An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Templeville Road, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 60562I
Date of inspection: 30 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Templeogue College.† It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 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 deputy 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.
The timetable provision made for English meets syllabus guidelines and inspectorate recommendations in most respects but there are some internal anomalies.† All years except second year have the optimal level of provision, an English lesson every day.† Four lessons are offered in second year and, while this is satisfactory in the context of the provision over the three junior cycle years, efforts should be made to timetable English on both Monday and Friday for all groups so as to minimise the gap between lessons.† Most lessons are forty-five minutes long, but lessons on Wednesdays are either forty or thirty minutes.† The different lesson lengths have a considerable impact on instruction time for English with some class groups having fifteen minutes less instruction time per week than others; this amounts to a significant difference over the course of the year.† A review of the current timetabling structure would provide an opportunity to address these internal anomalies and should be considered.
English is timetabled concurrently in transition year (TY), fifth and sixth year.† This facilitates a modular delivery of the TY English programme, with each teacher delivering a module to each class group.† Concurrence is principally used in fifth and sixth year to facilitate student movement between the set higher and ordinary level classes.† Since concurrence makes considerable demands on timetabling, it should be used to the full to promote collaborative practice among the teachers of English, and to facilitate whole-year activities and common assessment.†
All junior cycle English classes are of mixed ability.† TY English classes are also of mixed ability, as is appropriate to the TY programme.† In fifth year, students are set for English into ranked ability groups on the basis of junior certificate grades and attainment in TY.† It was reported that the English department discusses decisions on student placement, and that students are aware of the criteria being applied to place them in ability groups.† Methods of class formation have been discussed at whole-school and subject department meetings, and this reflective practice is commended.† It should be said, however, that in the course of the evaluation, the mixed-ability setting was observed to create a stimulating yet inclusive learning environment for the current junior cycle student profile.† The possibility of forming mixed-ability groups within the higher-level band in the senior cycle as opposed to the current system of ranked ability groups was discussed during the evaluation.† It is recommended that the current system be reviewed, and the need to encourage appropriately high expectations across the whole ability spectrum should be particularly borne in mind.
Nine teachers form the English department in the school.† The majority take at least three class groups for English and teach both junior and senior cycle classes.† This good practice reinforces the fact that the subject is a continuum of knowledge and skills development from first to sixth year, and should therefore be followed as far as possible in assigning teachers to classes.† Teachers are allocated to classes by the principal, following consultation to discuss teachersí preferences.† Rotation of teachers so that they encounter a range of years, levels and programmes adds to the pool of expertise and experience available to the subject department and is therefore the recommended practice.† This is an area for development in relation to deployment within the senior cycle, particularly having regard to the current system of ranked ability groups.
The level of whole-school support for literacy development is commended.† There is a full-time qualified learning support teacher, and three other teachers also deliver learning support.† School management and the learning support department have worked closely to improve provision in this area, for example through extending the facilities available.† The department has a dedicated room with a small library of subject-specific resources and books for recreational reading, three computers, and laptops assigned to specific students.† A collection of suitable software is being built up.† The learning support teacher, working with senior management and subject departments, is developing an innovative cross-curricular reading programme for the first-year cohort, and it is hoped to pilot this next year.† Such an integrated approach to the development of key skills is commendable.
English is generally well resourced in the school, although some areas for development were identified and discussed during the evaluation.† All teachers have their own base rooms with fixed televisions and DVD/VCR players.† This level of provision is commended.† In some rooms, there were displays of maps, charts, posters and examples of studentsí work, but much of this material related to subjects other than English.† It is therefore recommended that the English department address the question of how best to create a visually stimulating environment for the teaching and learning of English in the classrooms at their disposal.† It is particularly important that books (other than textbooks) and studentsí work are visible in the English classroom.† The presence of books provides opportunities to affirm the importance of reading, and the display of studentsí work should be seen as a form of publication and an encouragement to high standards of editing and presentation.
The school management has identified the library as an area for development, and plans are underway to house the sizable existing collection in a more accessible space, and to add to the current stock.† It is suggested that contact be made with the School Library Association (www.slari.ie), which offers helpful advice.† The demonstration library project initiative within the Junior Certificate School Programme may also provide insights into the optimal use of the library both for recreational reading and research (www.jcsp.ie), and may be of particular relevance to the planned reading programme for first year.
Structures to facilitate collaborative planning are in place.† The English department meets formally four times a year, when time is allocated for subject departments to meet following staff meetings. Minutes are recorded, and decisions and matters discussed are communicated to senior management.† The minutes reflect both routine matters such as book lists and more substantial issues such as the basis for class formation.† A voluntary co-ordinator system operates.† The present co-ordinator, who is the longest-serving member of the department, will stand down at the end of this academic year and a colleague has agreed to take on the role.† It is good practice that voluntary co-ordination be seen as a rotating role and one that contributes to the professional experience of all members of the subject department.† A description of the co-ordinator role should be agreed and included in the English plan.† A two-year term is recommended, allowing each incumbent time to develop the role while ensuring that the system of rotation is preserved.
There is an English planning folder containing the English plan for the current academic year, an overview of the TY English programme, records of meetings, booklists for each year, and some resource material.† The current English plan describes the composition of classes, general learning aims and objectives, the rationale informing the design of the schoolís English curriculum, and statements relating to homework, record-keeping and reporting procedures.† The details of content are contained in the booklists and in the individual planning documents prepared by teachers.† In order to further develop the planning process for English, it is recommended that the department begin by identifying the learning outcomes appropriate to each year.† These are most usefully written as statements of what the students will be able to do; the re-drafted Junior Certificate syllabus available on the NCCA website should prove a very useful reference point in this regard.† Once the learning outcomes are identified, attention can focus on how best to achieve these, and details of methods and materials can then be added.† The final aspect to be considered is appropriate assessment, which will ascertain whether the planned outcomes have been achieved.† Focusing on the development of studentsí knowledge and skills links planning, teaching and learning and assessment, and ensures that planning is both practical and reflective.
The booklists reflect a commendably broad and rich range of material, most notably in the area of fiction in the junior cycle.† As already mentioned in an earlier section of this report, the English department is conscious of the need to promote reading and has undertaken a survey of studentsí reading and viewing habits in order to inform itself and to be able to advise students and parents on positive steps to take in this regard.† The issue of the study of a Shakespearean drama in the junior cycle was discussed during the evaluation, as current practice is to study modern drama only.† It is suggested that various approaches to the teaching of Shakespearean drama be considered, including the use of recently recorded dramatised readings, viewings of animated versions of some plays in first year, and a differentiated approach to the study of the play, based on what students must, should and could know.
Very good progress is being made in planning for literacy support.† The present emphasis is on establishing systems of support in the junior cycle, and ensuring that students in sixth year with additional educational needs are offered appropriate assistance.† Support is made available largely through exploiting timetable gaps, and is offered to small groups and, where students may have particular needs, on a one-to-one basis.† References made to links with the learning support department contained in the English plans were noted and are commended.† It is suggested that the learning support co-ordinator occasionally attend meetings of the English department to share good practice and to promote an integrated approach to literacy support.
It is recommended that the English department consult the Departmentís report, Looking at English, for recommendations and exemplars of good practice in order to further develop the subject planning process.
Nine lessons were observed over the two days of the evaluation.† These covered the full range of years, levels and programmes in the school and involved all members of the English department.† A good quality of teaching and learning was evident in almost all lessons observed; indeed, the level of teacher commitment and student engagement was excellent in a number of instances.† In all lessons the material covered was appropriate to the syllabus and most lessons were effectively paced to ensure that a satisfactory amount of material was covered.† In a few instances, insufficient time was allowed to fully engage with some of the excellent resources prepared. †However, in these cases, teachers recognised this imbalance themselves and said they would continue the work in the next lesson.† In examination classes, lessons focused on revision activities, as was appropriate for the time of year.
Many lessons were well structured with an initial statement of the lesson topic and learning objective, good links to previous learning, and a brief review to conclude.† Stating the lesson topic in terms of the planned learning activity and the desired learning outcome serves to engage and focus students from the outset, and is recommended, if not already an established practice.† Another very effective strategy for engaging studentsí attention was observed in a lesson which began with a dramatic delivery by the teacher of an unseen poem that immediately captured the interest of the class and led to their engaging in a very detailed exploration.
Well-chosen resources were used in a number of lessons and teachers are commended for sourcing imaginative and challenging materials.† These included actual footage of trench warfare, which was shown to enhance studentsí reading of first world war poetry; extracts from Irish prison regulations to accompany the reading of An Evil Cradling; and photocopies of a recent high-quality newspaper article with striking photographs.† When using additional resources to develop the studentsí understanding of a topic, teachers should exploit their full value as educational tools.† For example, before showing film clips, they could ask the class to listen and look out for particular words and images, so that the studentsí viewing is focused and purposeful.
The board was used very effectively both to map out the lesson topic and list references in advance, and to record points made in class discussion, structuring them so that they provided a frame for a writing assignment on the topic.† Students took down material from the board and used it in planning their own writing.† In this way, the principle that teacher writing should lead to student writing was generally observed, and it should be borne in mind in all cases.
A variety of teaching styles and methods was observed in the classrooms visited.† These included direct instruction, teacher-led discussion and question and answer sessions in the more traditional approaches, and facilitative methods including group work and whole-class creative workshop activities.†
In the best instances, the traditional teacher-led methods were characterised by an authoritative treatment of the topic, and a very clear communication of the teachersí regard for language and literature.† In these instances, the teachersí range of reference and analytical skills was made available to students, and incorporated into their own responses.† In further developing the class activity that stems from this approach, it is recommended that students be encouraged to realise that the range of valid responses to all genres of writing is extensive and that any response will be affirmed once it is well articulated and supported.† Studentsí engagement with each other in discussing differing interpretations can also lead to a valuable development and refinement of their own ideas and should be encouraged as a natural extension of discussion initiated by the teacher.
Approaches designed to be student centred were observed in many lessons.† These included a participative approach to the reading of a poem, a poetry-writing workshop using creative modelling, group work used to elicit a range of responses to a film sequence, and pair work to assist peer learning.† In the best instances, students were clear about the purpose of the task, the work to be produced and the time available.† Good practice was also seen where students were made aware that they would share their work with the whole class and that a variety of responses would provide an opportunity to learn from each other.† In further developing this facilitative approach to ensure that group work is purposeful and productive, it is recommended that the English department investigate co-operative and discovery learning methods and consider how they might be best applied in the English classroom.† The Second Level Support Service (www.slss.ie) could be consulted in this regard.
In all lessons observed, a good range of questioning techniques was employed.† Quick question and answer sessions were used to check studentsí recall and understanding, and questions were also used to prompt students to make links with prior learning and with other areas of the course.† Questions requiring skills of analysis, inference and judgement were also put to students.† These were age-appropriate and challenging, and elicited lively and thoughtful responses in many cases.† Younger students may need to be encouraged to take time before responding to higher-order questions, and it is useful to explain at an early stage the difference between the question requiring a factual answer and the question requiring a more measured response.† Adequate time should be given for students to formulate thoughtful personal responses.† Studentsí willingness to ask questions themselves and to pay attention to each otherís responses was an indication of their engagement with the material and with their own learning.
Lessons were generally characterised by a commendable sense of high expectations with regard to both student learning and behaviour.† Patterns of uptake of English at higher level for the certificate examinations reflect these expectations.† Students worked purposefully and a respectful and often friendly rapport was evident between students and teachers.† Classroom management was uniformly good.
Classes were well monitored during lessons.† Teachers stood and moved around in order to check on studentsí progress and levels of participation, and interacted with individual students where necessary in order to give assistance.† Some lessons began with a quick oral review of homework, and this was used to introduce further work on the topic and to check on studentsí understanding and levels of skill.† Helpful advice was given to examination classes and the criteria for assessment were shared with students.† This very good practice is in line with the principles of assessment for learning and should be followed in the case of in-school examinations also.
There was evidence that homework is set regularly, that the assignments given are often substantial, and that good practices in monitoring studentsí work regularly are in place.† Some excellent examples of developmental feedback were noted in the review of studentsí copies and folders that was undertaken during the evaluation.† These included acknowledgement and affirmation of the studentsí progress and efforts, and very helpful and specific pointers towards improvement.† The teachers involved are warmly commended on the level of their feedback to students.† It is recommended that this good practice be applied in the case of all substantial pieces of work.† It is also noteworthy that extended compositions were set regularly for homework, and that many of the assignments given were imaginative.† Where summary work is set, it is recommended that some element of personal response be included with it so that students are also maintaining a form of response journal, thereby developing their evaluative skills.
In-house assessments take place four times a year, and reports are sent home.† Common assessments are sometimes set where the teachers in a year agree to do so.† As part of the development of subject department planning, it is recommended that the English department extend this practice and move towards a system of common assessment.† This will engender a useful discussion on the criteria for assessment to be applied in order to create a common marking scheme.† It should be noted that a common assessment offering a range of options or open questions can accommodate a situation where classes have studied different plays or novels.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The timetable provision made for English meets syllabus guidelines and inspectorate recommendations in most respects.
∑ Whole-school support and planning for literacy development is commendable.
∑ Structures to facilitate collaborative planning are in place.
∑ A good quality of teaching and learning was evident in almost all lessons observed, with excellent practice in a number of instances.
∑ There was evidence that homework is set regularly, that the assignments given are often substantial, and that good practices in monitoring studentsí work regularly are in place.†
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ A review of the current timetabling structure would provide an opportunity to address internal anomalies and should be considered.
∑ The English department should consult Looking at English for recommendations and exemplars of good practice in order to further develop the subject planning process.
∑ The English plan should be developed with a particular emphasis on agreeing specific learning outcomes for each year.
∑ The English department should address the question of how best to create a visually stimulating environment for the teaching and learning of English.
∑ It is recommended that the English department move towards a system of common assessment.†
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report†† ††
Principal / Board of Management happy with 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 †
1. 2 Subject / Curriculum Department meetings have taken place in current term
2. Library issues being addresses and an action plan put in place when ISM review and new special duties post is filled