An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Bóthar Nangor, Cluain Dolcáin, Baile Átha Cliath 22
Roll number: 70100W
Date of inspection: 27 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chilliain 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 three of the subject teachers.
Provision of English lessons to students in the college is generally very good. Sixth years have six English lessons each week, fifth years, third years and first years have five lessons each week, second years have four lessons each week and Transition Year (TY) students have three lessons each week. While the provision of three lessons each week is just adequate, TY students also have lessons in Film Studies and Drama and these complement English. However, English lessons for all year groups in the school are poorly distributed across the week on the timetable and so students do not have regular contact with English. While it is acknowledged that this is an anomaly on the timetable this year, it is strongly recommended that in future planning, all class groups have English timetabled on each day of the week.
The manner of student placement in class groups is highly commended as it encourages a very good uptake of higher-level English. All students are placed in mixed-ability class groups for English in junior cycle, TY and in fifth year. Decisions about which level a student will take in state examinations are not made until after the ‘mock’ examinations or later in junior cycle. Students are divided into higher-level or ordinary-level class groups near the beginning of sixth year, and a third teacher is deployed to teach the ordinary-level class group, which is laudable practice. Class groups are timetabled concurrently in sixth year.
There are two permanent whole-time teachers of English in the college and four others are also teaching the subject; two of these are currently studying for their post-graduate diplomas in education (PGDE) and are responsible, in the main, for teaching whole class groups. It is recommended that management ensures regular support and mentoring of PGDE students, and this is especially important in situations where English may not be the supervised subject for the PGDE and yet the student is teaching this subject. The deployment of teachers to English needs review. It is unusual that one teacher with English to degree level has just one English lesson a week while another teacher who does not have English as a degree subject has responsibility for teaching a class group. Best practice would suggest that only those with English to degree level should be deployed to teach English, especially to senior cycle class groups.
Opportunities for continuous professional development are facilitated by management. One member of the English teaching team is the co-ordinator of the local area teachers’ professional network of the newly formed Irish National Organisation of Teachers of English (INOTE) and this commitment is highly commended.
Two English teachers in the college have their own rooms, located side by side and other English teachers are timetabled to teach in these rooms also, which is good practice. One of these rooms contains cupboards for storage of common resources. It is suggested that a filing cabinet be also installed for storage of resources such as handouts relevant to different aspects of the course and that a common electronic folder for storage of notes be also established on the college intranet system. It is recommended that the English teachers plan together at the start of each year for acquisition of resources. The English department should have a dedicated television, video and DVD player. An inventory of available English resources has been compiled, which is good practice.
It was reported that there is good access to information and communication technology (ICT) for teachers and students in the school. The computer rooms are available on a booking system and data projectors are available for use in classrooms. This is commended. There was evidence of use of ICT for downloading resources and for teaching and learning in the classrooms.
While one English classroom was truly a print-rich environment with samples of students’ work, key vocabulary and other relevant resources on display, including student-made models relevant to their studied text, greater use could have been made of the other room for display purposes.
The college library has recently been revamped and is a spacious area with a good range of books available. Students are now in the process of being given library cards and this renewed focus on use of the library is highly commended. In addition, the provision of a suggested reading list to some year groups and the expectation of completion of book reviews is highly commended. There are also plans to convert the lecture theatre in the college into an audio-visual room.
Students have opportunities to participate in a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. For example, they are brought to the theatre, they have the opportunity to take part in the college musical, they can participate in a variety of debating and public speaking competitions and they are entered for writing competitions. Such opportunities are highly commended.
Co-ordination of English is shared between the two permanent whole-time English teachers and there was evidence of good collaboration among the English teaching team as seen from sharing of resources and methodologies. Management provides planning time each term. It is suggested that minutes of meetings be taken to record key decisions.
All English teachers follow a common programme of work for each year group. This is outlined in the English subject plan. All genres are taught in each year and two novels and one drama are studied formally in junior cycle. Some of the methodologies suitable for teaching these texts are outlined in the plan. These methodologies are innovative and commendable, including a focus on cross-curricular work, project work and role play.
It is commendable that all students study a Shakespearean drama in junior cycle and there was evidence that the junior cycle programme is demanding enough to prepare students for the greater challenges of senior cycle. While third year is seen as a year for consolidating previously studied texts, new material, including short stories and poetry, is also introduced, which is good practice. It is recommended that a more integrated approach to the teaching of texts be introduced, especially at junior cycle, rather than the current practice of teaching different aspects of the course at different times of the year. Rather than teaching a unit of grammar and writing skills at the start of the year, this could be integrated with short stories or the novel. Some aspects of functional writing or media studies could be taught at the same time as the novel or play.
The aims of the TY English programme are highly commended and are in keeping with the spirit of TY. A wide variety of skills is developed in this year, including presentation skills. The material taught on this programme and the creative methodologies outlined are particularly commended and there was evidence of good cross-curricular links and community links in the programme; for example, the poetry of a local poet is studied.
Teachers were generally very well prepared for their lessons and had the relevant resources to hand. In the instance where this was not the case, it was not clear by the end of the lessons what the students had learned. In such instances, more thorough preparation of each lesson must take place.
Best practice was observed in the many cases where a clear learning intention was communicated to the students from the beginning of the lesson and this learning outcome was achieved by the end of the lesson.
There was active student participation in almost all lessons observed. This was achieved through frequent questioning, discussion, group and pair work and through lively teaching. In these lessons, teachers were dynamic and hard working and this led to high quality teaching and learning. Teachers ensured that all students were on task and gave individual attention where appropriate and this led to actively engaged students. In these lessons the pace was appropriate and there was a very good break-up of tasks. In addition, these lessons were well structured and there was a smooth transition from one aspect of the lesson to the next. There were a couple of instances where the structure of the lessons needed improvement as there was no clear link between one part of the lesson and the next or else the lesson lacked variety and students’ contributions were minimal. A more planned and creative engagement of students in their lessons was recommended to the teacher in these cases to avoid disinterest and lack of participation on the part of students.
Time was generally very efficiently used. Good pre-reading activities were observed; for example, by reviewing the principal characteristics of main characters before showing key scenes on DVD. Group work was also effectively used.
The English department is highly commended for encouraging the use of oral participation among its students. Students are encouraged to make presentations and speeches, and debating is a feature of the junior cycle and TY programmes of work. In-class and inter-class debates are encouraged in all years. Students are provided with authentic and purposeful experiences in the classroom. For example, when studying functional writing, they must present the speeches they write. In addition, a letter writing exchange with students from another country has been developed. A particular feature of lessons was the very good integration of new vocabulary into the lesson. For example, in making speeches to the class, students had to use new vocabulary taught in preparation for this aspect of the course. Students’ personal response was encouraged and very good practice was observed in the use of response journals in all years.
Some very good resources were observed in use as an aid to teaching and learning. Creativity on the part of teachers in accessing or preparing these paid dividends in the classroom and is commended. For example, third-year students were using a study aid to functional writing, which outlined and modelled good practice in this area and gave a scaffold to students’ work. TY students had been given a handout containing extracts from authentic speeches as part of a study on the language of persuasion. The accompanying worksheets allowed for a focused study of the persuasive techniques used in these speeches. Worksheets were also used to focus students’ attention when observing film. The board was well used to record key words and spellings and to correct common mistakes.
Questioning was challenging and appropriate and questions ranged from lower order to higher order. In addition, good use of probing questions led students to look deeper into the text. This was successful, for example, in the study of ‘unseen’ poetry. It is recommended that all teachers ask questions of named students rather than asking for hands up or asking general questions of the entire class group. Where this was observed it kept all students alert. A ‘hands down’ policy could be adopted in this regard, as it ensures that all students are involved, which is particularly important in mixed-ability classes.
In all lessons, there was evidence that students are given frequent work in a range of genres and that this work is well corrected. The focus on asking students to draft and redraft their work is highly commended, as is the fact that students frequently have to write longer pieces of work.
A feature of almost all lessons was the good student-teacher relationships. In these lessons, the students worked along with the teachers and were engaged in their work. These students were well managed and stimulated to learn. In these lessons, there was clear evidence of good learning with students showing good knowledge of their texts and demonstrating higher-order skills by being able to evaluate their texts and make comparisons between texts. In addition, an examination of English results in state examinations is evidence of the commitment of the English department. There is a high uptake of higher level and students achieve very well in their chosen level. No student has sat foundation level English over the past four years.
Students sit formal examinations in English at Christmas and in the summer. These examinations are common within all year groups which is very good practice. The English ‘mock’ examinations are set and marked by the school’s English teachers. Teachers often mark the work of other class groups to ensure fairness and transparency, and this is highly commended. The system of assessment of TY English students is also highly commended, as students are expected to complete a project after each section of the course and students are assigned a number of credits for each project. This continuous assessment motivates students to work throughout the year. There was evidence that teachers maintained good records of students’ results throughout the year based on homework assignments and in-class examinations.
Homework was generally appropriate and linked with the topic of the lesson. A review of students’ work showed, as already stated, that in all lessons observed students were given regular homework in a range of genres. Further good practice was seen in that this work was very well corrected and that constructive written comments on where students needed to improve were given frequently. Some class groups use hardback copies for their English work, which helps to maintain high standards. Folders are also used by students to store their work. In the main, students’ work was well maintained.
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 three of 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.
Published, March 2010