An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Baile an Bhóthair, Co Átha Cliath
Roll number: 60042F
Date of inspection: 24 September 2008
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Íosagáin, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.
There is very good provision of English lessons on the timetable for junior cycle, fifth-year and sixth-year class groups. Junior cycle and fifth-year class groups have five lesson periods of English each week and sixth-year class groups have six. Transition Year (TY) class groups have three lesson periods of English each week which is satisfactory provision. They also have a ten-week library module which complements the teaching and learning of English. The timetabling of English is commended as there is an even spread of English lesson periods across the week for all class groups and sixth years have a double period of English on one day each week.
Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups for English from first year onwards and such placement of students was observed to be working very well. Sixth-year English class groups are concurrently timetabled. School management allocates an additional English teacher to sixth year for three periods each week to allow for the withdrawal of students who wish to follow the ordinary-level course. At the time of the inspection, all students were still intending to do higher level.
Teachers have high expectations of their students and the vast majority of students in the school sit their state examinations at higher level. Those students in need of literacy support are withdrawn from a range of subjects for this support and there is close liaison between the learning-support department and the English department. The fact that there is an overlap of staff between the two departments helps in this regard.
There is a spacious and well-resourced library in the school which is shared with the adjacent boys’ school. It is open at certain times during the day to facilitate students in borrowing books. The library is run by a post holder with the assistance of TY students and the library policy is comprehensive. It was evident that the library is a well-used resource in the school and is particularly used by English teachers with their students. There is a highly commendable strategy among the English department of developing the reading habit among their students. Reading lists are given to all year groups and book clubs are in operation in all junior cycle classes. TY classes, during their library module, discuss books they have read and make presentations to their classes on these books. Students are encouraged to read widely in each year.
There are very good information and communications technology (ICT) resources in the school. Computers and data projectors and interactive whiteboards have been installed in many classrooms and there is also a computer room available. English teachers use ICT to download useful resources to enhance teaching and learning, which is good practice. It is recommended that teachers now explore the potential of using ICT in the classroom from time to time. Students could be encouraged, for example, to use PowerPoint to make presentations on aspects of their course. A shared folder on the school’s intranet could also be developed by teachers to share useful ICT resources. An inventory of English resources is available in the English plan and there are facilities for storage of such resources. There is a good stock of televisions, CD and DVD players available for English teachers. Students in Coláiste Íosagáin are classroom based. Most classrooms were well decorated with a variety of material from a range of subjects including English.
The school’s board of management pays subject associations membership fees and finances relevant in-service courses. Last year the English and Irish departments received in-service on assessment for learning (AfL) and this strategy was very much in evidence in the English classrooms. School management is also planning in-service on differentiation in the classroom. Such commitment to continuous professional development is highly commended.
Students are afforded many opportunities to participate in a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. They are encouraged to enter a range of relevant writing competitions, World Book Day is celebrated, visiting speakers are arranged and students are brought to the theatre and cinema to see productions of texts on their course. There is a very obvious commitment among the English teachers to developing students’ oral skills which is highly commended, particularly in light of the fact that all other subjects are taught through the medium of Irish. One such strategy is to encourage participation in debating and public speaking. Students participate in a range of national and local competitions and in-house debates are organised on a frequent basis. During the inspection there was much evidence of these skills being developed. The commitment of English teachers to all co-curricular activities is highly commended.
Seven teachers, all with English to degree level, teach English in Coláiste Íosagáin. English classes are assigned by management to ensure continuity from first year through to third year and from fifth year into sixth year where possible, which is good practice.
There is a well-established culture of collaborative planning among members of the English department and the quality of planning for English is excellent. A subject convenor, known as the rúnaí, is appointed from among the English teachers for a two-year term of office whose role, among other things, is to convene meetings, disseminate information and record minutes. It is suggested that this role be defined in the English plan. In addition to this role, different English teachers take responsibility for chairing meetings and co-ordinating activities for each year group. Management facilitates time for subject planning meetings twice a year and also on request. In addition to this, English teachers meet regularly to further plan for their subject. The minutes of English meetings reflect very good discussions on a range of issues and very good sharing of ideas. It was evident from discussions with teachers and from reviewing planning documentation that the English teachers are constantly introducing new ideas and strategies to improve their teaching and the learning experiences of students and to develop creativity among their students. Such ideas include: a policy of displaying the correct spelling of frequently misspelt words in classrooms; linking the themes of bullying and friendship with other relevant subjects; the students’ response or literary journal; the students’ drama portfolio; an English forum where class groups from the same year come together to workshop ideas; a buddy system where a student chooses another person to assist with vocabulary development; and a vocabulary enrichment notebook.
There is an English folder which contains the agreed plan for each year group, minutes of meetings, a comprehensive list of teaching methodologies for teaching the four key skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening as well as for teaching other aspects of the course, and other key documents relating to English. It is commendable that the listed methodologies were collated by all teachers as a means of teachers learning from each other and as a support to new teachers. All skills and genres are taught in all years and there is a recommended list of suggested poems, short stories, and novels for each year of junior cycle. Worthy aims and learning outcomes have been agreed for all year groups to achieve, as is best practice. There is an emphasis on vocabulary development, developing literacy skills, reading for pleasure, developing oral skills and developing students’ creativity in all years and overall a focus on active student participation in class. There was evidence from planning documentation that there was an incremental development of skills from first year through to sixth year.
The overall aim of fostering a love of language and literature in students is highly commended. Students study a novel formally in class in first and second year and the Shakespearean drama is also taught in second year. Students also study a film in this year. This work is reinforced in third year with some new poetry and short stories introduced. The second-year novel is generally not finished until the beginning of third year. This novel should be completed in second year rather than being carried over for completion in third year. While acknowledging that students do a large amount of independent reading in each year of junior cycle, it is recommended that another novel be taught to third-year students so that more new material is introduced to students in this year. Fifth and sixth-year students are exposed to a range of interesting experiences including the English forum where each class presents on aspects of a text to their whole year group.
A written TY programme is available for English which is commended for the range of experiences that it gives to students. Good practice takes place in that students study a classic novel and there was evidence that the TY English programme is a solid programme which bridges the gap between junior and senior cycle, prepares students for the challenges of Leaving Certificate, develops their creativity and strengthens their independent learning skills without introducing material that will be studied again in fifth or sixth year. It is suggested that, if time permits, another literary text be introduced in TY. Students in TY have many opportunities for independent learning including a poetry project and a project on the novel. Another commendable feature of TY English is the opportunity that students have to participate in public speaking.
Teachers review their plans at the end of each year to see what worked well and to plan for the next year. This is highly commended. Planning documentation and observation of classroom practice showed a good awareness among English teachers of less able students in their classes and individual attention was given to these students where necessary. Overall, the collaborative culture among the English teachers, the support they give to new teachers of English and the overall commitment to their students are highly commended.
There were significant strengths in the quality of teaching and learning in Coláiste Íosagáin. In almost all cases, the learning outcome of the lesson was shared with the students from the beginning so that students became partners in the learning process. This gave a focus and structure to the lessons. Where this was absent, it was not obvious initially what the purpose of the lesson was. Links were created with prior learning by recapping quickly on previous work, by checking homework and by inviting students to predict what might happen next in the studied novel or text. Good attention was paid to the mechanics of language, and the introduction of new vocabulary was seamlessly built into lessons.
A commendable feature of the classes observed during the English inspection was the many opportunities that students had to participate in their learning through active methodologies. Pair and group work were observed in most lessons, and it was evident that students were well used to working in this way. Such methodologies allow students to learn from each other, as well as from the teacher so that the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning. Individual attention was often given to students during pair and group work which ensured that all abilities were catered for. Group and pair work were well organised and clear instructions were given to students on their tasks. Plenary sessions were also well organised. Teachers generally ensured that all students had a voice in the classroom. In most cases, the teachers asked questions of named students as opposed to only asking students with their hands up, thus avoiding the same students answering all the time. Activities were well managed in all lessons. Role play was observed with students being given instructions on what they had to do and it was evident that they had a deeper understanding of character and events after such activities.
There were also good examples of whole class teaching observed. In such cases, the teachers invited discussion and speculation from students about their texts as opposed to imposing their ideas on the students. In addition, students’ initial reactions to texts were sought. Very good probing questions of a higher-order nature led students to think more deeply about what they were studying and helped to clarify difficulties and elicit good responses. Brainstorming was also well used on a frequent basis to elicit information and new ideas.
Professional recordings and the dramatic reading of texts by the teacher were observed to bring the written texts to life for students. It was also noteworthy that teachers did not translate poems or drama texts into simpler language but instead, through close questioning, facilitated students to gain a deeper understanding of these texts. In this regard, pre-reading strategies were used when introducing new material which allowed students to negotiate the text more confidently. Teachers showed great enthusiasm for the texts being taught and this enthusiasm in turn was shared by the students.
The thematic approach adopted by teachers, which links similar themes across different genres, is highly commended as best practice in junior cycle. In this way, students see English as an integrated whole rather than a series of genre taught in isolation. Most teachers also integrated the teaching of language and literature so that, for example, students wrote diary entries from the point of view of characters in studied texts, discussed how to stage extracts from their novel or were preparing to write newspaper articles based on incidents in their studied texts. In this way, students engaged with their texts in a variety of ways.
Through the skilful methodologies used, students were encouraged to become critical thinkers and demonstrated personal engagement with their texts. In addition, there was evidence that they had mastered the formal elements of structuring language and they were able to articulate orally, and in writing, the relationship between key events and characters encountered in texts. Learning was made interesting for the students and activities to support learning such as those mentioned above made lessons enjoyable. A secure and friendly learning environment ensured very good class participation and students were highly motivated.
Very good use was made of the board to record key points made in class. Students were diligent in their recording of these points. It is recommended that assigned homework be written on the board either at the start or conclusion of the lesson. Key quotations, students’ visualisations of texts and other samples of their work were displayed on classrooms walls.
From observation of students’ copies, there was evidence of students having had many opportunities to write in a range of genre. Longer pieces of work were regularly assigned and were very well corrected with constructive feedback given in all cases. The hard work of the English teachers in this regard is highly commended. In addition, teachers often assigned interesting homework such as students having to choose an actor to play a particular role or choose appropriate music to accompany a studied poem. The English department’s policy of giving frequent, purposeful homework is worthwhile, as such practice in writing in a range of genre and on a regular basis clearly benefits students, especially as they receive such excellent feedback on their work. The quality of students’ work was very good and students had received written tasks on all work encountered. These will serve the students well when it comes to revision and the English teachers are very aware of the benefits of this approach of self-directed learning as opposed to simply giving out notes to the students.
Students demonstrated knowledge and understanding of their texts and were able to discuss key concepts with their teachers and with the inspector. It was evident that they had made very good progress from the beginning of the school year.
There is a common assessment policy in operation in the school. Students in junior cycle are frequently assessed through monthly class tests. The results of these tests form the basis of their Christmas and summer report English mark. Third-year students sit ‘mock’ examinations. Fifth-year students sit a Christmas and summer examination and also receive mid-term reports based on continuous assessment. Sixth-years receive monthly reports home, based on continuous assessment and class tests, and sit ‘mock’ examinations. Such a range of assessments is highly commended. Fifth-year class groups receive four reports and sixth-year students receive five reports annually. TY students sit examinations in the summer and are continuously assessed for their Christmas report and are also assessed on the basis of an interview and on portfolio work. Parents are kept regularly informed about students’ progress.
Very good practice takes place in that English teachers set common examinations with commonly agreed marking schemes. These examinations were seen to be challenging and comprehensive.
As already noted, there is notable awareness of AfL among English teachers. Many AfL strategies were implemented in the English classrooms including formative assessment, giving constructive feedback to students on areas where they needed to improve and use of comment only marking. Teachers also shared criteria of assessment with students, encouraged peer and self assessment and also encouraged students to edit and redraft their work. Such strategies are highly commended.
The uptake of higher-level English in the school is extremely high and the majority of students achieve very high grades in English as seen in the high ‘A’ and overall honours rate. The board of management receives an analysis of English results each year from the principal and compares certificate results with national norms. It is recommended that the English department also analyse their overall examination results. This should be a source of great satisfaction.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good provision and timetabling of English lessons.
· The mixed-ability placement of students is clearly working well.
· Teachers have high expectations of their students and the vast majority of students in the school sit their state examinations at higher level with great success.
· Very good strategies have been developed by the English department to encourage reading and students are afforded many opportunities to participate in a range
of co-curricular activities pertaining to English.
· AfL was very much in evidence in the English classrooms.
· There is a culture of collaborative planning among the teachers in the English department. English teachers are constantly introducing new ideas and devising strategies to
improve their teaching and the learning experiences of students and to promote creativity among students.
· There were significant strengths in the quality of teaching and learning in Coláiste Íosagáin. Through the skilful methodologies used, students were encouraged to become
critical thinkers and creative writers and they demonstrated personal engagement with their texts. There is a very commendable culture among the English teachers of developing
students’ oral skills.
· A secure and friendly learning environment ensured very good class participation.
· Students had many opportunities to write in a range of genre.
· Students demonstrated knowledge and understanding of their texts and were able to discuss key concepts with their teachers and with the inspector.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that teachers explore the potential of using ICT to further enhance teaching and student learning.
· It is recommended that the second-year novel be completed in second year rather than carrying it over to finish in third year and that another novel be taught to third-year
students so that more new material is introduced to students.
· Assigned homework should be written on the board either at the start or conclusion of the lesson.
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.
Published October 2009