An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Carrickmacross, County Monaghan
Roll number: 72180K
Date of inspection: 1 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in MUSIC
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Inver College, Carrickmacross. 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. 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 teacher.
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.
Inver College, Carrickmacross, a co-educational school, caters for 501 students. Music was introduced in Inver College in 2000 and, at that time, lessons were held at lunchtime or after school. Since 2006, provision has been made for Music on the school timetable and, as a result, the level of student uptake is increasing steadily. The time allocated to Music is in line with syllabus guidelines and a sufficient number of double periods have been allocated to all year groups to facilitate practical work. An appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week has also been achieved. Music enjoys a good profile in the school. First year students take all optional subjects for the entire year. They are then presented with an open menu and bands are then formed around their choices. The uptake of Music throughout junior cycle is good.
Transition year (TY) is available to students but Music is not currently a component of the programme. The school is working towards making Music available in TY for the next and subsequent years. The uptake of Music is satisfactory in senior cycle, which is to be expected in light of the stage of development of the subject in the school.
Music lessons are held in one large spacious room. This room is also used by other subject departments. It is well equipped and resources available include keyboards, drums, tin whistles and percussion instruments, a portable stereo, a computer, music stands and ample storage facilities, including a separate storage room. A vibrant learning atmosphere to enhance teaching and learning has been created. For example, posters, both professionally printed and handcrafted, were evident. These posters include illustrations of orchestral instruments and theoretical concepts. Projects completed by the students were also on display; these indicate a commitment to the promotion of independent work among the students. This practice is commended.
Music technology is used for the performing component of certificate examinations in senior cycle. Current provision in the music department would facilitate the integration of music technology into composing and listening activities too. Given the level of expertise which is readily available in the school, consideration might now be given to exploring the full potential of music technology with a view to increasing its usage. Management has indicated that information and communication technology (ICT) provision within the music department will be enhanced at the first available opportunity. In the interim, management, in collaboration with the music teacher, should also examine strategies for making the resources that are in the computer room available for music lessons.
The music department is staffed by one fully qualified music teacher who has worked in the school since 2006. The music teacher has been very pro-active regarding continuing professional development and has, for example, acquired additional qualifications in music technology and multi media. Membership of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at conferences has been ongoing and this has been readily facilitated by the school. There is also a high level of involvement with the local branch of the PPMTA. Such a commitment by the music teacher to continuing professional development is noteworthy.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and to preparation for the certificate examinations, a wide variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is available for students. These include participation in the school choir, which practises and performs on an occasional basis, liturgical ceremonies, traditional Irish music sessions, workshops, trips to concerts and competitions. Students can also avail of instrumental lessons which are organised by the County Monaghan Vocational Education Committee (VEC). This level of provision for the students is very good and could not occur without the dedication and commitment of the music department.
TY and fifth year students can also participate in the annual school musical which takes place in February. From December, all rehearsals take place during the school day. The level of participation by these students increases substantially between January and February, resulting in a significant loss of tuition time for the music students who are involved. It is acknowledged that the school wishes to provide this valuable artistic experience for students. Nevertheless the current arrangements regarding the production of the annual school musical must be revisited so that students do not lose out on the tuition time which is their entitlement. This will also ensure that the full requirements of circular M29/95 Time in School are being met.
School development planning is ongoing and subject departments are well established. Formal time is allocated to all staff at the start of the academic year and on two other occasions for subject planning purposes. The music teacher does not formally meet with any other subject department regarding Music. However, involvement with the local branch of the PPMTA provides opportunities for networking with fellow professionals and for participating in mutually beneficial dialogues around teaching practices.
A detailed music plan was presented containing documentation describing the management of this department. This included long-term curriculum planning scheduling the topics to be covered. These were relevant to the syllabus and to the requirements of the certificate examinations. It is recommended that future planning include the development of schemes of work outlining methodologies and resources to be used, a statement of student learning outcomes for each topic and the Sound before Symbol approach to composing.
In all lessons observed, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. ICT was widely used for the development of many resources and integrated very successfully into some lessons. Content and methodologies were varied and in some lessons, the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—were successively synthesised. It is recommended that, where possible, planning would provide for a greater degree of this synthesis.
Three lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation: two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle. In all lessons, there was a very supportive and affirming learning environment. In addition to the whiteboard, stereo, piano, worksheets, and handouts, teaching and learning was supported by methodologies which included the completion of assignments by students, teacher talk and demonstration, and the synthesis of performing into composing. There is scope to allow students more opportunities to work independently. For example, students can successfully perform compositions for the class instead of the teacher. It is recommended that strategies be expanded in order to minimise teacher-led activities and to encourage students towards more self-directed and autonomous learning.
Good practice was seen when the Sound before Symbol strategy was used. For example, in one lesson observed, the topic at hand was Irish dances. The aim of this lesson was to cement students’ understanding of Irish dance music through the integration of listening activities. This was preceded by an assessment of students’ aural awareness of the main dances through clapping activities. In this way, students’ knowledge of this element of Irish music was reinforced aurally. This strategy is commended and its increased usage is recommended.
In all lessons, materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. All worksheets and handouts were appropriate to the content of the lesson. However, in most lessons observed, neither the aim of the lesson nor a statement of learning outcomes was shared with the students. This is important as it provides a clear focus for the students and an indication when the objective of the lesson has been achieved, and as such, is recommended. Good teaching was observed in lessons which were appropriately paced and contained varied content and/or more than one methodological approach. Consideration might now be given to the increased use of pair work and group work strategies. Good learning was achieved through a thorough consolidation and reinforcement of previously learnt material.
Sound methodological practice was observed in a lesson which facilitated a challenging active music-making environment. Students were required to sing tonic solfa using the appropriate hand signals, learn a song, perform on tin whistles and percussion instruments while another student accompanied on the guitar. Students rose to the challenge and the level of enjoyment was evident while the learning was high. It is particularly commendable that the skills and talents of individual students were optimised. The increased usage of this type of strategy is recommended.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock certificate examinations for Junior 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. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and practical assessments. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the certificate examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of students’ progress and provide sound guidelines for the students for performance in the certificate examinations.
In lessons observed, students generally responded competently when questioned. Regular monitoring of students’ work is ongoing and records of all assessments are kept by the teacher. Feedback in the form of comments with suggestions for improvement will further support students and this is recommended. Some students’ folders and manuscripts showed evidence of very good and thorough organisation but this practice varied widely. It is important that all students be constantly reminded of the value of maintaining and carefully storing their learning materials in music as they are an invaluable tool for revision. In addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings also provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having.
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 teacher 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 November 2008