An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Classical Studies
Zion Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6
Roll number: 61020A
Date of inspection: 14 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Classical Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Stratford College. 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 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 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.
Stratford College provides Classical Studies in the Junior Certificate (JC), Leaving Certificate (LC) and Transition Year (TY) programmes. The school places a high value on a broad, culturally rich and diverse curriculum and the school’s ethos is favourable to Classical Studies. All first years study the subject. In second and third year, Classical Studies is set against Hebrew Studies and is therefore, in effect, mandatory for those who do not take Hebrew Studies. In the senior cycle, Classical Studies is optional. The subject has grown in popularity in the last few years. The vast majority of Transition Year students opt for Classical Studies. While fewer than half of the sixth years have opted for Classical Studies, uptake is very good in fifth year with the majority of students selecting the subject and this trend seems set to continue into the academic year 2008-2009. All students are encouraged to achieve their full potential in the school and all students who wish to study the subject at higher level in both the senior and junior cycles are supported in their choices having received appropriate advice from their teachers. Uptake of higher-level Classical Studies is very good across programmes. Parents are informed of subject choices through a variety of media including meetings, a booklet describing optional subjects and the school website.
All classes are taught in a mixed-ability setting. The school is highly commended for the manner in which students with special educational needs (SEN) are supported. A member of the Classical Studies teaching team is also the learning-support co-ordinator and this is a particular asset since a significant minority of students present with additional learning needs, particularly in first year. Students’ individual needs inform all aspects of teaching and learning of the subject. There is a strong consciousness of the need to develop differentiated teaching methods, resources and assessment modes to meet the learning needs of a diverse cohort of students and a wide ability spectrum. Students have access to special needs assistants and/or assistive technology if these are appropriate to their needs.
Timetabling allocation is in line with syllabus requirements: four periods are provided in each year of the junior cycle and five in the Leaving Certificate programme. Transition Year students have three lessons a week. However, distribution of lessons is poor and does not provide optimal learning conditions. First year classes have lessons on three consecutive days, and none on either Friday or Monday. Second-year and third-year classes have two double periods per week. The distribution is particularly poor in third year with a double lesson on two consecutive days, Wednesday and Thursday, so that there is a considerable gap between lessons from Thursday to the following Wednesday. Were a student to be absent for the two consecutive days, a week’s lessons would be lost. Moreover, students who find learning challenging are particularly disadvantaged by this distribution. Frequency of exposure to the subject facilitates the incremental development of knowledge and skills and ensures continuity of learning. To provide optimal learning conditions for all students, it is strongly recommended that single lessons be provided on separate days of the week for all classes.
The teaching team of two is appropriately deployed. The subject teachers are highly commended for their level of interest in and commitment to the subject. Continuous professional development (CPD) is valued and ongoing as an organic element of the professional teaching role and full advantage is taken of every opportunity to enhance teaching skills and knowledge of the subject. The subject co-ordinator is actively involved in the professional association, the Classical Association of Ireland – Teachers (CAI-T) and is making a significant contribution to syllabus review.
Provision of resources is good on the whole. One teacher is classroom based while the other moves from room to room. This is challenging as Classical Studies is a resource intensive subject. Ideally, both teachers should be based in a classroom. However, it is acknowledged that there are constraints on classroom accommodation. Considerable improvements have been made in relation to the storage of copious resources. Space has been provided in the learning support room and this has proved to be a considerable advantage. The school has a library that students use for research. Information and communication technology (ICT) provision is adequate but access is not always assured. However the computer room can be booked. One classroom has a fixed data projector and there is also access to a mobile unit that can be booked in advance. Teachers and students use ICT for research and for presentations and this is commended.
The teachers of Classical Studies are highly commended for the range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that is provided for students in Stratford College. A very large number of activities took place during the course of the 2007/08 academic year. For example, junior students participated in a school based classics quiz while both junior and senior cycle students represented the school in the Ides of March Table Quiz that was organised by CAI-T. Transition Year students held “mock” Olympic Games including a race in armour and the victors were crowned with laurel wreaths. Second-year students performed a short drama based on Homer’s Iliad for the school’s open day. In addition, a number of workshops were held for different year groups. Sixth-year students attended lectures in Trinity College, while fifth years visited University College Dublin to attend a lecture on Monsters in Antiquity. A school tour to Rome is organised for senior students every second year and the next is due to take place in spring, 2009. Extra-curricular and co-curricular activities give students an opportunity to learn in a variety of ways and to develop organisational, inter-personal and extra-personal skills. A great deal of time and effort are invested by teachers in a voluntary capacity and this shows considerable dedication to the students and subject. School management is commended for facilitating and encouraging engagement in activities that promote greater understanding and appreciation of the subject.
There is a strong spirit of co-operation in the Classical Studies department. The team meets regularly both formally and informally. The subject plans for the JC and LC programmes are informed by the syllabuses. It is reported that sufficient time is built into planning for syllabus delivery to ensure adequate revision time. This is commendable. The division of the four LC topics between year one and year two of programme should be reviewed to ensure that specific texts are taught in an integrated and logical way. The plan for TY aims to give students an interesting overview of the subject. It is commendable that a particular focus of the TY programme is the classical world’s legacy to western culture. Since some students may not have studied the subject in the junior cycle, it is useful that a wide range of introductory material is used. The plan for TY includes modules on the Olympic Games, Pompeii, Roman sport and entertainment and a study of Sparta. Opportunities for general comparisons between Sparta and Athens, their respective merits and demerits and their influence on western culture should be fully explored. Students are introduced to Homer’s Odyssey. Different approaches are adopted in the teaching of this LC text: for example, the plan indicates that students act out scenes in class and write their own narratives. This is very commendable. The topic “Classical Studies and Film” is stimulating and designed to engage students’ interest. A good range of material is referenced in the plan. Assessment methods are documented. To build on the very good planning that is currently in place, the plan for Classical Studies should document desired learning outcomes for each year group.
It is very commendable that the team evaluates choice of topics on an ongoing basis to ensure that the selection continues to meet the needs and match the interests of students. Recent changes at junior level are very popular with students. Resources and texts are also reviewed.
The quality of planning for individual lessons was exemplary. Resources were well chosen, of high quality and prepared in advance to make sure that lesson time was efficiently and effectively used. Very good individual lesson plans were presented in all cases. Specific learning outcomes were documented in most lesson plans and this is highly commended. However, given the length of lessons, the number of outcomes was overambitious in some cases. Outcomes should be limited and achievable to optimise learning. Lesson plans made specific reference to differentiation and recorded strategies in relation to SEN students: this is excellent practice
Lesson content ranged over literature (Roman and Ancient Greek epic), civilisation (for example, Pompeii, Roman entertainment) and history (for example, Spartacus). The transitions between the different phases of lessons were very well managed and clear instructions were given in all cases so that students had a good understanding of what was expected and lesson time was therefore used very well. In some cases, the initial phase of lessons involved homework review and a good level of interaction was observed: for example students read out their answers and they learned from one another in the process. This phase also afforded opportunities for clarification (for example, the meaning of difficult words) and affirmation.
Varied teaching strategies were deployed to make learning interesting and challenging, to aid understanding and to develop a range of skills. Stimulating resources ensured a good level of engagement. A map displayed on the overhead projector was a useful teaching aid that gave students a clear understanding of topography. A film clip engaged interest. An accompanying worksheet was distributed to ensure that students did not become passive viewers. Visual stimuli such as attractive colour reproductions of paintings on a specific theme encouraged higher-order thinking skills such as evaluation. To build on this excellent practice, students could be encouraged to interrogate visual interpretations of classical themes as evidence of their contemporaneous cultural context. The board was used effectively for a variety of purposes. Questioning strategy was effective and particularly commended were the frequent use of questions that encouraged students to think for themselves, to express opinions based on evidence and to recapitulate and reflect on what they learned. Students’ observational skills were tested.
Since the evaluation took place late in the final term, revision of material covered in earlier lessons was very appropriate. Strategies were excellent. For example, a class table quiz made review challenging and students were highly motivated and enthusiastic. Revision of a junior cycle examination art topic was made interesting and accessible through a computer generated slide presentation that was very relevant to the examination. Revision topics were recorded on the board in order to remind students of the range and sequence of topics covered so that they had a clear understanding of what would be expected in their summer examination.
Classical Studies provides many opportunities for vocabulary enrichment and it is commendable that these were exploited in a lesson observed. As an extension of this good practice, further exploration of the original forms of English words derived from Ancient Greek or Latin should take place. Students’ project work, whether in the form of text or models was visible in classrooms and in the resource room and indicate that a diverse and stimulating range of themes challenge creativity and give students an opportunity to develop a range of skills including sensory-motor skills. First-year projects displayed in the classroom indicated a good level of engagement in the subject. Homework tasks were designed to extend and develop lesson content and were clearly communicated to students.
Many students demonstrated a good knowledge of the subject during interactions with teachers. Copybooks examined indicated that a wide range of material had been learned. In the case of junior cycle students, tasks were generally varied and appropriate to the syllabus. Where possible and relevant, creative writing exercises should also be practised and these should be linked to topics. TY students are assigned homework tasks usually in the form of research. The year plan indicates that they write in class. However, unlike other class groups, they are not assigned regular written homework. In order to ensure that they maintain their writing skills during the course of the academic year, TY students should be assigned regular writing tasks as homework assignments and these can take a variety of forms including the maintenance of personal response journals, informative articles on aspects of classical culture that they are studying and evaluative writing. Homework assessment was dated and this is good practice since it allows students to track their progress. Project work was examined and the standard of presentation and content was generally high. Some were in the form of PowerPoint presentations indicating that students used ICT skills in addition to developing research skills. In some samples, students were required to explain their modus operandi and to write a brief reflection stating what they had learned. This represents excellent practice.
Students’ questions not only sought clarification but also indicated independent thinking and curiosity. In their interactions with the inspector, students were articulate and confident. In some cases, students demonstrated acute critical perception and were able to synthesise and to extrapolate. Student achievement is very good across the ability spectrum and learning outcomes are in line with or exceed expectations.
There was an excellent rapport between students and teachers in the classrooms visited and a very positive learning environment is generated that supports students of all ability.
Stratford College has a homework and assessment policy and it is very commendable that the purpose of homework is outlined in a preliminary paragraph and that specific reference is made to formative assessment A good range of assessment modes is used in the school. Assessment of learning takes place through formal in-house and “mock” examinations that take place at mid-year and at the end of the academic year. In the mid-year exams, Transition Year students sit formal in-house exams in a limited range of subjects, one of which is Classical Studies, and this ensures that students keep a clear focus on learning.
Continuous assessment is also practised. In Transition Year, students are assessed on a wide range of learning tasks and activities, for example, research projects, participation in quizzes and classroom interaction. In second year, twenty per cent of the summer exam mark is allocated to project work. Student participation is one of the criteria used and this is commended.
There is a very positive emphasis on assessment for learning. Homework assignments are conscientiously corrected. Good quality written feedback designed to guide and progress learning was observed in many copies examined. Teacher annotations helped students to focus on their strengths as well as pointing to areas that could be developed further. This practice is highly commended. Oral feedback is given to students during classroom interactions.
Records of assessment and attendance are maintained. Parents are informed of student progress through formal written reports, parent-teacher meetings and communication is also made through the student journal, or phone calls home, as need dictates.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school is supportive of the subject.
· A very enthusiastic, committed and professional team delivers Classical Studies throughout the school.
· Long and short term planning is generally good and there is a positive collegial ethos in the department.
· The quality of teaching and learning is very good in a number of areas.
· A variety of assessment modes is practised and the quality of feedback given to students is very good.
· The subject is very popular and there is ample evidence that students enjoy the subject and are learning a variety of skills.
· Student achievement is good.
· Students with special educational needs are well supported.
· An excellent range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities enriches students’ experience of the subject.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is strongly recommended that distribution of lessons be reviewed to optimise learning and that single lessons be provided on separate days of the week.
· To build on existing good planning, the team should document learning outcomes for each year group based on the syllabus.
· In addition to tasks already set, more written homework assignments should be assigned to TY students.
· Where possible, and relevant, creative writing tasks should be linked to topics in the junior cycle.
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 November 2008