An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste and Chraoibhín
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 70990M
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chraoibhin, Fermoy. 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 the subject teachers.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín is a co-educational school. Three of the four classes in each of first, second and third year have three English lessons per week. This is adequate, since the school provides lessons of fifty-five minutes duration rather than the more commonly adopted forty minutes. In each of the junior-cycle year groups, there is one class participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and each of these groups has an extra lesson in English per week. This is good practice. The Transition Year class has three English lessons per week and, again, this is good provision due to the length of these lessons. Fifth- and sixth-year classes are provided with four lessons per week and this is considered to be good provision in this instance. The Leaving Certificate Applied Year 1 and Year 2 classes have three fifty-five minute lessons per week each in English and Communications and this is good provision. In most instances classes were spread evenly across the week, avoiding the weighting of English lessons towards the beginning or end of the week. However, in the case of a number of first- and second-year classes and the Transition Year class, this was not the case and the school is encouraged to maintain an awareness of the need for this situation to be avoided in the future. This is particularly important given the reduced number of contact points with the subject available to students in the context of the use of the fifty-five minute class periods around which the timetable is based. English classes retain their English teacher whenever possible between second and third year and between fifth and sixth year. This is positive, allowing for the development of consistent pedagogical approaches with particular class groups. There is rotation of levels and cycles between English teachers and this is sound practice, allowing for the development of a wide skills base across the English department.
Classes in first and second year are of mixed ability, apart from the single JCSP class in each of these year groups. In third year there is a band consisting of two classes who are studying the higher level Junior Certificate course, there is one ordinary level class and a JCSP class. Classes in fifth year and sixth year are streamed. Students are assigned to classes based on their previous performance in the subject in junior cycle and on teachers’ assessments. Students’ performance during their Transition Year studies is also taken into account where applicable. English classes in fifth and sixth year are timetabled concurrently in order to allow for ease of student movement between levels when necessary. A number of English teachers have base rooms and this is a very worthwhile practice.
The school has a library. However, due to the limited classroom space currently available, the library is frequently used as a classroom. Consequently, the ability of English teachers to access the library is considerably curtailed. Nevertheless, the library is currently open twice a week at lunchtimes and classes are also able to access the library at other times. While recognising the very real difficulties involved in increasing the availability of the library for students, it is nonetheless recommended that the school should seek ways of expanding library services for the student population. The library itself might be made more attractive to students through the provision of comfortable seating in the area at the rear of the facility, but outside of the library space, a number of other developments might be explored. Some of these might include: the provision of book boxes for classes when the library is unavailable; the use of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time for junior-cycle classes from time to time; the purchase of an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction texts to entice reluctant readers; the organising of reading competitions and the provision of high interest/low reading ability texts for particular class groups. A useful text from which to garner ideas regarding the enhancement of library services is Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project which is available from the JCSP Support Services. A particularly noteworthy endeavour currently underway in the school is the involvement of Transition Year English students in a paired reading programme with JCSP and ESL (English as a Second Language) students. This is a praiseworthy endeavour, not only as a strategy to improve students’ literacy, but also as a means of expanding Transition Year students’ understanding of their role as active citizens in society. It is suggested that this programme and other activities connected with improving the provision of library services in the school, should be consolidated through the creation of a library policy as part of the English subject plan.
There is a television and DVD in one of the English teacher’s base rooms. At present English teachers book the room if they need access to audio-visual facilities. It is anticipated that audio-visual facilities will soon be provided in another English base room. This is a positive development. However, it is recommended that the school should further expand the availability of audio-visual equipment to ensure ease of access for all English teachers. This is important, given the key role played by film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Increased access to audio-visual facilities would also be of benefit, given the potential for aural or visual resources to enhance students’ capacity to access the written word.
English teachers have ready access to ICT (Information and Communication Technology) for researching their subject on the internet. A number of English teachers’ base rooms have been equipped with ICT and it is expected that this level of access will be expanded in the near future. Transition Year students use the computer in one teacher’s base room as a resource during their year’s programme. Leaving Certificate Applied students utilise the school’s computer room during their English and Communications class. Beyond this, however, the opportunity available to English classes to access ICT facilities in the school is currently somewhat limited. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand its use of ICT where practicable, particularly as a tool for improving students’ literacy. Areas which might be considered include the use of webquests as a focus for students’ project work in junior-cycle classes, the adoption of wordprocessing packages and the creation of a bank of web-based English resources on the school’s ICT equipment.
There are good informal induction procedures for student teachers and new teachers of English. Student teachers and new teachers are shown termly plans at the beginning of the year and, on occasion, established teachers have sat in on classes in order to advise new colleagues. The adoption of a ‘mentor’ strategy of this sort is particularly praiseworthy. The inclusion of student teachers and new teachers in departmental meetings is also good practice. It is suggested that these procedures should be formalised and incorporated into the subject plan. The latter document might, in turn, form a key part of the induction process in the school for new members of the English department.
The school is supportive of English teachers’ continuing professional development. The school funds teachers’ membership of the relevant subject association. All English teachers are members of and maintain links with their subject association. Recent inservice training involving English teachers has included a JCSP literacy course and a drama course with the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). All of this is commendable. It is suggested that, as a future focus in English department meetings, time might be allotted for teachers who have participated in professional development courses to share their experiences with colleagues.
The school has been pro-active in providing language support for its growing cohort of international students. This is highly commendable and the school is encouraged to continue with its reflective practice in this area. The school is referred to Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) as a key resource in the provision of language support. IILT provides materials for language-support teachers as well as seminars twice a year for teachers and school principals. The IILT website can be found at www.iilt.ie.
English teachers are involved in organising a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Some of these include visits to the theatre and guest speakers. This is praiseworthy.
There is good collaboration between teachers in the English department. All English teachers provide input in the area of departmental planning and leadership responsibilities are shared between four of the English team. There are regular meetings of the English department in September of each year and a convenor is selected for each month. There are also meetings to review end of term examinations. These arrangements are commendable. Minutes are kept of departmental meetings and the most recent focus has been on subject planning, streaming and the creation of course outlines for various class groups.
There is a comprehensive English subject plan in place. This incorporates common plans and records of work done. Considerable work has gone into the diligent creation of the plan. This is laudable. The use of ICT and, in particular, of the ICT template available on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie, is to be encouraged in the future, in order to alleviate the workload involved in writing and, inevitably, revising the subject plan. Such an approach would also enhance the capacity of the plan to be viewed as a living, developing document, a status which has already been acknowledged through the inclusion of a comment sheet regarding teachers’ experiences at the end of each term. The focus of the plan on a skills-based approach is laudable and might be developed still further, moving into the area of learning outcomes, where possible. Further typical areas for exploration in the development of the subject plan might include: the use of whole-school-literacy strategies in English; the use of the comparative study in the Leaving Certificate course as a tool in the promotion of interculturalism in the school and the creation of an assessment policy for English. A useful resource in the latter area is the assessment for learning area on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie. The English department’s professional approach to the creation of the department plan is to be praised.
Teachers vary text choice at junior and senior cycle. This is positive, allowing for the selection of texts based on class context and interest. There is some synchronisation of text choice between teachers and this too is sound practice, allowing for the possibility of student movement between class groups. At present the department studies a limited number of texts at junior cycle. It is suggested that this should be expanded to include a minimum of two novels at junior cycle. Useful resources in support of this endeavour can be found at www.childrensbooksireland.com and in the English area of the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie. It is further suggested that the study of Shakespeare in junior cycle should be increased for those students studying the higher level English course, to incorporate a full Shakespearean drama. While this is not a mandatory requirement of the Junior Certificate syllabus, such an approach might prove beneficial for students as they move into their senior-cycle studies. The English department ensures that students studying the higher level course in senior cycle encounter the ordinary level element of the Leaving Certificate poetry course as part of their studies in order to facilitate students’ movement between levels when necessary. This is a diligent and caring approach.
Planning was presented for a subject-specific syllabus for English in the Transition Year Programme. This is positive and the use of active strategies in the teaching of the Transition Year English syllabus was part of teachers’ planning. The involvement of Transition Year students in the creation of a school magazine was noteworthy in this regard. The anticipated inclusion of a section in the magazine regarding the role of international students in the life of Coláiste an Chraoibhín was especially worthwhile. Teachers are to be commended for adopting an imaginative approach to the teaching of Transition Year and are encouraged to continue to maximise the impact of the Transition Year Programme by utilising the full range of texts which are available to them and their students. This well serve to improve students’ literacy along with their appreciation of the many opportunities that the world of literature can present. Planning for the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme in English and Communications was presented. A worthwhile focus for the English department with regard to this course in the future would involve the enhancement of the Critical Literacy and Composition module of the course to incorporate a more challenging mix of poetry and other literary genres.
English teachers have been provided with a list of the specific learning needs of special educational needs students in their classes. This is worthwhile. However, it is recommended that there should be greater formalisation of links between the English department and the learning-support/special educational needs department. A significant step towards achieving this aim would be the inclusion of a representative of the learning-support/special educational needs department in English department meetings. This would serve the aim of increasing formal communication between the two departments regarding students, while simultaneously providing a forum through which expertise in the area of literacy support might be shared. This would prove particularly beneficial as a means of enhancing links between students’ work during withdrawal classes and their work in mainstream English classes. Models of classroom support and team teaching might also be explored in such a forum. Students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs) should also prove relevant in this context. It is further recommended that a whole-school-literacy policy should be formulated and that, as a part of the implementation of such a policy, a whole-school-literacy committee should be created. This latter group should include a representative from the learning-support/special educational needs department and the English department. It should also include representatives from a selection of other subject departments. Training in the area of whole-school-literacy approaches can be accessed through the JCSP Support Service, the Special Education Support Service (SESS) or the Second Level Support Service (SLSS).
Overall, a very satisfactory level of teaching was seen during the inspection. Classes were well planned and teachers presented evidence of written planning. In a number of cases this planning was exceptionally diligent. Objectives were clear in classes. On occasion the efficacy of lessons might have been further enhanced through the clear statement of anticipated learning outcomes for students. Such an approach could prove to be particularly beneficial for those classes who are less motivated with regard to a text-based subject like English. Teachers frequently displayed an appreciation of the need to shift the focus of class work in order to maintain students’ learning momentum for the duration of lessons and this was very positive.
English teachers used a wide range of resources. Some of these included the blackboard, the whiteboard, textbooks, television and DVD, colour photocopies, flashcards, character cards and ICT. Particularly notable was the use of the work of one group of students in creating a poster to map the various areas to be explored in their forthcoming magazine. Equally, the storage of exercises by a senior cycle class on ICT was beneficial and could have been added to still more through the display of their work in an assigned area of the school. The blackboard and whiteboard were used effectively on a number of occasions, particularly in one senior-cycle lesson where key words were highlighted with regard to a poet’s work, for students’ benefit. Teachers are encouraged to continue to employ the blackboard or whiteboard as focal points through which students can consolidate the ideas which have been put forward during class discussions. In a minority of cases the wider use of visual and concrete resources would have been of great benefit, especially as a means of engaging and maintaining the interest of those students who are less engaged by purely verbal presentations.
A number of lessons began with the reading of the roll by the teacher. This was good practice. Frequently, teachers began lessons by making links with students’ previous knowledge regarding the topic about to be explored. In one lesson this took the form of a question and answer session, while in another instance the teacher created a spidergram around the topic of television programmes. Both of these strategies were successful and teachers’ awareness of the need to distribute questions evenly across class groups was particularly impressive in these classes. One junior-cycle lesson began with a spelling test in which the spellings chosen were linked to students’ own school context. Spellings for the next day’s test were chosen by students themselves, adding to their sense of connection with the exercise. This was a good idea and the impact of the process might have been further added to through the explicit teaching of spelling strategies that students might utilise when dealing with words that they found particularly difficult. Teachers frequently appealed to students’ interests and experiences in lessons to aid their understanding of particular ideas and concepts, involving such diverse topics as David Beckham, Grey’s Anatomy and the Crocodile Hunter in discussions.
Reading by students was a feature of some lessons, either in the form of silent, guided exercises, paired reading or oral presentations by students to their class groups. Teachers also read aloud in a number of classes. In a junior-cycle class the reading of a relatively long short story might have been broken into shorter excerpts in order to aid students’ engagement with the piece. Occasional pauses to seek student clarifications, comments or queries might also have been of benefit in this regard. The use of paired reading as the lesson progressed was worthwhile and was facilitated well by the teacher. Other strategies which might usefully be employed in the future include guided reading, the previewing of texts and text reconstruction. In one senior cycle class a number of different texts were studied during the lesson. It is recognised that this approach was adopted as an aid to pacing in the context of a fifty-five minute class period. However, it is suggested that another strategy that might be employed would involve the focus of the class remaining on one main text while employing varying methodologies in order to retain students’ engagement. This would have the twin benefits of maintaining momentum, while also leaving room for planned language exercises linked to the text involved, thus integrating the language and literature elements of the syllabus.
The study of language featured in a number of lessons. Teachers integrated the study of language and literature in most classes, with genre exercises being linked to different pieces of studied literature. In one junior-cycle lesson students were diligent in their answering of a punctuation exercise. The success of this exercise might have been further added to through the use of pair work. An element of competition might have been introduced through the assigning of a time limit within which the enterprise should be completed, while emphasising that accuracy was not to be sacrificed. The involvement of the teacher in a creative modelling capacity might also have the potential to add to the impact of the strategy on students. Nevertheless, the move to a written exercise in class was positive and teachers are encouraged to continue to expand their integration of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) as part of their classroom practice.
Pair and group work were used in a number of classes. Where such strategies were utilised, they were very successful and were handled expertly by teachers. In one lesson students were divided into groups representing different families in a drama being studied and character cards were distributed to assign them particular roles. Students derived great enjoyment from being questioned on ‘their’ thoughts as the particular character involved and the teacher managed the work well, focusing students on the time constraints under which they were operating. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand its use of pair and group work, along with other active methodologies, not only as an aid to differentiation in mixed-ability class groups, but also as potentially powerful tools through which the pace of lessons might be shifted whenever this is deemed necessary.
Students were attentive and were generally engaged by the activities presented in lessons. In one class students were initially reticent in offering contributions or opinions and this might have been alleviated through the earlier use of pair work as a means of lessening the pressure on individuals. It should be stated, however, that this reticence diminished as the lesson progressed. Students responded well to questions put to them regarding work already studied during the year and displayed a willingness to offer comments on work being done in a number of instances. In a number of classes students displayed considerable enthusiasm for the material being discussed during the lesson.
A very good relationship was evident between teachers and students. Teachers were very affirming to students. Humour was used in a number of classes by teachers as a highly effective classroom management tool. In one lesson a distracted student was brought expertly back to the academic problem at hand discreetly, with minimal difficulty, by the teacher. Particularly noticeable was the behaviour of a number of teachers when dealing with the challenges presented by having ESL students in their classes. In one lesson, an exercise was conscientiously assigned by the teacher to two ESL students while the rest of the class studied a text with which the ESL students were unfamiliar. In another lesson a consciousness with regard to the presence of a single ESL student was maintained and the teacher was open to the idea of including the student in pair work in order to alleviate any reluctance to engage in classroom exercises and answering. In another, senior-cycle, class the teacher was most conscientious in ensuring the inclusion of an international student in a class publication exercise.
There was evidence of student displays and of the development of print- and text-rich environments in some classrooms. It is recommended that the use of this strategy in the teaching of English should be expanded. In making this recommendation, however, it must also be recognised that the inspection took place early in the school year and, consequently, opportunities for the presentation of student material were somewhat restricted. Some ideas which might prove useful in the expansion of the print-rich environment in English classrooms and in the school in general include the display of keywords, character diagrams and examples of students’ work in different genres. This latter strategy might be particularly useful as a means of enhancing students’ motivation with regard to written work. It should also be noted that the provision of a print-rich environment could prove useful for ESL students. Indeed, the assigning of a particular room as the base room for ESL students would be a great aid with regard to their language learning. However, in making this statement, the school’s current, very restricted, resources with regard to classroom space must be taken into account.
Appropriate levels of homework were assigned in all classes. There was evidence of the use of formative, comment-based assessment in English classes. In a number of instances this was of a particularly high standard. Teachers are encouraged to continue to expand their use of formative assessment where practicable and within time constraints. The reading aloud of student work in class was also a feature of teachers’ practice and this was positive, increasing students’ understanding of the importance of an audience while also leaving opportunities for peer correction where appropriate. The careful storage of student files by one English teacher served to enhance students’ sense of worth with regard to their written work. This was most diligent.
The integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses was in evidence in a number of lessons through the keeping of diary entries springing from the literature being studied in class. This was good practice, allowing the literature element of the course to act as a ‘springboard’ to and a creative model for students’ own written work. Teachers are encouraged to expand the use of this strategy in the English department. The use of a wider range of genres in connection with this approach would also serve to further expand students’ experiences of the language element of the syllabuses.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas and summer. There are also formal examinations in October and February, leading up to the midterm break, along with examinations at Easter. The English department organises common examinations, where appropriate, in all year groups. The JCSP classes in junior cycle are provided with similarly designed examinations to their peers, as the English department is conscious of the need for differentiated assessment for some classes. This is excellent practice. The organisation of common examinations by the English department is good practice, allowing for a clear picture to emerge with regard to student achievement across a year cohort, while also ensuring that needless duplication of work by teachers is avoided. Teachers regularly review examination arrangements. They diligently keep records of student achievement. In some cases this record keeping was of a very high standard.
Parents receive reports regarding students’ progress four times per year, at Christmas, summer and both midterm breaks. The student journal is also used to communicate with parents. Teachers phone parents if there is a need to contact them and parents are free to book appointments with teachers should it prove necessary. There are two parent/teacher meetings per year for those classes that are participating in the State examinations in June. Other class groups have one parent/teacher meeting per year. These links are commendable.
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 English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.