An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Christian Brothers Secondary School
Midleton, County Cork
Roll number: 62360G
Date of inspection: 28 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in MUSIC
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers Secondary School. 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 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 subject teacher. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Music is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in Christian Brothers Secondary School, Midleton. A taster system operates in first year, where all students study Music for eight weeks as part of a rotating module which also involves Technology, Woodwork and Art. A ‘best fit’ approach operates at both junior and senior cycles, with option blocks formed according to student preference. Music is also available in Transition Year (TY), and it is one of the options in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Timetable provision for Music is generally in line with departmental guidelines. The number opting for Music continues to grow and this is to be commended. Management is to be commended for its continued support of Music in a boys’ school. The fact that it is one of very few boys’ schools in the area providing Music to Leaving Certificate level is noted and applauded.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities take place during the school year. The students form a choir in the first term to perform at various Christmas events and carol services in December, and those who wish to be members of an external local male voice choir are also facilitated. A very successful music club takes place at lunchtime on Thursdays and is open to students who either play instruments or wish to observe other players. There are also a number of bands in the school and every year students participate in the ‘Songschool’ workshops, as well as performing in a number of talent concerts which take place in the course of the school year. In this way, even if it is not part of their subject options, many students in Christian Brothers Secondary School experience some type of music-making activity as part of their second-level education. This is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. In addition, links have been formed with the neighbouring girls’ school and schools further afield, which involve the sharing and pooling of ideas and talents, and organising exchange concerts. The students’ musical experiences are frequently enriched also by trips to concerts and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers. Examples of these include attendance at the annual Cork Pops school concerts, and whenever possible, an Irish music trip to Gurteen, County Sligo with students from the other schools referred to above. Students are also encouraged to avail of the Cork Opera House’s Co-Oper8 programme which allows students to organise their own attendance at music events in this venue. This range of activities is commendable. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise.
Music lessons take place mainly in a designated music room and the computer room where music software packages such as Encore and Goldwave, a digital audio editor, are installed. Although the room used for music lessons has some resources – namely good quality audio equipment, audio resources, sheet music and texts, the fact that it is used for other classes means that all equipment has to be locked away after each lesson and little is on display to indicate that this is a specific music space. The traditional layout is permanent and thus ways in which the teacher and students can interact in a music-teaching setting are restricted. This is regrettable, and it is recommended that either the exploration of ways in which the use of this room for other lessons could be minimised, or the feasibility of, in time, moving to a different location with a view to the development of a dedicated music area be undertaken. This would certainly enhance the work in this already very effective department.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in Christian Brothers Secondary School. A detailed music plan, along with comprehensive programmes of work scheduling the topics to be covered, was presented. 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. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support-material resources 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 worksheets, and technological resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords him the opportunity 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, the teacher avails of any ongoing training courses which contribute to overall continuing professional development (CPD). This is commendable and 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 observed, a secure, enthusiastic, work-orientated atmosphere prevailed. Material was presented in a coherent manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. A warm, friendly rapport prevailed between the students and the teacher at all times. 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.
The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. Throughout each lesson, student knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible, and this was broadened and expanded through detailed questioning, explanation, clarification and encouragement from the teacher. Answers were rarely given by the teacher however. Instead, students were allowed to discover these themselves through a range of activities such as a quick game of ‘hangman’ to remember a technical term, or more probing questions to urge the students to listen, think and arrive at a conclusion. All these activities contributed to a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment and are commended.
In lessons focussing on the use of specific software, clear explanations and excellent teacher demonstrations were observed. A high degree of collaborative and independent learning was very much in evidence. This was borne out in lessons where students organised their own notes, monitored by the teacher for accuracy, and were involved in choosing their own musical extracts to consolidate previously learnt material. Students were encouraged towards self-directed and autonomous learning and were shown how the skills that they acquire could be applied to not just other parts of the music course, but other subject areas as well. This is commendable.
When the examination and more theoretical aspects of the syllabus were addressed, examples of sound methodological practice were observed. The teacher used the available resources to introduce and consolidate theoretical material, but unfortunately as the piano was locked away, no aural references were possible. Appropriate use of the whiteboard and overhead projector was seen however, along with the use of appealing mnemonics, as students reinforced such concepts as notation on the bass stave, cadential progressions and key signatures. In order to optimise music learning, it is recommended that a solution be found which would allow easier access to music-making resources. This would allow for the enhancement of the ‘sound before symbol’ approach which was so skilfully employed in lessons where access to sound sources with minimal upheaval was possible. In this light, it is also recommended that an enhancement of the available resources to include further development of information and communication technologies (ICT) be considered.
The subject knowledge and skills evident in the music teaching observed impact well on students’ musical thinking, attitudes and skills, and when these were utilised, a wide range of interesting musical activities was introduced. These varied activities and methods reinforced learning, understanding and appreciation of Music, allowed for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students. Thus, they are commendable.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance.
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, practical assessments and continuous assessment tests every week, leading to class discussions and students’ evaluations of their own performance. The teacher has also set up a stock of material in Mediamax, a central place to store, access and share files and digital media. This allows students to work on projects and improve general listening skills, and enables the teacher to build a profile of students’ listening competencies. 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 teacher to helping all students achieve their potential in Music, which is commendable.
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.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Skilful teaching, good in-class assessment strategies and a positive classroom atmosphere were evident in the classes visited and certainly enhanced student learning.
· Students were motivated and had a positive attitude towards Music. Observation of students’ work, both practical and written, indicates that the skills developed are appropriate and of an acceptable standard.
· The music teacher’s commitment to all music activities both in and outside school and his willing involvement in future planning for the department are commendable. It is clear that the benefits of these events to students are considerable. The school’s support in facilitating these experiences is also commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The exploration of ways in which the use of the music room for other lessons could be minimised, or the feasibility of, in time, moving to a different location with a view to the development of a dedicated music area should be examined.
· Enhancement of the available resources to include further development of ICT.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and Staff welcome the overall positive report on the teaching and learning of Music in the school.
The main strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the Board and Staff’s views. In particular, the inspector’s finding of skilful teaching, good in-class strategies, positive classroom atmosphere, students’ motivation and positive attitude towards Music are appreciated. Recognition of the teacher’s commitment to music and its development in the school, plus the school’s support in facilitating this is welcomed.
We will continue to build and develop these strengths.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management and Staff agree with the recommendation that the use of the Music room for other lessons should be minimised. It also acknowledges and agrees with the report’s recommendation that, as an alternative, moving to a different location with a view to a dedicated music area should be examined. The Board would be very happy to adopt either of these courses of action, as anticipated in the School Development Plan and agreed with Department of Education and Science (D.E.S) in the relevant Planning Schedules. We await D.E.S. approval of funding for same.
The recommendation that I.C.T. resources for the Music Department be further developed is accepted by the Board and the music teacher. The Board is committed to providing the best teaching and learning facilities in this and other areas by a policy of continuing investment.