An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Roll number: 61860V
Date of inspection: 16 February, 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dominican College, Wicklow conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation. 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 and subject teachers.
First and second-year class groups have four English lessons each week. This is satisfactory provision. However, most of the lesson periods on the timetable are thirty-five minutes in length which is quite short in duration. Provision for English improves in third year as students have five lessons a week. Provision is good in Transition Year (TY), as students have four lessons a week, and good in fifth and sixth year as students have five English lessons each week. English lessons are spread evenly across the week so that where there are five lessons provided on the timetable, these lessons are timetabled on each day of the week. However, some class groups have a predominance of English lessons timetabled in the afternoon. It is recommended that, if possible, this situation be avoided in future years. In addition, if it is not possible to increase provision of English lessons in first and second year, management and the English department might consider the provision of five English lessons in first year as opposed to third year, in order to further develop students’ skills in English from entry into secondary school.
The manner of student placement into English class groups from first to sixth year is commended. Students are placed in mixed-ability classes for English throughout their junior cycle and are also placed in mixed-ability class groups in Transition Year. Students wishing to do higher level are then placed into one of three mixed-ability class groups in fifth year. Those wishing to do ordinary level are placed into a stand alone ordinary-level class. All students are encouraged to sit English to the highest attainable level in their state examinations. There is concurrent timetabling of fifth and sixth-year English classes to facilitate those students who may wish to change level. This is to be commended.
Students are brought to see a live performance of texts on the English course and in-school workshops have also been held on drama texts. Transition Year students do a Performing Arts Module, which includes Drama, Music and Dance and leads to the staging of a show, which includes a dramatisation of a script, written and performed by the students. TY students also do debating and have the option of doing public speaking. Senior cycle students have the opportunity to take part in debating and public speaking competitions at county and national level. Such exposure to co-curricular activities pertaining to English is enriching for students and is to be encouraged.
There is good whole school support for English by management in the school. Teachers are facilitated to attend inservice, a budget has recently been introduced for the subject, and every effort is made for teachers to retain class groups from first to third year and from fifth to sixth year. In addition, English teachers rotate the teaching of year groups and levels in a fair manner which is commended. All teachers in the school were provided with inservice on differentiation earlier this year. This is also to be commended. Evidence from the inspection indicated that English teachers were effectively using strategies for differentiation in the classroom.
Seven teachers currently teach English in the school. Some of these teachers have their own base classrooms. In general, the policy is for first-year students to have base classrooms, and for the rest of the rooms to be teacher-based, where possible. In all classrooms visited, students were surrounded by a stimulating learning environment, with project work, newspaper articles and posters pertaining to English on display. This is commended.
There is a school library which is operated by sixth-year prefects at present and is open to students at lunchtime. In a recent review of posts in the school half a post has been allocated to the development of the library. This is encouraging, as there was quite a good range of books in the library, but many of these books did not seem to have ever been read. Opportunities to develop the library should be exploited. For example, age appropriate reading lists based on books in the library could be developed and distributed to students, the library could be a venue for visiting speakers and teachers might bring their students to the library from time to time to borrow books. Lunch time reading support groups are held in the library for students with literacy needs. This is commendable.
There are two computer rooms in the school. Management introduced training in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the staff last year which is commended. English teachers are aware of the potential for use of ICT in their classes and it is recommended that every effort be made to explore this potential. It was reported that a school website is being set up and that this will contain English web pages with examples of students’ work. This is to be encouraged.
Subject department planning is developing in the school. There is a co-ordinator of English, a position that rotates among English teachers annually. Formal subject planning meetings are held at the beginning of the school year and on another occasion during the year and English teachers meet informally at regular intervals throughout the year also. Minutes of formal meetings are recorded and passed on to management which is good practice. These minutes reflect concern for issues such as standards of students’ work and the provision of only four classes a week for first and second years.
There is a department plan for English for each year of the course. The first-year plan outlines the aims of the programme, the core text, novel, films and play to be studied, appropriate methodologies for each section of the course and assessment methods. This style of plan is commended as it is focuses on methodologies for teaching each aspect of the course as opposed to being content focused. It is suggested that the plans for other years, which are written in a different style, be customised into one style, possibly using the first-year or sixth-year plan as a model and including learning outcomes as outlined later in the report.
English teachers make joint decisions on texts. All class groups study the same texts which gives students a great sense of security in the knowledge that all class groups are doing the same thing. It is recommended that in developing the planning process, English teachers agree what are the key skills or learning outcomes that each year group should acquire. In this way students will all have developed the same skills each year which can be built on incrementally. It also means that, in junior cycle, if a teacher wishes to use a different text they can still teach the same skills. The necessity to teach the same texts is more important in fifth and sixth year in case a student may wish to change level and senior cycle English teachers are commended for working closely together to align their work. The study of three comparative texts is a requirement of the ordinary-level English syllabus and therefore the fact that currently ordinary-level students study just two texts needs to be addressed.
First-year students study both a novel and play which is excellent practice. Another novel and play is taught over the course of second and third year and a suitable range of poetry is also taught. It is recommended that a range of short stories be also taught, particularly in third year, to ensure that new material is introduced and so that the year does not become solely a revision year.
The overall documented TY programme does not adequately reflect the good work that is actually going on in Transition Year, in both English and complementary modules such as Drama and the Performing Arts. It is recommended that this programme be updated to fully reflect this work. The TY English programme is commended as it includes a range of texts that are generally not Leaving Certificate based but which can be used to teach skills necessary for Leaving Certificate. The programme includes study of novels, Shakespearean drama, film studies, poetry, language development and writing.
There was evidence of good collaboration among English teachers. In addition, the culture of sharing resources and methodologies has commenced and this is to be encouraged for its ultimate benefit to the students. Many teachers develop handouts and resources or access the internet for resources. Use of such resources added variety to lessons and ensured that the core textbook was not the only resource being used in lessons.
Teachers reported satisfaction with the level of audio-visual resources available to them as an English department. The acquisition of a budget for English was also welcomed. Presently some teachers are still purchasing their own resources. Therefore, there needs to be a system worked out among the English teachers on how to prioritise and acquire resources to be purchased from the English budget. It is recommended that English teachers devise such as system in the near future. Good practice was seen in that the deputy principal’s office serves as a central storage area for joint resources such as videos and DVDs. This means that these resources are easily accessible to all English teachers. In addition, the English plan includes a list of audio-visual resources. A filing cabinet could also be acquired for access, by all, to common resources such as handouts.
English teachers have individually developed strategies to promote reading. These include book clubs where students read for pleasure and make presentations to the class on what they have read. Students are also involved in World Book Day. Such strategies are to be commended and it is recommended that all teachers develop such strategies. For example, students could expected to read a number of books for pleasure in TY.
There is a slot at all staff meetings for discussion of issues around special educational needs (SEN) or learning support (LS). This is excellent practice and there was evidence of a very good awareness by all English teachers of students with such needs in their classrooms. The fact that one of the special needs team is also an English teacher is an advantage to the English department and there was evidence of very good liaison between the SEN/LS team and the English teachers.
All lessons were well planned and the necessary resources prepared in advance to ensure that teaching and learning was effective. Many teachers had prepared their own individual plans for each year group.
The purpose of each lesson was clearly articulated to students and a range of activities included so that students were constantly engaged in the lesson and in their learning. Teachers were creative in their methodologies which assured active student learning and enjoyable lessons. Teachers are commended for the range of excellent strategies they used to bring about such learning in their classrooms. These strategies included: students predicting what happened next, writing alternative endings, making comparisons with contemporary life, use of anecdote, role play, ‘hot seating’, group work, a quiz based on the novel and many more. Through the use of role play and ‘hot seating’, for example, students learned more clearly about point of view. Examples of this included the entire class group acting out a court room scene based on a drama they were studying, with each student taking on a separate role; a student being ‘hot seated’ into the role of one character being interviewed about her life by the class, students dramatising scenes, students illustrating scenes, students actively reading their novel by each student taking on the part of a different character. In addition, teachers often brought texts to life by dramatic reading of a chapter or taking on the role of a character.
Instructions, when given, were always clear. In general, there was a good break up of tasks and lessons were well structured. When students worked in groups or individually, the teachers moved around the classroom giving individual attention where needed and ensuring that all students were on task. Good practice was observed when the teacher organised groups which included the range of abilities for participation in a quiz. Good discussion often took place in lessons and students were comfortable to share their opinions. Best practice was observed when students were given time to discuss their texts and to share their opinions so that the teacher’s point of view was not the dominant one. Good practice was also observed when links were created between subject matter and students’ lives. Very good use of pre-reading exercises was observed. For example, new vocabulary was introduced prior to commencing reading a new chapter in a novel and students had to predict what might happen next giving solid reasons why they made that prediction.
Questioning was effective in all lessons. Teachers asked a range of lower and higher-order questions to suit the ability levels of all students. In addition, in most lessons, teachers asked general questions of the entire class as well as individual questions where necessary and discreet attention was given to quieter students who were reluctant to answer. There was a good emphasis observed on developing students’ verbal and listening skills. It was reported that students sometimes make presentations on books they have read to their class group. In addition, the focus on oral work, where students had to listen carefully to each other before describing a scene collectively, meant that students’ listening skills were also being developed.
There was evidence of integrating the teaching of language with literature so that students, for example, had to write a letter or diary entry from the point of view of a character in a text. Many of the posters on the wall were students’ interpretations of events in studied texts. Another excellent exercise given to capture students’ interest was when students had to write the Valentine card from a character in a play. In addition, students were given worksheets to reinforce work done in class and many teachers also used word searches and cloze tests for students to look for key words associated with their text. Students also reportedly have written poems modelled on poems studied and there was evidence that students had completed book reviews on their novel. Students also keep response journals of texts studied which is good practice.
Resources such as audio versions of poetry and drama were reportedly used in lessons, which is good practice. In addition, film versions of texts were used to reinforce learning. Other resources, such as props for the dramatisation of texts were also effectively used. Good use was also made of the board in many lessons to record key points and to record instructions for students which is good practice.
Teachers are commended for catering for the range of abilities in the classrooms. In all lessons there was a strong awareness of each student’s capabilities and individual needs and teachers ensured that all students were challenged to the best of their ability. Some teachers prepare summaries of texts for newcomer students in advance of the lessons. This is excellent practice.
In all lessons there was an excellent teacher-student relationship in evidence. English teachers were enthusiastic about their subject and their students which led to enthusiastic students and enjoyable lessons. It was reported that some teachers use occasions such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day to focus on themes such as horror and love and it was evident that students enjoyed these immensely. Students were well behaved in all lessons and there were no classroom management issues.
Teachers encourage as many students as possible to sit higher-level English in their state examinations and this is reflected in the uptake of levels. An examination of results demonstrates that students have achieved well in state examinations at both higher and ordinary level which is commendable.
Common examinations are held for English across year groups as appropriate for end-of-term examinations. However, the marking schemes for these examinations are not agreed. It is recommended, in order to ensure consistency of marking, that a common marking scheme be agreed for these examinations. A feature of all teachers’ work was the very good profiling of students in relation to ability and results.
Most teachers require students to use hardback copies for their essays and soft back copies for other aspects of their course. Some teachers also require students to store resources in hard or soft back folders. These are good practices that could be standard in all classes. Examination of students’ work demonstrated that appropriate amounts of homework were being assigned.
Teachers, being sensitive to students’ needs, are aware of the demotivation that can occur if too much red pen is used in marking. Therefore, many teachers have a deliberate policy of not using red pen and only marking certain errors. This is commendable. Teachers, when correcting students’ work, give students good written feedback on areas where they need to improve in many cases. This is highly commended. Some teachers also avoid giving students a grade for the first months of term so that students will not feel categorised into being ‘A’ or ‘D’ students for example. Instead teachers give an encouraging comment which is a good policy.
Classes sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. TY students also sit such examinations. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ exams. A report is sent home at the end of these examinations and a monthly report card based on student progress in subjects is also sent home. This is commendable practice.
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 English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.