An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Bishopstown Community School
Roll number: 91397T
Date of inspection: 16 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bishopstown 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 teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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 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 is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in Bishopstown Community School. A taster system operates in first year where students study eight core and seven optional subjects. The students then choose two subjects from Art, Business, Home Economics, Materials Technology Wood, Metalwork, Technical Graphics and Music for the Junior Certificate. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme includes a music module which the students follow for the entire year, and Music is one of the subjects in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students choose four out of sixteen subjects and groups are formed according to the ‘best fit’ approach. Due to exceptionally small numbers in sixth year, this system has resulted in limited demand for some subjects so there is no Leaving Certificate music class at present. In fifth year, for the first time the ‘best fit’ approach has resulted in Music being placed in a block with French and Construction Studies. This has also had some implications for the uptake of the subject at senior cycle. French is the only European language taught in the school, so those students wishing to progress to the National University of Ireland (NUI) colleges after their Leaving Certificate are unable to do Music. Despite boys outnumbering girls by more than two to one in the school, and a gender balance that reflects this ratio in the other music groups, the opposite is true in this case. In addition over 50% of the fifth year Music class are students whose first language is not English. All these issues present new challenges both for the teacher and students. It is recommended that the area of subject choice continues to be closely monitored at senior cycle to avoid a recurrence of this type of situation in the future.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines. There is generally an appropriate spread of contact time during the week with one exception. The two allotted double periods in third year run on two consecutive days leaving a five-day gap between classes. Although it is acknowledged that this does not always happen, the exploration of ways in which this could be avoided is recommended in order to minimise lengthy gaps between classes.
The music mission statement in Bishopstown Community School aims among other things to “promote enjoyable participation in music making; to develop social skills through participation in group music making, live concert experiences and music workshops” Thus, in addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities takes place during the school year. The students come together on a needs basis for events in the school such as the open day, awards night, graduation night, carol services and fundraising. The school is particularly proud of the work done in raising money for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind through carol singing, for example. The school facilitates regular visits to local school concerts and to the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Students may also avail of the facilities in the music department at lunchtime, including those who are not studying Music as a subject. Thus, even if it is not part of their subject options, students may experience some type of music-making activity as part of their second-level education. This is commendable and does much to maintain a profile of Music in the school. Music workshops and visits by outside musicians and performers occur occasionally for students from all year groups. The TY students have been involved in the Composer in the Classroom project which is organised by the Cork International Choral Festival and are currently participating for the festival in 2007. This range of activities is commendable. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise.
Bishopstown Community School has a dedicated music room which is bright and acoustically satisfactory. A good stock of resources is available, including classroom instruments, a piano, a keyboard, audio resources, sheet music, overhead projector (OHP) and choir steps. An adjoining room provides storage space for all planning documents, texts, student resources, and guitars and other instruments used for the LCA and TY modules. A newly acquired computer workstation is also located in this room on which Sibelius software is installed. The walls are adorned with posters and charts about Music, a montage of activities undertaken by students, photographs of the guide dogs funded by the students’ carol singing and a notice board devoted to charting the progress being made in the current Composer in the Classroom project. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended. The investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved and is deserving of the highest praise.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in Bishopstown Community School. School development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage in the school and a detailed music plan was presented. Comprehensive programmes of work scheduling the topics to be covered were also presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlines the broad plan for each class group, includes a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets and an organised and comprehensive stock of support material suitable for all levels.
Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support material resources suitable for all levels. In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio and visual resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords her 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 teacher avails of any ongoing training courses which contribute to 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.
In all lessons observed, a secure, work-orientated atmosphere prevailed. Material was presented in a coherent manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. A warm, friendly rapport prevailed between the students and the teacher at all times. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts. Effective questioning to named students was employed to evaluate student prior learning and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter.
The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. In a lesson focussing on a recent trip to Dublin to attend a Music in the Classroom concert and to view an Irish harp in Trinity College, good reinforcement of the experience ensued through a clear well-structured worksheet with questions based on the trip and music heard in the concert, and a motivating factor in the form of a prize for the student with most correct answers. Throughout the lesson student knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible, and this was broadened and expanded through detailed questioning, explanation, clarification and encouragement from the teacher. Further links were made when the lesson progressed to recorder playing and the students worked on performances of Dublin’s Fair City (Molly Malone) and Dublin Dan. All these activities contributed to a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment and are commended.
Performing elements, involving mostly recorder playing, were observed in all lessons seen. Effective use was made of the classroom space and, notably, correct posture was insisted upon regardless of levels. Junior students used music stands positioned in front of their desks, while older students stood on the choir steps when playing in ensembles. This is good practice and is commended. The students were very familiar with these procedures and, when any of these activities was taking place, moved appropriately to their assigned ‘singing or playing places’ in an orderly fashion and returned to their desks later in the same way. Many concepts were consolidated in performance through good rehearsal techniques where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, parts were played separately and then in ensemble, and parameters such as articulation and dynamics were gradually introduced and refined through repetition. Supportive and assured accompaniments by the teacher, as well as a variety of backing tracks used both for practice and performing, enhanced the quality of the playing which is commendable.
When the more theoretical aspects of the syllabus were addressed, examples of sound music methodological practice were observed. The teacher used the available resources to introduce and consolidate theoretical material. Appropriate use of the whiteboard, demonstration and flash cards was seen as students were introduced to such concepts as dotted rhythms, cadential progressions and dynamics. In order to optimise learning, it is recommended that ways in which these methods could be expanded to include more active involvement by the students, and ways in which the OHP could be utilised in these situations could be explored.
The subject knowledge and skills evident in the music teaching observed impact well on students’ musical thinking, attitudes and skills, and when these were utilised, a wide range of interesting musical activities was introduced. These varied activities and methods used to reinforce learning, understanding and appreciation of Music, and which allowed for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students are commendable.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, were generally neat in appearance, and contained detailed information sheets, coursework, worksheets and recorder repertoire.
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. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis and is mostly corrected the following day. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. Students’ aural ability is monitored through regular assessments, which enables the teacher build a profile of students’ rhythmic and melodic competencies. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the State examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a student’s progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in the State examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential 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. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their children’s progress.
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 Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.