An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Mountmellick Community School,
Mountmellick, County Laois
Roll number: 91426A
Date of inspection:† 9 March 2006
Date of issue of report:† 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mountmellick Community School.† It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers.† The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Whole school support for History is the context in which the teaching and learning of History takes place throughout the school.† The management of Mountmellick Community School strives to ensure that this context is a positive one. The study of History is accessible to every student.† Junior-cycle students study History as a compulsory component of their Junior Certificate Programme.† Senior-cycle students who elect to pursue either the Leaving Certificate (Established) (LCE) or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are provided with the opportunity to study History as an optional subject choice.† The four members of the History subject team have been deployed satisfactorily and efforts are made to ensure that the teachers assigned to first year classes continue with the same group until the students sit their Junior Certificate examinations.† This enables teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework.
A study of the time allocation to History shows that every junior cycle class has three periods per week and that fifth and sixth-year History class groups have five periods per week.† This provision together with the pattern of the distribution of the History class periods is another indication of the supportive environment for the subject that exists within the school.† There are four class groups in each of the three junior-cycle year groups and in keeping with school policy each year group is divided into two bands. These in turn are divided into two class groups from the pool of students in the particular bands.† The formation of the optional subject class groups in the senior-cycle is based on the uptake of the subjects by the students.† There are currently two History class groups in fourth year where forty-six students are studying the subject and one class group comprising twenty-three students in fifth-year.
The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to school facilities that are available to the History teachers and their students support effective coverage of the coursework.† The History teachers have their own base classrooms and teaching aids such as audio-visual and access to information and communication technology (ICT) are available to them.† There is a library and a computer room on campus.†† Management supports and encourages collaborative planning within the subject team.† Meetings of the History department are facilitated and funding for the purchase of necessary items is provided.† The importance of in-service training is recognised and management has accommodated the attendance of the teachers at the in-service courses for the new Leaving Certificate syllabus.† Management also appreciates the importance of field trips to places of historical interest in enriching the studentsí study of History and facilitates the teachers who organise these activities.† Membership of the History Teachersí Association of Ireland is paid on behalf of the teachers.† The broad range of support for History in Mountmellick Community School is commended.
The History subject team is a dynamic group who bring a palpable energy to their work.† The showcased display of the History projects completed by first-year students that is located in a public area on the ground floor of the school is commended.† The display contains interesting and quality exhibits that reflect the vitality of the History teachers and their students alike.† This same vitality has encouraged the History teachers to explore a number of other initiatives in order to provide their students with a wide range of learning experiences.† The teachers have established a History Video Club that has proved popular with students.† They have also organised group meetings that focus on various case studies from the Leaving Certificate History syllabus to promote studentsí interest in History.† Field trips are conducted for students.† Individual members of the History subject team have participated in the ICT strand of TL21.† This is a collaborative development and research project conducted under the aegis of NUI (Maynooth) that in the case of the ICT strand explores creative ways of including elements of ICT in teaching and learning.† These many initiatives are commended.
The shared commitment of the History subject team to providing good quality teaching and learning in the classroom is quite apparent in the planning documentation of the History department.† The History framework document that has been compiled details year plans of the coursework for the junior and senior-cycle year groups, teaching resources including the names of†† studentsí History textbooks, information about field trips, the curriculum provision for History and a record of the subject departmental meetings.† The History framework document has an important role to play in the continuous development of the teaching and learning of the subject throughout the school and it is best to see it as a work in progress rather than a finished product.† It is suggested that the framework document be developed further over a period of time to include a statement of the aims and objectives of the History department, agreed departmental policy statements relating to issues such as assessment, how history teachers meet the needs of students who display learning difficulties, homework and the integration of ICT into the history classroom.† It is advocated that year plans include mention of useful resources and classroom methodologies in relation to the various topics in order to ensure that the needs of the many different kinds of learner are met through the use of a range of appropriate teaching styles.† It is not envisaged that the development of year plans in this manner would stifle teachersí own initiatives but rather act as a helpful reference for maintaining good quality teaching.
The headway being made by the History teachers in exploring the potential of ICT as a teaching and learning device is encouraged.† It is suggested that consideration be given to compiling a departmental folder of successfully delivered class lessons and activities over a period of time that would provide another useful departmental resource to assist the History teachers.
There was ample evidence of individual planning and preparation for all the lessons observed.† The teachers chose a definite lesson topic and displayed a good grasp of the syllabus.† The placement of the lesson topics in the context of the wider syllabuses was evident from the year plans. The advance readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of class handouts, overhead transparencies, the review of selected pages in class textbooks and the choice of homework.† In keeping with good teaching practice the lesson plans stated the aims, objectives, methodologies and resources that were incorporated into the intended study of the lesson topic.† The plans included a variety of teaching and learning methodologies to meet the needs of the students, and consolidate their learning.† The decoration of the classroom walls with history materials further helped to create an environment that was supportive of the delivery of the lessons. The diligence of the teachers is again commended.††
Teaching and learning in the classes visited took place in a positive and friendly atmosphere.† The students were addressed by name and the classroom skills of the teachers ensured that discipline was sensitively maintained.† The commitment of the teachers to the education of their students was evident at all times.† The preparations for the lessons that had been undertaken by the teachers meant that each teacher had a clear overview of the lesson and was able to guide and direct its progress in the ways intended.† The presentation of the lessons and the teachersí interaction with their classes ensured that the students remained attentive and engaged in their study of the lesson topic.
The focus and purpose of each lesson was made clear to the students at the outset.† Individual teachers had recorded information on the board prior to the students entering the room or distributed a handout to facilitate student engagement with the lesson topic.† The addressing of questions to the class and to named students during this initial phase of the lesson enabled the teachers to provide their students with an informed understanding of the context of the lesson topic.† Good use was made of the blackboard to record and highlight key points that emerged during the course of the teachersí interaction with their students.† Another approach adopted towards the same end was to direct students to read aloud excerpts from the class handout. This strategy also provided the students with a clear understanding of the lesson topic. The informative comments made by the teachers arising from the studentsí answers to questions and from the material that was read steadily enhanced their knowledge of the subject.† The responsiveness of the students indicated that they were engaged and contributing to the lesson.
Purposeful and thoughtful use was made of teaching resources.† The teachers used the resources as means of making their students more informed about the lesson topic.† A prepared class handout provided one class group with a more manageable and structured account of a lesson topic than was to be found in the studentsí textbook.† Overhead transparencies were used effectively in a number of lessons.† For example, during a class lesson on the Cromwellian campaign and subsequent plantation in Ireland the use of overhead transparencies was interwoven into the structure of the lesson.† The overhead transparencies impacted strongly on student learning by providing them with information in a variety of ways such as maps, pictorial illustrations and key terms as well as providing class-based assignments.† Study of relevant material in the studentsí textbooks helped to consolidate student learning while at the same time facilitating studentsí participation in the lesson when selected students read aloud.† The textbook was used in conjunction with another resource such as an overhead transparency or a class handout in some lessons.† It is advocated that reading aloud should be undertaken by the students rather than the teacher unless there is a definite reason for doing otherwise as this activity can increase their contribution to the class lesson.
The History teachers guided and motivated their students throughout the lessons observed.† They are commended for their efforts in ensuring that effective learning takes place in their classrooms.† Their encouragement of studentsí progress through autonomous learning is a feature of their work.† The setting and correction of homework assignments and research topics for senior-cycle students and, the organisation of studentsí projects are part of the teaching practices observed.† Individual teachers also incorporate group work into the study of lesson topics at opportune times.† The History teachers are encouraged to continue to explore a range of learning activities that foster autonomous learning on the part of the students.† For example, the History teachers might consider setting homework exercises occasionally that encourage students to develop their own research skills through note-taking or the setting of open-ended exercises to encourage students to source ICT-generated material.† Not every student has ready access to the internet so a history homework that is open-ended might first need to involve a visit of the history class to the schoolís ICT room to conduct research into the homework assignment.
Assessment and evaluation are important aspects of classroom teaching and of the educational policies of the school.† The oral questioning of students and the random spread of questions throughout the class enabled the teachers to gauge the studentsí grasp and understanding of the lesson material.† The teachersí practice of setting homework and classroom assignments are other means of assessing studentsí progress.† Examination of studentsí copybooks and written work during the course of the inspection visit showed the importance attached to these learning activities.† The teachersí comments on the homework assignments support the progress of the students.† All classes sit monthly or periodic assessments and the grades achieved form part of the end-of-term assessments.
Formal school examinations are organised for first, second and fourth-year students at the end of the first term and before the summer holidays commence.† The examination classes do not sit formal Christmas tests but do receive a Christmas assessment report of their progress.† The examination classes sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term in preparation for the state examinations in June.† School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the schoolís formal examination sessions.† A formal parent-teacher meeting is organised annually for each year group to keep parents and guardians informed of progress.
The recognition and celebration of student achievement is a vital part of school life.† Students are encouraged to make progress in their studies and to experience success in their secondary schooling.† The teachersí commitment to their students in all the classes visited and the importance attached to monitoring each studentís progress in the wider school context are indicative of the affirming environment within the school.† The school awards to students publicly affirm their achievements. The presentation of awards to students for their History projects and the display of the projects are part of this affirmation.
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 principal and with the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board wishes to congratulate the principal, staff of the History Department and students on this excellent report.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board will continue to provide the necessary support and resources that will facilitate the Principal and staff in the implementation of the findings and recommendations of the inspection report.