An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Classical Studies
Saint Louis High School
Rathmines, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60890C
Date of inspection: 20 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Classical Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Louis High School. 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 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 the subject teacher. 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.
St Louis High School provides Classical Studies in the Leaving Certificate and Transition Year programmes. In the former, Classical Studies is an option and option bands are drawn up according to student preferences. Thus, Classical Studies is set against Accounting, Biology, History, Geography and Spanish in fifth year and against Business Organisation, Economics and Biology in sixth year. While it is reported that Classical Studies is popular, this year’s Leaving Certificate class of eight students is the smallest in a number of years. There are nineteen in the fifth-year class. Students are given assistance in making their choices by the school’s guidance counsellor, the principal, deputy principal and the subject teacher. In Transition Year, Classical Studies is offered as a one-year module and this gives students a valuable experience of Classical Studies, particularly since it is not offered in the junior cycle. Classes are mixed ability.
The subject enjoys a good level of whole-school support. Timetabling provision meets syllabus requirements. Five periods are allocated to the subject in the Leaving Certificate programme, and these comprise a balance of single and double periods. In Transition Year, three periods are allocated. Classical Studies is well-resourced. There is a designated classroom that facilitates the storage of materials and books and the room has its own overhead projector. A small and very useful classroom reference library has been built up and an annual budget is made available for the acquisition of further resources. The potential of the classroom as a teaching resource is exploited and attractive visual material provides a stimulating environment for the subject. Students’ art work, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, was mounted on the wall and this is highly commended. There is access to a good range of audio-visual equipment. St Louis High School has two computer rooms, and although considerable demands are made on the school’s information and communication technology (ICT) resources, the rooms can be booked. The staffroom also has computers with internet access. While it is reported that ICT is used for teacher research and that students are encouraged to use the internet for independent research, it is recommended that ICT be systematically integrated into the teaching and learning of Classical Studies. For example, use should be made of a data projector and laptop since visual material is an important element of course content and access to high quality images is easily available on the internet. If necessary, the provision of dedicated ICT equipment should be investigated as a departmental goal.
St Louis High School has a spacious library with computers and internet access and there are plans to develop this important school facility further. A librarian is employed on a part-time basis. In the context of ongoing development of the library, the Classical Studies stock should be evaluated with a view to updating reference books, in particular. In addition, the school should investigate the purchase of a licence for accessing software such as the Cambridge Latin Course since areas of the Classical Studies course overlap with the content of this e-learning course. For general references, useful links can be accessed through university classics department sites, for example, www.tcd.ie/classics and www.classics.ox. Other sources of interest are the Perseus Project, Diotima, and the Beazley Archive. Specialist texts may be available through Hellenic Book Services, the Bristol Classical Press and university press publications from Oxford and Cambridge. (These resources are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive.)
The school encourages continuous professional development and membership of the subject association. There is a strong commitment to Classical Studies. Interest in the subject outside the classroom is fostered. Students are encouraged to attend the schools’ lectures series organised by the Classical Association of Ireland-Teachers (CAI-T). They are informed of courses and events of interest in the universities and have visited the classical museum in University College Dublin. A school tour to Greece is planned for 2008 and there have been trips to Rome, Pompeii and Paestum in the past. This represents an excellent opportunity to promote the subject as well as giving students a most valuable learning experience. More ways of promoting the subject could be investigated.
Yearly schemes have been conscientiously written up for both the Leaving Certificate and Transition Year programmes. Documentation for the Leaving Certificate programme lists in considerable detail, the course material to be covered on a weekly basis throughout the academic year. This is a very useful guide for individual lesson planning. The sixth-year programme could include an outline of the work already covered in fifth year in order to provide a complete picture of the course covered. The plan could be further enhanced by the inclusion of desirable learning outcomes for each year group, resources available and planned methodologies. Information on subject planning is available through the School Development Planning Initiative at www.sdpi.ie.
As an area for development, it is recommended that the pace of syllabus delivery be reviewed. Evidence from planning documentation indicates that too much time may be spent on one particular topic; within topics, there appears to be a disproportionate amount of time spent on some areas. If a topic is proving unwieldy in terms of length, consideration could be given to switching to another, more manageable topic within the same group. To maximise class time, linear reading of every text should be avoided. In the case of long historical texts or epics, lessons are best used for reading key scenes or moments and for focused discussion of significant issues in relation to the topic. Selected background reading is best assigned to students for homework. Greek dramas are easily accessed through class reading as they are episodic in nature and are relatively short. It is also advisable to cover aspects of each of the four topics in both years of the Leaving Certificate programme. Given the length of the Classical Studies syllabus, the pace of syllabus delivery should be regulated to ensure that there is sufficient time for thorough revision of all topics before the Leaving Certificate examination and this is of particular importance since there is a considerable lapse of time (usually well in excess of a month) before the students complete their schooling and the day on which they undertake their Classical Studies Leaving Certificate examination. It might prove useful to document revision strategies in the subject plan.
In view of the fact that there is a considerable range of ability in the classes, differentiation should be clearly evident in all aspects of planning for the subject.
Planning for the Transition Year (TY) is good. There is a focus on the influence of classical architecture on Dublin and an emphasis on personal writing. Particularly commendable in the TY plan is the reference to the development of students’ communication skills and on the cultivation of the imagination. However, it is not clear how these laudable aims translate into action. To develop the TY plan further, it is recommended that specific reference be made to the precise ways in which these excellent objectives are to be achieved and the timeframe within which each activity occurs. It is understood that students make presentations to their peers but it is not clear how or when or where this takes place. The integration of ICT into the programme would provide a very useful platform for students to generate stimulating presentations that they themselves would present to an audience of their peers or to other year groups and/or to parents, and this too could be used as an opportunity to promote the subject further. Choice of text for Transition Year is good since it is visually appealing and accessible to students.
Lessons were purposeful and well organised. Materials such as handouts had been prepared and an overhead projector and transparency were to hand, making efficient use of class time. The text was also used and reference was made to a wall-mounted teaching aid.
Good support notes had been prepared. One useful handout listed sentences and phrases that examination students could use to evaluate a work of art. To maximise the impact of this aid, it is recommended that students use the evaluative phrases in class, drawing on appropriate examples from the course, rather than listening to the list being read out and explained to them. This could be done as an individual or group activity and followed up with an examination-type question to be completed within a specific timeframe.
The theme of the lesson was written on the board and this is helpful in focusing students’ attention. Relevant key words were also written on the board. To develop the entry stage of the lesson further, it is recommended that clear, achievable learning outcomes be written on the board so that the exit stage of the lesson can be effectively used to check if the outcomes have been achieved and to consolidate learning. The pace of lessons should be reviewed as some lessons were rather slow.
Lesson content was good and students’ attention was focused on the salient points of the topic in hand. However, in a double lesson, it is advisable to introduce variety both in content and in methodologies. In a lesson observed, students had been assigned a research task and the more confident students were very willing to use the information they had gathered to propose valid arguments and to support their views with relevant reference. This is highly commended. Lessons were, for the most part, teacher-led and it is recommended that more active learning methodologies be implemented in lesson delivery. Care should be taken to target the more diffident students with specific questioning and differentiated approaches. The use of co-operative learning is recommended.
In lessons observed, links were made to earlier learning and this represents good practice. Question and answer sessions were used to assess understanding of material covered and to encourage the use of appropriate evidence. Most students were very responsive and some individual students had a very good knowledge of the topics. However, for those who find the subject challenging in its breadth and content, targeted revision strategies are necessary on an ongoing basis to ensure that students build incrementally on the knowledge and skills they have already acquired.
A large body of supplementary notes was issued to students and these notes are very useful as learning aids for students. Students’ folders of notes were carefully maintained and such practice is commended. There was a very warm rapport between students and teacher in the lessons visited and there was a positive atmosphere and enthusiasm for the subject. Students were supported in their learning and their questions were treated sensitively. Many students showed a lively interest in the subject.
Formal in-house assessment takes place twice a year, in November and again before the summer vacation. ‘Mock’ examinations are set for the Leaving Certificate students in February. Teacher records of attendance and assessment are conscientiously maintained. Continuous assessment is used in Transition Year and students undertake projects.
Both senior management and year heads analyse examination outcomes. Such analysis should also takes place within the Classical Studies department, since the evaluation of outcomes achieved, both internally and externally, can usefully inform methodologies and content suitability, and can also be used to advise students and parents/guardians.
While written work was set and monitored, this is an area for development. In order to nurture students’ writing skills and to consolidate learning, it is recommended that more substantial written assignments be set for all students. Greater emphasis should also be placed on evaluative writing, particularly for examination students. Students should be familiar with marking criteria and it would also be helpful to access the chief examiner’s report, available at www.examinations.ie.
Communications with parents are well maintained in St Louis High School. Students’ progress is communicated to parents through four annual reports and a parent-teacher meeting is held for each group. The school journal is also used as a medium of communication. Subject teachers meet with parents from time to time to report on individual progress, as need arises.
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 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.