An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa
Clara, County Offaly
Roll number: 72530L
Date of inspection: 14 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ard Scoil Chiaráin 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 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.
The teaching and study of History take place in a supportive context in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa. History is a compulsory component of the school’s Junior Certificate Programme (JCP) and is provided as an optional subject choice for senior-cycle students pursuing either the established Leaving Certificate (LCE) or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The current cohort of fourteen students who elected to join the school’s Transition Year Programme (TYP) has also some limited contact with History through their involvement in the local intergenerational project that forms part of their TY coursework.
The intergenerational project is a joint venture between the Family Resource Centre in Clara and Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa. The project is run with the assistance of the school’s Home/School/Community/Liaison support service and involves Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa and two local primary schools. The project provides the opportunity for the TY students to meet with members of the Senior Citizens Memoirs Club every three weeks in the Family Resource Centre in Clara to discover more about their local heritage, learn about the society of the time when the senior citizens were young and hear first-hand accounts of aspects of their lives. It is an interesting and worthwhile project that contributes to the breadth of education provided for the TY students.
A study of the time allocated to History shows that every junior-cycle class has three periods per week. Senior-cycle students have five periods per week comprising one double period and three single periods. The two members of the history subject team have both been deployed to teach History. It is commendable that management strives to ensure that the teachers assigned to the first-year class groups remain with the students until they sit their Junior Certificate examinations. This enables the teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework. It is advocated that the timetabling of the three history periods on consecutive days for a junior-cycle class group be avoided if possible, whenever this is likely to result in the creation of a long interval in teacher-class contact time between the last history class of one week and the first history class of the following week.
Management is committed to the continuous development of the learning environment within the school. The teaching and study of History are supported by the provision of teaching resources such as audio-visual equipment, information and communication technology (ICT), photocopying facilities and access to the school’s computer room for class lessons. The base classroom of the senior history teacher has an access point for wireless internet and a number of laptops are available for internet research purposes. Budgetary support is provided on a needs basis. Management appreciates the importance of field trips in enriching the students’ study of History and facilitates the history teachers in organising these activities. Attendance at in-service training for the new leaving certificate history syllabus is accommodated.
The history subject team are commended for their departmental planning and their continued collaboration is encouraged. Departmental meetings are held at regular intervals and the topics discussed are recorded. The history framework document that has been compiled details subject aims and objectives, the year plans for each year group, the resources of the history department, programme levels and time allocation, the results of the state examinations in History as well as many other issues pertinent to the teaching and study of History in the school. It is an informative document and the time invested in compiling it reflects the commitment of the history subject team.
The departmental year plans that have been prepared for each year group have a particularly important role in the teaching and study of the coursework. The practice of including details of methodologies and resources that are used in the teaching of many of the listed coursework topics is laudable. The inclusion of proven strategies and resources for teaching particular topics enables the agreed year plans to draw upon the experience of the history teachers and helps subject planning to be informed by that experience. So as to build on the good work being done it is recommended that the documenting of recommended classroom strategies and resources for teaching the remaining coursework topics be steadily progressed over a period of time. How the potential of ICT is used to enhance the teaching of various history topics should also be indicated in the agreed year plans.
The proactive character of the history department is further reflected in the current attention being given to increasing the bank of history subject materials and the initiatives being taken to encourage students to achieve the highest examination grades of which they are capable. In the context of the latter, consideration has been given as to how best to assist students who have learning difficulties and strategies have been adopted in relation to the study of the coursework and the seating arrangements for their history lessons. The advancement of the department’s proposal to discuss with management the feasibility of introducing a more formal history module as part of the school’s TYP is encouraged. The organisation of field trips by members of the history team is a very worthwhile means of nurturing students’ interest in History.
There was ample evidence of individual planning and preparation for the lessons observed. The teachers chose a definite lesson topic and displayed a good grasp of the syllabus. The placement of the lesson topics in the context of the wider syllabuses was evident from the year plans. The advance readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of class handouts, overhead transparencies, a video clip, pictorial illustrations, the review of selected pages in class textbooks and the selection of class assignments including homework. The lesson plans were purposeful and provided the teachers with an informed overview of their lessons.
Teaching and learning in the classes visited took place in a pleasant and supportive atmosphere. The teachers sought to motivate their students and encourage learning at all times. The pace and structure of the lessons were underpinned by the preparations undertaken by the teachers. In keeping with good teaching practice the students were informed of the purpose of each lesson at the outset. This strategy helped the students to engage quickly with the lesson topic. Classroom management was uniformly good. The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers. The teachers’ practice of displaying history materials on the walls of the classrooms and especially the display of students’ projects is commended because it helps to stimulate students’ interest in History visually and publicly affirm them for their work.
During the initial phase of the lessons observed the teachers engaged their students effectively in the study of the lesson topic by addressing questions globally to the class and to named individuals and by providing additional information relating to the topics during the course of this interaction with their class groups. The engagement of the students by these means facilitated the introduction of the students to new material and in one instance to a revision of the extended topic that they had been studying. Good use was made of the overhead projector to focus the students’ attention on the main headings under which the extended topic had been studied. In the case of the lesson involving the study of the medieval knight, the display of the knight on an overhead transparency following upon the initial questioning provided a strong visual image that caught the students’ attention.
The active engagement of the students in their study of the lesson topics was maintained as the lessons progressed. The setting and correction of short written assignments as well as note-taking at predetermined times were used effectively to support the students’ study and retention of the lesson material. Directed reading of the class textbook was also incorporated into the planned structure of a number of lessons. Selected students read aloud short sections of informative material while the rest of the class followed what was being read and important points that emerged during the reading were brought to the students’ attention by the teacher. The display of laminated pictorial illustrations to a class group following upon the setting and correction of a short written assignment encouraged the students’ responsiveness and participation in the study of their lesson material. Again, both the reading aloud and the discussion of the pictorial illustrations were interspersed at opportune times with teacher-led questions and comments. These strategies steadily increased the students’ understanding of the lesson topic and maintained them on task.
Prepared class handouts were given to the students for the assignments apart from the note-taking where the information was transcribed by the students from the classroom board or an overhead transparency into their copies. The handouts were used in a variety of different ways such as helping the students to record what they knew about the lesson topic at a particular stage of the lesson before progressing to the next stage and consolidating what the students had learned about the lesson topic having just studied it. The undertaking of a written assignment by students working in pairs was also observed being used effectively to consolidate student learning. In addition, the time given to the correction of the assignments during the lessons enabled the teachers to ensure that the students gained an informed understanding of the lesson material.
The setting of homework took place near the end of the lesson and the importance attached to homework assignments was quite apparent from the study of a selection of the students’ copybooks. The teachers’ practice of regularly setting homework tasks for their students is commended because it helps to consolidate students’ knowledge of the lesson material and encourages students to assume responsibility for their own learning. The inclusion of a teacher’s feedback comment at the end of a student’s written homework exercise is lauded too. The teacher’s written comment serves to underline the importance attached to homework and helps the individual students to monitor their own progress.
The variety of teaching and learning strategies that were incorporated into the lessons enabled the teachers to provide their students with a range of learning experiences that steadily impacted on student learning. The recording of information on the classroom board, the display of important points and images on overhead transparencies, the laminated pictorial illustrations and the short DVD clip that was used to convey to students the disturbed state of the country on the eve of the Irish Civil War in 1922 were strong visual stimuli to student learning. The teachers’ interaction with their students through classroom questioning, the provision of additional information, the clarification of details and the recapping of what had been studied were examples of the oral strategies employed to impact on student learning. The written assignments enabled the students to apply their learning and knowledge of the lesson topic to particular tasks and the correction of the assignments enabled the teachers to support and monitor student learning. These strategies are commended.
Assessment is an intrinsic part of classroom practices and the educational policies of the school. The new first-year students sit assessment tests prior to their entry and are streamed according to their academic ability. They are organised into two class groups and there are two similar class groups in second and third year.
History and Geography have been banded on the timetable of all junior-cycle class groups within their respective year groups. This arrangement has been organised so as to provide the students with the opportunity to study the two subjects at the level most appropriate to their abilities and facilitates the movement of a student during the year to the class group studying History or Geography at the most appropriate level for the student.
In the classroom the history teachers use a combination of classroom questioning, the setting of assignments, homework, class tests and classroom observation to monitor their students’ progress. Oral assessments were clearly demonstrated by the questioning of the students and the students’ responses enabled the teachers to gauge the learning and understanding of their charges. The teachers’ setting of classroom assignments and homework tasks inform their judgement about the application of their students and their grasp of coursework topics. The class-based tests that are organised within the teachers’ teaching schemes of the coursework provide another means of tracking student progress and informing judgements.
Formal school examinations are organised for third and sixth-year students in the second week of November. In-house examinations are organised for first, second and fifth-year students at the end of the first term before the Christmas holidays commence and at the end of the academic year. The third and sixth-year students sit their trial certificate examinations during the spring term in preparation for the state examinations in June. The history teachers set their own test papers for the end-of-term examinations. School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the school’s formal examination sessions. A parent-teacher meeting is organised for each year group to keep parents and guardians informed of progress.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for the teaching and study of History is indicated by the fact that History is a compulsory component of the school’s Junior Certificate Programme (JCP) and is provided as an optional subject choice for senior-cycle students pursuing the established Leaving Certificate (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
· The timetabled allocation and distribution of the history class periods reflect the efforts made to provide a favourable pattern of teacher-class contact time.
· The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to school facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support effective coverage of the coursework.
· The history department meets at regular intervals and gives focused attention to curricular planning.
· There was a positive teaching and learning environment in the classrooms visited. The teachers sought to motivate their students and encourage learning at all times. The lessons had a definite focus and incorporated a variety of teaching strategies that effectively impacted on student learning.
· Assessment and monitoring of student progress are actively pursued.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the development of the agreed year plans continue to be progressed by documenting the teachers’ own recommended classroom strategies and resources for teaching the coursework topics where this has not yet been done.
· The feasibility of introducing a more formal history module as part of the school’s TYP should be discussed with management.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers 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.