An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Baldoyle, Dublin 13
Roll number: 91342R
Date of inspection: 2 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle. 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 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 deputy principal and subject teacher. The board of management of the school was given the opportunity to comment on the findings of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The Music department in Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle has undergone significant changes in personnel in the current school year, with the employment of three different music teachers between September and February, following a period of job-sharing in the department. Management acknowledges that the development of Music within the school has been affected, to some significant degree, by these circumstances.
While it is very encouraging that uptake of Music is quite healthy in first, third and sixth-year classes, the reduction of teaching hours available due to job-sharing has meant that that there is no uptake currently in second and fifth year. This is now an ideal opportunity to plan for the future and to devise strategies that will ensure that Music remains a permanent fixture on the curriculum for all students from all year groups who wish to select this subject. In that context, it is recommended that the management of the school devise long-term strategies to ensure the continuous growth and development of Music in the school.
All option subjects in first year are sampled until November, when students then select their subjects for the Junior Certificate examination. Prior to entry in September, an information evening is held for parents to provide them with information about the subjects that are available in the school. Subject departments, including the Guidance department, are available to provide additional support to students and to outline the long-term implications of all subject choices. Third-year students are also provided with similar support systems to assist them in their choice between the Transition Year (TY) programme and the fifth year programme. The support provided to students in making subject choices is good and the school is commended in this regard.
Classes in Music are mixed ability. The school management is commended for the good timetabling allocation to Music: four periods per week are allocated to junior classes, three periods are allocated to TY and five periods are allocated to the sixth year class.
There is a dedicated Music room for the sole use of the department. This room contains a stave board, piano, and CD player. A stage, which formerly doubled as the Music room, is also available as the need arises. This room contains colourful displays of past musical productions and is an excellent historical reminder to students of the breadth of musical productions that occurred. A small room connected to this stage is used for individual instrumental lessons. There is also a separate recording studio which is used by students for various projects. As the school intends to move the Music department forward, this is now a good opportunity for management, in consultation with the music teacher, to plan for the increase of resources for Music. Long-term planning could now include the provision of class sets of instruments such as the recorder and/or keyboards, a class set of percussion instruments, the provision of professionally produced printwork materials containing, for example, musical technical concepts, and an increase in the number and range of books and CD’s to enhance the music library. In that context, it is recommended that the management of the school, in consultation with all involved with the teaching and learning of music, should now plan to increase Music resources in the school.
Students are provided with the opportunity to access tuition in a variety of instruments, including recorder, piano and keyboard, as well as vocal training. These lessons are provided by an external tutor who also prepares students for their annual production of “Stars in their Eyes” talent contest. In addition, an annual concert is produced comprising of a number of bands within the school. This concert is called “Pobalscoil Neasáin Unplugged” (PSN) and TY students are responsible for ensuring that the event operates efficiently under the guidance of a member of staff. This project affords students the opportunity to develop their self-directed learning skills and as such, is an invaluable life-long learning experience. Students are also provided with the opportunity to participate in a composition workshop “Songschool” where they record their own songs in a professional recording studio. Historically, students also participated in the school musicals, which were a permanent fixture in the schools’ musical calendar. All these music activities enhance the musical experiences of the students and the school is commended in this regard.
School Development Planning is ongoing in Pobalscoil Neasáin and has now extended into curricular planning. Planning documents were provided on the day of the inspection. These contained very detailed schemes of work outlining the content for each year group, including TY, and indicated all targets to the end of the current academic year. These plans also listed some resources to be used. There is now scope to initiate collaborative planning where the work of Music teachers overlaps. For example, many students attending recorder, piano, vocal or keyboard lessons are also class-based music students. Practical skills gained during instrumental tuition could also be integrated into Music lessons in a stimulating and creative manner. Teachers, as a result, could reinforce one another’s work using different strategies, thus benefiting all students concerned. Therefore, it is recommended that Music teachers begin to collaborate in department planning in order to enhance the good individual planning already in evidence. Such collaboration could eventually lead to a department plan based on mutual planning.
Planning for all lessons observed was good. Objectives in lessons were clearly stated and showed the value of sharing learning outcomes with students, thus allowing them to gain a sense of the direction in which the lessons were heading and an inner sense of achievement when objectives had been attained. Very good advance preparation was equally apparent by the manner in which all resources, worksheets, and hand-outs were ready for use during lessons. It is particularly commendable that planning extended beyond the confines of textbooks and introduced additional material to complement the learning and add stimulus to the lessons. In that context, the music department is commended. Records of attendance and assessments were evident on the day of the inspection.
Three classes were visited during the course of the visit: one junior cycle group and two senior cycle groups. In all lessons, efforts were made to address the students by name, a commendable achievement, given the relatively short time available to the teacher to become familiar with the students. Discipline was well maintained and it was evident that a good rapport will be achieved through time. Students were encouraged and affirmed throughout, regardless of their abilities. Active participation of students occurred in most lessons and students responded well.
All lessons observed had a very clear structure, were logically sequenced and most were delivered at a pace appropriate to the students. Good practice was observed when the content of the lesson was varied, as was evident in a junior lesson. Revision of theoretical concepts using flash cards was followed by the questioning of students regarding information which had been documented on the board. This was then followed by a listening activity based on a well-known work by Smetana which sought to encourage students to link music to a story. This was done in a calm and tranquil way. It should be borne in mind that this task would, however, be more appropriate if the time allocation to passive listening were a little shorter, to allow students to engage actively with the music either through some element of performance or group activity/discussion. In that context, it is recommended that further consideration should be given to the age of the students when planning lessons which would contain adequate active learning strategies appropriate to the students’ stage of maturity and musical development.
In the TY Music programme, classes consist of a combination of students who have studied music to Junior Certificate level and students who have no prior experience. Particularly good practice was evident when students were very actively involved in a lesson. The lesson observed made links to a previous lesson. Students had watched a DVD of “Stomp”, a renowned world-wide show. Particular emphasis was given to one excerpt “Brooms” a rhythmical dance from the show. The students, as a follow-up activity, were divided into four groups and had to tap clearly defined rhythm patterns on their seat, the back of their seat, on their books or their tables. This was to increase their understanding of the different sounds that can be created using every-day items. Constant encouragement led to a very active and stimulating class that was clearly enjoyed by all students. This strategy also engaged students with rhythmical concepts that were either straightforward or syncopated (as found in jazz music) without over-emphasising the correct technical terms. Therefore, students engaged with music aurally and the “Sound before Symbol” approach was clearly evident here. This innovative approach is commended and its further usage is encouraged.
A variety of teaching methodologies also ensured that the students were kept engaged with the lesson. This was very evident in a senior cycle lesson. The aim was to reinforce the students’ understanding of one of their set works Jesu der du Meine Seele. Links were made to a German poster showing a mixed voice choir, to help to establish the context and the historical background in which Bach was composing. Students were then questioned intensely to establish their understanding of technical concepts and were encouraged and probed until adequate answers were provided. Some of these concepts were reinforced through a detailed analysis of unprescribed music. This is good practice as it is always valuable for students to encounter other music by composers on their course and increase their understanding and breadth of music. The provision of excerpts from the music score on a handout was useful and the students, through careful questioning and discussion, discovered various technical concepts for themselves. This teaching strategy is commended. One particular technical concept was further reinforced through the provision of a handout containing a three-part rhythmical piece based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s name. Students, after a demonstration by the teacher, clapped as they vocalised the piece and this quite successfully led to a three-part rendition of the piece, which led, indirectly, to a deeper understanding of independent melodic patterns. Learning was further enforced by a class performance of the well-known tune Row Row Row your boat. These approaches are good practice and are commended.
Good questioning strategies were deployed in all lessons observed. Where appropriate, students were probed and encouraged to develop their thoughts and improve their level of thinking. In other lessons, students were asked to recall previous material before the lesson progressed. The board was used very effectively to record new technical terminologies, or to document various rhythmical patterns.
Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year students at Christmas and summer. Mock examinations are held for third and sixth year students in February. Written reports are issued to parents following these formal assessments. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent-teacher meetings. The school journal is used as an additional form of communication for parents, if required.
End-of-topic tests are also set by the Music department. Continuous assessment and monitoring also occurs during lessons. TY students are expected to maintain all worksheets and handouts in plastic folders. It is recommended that ongoing and regular monitoring and assessment of students’ homework and class-based exercises should ensure that they can rely on corrected work and constructive teacher comment as a sound basis for revision, especially in senior cycle, as is currently the case and commendably so. Questioning of students led to a variety of responses and showed a good understanding of the content being taught.
A review of certification data indicates that students are generally encouraged to participate at the highest level of which they are capable. Management and the Music department are encouraged to maintain such successful trends.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the 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.