An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Classical Studies
Foxrock, Dublin 18
Roll number: 60240J
Date of inspection: 8 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Classical Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Foxrock. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Classical Studies 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 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.
Loreto College, Foxrock provides Classical Studies as an optional subject in the Junior Certificate (JC) programme, the Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate (LC) programme.
Whole-school support for the subject is very good in all areas. Loreto College recognises that a classical education has the capacity to enrich and deepen its students’ educational experience and to expand students’ understanding of our common European heritage. The school ethos is very positive towards the subject. At the school’s open day, for example, Classical Studies was promoted and incoming students and their parents were able to see resources and meet students of the subject. There is a designated Classical Studies notice-board strategically located in the area where students congregate so that information about the subject can be posted. It is reported that this has been a very successful initiative and has generated considerable awareness and interest in the subject. In addition to notices, attractive photographic displays are mounted recording students’ participation in various activities related to Classical Studies.
The school attempts to give as many students as possible an opportunity to experience Classical Studies. In first year, all five class groups sample the subject on a modular basis for six weeks and four lessons per week are allocated. Classical Studies has a discrete first-year foundation syllabus that can be easily adapted to a smaller “taster” module. A good programme has been designed that introduces students to Greek mythology and other key aspects of ancient civilisation. In second and third year, Classical Studies is offered on two option bands and this gives as many students as possible a chance to study the subject. Four lessons are provided in each of second and third year and this meets syllabus requirements. While just one double period is provided in the TY programme, the school is commended for giving every student a chance to broaden her education. A very stimulating six-week module has been developed. In the LC programme, five lessons are allocated in fifth year and five in sixth year and this allows adequate time to cover the syllabus. While distribution is quite good, there is scope for development in this area, and the school should move towards ensuring that students have contact with the subject on each day in the case of the LC programme, and on four consecutive days in the case of the junior cycle.
All class groups are taught in a mixed-ability setting. Uptake of higher level is extremely good in both the JC and LC programmes and almost all students take higher-level Classical Studies. Those wishing to change level are facilitated and advised. As class numbers are low, students receive individual attention.
Resources for the subject are very good. The teaching team is highly commended for a proactive approach to the sourcing and ongoing development of a very good range of resources that caters for a variety of learning styles and learning ability. Management is very supportive in this regard and a budget is provided for the subject. The teachers are classroom based and this is very helpful. Classical Studies is a resource-intensive subject and therefore it is possible to store resources and to mount attractive displays in the classrooms. There is access to a full range of audio-visual resources including DVD players, televisions and overhead projectors. The department has a good stock of books, DVD and video recordings, games, a variety of props and visual material. In general, classrooms and resources created good learning conditions for the subject. However, on the day of the evaluation, the school’s intercommunication system was intrusive in some lessons observed and interrupted the flow of learning. It is reported that this usage does not reflect normal operating procedures within the school and the matter has been reviewed at school level.
The professionally-run library is an excellent resource and there are ambitious plans to develop it further with the goal of creating an interactive learning and research centre. There is very good liaison between the teaching team and the school library and there is a very good stock of classics books that is reviewed and updated. Some Latin junior cycle texts were also on display in the library and these are useful since some areas of the Latin course (civilisation section) overlap with the Classical Studies course. The library also keeps some DVDs and video recordings for class use in addition to some periodicals. At present, it is understood that the Cambridge Latin Course (both text and CD ROM) is on order and this will provide an additional resource for Classical Studies. It may even be possible to encourage some students with a particular interest in the classical world to become independent learners of Latin (using the Cambridge Latin Course) because of the ease of access to a good range of ICT facilities in the library itself. This would be a particularly interesting school project for students in the exceptionally able range of ability.
Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are very good and the subject has access to a multi-media room, a computer room and to mobile data projectors and laptops in addition to the ICT provision in the library. There are plans for further development of ICT and this is likely to give the subject teachers access to an interactive whiteboard in the future.
A highly motivated and professional team of two teachers delivers the subject in the school. Continuous professional development (CPD) is a priority, and in addition to engagement with the professional association, CAI-T, teachers have attended a variety of courses. The department has planned a joint study trip to Oxford University during the summer and a research trip has already taken place with a view to planning for a school tour. It is also understood that a member of the teaching team plans to develop linguistic expertise in order to give students the option of studying Latin, if they so desire, when the new Junior Certificate integrated course is ready for implementation. Such forward planning and initiative are highly commended. A good network of contacts with teachers of the subject in other schools has led to productive professional dialogue and the exchange of resources and pedagogical ideas. In order to ensure the survival and development of the subject in the long term, it is desirable that the teaching of senior cycle Classical Studies be rotated where possible, subject to timetabling and other practical considerations.
The school as a whole and the Classical Studies teachers in particular recognise that learning takes place in a variety of sites besides the classroom and an excellent range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities extend students’ experience of the subject. Students of Classical Studies attend appropriate theatrical productions. Outings have taken place to the classical museum in University College Dublin. Recently there was a visit to Trinity College and a fun activity involving a treasure hunt ensured that students learned more about the classical world in a very positive way. Students also participated in “mock” Olympic Games held in the school grounds. The department is currently planning to take students on a trip to Bath, England, in the academic year 2008-2009. In the longer term, it may be possible to visit sites in Rome and Greece. The teaching team is highly commended for their level of dedication since teachers generously give their free time to enrich their students’ experience of Classical Studies.
A culture of planning is well embedded in the school and a very good plan has been developed for Classical Studies. There is a strong collaborative ethos in the Classical Studies department. In addition to formal meetings, there are very regular informal meetings. The planning folder contains a number of useful documents recording planning activity, schemes of work for each year group based on the syllabus, a list of extra-curricular and CPD activities, assessment policy and other resources, including a list of websites. Strategic planning for the subject is highlighted through the department’s documented developmental targets and this is highly commended. To build on existing good practice, the teaching team should now begin to develop a set of learning outcomes for each year group based on the syllabus. In parallel with the roll out of the school’s ICT plan, the department should also record specific ways in which ICT should be integrated into the teaching and learning of Classical Studies.
Modular planning for first year and TY is good and the programme is designed to give students an interesting overview of the classical world as well as providing a basic foundation for the JC and LC programmes. As an area for development, it is recommended that a research project be introduced into TY programme. This could be an individual, group or class project and a wide range of possibilities should be considered with a view to developing a number of key skills. It is understood that the TY programme is regularly reviewed and that students’ opinions are sought on course content from time to time. This inclusive approach is very commendable.
Schemes for the JC and LC were good and very much in line with the syllabus. Some modifications to the delivery of the LC programme should be considered. Given that the current syllabus is long and extensive, some topics could be streamlined. The length of time it is currently taking to cover topics needs to be re-evaluated. Schemes should ensure that the key issues in each topic are highlighted and less time needs to be spent, for example, on background information and on detailed exploration of sources that is more appropriate to third level. The chronological sequence in which syllabus topics are covered could be reviewed.
Individual lessons were planned to include a very good range of resources and activities and exemplary practice was observed. Film clips, slide presentations, props and handouts had all been made ready in advance.
A range of topics was covered in the classes visited. Themes such as ancient epic, mythology, Roman comedy and the theatre, gladiators and women in Greek society, were appropriate to syllabuses (LC, JC) and programme content (TY) and generated considerable interest. Some themes were in the introductory phase of learning. Other topics were being revised and this was very appropriate given the time of year at which the evaluation took place. While lesson content was generally very good there are some areas for development. For example, during the revision period, less time should be spent on stimulus material that is insufficiently targeted, and on extension activities that are more appropriate to earlier stages of learning. Instead, it is suggested that lessons should aim to cover a number of questions (guided by past examination papers) that have been researched by students as homework activity. The board could be used to outline key points contributed by the students themselves. In all cases, the aim of the lesson was clear from the outset and very good practice was observed where the learning intention was written on the board. To complement this good practice, it would be useful to write specific learning outcomes also on the board so that students would understand what precisely they should know or be able to do at the end of the lesson. This would also allow the closing stage of the lesson to be used for diagnostic purposes to assess if the outcomes had been achieved. Focus remained clear and constant in most lessons observed so that the lesson had a clear line of development. In only a very small minority of cases did the focus shift to an extraneous theme but the lesson regained direction. Nonetheless, it is advisable to ensure that material used is specifically targeted to achieve the main lesson aim.
Teaching strategies were well chosen and varied. Links were made with former learning to build confidence. Questioning was used for a variety of purposes, for example, to test recall and to revise material that had already been learned, to check understanding of new material or to test observation, to encourage reflection and elicit personal responses and to prompt students to develop their thinking process. It is particularly commendable that higher-order thinking was extensively promoted. Global and targeted questioning was used. This balance should be kept under review as an over reliance on global questioning may facilitate some students to disengage. Small classes generally prevented this from taking place. A very helpful strategy used was group work that not only promoted collaborative learning but also helped to ensure the participation of all students. The teacher was able to circulate and check individual students.
Learning resources used were of a very high quality and considerable variety ensured constant engagement of students’ interest and catered for a variety of abilities and learning styles. In a junior cycle lesson, a PowerPoint presentation showed a range of syllabus relevant visual material to revise key areas in preparation for the state examination. Useful advice regarding examination technique was imparted and it is very commendable that technical terms were emphasised as this is often an area that students find challenging. In a senior cycle lesson, a film clip was used to clarify and to engage. Students were issued with a question sheet in advance of viewing, and afterwards, they were questioned closely on the content to ensure their full attention so that meaningful learning took place. Props such as swords and armour were used to help students visualise and to enhance understanding. The overhead projector was deployed appropriately. The board was used to document key points and to direct students’ attention to lesson content. More use could be made of the board to record new words. Key technical terms associated with the subject could be displayed on the walls to reinforce learning and these could be designed by the students themselves. The classroom was used very well as a learning resource. A variety of learning aids was on display and use was made of a wall chart, for example, to illustrate a point. A themed board game was also used to make learning fun. In view of the fact that many lessons are double periods across all year groups, the variety of resources used helped to offset in some measure the length of lessons that could have been difficult for younger students. It is very commendable that teaching strategies accommodated practical realities.
The quality of interaction between students and teachers was very good. Students demonstrated interest and enthusiasm through their attention to the subject matter and in their answering. It is very commendable that students’ work was mounted on the walls of classrooms. Excellent exemplars were on display and there was clear evidence of students’ imaginative and creative engagement with Classical Studies. Examples included artistic interpretations of classical themes in the form of paintings, mosaics and acrostic poems. Feedback from a senior cycle research assignment indicated that students had displayed initiative in sourcing information and it is very commendable that they were asked to reflect on their research, to state what they had learned and to express an opinion. To complement this very worthwhile learning activity, and to develop students’ critical skills when researching on the internet, a most valuable competence, students could be asked to verify and compare sources. Homework tasks set were appropriate. In one case, an imaginative task was assigned that was designed to develop higher-order skills and creativity. The range of content observed in copybooks and folders indicate that a great deal has been learned.
There was a very warm rapport between students and teachers in the lessons observed. Students are affirmed in a very nurturing learning environment. Classroom management was excellent in all classes visited. There was clear evidence that students derive considerable enjoyment from the subject.
It is very commendable that a wide range of assessment modes is documented in the plan for Classical Studies. Assessment of learning takes place through class tests and in-house, “mock” and state examinations. It is understood that the department reviews examination outcomes and this is laudable as important information can be gleaned that informs teaching practice and planning for the subject. Continuous assessment takes place through classroom observation and through project work. Teacher records of attendance and assessment are maintained.
Assessment for learning was observed during lessons when question and answer sessions were used to assess how effectively information had been assimilated or remembered and to provide a platform for further learning. Teachers provide written feedback in copybooks and this is very good practice since it not only encourages students but also, and importantly, helps to direct learning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support is very good in all areas and the school has created a good learning environment for the subject.
· Resources are very good for the subject and are constantly being developed.
· The quality of planning for the subject is very good and there is evidence of forward strategic planning.
· An enthusiastic and professional team delivers the subject and there is a very high value placed on reflective practice and continuous professional development.
· Students were stimulated, challenged and engaged in all lessons observed.
· There was clear evidenced that students enjoy the subject.
· A good range of assessment modes is practised.
· Excellent extra-curricular and co-curricular activities enrich students’ experience of Classical Studies and this is possible through the voluntary efforts of the teaching team and management support.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A major research project could be set for the Transition Year to enhance the range of research and other tasks already being carried out.
· The team should plan for the further development and integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Classical Studies.
· Planning for the delivery of the LC syllabus should be reviewed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Classical Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008