An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

in the Junior Cycle

REPORT

 

O’Fiaich College

Dundalk, County Louth

Roll number: 71770D

 

Date of inspection: 17 May 2007

Date of issue of report:  30 October 2007

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in O’Fiaich College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English in junior cycle classes 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

O’Fiaich College offers the full range of courses to cater for all levels of ability and interest. This report focuses on English in the junior cycle in this school where two programmes are offered. These are the established Junior Certificate and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). On completing junior cycle, students may opt for the Transition Year Programme (TYP) or choose from the Leaving Certificate Vocational, Applied or Established programmes. A School Completion Programme (SCP) operates in the college and this provides a range of supports to students, including a homework club. The home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator provides an important link with parents in the area.

 

The college caters for students from a catchment area including Dundalk town and outlying areas. It has a significant population of disadvantaged students and students with special educational needs (SEN). This establishes the context within which provision for English and the organisation of literacy and language support in the school is evaluated in this report.

 

The college takes advantage of the relationships established with feeder primary schools within the SCP cluster group to gather information about students’ learning needs. Based on this information and their achievement in entrance tests, students are assigned to classes in first year. Classes are formed in three bands, the first of which comprises a single mixed ability class group. Students in the next two bands have a variety of support needs and the deployment of teachers of English in junior cycle recognises this. The support offered by college management to the English department is commended. The deployment of up to five teachers of English for each year group, with an average enrolment of sixty students in each year, facilitates team-teaching and the formation of small class groupings. It is indicative of the recognition in the college of the need for such support teaching.

 

The majority of students take the Junior Certificate examinations at ordinary level and the foundation level course meets the needs of many students in the college. A small cohort of students opts for the higher level course. Supporting these students was identified as an important aim in the college and their achievements in the Certificate Examinations are very good.

 

Resource provision to support the teaching and learning of English is very good. The college library is open at lunchtime under the supervision of the librarian so that students have access to a good range of quality reading material. The plan for English in the college includes a commendable emphasis on students’ reading as a key component in the junior cycle programme and teachers include time for reading in their schemes for class groups. Students following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) participate in the Make-A-Book scheme and the Reading Challenge. They benefit from a paired reading programme and go on to read with students in the local primary school. These activities build the confidence of students, broaden their vocabularies and provide them with opportunities to acquire and practise literacy skills.

 

Where possible, teachers are assigned their own classrooms and this allows for the creation of a learning environment designed specifically to support the teaching and learning of English. Where teachers had created displays of students’ own work, subject-specific terminology and supportive mind-maps and posters, the visual environment reinforced the lessons taught in class. To support the work already done to develop and extend the literacy skills of all students in the college, the display of key words, encountered regularly in the curriculum, is recommended in all classrooms.

 

Teachers have access to audio-visual resources and they use the resources well in delivering the programme for English.  They make good use of the flexibility which computer technology provides to stimulate the interest of students in their courses.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

The six teachers of junior cycle English work well together and with five other teachers who provide support in English to students. The curriculum has been the focus of school development planning this year and a day was specifically designated for subject department planning. This, and four other formal meetings, has been used well by the English teaching team and excellent progress has been made in developing a draft department plan for the subject. The resulting document is a very good guide to practice in the college and the teachers are to be complimented on their work on it. The emphasis on skills to be acquired across the four language domains, listening, speaking, reading and writing, is excellent. The inclusion of brief notes regarding the orientation of the programme in each year, for example, a focus on language use in informal situations in first year, ensures a common developmental focus across all classes in each year group. It is recommended that, as the plan is finalised, it should include details of the assessment modes to be used at each stage of the programme to measure students’ progress.

 

In addition to their formal meetings, the teachers of English meet regularly, though informally, to support one another. This indicates their enthusiasm for developing the department and working co-operatively. Their individual planning is in line with the schedules of work agreed at department level and in some cases, was supplemented with class notes, some of which indicated the teacher’s awareness of the learning needs and styles of particular students. There is a strong emphasis in these schemes on the content to be covered in class and it is suggested that they could be improved by moving the emphasis on description in them to a stronger focus on student learning. This can be done by adding explicit learning objectives to be achieved by each class group.

 

The guidance counsellor and the HCSL co-ordinator liaise closely with feeder primary schools during the spring term to identify students who need particular support. Following consultation with parents, a small number of students are placed in the lowest band class group. The JCSP is followed by these students, who may have special educational needs or have other difficulties achieving success. The number of students in these classes is small ensuring that teachers have opportunities to include all students in the learning process and can closely monitor each student’s progress. It allows them to take a reduced curriculum and provides additional time for support in English and Mathematics. In addition, some students are also withdrawn for further support in smaller groups. Good use is made in O’Fiaich College of the JCSP student profiles and learning statements in order to meet the needs of these students. Active learning methodologies dominate and students are encouraged to participate fully in their own learning.

 

There is a very strong commitment in this college to developing a best practice model of learning support provision and close net-working with the National Education Psychology Service and the National Council for Special Education has informed the development of the college’s learning support policy document. This presents a set of clear aims which reference the students’ participation in the full curriculum and it outlines the structures and procedures followed in the college. A seven person literacy committee, including a literacy co-ordinator, has been established to plan for and review the literacy support function in the college, and its responsibilities include the identification of teacher training needs.

 

The procedures in place to identify students with learning needs are thorough and include the administration of standardised, norm-referenced tests to all first years. The needs of these students are a primary focus of the delivery of English programme in the college. The teaching hours allocated to the college for their support are used to create very small class groups and facilitate team teaching. In this way, support is provided to the majority of students with identified learning needs by specialist teachers of English and Mathematics. A small number of students are deemed to need additional support, however, and these students are withdrawn from class for extra help. A team of support teachers, which includes four who have a recognised qualification in SEN teaching, delivers a carefully planned programme. Teachers maintain records of progress following every lesson and their work is co-ordinated by the learning support teacher. The progress of all students through the support programme is carefully monitored through testing at the end of each year. This is in keeping with best practice. Records available in the college indicate that students achieve a steady improvement in literacy levels across the three years of junior cycle.

 

The college has received an additional allocation of forty-four hours to support those students who do not have English as their first language. On enrolment, students’ proficiency in the language is assessed by the college’s literacy co-ordinator, drawing on experience as an adult literacy tutor. Students are matched with a mentor student who speaks their first language and acts as a guide to the college. While this is a very good support in the first days after enrolment, it is suggested that consideration should be given to assigning mentors from the wider school population also, so as to better facilitate the integration of new students.

 

It was reported in the college that a number of students have presented with no English and others have been estimated as being at the Breakthrough stage or A1 on the European Language benchmark scale. It is recommended that the college should make contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training, www.iilt.ie, in order to access the training and other supports which are available to teachers working with learners of English as a second language (ESL). As a first step, the assessment of proficiency should be formalised and conducted in accordance with advice as given in Circular letter 0053/2007. This can be downloaded from www.education.gov.ie/servlet/blobserclet/cl0053/2007. Progress should be regularly tracked and it is suggested that the students should be encouraged to work with the ESL teachers to determine their learning targets. 

 

The ESL support offered to students is co-ordinated through the literacy co-ordinator and is provided in a number of ways. These include the formation of a separate English class group in junior cycle, taught by a qualified teacher of English. The syllabus prescribed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment for the Junior Certificate examination is taught. The separation of ESL students from their English speaking peers to form a dedicated class is justified in O’Fiaich College. It has arisen out of careful planning, so that the teaching methodologies employed and the resources used in class specifically target the language learning needs of these students.

 

Students in the separate English class also receive additional support provided by two teachers who are native speakers of Polish and Lithuanian. These two withdrawal groups follow a support programme drawn up by the teachers. The work planned focuses on social English and the language requirements of the curriculum. Given the strong interface between the English department and the work of these two teachers, it is suggested that the department plan for the subject should include an ESL plan. The very good documentation already prepared by the two support teachers would make an excellent starting point for such a plan. Details about what an ESL plan might contain can be found in CL0053/2007.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

All of the junior cycle English lessons observed during inspection were well prepared in advance. Handouts and other resources, for example, were ready for distribution beforehand. Students work with a range of media and their appreciation of their texts is enhanced through seeing films or video recordings as appropriate. In one lesson, for example, students first encountered the poem being studied through an audio recording. In another, teachers had worked together to devise interactive software which allowed students to read and write using information and communication technology (ICT) in the first instance. The level of enthusiasm for their subject and their students which this innovation suggested was evident in many of the classrooms visited.

 

Given the support needs of the students in O’Fiaich College, three of the classes visited had no more than twelve students on the roll. Poor attendance can mean that lessons are often delivered to six or seven students only. Teachers employed a good variety of teaching strategies to help students access the syllabus. Carefully structured and paced lessons ensured that the level of challenge was appropriate in these three classrooms. In a lesson on advertisements, for example, four distinct phases were discernible. The first involved revisiting previously taught vocabulary so that students were ready to use these words during the lesson. There was scope here to make use of the whiteboard to reinforce learning. The second phase was dominated by teacher input on a particular advertisement, large enough to be visible to all. Students were then set related tasks to be completed as the teacher moved around the room. This was a good, but discreet, way of targeting individual students for particular help. The lesson finished with a plenary session when each student spoke about his advertisement, using the appropriate vocabulary. In this lesson, as in others observed, the teacher was a little too supportive of students, so that they were over-reliant on him or her for direction in beginning and completing their work. It is suggested that when a question is asked, either by a student or the teacher, encouraging them to engage with one another in either finding the answer or discussing it is a better way to promote learning than having the teacher supply the answer.

 

Very good use was made of group work in a poetry lesson. Here, students read through the poem focussing on different aspects in each of the groups. The task set was very clearly defined and time bound and students worked well together to achieve them. The allocation of students to groups was planned to achieve a good match between the complexity of tasks set and the students’ strengths in this mixed ability class. The effectiveness of this approach was evident in the closing phase of the lesson, when students spoke confidently of their findings and learned from each other. The discussion which followed a second reading of the poem was richer because of this.

 

The emphasis on helping students acquire a mastery of the English language and an appreciation of literature, evident in all the classrooms visited, was exemplified in one lesson on a novel. Here, new vocabulary was pre-taught and, when students encountered a word taught previously, time was spent inviting them to define and use it in another context. Students in this class were learning English as a second language and the teacher had paid particular attention in their reading and writing to simple grammar. Whilst it is not best practice to form distinct English classes for this cohort, as they may not have opportunities to practice the language in a natural way and to converse with speakers of English, this disadvantage is offset by the fact that these students are fully integrated in all other areas of the curriculum. This allows their teacher of English to adapt the teaching approach and texts chosen to suit their language development needs. This would be a more effective strategy if supported by formal consultation between the ESL and English teachers. Evaluation of ESL students’ work indicated that they are making good progress, demonstrating mastery of simple sentences and paragraphs, a good receptive vocabulary and a developing expressive vocabulary.

 

The written work produced by students in all classes was indicative of the challenges faced by them and their teachers. A significant minority of students produce fluent and coherent pieces of writing. Their teachers support their progress by providing them with tasks which are appropriately challenging. These students demonstrate mastery of the formal elements of language and an ability to engage purposefully with questions set. Their narrative writing was generally less polished, with weak command of plotlines. Some students struggle to manage the forward momentum of their stories. However, the work planned for these students will address these difficulties and their progress overall is satisfactory.

 

It was evident in the majority of lessons observed, however, that many students struggle with the written word and their responses are short, undeveloped and lack specific references to texts. In the second and third band classes, particularly, insufficient practice in writing across all genres has been achieved. It is suggested that, as collaborative planning develops, the teachers of English should devise practical strategies to address this. Strategies that might be used include more frequent use of writing frames, sentence stems and skeleton answers for less able, reluctant, writers. As a minimum support, it is recommended that all lesson plans should include a writing exercise to be completed during the lesson period.

 

 

Assessment

 

Homework was set in most of the classes visited and a review of students’ copies indicated that their work is marked promptly. A routine has been established in some classes around maintenance of notes. In one class, for example, the teacher keeps students’ copies in the classroom; in another, students maintain hardback notebooks for final draft work. However, it is suggested that there is a need to ensure that all students’ work in copies or folders is clearly and logically organised as examination of students’ work showed that this was not always the case. The plan for English in junior cycle, for example, might include an emphasis on instituting common practices which establish standards for the presentation by students of their work.

 

Teachers’ feedback to students was, in all cases, affirming and encouraging of their efforts. Given the fact that teachers reported many students to be reluctant writers, the use of ‘comment only’ feedback, which identified what students had done well, is supportive. In other instances, these comments also included advice on how students might develop their responses to questions, providing good challenges to them to improve their work.

 

Formal examinations are held for all students at the end of the first term and all non-examination year groups also have summer examinations. Examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations early in the second term. The use of common assessments for year groups as appropriate is commended as excellent practice, particularly as papers are marked to an agreed scheme. This allows for comparison of students’ progress across a year group and, as a result, careful planning to meet the needs of the students.

 

Teachers maintain records of students’ work, in some cases adding details about particular strengths or challenges. These inform the information provided to parents at annual parent-teacher meetings and reports which are sent home twice yearly.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • School management is supportive of the English department and resource provision to support the teaching and learning of English is very good.
  • The deployment of teachers of English in junior cycle recognises the variety of support needs of students.
  • Supporting students who opt for the higher level course was identified as an important aim in the college and their achievements in the Certificate Examinations are very good.
  • Excellent progress has been made in developing a draft department plan for the subject, which functions as a very good guide to practice in the college.
  • English as a second language support is co-ordinated through the literacy co-ordinator and is carefully planned, so that the teaching methodologies employed and the resources used in class specifically target the language learning needs of these students.
  • The college’s learning support policy document presents a set of clear aims which outlines the structures and procedures followed in the college. A seven person literacy committee has been established to oversee its implementation.

·         Lessons were well prepared and resources were well used to support students’ learning. Appropriate teaching strategies were used effectively to engage students.

  • Carefully structured and paced lessons ensured that the level of challenge was appropriate in all classrooms.
  • Homework was set in most of the classes visited and a review of students’ copies indicated that their work is marked promptly. Students’ written work was indicative of the challenges faced by them and their teachers.
  • Teachers’ feedback to students was, in all cases, affirming and encouraging of their efforts.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • The display of key words, encountered regularly in the curriculum, is recommended in all classrooms.
  • The college should make contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training, www.iilt.ie and the processes used to assess students’ proficiency in English should be formalised and conducted in accordance with Circular letter 0053/2007.
  • As the English department plan is finalised, it should include details of the assessment modes to be used at each stage of the programme to measure students’ progress. It might also include the ESL plan, outlining the interface between the language support and English class teachers.
  • All lesson plans should include a writing exercise to be completed during the lesson period.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

This report comprises the first part of a subject inspection which will encompass English and Communications at post-primary and post-leaving certificate levels. The second part of this inspection was completed on the 15th and 16th October. This inspection report has been given careful consideration with particular emphasis on its recommendations.

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

Since the completion of the first part of this subject inspection the teachers are in the process of implementing the recommendations included in the report. Key words encountered regularly in the curriculum are being displayed. It is recognised that this will assist students to learn. Details of how students are assessed have been discussed and some modifications made to the English policy document. This work was acknowledged by the inspector on her second visit. It is further recognised that the review of the relevant subject programmes is an ongoing organic process. It is the priority of this college to adapt elements of best practice wherever practicable. The management and teachers of English and Communications thank the inspector for her advice, support and courtesy during the inspections.