An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
St. Kilian’s Deutsche Schule
Roebuck Rd, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60630W
Date of inspection: 19 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Kilian’s Deutsche Schule. 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 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, deputy 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; a response was not received from the board.
There is good whole school provision for English on the timetable in St Kilian’s. All junior cycle class groups (years seven, eight and nine) and all fifth-year and sixth-year class groups (years eleven and twelve) have five periods of English each week and Transition Year (TY) class groups (year ten) have four periods of English each week. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis in each year of the school and there was strong evidence that such placement of students is working very well. Fifth and sixth-year English classes are concurrently timetabled. This concurrency facilitates the English teachers in teaching the English course on a modular basis so that in fifth year, for example, one teacher teaches the poetry course, one teacher teaches the single text and one teacher teaches language and comparative studies. Students expressed satisfaction at having different teachers for different aspects of the course. The concurrency also facilitates the hosting of whole fifth-year and sixth-year activities related to English. Such collaboration among English teachers in St Kilian’s is highly commended.
Although there is good provision of English periods on the timetable, there is not an even spread of English classes throughout the week for some class groups. For example, one first-year group has English twice each Wednesday and so does not have English on one day of the week. A third-year group has English twice on both Tuesday and Wednesday and so has no English on Monday or Friday. All fifth and sixth years have English twice on both Tuesday and Thursday and so do not have English on Monday and Friday. In the latter examples, the timetabling is arranged to facilitate job sharing. It is acknowledged that teachers plan so that longer pieces of work are assigned to students each Thursday. However, a more even spread of English is recommended so that students have access to English lessons each day of the week. This is particularly desirable given the number of students in the school who are not native speakers of English.
Students’ access to the level at which they will take English in the state examination is determined on the basis of their performance in their English class, their homework, class tests and end-of-term examinations. However, in practice, all students are regarded as following the higher-level English course until their ‘mock’ examinations. A written recommendation to parents is sent home if it is felt that students would be better accessing ordinary-level English in the state examinations. English teachers are commended for this approach, and results in state examinations demonstrate how the high expectations of the teachers are rewarded with the vast majority of students taking higher-level English in the Junior and Leaving Certificate state examinations and succeeding very well at each level. This is particularly praiseworthy given the mix of language abilities in the school. Students from the adjoining French school, the Lycée Francais d’Irelande are integrated with students from St Kilian’s for junior cycle subjects. A number of these students join the school with little English in first year and yet many go on to sit the state examinations in English at higher level. The work of both the English teachers and the English as an Additional Language (EAL) teachers in this regard is highly commended.
Class groups retain the same teacher where possible throughout junior cycle and from fifth year into sixth year, which is good practice. Seven teachers teach English in the school and hold relevant qualifications. Teachers have taken part in a wide range of in-service courses relating to English including teaching writing skills, teaching poetry, teaching English as a second language and courses on dyslexia. In addition, English teachers have applied to participate in other courses including the TY ‘Moving Image’ course and ‘Teaching in the First-Year Classroom’. Some teachers are also members of the Association of Teachers of English (ATE) and the English Language Support Teachers’ Association (ELSTA). There is also experience in the correction of state examinations among members of the English department which contributes to their knowledge and experience base. The participation of teachers in continuous professional development is highly commended.
A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is provided. Students sometimes stage drama productions in school. Students are brought to the theatre or cinema to see relevant or interesting performances. They are also brought to lectures on aspects of the English course and many visiting speakers and writers have come to the school to talk to the students. Debating and public speaking are popular activities in the school and students participate in in-house competitions as well as a wide range of national and local competitions. Students are also encouraged to enter a range of writing competitions and have opportunities to write for school publications including the new initiative this year - the production of a school newspaper in conjunction with the French school. Such opportunities for students to engage with English outside of the classroom are highly commended.
Qualifications held by members of the English department include a postgraduate qualification in special educational needs (SEN). There is very good liaison between the school’s SEN department and the English department. The SEN department meets with the English department on three occasions each year, where strategies for teaching students in need of extra support, including language support, in the mainstream setting are communicated and ideas and issues are exchanged. This is highly commended. Members of the SEN team meet regularly themselves as do the EAL teaching team. The SEN team has also briefed the staff on strategies for dealing with SEN and EAL students. Students with SEN, learning support or language support needs are identified through testing, referral from parents and from primary schools. There are two full-time language support posts in the school and the school has a 0.5 allocation for learning support as well as an allocation of twelve hours for resource teaching. These resources are mainly used to withdraw students for support lessons in English. Good practice takes place in that the school applies its own adapted version of the European literacy benchmarks to check students’ language proficiency and the school has liaised with a number of language support agencies. SEN and EAL students are well supported in the school.
Currently there is one computer room in the school. A new building is due to open shortly and it is intended that most English teachers will be allocated base classrooms in this new extension which will facilitate even more collaboration. These new rooms will be fitted with data projectors and computers and English teachers are looking forward to using such facilities. Teachers use information and communication technology (ICT) in accessing a range of useful and interesting resources from the internet which are used on a regular basis in lessons. A range of resources is available to support the teaching of English including televisions, DVDs, videos, overhead projectors and CD players. English teachers have their own classrooms and one classroom acts as the English base room with a large number of videos, DVDs books and written resources available for all English teachers to use. Also included are folders of useful resources for each year group and for every aspect of the English course. A list of all available resources is distributed to English teachers and kept regularly updated. Dictionaries are available and widely used among students and this is also commended as very good practice. The organisation of these resources is highly commended. An annual budget for the subject is used for the purchase of relevant materials and a debating and library budget is also available.
There is a library in the school which students may access during class with their teachers and at lunch time. This library is due to be reallocated to the new building and updated which is a welcome initiative. The English teachers have also developed a system of using book boxes in each of their classrooms in order to encourage the reading habit among their students. First-year class groups in particular have structured reading lessons on a regular basis. Reading lists are given to all year groups over the summer and English teachers expose their classes to a range of reading material and literary texts. Such a focus on developing the reading habit is highly commended.
The level of planning and collaboration among the English department is excellent. Three formal subject meetings are facilitated by management each year and English teachers meet very often during the school year to share ideas, resources and good practice. An agenda is prepared for these meetings and detailed minutes are kept which record the decisions, discussions and good practice of the department. It was evident that the English department is dynamic and innovative and much credit for this should go to the leadership within the department which is responsible for many of the innovations described in the first section of this report. However, such leadership should be fostered within the department and it is important that other teachers have the opportunity to bring their skills to the fore. Therefore, it is suggested that the position of head or co-ordinator of the English department be rotated among English teachers.
A detailed subject plan is available. This plan is a working document which contains among other things, the syllabuses for English, an inventory of English resources, minutes of meetings, budget expenditure, the English homework policy, the overall aims and objectives for junior and senior cycle English and the individual plans of English teachers. The plan is commended as it is not just a gathering together of documents but is evidence of the strong culture of collaboration and discussion among English teachers working together to improve their department and the experience of their students. Minutes reflect discussion on a wide range of issues, from course content, to differentiation to sharing of useful resources and methodologies. There are commendable aims developed for both junior and senior cycle and it was evident that these are not just aspirational, but are being achieved; for example, the junior cycle aims include the enhancement of students’ appreciation of English literature, the encouragement of general reading and the development of reading and writing skills. The senior cycle aims include the promotion of higher-order thinking skills, the integration of language and literature and the use of different registers of language. Observation of classroom practice confirmed the effective achievement of these aims in practice.
A feature of the plan and of the teaching and learning observed was the strong focus on the need to differentiate in the classroom and to differentiate examinations so that all students achieve a sense of success. The very good communication between English, EAL and SEN teachers ensures that work done in English lessons is reinforced in the support lessons.
The department is congratulated for exposing its students to a wide range of reading experiences. In junior cycle, one literary text is set jointly by English teachers for each year of junior cycle and another text is chosen by the individual teacher based on their own and their students’ tastes and experiences. It was also evident that English teachers change texts regularly to maintain their own motivation. Comparative texts are chosen in November of fifth year when a good knowledge of interests and abilities of students is gleaned.
Individual teacher plans were detailed and included the learning objectives or learning outcomes that the students should achieve for each aspect of the course as well as the teaching methodologies to be used. It was evident that much time and effort is invested in preparing for English lessons. In addition, the Klassenbuch, which is the official diary used by all teachers to record work planned and covered to date, is returned to Germany at the end of each year.
The TY classes were on tour at the time of the evaluation but the individual TY plans showed that students study a wide range of genres and texts including a novel, play, film and range of short stories and poetry as well as being involved in other activities including debating, public speaking and drama. When asked, current fifth-year students gave mixed feedback about their TY English course last year although they had covered a range of work. It is recommended therefore, that in future the TY plans for English be disseminated to the TY class groups at the beginning of the year so that students are aware from the outset of what is expected from them and what they should achieve. These plans should include the specific learning outcomes that students should achieve in TY and the texts and modes of assessment to be used during the year.
There were significant strengths in the quality of teaching and learning in English in St Kilian’s. The pace of lessons was appropriate which is particularly important in a mixed-ability setting. The better able students and students with English as their first language were constantly challenged, while teachers also discreetly catered for the needs of SEN students and students with language deficits through individual attention or differentiated tasks. Good practice was seen when students in particular need of language support were placed beside their peers with better English for assistance. There was also a very good structure to lessons; a variety of activities was applied with each activity seamlessly integrated into the lesson. Links were often created with prior learning so that a continuum of learning was in evidence and links were also created between texts, which is good practice. In addition, learning was put in context for students by links being created with their own experiences and with contemporary life. Lessons were, in the main, lively and interesting with teachers showing enthusiasm for their subject which was passed on to their students thus instilling an interest and love of English. There were occasions, however, when the learning outcome of the lesson could only be inferred as opposed to being explicitly stated from the outset. It is therefore recommended that the learning outcome of each lesson be shared with the class group at the beginning so that students become further partners in the learning process. Time could also be built into the closing moments of the lesson to check with students that the learning outcomes were achieved.
The four key skills of speaking, reading, writing and listening were fully developed in English lessons and teachers are highly commended for this. A feature of all lessons was the many opportunities that students had to participate in their learning through answering questions, discussion, pair and group work and role play. Pair and group work were successful as they were well structured activities and students learned from each other as well as from their teacher. It was also reported that students were asked to make presentations on aspects of their course, for example, on favourite poems. The quality of questioning of students was very good. In all lessons higher-order or open-ended questions were asked which encouraged students to extend their thinking and to refine their answers and opinions and this led to some very good discussions. Such opportunities for independent learning and for promoting higher-order thinking are commended. Students listened to each other’s opinions respectfully and were engaged in their learning. In addition, very good practice was seen when the teachers asked questions of named students, in a sensitive way being mindful of their proficiencies and abilities, as opposed to only asking those with their hands up. This ensured full participation of all students. Structured questions were often given to students for homework as a scaffold for their work, differentiated tasks were discreetly given to students and overall the level of differentiation practised is highly commended. There was clear evidence of an emphasis on developing students’ personal response observed in many lessons and senior cycle students keep a response journal.
Another noticeable feature of the English classrooms was the interesting assignments and learning opportunities that the students had. For example, students were asked to draw images of characters and events studied in texts. These were then displayed on the walls of the classroom. Assignments such as these and many others made learning more enjoyable for students and developed their creativity. Teachers are also commended for their integration of language and literature so that language tasks were taught in the context of studied texts. For example, students were invited to write a report or a letter about an incident that occurred in their studied novel, they wrote diary entries from the point of view of studied characters, the concept of stereotyping was introduced through the studied drama and the teaching of adjectives and descriptive writing were linked to the studied novel.
The board was very well used in all lessons to record students’ contributions and, in some cases, the board was prepared in advance with key points that were to be made during the lesson. It is suggested, on occasions where two English lessons take place on the same day, that a flipchart be used to record material as items on the board may have to be erased in the intervening lessons. The board was also used to record homework. An excellent strategy has been developed in conjunction with the SEN department of underlining key words displayed on the board and using visuals to explain meaning where possible. New vocabulary was introduced seamlessly into lessons to aid students to negotiate their texts and to become more aware of registers of language. Students were taught the skills to critically analyse and interrogate their texts.
Displays of key words pertaining to English were a feature of many classrooms, which is especially important for reinforcement given the mix of students in the school. Samples of students’ work and other relevant posters pertaining to English were also on display. This along with the array of books in evidence in some classrooms meant that students, on the whole, were surrounded by a print-rich environment.
There was clear evidence of learning and students had a very good understanding of texts and concepts. In addition, their folders and copies were very well maintained. A range of useful resources was used to support students’ learning and writing and the efforts made by teachers to develop and find resources to help their students are highly commended. Students were confidently able to discuss their work with the inspector and an examination of students’ work showed good progression in learning even though the inspection took place early in the first term.
A secure, friendly environment was in evidence in lessons observed and there were good student-teacher and student-student relations. This is particularly important as students who do not have much English need the confidence to participate in their lessons and there was evidence that most students, regardless of their proficiency in English, felt secure enough to do this.
Each subject department in the school has its own homework policy which is very good practice. Although the inspection took place early in the school year, there was evidence that students had received an appropriate amount of homework and class work and that this work was purposeful and developmental. In one instance observed, anthologies of students’ own short stories were compiled. Homework was very well corrected and English teachers are aware of the principles of Assessment for Learning (AfL), having received in-service last year. AfL is practised by English teachers as seen in the constructive written feedback that students receive on long assignments, the sharing of assessment criteria with students, the use of students’ work to inform teaching and the use of exemplars of good writing. There was evidence in some copies that students edit and redraft their work, which is good practice.
Very good practice takes place as the English department set common examinations with jointly agreed marking schemes. In addition, the English examinations are differentiated into three levels to reflect the varying abilities of the students. Students in receipt of ‘reasonable accommodation’ are marked in the same way as in the state examinations. The English examinations are comprehensive and a good test of students’ abilities.
There are five formal class tests each year which are used for continuous assessment purposes. Students also sit end-of-term examinations in June, Leaving Certificate students sit formal Christmas examinations and examination class groups sit ‘mock’ examinations which are internally marked. Parents receive end-of-term reports and mid-term reports and there is also frequent consultation with parents on their child’s progress via the school journal, by telephone and through parent-teacher meetings. There are two parent-teacher meetings for first-year and TY students. Two dedicated staff meetings, known as report conferences, are held during and at the end of the school year which are dedicated to discussing the achievement and progress of students in every subject in the school. It was reported that on foot of these meetings a strategic plan is put in place to help those students who are experiencing difficulties and to further support those who are excelling. This is highly commended. The English department analyses its state examination results and compares them to national norms which is very good practice and which informs the department’s own practices in the teaching and learning of English. As already noted the uptake of higher-level is very high in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate and students achieve well in their chosen level.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2009