An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Maria Immaculata Community College
Dunmanway, County Cork
Roll number: 76086P
Date of inspection: 10 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maria Immaculata Community College. 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 the 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 to this report.
Maria Immaculata Community College is a co-educational school. There are five English lessons per week for classes in first year, in second year and in third year. This is good provision. Transition Year (TY) classes are provided with three English lessons per week. This is adequate. There are five English lessons per week for classes in fifth year and in sixth year. This is good provision. Classes in the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA) receive three lessons in English and Communications per week. This is adequate. English classes are timetabled concurrently in third year, fifth year and sixth year. This is good practice, allowing for ease of student movement between levels or classes where this proves necessary. English classes retain their teachers from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is worthwhile. There is rotation of English teachers between levels and cycles. This is positive, allowing for the maintenance of a wide skills base across the subject department.
English classes in first year, in second year and in TY are of mixed ability. There is also a Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) class in first year, in second year and in third year. Standardised tests are administered to incoming first-year students in the March preceding entry in order to identify students with difficulties in literacy development who may be in need of additional support. This assessment is further informed by links with the local primary schools. Classes are set in third year, in fifth year and in sixth year. Students are assigned to classes in third year based on a combination of their results during second year and first year, teacher evaluations and examination performance. Students are supported in attempting the higher level course wherever practicable. Students in fifth year are placed in set classes based on their results in the Junior Certificate examinations, their performance in TY (where applicable) and their own aspirations. These placements are further informed by assessments at midterm and at Christmas. When new teachers are introduced to the English department, the principal inducts them into the school and they are assigned a mentor. This is good practice and could be set down in the subject plan in order to ensure that the good subject pedagogical knowledge currently in the school is passed on to new teachers.
There is a central library, along with other library services. English classes are taken to the library to borrow books. A JCSP Make-a-Book exhibit was in evidence during the inspection visit and the Wordmillionaire reading initiative has also been used to encourage students’ reading. In addition, a paired-reading programme is organised which involves TY students with first-year students participating in the JCSP. Alongside this very good work, it is suggested that the English department should develop a reading policy/programme for all junior cycle students. This could involve ideas such as the appropriate use of DEAR (‘Drop Everything and Read’) time, the creation of ‘cosy corners’ in the library and teacher modelling of reading for pleasure, where appropriate. A potential resource in the area of developing library services is the website www.jcspliteracy.ie which contains a useful evaluation report dealing with the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project, along with the various strategies adopted to harness the school library as a key tool in the development of students’ literacy.
English teachers currently have good access to audio-visual equipment. There are a number of televisions and DVDs available on each floor. Management is to be complimented for this provision. It is recommended that the school further extend the provision of audio-visual equipment in classrooms on an incremental basis. This would further facilitate the use of audio-visual resources by English teachers and would be an important development, given the importance of film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Beyond this, the potential impact of the judicious use of audio-visual resources in junior cycle classes should also be considered. A press in the staff workroom is used to store English resources, including DVDs, and there is a signing-out system for these resources. This is worthwhile.
The school has very good ICT facilities. There are three designated computer rooms and many other rooms have a number of computers. However, during the last year there have been difficulties with the school network, limiting the extent to which the facilities can be used to their best advantage. These difficulties are in the process of being resolved and senior management is to be complimented on advancing this issue. While computer rooms are available for booking by mainstream classes, currently demand outweighs availability. Despite this, the use of ICT was evident in teachers’ work. A number of teachers used the internet for research and teaching resources and key assignments for English and Communications in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme are stored using ICT. This is positive and the English department is encouraged to continue to expand its work in this area, when practicable. Ideas in the area of ICT and literacy can be accessed from the National Council for Technology in Education (NCTE) publication Engaging Learners: Mobile Technology, Literacy and Inclusion which is available on the website www.laptopsinitiative.ie.
The school is supportive of English teachers’ continuing professional development. A variety of whole-staff in-service training has been provided for teachers and English teachers have also availed of other in-service training opportunities. English teachers maintain links with their subject association and this is positive. As a further extension of the good work already being undertaken in the area of continuing professional development, it is suggested that the department might examine means whereby relevant in-service training material can be formally incorporated into the department’s subject planning process.
A subject co-ordinator is appointed on a rotational basis. This is worthwhile. Time for meetings to deal with subject planning is allocated at staff meetings during the course of the school year. There are six to seven formal English departmental meetings held during the school year. In addition, numerous informal meetings take place. Agendas are set for formal subject department meetings and minutes of these meetings are kept. All of this is good practice. It is suggested that the duties of the subject co-ordinator should be set down briefly in the subject plan. Recent areas dealt with as part of the subject planning process include co-curricular work in connection with Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education, the Make-a-Book scheme, paired reading in TY and the need for input on dyslexia.
There is a well-developed English subject plan, which reflects a high level of professionalism and dedication on the part of the English department. The subject folder includes lists of English resources, school policies, records of subject department meetings, relevant documentation from the Department of Education and Science (DES), correspondence and common, time-linked plans for English. All of this is commendable. The very good work done in the area of common planning is recognised and this should be further developed to incorporate monthly common plans, focused on syllabus-based, skills-based learning goals. A focus on skills and learning goals as part of common plans will allow for individual teacher freedom with regard to the content to be used in aiding students to achieve these learning goals. Beyond this, such an approach will lessen the need for unnecessary duplication of planning work by teachers, while simultaneously aiding the assessment process.
A curriculum action plan is also used by the school as an aid for each subject department in identifying its planning priorities for the current academic year. This is commendable. It is recommended that the English department extend the very good work it is already undertaking through the subject planning process to identify a key area in teaching and learning to be investigated and explored over a set period of time. This should involve discussion around good practice in the chosen area and the setting down of this good practice as an element of the subject plan. Areas worth exploring at this point include the setting out of differentiated approaches to planning, teaching and learning and assessment in English, along with the previously identified aim of aiding students with literacy difficulties in mainstream English classes. The already-planned dyslexia in-service training course from the Special Education Support Service (SESS) should prove very beneficial as a starting point for these efforts. As these areas are dealt with to the satisfaction of the English department, over time, other points to be explored may include the incorporation of assessment for learning (AfL) strategies into the English department plan and English teachers’ practice and the further development of the use of ICT in English. The subject planning process should, in this sense, be viewed as a key vehicle for continuing professional development by English teachers with regard to their own classroom practice.
English teachers are involved in organising a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. These include debating, visits to the theatre, the school concert and poetry competitions. These efforts are to be applauded.
Texts in senior cycle and in junior cycle are varied to meet students’ interests and experiences. This is positive and teachers are encouraged to continue with this practice. There is some synchronising of the texts to be studied by different class groups in senior cycle, and this is worthwhile as an aid to students’ movement between levels and classes, should this prove to be necessary. The book rental scheme has been supportive of teachers’ varying of texts to be studied. This is to be complimented and should continue.
There is a subject-specific programme for English in TY. This is positive. The programme is currently being revised. This work should continue and support in this area can be accessed through the website of the TY support service at www.transitionyear.ie. This website contains a document entitled Writing the Transition Year Programme which may prove useful in revising the programme. English work already forms an element in students’ overall portfolio of work for TY. It is suggested that, as part of the assessment procedures for TY English, a portfolio of written work specific to English could be developed. This would allow students to concentrate on the production of a set number of major written assignments for the subject during the school year. This approach could also aid in focusing students on the drafting and redrafting process and would serve as a form of ‘publication’ for their work during the school year.
There was significant planning for the English and Communications course in the LCA. This is positive. The creation of an English departmental policy on the manner in which key assignments are to be stored prior to students’ completion of the programme should be pursued. The use of ICT in students’ creation of written exercises in the LCA is to be praised and should be extended as much as is possible as a further aid to their literacy development. Beyond this, the exploration of suitably varied and challenging texts in all areas of the English and Communications course is to be strongly encouraged.
There is a support room for students in need of additional support. The room has an impressive print-rich environment, which is beneficial for students’ literacy development and self-esteem. Various resources are stored for use with students experiencing difficulties in the area of literacy development, including a book storage unit with hi-lo readers, which was designed with teacher and student input. In addition, some ICT facilities are utilised, despite the current difficulties being experienced by the school with regard to its network.
The school currently has a draft special educational needs policy. This is worthwhile and work on the policy should continue. An area which could be explored is the extension of the current model of provision for students with special educational needs to incorporate co-operative teaching. The potential for development in this area has previously been identified by a member of staff and is worth pursuing. There have been a number of in-service training sessions for staff members in the area of special educational needs and this is most worthwhile. There are links between the English department and the special educational needs department. Current work being undertaken towards developing a database regarding provision for students with special educational needs should be viewed as a means of enhancing links between the special educational needs department and mainstream teachers.
A very good standard of teaching and learning was observed during the evaluation. Objectives were clear in all lessons. Particularly good practice in this regard was observed in a number of cases where the learning objective was explicitly stated at the beginning of the lesson, and, in one instance, was set out clearly on the whiteboard. This strategy utilised the principles of an assessment for learning approach and is to be praised. Individual teacher planning was evident in all lessons and, in a number of cases, this was further added to by significant quantities of resources that teachers had built up to support teaching and learning.
A wide range of resources was utilised in English lessons. These included the whiteboard, photocopied handouts, DVD and TV, a recording of a poem, calendars and a variety of texts. In particular, the use of visual texts in one lesson was most impressive as illustrated calendars were used in an exciting way to harness students’ interest in writing in a variety of genres. The tactile nature of this experience further encouraged a sense of enthusiasm for the writing tasks being undertaken. In another lesson, the development of ‘workbooks’ alongside the text being studied ensured that students remained attentive while facilitating the storage and consolidation of their work in one location. In another lesson, the whiteboard was used effectively as a means of scaffolding the development of work on the comparative section of the senior cycle course. The need to avoid potentially confusing overlaps in the labelling of different elements of the comparative mode in question should, however, be taken into account. It is recommended that the use of a dictionary and thesaurus be pursued in all classes. The English department is to be complimented on the range of resources utilised to harness students’ different interests during English lessons.
Lessons began in a variety of ways, including the recapitulation of work already studied in previous lessons. This was positive, as a means of preparing students for the main body of work which was to be undertaken during the lesson and to connect new material to previous knowledge. Questioning was used effectively to elicit students’ understanding of material covered during the lesson, while simultaneously ensuring student engagement. In one instance, the efficacy of the questioning process might have been further added to through an increase in the quantity of directed questions asked during the lesson.
There was a very good focus on the study of language during English lessons. Good practice occurred where a teacher played a recording of a poem by Wilfred Owen. Following this, students were questioned regarding the tone of the poem and a very good examination of the language used in the piece followed, with the class being exhorted to note words that stood out for them. The impact of this exercise might have been extended still further through the incorporation of pair work as an aid to differentiation. The reading of a letter from Owen was a further example of sound practice during the lesson, enhancing students’ personal engagement with the poem at hand. In another lesson, a clear emphasis on the body language of actors in a filmed version of a play was positive, highlighting the different ways in which a theatrical piece can communicate with an audience.
Group work and pair work were utilised in a number of lessons. This was worthwhile. In one lesson, students were placed in groups to discuss the usefulness of a curriculum vitae and this led to a successful brainstorming activity which was consolidated through the teacher’s work on the whiteboard. In another, junior cycle, lesson students were divided into groups, with sheets distributed by the teacher, to write a variety of different genre exercises which were integrated with other texts being studied by the class. This was good practice, placing the responsibility for learning on students’ shoulders, while simultaneously enhancing the possibility of peer support should it be needed. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand the use of these and other differentiated methodologies as part of English lessons.
Reading and writing were incorporated into lessons in a variety of different ways. In one, junior cycle, lesson there were consistent moves towards students writing brief pieces arising from a poem which was being studied. This might have been further extended through the addition of a requirement that students would use particular language techniques being highlighted in the poem in their own work. In another lesson the use of scaffolding for a genre exercise, through the distributing of a photocopied guide, was good practice. This focused students on the structural requirements of the piece in question. In another, junior cycle, lesson, the setting of an exercise where students would engage in a ‘real world’ writing exercise by sending a letter to the author of a novel being studied was praiseworthy as a means of motivating students. Where teachers read to students in class, this was done in an engaging manner and students themselves were encouraged to discuss their own ideas and written work at different points. On occasion, the pointing out by peers of language techniques used in each others’ writing would have been of further benefit in highlighting the impact of these strategies on the quality of student writing.
In all cases, a good relationship between teachers and students was evident and a businesslike and positive atmosphere permeated all lessons. Teachers displayed good classroom management skills. Teachers were uniformly affirming towards students for their efforts. In a number of cases teachers displayed considerable enthusiasm for their subject and this was responded to in kind by their classes. Students remained focused on the work being undertaken in lessons. Students frequently displayed good knowledge of texts studied and answered teachers readily when questioned.
A print-rich environment is evident on the school corridors and this is commendable. There was some development of a print-rich environment in classrooms although this was limited. In various classrooms, there were examples of displays connected to the particular text being studied, along with displays of students’ work. This was sound practice and is to be praised, given the practical difficulties attached to the maintenance of these displays. The English department is encouraged to take opportunities for the further development of a print-rich environment in classrooms and other public areas, wherever practicable. Adoption of this strategy will not only ensure a form of ‘publication’ of students’ work for a designated school audience, it will also enhance motivation and a sense of self-esteem for students whose work is ‘published’. Beyond this, it will increase students’ awareness of the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing.
There is a homework policy. This is a well-developed, thoughtful document which highlights the role of all members of the school community in ensuring that the most effective approach towards homework is adopted. The document includes a user-friendly advice sheet for students entitled Need Help with Homework? which is to be strongly commended. As previously mentioned in this report, it is suggested that the English department may find the development of an assessment policy, which would incorporate assessment for learning and differentiated modes of assessment, worth investigating. Support in this endeavour can be accessed through the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in almost all cases and there was evidence of formative, comment-based assessment. This was particularly evident in the case of senior cycle classes. A high standard of feedback was provided for students and teachers are encouraged to continue to expand their use of comment-based, formative assessment where practicable and within time constraints. The use of a scaffolded approach to written exercises was evident in one lesson and the adoption of writing frames and other differentiated approaches to the setting of homework is to be encouraged, where relevant and useful.
An integrated approach towards the language and literature elements of the syllabuses was evident in most cases. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand its use of this strategy, particularly in the case of senior cycle, and to incorporate it as a key element in the English subject plan. The use of a wide range of different genres in students’ homework as a means of enhancing their engagement with the literature being studied, alongside their written and oral skills, should be highlighted as a key strategy by the department. The good practice already evident in this area is to be commended.
Students’ progress is assessed through a variety of methods which include questioning in class, continuous assessment and formal examinations. These latter elements consist of formal, house examinations at Christmas and summer for those students not participating in the state examinations. There are mock examinations set for those students who are to participate in the state examinations in the summer. Common examinations are set for those students who are undertaking the same level and there is a common, jointly agreed and moderated marking scheme. Mock examination papers are sourced and marked externally. English teachers review students’ papers on their return to the school, in order to monitor standards, and this is good practice.
Contact is maintained with students’ parents through a variety of means. These include the student journal, postcards, informal discussions and meetings, school reports and parent/teacher meetings. There is one parent/teacher meeting for each year group per year. Beyond these strategies, parents or teachers may request an ‘academic review’ of a student’s progress at any point during the year and meetings with members of staff regarding a student’s progress are available on request. This is commendable.
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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The report gives a comprehensive overview of the work of the English Department and commends the “well developed English subject plan, which reflects a high level of professionalism and dedication on the part of the English Department” in Maria Immaculata Community College.
The report recognises the excellent quality of preparation, planning and the “very good standard of teaching and learning” provided to our students in the area of English.
The recognition of teachers “considerable, enthusiasm for their subject” and the acknowledgement of the good relationships between teachers and students, was welcomed by all members of the Subject Department.
The Board of Management of the college congratulates the English Department on its continued excellent work.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
In light of the recommendations made in the report, the English Department has:
The English Department is currently investigating the possibility of increasing computer access for English classes for the coming year.
The School Management has begun to explore the possibility of extending the provision of audio-visual equipment in classrooms.