An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed
Roll number: 72490C
Date of inspection: 26 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. 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 subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Timetable provision for English is in line with syllabus requirements. Provision for English in junior cycle, in Transition Year (TY), and in Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) is good and is generous for classes in the established Leaving Certificate (LC) programme. A request for the timetabling of five instead of four classes of English for first years was noted in the subject department plan during the evaluation. Such a timetabling adjustment would be a very positive step. Also, it is advised that the distribution of class periods for English continue to be monitored to ensure that, where possible, class groups have daily contact with the subject. (This would mean a reduction in the number of double classes of English scheduled for individual class groups).
Nine teachers are involved in the delivery of English in the school. English is taught in one class group by two teachers, to two class groups by four teachers, to three class groups by two teachers and to four class groups by one teacher. The involvement of such a large number of teachers naturally complicates subject planning and the consistent delivery of the subject to students. It is advised that a smaller number of teachers of English would help promote greater consistency and continuity in the learning experience of students.
General resource provision for the teaching of English is good. Almost all classrooms visited were equipped with storage cabinets or shelving, some were also fitted with notice boards, and various items of audio-visual (AV) equipment were located in most classrooms observed. Sets of novels and plays and teacher-prepared study guides were available for use with classes. The Guardian newspaper is ordered daily and is a wonderful support for the teaching and learning of the subject. An annual budget is assigned to the department and, where possible, resources are also provided by school management in response to individual teacher requests. One base room was assigned for English subject teaching at the time of the evaluation. If possible, it would be very helpful if a second classroom could be allocated for mainly English teaching, and if separate junior and senior English rooms could then be designated, thus facilitating the display of relevant junior/senior cycle learning aids and of students’ work.
The school has four computer laboratories that can be reserved by teachers via a booking system. Broadband access has been provided in all classrooms and teachers have access to laptops and data projectors to bring to class. It is suggested that the fitting of window blinds in the base rooms for English would facilitate optimal use of overhead projectors (OHPs) and data projectors in them. Finally, it is recommended that the English department prepare lists of websites to support the teaching of particular topics/texts. Handouts featuring those lists can then be included in the subject department plan and distributed to all members.
Personal reading is promoted by the school in a number of ways. A paired reading initiative open to all first years is run by a member of the special educational needs support team who also teaches English. As part of that programme, TY students and the parents of first years are trained to work with the first years and certificates of achievement are presented to the students at the end of it. High-interest low-reading-age readers have also been purchased for struggling and reluctant readers. A book club for all first years, linked to the public library in Thurles, was established in 2008. Meetings are to be held every three weeks during English time to facilitate discussion of books being read independently by the first years. Moreover, the School Completion Programme (SCP) staff was planning to run a Readathon in conjunction with its homework club this year. Clearly, the introduction of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) into the school in 2007/08 has been very helpful in establishing these initiatives and in acquiring some of the necessary resources. Also, the establishment in spring of 2009 of a permanent school library space as part of a building extension project will be another support to the development of students’ literacy skills. The adoption of such a whole-school approach to the promotion of reading is highly commended. To further motivate students’ personal reading, it is recommended that the English department explicitly interweave the promotion of personal reading into its collective schemes of work. It is advised that resources such as Readalong packs and abridged and graphic versions of texts be acquired as part of the library stock. Also, it is suggested that the English department celebrate World Book Day and/or other similar landmark days, include the explicit teaching of dictionary skills and skimming and scanning techniques in the first-year scheme for English, and post a list of recommended books for particular age groups on classroom walls. (See Circular M16/99 “Guidelines for reading at Second Level Schools”). Relevant Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in-service courses and materials, the School Library Association of Ireland and the UK School Library Association are useful reference sources that could inform the development of departmental practice in this area. (See http://www.libraryassociation.ie and http://www.sla.org.uk/advice-and-support.php).
After assessment by the special educational needs support team, incoming first-year students are placed into a higher, ordinary, or foundation level class group. It is acknowledged that all junior and senior cycle English classes studying the same syllabus are concurrently timetabled, meaning that students should be able to move between levels as appropriate, and that such movement occasionally occurs. However, the impact of current first-year class formation practices is that less than half of all first years are encouraged to aspire to sitting a higher-level English examination and thus high enough expectations are not being set for all students from the outset. It is strongly recommended that first-year classes should be organised on a mixed-ability basis for English, and that a common assessment should be used to guide students toward examination levels at the end of first year. Advice in relation to the formation of classes and to the placement of students can be found in Looking at English: Teaching & Learning English in Post-Primary Schools and in Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (See http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/des_insp_inclusion_students_sp_ed_
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities support the teaching and learning of English in the school, including trips to theatrical productions and to the cinema; visits to the public library; the production of class magazines; participation in poetry competitions and in VEC Cultural Days; and visits by guest speakers. Prizes are awarded in English at the school’s annual awards evening. The exhibition of student projects arising from the study of a particular literary text in a local book shop is another highly commended activity that has fuelled students’ enthusiasm for English. School management and the teachers of English are lauded for organising such stimulating activities for their students.
English teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) activities. Sources of professional development that have been accessed by individual members of the department include whole-staff in-service courses on literacy development and on teaching strategies, programme in-service days, the graduate diploma in learning support, and training in school development planning. With regard to the professional development of the department into the future, it is recommended that members share teaching methods they have learned from teaching JCSP, TY, and LCA programmes and that the department deepen its expertise in relation to assessment for learning, differentiation approaches and resources, and the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of English. Given that individual members of the department have already developed expertise in one or more of these areas; it is advised that peer inputs be scheduled as part of subject department meetings to facilitate department upskilling as well as the sourcing of courses from external providers.
In the subject department meeting minutes presented, there was evidence that teachers working with the same year group had planned collaboratively, that general issues affecting the department had been discussed, and that progress had been made in compiling programmes of work for some year groups. An acting subject department co-ordinator was in place at the time of the evaluation, replacing the recently-retired long-term co-ordinator. The annual rotation of the role of subject department co-ordinator is advised to help develop leadership skills across the department.
Good progress has been made in the development of the subject department plan. An electronically-completed School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) subject-planning template and schemes of work for all class groups are available. Three particular aspects of the current plan are evidence of good practice. The department has begun expanding its curriculum content plans into half-termly schemes of work. Moreover, it has begun to plan schemes for class groups studying English at different levels in the same year group. Finally, it has begun integrating planning for JCSP, TY, and LCA cohorts into the departmental scheme. These practices are commended. To help develop the English department’s planning even further, three recommendations are offered.
First, it is recommended that the department identify what it considers to be appropriate student learning outcomes for each year group. (See the JCSP statement materials and the draft rebalanced JC English syllabus for exemplars of such learning outcomes). For example, a progression should be clearly apparent from first year onward in plans for the development of students’ writing skills (pre-writing, drafting, proofing, editing, and modelling strategies; spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing competencies; and the planned expansion of students’ vocabularies), reading skills (word and text-attack techniques, library layout and usage, and dictionary and thesaurus usage), and oral communication skills. Secondly, building on the department’s informal review practice at the beginning of each school year, it is recommended that formal action planning be undertaken and documented by the department, focused on achieving one or two measurable targets every year. Thirdly, it is encouraged that the concept of planning thematic units of work be re-visited by the department, particularly in relation to junior cycle English. Of course, for students to have the full benefit of this work, coherence between teachers’ individual plans and the collective department plan will be essential. Ultimately, what is envisaged is a planning process guided by the advice outlined in chapter three of Looking at English and customised to the needs of the students of Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed.
TY was introduced into the school in the school year 2008/09. The plan presented for the delivery of English in the programme outlines a series of six-week modules aimed at leading students through a range of genres and a commendable range of active learning opportunities. A detailed, ambitious programme that had been devised by the assigned teacher in a previous school, it offers an excellent menu of activities but inevitably needs to be further adapted to suit the TY cohort of the present school and its available resources and constraints. As part of that ongoing adaptation, it is recommended that dedicated time be built into the programme for analysing individual TY students’ language needs and for leading students through regular remediation work focused on those needs, to help improve the TY English students’ general life skills and preparedness for senior cycle study. (See the TYP Guidelines, page 2).
In all lessons observed, there was evidence of planning and continuity with prior learning. All teachers acted as oral language role models for students. All students were introduced to the theme of lessons from the outset. In a number of lessons, the planned learning outcomes were explicitly shared with students at the beginning. It is advised that this strategy be adopted by the entire department to help students take responsibility for what they should understand and be able to do by the end of lessons. Most lessons were well-structured. In the case of a few lessons, reducing the number of learning outcomes to be achieved and/or planning adequate time allocations for group work and subsequent student feedback on the task completed would have improved the structure of the lesson. Most teachers had made efforts to create motivational print-rich environments to support their teaching of English and this is highly commended.
A variety of resources was used in the teaching of English including overhead projector transparencies, an audio version of a text, study guides prepared and produced by a teacher, graphic organisers such as mind maps and writing frames, a film clip, novels, word searches and support notes on handouts. (For those handouts to support learners most effectively, teachers are advised to ensure that they are legible, clearly laid-out, allow space for student annotation, use bold text and/or bullet points to highlight key points, and use graded language and detail for candidates preparing for different examination levels). It was reported that individual teachers use graphic versions of texts to reinforce the teaching of plain text versions, use articles from newspapers to teach different styles of writing, and use audio-visual resources from historical sources to illustrate cultural contexts underpinning specific texts. White/blackboards were used to record student feedback, to set homework assignments, and sometimes to highlight keywords to be learned in a lesson. Other structured uses of the board that the department is advised to consider include dedicated vocabulary/ keyword and homework columns, the use of the board to model the organisation of key points in preparation for substantial writing tasks, and the use of different coloured chalks/markers to help students discriminate between headings and sub points. The observed uses of ICT were the preparation of handouts for use in lessons, the sourcing of visual supports for class use, and the use of a laptop and data projector to run a PowerPoint presentation aimed at helping students improve aspects of their writing. Building on this foundation and given the variety of learning styles and of student ability in the school, an inventory of the resources that have been gathered or prepared by the teachers of English should be compiled and added to the subject department plan, to inform all colleagues of the resources available within the department. Also, it is recommended that more concrete artefacts (such as relevant props and models), more audio recordings, and more uses of ICT be incorporated into the teaching of English.
In most classes evaluated, some active learning strategies were in use and this is highly commended. Among the methods observed were question and answer, student reading, encouraging students to offer personal responses to texts, pair/group work, collaborative story writing, activating students’ relevant prior knowledge and experiences before introducing new material, and encouraging students to research a topic using ICT in preparation for a new unit of work. The teachers of English now need to formally share these excellent methodologies to ensure that all students get the benefit of them.
One recommendation is offered with regard to pedagogical areas for development. Building on the very good model of the school’s recent review of the LCA programme, it is suggested that a review be conducted of the English department’s strategies and practices for improving the literacy skills of its students. Some examples of good practice already taking place in this regard in individual classrooms include the identification of keywords in lessons and their subsequent reinforcement through sentence composition exercises and spelling tests, modelling by teachers to help students vary their choice of terms and sentence structures, and planning of some thematic links/units whereby functional writing tasks are integrated into the study of a novel. It is suggested that a “skills day” could be incorporated on a weekly basis into teachers’ programmes of work for English that would develop students’ sub skills of English, deepen their understanding of the writing process, and give them substantial in-class writing opportunities. Further strategies the department is advised to consider include teaching students explicit strategies for learning spellings such as Look-Say-Cover-Write-Check, incorporating vocabulary copies and spelling tests into junior cycle classes; teaching students the department’s agreed routines for the presentation and editing of work and for the storage of notes from first year onward; linking the study of language and literacy on a more regular basis; Make a Book projects; and the use of ICT to reinforce the process approach to writing. Team teaching involving teachers of English and members of the special educational needs support team could also be particularly beneficial to cohorts with significant literacy needs. Among the professional development resources the department may wish to browse in this regard are those described on the websites http://www.jcspliteracy.ie/school_wide.htm and http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/.
Good interpersonal relations between teachers and students were evident in all classrooms visited and discipline was maintained in all classes. Teachers affirmed students’ responses and integrated them into lessons. Oral questioning by teachers and by the inspector demonstrated that students understood the concepts being taught in the lessons observed, that they were comfortable enough to offer their personal opinions about texts and to ask teachers questions where they were unclear about particular details in a text or about their in-class/homework assignment, and that all students were engaged in their learning. All students in the classes observed were engaged in their learning.
From a review of student copies, it was evident that homework was being set and monitored in all classes. In some cases, students’ work was acknowledged by a tick and short comment. In other cases, the teacher comment offered formative feedback that affirmed specific strengths in the piece of writing and gave specific ideas for improvement and this is commended. The department is encouraged to discuss this issue and to arrive at a consensus on it, so that teachers’ responses to students’ writing are consistent from first to sixth year. In arriving at a common policy on the correction of mechanical errors and on the provision of formative feedback on substantial pieces of writing, the department is encouraged to draw on the insights of a member who participated in a National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) “Assessment for Learning” (AfL) pilot project in another school. Relevant reference materials for consultation could also include the NCCA’s AfL web pages and the JCSP publication Between the Lines.
Three other aspects of student assessment need to be developed by the department. First, it is encouraged that teachers assign class time early in the first term of every year for students to produce a substantial personal writing sample. Analysing and recording the recurring errors in each student’s work will give the teacher a good benchmark for skill development programme planning. Secondly, it is suggested that the department agree a common position on awarding some marks toward end-of-term results for tasks linked to the agreed learning outcomes for different year groups. (Tasks could include spelling and vocabulary tests, a cumulative average for composition work, folder maintenance, quotation tests, oral presentations, project work). Thirdly, it is recommended that the practice of deepening LC students’ understanding of the State Examinations Commission criteria for assessment be adopted as a consistent departmental one. Teachers’ use of the PCLM (Purpose, Coherence, Language use, Mechanics) criteria to comment on and/or mark substantial assignments will give senior cycle students more specific insights into strengths and areas for development in their writing. Similarly, a simplified version of the criteria could be introduced into teacher marking of substantial pieces of junior cycle writing.
The English department is commended for its work in preparing and administering common Christmas and end-of-year examinations to first years. Building on this foundation, it is encouraged that more common assessments be prepared for class cohorts preparing for the same examination level. A few teachers use State Examinations Commission chief examiners’ reports and marking schemes to inform their work. This is commended. Finally, it is recommended that in addition to the analysis of students’ certificate results conducted by the VEC, that the subject department itself produce an annual comparison of students’ certificate examination results in English with national norms for the uptake of levels and for the spread of grades, as an aid to collective self-evaluation and planning.
Students are assessed using monthly continuous assessments and formal Christmas and end-of-year examinations. Reports are issued by the school twice-yearly, communicating the results of formal examinations. The student journal is used to communicate the monthly results and other issues to parents. Information regarding student progress is also communicated to parents through annual parent-teacher meetings.
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.
Published March 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
· In general, we find the report informative and largely accurate.
· We would like to thank the inspector for their seamless interaction with students and feedback on the delivery of teaching within the school.
· Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed would like to acknowledge and thank the inspector for the many positive comments relating to the provision of English in a variety of areas and we recognise the value of the constructive advice on improving this delivery.
· There are two issues we would like to comment on, firstly that World Book Day and the MS Readathon have been annually promoted within the school for numerous years in an effort to promote personal reading.
· Secondly, relating to the feedback on the provision of English to TY we would like to point out that it was our first year with TY in the school and our ‘ambitious programme’ was inevitably a framework document as analysis of the student cohort would naturally occur during the opening weeks of the academic year.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· A number of steps have already been implemented since the inspectorate provided their initial feedback to staff and management.
· The purchase of class dictionary sets, the organisation of shared teacher resources, the rotation of the department head and the recording of set learning outcomes at the end of each academic year in our planning documents has already been completed.
· Finally, management has also made a commitment to the provision of English classes on a daily basis and indeed they have surpassed these by setting an intended target of 6 periods of English a week for exam years.
· In addition, from the opening of the next academic year delivery to First Year students will be on a mixed-ability basis to increase student expectation across the cohort.