An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Malahide Community School
Roll number: 91325R
Date of inspection: 6 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 25 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Malahide Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Music 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 music teachers. 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.
Music enjoys a high profile in Malahide Community School, a co-educational school which caters for 1152 students. The music department is staffed by two fully qualified teachers with some input from a Higher Diploma in Education student. Music is an optional subject for all year groups. Music can be sampled by first year students, if wished, prior to making their final subject choices. This system enables these students to make informed decisions regarding their subject options. Choir lessons are held for all first year students. This commitment to enhancing student choral experiences is highly commended. The uptake of Music in junior cycle is very good.
Transition year (TY) is available to students as an optional programme. Within this, Music is optional. Music provision for these students is divided between participation in the annual TY show and choir lessons for the latter half of the academic year. In addition, a modular Music Appreciation class is also timetabled. This provision for Music in TY is excellent. The uptake of Music in senior cycle is also very good and students are provided with an open menu. Overall, in both cycles, the gender balance is good although, within classes, it fluctuates. Timetabled provision is in line with syllabus recommendations.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, other musical activities take place during the school year. Students are afforded the opportunity to participate in the annual TY musical. Student musical experiences are enriched by trips to the National Concert Hall (NCH) and by participation in workshops. Guitar lessons are provided for TY students and these are subsidised by the school. Piano and singing lessons are also available for all students. The school choir performs at all liturgical services and other significant events in the school calendar. The range of activities is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. The commitment of the music teachers to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are to be applauded.
A dedicated music room has been allocated to the music department and this is available for all music lessons. This provision facilitates planning and preparation of lessons more readily. Resources for Music are very good and include a stave board, a stereo, a notice board containing information pertaining to music events, and two computers with Finale 2005 installed. Additional resources include an acoustic and digital piano, percussion instruments, TV and DVD player, music stands, sheet music and music books. A print-rich environment has also been developed to further support the teaching and learning of Music. This includes professionally produced materials and student projects. Posters containing technical concepts of music were also displayed. In addition, a photographic exhibition of past events was mounted on the wall. As the school had moved premises two days before the evaluation, the exceptional effort of the music teacher in preparing the room is acknowledged.
Commendably, some members of the music department have attended conferences hosted by the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). These conferences provide opportunities for teachers to network with fellow professionals and engage collaboratively. Attendance by teachers has been fully subsidised by the school and this support is commended.
The music department has experienced some temporary changes in personnel and currently comprises three teachers. Formal subject department planning has been initiated in Malahide Community School. A post-holder coordinates this department but in her absence, this has temporarily devolved to other members of the music department. Formal department meetings occur three times per year and minutes are kept.
A music plan was available on the day of the evaluation. This contained a statement of aims and objectives for music education, broad long-term plans for each year group which commendably indicated the planned progression through each term and the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that are available for students in the school. This plan can now be enhanced by further collaboration regarding the inclusion of the following: defined topics to be covered, suggested methodologies that would be used for their delivery, an indication of the resources available for the teaching and learning of Music, and the inclusion of a timeframe for revision in preparation for formal examinations.
In the lessons observed, all resources were prepared in advance and ready for usage. A filing cabinet is used to store resource materials developed by individual teachers and these are very accessible. This sharing of materials is very good practice and is highly commended. Individual planning for lessons was very good overall and there was generally a good level of planning regarding the integration of practical activities into composing and listening lessons.
Four lessons across junior and senior cycle were visited during the course of the evaluation. In all lessons, a warm, affirming, learning atmosphere was generated by teachers.
Lessons which contained a variety of teaching and learning activities were most successful. For example, a junior cycle lesson observed was divided between theory, a listening assignment and a game. Within each component of the lesson, a variety of methodologies was used. Student knowledge of theory was advanced using teacher-devised worksheets which were completed during the lesson. This was followed by a summary of all new theoretical concepts which were presented to students. All rhythms on display were subsequently clapped by the students as a class group and in various smaller groups. Percussion instruments were added as an additional stimulus to the lesson. The lesson led into a listening assignment where students were required to use their imaginations creatively while answering a series of focused questions. Finally, a competitive element was introduced using the format of a bingo game. Various rhythm patterns were clapped by the teacher and the students, in designated groups, were required to mark off the relevant pattern from their bingo sheet. This was a very clever and enjoyable strategy for students whose aural and visual awareness of rhythm patterns were further consolidated. Such initiative on the part of a teacher is highly commended.
Choral singing is attributed significant importance in Malahide Community School and is a central feature of the school curriculum and part of music lessons. In one such lesson observed, a portion of a double class was devoted to choral singing. Commendably, student knowledge of dynamics was reinforced aurally. Teacher expectations regarding student behaviour were clear and students responded appropriately. The lesson began with warm-up vocal exercises which adeptly led into the main part of the lesson. Student knowledge of a three-part arrangement of the song Tears in Heaven was reinforced through repetition and correction. Correct posture was reinforced and the teacher consistently stressed the importance of engaging with the conductor. Students rose very well to the challenges posed.
Opportunities to allow students to work independently from the teacher were optimised in some lessons. For example, a lesson centred on listening skills was very successful in requesting students to identify specific themes through varied physical activities. There is further scope for the music department to allow students assume control over activities. For example, in a composition lesson, triads were performed by the teacher. However, it was acknowledged that the level of student expertise in this area would readily facilitate more student involvement. This would also remove some of the responsibility for the lesson from teachers. Therefore, it is recommended that the music department discusses and collaborates on strategies which would allow students to assume more control over their own learning in lessons.
Student progress is measured in a variety of ways including formal house examinations, “mocks” for Certificate Examination classes, practical assessments, questions and monitoring of homework. Records of student achievement by teachers were good. However, there is a need to develop student profiles which identify their strengths and weaknesses. Such profiles should then inform planning for subsequent lessons and will further indicate the level of progress being made.
Materials in many cases are being stored in A4 folders which can be a useful means of ensuring that all notes, worksheets, handouts and music sheets are filed appropriately. Upon examination, the extent of materials that was accessible varied considerably in content and presentation. Therefore, there is a need to increase the level of monitoring of folders to encourage students to enhance their organisational skills. Commendably, students receive comments on written work which indicate strategies for improvement. In some cases, such comments were not commensurate with the standard of work being produced. It is recommended that to further cement the ongoing collaboration among teachers, samples of student work should now be shared so that suitable assessment criteria can be used by all.
The performing component of the music syllabus is attributed significant importance by the music department. For example, on the day of the evaluation, students were invited to participate in one of many lunch-time recitals in order to, for example, gain further experience at performing under pressure. This is very good preparation for state examination practical assessments and is highly commended. Performing activities were very well managed in lessons and students’ performances were at a suitable level.
Students are at an appropriate level in the three disciplines—listening, composing and performing—of music. All practical activities are very well organised and in some cases, the performances were outstanding. Questioning of students indicated that their analytical skills are developing at an appropriate pace commensurate with age and experience.
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 Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.