An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of History

REPORT

  

Coláiste Chathail Naofa

Dungarvan, County Waterford

Roll number: 72220T

   

Date of inspection: 18 April 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chathail Naofa. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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 teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

As a vocational school, Coláiste Chathail Naofa is in line with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools in deciding to offer History as an optional rather than core element of its junior cycle. In fact, up to recent years, the school was not in a position to offer History at all on its timetable and the level of provision at present in History is a significant advance on that situation. The school has not found it feasible to offer History as a common subject in first year or as part of a taster programme. Instead, as incoming students are placed in streamed classes from the outset, those placed in one class group are given the option of picking History or Materials Technology -Wood (MTW), while students in the other class, with a slightly reduced curriculum, study History as a core subject to Junior Certificate. The issue of asking students to select subjects before they have had a chance to sample them is worthy of review. However, the relatively small size of the school and subject range available are accepted as central factors in this policy. So too is the school’s stated desire to adapt the curriculum as well as possible to the needs, including the special needs, of its student body. Again, it deserves reiteration that the school has made huge strides in terms of provision for History in recent years and its explanation for this policy is quite understandable.

 

The result of the aforementioned system of provision for History has been that roughly half of the students in junior cycle study the subject, with two class groups for History in each of the present junior year groups. Time allocation for the subject within this system is very good. Students who study the subject as a compulsory one from first year have three periods per week, which is satisfactory. Those who select History as an option across from MTW have even more time, with an allocation of three periods per week in first year increasing to four periods per week in second and third year. This is excellent time provision. In addition, a positive result of the options structure is that history classes have tended to be relatively small, affording significant degrees of personal attention to be given to students as required.

 

An area of concern which deserves to be addressed relates to some unnecessary bunching of history periods. In the options context, it is inevitable that two of the periods allocated across from MTW are configured as double periods. However, in the class groups which study History as a core subject, with no other subject across from it, instances where both the third-year class and the first-year class have two single periods in the same day would be better avoided in future timetabling. This is recommended as it is important to spread the number of class contacts between teacher and students as evenly as possible across the week. This would facilitate homework assignment and student retention, as well as minimising any possible disruption due to parent-teacher meetings, matches or other normal features of school life.

 

The school does not have a Transition Year and, to date, the numbers of students taking History to Junior Certificate have been small, militating against the development of a Leaving Certificate class. This is certainly a target which may be aimed for in time, now that the school has qualified subject personnel on staff and a significant number of students who could potentially take History in senior cycle. It may also be worth investigating the degree to which local historical studies can be factored into the social education elements of the school’s Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in time.

 

General resource provision and support for History is very satisfactory. The school’s computer facilities are available to all teachers and the deployment of a data projector on occasion is possible, as is the availability of some overhead projectors, all of which should be a good support to teaching and learning. Budgeting for History is on a needs basis, which is satisfactory given the size of the department and non-relevance of possible senior cycle requirements at this point. Management’s support for teacher attendance at all training sessions provided to date by the History In-Service Team (HIST) is applauded and gives further reinforcement to the possibility of being able to offer Leaving Certificate History in time if circumstances allow. The use made of the school’s library, specifically as a vehicle for promoting historical projects and computer-based work, displays of students’ work and a very stimulating venue for some classes is richly applauded. The stock of books relevant to History is particularly engaging and it is very good to see the focus therein on visual approaches to learning, complementing the verbal very well.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

The non-availability of a large team of history teachers at the school has been no significant handicap to departmental planning. A general subject plan has been drawn up, with a very clear focus on the work to be done in each year. Good consideration of resource needs has also been evident. At individual class level, a very thorough commitment to developing resources, ranging from handouts to hands-on materials, some generated by students themselves, has also been noted and is again evidence of a very satisfactory commitment to planning and preparation. Some excellent video materials have been developed, partly school-funded and otherwise drawn from the teacher’s personal stock. The collection of materials such as examples of real papyrus and photographs of modern victims of plague were particularly vivid and useful examples of thorough preparation. In all lessons visited, students were studying material wholly appropriate to the syllabus, to the level and the class they were in. The focus in teacher preparation on developing materials which could engage students of wide-ranging abilities is particularly applauded, with the maintenance of records of progress and attendance being further supports. It is also noted that lesson planning took into account the fact that other adults would sometimes be present in classes, either as a special needs assistant or librarian, and such factors were included seamlessly into the delivery of lessons.

 

In terms of recommendations to help enhance planning, membership of the Waterford branch of the History Teachers Association of Ireland is encouraged as an additional support, particularly where there is a shortage of subject teachers within the school. The maintenance of some departmental planning materials and prepared resources in electronic formats should also be investigated further, as it facilitates adaptations to plans and dissemination to potential new teachers of the subject at the school in years to come. The templates offered, among other supports, on the HIST website at www.hist.ie may be useful guidelines in this regard but should in no way detract from the fact that evidence of very thorough preparation has been found in the material presented, throughout the lessons observed and in discussions around them.

 

Teaching and learning

 

In all classes visited, an excellent rapport existed between teacher and students. With classes generally quite small, the ease with which personal interaction occurred between the teacher and students was an obvious support to learning. Teaching strategies adopted to promote student engagement included very good levels of preparation, as previously mentioned, clear outlines on the board of the work to be done and seating arrangements which were conducive to teacher-student interaction. The library seating arrangements, basically a horseshoe shape, were particularly good as they facilitated both teacher-student and student-student interaction as desired. Students’ behaviour and application to work from the start of all lessons was very good.

 

The initial moments of lessons were used both to set out learning objectives for the individual lessons and also to monitor and correct previously assigned homework. This was done very satisfactorily. It was good to see the manner in which previously covered topics such as the medieval town and Munster Plantation were delved into as necessary to remind students of key points and reinforce learning. A suggestion has been made in relation to placing dates on the board, in addition to key words, when outlining periods of change such as the Industrial Revolution or medieval times. This should help students to place topics in context more solidly.

 

A very important feature of the teaching observed was the deliberate effort made to find ways of engaging students in the topics. This is roundly applauded, on the simple basis that developing the students’ interest is an inevitable support to learning as well. A syllabus-relevant focus on some of the gorey details of the Black Death in dealing with medieval towns, or references to local Anglo-Norman families in developing the background to the Munster Plantation were good examples of this emphasis on making the material interesting to students. Where students were closer to sitting a state examination, the focus was more obviously on revision and retention. However, the aim of making the topic interesting for students was not forgotten either, with a good, structured discussion of health issues during the Industrial Revolution drawing very well on modern problems with which students already had some degree of familiarity. The use of local analogies and examples, particularly in dealing with medieval life and plantations in such a historic town, is recommended for somewhat greater emphasis if possible. There remains a relatively significant bank of potential resources, including the remnants of the medieval and plantation portions of Dungarvan itself, available locally should it prove possible to develop this element further.

 

Teacher-led questioning formed a significant part of all lessons observed, with very clear, direct questioning being the order of the day. Such questioning relied mainly on developing student recall of factual data but, with third-year students in particular, it was good to note a commitment to higher-order questioning around the why and how of historical developments. This is important, particularly in the context of students who anticipate sitting higher-level papers in the Junior Certificate, and is applauded. At times, where students’ responses centred on key words, it has been suggested that getting them to note down such terms would be a good reinforcement and in keeping with the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) focus on short-term learning targets. However, the use of handouts as an alternative, including the deployment of simple wordsearch games towards the end of lessons, worked very satisfactorily instead. Such short tasks also afforded an opportunity for students to engage in small-group work for a few minutes, a strategy well worth developing if practicable. In some lessons, students of one gender were in a clear minority but the teacher’s emphasis on promoting dialogue and on spreading questions to all students ensured that at no stage was any student left out of the loop, so to speak. This is applauded.

 

Throughout all lessons observed, the concentration levels of students and their application to the work on hand were a credit to the teacher. It was good to note that students in the class group due to sit the Junior Certificate were ready to make notes spontaneously. Whether material was challenging or more easily managed, a very close eye was maintained on lesson pacing, with repeated questioning and prompts helping to ensure that students were brought along at a pace appropriate to their ability. Where state examinations were approaching, an extra focus on exam needs, such as upcoming tests, the issues which tend to be asked frequently in the Junior Certificate and the retention of revision handouts was very evident and appropriate.

 

It was good to see a significant emphasis on the use of visual stimuli in teaching History, including some student projects which related to lesson topics. Similarly, the use of egg-shaped pieces of marble to show students the size and shape of Black Death sores was very engaging. There were occasions where some use of visuals and maps from the textbook, or the completion of JCSP keyword charts, might have complemented the visual strategy further. It may also prove possible in time to incorporate the use of a data projector into lessons, given the existing degree of teacher comfort in using visual stimuli. It was very good to note the non-reliance overall on the mere reading of textbook extracts, with the focus of teaching and learning remaining very appropriately on teacher-student dialogue. The net result was that the lessons observed were interesting, stimulating learning environments, with a sense of shared purpose very much in evidence throughout.

 

 

Assessment

 

A regular assessment policy operates at the school. The school encourages the use of fortnightly short tests, with more formal Christmas and summer examinations being focal points of assessment and reporting to parents. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually, with two such meetings being held for state examinations classes. This is applauded.

 

Within History, the use of oral questioning and short, in-class tasks has already been alluded to. Project work has been noted as a particularly stimulating form of assessment in use with history classes and is richly applauded here. Very good monitoring of homework at the beginning of lessons was also the norm, done unobtrusively as the teacher moved about the room. In addition, a very good commitment to formative assessment of students’ homework has been noted in the copybooks examined. In addition to regular teacher comments on the work done, the use of JCSP-driven stickers to enhance the supportive element of homework is also applauded. In terms of additional assessment options, it would be worthwhile to include occasional drawing or chart-making tasks as homework, to add a visual dimension. The training of students in what constitutes ‘significant relevant statements’ in the Junior Certificate marking scheme is also worthy of consideration as an additional means of making students think about the quality of what they write. Overall, the quality of assessment noted in History is very satisfactory.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • Although offered in an unusual mix of compulsory and option formats, History now has a much more significant presence in the junior curriculum of the school than heretofore.
  • The general time allocation to junior history classes is very satisfactory.
  • The fact that History is generally taught in small class groups is a significant support to teaching and learning.
  • The school is commended on the manner in which its library has facilitated the teaching and learning of History.
  • Very good work has been done in planning and preparation for the delivery of History lessons.
  • The school’s support for teacher attendance at HIST in-service training is applauded.
  • The high quality of teaching observed has been characterised by a commitment to making the subject interesting and stimulating for students and a very positive rapport between students and teacher in all lessons observed.
  • The non-reliance on mere textbook reading and the teacher’s emphasis on promoting dialogue and questioning of students significantly enhanced the lessons observed.
  • Good, thorough assessment of students’ work, including supportive commentary on homework and a fine commitment to project work, are applauded.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • Review of the school’s policy of asking some students to select History or MTW in first year without having sampled the subjects is recommended, although it is acknowledged that changing this system may not be viable.
  • The current timetabling of two single history lessons in the same day for some classes is not advisable and ought to be revisited in future planning.
  • Teacher membership of the Waterford branch of the History Teachers Association of Ireland is strongly recommended.
  • Somewhat more emphasis on using local materials, contextual dates and perhaps on student note-making of key words could further enhance the very satisfactory levels of teaching and learning observed.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.