An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Coláiste Cois Siúire,
Mooncoin, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70620C
Date of inspection: 16 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cois Siúire conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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.
History is reasonably well provided for in Coláiste Cois Siúire. Management supports the subject as strongly as it can within the limitations of a small school and a fledgling History department. The subject has come and gone from the curriculum over the years but is currently available at both junior and senior cycles.
In junior cycle, History has two class groups in first year each of which is given two class periods a week. In second year, there is at present one class group which also has two class periods per week. In third year, which currently has over forty students, there are two History classes each with three class periods a week. The increased number of periods in third year enables the History teachers to complete the syllabus for the Junior Certificate, even if under some pressure. All class groups in junior cycle are mixed ability, and all students, including those with resource hours or learning support, are integrated into the mixed-ability classes, which is commendable practice.
In senior cycle there has not been a History class for some time until this year’s fifth-year class group was established. This is a small group which was put together in response to a request to restore Leaving Certificate History, even for a small group of students. A way was found, and the class now exists, although with somewhat limited hours, and is working well towards its Leaving Certificate in 2008. The school is to be commended for its efforts in this regard, especially in the era of the new History syllabus with all the new elements contained in that course.
Classrooms in the school are teacher-based, but as the History teachers are mainly committed to other subjects, the rooms used for History are effectively other subject bases used for the teaching of History. While this works well in the present situation, there is still no History room, History resource room or base in the school, which is a marked disadvantage. This is an area for future development in the school, especially as the subject has had contrasting fortunes in the past, and would need support in this direction to help in securing its future.
The choice system in the school allows students to select their subject options for senior cycle on an ‘open’ basis, with final choice blocks being devised from this sampling process. With a small school it is appreciated that not all subjects can be sustained every year, but the re-establishment of History, even in its current form, reflects well on those who managed to bring about its reappearance. History is a core subject in junior cycle, and has been for some time, which is to be commended.
There is a good school library which students can access, usually at lunch-time, as the library is generally in use as a classroom. There are also, however, History books available to teachers and students in one of the classrooms used for teaching History. Audio-visual equipment (AV) in various forms is available for teaching and learning, though not based in the History rooms. While it is reported to be mobile and accessible for use in all subjects by arrangement, there is no evidence of its being greatly used at present in History.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities are based in the computer room. Satellite broadband has been supplied to the school and is available in all classrooms through network points. While a substantial number of computers are available and accessible in the ICT room, there are none in the rooms in which History is taught. There are at present no data projectors in the school, which is a hindrance in trying to introduce ICT methods and applications to subjects like History which has a great deal of material readily available through the HIST website (www.hist.ie). As ICT has an increasingly important part to play in the preparation, teaching and learning of History, this is an area for development which should be addressed as soon as practicable. It is understood that there are technical problems with the satellite broadband service currently in use, but that measures are being taken to improve the situation. This is to be encouraged.
The History team, which is small and does not really regard itself as a department, has nevertheless been meeting twice a year for the purpose of planning for its subject area. These meetings have led to the production of plans for the teaching and learning of History, the arrangement of outings and examinations, and discussion on the progress of each class and each year with the History syllabus. Much of the planning material to date is in the organising and dividing up of the current syllabuses in junior cycle and Leaving Certificate, and the integration of this material with the Junior Certificate Teacher Guidelines. While this is good practice, it is recommended that more of the planning time for History be devoted to looking at the overall picture as regards the status and place of History in the school, in the immediate and mid-term future. To this end, longer-term plans should be drawn up and formed into a strategic plan for History in Coláiste Cois Siúire. The environs and hinterland of the school are steeped in History and tradition, and there are great areas of potential for History in the school among the local community and its history. It is positive to note that plans to visit Kilkenny city are in preparation for junior cycle students: this is commendable as it is an ideal point from which to study medieval History. Similar excellent historical sites all within twenty-five kilometres of the school would offer equally good experiences for students in their study of the subject.
As regards the operation of the History team, it is acknowledged that there is currently a coordinator of the subject. It would be beneficial to rotate this role so that the job, and the experience gained from it, is shared to the advantage of all. It is clear that teachers have other subject responsibilities in the school, and therefore the rotation should be carefully dovetailed with those other duties so as not to create a major burden at any one point.
Overall plans for progress with the syllabus, and individual lesson planning are good, and were in evidence in the classes inspected. Much material is prepared for classes at all levels, and its application and use in the classroom is good. Differentiation is taken into consideration in planning and preparation for History class groups, bearing in mind their mixed-ability makeup, and this is to be commended. It would greatly reinforce and enrich the delivery of this material if a more visual approach were taken to its presentation in the History lessons. Using a combination of photocopier, overhead projector (OHP), wall-maps, ICT applications such as PowerPoint, and enlarged charts, would greatly enhance the material employed in the teaching and learning of the subject. This is a matter for current and forward planning and in preparation for History classes now and into the future. The advantages of this are obvious in a visual sense, but also would greatly benefit the teachers in the management of their materials. The work prepared and used in this way becomes a permanent yet amendable resource of materials which can be called up in an instant and does not require hours of preparation every time the material is needed. This is recommended as a positive way forward in the planning and preparation for the subject.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is attended to by the History team in that the History Inservice Team (HIST) courses have been attended, to the benefit of the History team and the planning and teaching of the new History syllabus for Leaving Certificate. It is advised that further inservice courses be considered as an advantage to the team, for example, ICT courses which are run in education centres, and the seminars, courses and conferences organised by the local and national branches of the subject association. Membership of that association brings with it the advantage of a useful annual periodical aimed directly at the teaching of History at all levels. The assistance to be gained by meeting other teachers of the subject is also invaluable and is recommended as a way of moving methodology and the syllabus forward. It is therefore recommended that the History teachers avail of as many CPD opportunities as possible in History to reinforce their planning, preparation and teaching of the subject and in the development of their methodology to take account of current trends and available resources.
The rooms in use for teaching History reflect thoughtful preparation and a good learning environment is the result. There are History stimulus materials on display in each of the rooms and these are useful for both teaching and learning. In time, these display materials could be added to by further visual and printed aids, and by student work such as illustrated projects, which would benefit all students in their work in History.
Good classroom management was in evidence in all classes visited during the inspection, and there was a positive working environment in all cases. A good rapport had been built up between teachers and students, and there was mutual respect between teachers and students and among students themselves.
The continuum of the course was very good and the syllabus was well advanced in all classes observed, in both junior and senior cycles. Students knew where they were with their work, and what to expect in the class. Some, but not all lessons started with the topic and some key words or ideas written prominently on the board. Students were able to write this information in their notebooks which is good practice and provides a good reference point for further work and for revision. This should be the norm for all classes so that students always have the topic title in front of them and so that there is no doubt what the key elements are. This could also be done by overhead projector (OHP) transparency, by large chart, or by an ICT application. Any of these methods could be prepared beforehand and therefore would not use class time for that purpose.
Most lessons were progressed by looking over homework, by question-and-answer sessions to recap or to advance a new topic and by creating a dialogue on the new subject. This was good practice, as was the ‘naming’ of most questions and the affirming of students who gave correct answers. It was noted that there was good differentiation in these sessions, and that both closed and higher order questions were used in appropriate ways. This meant that mixed-ability classes could progress at a good pace with no student being left behind in the subject.
There was a good mixture of methods in evidence in the lessons observed, including textbook, board-work, information sheets, maps, worksheets and reference to material on the walls of the room on occasion. This was good practice and helped students to understand their topic more clearly. It would move this process on further if visual stimuli could be displayed at the front of the classroom, whether as OHP maps and diagrams, actual classroom-size maps, poster-size illustrations or ICT-based images such as PowerPoint, DVD or CD-ROM material. Much of this material has already been provided by the HIST team in software package format, or by the National Library, National Archives or by RTE. It is not suggested that all of these aids be used at once or in every class, but the potential is there to put large, clear, visual images in front of students. It is also of great help in the mixed-ability setting to enable all students to learn at their own pace from the illustrative material. This would also obviate the necessity to have dictated work, questions or notes in class, which would use class and teacher time better, and, in addition, create a permanent record of that work for future classes.
Students were actively involved at many stages of the lessons inspected. This was observed in question sessions, in discussing matters arising from the textbook, in analysing handouts during the class or in looking at images on the board or the wall and making comments as requested by the teacher. In this process there was also good cross-curricular material introduced into lessons, which is very good practice, helps students to understand material in a wider setting, and helps to make links which will undoubtedly assist in preparing for examinations or projects in several disciplines.
However, it is important that students also get the opportunity to participate in class by working in pairs or in groups, or in role-play situations. This gives initiative, contrast and confidence to students who clearly were quite willing to contribute in class anyway. It also varies the pace, improves the class dynamic, and allows the teacher to step back from being the sole provider of information and instruction in the class. There was some evidence of brainstorming in one or two classes and this should be expanded as it helps students to contribute positively. Also, it was noted that students who offered examples or information from their own experience or knowledge were encouraged to do so and their peers appreciated the new angle being given to the topic. This is to be commended as good practice and should be used as and when the opportunity arises.
Overall, good work was taking place in the classroom, and students were advancing well with their courses. They perform well, across the board, in their school and state examinations. Students are encouraged to take the subject at the highest level consistent with their abilities, which is good practice. The pace of History classes, and the variety of methods and focus during lessons, could be considered further, and become part of the agenda of the History planning meetings. This would be an opportunity to devise ways of introducing other methods and to encourage greater involvement of students in the active learning process.
There is continuous assessment in History classes in the use of question-and-answer sessions, well-devised worksheets and questions asked after the study of information sheets. This leads on to written homework most nights for students in all classes. Most of the work consisted of quick questions and short answers, which, while successful and useful in their own right, need to be augmented by greater use of paragraph-writing and document analysis. In the senior cycle classes, students undertook more complex tasks and were also involved in effective essay writing, which is good practice. Reference to recommended History websites, including that continually updated by the HIST team, is advisable in the preparation of written work, and the research study for students preparing for the Leaving Certificate. The use of information from these sites should also be monitored and assessed in the work of those students.
Work was well and frequently monitored by the teachers. On most occasions it was dated and signed, and often had helpful remarks written at the end of work. Homework is not generally graded as this process is usually reserved for end-of-topic and end-of-chapter tests. There was evidence of good formative assessment processes, and these could be extended to all appropriate exercises, as they assist students in building up and developing their own work. Students’ notebooks and copies were very well kept, are up to date, and homework was generally well completed. This is to be commended.
Apart from in-class tests at the conclusion of topics, there are house examinations twice a year. These are set and marked by the teachers, and form the basis for written reports sent out to parents twice a year. Students in the Junior Certificate year have ‘mock’ examinations in the spring term, after which reports are sent to parents at Easter. As there is currently no sixth year, this process will be put in place next year for the present fifth-year students. The teachers keep progress books, recording students’ grades and examination details. These are also used in the annual parent-teacher meeting organised for each year group.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· History is generally well provided for in the school. The management strongly supports the subject as far as possible in the prevailing circumstances.
· Provision of class time for History is quite good if limited, but optimum use is made by teachers of the time available.
· History is taught in rooms principally dedicated to other subjects, but History stimulus material has been introduced into those areas. This is to be commended.
· There are two planning classes provided per year for the History team. Good plans are devised and the current year is well organised.
· Teachers have availed of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses, particularly in Leaving Certificate History.
· There is good classroom management in evidence in History classes, and a good work ethic and mutual respect were observed during the inspection.
· A variety of methods was successfully used in lessons observed, and cross-curricular themes were introduced into History classes, which is good practice.
· Students are encouraged to take History at the level best suited to their abilities, and this is to be commended.
· Question-and-answer sessions in classes were well conducted with students being asked questions on a differentiated basis and affirmed on production of correct answers. This is particularly important in a mixed-ability setting and is to be commended.
· Homework was regularly set, well completed by students, and monitored with annotations by teachers. There was some evidence of formative assessment in the correction of students’ work. This is good practice and its extension is to be encouraged.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Timetabling and provision for History should be kept under constant review.
· The provision of a History room or resource area should be considered, to support the subject and its development in the school.
· Availability and use of audio-visual and ICT equipment and software should be a priority in planning, preparation, teaching and learning of History.
· Teachers should seek to widen their experience and skills in History by further inservice courses, up-skilling in ICT, and by attending or joining their subject association in History.
· The History team should devise and produce a strategic plan for History in the school.
· A wider variety of methods should be introduced into History classes, particularly with regard to audio-visuals, ICT and active student participation in the teaching and learning processes.
· The types of homework set should be varied and augmented to assist students in reinforcing their experience of historical writing and the types of questions encountered in examinations.
· Greater use of project work and historical outings would enhance the good work already in progress in History.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.