An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Technical Graphics and
Design and Communication Graphics
Arklow Community College
Arklow, County Wicklow
Roll number: 70740M
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Arklow Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 the subject teachers. The board of management of the school 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.
Technical Graphics (TG) and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) form part of the school’s curriculum at junior and senior cycle respectively. At junior cycle, all year groups are banded. The two lower bands in each of these year groups are not offered TG as an optional subject. It is recommended that school management review this policy with a view to providing TG as a viable choice for students of all abilities. At senior cycle, students are placed in mixed-ability class groups, as is best practice. Currently, no graphics module is offered to students in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. However, LCA students do receive appropriate exposure to technology education through the provision of Engineering as a vocational specialism.
Junior cycle students in the higher bands choose their optional subjects from pre-defined optional subject bands prior to entry. This limits student choice to some extent, although students may choose any combination of technology subjects. Support for students choosing optional subjects is provided by means of an open night and a subject pamphlet describing the subjects, some possible career options and information relating to the new DCG syllabus. While it is acknowledged that some degree of flexibility exists in relation to student transfer between optional subjects, it is recommended that school management consider introducing a short taster programme for all optional subjects. This taster programme would help students make more informed optional subject choices and further assist them in their decision making at this important time.
Senior cycle students choose their optional subjects from a list of available subjects. Subject option bands are then designed based on student preferences. Senior cycle students receive support at this important decision making time from the guidance counsellor and through information evenings at the end of third year and at the beginning of fifth year. It is important that this level of guidance counselling continues to be provided for future students when choosing their senior cycle subjects, as currently, students have no access to any form of subject sampling through the provision of a Transition Year programme.
Uptake of TG among junior cycle students is very high. At senior cycle, there are no girls currently studying the subject. The subject department expressed optimism in relation to this issue articulating that the new syllabus may encourage a larger proportion of girls to choose the subject. It is suggested that school management, the subject department and the guidance counsellor take every possible opportunity to promote both TG and DCG as viable subject choices for girls.
Students receive appropriate allocations of class time for TG and DCG in all programmes. These allocations consist of double periods at junior cycle and a combination of double and single periods at senior cycle, which is good practice.
School management has recently allocated a classroom to the subject department in order to provide suitable accommodation for the Department of Education and Science grant-aided information and communication technology (ICT) resources for the new senior cycle DCG syllabus. School management is commended for providing the most suitable room at its disposal for this purpose.
The induction of new teachers to Arklow Community College is facilitated through: a one-day course run by Wicklow Vocational Educational Committee (VEC); regular progress meetings held with the principal and deputy principal during September and the deployment of an experienced teacher as a mentor to the new teacher. This practice is commended.
Members of the subject department have attended a number of professional development courses, some provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service (t4) and some provided by private enterprise. This commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) is commended.
The teachers of TG and DCG form a subject department group. A convenor, a role that is rotated among members of the subject department, records the minutes of subject department meetings, orders consumables and ensures that the subject department plan is updated at the beginning of each year. The minutes of subject department meetings show genuine discussion in relation to issues of importance such as ICT resources, CPD, accommodation and information evenings for parents of prospective students. The subject department is commended for its collaboration on all of these relevant issues.
The subject department has formulated a comprehensive subject plan. It is recommended that this subject plan be further developed through the identification of long-term goals for the subject. One of these goals should be the development of consistent high standards of teaching and learning strategies throughout the entire subject department. One method of achieving this could be the further development of the mentoring system currently in operation in the school by incorporating peer-observation of lessons and the promotion of the further sharing of best practice among members of the subject department.
The subject department plan also contains agreed curricular plans for each year group. Individual teacher planning documentation supported these curricular plans in all cases. It is recommended that these agreed curricular plans be further defined by basing them on student learning outcomes for each year group rather than curricular content, in order to achieve consistency among year groups.
The subject plan also contains a section on planning for students with additional educational needs. This plan focuses mainly on students with visual and hearing impairments and those with hand-eye co-ordination difficulties. It is recommended that the subject department, in collaboration with the learning support team, identifies the needs of all students with special educational needs studying TG and DCG and formulates strategies to assist them. Possible strategies could include differentiation by task using partially completed questions for some students, increased teacher demonstration of construction practices using varied display media, utilising three-dimensional models for demonstration purposes and the introduction of peer-learning into classroom practice.
The level of planning and preparation for lessons observed was generally good and a number of resources were prepared in advance and generally used appropriately. Examples of these resources included prepared overlay transparencies, parametric solid models and worksheets.
Lessons were most successful where a clear learning objective was shared with the class at the beginning. This was in evidence in a junior cycle lesson on pictorial and orthographic presentation techniques. Previous learning was reinforced at the beginning and students were made fully aware of the criteria for success. This practice should be further developed throughout the subject department.
While some lessons benefited from a clear sequential approach where solutions were achieved through logical progression demonstrated at the blackboard, others relied solely on prepared overlay transparencies. These transparencies, while useful for revision, require students to visualise procedures that would be best demonstrated incrementally using the blackboard or other media. This practice should be reviewed especially in a mixed-ability setting.
Where blackboard sketching was used as a teaching strategy it was clear and unambiguous. Further use of this technique and the encouragement of students to sketch possible solutions would help students to develop their visualisation skills while also improving their proficiency in graphic communication.
In most lessons a range of appropriate teaching methodologies was employed, although in one instance a wider variety of teaching methodologies could have been utilised. In some instances teachers used group demonstrations when explaining particular techniques and individual demonstrations to reinforce these techniques at students’ desks. This had the effect of maintaining student focus and engagement in the subject matter.
ICT was used in a number of lessons. It was best used in a senior cycle lesson on solids in contact. Students demonstrated proficiency in its use and were capable of performing a variety of modeling commands. The solid-modeling software was used effectively to demonstrate various operations and was beneficial in developing students’ spatial awareness.
Classroom management was effective throughout the evaluation. This was achieved by implementing seating plans, providing the necessary equipment for students, teacher circulation and through appropriately paced lessons.
A pleasant atmosphere was evident in all lessons. Teacher-student interactions were warm and this was supported by genuine student affirmation. The learning environment provided a pleasant working space for students with a number of quality examples of junior cycle students’ work on display. This had the effect of rewarding student achievement but also providing other students with attainable goals.
Most students demonstrated a good level of understanding through their application of knowledge and by their responses to questions. In a small number of cases, higher-level Junior Certificate students found problem-solving particularly difficult. This could be addressed by the teacher highlighting specific problems in questions and asking students to offer suggestions in relation to their solution. By doing this, the teacher would be able to assess student knowledge and understanding and also give advice and problem-solving tips to students using sketches and previous examples.
The majority of students in Arklow Community College attempt the ordinary-level examinations at junior cycle and at senior cycle. It was reported that subject teachers encourage all students to attempt the highest level possible but in many cases students are unwilling to do so. It was further reported that this trend is gradually decreasing and more students are attempting higher level at junior cycle. This is a welcome development.
Formal assessments are held at Christmas and summer with ‘mock’ examinations held for examination year groups in the spring. In addition to these formal assessments, a number of methods were used to assess student progress in class; for example, through regular questioning and the monitoring of homework and portfolio work. It is suggested that, as mentioned in the minutes of subject department meetings, a proportion of the marks awarded for end-of-term tests be based on students’ portfolio work, thereby giving students credit for the work carried out during the term and providing an incentive for students to maintain their portfolios.
Currently there are no common assessments in place within the subject department. It is recommended that the subject department consider the introduction of such an assessment policy for class groups of similar ability. This would be easily implemented when the agreed curricular plans for each year group are fully defined.
The amount and quality of feedback given to students’ portfolio work and homework varied. Generally feedback was given to students orally but, in some cases, written comments were used to highlight areas for development in order to help students to improve the quality of their work. In other instances feedback was generally affirmative and positive in nature. It is suggested that a standardised feedback policy for the subject be formulated and implemented.
Teachers’ assessment records confirmed regular monitoring of students. These records allow for accurate information pertaining to student progress to be communicated to parents via the student journal, parent-teacher meetings and through regular reports sent home.
The subject department has recently had some success in the ‘F1 in Schools’ competition. Involvement in this type of co-curricular activity is commended as it adds to students’ enthusiasm and engagement in the subject.
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 Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The majority of students sitting T.G or D.C.G examination papers this year will take higher level papers
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection