An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Presentation Secondary School
Listowel, County Kerry
Roll number: 61380H
Date of inspection: 5 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation Secondary School Listowel. 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 teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Music enjoys a good profile in Presentation Secondary School Listowel, and is available as an optional subject to all students in all years. A taster system operates in first year whereby all students study Music for two periods per week for the entire year, at the end of which they make their choices for the Junior Certificate. The school employs the best fit approach to the formation of subject option blocks so Music is in a different option block every year. The number of students taking Music for Junior Certificate has been quite erratic over the past few years, and has fallen sharply recently. At present, the proportion of students opting for Music is higher in senior cycle despite a larger student cohort in junior cycle. It is recommended that close monitoring of the subject uptake be continued in order to encourage students to choose the subject. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme does not have a music module as such. Despite a planned programme, the students link up with the fifth-year music class. It is recommended that in keeping with the philosophy and principles of TY, the programme be initiated to ensure a broad exposure to Music. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students prioritise their preferred subject options. Music is also available in Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), with students completing that module in fifth year. Singing is timetabled for first-year students with the entire group coming together for one period per week.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with Departmental guidelines with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week along with a sufficient number of double periods in all year groups to facilitate practical work.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities takes place during the school year. These involve talent shows, singing, songwriting, dance and percussion workshops, and lunchtime guitar classes. Close links with St. John’s Theatre in Listowel ensure continuing opportunities for the students to experience a variety of cultural events. Students also travel further afield to attend concerts in Cork, Tralee and Limerick. In addition they visit a recording studio and organise musical fundraising days. Cross-curricular links are maintained through the variety of events that take place in conjunction with the religion, history, Irish and art departments. All these activities ensure that students in Presentation Secondary School experience a wide range of music-making activities which is commendable. The music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise.
Presentation Secondary School Listowel has a dedicated music room with all resources stored in this room. The room has desks which are laid out in traditional style but can be easily rearranged to cope with any changing music teaching setting as evidenced during the inspection when the desks were efficiently pushed back to allow a dancing session to take place. There is a good range of resources available including a sound system, piano, chalkboard, stave board, and computer along with a variety of classroom instruments and drum kit. There is an array of musical posters and examples of student work on the walls along with an attractive display of different CD covers. This is commendable as it all serves to heighten an awareness of Music and the musical activities that go on in the school. In order to optimise the students’ music learning experiences, the ongoing development of resources should be continued, and should include further development of information and communication technology (ICT) and suitable audio-visual resources including an overhead projector (OHP) and screen.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in the School. School development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage in the school and subject departments are well established. Records of subject meetings were presented along with a detailed music plan containing documentation outlining the running of this department. A range of cross-curricular planning was highlighted, along with long-term curriculum planning scheduling the topics to be covered. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the state examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question.
The music teachers work effectively as a team, planning programmes of work for the year, collaborating in the smooth running of the practical examinations and organising the other musical activities which take place in the school. From discussion with the teachers it was found that considerable thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all music courses in the school. Some thought has been given to the implementation of a diversity of teaching styles and assessment procedures, which is commendable. There is regular contact and cooperation between the teachers in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabuses with their classes. The teachers meet regularly to evaluate the implementation, progress and success of the programmes they cover, which is commendable. It is recommended that future planning includes consideration of student learning strategies and the inclusion of more active learning methodologies along with planning for the development of resources and how they would be utilised in the classroom setting.
Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support material suitable for all levels. In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, worksheets, and audio resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
The music teachers have availed of some opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) and are members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). The teachers are encouraged to avail of any opportunities which will allow them to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. In addition, it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future, particularly in the area of ICT.
All lessons observed were presented in a coherent and confident manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teachers in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. The music teachers created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. Students responded well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. Teachers valued students’ contributions to class discussions and used praise effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
Examples of appropriate music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on listening activities, introducing new material or performing. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students through well-structured and varied activities. Good learning was seen through listening and analysis, skill development, progressive refinement in all activities and a thorough consolidation and reinforcement of previously learnt material.
The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. A collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-to-peer interaction and purposeful group work was observed, where the teachers guided students through various stages and facilitated a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment. Student knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible, with some notable examples including accomplished student demonstrations of the themes used in the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major on fiddle, flute and piano. This atmosphere of autonomous learning with the teacher as facilitator and enabler is highly commendable and contributes to students taking responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that these strategies be expanded in order to minimise teacher-led activities and to encourage students towards more self-directed and autonomous learning.
Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were also utilised to very good effect, again through appropriate practical elements. Consistent cross-referencing with other parameters of music was evident and contributed to a thorough integration of the three curricular areas of performing, composing and listening. This was exemplified by completing a listening question on a ‘choice listening’ section for the Junior Certificate (Illustrative Music), conducting in waltz time, listening to ‘Elephants’ from ‘The Carnival of the Animals’, completing a listening worksheet and subsequently learning to dance a waltz. Similarly, whether it was learning to jive, linking Irish jigs with a set work to emphasise the common time signature, or picking out a range of metres through listening to music from a variety of genres and composing their own rhythm patterns, the students were exposed to a wide variety of musical thinking. This linking of activities and active participation by the students is commendable and does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material. It also extends the range of musical experience of the students and is highly effective in developing critical listening skills.
The resources available in the music room are used to very good effect and contribute to an effective learning environment. It is recommended however, that ways in which an OHP could be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored, as it would greatly enhance learning. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated questions on the board, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture when performing on instruments or singing, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, as the plan is to develop ICT, some consideration should be given to looking at ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting. The effective use of these resources would greatly enhance students’ learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Some student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance, while others were haphazard and contained loose sheets and handouts. Careful monitoring of student materials is recommended, especially with junior classes, as valuable supplementary information and work will invariably go astray if not documented properly.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis and is usually corrected in the next lesson. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. Practical elements are continually assessed and students perform in class at least once a term. Other forms of practical assessment include group performing and ‘events’ assessments where students’ efforts at public performances are also acknowledged. This is commendable. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a student’s progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in the state examinations and are indicative of the commitment of the teachers to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and, in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings also provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their daughter’s progress.
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 teachers 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.