An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Cross and Passion College
Kilcullen, County Kildare
Roll number: 61690W
Date of inspection: 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cross and Passion College. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Music enjoys a high profile in Cross and Passion College, 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 a four week period between September and December. The students then choose two subjects from Art, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood), Technical Graphics, Business and Music for the Junior Certificate. The compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme includes a rotating music and drama module which all students follow for the entire year. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students prioritise their preferred subject options. The school is pleased to report that there is 95% satisfaction with all students getting their first and second choice. Singing is also timetabled for first-year and senior students with all groups having one period per week. A healthy proportion of students opt for Music throughout the school, with a good gender balance generally. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities takes place during the school year. Through these activities and the timetabled singing classes, all students have access to some form of music-making, which is commendable. TY students produce a musical every October which also involves students from the whole school. Some past productions include Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Little Shop of Horrors. The school also runs a Battle of the Bands which doubles as a fundraising event, sometimes to fund music equipment. Various liturgical services, an end-of-year concert featuring student work, a talent show and a first-year end-of-year concert ensure that students in Cross and Passion College experience a wide range of music-making activities. A system of individual instrumental tuition in piano, guitar and voice also operates in the school, and students can avail of an instrument rental scheme which was initiated by the Cross and Passion sisters. These lessons are arranged on a rotating basis to ensure that each student receives the instrumental lesson at a different time each week, and complements the curricular activity provided by the school. In the past string lessons were also available and consequently the department has a range of stringed instruments at its disposal and hopes to renew these lessons once a suitable string teacher becomes available. The students’ musical experiences are continually enriched also by trips to concerts and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers, some notable events include performances by The Dunlavin Youth Orchestra, the Army Brass Band, a visiting German orchestra and local Irish traditional groups. Students are also encouraged to enter competitions such as Dublin’s Feis Ceoil, the Wesley College Schools’ Competition and, in the past, groups have participated in the national Slogadh competitions. This range of activities is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. The music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise.
Cross and Passion College has a designated music room but as it is used for other classes also, the planning and preparation of lessons is difficult, with all resources stored in this room. This spacious room, with two adjoining store rooms, has desks laid out in traditional style and is appropriately equipped with a piano, a keyboard, a sound system, chalkboard, and stave board. In addition to the instruments outlined above, a range of percussion instruments is also available, along with some music stands, eight electronic keyboards, CDs and sheet music and texts. One store room houses a computer which is connected to the internet and has Pro Tools and Cubase software installed. There is an attractive range of musical posters on the walls, examples of student work, and bulletin boards with notices and information about various aspects of music. This is commendable as it all serves to heighten an awareness of Music and the musical activities that go on in the school. In addition, the school hall, which has a piano, is used for singing classes and when large groups are involved in music activities. This extensive investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved, which is commendable. In order to optimise the students’ music learning experiences, the ongoing development of resources should be continued however, and should include further development of information and communication technology (ICT) and suitable audio-visual resources including an overhead projector (OHP) and screen. The acquisition of more technological resources and other electronic equipment may highlight the need to replace the chalkboards as excessive dust could cause damage to the equipment.
Two shortcomings were immediately noticeable, mainly in relation to the resources in the room. The positioning of the speakers for the sound system (practically adjacent to each other in the left hand corner of the room) is also a concern, as it militates against quality aural stimulation for the students. It is recommended that these speakers be re-positioned on both sides of the room facing outwards. As sound leakage into the neighbouring classroom is a worry, placing them slightly forward rather than on the adjoining wall may surmount this problem.
Aside from the fact that non-dedicated rooms limit the amount of time available for preparation, it also means that ways in which the teacher and students can interact are restricted and this also militates against any flexibility in relation to the arrangement of different music-teaching settings. Although the furniture can be arranged to suit different settings, the fact that it needs to revert to a traditional layout for other classes means the organisation of a permanent performing area is not feasible. The exploration of ways in which the use of the music room for other lessons can be minimised is recommended, in order to allow for a more efficient coordination of the work in this already very effective department. It would also allow the teachers to investigate ways in which use of the newly acquired keyboards could be maximised. In addition, it is recommended that a portion of the room be designated a permanent performing space to allow for a more fluid learning environment where performing, composing and listening activities could be undertaken with minimal upheaval.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in Cross and Passion College. School development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage in the school and detailed music planning was undertaken in 2005-06. The policy which was devised at this time was presented and contained 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 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 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. 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, and the teachers meet regularly to evaluate the implementation, progress and success of the programmes they cover which is commendable.
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, accompaniments, 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 have recently resumed membership 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.
In all lessons visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. 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 very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts. Effective questioning to named students was employed to evaluate prior learning and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter
Examples of sound music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on listening activities, revision, examination practice 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, trial and error, and progressive refinement in all activities. The repertoire chosen for performance was suitable for the age levels while the approaches chosen contributed to the quality of learning and are to be commended.
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-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 instrumental techniques used in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. 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, especially when undertaking revision, in order to minimise teacher-led activities and to encourage students towards more self-directed and autonomous learning.
All lessons observed had some elements of performing. Activities included rehearsing for the forthcoming end-of-year concerts, singing and ensemble playing and performing compositions worked on in class. Performances of varied pieces such as He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands, Ave Maria, Morning has Broken, Do Re Mi and The Cuckoo extend the range of musical experience of the students and are commended. Total student participation in all these ensembles including confident solos, hand movements and supportive and assured accompaniments by the teachers, enhanced the quality of these performances and are commendable. Relevant rote learning and good rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, were some of the other activities seen. Whole-class performances of the music provided convincing evidence that most students are capable of maintaining their own part in group music-making. Observation of students’ practical work, at all stages, showed that whilst some were challenged, few students were unable to cope with the musical demands. This focus on building the role of music as a living subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy practical music-making are entirely appropriate and highly commendable.
Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were also utilised to very good effect, again through appropriate practical elements. Whether it was a revision of Irish traditional dances or prescribed material for the certificate examinations, 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 the set songs for the Junior Certificate, subsequently working out suitable backing chords for Muss I Denn, one of the songs, and co-ordinating and rehearsing a suitable group performance of this composing activity by using a range of instruments. 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, 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 the very 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 the learning situation. 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 student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term.
The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are well addressed in Cross and Passion College, and they are linked and integrated in a balanced way. A positive learning environment was evident in all classes observed, and it contributed to an enjoyment of music for the students. This environment, the use of varied learning methods and strategies which were used to increase and develop their aural awareness, understanding and appreciation of music are commendable.
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 mostly corrected the following day. 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, which 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 children’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.