An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Coachford, County Cork
Roll number: 70960D
Date of inspection: 27 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coachford 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 teacher and had discussions with the teacher. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and teacher of Music. 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 is available to all students as an optional subject in Coachford College. The procedure for subject choice in first year is somewhat unique. All students choose two subjects from Music, Home Economics, Art, Metalwork and Woodwork before coming into first year and then choose again at the end of first year from blocks formed according to the ‘best fit’ approach, allowing students to choose three subjects from a list of eight. All Transition Year students take a Music module for half the school year, and again an open choice system operates for Leaving Certificate. After consultation with the students, blocks are formed according to the ‘best fit’ approach. At present Music is against Agricultural Science, Physics, Home Economics and Art in fifth year and against Agricultural Science, Construction Studies, Home Economics and Physics in sixth year. Although there are viable groups at both junior and senior cycle, the uptake of the subject by boys is extremely low to the point that the number of boys taking Music is practically non-existent. This gender imbalance is regrettable and of concern, and thus it is recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake of Music by the boys in Coachford College.
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, other musical activities take place during the school year. The school has a choir which is exclusively female and which performs for any liturgical events in the course of the school year. There is also a traditional Irish group in the school, and along with the choir, perform for a wide range of events throughout the year such as the awards night, open day, the TY concert and the sixth year school mass. Both these groups rehearse during lunchtimes. The students’ musical experiences are continually enriched also by trips to concerts where feasible, and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers. The Music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are to be commended.
Coachford College was extended approximately five years ago, with a new Music room being one of the additional rooms. This bright and acoustically-adequate room is attractively decorated with a wide range of topical posters and charts. Although it is a dedicated Music room it is used for other classes also, making planning and preparation difficult as all resources are stored here. The room is currently equipped with a sound system, digital piano, some classroom instruments and a comprehensive range of songbooks and audio resources. The school is still in the process of acquiring suitable resources for this room and now that funding has been made available, plans are underway to enhance the existing supply. It is recommended that the school acquires suitable resources as soon as is practicable, as such supports as software for the available computer, an overhead projector and screen, an acoustic piano and a range of classroom instruments would not only enhance the existing effective learning environment, but would also help foster an interest in Music and possibly contribute to a significant increase in its uptake.
Subject planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. Detailed material outlining yearly schemes for each programme was presented. This was relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the ability level of the students in question. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets and an organised stock of support material suitable for all levels.
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 all lessons was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials – sheet music, accompaniments, and relevant audio resources etc. This indicates that short term planning is at a satisfactory level.
All lessons observed were presented in a coherent, warm manner with high expectations of attainment and behaviour. A good rapport was observed in a secure, work-orientated atmosphere. There was a positive learning environment and students responded very well to this and participated well whenever challenging opportunities were presented.
In all lessons visited, a wide variety of methodologies and examples of active music-making were seen. In the main, most lessons were well structured and paced accordingly, and the material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students, as was the recorder repertoire chosen for performance. In addition, strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were in evidence, especially through appropriate practical and listening elements, which were commendable.
Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. Differentiation was observed in a lesson where individual students practised with the teacher for the impending practical examinations, and others worked on questions for the more theoretical aspects of the examination. A collaborative atmosphere ensued, where through refinement, performance, peer assessment and encouragement, students prepared for their practical examinations and very high standards of vocal performance obtained, coupled with supportive and assured accompaniments by the teacher. These in-class performances add to the students’ musical experience, and contribute to their development as confident, competent performers. Moreover, 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.
When dealing with very technical aspects of the course, care should be taken to ensure an even balance between passive or theoretical teaching and performing or experiential learning. The quality of teaching is less effective where teachers give too much information in lessons. Students become particularly passive and the pace of their learning is reduced. Students need to be encouraged to involve themselves as active learners, especially when dealing with the more analytical aspects of Music such as those found in the Leaving Certificate course for example. It is recommended that where this situation arises, students be exposed to a wider range of teaching strategies to promote their own self learning skills rather than relying on teacher instruction. A more collaborative learning environment, akin to what was observed in other lessons, which would allow for more peer/peer interaction and fewer teacher-led activities, is recommended. This would do much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material.
When suitable resources are acquired and now that the Music department has acquired a computer, it is recommended that an examination of the feasibility of the technology option in the Leaving Certificate Music syllabus be undertaken alongside the acquisition of appropriate resources to include further development of ICT. Furthermore, as many curricular aspects require an inordinate amount of time writing up long Music questions on the whiteboard, utilising an overhead projector (OHP) is also worth considering. It is recommended that ways in which it could be used to optimise learning be explored. Its use, coupled with suitable software could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. Additionally, both the computer and OHP could be used to produce more student friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture during ensemble performance for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. In this light, it is also recommended that the Music teacher makes the most of any continuing professional development (CPD) currently available, particularly in the area of ICT.
In general, the performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are well addressed in Coachford College, and they are mostly linked and integrated in a satisfactory way. In the main, a positive learning environment was evident in all classes observed, which contributes to an enjoyment of Music for the students.
In all classes observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to an acceptable standard. Some student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance, while others were haphazard and contained loose sheets and handouts. Careful monitoring of student materials is recommended especially with junior classes, as valuable supplementary information and work will invariably go astray if not documented properly.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and Summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the Spring, TY students have mid-term assessments and examination classes have monthly exams in September, October, March and April. Formative assessment also takes place in a variety of ways. Examples of this include questioning in class, regular homework, completion of worksheets and regular instrumental and vocal assessments.
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. The school has recently begun to utilise ‘ePortal’ – a communication system which enables parents to monitor their child’s attendance and assessment. This is currently being developed as a means of increasing communication possibilities between school and home, will allow for careful monitoring of all aspects of a student’s progress, academic and pastoral, and is indicative of the commitment of the whole school staff to helping all students achieve their potential.
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 principal and deputy principal and with the teacher of Music at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.