An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Baldoyle, Dublin 13
Roll number: 91342R
Date of inspection: 04 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle. 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 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 the 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.
Timetabled provision for the teaching of English is in line with syllabus guidelines and is particularly generous for the less able class in third year. This is indicative of the commitment in the school to helping students achieve to their potential in the subject and is commended. Teachers are generally allocated to a class group for the duration of a course and this facilitates the development and continuity of positive teaching-learning relationships.
Following pre-entry assessment tests and liaison with feeder primary schools, students are banded in first year. Three bands are formed – a top band comprising one class group, a middle band where two class groups are formed, and a lower band for a smaller class group of less able students. This allows teachers to support students who may have special educational needs or have other difficulties achieving success. The progress made by all students through first year is carefully monitored and, where appropriate, students have moved class groups across the bands. This monitoring, and the consultation with parents which takes place, is good practice, particularly as classes are not timetabled concurrently and this can make movement difficult. In the senior cycle, students are set for English at the beginning of fifth year. English is banded across the timetable for the Leaving Certificate groups in order to facilitate students’ choice and they are encouraged, as appropriate, to attempt higher level English.
General resource provision for the teaching and learning of English is very good. Each permanent teacher of English has been allocated a classroom and very good use is made of the opportunities available to display learning materials and students’ own work. This very good practice both rewards and motivates students’ efforts and creates a stimulating learning environment. There is a small library space in the school, managed by an English teacher as a post-of-responsibility duty, and students have access to a good selection of quality books. In addition, the links established with the local public library encourage reading and an appreciation of the work of local writers. Teachers are to be commended for including time for reading in their planning for junior cycle. A further support may be the compilation of class library boxes using existing stock. Students could be encouraged to choose reading material or to bring their own choices from home for the library/reading class. Teachers have access to TV and video equipment to support their teaching and good use is made of these facilities to teach Film Studies and to show videos/DVDs relevant to texts being studied.
Students are provided with opportunities for a range of co-curricular activities in English and this speaks well of the commitment of their teachers to their subject. Students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of competitions, including debating and public speaking. Speakers on matters of literary and cultural interest have visited the school and visits to the theatre to see productions of plays being studied are organised. The commitment of teachers to providing students with practical experience of a range of valuable skills and the efforts made to encourage students to become confident, reflective adults is commended.
Subject department planning for English is developing. The school is commended for facilitating this planning through the allocation of two afternoons for this purpose. The teachers of English have made good use of this time and have also met regularly, though informally, through the school year to outline a programme for their subject. While this refers to the content to be covered, methodologies and resources, it is principally concerned with teacher input. It is recommended that a tighter focus on student learning is needed in this planning and it is suggested that this can be achieved by including a description of learning outcomes, which focus on student acquisition of key skills. This will facilitate careful planning for effective assessment of their progress and is good practice. It is noted that one first year class group is taught by two teachers of English. Where this is necessary, particular care should be taken to ensure that planning for the shared group maintains the integration of language and literature described in the syllabus.
The Transition Year programme is a compulsory third year in senior cycle for most students and the teachers of English have devised a content-focussed plan which provides a good bridge between junior and senior cycles. As planning progresses in the school, it is suggested that the teachers of English should develop the current programme description as a professional document for teachers by adding explicit learning objectives to be achieved by students. This will provide a context for choice of texts and teaching methodologies, and should guide teachers’ day-to-day work in the classroom. The brochure, Writing the Transition Year Programme, which may be obtained from the Transition Year Curriculum Support Service at Blackrock Education Centre or downloaded from the Support Service’s website: www.transitionyear.ie, may be helpful in this regard.
Students with literacy and language deficits are identified through pre-entry tests and information provided by the primary schools. At present, those students placed in the third stream class group are further assessed to gather more detailed information about their particular needs. It is envisaged that this testing will include all first years from next September. Where difficulties are identified through this process or by teacher or parent referral, the learning support team distribute an assessment form to all relevant subject teachers in order to get the fullest picture of a students needs. This liaison is best practice and reflects the commitment in the school to supporting all students as appropriate.
The three members of the co-ordinating team, which includes the learning support and resource teachers, develop individual education plans for students with special education needs and work closely with the seven other teachers providing support to help them to plan their work with these students. The school operates a whole school approach to learning support and this is commended. This is evident in the involvement of ten teachers in the provision of support, the involvement of all subject teachers in identifying support needs and in the weekly meetings of the co-ordinating team, which can be attended by any teacher available. In addition, in-service training for all teachers in special needs education has been arranged by the school.
The lessons observed were well planned and very well resourced. Handouts prepared and texts chosen were appropriate to the students’ interests and abilities and teachers were not over-reliant on textbooks. Brief discussions about completed homework exercises and revision of material covered previously were used as starting points for lessons. This served to provide a context for new learning and is commended as good practice. The purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset and lessons were structured to support students as they worked through the tasks set. Excellent use of the board was made in one class observed, where the teacher had outlined on the board the aim and stages of the lesson, thus providing students with a specific way to organise new material. In addition, the plot of the story being read had been mapped out on the board and, throughout the lesson, the teacher referred students to this. The effect was an ordered and supportive learning environment, where every student was able to follow and respond to the story.
The teaching strategies used in some of the classes observed enabled self-directed and independent learning and this is excellent practice. Students were asked to compile a list of questions to be used in an interview with a character in a text being studied, for example, and, following a very interesting class discussion, to propose answers. They were regularly referred back to the text to support their opinions. In another class, students were provided with a framework to use when first reading an unseen poem and were then encouraged to read and respond to a poem. This provided them with an opportunity to explore and infer meaning whilst allowing students to respond freely to the text. In both classes, well managed discussions ensured that students learned from each other and the teachers only intervened to make suggestions or give information where it was needed. There is scope to increase the use of strategies to promote independent learning in some classes, however, and it is suggested that, where teachers use strategies like pair work, small group work or encourage students to discuss each other’s work, greater student involvement in the learning process will result.
Teachers were quite skilled in their use of questioning strategies to engage students in the learning activity. There was a good balance between comprehension questions and those which required students to analyse and respond creatively, and students were regularly prompted to develop their answers by referring to a text in support where appropriate. In all cases, their responses were affirmed and integrated into the lesson. Generally, teachers’ questioning was specific, relevant and matched to students’ abilities. In some instances, however, discussion is dominated by the teacher and students’ responses are short and limited. Insufficient time is provided for reflection. It is recommended that teachers of English should review their use of questions to ensure that adequate time is allowed for students to formulate answers to questions in order to encourage detailed and reflective answers. Care should be taken to direct questions to particular students in order to check understanding and ensure that the lesson is not dominated by a small group of vocal students. This is especially important where there is a range of ability in the class. Where the teacher moved around the room to interact with students individually, their learning could be checked during the lesson and this practice is to be commended.
In all classes, whole class discussion was prompted by the teachers, who used the whiteboard well to reinforce learning and to record students’ input. In the classrooms visited posters, wallcharts and other learning aids were displayed. In this way, a stimulating and print-rich learning environment, which celebrates students’ work and ensures that the learning of key vocabulary and quotations can be reinforced by wall displays, has been created for students in Pobalscoil Neasáin.
Discipline was maintained in all classes by appropriate lesson content and through the skilled use of questioning as well as by giving clear direction and specific instruction. Teachers moved around their classrooms to check understanding and to ensure that all students were on task. In all cases, there was an atmosphere of mutual respect evident between teacher and student. On the whole, student enjoyment of the subject was evident.
In general, there is a range of assessment modes used to assess student competence and progress. These include in-class questioning and the setting of homework exercises in order to check achievement of understanding and provide students with opportunities to practice newly acquired skills.
It was clear from an examination of students’ copies that students, particularly those in junior cycle, have been given regular opportunities to master the skills in each of the modes of writing. In the best examples, classroom learning is extended through frequent opportunities for students to express, explain and defend their own opinions in their writing. A tight focus on questions asked, together with effective use of quotation and reference, is notable in these copies. However, TYP students’ copies are less well organised and in some cases presentation of work was poor. Some senior cycle students are reluctant writers and poorly motivated to attempt homework. In these instances, answers were under-developed and poorly constructed and students presented short phrase answers to questions set. While homework can make a significant contribution to the development of learning, with good opportunities to carry out research, it is only effective if students are willing to tackle the tasks set. Addressing poor motivation, where it occurs, is a matter for the whole department and it is suggested that the development of a specific policy on note-taking and keeping and homework should be devised by the teachers of English, in the context of their subject planning.
In general, however, students in Pobalscoil Neasáin are making good progress through their courses. Students’ interaction with the inspector indicated that they had a very good knowledge of the texts being studied and had mastered the appropriate vocabulary to use when discussing their courses. They had achieved the level of competence expected and were confident when expressing their opinions.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and the end of the summer term for non-examination classes. The latter are common papers across a year group and these are marked to an agreed scheme. This good practice allows comparison of students’ progress while facilitating careful planning to meet their needs and is commended. Third and sixth years are assessed by pre-certificate examinations in February/March.
Teachers maintain very good records of students’ achievements and these inform the reports to parents which issue twice annually. Parents are also kept informed of their child’s progress through a variety of means, including the homework journal, which is used as a mode of communication between home and school. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group and parents may meet the relevant teacher by appointment to discuss their child’s progress.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.