An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
St Joseph’s Christian Brothers School
Roll number: 60390F
Date of inspection: 29 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 23 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s CBS, Fairview. 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 the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and music teacher. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The music department is staffed by one permanent and fully qualified teacher. Music plays a significant role in the curriculum in St Joseph’s CBS and enjoys a very high profile. The school which caters for 233 students offers a taster system for first years whereby all optional subjects are sampled for the full academic year. This is excellent practice as it enables students to be well informed when selecting their subjects for the Junior Certificate. The uptake for Music in junior and senior cycles is very good and it is hoped that this will continue. Time allocation to Music is in line with syllabus recommendations and the provision of double periods which facilitates the integration of practical activities is commendable.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme but currently only students who take Music in the junior cycle have access to the subject in TY. This is not in keeping with the spirit of the TY programme as the rationale is to promote a wide range of learning experiences for students. Therefore, it is recommended that senior management, in close collaboration with the music department, should review the current arrangements for access to Music in TY at the first available opportunity with a view to including a broader range of students.
There is no fixed budget for Music but all needs are met upon request to senior management. Resources for Music are good. There is a dedicated music room for the exclusive use of the music department. Although the room accommodates students comfortably, the establishment of a dedicated performing area for practical activities is not viable. However, when required, furniture can be moved easily to facilitate music-making activities. The room is equipped with one keyboard and a good quality acoustic piano, a stereo player with speakers appropriately mounted, music stands, a TV and DVD player, two bongo drums and a supply of CDs, many of which belong to the teacher. The absence of a stave board which is a crucial resource for the teaching and learning of composition was noted. As part of long-term planning, it is recommended that the music department builds on current resources by acquiring a stave board and a class set of percussion instruments. These instruments will further enable the integration of practical activities into lessons. In addition, it is important that the music department communicates all needs regarding the procurement of CDs to senior management so that a school-based library of such resources can be further developed. The music department also has access to an overhead projector when needed but, to date, has not made use of this resource. It should be borne in mind that this resource can be very useful and its inclusion into lessons, where appropriate, is advised.
The music department has ready access to computers but has identified a need for further training in this regard. This is strongly recommended as information and communication technology (ICT) is a very valuable teaching and learning tool for many aspects of music education. In addition, it also provides students with an additional or alternative instrument for the practical components of the Certificate Examinations.
Commendably, the music teacher is afforded the opportunity to attend the annual conferences of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and the school subsidises attendance. Such conferences provide a useful outlet for teachers to engage and network collaboratively with other fellow professionals. The interest of the music department in continuous professional development is commended.
Students have opportunities to participate in a variety of music activities. When necessary, a choir is formed to participate in school events such as graduation and liturgical ceremonies. Each year, students are afforded the opportunity to participate in a school-based Battle of the Bands competition. The music department also enriches students’ musical experiences by trips to concerts in the National Concert Hall. Workshops in, for example, samba dancing are provided for TY students. These additional music activities enhance students’ educational learning experiences and are commended.
School development planning is ongoing in St Joseph’s CBS and has extended into curricular areas. Formal planning times are set aside for all subject departments. The music department now utilises these occasions to meet with the deputy principal and all meetings are recorded. This is good practice.
Planning documents were available on the day of the evaluation. Templates devised by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) were used as the basis of the department plan. These included an indication of the time allocation to Music, timetabling, textbooks and course materials required by the students, cross-curricular planning, list of resources, long-term content planning, homework procedures, assessment procedures, record and report keeping procedures. Yearly schemes were also available which indicated topics to be covered each week. In some cases, the song or work was named. This is a very good start and the work of the music department to date in this regard is commended. This could now be enhanced by the inclusion of the methodologies and differentiated strategies being used, to take account of those students with special educational needs (SEN) who are referenced in the plan. Planning for TY also demonstrated that students are being exposed to varied musical experiences some of which are rooted in active music-making activities.
Individual lessons were well planned. Content was varied and the balance between teacher and student input was very good. However, objectives in some cases were not stated. Sharing the learning outcomes with students is good practice as it allows students to understand the rationale of the lesson and what is expected of them. Good planning was also apparent by the manner in which all resources, worksheets and handouts were ready for use during lessons. Records of attendance, homework assignments and assessments were evident on the day of the inspection.
Three classes were visited during the course of the evaluation: one in junior cycle and two in senior cycle. The level of teacher enthusiasm was consistently high in all lessons observed and the students responded positively. There was a very good rapport between students and teacher. Discipline was very well managed. High levels of teacher expectations were clearly evident regarding student behaviour and learning and students responded accordingly. However, when necessary, students’ sensitivities were handled very skilfully.
Clearly, emphasis is placed on the Sound before Symbol approach to composition and this is excellent practice. For example, in a senior cycle lesson observed, the topic-at-hand was the revision of cadences (a compositional feature in Music). Students’ knowledge was consistently reinforced through questioning and this was followed by a practical demonstration by the teacher. To further cement their knowledge, a worksheet, devised by the teacher, was completed by students and responses were documented on the board and discussed. Students were then divided into three groups so that the full triad could be performed. In this manner, students engaged with composition musically and this is very good practice. However, it was evident from close examination of manuscripts and workbooks that the current practice of the music department is to delay integration of composition into lessons to a later stage of the year in senior cycle. This is unnecessary as composition should be linked with other two disciplines in Music—listening and performing—from the outset. Therefore, it is recommended that the music department review its current practice in relation to senior cycle Music with a view to integrating composition into lessons from the outset.
Lessons commendably contained a variety of teaching and learning methodologies. For example, in a junior cycle lesson observed, students were introduced to a prescribed song. The teacher adeptly introduced the category of song (a round) by integrating a student-based activity into the lesson. Students were divided into three groups and imitated each other by repeating an English sentence. To consolidate this concept, students were provided with a recorder tune which they performed. All errors were identified and corrected. When suitably familiar with the piece, students were once again divided into three groups and performed this tune as a round. The prescribed song was then played and students documented important features. The use of a variety of methodologies such as this helps to sustain students’ motivation and is very good practice.
Practical activities were well organised. Commendably, in one lesson links were made between a recorder piece and compositional techniques which had been taught shortly before. This is excellent practice and deserving of praise. Students revised a piece that was familiar before moving to new material. The standard of performances was very good. Clearly, students are accustomed to performing which is an indication of the importance attributed to music- making activities. This, too, is excellent practice.
Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth year students at Christmas and summer. Assessments are held for third and sixth year students at Christmas and mock examinations are held in February. Reports are issued following all formal assessments. Communication with parents is made regularly through the school journal.
Students’ performance is also measured through questioning, end-of-topic tests and practical assessments. All students are required to keep materials stored in A4 folders. Upon inspection, it was clear that, overall, these folders are monitored closely. It was found that all materials were efficiently stored. Manuscripts and workbooks also showed evidence of teacher monitoring and commendably, comments were included to enhance students’ progress. This is very good practice and in line with the recommendations of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment regarding assessment for learning.
Overall, students are very well equipped to deal with the three disciplines of Music: listening, composing and performing. It is commendable that emphasis is placed on the inclusion of music-making activities into lessons. Students are driven to achieve their full potential and notably, very good standards are attained.
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.