An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Killorglin Community College
Killorglin, County Kerry
Roll number: 70460G
Date of inspection: 10 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killorglin Community 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 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 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.
Killorglin Community College is a co-educational school.
First-, second- and third-year classes have five English lessons per week. This is good provision. Classes in fourth year (Leaving Certificate Year 1) and fifth year (Leaving Certificate Year 2) have six English lessons per week and this is good provision. The spread of English lessons across the week in junior cycle is appropriate, with students achieving the maximum number of class-contact points with the subject. In senior cycle it is suggested that measures to ensure a maximum number of contact points between students and the subject should be undertaken where practicable and within the limitations of the timetabling system.
The principal has intimated that one of the school’s qualified English teachers may be redeployed during the coming school year. This would necessitate the combining of higher and ordinary level English classes in senior cycle. This is not ideal and it is suggested that any means of alleviating the impact of this development should be explored. The principal has indicated that the allocation of classes and levels has largely operated on a rotational basis up to this year, while also taking cognisance of teachers’ qualifications and experience. English classes retain their teachers from year to year in senior cycle. At junior cycle this approach also obtains in so far as this is possible. Such arrangements are positive, allowing for the development of consistent pedagogical strategies with particular class groups.
A system of setting is used for classes in all year groups. An assessment test given to incoming first-year students is used to inform placement in class groups. Placement is also influenced by teachers’ assessments of students’ progress in first year. Students’ own wishes with regard to the level they wish to attempt in the State examinations are discussed with teachers and students are facilitated in the course they choose to pursue. English lessons in each year group are run concurrently, thus allowing for ease of movement by students between class groups where necessary.
There is a school library, which can be accessed through a larger room that is sometimes used as a classroom. Students are brought to the library occasionally to borrow books and the library may also be accessed at lunchtimes. The library is also used for classes with students with special educational needs. Given the limited access which occasionally arises with regard to the main library, it is very pleasing to note the development of a mini-library in one English classroom. The purchase of books for this mini-library has been supported by the school and the selection of texts is eclectic, up to date and enticing for young adult readers. It is suggested that, given the very positive provision of baserooms for teachers in the school, the development of book boxes or mini-libraries in other English classrooms might also be pursued, thus allowing for greater access to reading material for students. Such a development could incorporate the purchase of high-interest/low reading ability books for reluctant readers, the occasional provision of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time for students and the organising of reading competitions and reading displays for junior-cycle classes. One such approach which has already been adopted by the school is students’ participation in the MS Readathon, a positive endeavour.
There is good access to audio-visual facilities for English teachers. The school is to be praised for its support of the subject in this manner, given the importance of film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus.
There are three computer workshops. The school has broadband internet access. A library of software relevant to literacy support is also being developed for use by the learning support department. It is planned that the use of the school’s information and communication technology (ICT) facilities by Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) students will be restricted to certain days of the week from next year in order to widen the scope for the use of ICT by mainstream classes. Some use of ICT was evident in students’ work in English classes. This was worthwhile and it is suggested that the English department should widen its use of ICT. Two potential areas to explore might be the use of wordprocessing packages to enhance students’ presentation of their written work and the setting of webquests to be used in conjunction with students’ project work in the subject. This latter strategy could serve not only to enhance students’ technological literacy, but also to increase opportunities for the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. It provides funds for the purchase of reference books and facilitates teachers’ attendance at inservice training courses. A number of whole-staff inservice training courses have been organised. A member of the English department recently attended a course on creative writing and the English department maintains links with its subject association. All of this is praiseworthy.
The English department has organised a number of co-curricular activities for students. Some of these have included visits to plays and attendance at the Tralee film festival. Teachers’ efforts in this regard are to be commended.
A subject co-ordinator for English has been appointed. Two formal departmental meetings were held at the beginning of this year. These meetings focused on beginning the process of subject planning in the department. Formal meetings of the English department have been arranged on an intermittent basis up to this year, although there has been frequent informal consultation in the department. It is suggested that a number of formal departmental meetings should be organised each year and that minutes should be kept of these meetings. Subject department planning is in the very early stages of development. It is recommended that a subject plan be created as a means of supporting best practice in the school and of encouraging collaboration between teachers of English. Typical areas for exploration in such a plan might include the development of common, termly, skills-based plans, the formalisation of approaches to students with special educational needs along with links to the special educational needs/learning support department, and an assessment policy for English. A resource which may prove useful in this latter endeavour is the assessment for learning area on the NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) website at www.ncca.ie. It should be emphasised that each of these areas should be dealt with in turn in order to approach the development of the subject in a graduated, manageable way.
There is limited review and variation of texts at junior and senior cycle. It is recommended that greater variation of texts be introduced at all levels and cycles in order to suit particular class contexts and interests. This should occur as part of a regular review by the English department of the suitability of both texts and textbooks which have been used, along with an exploration of others which might prove more suitable in the future. Support for text choice at junior cycle can be accessed through www.childrensbooksireland.com and in the English section of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website at www.slss.ie. In the majority of classes, text choice was suited to students’ abilities and the objectives of the syllabus. However, where this was not the case, it is suggested that the study of a wider range of texts would be of service. In particular it is recommended that all students study at least one drama and one novel at some stage during their second- and third-year studies. Such encounters would prove most beneficial for students who have been reluctant readers and who may not have been exposed to the possibilities which these two genres can afford.
The school has one language support student at present. It is referred to the website of Integrate Ireland Language and Training at www.iilt.ie as a potentially useful resource in this area in the future.
Contact is made with local primary schools regarding the literacy support needs of first-year students in the year preceding their entry to the school. An assessment test is also conducted in the February or March prior to their entry and, again, primary schools are contacted if the results of this test suggest that students not previously identified are in need of support. Subject teachers are made aware of students who have particular learning needs. The house examinations held at Christmas are also used to identify students who may be having difficulties in first year. Discussions between the learning support teacher and subject teachers further inform this process.
Students are provided with literacy support through a combination of one-to-one or group withdrawal and the creation of small class groups. Given the prevalence of concurrent lessons on the school timetable, the potential for the provision of a form of classroom support for students might also be considered in the future, where practicable. The principal is currently working to reduce the number of teachers directly involved in the provision of literacy support and resource hours and this is positive, allowing for the development of a more cohesive learning support department.
The school is beginning to develop individual education plans (IEPs) for students in receipt of resource hours. This is creditable and it is encouraged to continue with this process, particularly with regard to the role of parents and subject teachers in the drafting and implementation of these plans. Equally, the retesting of students with literacy support needs might be re-examined to allow for such work to be done at the end of each cycle of learning outlined in students’ IEPs. Work on drafting a special educational needs/learning support policy has also begun. The Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) attached to the school has been involved in this process and all teachers participated in a brainstorming session with regard to the area of special educational needs during an inservice training session with the SENO. A working group on the formulation of a policy has been created, comprising members from a selection of different subject departments. This work has also been informed by the attendance of the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator at a County Kerry VEC inservice training day.
Recent courses provided on a whole-staff basis on the subject of special educational needs and literacy support have included input from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) on its role, training on Engaging the Reluctant Learner from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) and ICT and Learning Support from County Kerry VEC. A further area which might prove of interest in a whole-staff context is the creation of a whole-school literacy policy. Information on this type of strategy can be accessed through the SLSS.
Overall, the standard of teaching was satisfactory. Evidence of planning was presented for all lessons. Objectives were clear and lessons were well structured. In one instance, the writing out of headings, each of which would be explored by the class over the following forty minutes, was most positive. Such an approach allowed for a clear appreciation by students of the goal towards which they were being directed in the lesson. In a number of cases pacing was good and, where pacing was less successful, this might have been alleviated through a more limited range of material being covered in the lesson. A further aid might have been the use of more varied methodologies. Questioning was used effectively in classes and was most successful where a mix of global and directed questions was evident, along with a consciousness of the need for even distribution of questions across class groups.
Significant quantities of teaching resources have been built up by teachers. A wide variety of resources was used in the teaching of English. Some of these included a flipchart, a selection of newspapers, the whiteboard, colour photographs and a map of Ireland. The consciousness displayed in all classes of the need for concrete and visual resources which served to engage students who might be less motivated by purely verbal or abstract presentations was impressive. In one class, the use of photocopies of different types of news reports, chosen to appeal to students’ particular interests, was very worthwhile. A further development which might be of benefit is the use of folders by students in which they could store such photocopies and other resources distributed by teachers. Teachers are to be commended for their imaginative use of resources in English lessons. It is suggested that the use of a dictionary and a thesaurus be incorporated into classes as normal practice among students. This would aid in vocabulary acquisition while also familiarising students with the skills needed for the utilisation of such texts.
There was a good focus on language in English lessons. An evocative reading of a poem began one lesson. There followed a discussion of the poem which maintained a very strong focus on the use of imagery in the piece. This was effective and was considerably added to through the skilful linking of the text with photographs of Irish scenes that the teacher provided for the class to examine. In another class a teacher read an extract from a tabloid newspaper, highlighting important features of the language used. This was worthwhile and might have been added to further through the focusing of students on the need for independent text-marking of language devices as the reading progressed, thus allowing for an energetic brainstorming session to follow.
The whiteboard and a flipchart were used in different lessons to emphasise key points. In one lesson, areas of importance were written on the whiteboard, while in a lesson on advertising, terms associated with the topic were outlined on a flipchart. While such approaches were positive, they could have been added to through the encouragement of independent activity and learning on the part of students. This might have been achieved through the adoption of pair work, group work and other active methodologies, leading students to contribute their own thoughts to brainstorming activities on the flipchart or the whiteboard. The use of such methodologies was not in evidence in English classes and it is consequently recommended that pair work, group work and other active methodologies be adopted more widely across the English department.
A print-rich, text-rich environment was evident in a number of lessons. This included some student displays created with the aid of information and communication technology (ICT), posters promoting reading, genre displays and a selection of teen fiction. This was most positive, as such displays aid in the creation of an ‘English atmosphere’ while also helping to inculcate an awareness of concepts such as audience, drafting and redrafting which are central to all good writing. The English department is encouraged to expand this part of its practice where possible. Further ideas which might be of use include the display of keywords and character diagrams in classrooms.
Students were engaged in lessons. They responded well to questions about texts which had been studied in class and displayed diligence with regard to notetaking in a number of classes. The longer-term impact of this activity might have been further added to through the use of dedicated notes copybooks by students. This would serve to increase their ability to access relevant notes at appropriate times during particular lessons or during the wider school year.
Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in all classes. Quantities of homework assigned were appropriate in almost all instances. Where this was not the case, a greater emphasis on written work might be of benefit as students ‘learn to write by writing.’ The occasional use of A4 copybooks in some classes might be of benefit in this regard. The utilisation of such copybooks would serve to highlight the greater status attributed to certain key written exercises while simultaneously focusing students on the type and amount of work which will be expected of them in the State examinations. The use of comment-based, formative assessment was evident. In the majority of cases this was of a good standard and teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this practice where possible, within time constraints.
There was some evidence in the majority of classes of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in students’ homework. One example was the writing of a letter by students from a character in a novel to his mother. While this was positive, it is recommended that teachers further expand their use of this strategy while also ensuring that a wider range of genres be incorporated into students’ homework than is currently the case. Such an approach will serve to increase students’ engagement with texts while also enhancing their appreciation of, and familiarity with, the language skills which the syllabus demands.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas and summer of each year. Those students who are participating in the State examinations receive mock examinations in February. Reports regarding students’ progress are sent home twice yearly. Two parent-teacher meetings are held each year. A meeting for parents of third- and fifth-year students is held before Christmas. The parents of another year group may also be included in these arrangements. A parent-teacher meeting is held in January for the rest of the student cohort. Students’ college journals are also used as a means of maintaining contact with parents. A parents’ association has recently been formed and parents are free to make an appointment with school staff if this is necessary. These arrangements are commendable.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Visual resources were used in all classes.
A print- and text-rich environment was evident in a number of lessons. The English department is encouraged to expand this practice where possible.
A subject co-ordinator has been appointed for English.
Subject planning is in the very early stages of development. The English department is encouraged to continue with this process.
A special educational needs/learning-support policy is in the process of being developed. This is positive and the school is encouraged to continue with this work.
Some use of ICT was observed in students’ work. Teachers are encouraged to expand the use of ICT as part of their practice.
There was a good focus on language in English lessons.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
An English subject plan should be developed.
Texts should be varied at junior and senior cycle.
The use of active methodologies such as pair and group work in the teaching of English should be expanded.
The integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus should be increased in homework.
All junior-cycle students should study at least one complete drama and one complete novel between second and third year.
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.