An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Ballinteer Community School
Roll number: 91305 L
Date of inspection: 23 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballinteer Community School, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.
History is well supported by school management in Ballinteer Community School. The subject is offered at Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate (established). It is studied by all students in junior cycle where History is streamed in each of the three years. Reappraisal of students and streams is reported to be carried out regularly. Class groups are small which allows a high degree of personal attention for each student in the class. Three class periods per week are provided for junior cycle classes in History and these are generally well spread across the week.
The TY programme is optional but all students opting for TY study History, where they are allocated four class periods per week in modular form. In Leaving Certificate (established), the subject is allocated five class periods per week in each of years one and two. There are, typically, two double periods and one single, or one double period and three singles. Either allocation suits the teaching the subject. The teachers find that the double period is ideal for carrying out research studies.
Students choose History for their Leaving Certificate from choice ‘blocks’, arranged annually following expressions of preference by students. Consultation with and support from the guidance service assist in this process. A reasonable number of students opt for History, though the cohort varies somewhat from year to year. The History teachers, supported by management, are hoping to increase the uptake of the subject for senior cycle. Despite good student outcomes and much professed interest in History among students in junior cycle, it was reported that it has been difficult to increase the number of students carrying History forward into fifth year. The History teaching team has been making specific efforts to raise the numbers and hopes that the new syllabus will attract more students than heretofore. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the number of students taking Leaving Certificate History is consistent with the overall uptake in the country. Class groups in the senior cycle are mixed ability and both higher and ordinary levels are taught in the same class. Classes are not very large and the mixed ability system works well, with the teacher being able to give adequate time and assistance to all levels in the group.
The destruction of part of the school in a fire in recent times included serious damage to the library. It is not planned to replace the library until completion of the new school building. In the meantime, collections of books in the History teachers’ classrooms have to suffice for the purpose of research and projects. While this is not ideal, the teachers are making efforts to assist their students in their researches, which is commendable.
Rooms are allocated to teachers in many instances, so that it has been possible to establish subject bases and resource areas for History. The fact that most teachers take more than one subject leads to their rooms also having cross-curricular influences in the displays created. This is good practice. It is school policy to provide rooms to teachers and subjects as far as possible and this is reported to be working well. By the appearance of the rooms and the effort put into making them stimulating environments for their subject, this is a successful policy and is to be commended.
Equipment is provided for each classroom, and there was a variety of audio-visual and ICT hardware and software available in the classrooms visited. While there is as yet a limited number of school-owned laptops and data projectors, some teachers of History use a mixture of school and personal equipment to deliver lessons through these media. It is the stated policy of the management, within its resource allocation, to provide every classroom in the building now being constructed with a fixed data projector, and a larger number of laptops for use by teachers of all subjects. This is positive policy and its implementation is to be encouraged.
Support is given by management for the continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers. Membership of the subject association is encouraged, and some teachers attend courses organised by that body. There has been good attendance at the inservice courses provided by the History Inservice Team (HIST) which prepares and supports teachers for the revised History Leaving Certificate syllabus. They have derived value from these courses and intend to continue attendance through this academic year. This is commendable, and the History teachers are encouraged to continue their participation in inservice.
Meetings are provided for parents in various ways. There are information meetings for parents, prior to the entry of their children to the school, and again in third year and fourth year to explain Transition Year and to assist with information for subject choice for students. There are parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year in the school, and parents receive written reports on their children’s progress three times per year. This contact with parents is good practice, and is particularly helpful where subject choice by students is required.
The funding of the History department is based on request by the teachers, and there is no specific subject budget provided each year.
The History teachers meet three times per year in subject meetings facilitated by the school. There is no co-ordinator at present, and it is recommended that a co-ordinator be nominated to take on this role on a rotating basis. The current arrangement, while working reasonably well, is a temporary measure. While the teachers hold meetings and decide both on individual and group planning for History, there is no organised set of documents recording the business of these meetings. It is recommended that the acting co-ordinator, or another teacher, take on the responsibility of keeping records, preferably electronically, of the History teachers’ meetings, so that they can be referred to and kept as an ongoing and permanent record of the team’s work.
On the other hand, there is an excellent record of the planning carried out by individual teachers, both personally and from group discussion, and these planning documents are kept in a permanent folder and are updated from time to time. The planning for lessons, examinations, projects and aims and objectives is thorough. There is, however, a need to meet specifically to look at strategic planning for the subject. The future of the subject in the school, the uptake of History for senior cycle, the place of History in the new premises and the plans for History for the medium to long term in the school, all need to be addressed in a more formal and recorded manner. It is recognised that the History teachers meet informally very frequently, and update each other with their classes and progress, but it is recommended that the strategic planning for the subject be addressed as soon as possible.
There is very good preparation for lessons in History, with many documents being prepared in advance. A year plan for the subject has been drawn up and is being followed by most teachers of the subject. History teachers maintain their rooms well, and take care to display stimulus material on the walls and boards of those rooms. Up-to-date commercially available History charts and posters are placed on the walls where they can be used in class or read more casually by the students. Older and some contemporary material is also displayed and these also help to focus students. Some rooms have displays divided between the subjects taught by the teacher who is assigned the room, and this makes for good cross-curricular interest and teaching. This is good preparation practice and is applauded.
Much lesson preparation is generated using ICT and this is to be commended. While the more conventional audio-visual aids are available and are used in classes, it is necessary to book and to use the computer room for more dedicated use of ICT in the teaching and learning of the lesson. Preparation in this area is good, and it is reported that ICT will be more fully available in the new building. In the meantime, preparation to use ICT in History classrooms should be given attention, even if in a limited manner. There are currently students taking their Leaving Certificate who will benefit from this methodology, and it is recommended that preparation of ICT for classroom use be given priority.
Most lessons were started with a clear lesson topic written on the board or projector screen: others were not, and it is recommended that this simple method of announcing the topic and keeping students’ attention focused be used in all classes.
Lessons were introduced in a variety of ways, from projecting major points on the screen to using question and answer techniques. In some instances, the lesson opened by checking through the previous night’s homework, or by defining and moving on by reference to the text book. All are valid ways of commencing a lesson, and all teachers led successfully into the topic by the various methods employed.
Where questions were posed as a start to the lesson or as a means of checking students’ comprehension during the lesson, there was a good mixture of general and targeted questions, with other students being encouraged to join in to confirm or expand the information. This is good practice and was successful where used. There was good use of pictorial and display material in several classrooms, which helped to illustrate the main points of the lesson. This is to be commended. It would also assist in students’ ability to place the topic in context if there was greater use of maps to locate the main places involved in the lesson, particularly, for example, where exploration or conflicts were involved.
There was a wide range of methods used in the lessons observed, and students were encouraged to respond to material in all the lessons. There was good extrapolation from documents in some instances, positive use of spider diagrams in another example, and several occasions when students were drawn into expanded discussion on the heart of historical topics. This is good practice and is to be commended. The development and pace of lessons was, in general, good, and there was good interaction with students in all the class groups inspected. Teachers in all cases were actively involved in teaching their classes and good progress with the syllabus was observed in all programmes. Students responded well, and reacted positively to higher order questioning, defining difficult concepts, and coming up with several examples to reinforce the topic. These aspects represented good instances of teaching and learning and are to be commended.
In some lessons inspected, it would have assisted the class dynamic to have had more student-directed and student-led activities. Students were clearly willing to contribute to lessons, so pair-work, group-work or role-play, for example, would have enhanced the experience and the active learning side of students’ experience of History. It is recommended that teachers use these methods to add contrast to their lessons and to vary the pace.
In all instances, there was good classroom management in evidence, and students were engaged with the subject, well behaved, and cooperated well in the learning process. Where small issues of discipline arose, they were dealt with sensitively, firmly and successfully by early teacher intervention. This is good practice.
Where work-sheets or revision-sheets were used, they were well prepared and proved useful in the lessons involved. In a couple of examples, cartoons or drawings were used to reinforce the lesson’s material, or to lead on to discussion or homework, either as a class or individually. This was a successful practice and is to be applauded.
In one instance, a well-prepared historical quiz was used to enhance students’ knowledge and to assist with all levels of ability in the class. This was very successful and, if utilised as a revision method, may well be of further use. Students clearly engaged readily with such activity and it is to be commended.
Learning outcomes, as observed, were good in most of the classes visited, and it is important that teachers keep learning objectives and outcomes in mind during all lessons. Students kept track of their work through student journals and homework copies. It was noted that homework played a substantial part in the opening, closing and work of lessons, and this is good practice as long as it does not grow to dominate the class or the methodology used. Students took care with their work and were able to answer questions from their homework when asked. Work set also appeared to be well tailored to the abilities of the students and the material covered in the lessons.
Assessment is carried out by many methods in History classes. Initially there is a form of instant assessment in the practice of using questions and answers at the start of lessons and during the teaching of a topic, and at the end of class. Different levels of questioning and varying methods of asking questions of the class and of individuals worked well in the lessons inspected.
Homework is set regularly, in accordance with the school’s homework policy. Most students complete the work set, as evidenced in their copies, and this assists in the continuity of topics and work from lesson to lesson. Some excellent illustrations and essay work were inspected during the lessons and students and teachers are to be commended for the standard of the work being produced in many cases.
Formative assessment techniques, such as teachers adding constructive remarks whereby students can develop their own work, were in use in some of the homework inspected. This is to be recommended to all teachers as a method whereby students can build on and improve their work in response to teachers’ comments. Work was generally well monitored and progress was recorded by teachers.
Class tests are held at the end of topics and terms, and in-house examinations are held at Christmas and summer. These are graded and recorded, and form the basis for reports sent out to parents three times a year. Certificate examination classes also have ‘mock’ examinations in February.
Some students, particularly in the senior cycle, have kept excellent folders of their work during their course, and this practice is to be commended. Some very good written work and logically organised paperwork were examined in these folders. Teachers assist in this process by keeping to their plan for the year and producing good material for filing in folders as well.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· History is well supported and provided for in the school, in terms of timetabling, allocation of classes, planning time for the teachers and support for continuous professional development.
· All students take History in junior cycle; those who select TY take History in that programme. A varying number of students study History for their Leaving Certificate.
· Teachers have their own rooms for the most part and use them well, displaying stimulus material on the walls, storing resources and keeping audio-visual and some ICT equipment in the rooms.
· Despite the current absence of a school library, the History teachers provide a wide selection of books to assist their students in their classwork and homework.
· There is good planning for History, and teachers individually as well as collectively, keep up-to-date plans for their subject and for their classes.
· Preparation for lessons in History is good, with a variety of materials organised in advance and illustrated work-sheets prepared for use.
· Teaching is good, with interactive, well-ordered classes, where students are asked and can ask questions, and where methodology is varied.
· Classroom management is good, and students are well behaved and cooperative in most instances. Any disciplinary issues were sensitively and successfully dealt with by teachers without disturbing their classes.
· Assessment in History is varied, with in-class assessment during lessons, homework being regularly set and monitored, tests and examinations being organised on a regular and planned basis.
· Students’ homework, as observed during the inspection of lessons, is generally good and there are some excellent student History folders in senior cycle classes.
· Parents receive written reports each term, have a parent-teacher meeting once a year and attend information meetings when their students are in first, third and fourth years.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A co-ordinator should be nominated to organise the History department meetings and one of the teachers should keep records, preferably electronically, of agenda, minutes and action plans for the subject. More time should be used, within the planning meetings allocated, to discuss longer-term plans and strategy for History in the school.
· Greater use of ICT will benefit classes, particularly in the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. While it is the stated policy of the school to provide further hardware in the new building, attention should be paid to the needs of students currently studying for their state examinations. Much of the new material and the inservice for teachers depend on ICT.
· The destruction of the library means that teachers must rely largely on books held in their own classrooms for providing reading materials for their students. It is recommended that attention be paid to this situation, even before the completion of the new buildings.
· Greater involvement of students, through student-centred activities and learning in classes, will benefit their understanding and participation in History lessons, and vary the pace and class dynamic.
· Development of more formative assessment techniques in monitoring and commenting on students’ work is recommended.
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.