An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
Ennis Community College,
Ennis, County Clare.
Date of Inspection: 07 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (wood) and construction studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ennis Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) are optional junior and senior cycle subjects respectively in Ennis Community College.
First year students entering the school study MTW as part of a short 'taster' programme of optional subjects and make their final optional subject choices for Junior Certificate at the end of the 'taster' period. In addition to providing a 'taster' programme the school organises an information evening for parents and support is also provided by subject teachers, year heads, the guidance counsellor and the senior management team. Students entering senior cycle are also well-supported when making optional subject choices and they are given an open choice before option bands are developed. This practice is commended and it is recommended that a similar system should be operated for first year students at the end of the 'taster' period in future years.
All MTW and CS classes are of mixed ability and students sit State examinations at the level appropriate to their abilities. MTW classes in junior cycle are comprised mainly of boys but a significant number of girls also take the subject in first and third year but girls are not represented in the current second year MTW class group. The proportion of girls taking CS in senior cycle is not as robust and there are no girls in the current fifth year CS class group. It is recommended therefore, that ways to encourage and enable more girls to study the subjects, especially CS in senior cycle, should be examined by the school.
Time allocation for MTW and CS is appropriate and the allocation of double and single class periods reflects good practice. Classes are generally taught by the same teacher throughout the course of the programme and all teachers are involved teaching the subjects at junior and senior cycle level. This is commended. In the current year however, teachers share contact with the second year MTW class group but this is a temporary arrangement which will be discontinued in the 2008/2009 school year.
MTW and CS are taught in two rooms that are used exclusively for the delivery of the subjects. Both rooms are well-appointed, equipped and maintained and provide stimulating visual learning environments for students. The rooms are decorated with colourful home-made and purchased wall charts on a variety of topics related to MTW and CS: posters containing key words, phrases and terminology, examples of students' practical, project, drawn and written work, photographs, and State Examination Commission (SEC) notices. Teachers’ work in providing such a stimulating learning environment is highly commended.
Both MTW and CS rooms have separate preparation rooms in which the heavy machines are located and these are fitted with dust extraction systems. The preparation room attached to the MTW room however is small and also acts as a wood store. Development of this room is constricted by its positioning relative to other parts of the building but teachers are currently engaged in research to determine the most appropriate machinery to use in this limited space and it is intended that this process will lead to improvement of provision in the near future.
There is a very strong emphasis on health and safety in both the MTW and CS rooms and this is informed by the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools. General classroom rules, safety signage and rules for the operation of all equipment are prominently displayed. This is highly commended.
Teachers have access to laptop computers and data projectors in both the MTW and CS rooms and students have access to appropriate drawing software in the school's drawing room, which has been equipped for the delivery of the new Leaving Certificate Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) syllabus. This level of computer access for MTW and CS teachers and students is commended.
Teachers from Ennis Community College have attended subject-specific in-service related to the JCSP MTW programme and in-service provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service (T4) over the past two years. This is commended.
Ennis Community College has a technology subjects department and the MTW and CS department is a sub-group of this. A co-ordinator for the subjects has been appointed but teachers share the responsibilities associated with co-ordination and this ensures that all gain experience of the role of co-ordinator.
The subject department meets formally each term as part of the school's development planning process and formal records of meetings are retained in subject department documentation. When necessary, reports are made to the senior management team on subject-related issues following these meetings. Formal meetings are supplemented by frequent informal meetings of subject teachers throughout the school year. These arrangements are commended.
Comprehensive MTW and CS subject planning documentation has been developed collaboratively by teachers and their excellent work in this area is highly commended.
A range of MTW and CS resources has been developed by subject teachers and is used to support teaching and learning and teachers' work in this area is commended.
Additional resources to support teaching and learning may be accessed, when required, following consultation with the principal and this arrangement is reported to work effectively in the school.
MTW and CS teachers liaise with the learning-support team when planning for students with additional educational needs and these students generally follow the JCSP programme in junior cycle. Planning in this area also includes that required for the integration of the work of special needs assistants (SNA) and a sign language interpreter during lessons together with provision for team teaching when this is deemed appropriate. Planning in this area is highly commendable.
Excellent teaching of MTW and CS was observed during the inspection.
MTW and CS lessons had clear aims and objectives and were suitable for the stage of the programme being delivered. Lessons were structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses and all activities were well-managed. An appropriately ordered learning environment was created in all lessons. This practice is commended.
Teachers differentiated lesson aims and objectives to meet the needs of class groups which comprised students from a broad range of abilities. A number of special needs assistants (SNA) and a sign language interpreter accompanied students and these additional adults made significant contributions to the smooth running of the lessons observed. Practice in this area is commended.
Teachers employed suitable teaching methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. Students' learning was effectively scaffolded when teachers demonstrated MTW and CS principles and skills incrementally to whole class groups, to smaller groups and to individual students. These demonstrations are extremely important in both practical and theory MTW and CS lessons as they allow teachers to model, and students to observe, the proper execution of woodworking and construction procedures, processes and associated skills. This practice is highly commended.
Teachers were expertly guiding all students through the design and make process as they completed practical and project work in MTW and CS. At the time of the inspection third year MTW students were engaged in project work associated with State examinations and Leaving Certificate CS students had completed their project work for examination purposes. Leaving Certificate CS project work in the school is organised to begin at the end of fifth year and is completed prior to Christmas in sixth year. Teachers’ organisation, management and monitoring of the complex task of facilitating the completion of large numbers of individually designed Junior and Leaving Certificate projects each year is highly commended.
Teachers demonstrated best health and safety practices in the completion of all their work and all practical activities that students engaged in were closely monitored in respect of the implementation of appropriate health and safety practices. This approach is highly commended.
An integrated approach to the presentation of theory lessons was adopted during the evaluation, with practical and related theory being taught in tandem. Teachers made excellent use of the chalkboard, whiteboard (including the innovative use of a small, portable whiteboard to emphasise key terminology) and information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities to focus students' attention and support their learning. The use of ICT was also particularly impressive in reflecting the technological nature of the subjects. This overall approach is highly commended.
Teachers used and emphasised the terminology associated with MTW and CS when they spoke during lessons and this allowed students to listen to instructions and assimilate subject-specific terminology while working on their own tasks. Terminology was also displayed prominently on wall charts throughout the MTW and CS rooms. These practices enhanced both teaching and learning and are highly commended.
Teachers used a variety of individual and group questions, including higher order questions, during lessons and this is commended.
Three-dimensional models, computer modelling, digital photographs and other stimulating materials related to the topics were used during lessons and promoted students’ development from concrete experience, through abstract representation to the completion of theory and practical tasks. This is an essential element of the teaching and learning processes in MTW and CS and the practice observed in the school is highly commended.
Textbooks are prescribed for the subjects but these are not overly relied upon during lessons. Rather, texts are used as a resource for students in the completion of class and homework tasks. This approach is commended.
During lessons teachers moved around the MTW and CS rooms and engaged with individual students. During these interactions students’ progress in the completion of classroom tasks was assessed and teachers also provided assistance to individual students when this was required. This practice is commended.
The MTW and CS rooms were very well organised and classroom routines were evident during all lessons evaluated. These routines promote responsibility for creating an ordered learning environment among students, are part of the overall educational aims of the subjects and are commended.
Students displayed the quality of their understanding of topics in the competences exhibited during the completion of practical and theory tasks and in their ability to answer and to ask questions during lessons.
Homework was a feature of all lessons and this helped to ensure continuity with previous and future lessons. This practice is commended.
Students' MTW and CS drawings are retained in portfolios in the school and theory notes are made in A4 hardback copies. The content of MTW and CS portfolios and hardback copies was appropriate and students’ work demonstrated an emphasis on the key theory skills of making of ruled and freehand drawings and supplementing these with concise, information-rich notes. This approach is highly commended.
Opportunities for independent and collaborative learning were included in all lessons observed and this practice is commended.
Students communicated effectively with their peers and teachers using MTW and CS terminology. This is commended.
An excellent teacher-student rapport was evident during all lessons evaluated. This created an atmosphere where students enthusiastically engaged with lesson activities and received appropriate affirmation for their efforts. This is commended.
In Ennis Community College MTW and CS students' practical, project and theory work is continuously assessed and they also sit formal Christmas and end-of-year examinations. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students sit mock examinations in the second term each year. Assessment processes and procedures associated with the programmes in which students were engaged, for example the JCSP, were also being appropriately used.
Best practice in respect of assessment of and for learning was also observed when all teachers graded and commented on the quality of students' practical and project work, drawings and notes completed during lessons or as homework. The results of assessments are recorded systematically and used to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform future teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners. These practices are commended.
The school has a formal homework policy and this is implemented and monitored in MTW and CS by the subject teachers.
The nature of students’ progress in MTW and CS is communicated to parents by means of school reports, through the student's journal and during parent-teacher meetings. Further contact may be organised should the need arise.
Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects during the inspection and their subject-specific knowledge and skills, relative to age and ability, were appropriate.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Provision for MTW and CS in the school is very good.
· The school has an established MTW and CS subject department.
· Comprehensive planning documentation for MTW and CS has been collaboratively developed by subject teachers and this is being consistently implemented.
· Excellent teaching was observed throughout the course of the evaluation.
· Excellent use of traditional methodologies integrated with the use of ICT was observed during all lessons
· Students exhibited levels of subject-specific knowledge and skills consistent with the range of abilities in classes visited during the evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· First year students should be provided with an open choice of optional subjects at the end of the 'taster' period in future years.
· Ways to encourage and enable more girls to study CS in senior cycle should be examined.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008