An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste Cois Life
Leamhchán, Contae Átha Cliath
Roll number: 76065H
Date of inspection: 20 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 Samhain 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cois Life. 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 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; a response was not received from the board.
The Gaelscoil, Coláiste Cois Life, is a County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) school and provides second-level education through the medium of Irish to students from Lucan and surrounding areas. English is a core subject in the Junior Certificate (JC), Leaving Certificate (LC) and Transition Year (TY) programmes. Timetabling provision for English is good. There are five periods of English for each year in the junior cycle. In the senior cycle, four periods are provided in TY and five in fifth year; the allocation of six periods to LC students is highly commended. Uptake of higher level is very good in both the junior and senior cycles. With the exception of sixth year, all classes are taught in a mixed-ability setting and this is commended. Student expectation is high and good outcomes are achieved.
There is easy access to resources such as audio-visual equipment. The school building is new and the library is currently being targeted for development. The school has liaised with Co Kildare library and hopes to liaise with local services. Coláiste Cois Life has two computer rooms and a language room. Although students are encouraged to find information on the internet, and teachers themselves use information and communications technology (ICT) for research or to generate notes and question sheets, there is little evidence of the routine use of ICT in English. It is recommended that ICT be fully integrated into the teaching and learning of English.
The subject is currently taught by a team of three teachers. The school has currently no qualified learning-support teacher but a member of the teaching staff is at present undergoing a recognised training course in this area. Other teachers are involved in learning support to a lesser extent.
The school has a learning-support allocation of twenty hours and there are two special needs assistants (SNAs). Students requiring learning support are identified though the entrance examination or through teacher referral. A combination of individual withdrawal, small group teaching and team teaching is used. To complement the service, all students who have been identified as requiring additional lessons in spelling and grammar are offered a workshop after school once a week. A letter of notification is sent to parents. This initiative is commended but should be reviewed since not all students who require tuition may be in a position to avail of after-school lessons. Consideration should also be given to customising letters of communication to parents, given that the numbers involved are relatively small. The style of the communication could also be reviewed to ensure maximum engagement on the part of students and their parents. Transition Year students have been involved in paired reading with primary-school students and the school has a “Buddy” programme through which fifth-year students mentor first years. The school should consider using these existing structures/initiatives to develop paired reading programmes for all junior-cycle students in need of additional supports and to help implement a whole-school reading policy.
Since all subjects are taught through the medium of Irish, it is of particular importance that tuition time for English is ring fenced and is used efficiently and effectively. During the evaluation it was noted that Transition Year students were withdrawn from English classes for other activities. While the range and diversity of the TY programme is laudable, it is recommended that the school ensure that students are not withdrawn from the only subject through which their competencies in English are developed. In the interests of health and safety, students should be supervised at all times.
To enrich their experience of English, students are taken to films and plays that are relevant to their courses. Some teachers also engage in co-curricular activities such as drama and debating in class.
The school’s focus has been on the new building and there has been no engagement until now with school planning. This is targeted for its next stage of development. The teachers meet twice a year on a formal basis and twice monthly on an informal basis. Since staff numbers are small, a great deal of informal interaction takes place and this is underpinned by a collaborative ethos. Texts are discussed and agreed and a good range is selected. However, in order to engage successfully in action planning, it is recommended that formal subject planning be initiated and that this be facilitated by management within the school timetable. Information on planning in general and on subject planning in particular can be found on the School Development Planning Imitative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie. The team should also access the recently published report, Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools, (DES, 2006). Schemes of work were presented by individual teachers.
The school and team should review procedures in the area of supports for new teachers. Informal advice and support is offered on a personal level in a spirit of collegiality. The development of a plan for the subject and the refinement of individual planning should go some way towards the successful handover of classes and would also help to ensure consistency of practice.
It is of particular importance that students’ oral and reading competency in English receive special emphasis in a Gaelscoil. To complement the development of the school library, it is recommended that the English department develop a reading policy and this should be documented in the plan for English and implemented in all class groups and at all levels. For information on the promotion of reading and related topics, teachers should access the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website at www.slss.ie. In addition to the school’s engagement with library services, other sources worth exploring are the School Library Association in the Republic of Ireland (SLARI), the School Library Association of Britain (www.sla.org.uk) and the National Literacy Trust at www.literacytrust.org.uk/. The school does not provide the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), but useful information on the JCSP library projects is available at www.jcsp.ie. The development of oral competency should be specifically highlighted in the plan for English and targeted strategies should be documented for each year group. It is understood that there is an emphasis on drama and debating in some classes and this is helpful. Through ICT, students can learn to develop their oral and communication skills: for example, project work using PowerPoint presentations can be targeted at audiences of their peers and/or other members of the school community.
There is informal liaison between the leaning support teachers and the English team. This is commended. However, it is recommended that such liaison be formalised in the context of departmental meetings in order to facilitate the exchange of professional dialogue and information and to inform planning for English. A learning support policy and plan should be drawn up. In addition, individual learning plans should be put in place for those who need them.
Planning for Transition Year English should be reviewed. A project involving groups of students in the production of a magazine is commended and is in keeping with the best elements of a TY programme. However, texts chosen reflect the Leaving Certificate programme (2007) and indeed, in the scheme presented, poetry comes directly from the prescribed syllabus for the TY year group (2010). It is important that the Transition Year should not be seen as the third year of a LC programme but should be planned in such a way as to reflect the principles of this discrete programme. It is also too early at this stage to start emphasising the requirements of Leaving Certificate examiners. The plan for Transition Year should be fully written up and should document assessment methods. There should be an appropriate emphasis on a range of skills including writing. Cross-curricular links should be included.
As most classes are taught in a mixed-ability setting, the plan for English should document the department’s approach to differentiation. If necessary, continuous professional development in this area could be sought either through the VEC or through the SLSS or both.
Poetry, the novel, film, and reading comprehension were the themes of the lessons visited. The entry phase of most lessons involved housekeeping tasks such as roll call, revision of earlier material or homework assessment tasks, before the lesson itself commenced. Most lessons began promptly and efficient use was made of the time. Lessons were well prepared and resources such as handouts, an overhead projector and acetates had been made ready in advance. While the best lessons had a variety of activities, some suffered from being over prepared so that there was a rush to complete an ambitious body of work in a short space of time. The structure and pace of lessons should therefore be reviewed on an ongoing basis and active reflection should be practised. The lesson objective was implicit in most cases. It is recommended that the objective of the lesson is shared with students and that specific learning outcomes are written on the board at the start of the lesson.
Explanations and instructions were clear. Resources were deployed appropriately. The board was used in all classes and to very good effect in some. More use could be made of audio-tapes for poetry in order to concentrate students’ attention on the sound, richness and musicality of words. Examination classes were well advanced in a revision programme and very good advice was offered to senior-cycle students. Copybooks and planning documentation confirm that a very solid body of work has been completed.
Vocabulary acquisition was grounded in the text being studied and this is commended. To develop this good practice, lessons could make use of dictionaries. Teacher use of critical terms in context was accurate and appropriate in almost all cases. The comparison of two poems provided interesting subject matter in junior-cycle teaching observed; however, the development and expression of a personal aesthetic response should be prioritised in the initial encounter with new material. When introducing students to figurative language, technical terms should be taught as a tool to assist students in expressing their responses to the nuances and patterns of language. Some senior-cycle students showed a high level of sophistication in understanding and expression of complex ideas and use of key terms.
The good practice of integrating language and literature evident in the teaching of vocabulary should be replicated in teaching grammar and syntax. Students should learn to write accurately and therefore they should be encouraged to write complete sentences and common errors should be highlighted in copybooks. In the teaching of writing, ICT is a particularly useful tool in the process of drafting and editing text. While it is reported that a variety of writing genres is practised in the junior cycle, a greater emphasis could be placed on the setting of imaginative and personal writing exercises.
In interaction, students demonstrated a sound knowledge of their texts and were able to retrieve information without difficulty. To develop a variety of competencies, a greater range of strategies and resources should be considered in the teaching of the novel.
It is commendable to see a focus on listening skills in Coláiste Cois Life. Students listened attentively while others read. In another lesson, the teacher’s expressive reading enhanced understanding and provided good modelling.
Students were actively engaged in many classes visited. Group/pair work was employed. This challenged students of all abilities and afforded teachers an opportunity to circulate, monitor progress and offer advice and support to individuals. The task was clearly defined. Where group work is used, care should be taken to ensure that students are not confused by additional information/instruction being imparted while they are already engaged in the first task, that the task is time-bound, and that the reporting-back phase is well managed. Students were also engaged when asked to read aloud ether from the text or from their own work. In a very few cases, however, there was too much teacher direction, too much by way of teacher explanation and too little by way of student investigation and response. The good practice of actively engaging students observed in many lessons could become a model for all.
Questioning technique was very good in some cases but requires evaluation on an on-going basis. In lessons observed, individual students were targeted and this was effective in keeping students on task. Good practice was noted in some instances, particularly where students were asked open questions. In some cases, the main emphasis was on information retrieval and recall. However, in a minority of cases, exemplary practice was noted where students were confident in their demonstration of higher-order skills such as evaluation and analysis, and it was clear from interactions that students had learned to express their ideas cogently both orally and in writing. It is advisable to ensure that, in all classes, questioning is sufficiently tiered and differentiated to ensure that there is proportionate emphasis on higher-order thinking skills and on a personal and aesthetic response. In all lessons, student answering was affirmed; contributions from individual students were welcomed and encouraged.
Good practice with regard to the creation of a print-rich environment for English was noted in some cases but this was by no means universal. While it is acknowledged that the dominant language of the school is Gaeilge, and practice reflects this, it is recommended that a stimulating learning environment be created for English in all classrooms in which the subject is taught.
Classes were well managed in general. In most classes students were challenged and motivated. School rules were enforced and there was a very good rapport between students and teachers. Students were taught in a supportive learning environment.
Records of attendance and assessment are kept. There is a strong emphasis on assessment of learning. There are two formal in-house examinations each year and common papers are set. “Mock” examinations are held for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes. Continuous assessment is also employed through testing three times a year for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth years.
It is recommended that the English department develop a policy on assessment and this should be informed by the principles of assessment for learning. The purpose of assessment should be clear. In order to harmonise practice, the department should collectively agree the appropriate number of substantial written assignments appropriate to year group and level, and should document criteria for assessment and standards of presentation required. While oral feedback on their work is provided to students in many classes, the good practice of annotating students’ work with helpful written feedback, noted in a few examples, should be practised widely. In some instances, written work is corrected in class and this provides opportunities for instant feedback. While this is useful for simple assignments, the assessment of more complex and demanding writing is best achieved through careful monitoring of individuals’ work.
Good practice was noted in some cases where students read out their work in class so that exemplars of good practice could be highlighted for the benefit of other students and advice offered in an immediate context. To develop this good practice, class discussion on the material read out could take place. Such discussion facilitates peer evaluation and students collaborate to develop and use criteria for good writing. Information on assessment for learning is available through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
Parents are informed of students’ progress though parent-teacher meetings and reports that are sent home. Contact is also maintained through the student journal.
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 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.