An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Granard, County Longford
Roll number: 71710I
Date of inspection: 22 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Phádraig. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Ardscoil Phádraig is a co-educational school which has been serving Granard and its environs for many years. The curricular programmes provided for the students are the Junior Certificate Programme, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied. In addition, the school offers four Post-Leaving Certificate courses. History is studied by all students pursuing the Junior Certificate Programme. Mixed-ability class groups are the norm. First and third-year students have three history periods per week and second-year students have two history class periods per week. The school has two history teachers and both are deployed in teaching History. It is commendable that management strives to ensure that the teacher assigned to the first-year class group remains with them until the students sit their Junior Certificate examinations. This enables the teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework.
The allocation of the number of history class periods per week has been increased in the recent past from two to three periods for the first and third-year class groups. The increased allocation is welcomed as is the expressed intention of management to provide second-year students with three history class periods in the foreseeable future. The allocation of three history class periods to all the junior-cycle class groups will assist the history teachers and their students in their study of the history coursework. The timetabling of the three history class periods on consecutive days can result in the creation of a long interval in teacher-class contact time between the last history class of one week and the first history class of the following week. The avoidance of a long interval in the pattern of teacher-class contact time is always desirable should circumstances allow this.
Management is committed to the continuous development of the learning environment within the school. The teaching and study of History is supported by the provision of teaching resources such as audio-visual equipment and the accessibility to the school’s information and communications technology (ICT) room that are available to the history teachers and their students. The two history teachers share the base classroom of the senior history teacher for teaching the subject. Management plans to develop the classroom as a designated History Room. This is a commendable initiative and will undoubtedly lend greater support to the work of the history teachers and their students. Management also appreciates the importance of curricular planning and supports the work of the history department in maintaining the ongoing development of the teaching and learning of History in the school. Management facilitates the formal meeting of the history department each term and budgetary assistance, if required, is provided on a needs basis.
The teachers possess a good grasp of the syllabus and in keeping with good teaching practice chose a definite topic for each lesson. The lessons had a clear structure and incorporated the recapping of prior material, the introduction of the students to the new lesson material, the use of the class textbook, written assignments and the correction and setting of homework. The display of visual stimuli on the walls of the classroom is noted and encouraged because it helps to nurture students’ interest in History. It is important that the selection of written tasks continue to both challenge and cater for the range of ability in the mixed-ability history classroom and towards that end the practice of varying the type of written tasks for students at regular intervals is recommended. Suggested means of doing this are to use pictorial illustrations to stimulate a written response, empathic essay-type questions and open-ended questions which require students to apply the factual knowledge they have learned.
The collaboration of the history teachers in advancing the long-term planning of the coursework is commended. The subject planning documentation received on the day of the inspection visit details the sequence in which the coursework topics are studied and the proposed time allocation given to each topic in order to assist the teachers in the coverage of the coursework. The recorded minutes of the history departmental meetings detail the items discussed and the decisions taken. The progress of the history teachers in contributing to the continuous development of the teaching and learning of History in the school is encouraged and supported. It is recommended that the history teachers meet formally once per term to maintain their progress in relation to curricular planning and discuss issues relating to History. The history teachers are encouraged to draw on their experience and detail proven classroom methodologies and resources in the year plans that will be employed in the treatment of the various coursework topics. The inclusion of recommended strategies and resources in year plans will provide the history teachers with a stronger planning resource for teaching the coursework. It is not envisaged that the strengthening of the year plans in the manner suggested would stifle teachers’ own initiatives for the exploration of a variety of teaching strategies is always to be encouraged in the history classroom.
Teaching and learning in the lessons observed were directed in a positive and supportive manner. The initial phase of each lesson centred on the correction of homework. The teachers’ selection of students to read out their answers to particular questions meant that the students quickly settled into the lesson and gave their attention to this task. This activity helped to consolidate students’ knowledge of material studied in a previous lesson and emphasised the importance of homework for the students. The later study of students’ copybooks that was undertaken during the inspection visit showed the students’ steady coverage of the coursework. It is recommended that the practice of writing a teacher’s comment at the end of students’ homework exercises be universally adopted because it enables the teacher to provide feedback to the students individually about their work. Given the mixed-ability composition of history class groups, homework assignments that consist of short questions requiring factual recall are not sufficiently challenging for prolonged use.
The teachers introduced their students to the new lesson material by firstly identifying the lesson topic clearly. The teachers then drew their students further into the study of the topic by informing them about it in more detail. The preferred means of steadily increasing students’ knowledge of the lesson topic also included the questioning of the students, recording information on the classroom board, note-taking, the use of the class textbook with one class group and the setting of a written class task. The pace and structure of the lesson was most effective where the time allocated to verbal discourse was more strictly controlled. Consideration might also be given to the increased use of the overhead projector as a means of impacting visually on student learning when introducing the class to a new topic.
The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers. The teachers maintained their students’ engagement with the lesson topic and discipline was sensitively maintained. The teachers’ interaction with their students was a feature of the lessons and enabled the teachers to impact on student learning. The recording of important points of information on the board was effective too, and facilitated the taking of notes by the students at a designated stage of the lesson. The reading about the lesson topic in the class textbook provided opportunities for students to read aloud and participate by another means in the study of the lesson topic as well as enabling the teacher to comment and draw attention to key points of information in the text. The setting of a written task gave the students practice in applying what they had learned in a set task. The setting of homework took place towards the end of each lesson and was a useful strategy in drawing the lesson to a conclusion while at the same time demonstrating the importance placed on homework in the students’ study of the coursework.
The teachers use a combination of classroom questioning, the setting of written tasks, homework and class tests to gauge and monitor the progress of their students. Oral assessments were integrated into all the lessons observed. The questioning techniques of the teachers and the responses of the students enabled the teachers to gauge their students’ grasp and understanding of the lesson material. The teachers’ setting of classroom assignments and homework tasks are also used to monitor students’ progress. The class-based tests that are organised at appropriate times within the teachers’ teaching schemes of the coursework provide another means of tracking student progress and informing judgements.
Formal school examinations are organised for all students at the end of the first term and at the end of the academic year before the summer holidays commence. The history teachers set their own test papers for their respective history class groups in these examinations. The third and sixth-year students sit their trial certificate examinations during the spring term in preparation for the state examinations in June. School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the school’s formal examination sessions. Two parent-teacher meetings are organised for every class group each year to keep parents and guardians informed of progress.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Whole school support for History is evidenced by the accessibility of the subject to junior-cycle students pursuing the Junior Certificate School Programme, the increased allocation of three history class per periods per week for first and third-year students, and management’s commitment to providing all junior-cycle class groups with three history periods per week.
The teaching and study of History is supported by the provision of teaching resources and the access to school facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students.
Management appreciates the importance of curricular planning and facilitates the formal meetings of the history department.
There was a positive teaching and learning environment in all the classrooms visited. The lessons had a clear focus and the teachers sought to encourage student learning at all times. The students were attentive and responsive.
Assessment and the monitoring of students’ progress are actively pursued.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that the history teachers maintain their progress in relation to curricular planning at their formal term meetings.
Given the mixed-ability composition of the history class groups, the practice of varying the type of written tasks for students at regular intervals is recommended.
It is recommended that the practice of writing a teacher’s comment at the end of students’ homework exercises be universally adopted because it enables the teacher to provide constructive feedback to the students individually about their work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.