An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
St. Brendanís Community School
Birr, County Offaly
Roll number: 91491L
Date of inspection: 8 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brendanís 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. †The board of management of the school was given an 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 of this report.
Music is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in St. Brendanís Community School. A taster system operates in first year where all students study Music for a nine-week module and then choose three subjects from Art, Business, Home Economics, Technical Graphics, Materials Technology Wood and Metal, French, German and Music for the Junior Certificate. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme includes a music module which all students follow for a third of the year, and an open-choice system operates at senior cycle, with blocks formed according to the Ďbest fití approach. In addition an arrangement has been put in place to allow a group of students with special educational needs the opportunity to experience some involvement in music-making activities. This group has two periods of Music per week and the response to this experience has been very favourable from all concerned. This undertaking is commendable and is indicative of the schoolís commitment to the provision of Music for all students in the school. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week. The number opting for Music continues to grow and this is to be commended, but despite a balanced gender breakdown in the school, and many strategies in place aiming at achieving a gender balance within subjects, the proportion of girls taking Music is significantly higher. This gender imbalance is regrettable and thus further exploration into ways of encouraging a higher uptake of Music by boys is recommended.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities takes place during the school year. The students form a choir on a needs basis for events in the school such as the Academic Mass for the start of the school year, carol singing, and the Leaving Certificate Graduation Mass at the end of the school year. A variety of ensembles exist in the school such as an Irish traditional group, string ensemble and recorder group. These groups perform at many of these events also and play an integral part of the entertainment for the schoolís open night. The school also produces an annual musical which normally takes place in November and has had very successful runs of challenging shows such as West Side Story, Carousel and Les Misťrables. A whole-school event, the show constitutes one of the highlights of the schoolís activities and affords students the opportunity to become involved in myriad activities associated with these types of productions such as acting, singing, backstage work, art work, set design and so on. This year it produced Oliver to huge acclaim and plans are already underway for next yearís production of We Will Rock You. The student council organises a talent show for the end of the first term which is also a very popular event and is open to all students in the school. Through close liaison with the Offaly Arts Council, which organises a series of educational arts programmes, the studentsí music experiences are continually enriched by visits to the school from outside musicians and performers for concerts and workshops. Trips to concerts and operas are also facilitated whenever feasible and this year, students managed to experience a performance of Hansel and Gretel in a local theatre, along with a trip to Cork to view a production of Les Misťrables. The music teacher and management are complimented for the considerable investment into these musical experiences for every student in the school. Both the schoolís support in facilitating such activities and the music teacherís commitment to these events are highly commended.
St. Brendanís Community School has a designated music room which is spacious, bright and acoustically satisfactory. A good stock of resources is available, including classroom instruments, guitars, a piano, drum kit, a digital piano, a keyboard, sound system and audio resources, sheet music and texts, and a computer with some music software installed. The walls are adorned with posters and charts about music, photographs, and student projects on aspects of the Junior and Leaving Certificate courses. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended.
Although this is a well-resourced room, there are some shortcomings which are a cause for concern. The sound system is in need of repair and the speakers, by being placed adjacent to this system underneath the whiteboard, are positioned incorrectly. It is recommended that the sound system be either repaired or replaced and the speakers positioned in such a way that quality aural stimulation is available for all students. The stave board is unusable due to the poor condition of the surface of this chalkboard. This was evidenced during the evaluation when the teacher had to draw rough staves on the whiteboard when correcting exercises, with the resulting display reinforcing poor practice. It is recommended that either a new stave board be installed or preferably an overhead projector (OHP) be acquired for the music room. In this way staves could be projected onto the existing whiteboard when needed. The reasons for utilising an OHP to optimise learning are outlined below. However, the room is extremely bright having windows along one wall and exacerbated by the recent installation of skylights and malfunctioning roof blinds. A solution, should suitable presentation equipment be acquired, would be to change the orientation of the room by a rotation of 90˚ and have the projection area in a portion of the room which is slightly more shaded as it is out of the direction of the light from the upper windows.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in St. Brendanís Community School. School development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage in the school and a detailed music policy and subject department plan were presented. Comprehensive schemes of work scheduling the topics to be covered were also presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support material resources suitable for all levels. A range of collaborative planning is evident in the variety of extra- and cross-curricular activities which occur throughout the school year. Frequently teachers from the art, religion and English departments come together to organise and plan for among other things, the school show, school trips and liturgical services. In order to avoid professional isolation, the music teacher also collaborates with other music teachers from other schools in relation to course material and good practice. This is commendable and demonstrates the music teacherís interest in and commitment to the development of good music planning in the school.
In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio and visual resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level. It is recommended that future planning includes consideration of student learning strategies and of ways of encouraging students to reflect on their learning. Planning to include some broader aspects of musical development is also recommended with a focus on precise medium-term and short-term targets and the inclusion of more active learning methodologies. Planning could also be developed to facilitate more integration of the core activities of performing, composing and listening within the classroom context.
The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachersí Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords her the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.
In all lessons visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. A clear and fair code of behaviour was very much in evidence. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated setting. Student engagement was good and the students were secure in asking questions during the course of the lessons.
In all lessons visited, a variety of methodologies was seen with some examples of active music-making. In the main, lessons were well structured and paced accordingly, although at times a more appropriate ordering of activities, with some aspects being kept until the end of the lesson when concentration levels tend to be a little lower, would do much to optimise the learning outcomes.† This is especially true when it concerns the pacing of double periods for junior-cycle students, for example.†
The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability. Some strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were utilised to very good effect. In a lesson focusing on a choice work for Junior Certificate for example (in this case Griegís In the Hall of the Mountain King from The Peer Gynt Suite), the three curricular areas of performing, composing and listening were integrated through listening to the piece, performance of the ostinato theme on recorders by the students and a composing activity requiring the students to continue a theme from Haydnís Surprise Symphony. This type of linking of activities and active participation by the students does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material. It is recommended that these types of activities be incorporated into as many lessons as possible to avoid undue compartmentalisation of musical concepts.
The teaching observed employed some strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. There were good starter activities, which were usually concerned with eliciting information from the students through brainstorming and spider diagrams. However, because frequently the objective was to reproduce pre-prepared diagrams, the need for an OHP was obvious as too much time was spent writing down information on the whiteboard. These key points could have been prepared in advance on an acetate, and revealed systematically allowing for a more efficient use of teacher time. It is recommended that ways in which the OHP can be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored as it would greatly enhance the learning situation. Development of information and communication technology (ICT) within the department is also recommended as the school currently avails of the technology option in the Leaving Certificate. Furthermore some consideration should also be given to exploring ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting. The effective use of these resources could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. Additionally, both the computer and OHP could be used to produce more student friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture during ensemble performance for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way.†
Most lessons observed had some listening elements and whether the topic was Irish Folk Songs, Baroque or Jazz music, suitable aural examples were provided, hampered only by the shortcomings of the sound system outlined above. A wide range of interesting musical extracts which extend the range of musical experience of the students is highly effective in developing critical listening skills and is to be commended. However, in some instances, too much emphasis on the theoretical nature of music meant that the main objective was lost. There was a tendency to approach concepts in reverse order, providing all the information first and then introducing the sounds. It is recommended that the Ďsound before symbolí approach be explored to allow students experience a more meaningful exploration of the parameters of music. This would also open up opportunities for further music making activities encompassing the three areas of performing, composing and listening and form links with all aspects of the course in a more musically-focused rather than cognitive-centred way.
When dealing with very technical aspects of the course, care should be taken to ensure an even balance between passive/theoretical teaching and performing/experiential learning. The quality of teaching is less effective where teachers give too much information in lessons. Students become particularly passive and the pace of their learning is reduced. Students need to be encouraged to involve themselves as active learners, especially when dealing with the more analytical aspects of music. It is recommended that where this situation arises, students be exposed to a wider range of teaching strategies to promote their own self learning skills rather than relying on teacher instruction. A more collaborative learning environment, akin to what was observed in some lessons, which would allow for more peer/peer interaction and fewer teacher-led activities, is recommended. In order to optimise learning, it is recommended that ways in which these methods could be expanded to include more active involvement by the students, and ways in which the many resources in the room could be further utilised in these situations be explored.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Studentsí folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, were generally neat in appearance, and contained detailed information sheets, coursework, worksheets and recorder repertoire. Student work is closely monitored and marked by the teacher and includes, in addition to a grade, words of encouragement and affirmation which is commendable.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis and is mostly corrected the following day. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a studentís progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in these examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and, in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher and parent-tutor meetings take place for all class groups. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their childrenís progress.†
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 teacher 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report†† ††
Gender imbalance in the uptake of music appears to be a national phenomenon.† A gender-fair policy on subject choice operates in St. Brendanís.† There is open access to and exposure of all students during first year and a free choice across a range of subjects, including music, at Senior Cycle.† In addition all Transition Years have music in their programme
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
†††††††††††††† activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection. †
1. A new sound system is being provided, part-funded by a musician (past-pupil).
2. Overhead projection facilities/new stave board are provided to Music Department.
3. Over brightness of the music room is due to recent re-roofing of the school.† Appropriate sky-light blinds are due to be installed
4. Music Department has expanded to two qualified music teachers.† It is school policy to support teacher attendance at inservice courses.† 1 Music teacher has completed a Masters degree in music.† Attendance at day, evening and weekend courses is normal practice.† School pays attendance fees for attendance at National Conference of Music teachers.††††††††