An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Roscommon Community College,
Roll number: 72290R
Date of inspection: 10 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Roscommon Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics 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, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
Roscommon Community College offers a comprehensive education programme with a wide range of subjects at both junior cycle and senior cycle. There has been a long tradition of Home Economics as an optional subject in Roscommon Community College. This can be attributed to the presence of a very pro-active Home Economics department that is very well supported by management of the college.
First year students benefit from the opportunity of experiencing the full range of optional subjects on the curriculum in the form of an extended taster programme. This is commendable as it allows students to make a more informed choice with regard to subjects available for junior cycle. Home Economics is an optional subject in all other year groups. It is selected mainly by girls, although a small number of boys take the subject. It is noted that the collegeís student cohort is predominately male, consequently, boys account for most students in each year group. Considering such contextual factors, management is to be commended for its decision to have all first year students study Home Economics.†
Class period provision for Home Economics is favourable in first year, all girls are allocated five class periods i.e. two double classes and one single class per week and the boys join this class once per week for a double period for the duration of first year. The teacher manages this current arrangement very effectively and has carefully tailored separate and yet complementary schemes of work, with different learning outcomes for both of these first year groups. While it is commendable that all boys are introduced to the subject in first year, inevitably the two first year groups will have different learning outcomes as a result of the difference in teaching time allocation. Therefore boys who chose to continue to study Home Economics will have to make up the necessary shortfall in terms of knowledge and practical skills. In the context of ongoing curricular review it is recommended that management in conjunction with the teacher investigate and experiment with other forms of provision for Home Economics in first year, which would promote greater equality among boys and girls.
On entering second year students select two subjects from the three practical areas of Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood) and Metalwork. Management is to be commended on the generous provision for Home Economics in second year where students are allocated 5 class periods and in third year where six class periods are allocated i.e. one treble, one double and a single class. This is very much in keeping with studentsí preferences and interests at the school. Students were very enthusiastic about the subject and many commented on their preference for practical work. They value the useful life skills acquired and the opportunity to develop creative skills through project work in Home Economics.
At senior cycle Home Economics is an optional subject within a structure where students are offered a choice between Home Economics or Building Construction. Home Economics is selected by an average of 22% of students the majority of whom are girls. This uptake is supported by the teacherís active promotion and marketing of the subject at information evenings and the fact that the teacher supports ab initio study of the subject for senior cycle. It is satisfying to note that some boys continue to study the subject to Leaving Certificate. Class period provision at senior cycle is very good and this includes two double classes for the facilitation of practical work, which is in line with syllabus recommendations. Class groups at both junior cycle and senior cycle are of mixed ability and the commitment to smaller than average class sizes is a very positive feature of the school.
Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects. The Home Economics department is to be commended on its active role in providing advice for prospective students.† Every attempt is made to ensure student satisfaction with regard to the granting of their preferred subject choices.
The Home Economics department in conjunction with management endeavours to promote Home Economics as a popular subject option by such activities as: marketing of the subject to prospective students and parents at information evenings; showcasing student work at school events; hosting of awareness campaigns and the use of local media to publicise subject events. Such initiatives are praiseworthy to address the issue of gender imbalance currently evident. The school is encouraged to continue to investigate and implement additional strategies that will continue to promote Home Economics as a popular option subject, with appeal for students of all abilities and interests, but especially male students at both junior cycle and senior cycle.
There is very good provision and whole-school support for the subject. Time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning. It is notable that management plans to provide individual teachers and subject departments with more time for subject planning, as part of its ongoing commitment to school development planning. The school boasts a large specialist home economics room, which functions as a kitchen and a textiles room. It is very well maintained and resourced with an appropriate range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. Management should continue to support the subject teacher with regard to ongoing investment in the upgrading, replacement and maintenance of specialist equipment as necessary in the home economics room. The school provides, as necessary, for the purchase of teaching materials and resources for practical classes. Students generally make a small contribution for class materials. Management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition.
Managementís support of the teachersí continuing professional development (CPD) is acknowledged. The home economics teacher has participated in a variety of in-service training sessions, for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Management organises school-based in-service and recently scheduled a staff day on the area of inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN) including the use of differentiated teaching strategies. Membership of Teacher Professional Networks is encouraged and the teacher regularly attends area meetings of The Association of Teachers of Home Economics (ATHE).†
A number of school laptops are shared among the teachers to great advantage. Students are encouraged to utilise information and communication technologies (ICT) for investigations
and project work in Home Economics when they have access to the computer room and during their own study time. The school is now broadband enabled and there are plans for the continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
Management plans to have risk assessments carried out as part of the review of the schoolís health and safety statement. It is noted that the Home Economics facilities are assessed on a regular basis from a health and safety perspective. The Home Economics department has developed its own safety policy and there is evidence of very good health and safety practices in Home Economics classes.
The school is making good progress with regard to school development planning (SDP). It is commendable that work is ongoing with regard to subject department planning with an emphasis on teaching and learning. The level of planning and preparation observed in Home Economics was very good and reflective of the professionalism and dedication of the subject teacher to the ongoing development of Home Economics as a popular subject option.
Subject department planning for Home Economics is ongoing and a long-term subject plan is being developed which includes such details as the subjectsí aims and objectives, class seating plans, hygiene and safety policy, and information on planning for students with SEN.† This plan should be further developed over time to include additional information on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, record keeping, reporting mechanisms and assessment of the subject. In addition long-term outline plans of work have been drawn up for each year group, with the more detailed planning documents for first year displaying the integration of theory and practical very well. These plans are syllabus based; some are time bound and they provide a clear outline of the course content including the relevant practical and project work to be completed. The teacher concerned is complimented on the work to date in this area. In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this very good work be further developed to include more detailed short-term schemes of work for all classes. These should be seen as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This planning should incorporate additional and more specific information relating to delivery of the programmes. Suggested additions include: reference to expected learning outcomes; the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/course work; choice of teaching methodologies; choice and use of resources; links between theory and the related practical work; integration of subject matter as recommended in the syllabuses; the specific timeframes and opportunities for homework and assessment and where required details on revision and examination preparation. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. It is recommended that the design process be introduced as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. The use of ICT would facilitate in the future preparation, regular review and update of subject planning. The home economics teacher should continue to make good use of the home economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines, templates available from the Home Economics Support Service and other relevant documentation to facilitate programme planning at all levels.
In the ongoing work of subject planning, management should consider the merit of subject departments engaging in an analysis of student achievement in State examinations in the context of national norms. In doing so teachers should be mindful of individual studentsí abilities and achievements. This could benefit individual subject departments by informing future planning of teaching strategies and learning activities. Useful supports for curriculum planning are available from Teacher Professional Networks, the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and relevant websites.
With regard to cross-curricular planning the home economics teacher engages collaboratively with teachers of Business and Science. Consequently teachers endeavour to avoid unnecessary overlap in their programmes. This aids the sequencing of material, the sharing of teaching methodologies and resources and promotes continuity. Collaboration with Art, Computers and Construction Studies is also ongoing to the benefit of students. The teachers concerned are complimented for the work in this area. The range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities planned and developed for students is commendable. These aim to enhance the studentsí experience and enjoyment of the subject and extend learning beyond the classroom. This is currently achieved through provision of guest speakers, participation in competitions, planned visits to the local library, local industries and catering for various school events. The commitment to providing such activities should continue to be explored, as it makes learning more real and enjoyable for students.
School structures, systems and strategies support the home economics teacher well when providing for studentsí needs including those with special educational needs (SEN). In order to maximise the learning experience of studentsí careful planning and the incorporation of differentiated teaching strategies is undertaken to provide for students. Students with SEN have been allocated laptops. The Home Economics teacher collaborates with the learning support teacher on an ongoing basis in order to maintain individual education plans. In addition, class materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students as appropriate.† Furthermore, the special needs assistants attend classes in order to guide students towards more independent learning.
Classroom notice boards are used to great effect to display charts, articles, evidence of studentsí work and competitions. This is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students. A good variety of teaching resources relevant to Home Economics has been developed and gathered. These include, for example, reference books, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and commercially prepared resource packs. The Home Economics department makes good use of the overhead projector and classes have access to a television and VCR/DVD when required. Very good use is made of the digital camera to aid student project work. It is evident that these resources are used effectively in lessons. Ongoing investment in the development and expansion of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is suggested.
Very thorough short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was observed. This resulted in lessons that were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Lessons were well structured and in line with syllabus requirements. Learning outcomes for the lesson were shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. The teacher showed an awareness of the studentsí various learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the studentsí needs. These approaches reflect many of the principles of best practice.
Teacher instruction was clear, competent, accurate and frequently supported by the use of such resources as the blackboard, overhead projector, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were most effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Very good use was made of the board for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in practical classes.
Whole-class instruction was utilised well and there was evidence of some use of active learning in lessons. However, it is likely that students would benefit from greater exposure to active learning methods and other differentiated strategies that would engage them in their own learning. It is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred active learning methodologies in theory lessons for example brainstorming, individualised learning, pair work, group discussion, debating, role-play, problem-solving and collaborative learning. This would have the effect of further challenging students in order to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Active learning encourages independent and collaborative learning, key foci of both the junior and senior-cycle home economics syllabuses. Textbooks and workbooks provide some useful ideas for the implementation of active learning.
Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. In the context of mixed ability classes observed it is recommended that differentiation by questioning be further utilised to encourage the active participation of students who are less able and to provide a challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter. Where it existed the observed use of visual material in the delivery of concepts was very worthwhile as it facilitated understanding and enhanced their learning environment. Much emphasis was placed on studentsí understanding of content and processes and there were very good examples of linking the lesson content to studentsí every day experiences. Such elements of best practice should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons.
During practical work observed, there was an appropriate balance between teacher instruction, demonstration and time to allow students to work independently. The expert use of demonstration strategies in the practical classes observed is to be highly commended as it ensured all students were on task and allowed the teacher to model best practice. Good emphasis on explaining of key concepts; the linking of theory to practical work and the development of skills was observed. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. Good work habits are developed by strategies such as an emphasis on time planning and resource management. Adequate provision for health and safety requirements is made in all classrooms and issues related to health and safety are addressed at appropriate times during lessons. Throughout each lesson observed the teacher moved constantly around the room assessing student progress, monitoring difficulties and demonstrating best practice. Students are encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed. In general, they were able to demonstrate their ability to undertake various practical tasks to a good standard.
The wide range of project work in junior cycle displayed the incremental development of studentsí skills in accordance with their level and ability. First year students begin with basic hand stitches, embroidery and an introduction to using the sewing machine with a view to the completion of a Christmas craft and a simple household article. Second year students complete a simple item of clothing together with a design brief folder. Observation of third year studentsí project work, in the area of design and craftwork indicated their capability to organise and present coursework. The variety of textile based contemporary crafts completed by the students is praiseworthy for the standard and level of originality demonstrated. The teacher has gained considerable experience and expertise in the marking of Junior Certificate practical and project work for the State examinations. This has a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics at the school.
Learning activities were well managed and there was evidence of good time management. Student-teacher rapport was very good and studentsí efforts were encouraged and affirmed. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning.
The physical environments of the Home Economics rooms were enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters. Classroom discipline was sensitively maintained through teacher movement around the room and engagement with students.
Students were keen to participate in the learning activities and demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level. Every effort is made to devolve the responsibility for learning to the individual student. The great enthusiasm and dedication displayed by the home economics teacher to the students in her care is evident.
The class-based formative assessment modes used to assess student competence and progress relates well to curriculum objectives and includes oral questioning in class, workbook questions, written assignments and continuous monitoring of studentsí practical and project work. Monthly class assessments are administered at the discretion of the teacher during class time as appropriate.†
As part of the schools discipline and behaviour policy guidelines for homework have been developed. The Home Economics department has developed its own policy and procedures for homework and assessment in line with the whole-school guidelines on homework. Student learning is enhanced and progress is assessed through regularly assigned homework, which is subsequently either marked by the teacher or reviewed as a class activity. Each student has a school journal. This journal is used to record homework and is also used to inform parents of student progress. Good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of student work. With regard to formative assessment useful teacher comments where evident, provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. Further information on formative assessment is available on the NCCA website at www.ncca.ie.
Formal assessments are held for the non-exam classes at Christmas and end of year. In addition those preparing to take the State examinations sit pre-certificate examinations in the spring. Records of studentsí work, attendance and examination results are recorded systematically and students are advised regularly on their progress in the subject. School reports are used to communicate these results and student progress to parents and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teacher and parents. The student diary is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises. Furthermore, student progress is reported to parents at the annual parent-teacher meetings that are held for each year group.
The following are the main strengths 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 teacher of Home Economics and the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.