An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Carrigaline Community School
Carrigaline, County Cork
Roll number: 91388S
Date of inspection: 11 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Carrigaline Community School. 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 subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Music has a high profile in Carrigaline Community School, and is available to all students in all years. First-year students study eight subjects, including Music, over a two-week cycle as part of their ‘options taster programme’. In second year, students choose three subjects from Music, German, Art, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork and Technical Graphics. Music is a core subject in Transition Year (TY) and students can also choose Music Production as a module. Students have an open choice in senior cycle and choose four subjects from a list of sixteen, and the school then forms blocks which give the best fit based on student preference and mindful of timetable and staffing constraints. A healthy proportion of students opt for Music throughout the school, with a good gender balance generally. Timetable provision for Music is in line with Department guidelines, with all classes having the required allocation.
In addition to the curricular opportunities, a variety of extra-curricular musical activities exists in the school. Students are involved in events such as carol services, awards ceremonies and liturgical services, which occur throughout the school year. The school produces a musical every second year, examples of which include Jesus Christ Superstar and Queen – We are the Champions. This show generally involves TY students but it is open to students from the first, second and fifth years also. These musicals alternate with an Artscape, a type of arts festival, which involves the whole-school community. In addition the students’ musical experiences are regularly enriched by trips to concerts and shows, and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers. Examples of these include rhythm and dance workshops such as the Beatbox workshop with Klaus Vormehr, attendance at the annual Cork Pops school concerts, and trips to the Point Theatre. The students have also participated in the Composer in the Classroom project, which is organised by the Cork International Choral Festival. The school is also involved in the County Cork School of Music Scheme, run under the auspices of the County Cork Vocational Education Committee (VEC). This scheme provides individual tuition in a variety of instruments. This range of activities implies a lot of cross-curricular links involving many areas within the school. Thus there is collaboration with the religion department for all liturgical events, and the art and drama departments for the musical and Artscape. There are also links with the French department, where exchange students from France attend lessons in Irish traditional music and also attend regular Music lessons, and a similar arrangement exists for their American exchange partners. Regret was expressed by the Music teachers at the lack of any choir or instrumental ensembles in the school. Although there is a willingness on the part of the teachers to provide these activities, it is felt that the short lunchtime, of forty-minutes duration, is insufficient and it is difficult to contain students after school due to other commitments and bus timetables etc. As it is, the wide range of activities currently available is commendable, and does much to raise the profile of Music as a subject in Carrigaline Community School. The Music department’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise. It is suggested that some type of structured choral and instrumental activity could be incorporated into the first-year and TY programmes, for example, and built up slowly so that in time, they could be assimilated into the current extra-curricular musical activities if necessary.
Carrigaline Community School has two designated Music rooms but as these are used for other classes also, the planning and preparation of lessons is difficult, with all resources stored in these rooms. Each room is equipped with a piano, a sound system, audio-visual equipment, a whiteboard, and an overhead projector (OHP). A growing collection of CDs and DVDs is also available, along with some classroom instruments, music stands, an electronic keyboard and choir risers. One room has a computer with Sibelius software installed, and there is a laptop computer and data projector available on request. This resource provision is commendable and is a contributory factor to the viability of this department. There is an attractive range of musical posters in both rooms and one room has a series of montages chronicling activities such as the Composer in the Classroom, and previous Artscapes and shows. This is commendable as it all serves to heighten an awareness of Music and the musical activities that go on in the school.
A few shortcomings were immediately noticeable, mainly in relation to the resources in the rooms. Aside from the fact that non-dedicated rooms limit the amount of time available for preparation, the design of the rooms is such that the cumbersome furniture militates against any flexibility in relation to the arrangement of different music-teaching settings. The rooms are designed to seat approximately thirty students comfortably. This furniture takes up all the available space, so the organisation of a permanent performing area is not feasible. This curtails group performing quite considerably as witnessed first hand during the inspection where students engaged in a series of body-percussion activities were restricted to a considerable degree. In one of the rooms the positioning of the piano counteracts the otherwise good design of the teaching space as it is facing the wall at the top of the room. This means that the teacher’s back is turned when utilising this resource and this can be a detriment to good classroom interaction.
The exploration of ways in which the use of the Music rooms for other lessons can be minimised is recommended, in order to allow for a more efficient coordination of the work in this already very effective department. Furthermore, it is recommended that an examination of the existing space and furniture is given some consideration. The large heavy tables in the room militate against active learning and take up all the space. Smaller folding tables which could be used by the students when writing, for example, could possibly improve the situation and allow for a more fluid learning environment where performing, composing and listening activities could be undertaken with minimal upheaval. Additionally, the piano in the second room should be turned around to allow for improved interaction in the classroom setting.
There exists an impressive level of collaborative planning for the development of Music in this school. This planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. As school development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage, a thorough curricular audit has taken place and detailed documentation outlining the running of this department is now available. Comprehensive programmes of work scheduling the topics to be covered were presented. These were relevant to the syllabuses and the requirements of the State examinations, and took into account the level of ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group and included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets, worksheets and an organised and comprehensive stock of support material suitable for all levels. A range of cross-curricular planning was highlighted, along with a well-planned TY programme. A proposal to include a guitar-tuition module in TY next year was also seen. This proposal is worthwhile and thorough with realistic expectations. Pursuing this line of curricular activity is recommended.
The Music teachers work effectively as a team, planning programmes of work for the year and organising the other musical activities which take place in the school. From discussion with the teachers it was found that considerable thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all Music courses in the school. In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a high level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, audio and technological resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
There is regular contact and cooperation between the teachers in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabuses with their classes. The teachers meet three times a year to evaluate the implementation, progress and success of the common programmes they cover. Some frustration was expressed regarding the first-year carousel and the perceived lack of continuity between lessons which occur every two weeks. As moving out of this carousel block is not an option, it is recommended that the teachers re-think the planning of this course in terms of a modular approach and include an increased focus on self-contained practical activities.
The Music teachers are also members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords them the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to Music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other Music teachers. In addition, the teachers avail of any ongoing training courses which contribute to their overall continuing professional development (CPD). This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in Music education that arise in the future.
All lessons observed were presented in a coherent, confident and animated manner, with the purpose of each lesson clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. A good rapport obtained between the students and the teachers in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. The Music teachers created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented.
In all lessons visited, a wide variety of methodologies and examples of active music-making were seen. In the main, lessons were well structured and paced accordingly, although at times a more appropriate ordering of activities, with some aspects being kept until the end of the lesson when concentration levels tend to be a little lower, would do much to optimise the learning outcomes. This is especially true when it concerns the pacing of double periods for junior-cycle students, for example.
Examples of sound Music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on listening activities, revision, examination practice or performing. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students through well-structured and varied activities. Good learning was seen through listening and analysis, skill development, trial and error, and progressive refinement in all activities. The repertoire chosen for performance was suitable for the age levels while the approaches chosen contributed to the quality of learning and are to be commended. Student engagement was high, whether they were involved in vocal warm-ups, body-percussion, performing to computer accompaniment or singing songs and rounds. The teachers’ subject knowledge and skills had a positive impact on students’ musical thinking, attitudes and skills, and when listening activities were utilised, a wide range of interesting musical extracts were introduced. One activity involved the comparison of three performances of the song One sung by U2, Johnny Cash and Mary J. Blige. While listening to these extracts, the students answered questions on a worksheet. These questions were open-ended enough to allow students’ opinions to impact on the discussion of these performances. The students commented perceptively on the different moods invoked by the performances heard and proceeded with their own performance of the song, which reinforced and consolidated the activity. Strategies like these, which extend the range of musical experience of the students, are highly effective in developing critical listening skills and are to be commended.
Many teaching strategies were employed to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. In these lessons, a collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-peer interaction ensued, where the Music teachers provided guidance through various stages, used skilful techniques to elicit ideas from the students and provided a highly stimulating and challenging music-learning environment. Despite the shortcomings relating to the positioning of the piano and lack of an adequate performing area discussed above, in the main, resources were used appropriately. The department has just begun to utilise technological resources as a means of enhancing the learning environment. Although still relatively new, the use of these resources, specifically to facilitate PowerPoint presentations, is commendable. Well-designed slides, which avoided an overload of text and used multiple entry points of understanding, were employed and are commendable. In a lesson featuring the revision of instruments used in Samba bands for example, appropriate sound clips reinforcing the sounds and consolidating the information received on such instruments as the repenique, ganza and caixa were heard along with the memorable sound of the cuicas which was agreed sounded like ‘monkeys’ screams’. A similar use of sound clips and appropriate animation was observed when revising a set work for the Junior Certificate examination (in this case Rossini’s Overture to William Tell). This slide show began with the opening bars of the revolution section, known to the students as the Lone Ranger theme. While this was being played, an arrow went through an apple which served as the ‘o’ in the word ‘Overture’, appropriately incorporating visual, aural and imaginative entry points, immediately captured the students’ attention and the ensuing interesting discussion allowed for participation from the entire class group. The department is hoping to avail of the technology option in the Leaving Certificate Music examination next year, and on the evidence seen, the teachers’ experience to date will serve as a useful foundation for further development of this area. It is important to reiterate, however, that any opportunities allowing the Music teachers to attend courses in music technology should be researched and facilitated.
The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are well addressed in Carrigaline Community School, and they are linked and integrated in a balanced way. A positive learning environment was evident in all classes observed, and it contributed to an enjoyment of Music for the students. This environment, the use of varied learning methods and strategies which were used to increase and develop their aural awareness, understanding and appreciation of Music, are commendable.
The teachers’ Music knowledge, skills and experience ensure high expectations and a challenging learning environment for the students with subsequent high standards of performance. In all classes observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to these high standards. Students’ folders, workbooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, and were generally neat in appearance.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. There is a culture of continuous assessment in the school which includes end-of-term portfolio assessment for TY students, an end-of-year review and a presentation by these students to their parents and teachers. Where possible, homework is assigned in the three key areas of performing, composing and listening, and includes practical playing to foster confidence building, and to develop technical, interpretative and performance skills. This is given on a daily basis and mostly corrected the following day. It was good to note also that, in addition to a grade, many of these assessments received a comment or words of encouragement from the teachers. This is to be commended. The fact that, from second year on, students experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the State examinations is also noted and commended. These assessment structures are conducive to promoting student achievement. It is evident from observation of lessons, examination of student work and interaction with students, that students of all abilities are being successfully challenged and reach high levels of achievement in Music.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Music enjoys a high profile, is available to all students on an optional basis and is supported by in-school management.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines, with all classes having the required allocation.
Very good standards of teaching and learning employing sound musical practice, high standards of performing and a warm positive classroom atmosphere were significant aspects of the lessons seen during the visit.
Students displayed a high level of motivation and had a positive attitude towards Music. Observation of students’ work, both practical and written, indicates that the skills developed are appropriate and are of a very good standard.
A well-resourced Music teaching area exists in the school, is used appropriately and effectively in an integrated way to support the teaching and learning of Music. Some shortcomings such as the cumbersome furniture and the fact that there is no designated Music room per se are noted.
Management supports and facilitates any opportunities that arise for CPD in Music education.
Many extra-curricular musical activities take place throughout the school year including trips to concerts, and visits to the school by performers and workshop facilitators. It is clear that the benefits of these events to students are considerable. The school’s support in facilitating these experiences is commended and the Music teachers’ commitment to these activities is to be applauded.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
In as much as is practicable, at least one room should become a dedicated Music teaching area to allow for a more efficient coordination of this effective department.
Tackling the problem of cumbersome furniture is recommended, with some short-term solutions such as acquiring smaller desks, changing the seating arrangements, and moving around existing furniture as examples of possible improvements.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Music at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.