An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
College Street, Ballyshannon, County Donegal
Roll number: 91506V
Date of inspection: 13 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon. 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. 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 teacher. The board of management of the school was given the opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Development in the profile of Music in Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon has been achieved through, for example, the range of music activities that are available to students across the school through the work of the one-teacher department, which has been operated by the current teacher since 2003. The uptake for Music is healthy and this trend looks set to continue.
Music is a compulsory subject for all first-year students. All subjects are sampled throughout first year. At the end of the year, students are surveyed and subject bands are formed around their choices, a practice that is commended. Parents of these students are also guided through subject options. The allocation to Music in junior cycle is good. And although first-year students only receive two periods per week as a direct result of the policy of sampling, this is then increased to four periods per week in second and third years. All classes are of mixed ability.
Senior cycle students are also well supported in making their subject choices. All third year and Transition Year (TY) students receive career guidance classes, which are centered on subject choices and the implications of selections. Evening meetings are also held for parents to provide advice on subject choices. In addition, the Guidance department is available to meet with students by appointment. These systems help to ensure that the individual needs of students are being met.
All TY students study Music throughout the year and are allocated two periods per week. The allocation for the remaining senior cycle students is also in line with syllabus requirements.
Provision for Music is good. There is one, large dedicated specialist Music room, which, if required, can also be used as a stage. A separate storage room is also available which ensures that music materials are reasonably secure. Additional storage cupboards are available in the Music room which hold a quantity of CDs videos, and DVDs. In addition, music stands, an upright piano in excellent condition, television, CD player, keyboards, guitars, violins, percussion instruments and a bodhrán are also available for the exclusive use of the Music department. One computer with Finale Notepad is available to the Music teacher. As efforts have been made to integrate technology into Music lessons, and beyond the requirements of the Music practical examinations, it is recommended that the school, as part of its long-term planning, now devise strategies to ensure the growth and development of music technology in order to facilitate its wider usage among Music students.
Although there is no allocated budget for Music, all needs are met subject to requisition. The Music department itself has also been pro-active at seeking funds. A local band was due to perform in the school at the time of the inspection with 50% of the profits going to the Music department. Events produced by the department such as the annual “Stars in their Eyes” competition have also added to its finances and such innovation is commended. Attendance at the conferences organised by the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) are partially subsidised by the school.
The Music department provides a variety of music activities for all students. All students who are interested in participating in bands can compete in the “Battle of the Bands” annual competition while the aforementioned “Stars in their Eyes” event caters for students’ with different musical tastes. The school choir is formed as occasions arise in the school. Musical productions are also a feature of the departments’ musical calendar and allow for cross-curricular planning between the Music department and other subject departments. Participation in the National Chamber Choir composition workshops have led to recent success as one student has been selected to compete in the national final. Students have also been brought on trips to the National Concert Hall (NCH) and other more local venues. Once again, the breadth of musical activities ensures that all tastes are catered for through the generosity of the Music department and in this regard the department is commended.
School development planning is ongoing in Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon with some policies already in place. Planning has extended into curriculum areas. Subject departments have been established and department planning templates are developing. Formal department planning meetings are set aside for most subject departments. At present, the Music teacher meets with senior management informally to relay plans for forthcoming events. Such meetings are generally held at the start of the year and as the need arises and, to date, have not been documented. It is recommended that formal planning times now be used to create opportunities for structured meetings between management and the Music department in order to facilitate long-term planning of all music activities. A record of such discussions should be kept to track decisions taken and to guide future planning.
It is commendable that planning has begun in the department. Planning documents were provided on the day of the inspection which outlined a broad range of content. Short-term targets were documented separately. To develop and enhance this good work, it is recommended that future planning should take due regard of the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie. Good planning is also evident in the level of extra-curricular activities on offer to the students. Such a wide variety could not occur so successfully without an appropriate level of advanced planning and the department is commended in this regard. Planning for all lessons observed was good. Objectives in all lessons were clearly stated and showed the value of sharing the learning outcomes with students, thus allowing them to gain a sense of the direction in which the lesson was heading and an inner sense of achievement when objectives had been attained.
Good advance preparation was equally apparent by the manner in which all resources, worksheets and handouts were ready for use during the lessons. In some cases, these resources were teacher-designed specifically to complement students’ learning. Records of attendance, homework assignments and assessments were evident on the day of the inspection.
Three classes were visited during the course of the visit: two junior cycle groups and one senior cycle group. In addition, at the request of the department, a traditional Irish music rehearsal was also visited. In all lessons, a very good rapport existed between teacher and students. Discipline was very well maintained. An atmosphere of mutual respect existed. Students were constantly affirmed for good work. Students were kept engaged with the content by the variety of teaching methodologies that were deployed.
The classroom atmosphere was richly enhanced by the impressive provision of professionally produced printwork materials and with work produced by the students themselves. For example, a junior cycle class had designed and created a quantity of percussion instruments which were very innovative and clearly illustrated the students’ technical ability which had been expertly exploited by the teacher. This is also a useful source of learning for students and is an additional strategy which complemented teacher-led learning and allowed students to develop the skills for self-directed learning. It is suggested that such a strategy might be incorporated into other lessons, if appropriate. Other displays included posters of instruments, the orchestra, various famous personnel, a record of musical events that had occurred, newspaper articles of Fleadh Ceoil 2005, and a mural with musical imagery painted on the wall. This variety and content of displays ensured that Music as a subject was linked to every-day musical events and in this regard, the Music department is commended.
All lessons observed had a very clear structure, were logically sequenced and delivered at a pace appropriate to the students. Particularly good practice was observed when a variety of content was incorporated into the lesson. For example, in a junior cycle lesson, students were given a melodic dictation exercise, a clapping exercise to help them with their aural memory, melody and chordal compositions. Such a variety of content ensured that students were kept engaged in the lesson and students were clearly motivated to complete all tasks. It should be borne in mind that allowing students to work in pairs or groups can serve as a very useful learning strategy for disciplines such as composition and, in that regard, it is recommended that it would now be integrated into lessons, where practicable.
A senior cycle lesson was a very good illustration of the importance of varying teaching strategies. The topic was Fusions in Irish Music. Students were presented with a handout containing a number of questions regarding instrumentation, devised by the teacher. Pictures of instruments were shown to the students which enhanced their understanding. Various selections of music were played and students were asked to respond. At all times, they were affirmed and encouraged. Students with greater experience of music were asked more difficult technical questions to help them fulfil their potential and this was a very good application of differentiation in a lesson.
Irish music was also the central theme in a junior cycle lesson where students had to identify instruments and the type of dance being performed. In this lesson, the rhythm patterns of dances including the jig, reel and hornpipes were linked to specific words. These links were creative and helped to improve students’ understanding of a difficult concept. Practical activities were also included into the content of the lesson where students performed a two-part recorder piece to a backing track. The choice of material was very appropriate for the students and the backing track was appealing. Students revised through each part of the piece carefully before performing in two parts and students were then introduced to a new section in the music. Pacing is critical when teaching new music and a slow pace is always advised. Students were encouraged to clap the rhythm and such a strategy enhanced their learning in this regard.
In all lessons observed, questioning of students required a factual answer and did not always encourage the development of opinions or an engagement with music. While these questions are very appropriate and of considerable merit in context, students’ higher-order thinking skills should be developed as much as possible, particularly as they progress upwards in their academic career. In that regard, it is recommended that more challenging questioning strategies which encourage students to engage with Music, form opinions and utilise newly acquired musical language should be used where possible and where appropriate.
The board was used effectively to document students’ responses, explain musical features or to record key concepts.
Class assessments are given to all students at Christmas. Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year groups at Easter and summer. Mock examinations are held for Junior and Leaving certificate students in February. Practical activities form a percentage of these assessments for second and fifth year at the summer examinations. Reports are issued following all assessments. In addition, parents have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent-teacher meetings. The school journal is used to monitor students’ progress which must be signed weekly by parents.
Questioning and examination of students’ work during the inspection indicated that students were well equipped to respond and in some cases, as befitting a mixed ability setting, high levels were achieved. Monitoring of students’ copies and manuscripts occurs frequently, which is good practice. Such monitoring could now be enhanced by the inclusion of a comment to indicate suggestions for improvement. A review of certification data indicates that students are generally encouraged to participate at the highest level of which they are capable. The Music department is commended in this regard and 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 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.