy support for JCSP students is grounded in real life situations; for example, students learned vocabulary associated with useful themes and had to write stories based on this vocabulary. Good practice was seen in all lessons when key words were recorded on the board. The thematic approach, where students studied texts about similar themes, for example the theme of winter, is commended. It is recommended that teachers sometimes integrate the teaching of language and literature so that students could be encouraged to write a diary entry or letter for example, from the point of view of a character in a studied text. In this way students will see English as an integrated whole rather than a series of genre taught in isolation.
In most lessons, there were missed opportunities for more student participation and discussion. For example, when introducing a new topic there could have been more student discussion and engagement with the topic. When introducing a new poem, the teacher should first try to elicit a general response and enthusiasm for the poem as well as eliciting an overall understanding before moving on to examining the technicalities of the language of the poem. The layout of desks in classrooms could be changed to facilitate more student interaction.
Good teacher feedback and affirmation of student efforts led to a positive classroom environment in many cases. In general, students were well behaved. However, it is recommended, in order to maintain good discipline, as was the case in most classes that students be assigned desks as opposed to being allowed to sit where they like. Students were put working independently or in pairs or groups at times which facilitated independent or co-operative learning. Such strategies are commended.
English teachers have their own classrooms and many of these were stimulating and pleasant learning environments. Best practice was seen when samples of students’ work, dictionaries, tapes of plays and other useful material relating to English were displayed. The use of audio versions of novels and plays is commended as it allows for the smooth reading of texts and for speculation about the dramatisation of scenes.
Some class groups’ folders were exemplary in that they were well maintained and contained evidence of regular written work and very useful resources often created by the teacher to supplement learning. Good practice was seen in that a portion of the end-of-term marks is allocated for the maintenance of folders. Students’ copies were also maintained to a good standard and the fact that teachers laminate copies for students is commended.
English teachers are commended for ensuring that students write assigned homework into their journals. Best practice was seen when assigned homework was discussed in class to ensure student understanding. There was evidence of half-term and regular in-class assessments in English. The school is commended for its analysis of state examination results against national averages in relation to grades and uptake of levels. English results indicate that few students do foundation level and that students achieve quite well in their chosen level.
Individual lesson plans indicated a strong emphasis on the importance of developing writing skills, which is highly commended. Some teachers assign challenging written homework in a range of genres on a very regular basis while, in other cases, there was a lack of consistency about the assignment of written homework. Regular practice in writing in a range of genres is one of the keys to success in English. It is therefore recommended that the English department agree a policy about the frequency of homework. In addition, the focus on students having to draft and redraft their work, which was seen especially in first year, is highly commended and again should be extended to all class groups.
JCSP profiling meetings are held three times each year and there was evidence of good profiling of JCSP students. All junior cycle students have weekly spelling tests, which is good practice. In the correction of homework there were some very good examples of formative feedback given to students with helpful teacher comments that were supportive and instructive and challenged the students to improve. In other cases, there was just a date and tick written by the teacher at the end of the homework. It is recommended that all English teachers adopt the practice of giving regular instructive feedback to their students in correcting their work.
House examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer for students in first, second and fifth year. Third and sixth-year students sit ‘mock’ examinations. These are corrected internally. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for parents of students in first, second and fifth year and there are two annual parent-teacher meetings for parents of students in third and sixth year. This is good practice. It is planned to introduce after-school study for third-year and sixth-year students after Christmas.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good provision of English lessons on the timetable.
· The school has adopted the commendable policy of encouraging all students to aim for their highest achievable level.
· SEN students receive extra literacy support and there was evidence of improvements in reading ages from the beginning to the end of each year. The school operates many initiatives to support literacy development among students.
· English teachers have their own classrooms and many of these were stimulating and pleasant learning environments.
· When students were sufficiently challenged and were given regular opportunities for writing there was clear evidence of learning.
· English teachers are commended for ensuring that students write homework into their journals.
· The school is commended for its analysis of state examination results against national averages in relation to grades and uptake of levels. English results indicate that few students do foundation level and that students achieve quite well in their chosen level.
· There was evidence of good profiling of JCSP students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· English teachers should ensure that students are taught a continuum of skills from first year through to sixth year and that an incremental acquisition of texts, skills and knowledge is achieved. Teachers should agree appropriate lesson content for each year.
· A written SEN policy should be formulated.
· There is a need for some mainstream teachers to ensure that they are not duplicating the work done in SEN or learning-support classes and to ensure that the more able students are challenged.
· More opportunities for student participation and discussion should be facilitated.
· The English department should agree the following policies, often already practised by individual teachers:
Ø Write the purpose of each lesson on the board
Ø Adopt a thematic approach to teaching English and integrate the teaching of language and literature
Ø Adopt a policy of assigning challenging written homework in a range of genre on a regular agreed basis
Ø Adopt formative assessment practices in correcting homework and encourage the drafting and redrafting of work
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.