An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Dunshaughlin Community College
Dunshaughlin, County Meath
Roll number: 71960I
Date of inspection: 25 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dunshaughlin Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Music 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Dunshaughlin Community College currently caters for 844 male and female students. The music department is staffed by two specialist teachers, one of whom joined the school in September 2008. Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and it is available as an optional subject to all year groups. All classes are of mixed ability.
First-year students select all their optional subjects prior to entry in September. The uptake of Music throughout junior cycle is very healthy. The timetabling allocation for the subject in junior cycle meets the recommendations of the syllabus. However, the timetabling of some double classes in Music is such that they span the morning break. In order to allow for continuity within music lessons, it is recommended that the school endeavours to avoid this arrangement in future. Senior cycle students select subjects from a menu and option bands are formed based on their choices. Five periods per week have been allocated to Music for the established Leaving Certificate programme and two periods per week for students following the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. The uptake of Music throughout senior cycle is also very healthy.
Transition year (TY) is an optional programme in senior cycle. All TY students study Music for the full academic year. One double period per week has been allocated for this purpose. Each year, all TY students participate in an artistic production which takes the form of either a drama or music event. This provides students with a valuable artistic experience and it is to be commended.
The school has invested considerably in its information and communications technology (ICT) facilities. One computer and data projector has been allocated to the music department and Sibelius 1V software has been installed. The school encourages teachers to use the internal networking system, Sharepoint, for the electronic storage of all files. The music department is currently working towards optimising the potential of this resource. The computer room is also available to the music teachers but they are not yet making full use of this facility. The planning documents for Music indicate a willingness to improve the level of expertise in music technology in the department. It is recommended that as expertise develops, music technology should be introduced to as many students as possible.
Attendance by the music teachers at relevant courses is encouraged and supported by school management. Both teachers are members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). This involvement provides opportunities for networking and for engagement in useful dialogue with fellow professionals. Members of the music department have attended courses and these include: composition workshops; Audacity and I-tunes-Making Backing Tracks and Podcasts and Other Powerful Tools in the Classroom. These courses were organised by St Patrick’s College of Education, Drumcondra and by the north-east branch of the PPMTA. This commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) is commended.
School management does not pre-determine a fixed budget for Music. Instead, staff members make direct requests when resources are needed and this system is reported to be working very well. Music lessons are held in one room, which is well equipped overall. The resources available include a selection of CDs which have been purchased by teachers. It is recommended that an audit of resource needs should be conducted with particular reference to CDs. The results should be communicated to senior management and a school-based library of CD resources should be developed over time. The addition of a class set of percussion instruments would also enhance subject provision. Good efforts have been made to create a vibrant learning atmosphere in the music room. For example, there are posters on display, both professionally printed and handcrafted, which include illustrations of components such as Irish music, orchestral instruments, projects and various internet articles relevant to music education.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and to examination preparation, a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is available for the students. These include participation in liturgical ceremonies, choir, participation at charity events, Seachtain na Gaeilge, and the annual Concern concert. The school also participated in a variety concert, A Musical Extravaganza, which was initiated in 2008 by County Meath VEC and all schools within this scheme participated. This level of provision is very good and the music department is commended in this regard.
School development planning is ongoing and subject departments have been established. Formal planning meetings are held three times per year. Records are kept of all such meetings. In addition to the formal time allocated for planning, the school, by agreement with staff, has also established an expectation that all subject departments will meet twice per term. The music department has exceeded this request as weekly meetings have been held and meticulously documented. This commitment to planning by the music department is highly commended as a model of best practice.
It is apparent that good working relationships are developing in the music department. This is due in part to the frequency of department meetings. A music policy has been developed collaboratively. This document outlines the aims and objectives of music education in Dunshaughlin Community College, the teaching and learning methods used and a list of the resources available in the department. Music teachers have worked independently on the development of schemes of work for their class groups. These schemes are essentially content based. This is now an opportune time to review planning in the music department. In such a review, the music policy should be re-conceptualised and re-titled as a music plan; this should be organised as one cohesive document containing plans for all year groups. The focus of team meetings should be on collaborative planning to develop schemes of work. These schemes should include methodologies, learning outcomes that indicate the desired skills to be acquired by the students, resources and modes of assessment in addition to the content list already provided.
From classroom observations and through discussions with the teachers, it is clear that in general, every effort is being made to adopt an integrated approach to the delivery of the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—in lessons. Particular attention should also be paid to ensuring that this is reflected in any planning documentation. This would help to ensure that schemes of work fully reflect the practices which are happening on the ground. The TY plan for Music comprises a monthly scheme of work which is essentially content-based. Planning for this programme is innovative and designed to expose students to a wide range of sound educational experiences, both practical and academic.
The extent and quality of planning and preparation for the individual lessons observed was very good. Each of the teachers has devoted much time to the creation of handouts and worksheets. Many of those observed during the evaluation were tailored specifically for the students’ needs and were seamlessly integrated at the appropriate stages in lessons.
Four lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation: two in junior cycle and two in senior cycle. In all lessons, there was a supportive and affirming learning environment. It is important that the learning intention of each lesson is made very clear from the outset and, if possible, recorded on the board. In so doing, a focus and a structure are provided for the lesson and students are thus helped to take responsibility for what they should understand and be able to do at the end of the lesson. This is recommended. All lessons were logical, sequential and there was very good continuity with prior learning. Clear instructions were provided to the students for most activities. Lesson content and pace was generally appropriate to the class group and to the time available.
Student activity, initiative and creativity were actively encouraged through practical music-making activities in all of the lessons visited. In one senior cycle lesson observed, the aim was to improve students’ knowledge of rhythms and melody and this was well achieved through the engagement of all students in clapping and singing exercises. In a second lesson, Irish music was skilfully taught by involving students in practical activities. Dance rhythms were reinforced through clapping exercises and by student and teacher demonstration. Using ICT, students listened to and saw further examples of Irish dance music. Students were given the opportunity to improvise by composing rhymes to rhythms as a means of distinguishing the different time signatures in Irish dance music. The skills of individual students were fully optimised as those who were capable performed Irish dances for their peers. These active strategies were very successful and consequently, the lesson was very engaging and stimulating.
Music-making activities were successfully integrated into a junior cycle lesson observed. The aim of the lesson was to reinforce students’ understanding of their prescribed work Hoedown from Rodeo. Students sang the main themes from this work. In the second part of the lesson, the teacher facilitated the learning by seeking a volunteer to lead the class in a tonic solfa singing exercise. This was good as students responded very well to this exercise and their understanding of this medium improved. Accompanying students at all times when they are singing would enhance this type of activity and this should be borne in mind.
In most lessons observed, the content was appropriate to the students. However, in one lesson, the learning objective was clearly too difficult for the students. This led to a low level of incessant talking which was unrelated to the content of the lesson among a small group of students. It is recommended that care be taken to ensure that the content of all lessons is appropriate to the students’ level and abilities.
Technical concepts were demonstrated through performing in all lessons. Great efforts were made to challenge students to improve their understanding of technical terms. Students were able to demonstrate appropriate levels of competence across a range of topics. Most lessons contained varied content and this, in turn, sustained the students’ interest. Questioning strategies were varied and included those which were directed to the entire class and those which were aimed at named students. Classroom management was good overall. Attendance was recorded in all lessons. Very high expectations of the students were set in all lessons observed and students were persistently probed and challenged.
In addition to the whiteboard, stereo, piano, handouts and ICT, teaching and learning was supported by a range of teaching methodologies including pair work and group work activities, teacher talk and teacher and student demonstration. Time has also been given to the development of students’ practical skills. Students’ performances were commensurate with their age and experiences. For example, this was evident in a lesson where students performed on their tin whistles. In all lessons observed, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer and the mock certificate examinations for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis. It is good to note that comments are provided to the students which outline areas for development. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and practical assessments. Practical skills are continuously assessed, as music-making activities are a core component of lessons.
All students are expected to store and maintain all their own music resources and materials. However, this requires attention by teachers as it was observed during the evaluation that standards regarding the organisation and maintenance of work varied considerably. It is recommended that the music department, as part of its assessment policy, places responsibility on students for organising their resources and materials and that this is monitored on an ongoing basis.
In the lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable. In addition to reports being issued after assessments, annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. Patterns of achievement in certificate examinations are good. Senior management currently performs a statistical analysis of all examination results and comparisons are made with national norms. The results of this analysis are shared with the music department.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and the subject is available to all year groups including TY and LCA students.
· The uptake of Music in both junior and senior cycle is very good.
· The music department is well provided for in relation to ICT.
· The music department is committed to CPD.
· A wide range of music activities is available to the students.
· Students’ progress is monitored on an ongoing basis.
· A wide range of teaching methodologies was evident during the evaluation and this included a high level of practical music-making activities.
· Very high expectations of the students were set in all lessons observed and students were persistently probed and challenged in ways that contributed positively to the quality of their learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The integration of music technology into lessons is an area for development.
· The focus of team meetings should be on collaborative planning to develop schemes of work.
· The music department should place the responsibility on students for storing all their music resources and materials and it is essential that this is monitored on an ongoing basis.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Music 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 2009