An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Carndonagh Community School
Carndonagh, County Donegal
Roll number: 91406R
Date of inspection: 15 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Carndonagh 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 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 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 an optional subject from first year in Carndonagh Community School. Prior to entry in September, a number of primary schools are visited in the locality to provide information to students. In addition, an open night is held annually in the school for parents of incoming first year students, which is complimented by the provision of a booklet, while the annual open day for these students ensures that they are provided with a useful opportunity to view the school. The school offers an open menu of subjects from which students make their choices, a system which is commended. The uptake for music in junior cycle is very healthy.
In senior cycle, the uptake is secure. Subject choice support at this level is equally good. Information evenings are also provided for parents of students either wishing to enrol in the Transition Year (TY) programme or fifth year and a booklet is provided to complement all presentations. The Guidance department is also on hand to provide any necessary additional support to parents or students.
The timetabling allocation is in line with the syllabus at both junior and leaving certificate levels. Also, the combination of single and double periods assists greatly towards ensuring adequate time for practical activities, particularly in senior cycle. In those contexts, the school and its management is commended. All classes are of mixed ability.
TY is optional for students but all TY students study Music. Music students are provided with a curriculum that is suitable for all students regardless of musical experience, which is in keeping with the ethos of TY. These students are allocated two periods weekly combined with three periods of a Performing Arts module and such provision is commended.
There is no set budget for Music but all needs are met subject to requisition. Provision for Music is good. There are two dedicated specialist rooms and the department has access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in the Computer Room where 15 copies of Finale Notepad software are installed. In addition, the computers in both Music rooms have Finale Notepad and Sibelius software installed. This excellent provision affords the Music department the opportunity to readily integrate technology into the teaching and learning of composition, for example, and the department is encouraged to plan for increased inclusion of music technology into lessons. The department has access to pianos, over-head projectors, CD players, white boards and stave boards, percussion instruments and a number of guitars. Once again, the school and its management are commended for this level of provision. It is recommended that the Music department, as part of its long-term planning, should prioritise resource needs for management so that the current school-based music library of materials such as CDs and additional resource books will be further enhanced.
Both teachers are members of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and this provides a useful mechanism for encountering other music teachers in a support network. The school provides travel and subsistence funding for any conferences the department may wish to attend, and such support is commended.
Students have the opportunity to access a range of different music activities and experiences. For example, instrumental lessons are provided in voice, piano, guitar, violin and drums. The school choir is formed for the entire academic year and is available to perform for school events, when needed. Rehearsals occur at lunchtime and/or after school, and could not take place without the commitment of the teachers involved. The Music department is also very committed to larger-scale musical events and previous productions have included “Stars in your Eyes”, a variety show and a musical. This array of activities ensures that a range of musical tastes is catered for and the Music department and all involved in the provision of such activities are commended. It is also acknowledged that these activities could not occur without the support of all staff.
School Development Planning is ongoing in Carndonagh Community School and has extended formally into curricular areas. Official planning meetings have occurred three times to date and all meetings are recorded. In addition, as the need arises, informal meetings occur within the Music department. Management also “checks in” regularly with all subject departments, including Music, and is kept informed of all planned activities and events.
Planning documentation was very evident. A department plan was available which outlined aims and long-term plans for all year groups. Individual yearly plans were also available. Opportunities for collaboration among teachers regarding the sharing of best practice on teaching strategies could now be exploited, with a view to including a range of such methodologies in the overall department plan. In addition, all resources currently available in the department should now be documented and also included in the plan. It should be borne in mind that the School Development Planning Initiative website, available at www.sdpi.ie is a useful resource for planning and the department is advised to avail of it.
The success associated with the commendable level of music activities on offer to the students reflects the appropriate level of good advance planning that is evident. Individual planning for all lessons observed was very good and the provision of individual class plans is acknowledged. In some cases, planning beyond the textbook was evident as teacher-devised notes were clearly aimed at enriching the students’ learning. The good practice of sharing the learning outcomes with students occurred in all lessons observed.
Four classes were visited during the course of the inspection: two junior cycle groups and two senior cycle groups. In addition, at the request of the department, a singing lesson was also visited. In all lessons, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers. Discipline was very well maintained. A good learning atmosphere existed in all lessons and an air of mutual respect was very evident.
The classroom atmosphere was enhanced by visually stimulating material. Professionally produced printwork materials included items of musical interest, such as orchestral instruments and composers on posters. Technical music concepts had also been reproduced on posters which served as a useful strategy for re-enforcing learning for students. Photographic displays of percussion workshops and previous musical productions were also evident and ensured that there was a permanent record of such activities, all of which further enhanced the learning environment.
All lessons had a clear structure, were logically sequenced and delivered at an appropriate pace. In a senior cycle lesson, for example, students were divided into pairs and required to recall the main points of the introductory section from their set work, Bohemian Rhapsody, which they had begun in a previous lesson. All responses were encouraged and affirmed. Students were then guided orally through the next section of the work and duly noted key information provided. In this regard, it is preferable to afford students the opportunity to discover as many analytical features themselves rather than simply informing them. Such a strategy would increase the students’ ability to work independently and this active methodology would then complement the notes being provided while developing the students’ critical thinking skills. A skilful link was made between this section of the lesson and the content of the next section of the lesson (the playing of an Irish music version of Bohemian Rhapsody by De Dannan).
A variety of methodologies was incorporated into lessons. A junior cycle lesson, which was focused on composition, began with a brainstorming session where students were questioned regarding the constitution of a good melody. Their responses were duly recorded on the board. Students were then provided with a handout containing a melody, which was also documented on the board, for class discussion. The class then negotiated, by discussion, a rhythm pattern followed by a melodic pattern, which was then performed for them. Allowing students to hear the compositions, including their own, is good practice. However, an additional useful approach in this regard is allowing the students themselves to perform melodies either vocally or instrumentally and the department is advised to integrate such a strategy into music lessons. In a senior cycle lesson on composition, students were also questioned on the characteristics of a good melody. A melodic exercise was then negotiated with the students through discussion and by reference to Tonic Solfa. At this level, a useful additional strategy could be the provision of a pre-written melody to exemplify good practice and this would afford students the opportunity to identify good melodic features themselves and thus enhance their learning.
Sound methodological practice was evident where performing was integrated into a listening lesson. During a senior cycle lesson, students had been encouraged to bring in instruments and to perform dance tunes in order to distinguish between the different sounds of Irish instruments. This also allowed all students to engage actively rather than theoretically with the different types of dance tunes, which re-enforced their learning in this regard. These practical performances complemented the “lecture style” approach where short notes were called out to students which were then duly recorded.
Lessons which were focused on practical performances were well managed. In a senior lesson, in preparation for state examinations, there was effective management of time and space for performers to ensure that all were heard. There was a variety of group and individual instrumental and vocal performances and those of students working with music technology. Vocal students were taken through a series of warm-up exercises prior to performing, which is good practice.
Good questioning strategies occurred in all lessons which were either targeted at specific students or let out to the class. In some cases, questions required students to form and express opinions about music, which led to innovative discussions on the topic at hand. Allowing students to engage with music in this way is good practice.
Formal assessments are held for all year groups at Christmas and Easter. Additional assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year groups in May. Mock examinations are held for third and sixth-year groups also at Easter. Written reports are issued to parents of all year groups twice annually. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent-teacher evenings and are kept informed of students’ progress through the school journal, which must be signed each week. The Music department also sets end-of-topic tests as an additional mode of assessment. Continuous monitoring and assessment occurs during practical and written activities in lessons.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. Questioning and examination of students’ work indicated that students were at the appropriate level and in some cases, written and oral responses were of a commendably high standard. Monitoring of students’ work by teachers occurs regularly and students are provided with useful and affirming comments, a practice that is commended. In some cases, all materials including handouts, worksheets and composition exercises given to students were stored in A4 folders by the students and meticulously monitored. This ensured that students could, when required, identify readily the different components of the music syllabus and can access any material readily. This good practice is encouraged. A review of certification data indicates that students are generally encouraged to participate at the highest level of which they are capable and participation at higher level is good. The Music department is 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 key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers 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.