An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Latin
Christian Brothers College
Sidney Hill, Wellington Road, Cork
Roll number: 62520C
Date of inspection: 2 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Latin
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers College (CBC), Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Latin 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 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 the 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 to this report.
Christian Brothers College, founded in 1888, is a fee-paying voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the Christian Brothers. The school’s goal is to help students become rounded individuals and it is committed to providing quality education that embraces modern educational trends while safeguarding traditional values. Therefore Latin is embedded in the school curriculum and there is a strong commitment to its continuity as far as is practicable. Latin is provided as an optional subject in the Junior Certificate programme. As there is a considerable fall off in the uptake of the subject in the senior cycle, CBC provides Latin in the Transition Year and Leaving Certificate programmes on a private basis for those who wish to choose the subject. Students and their parents receive advice on subject choices.
Uptake of Latin is very good in the junior cycle. Seventy students, or more than half of the cohort, take the subject in first year. It is reported that sixty students wished to take the subject in second year but resources did not permit management to provide an additional class. There are thirty-six students in second year, representing just over quarter of the year group. All thirty-six are taught in one class group. Access to the second-year Latin class in 2006-7 was based on merit, places being allocated to those who scored the highest marks in the first-year exams. This is a matter of some concern since all students should have equality of opportunity. Notwithstanding the fact that the group may comprise the most academically able students of the second-year cohort, it is a large number, and does not easily facilitate the provision of support for those students who may need it most. Therefore consideration could be given to dividing this class into two groups for the examination year, 2007-8. As CBC is a fee-paying school, it may be possible to access additional resources through the board of management. Seventeen students, or just thirteen percent of the student cohort, are taking the subject in third year. Given the popularity of Latin in the junior cycle, and to reflect the school’s commitment to the subject, management should explore ways to provide it to all interested students.
Timetabling provision for second and third-year students is good with four single periods allocated and these are evenly distributed over the weekly timetable. There are only two periods of Latin per week in first year and this makes it difficult to achieve syllabus aims. It is recommended that timetabling be reviewed for the next academic year and that a minimum of three periods per week be allocated to the teaching of Latin in first year.
A range of resources can be accessed, such as television/DVD players and overhead projectors. In addition to the school’s computer room, computers are also located in some subject rooms and in the staffroom. There is also access to data projectors. All computers are linked to the internet. While it is reported that the first years are brought to the computer room from time to time, information and communications technology (ICT) is not fully integrated into the teaching and learning of Latin. There is a good deal of useful reference material on the internet. One of the texts recommended by the Junior Certificate syllabus has a dedicated website and also an e-learning resource to support teaching and learning. Another of the recommended texts also has ICT support. It is therefore strongly recommended that ICT be fully integrated into the teaching and learning of Latin. The school’s library is currently being developed. Students can access it when accompanied by their teacher. The department has built up a collection of books, slides and DVDs. It should now consider carrying out an audit of existing resources in order to discover where best to target funding for future development.
Currently, there are two teachers of the subject, one of whom is a temporary Higher Diploma in Education student. Another permanent teacher is on career break. The team is well balanced and can draw on a wealth of teaching experience and subject expertise. To ensure continuity of expertise in the long term, it is recommended that each member of the permanent teaching team gain experience of teaching Latin in every year group beginning in 2007-8.
Higher Diploma in Education students are monitored and supported by a designated staff member, by the head of the Latin department and by the principal. The school pays teachers’ subscriptions to the subject association, the Classical Association of Ireland-Teachers (CAI-T). Engagement with the association is to be encouraged since it is an ideal conduit through which professional dialogue and continuous professional development can be facilitated. Moreover, radical syllabus revision is currently underway and active involvement in the association is an excellent way of maintaining contact with this process. CAI-T has developed a website. There is also a great deal of useful information available on the teaching and learning of Latin through the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT) at www.jact.org.
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities extend learning outside the conventional classroom setting and enrich students’ experience of a subject. The Latin department organises a school trip to Rome every second year. This is highly commended and such trips also provide opportunities for promoting the subject. The school’s website is another such means; in addition to logging school news and events, as is the current practice, it may be possible to host pictures of the interesting sites visited by students and to develop a classics page. Alternatively, more subject information could be provided on the school’s website.
The school has engaged in planning and a subject plan is in place. The co-ordinator is chosen by the principal. Meetings are held once a term and minutes are kept. In first year, the Cambridge Latin Course is used. This is one of the texts recommended by the syllabus. None of the recommended texts is used in second and third year. Instead, students are issued with notes and past examination papers. It is also reported that text material is drawn from a number of sources. While this system has been tried and tested over many years and has been found to be satisfactory, it is difficult to ensure that all syllabus aims are met and that an appropriately graded approach to reading Latin is ensured. Although no text is ideal and each has limitations, it is advisable to choose one of the Junior Certificate textbooks recommended by the syllabus. The intensive preparation necessary for examinations should be deferred until the third year of the junior cycle when past examination papers can be used appropriately. In second and third year, the prescribed Junior Certificate poetry course is followed.
Lessons were, for the most part, well planned. Resources used were texts, the board and handouts. The board was used effectively to record and organise information and to correct homework. However, care should be taken in some instances to ensure that information is clearly visible to all students.
In most cases, the lesson objective was clear but implicit and class time was efficiently used to optimise learning. However, where there was a lack of clarity about the desired learning outcome, progress was difficult to measure and students’ attention was not always engaged. Therefore it is recommended that planned outcomes (phrased in “I can do” statements) be written on the board at the start of the lesson and that students are quite clear as to what they should know by the end of the lesson. A variety of activities should be arranged to ensure that the objective is achieved. Planned activities should cater for different learning styles. The pace of most lessons was lively.
Classes were preparing for both in-house and national examinations so that revision was central to many of the lessons visited. Question and answer sessions designed to review homework tasks were energetic and most students were challenged and engaged. They were well drilled in vocabulary and paradigms and their interactions revealed a very good knowledge of formal grammar such as the inflected endings of verbs in all conjugations and in all tenses.
Students were at ease with the language of grammar. In a lesson visited, they were introduced to advanced syntactical structures and these were presented in an accessible form. Further reinforcement will be necessary and different writing and reading activities should be used for this purpose. Etymology was a focus in another lesson and this is laudable since it is in line with the syllabus. It was also clear that students derived a great deal of enjoyment from word derivation.
In general, there should be a greater emphasis on learner autonomy, on students thinking for themselves, and on the reading of Latin. Classroom management was effective in most cases and most students were engaged and on task. Most were enthusiastic and energised in their interactions. In a small minority of cases, some students’ attention wandered. Since classes are taught in a mixed-ability setting, a good range of differentiated tasks should be prepared and there should be a strong emphasis on active learning, including pair and group work. In their interactions, students were affirmed.
Teachers are peripatetic and there is no subject room. This may explain why there was little evidence that a print-rich environment was created for the subject. The matter should be addressed, since the classroom itself is an additional resource. Students’ project work (where available) should be displayed as this gives students a sense of pride in their work.
There is a strong emphasis on assessment of learning. Two formal in-house examinations take place during the academic year, at Christmas and summer and examination classes have “mocks”. There are also regular class tests. Common first-year tests are held and it is reported that there is a common marking scheme. In view of the fact that students’ access to second-year Latin was determined by performance in the exam, it is of great importance that marking is standardised and therefore moderation should take place. In addition, a wide range of criteria should be used.
The school’s homework policy is thoughtful and comprehensive and roles and responsibilities are clearly articulated. Latin oral homework is regularly set in most classes and students are required to learn vocabulary and paradigms. In most cases, written homework is set regularly and corrected in class. This gives students an opportunity to get immediate feedback and to learn from errors. In order to fully implement the school’s homework policy, it is advisable to collect copybooks on a very regular basis in order to monitor individual students and to target reinforcement tasks (for example, differentiated worksheets) at those who may need extra practice in specific areas. Teacher monitoring of copybooks also provides an opportunity to profile students accurately. In general, it is recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on assessment for learning. In all cases, students should be instructed to write homework tasks, including learning tasks, into their journals.
The school analyses student outcomes including examination results in the context of a whole-staff review. A variety of mechanisms is in use to inform parents of student’ progress: reports on examination results and on general progress are sent home; contact is maintained, through the homework journals and phone as need dictates. Parents meet teachers at designated parent-teacher meetings, and appointments are made with individual parents and teachers if required.
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 Latin and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The college welcomes this assessment of the teaching of Latin in the school. We note the many positive comments contained therein and wish to confirm our continuing commitment to the teaching of Latin despite the drop in demand nationally which has occurred in recent years.
We note the key recommendations of the report which will allow us to further improve our performance in this subject including the increased use of ICT.
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 College principal and the Latin teachers will now examine the detailed recommendation contained therein and set out a programme for the implementation of the key recommendations reflecting our commitment to continuous improvement of the education provided at CBC.
The Principal will revert to the Board of Management at the earliest opportunity with a plan for the implementation of our action plan.