An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60500J
Date of inspection: 25 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Marian College as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 three 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 music department in Marian College is staffed by two fully qualified music teachers. This department in 2006 experienced an unsettling period due to changes in personnel and conditions for Music in the school. However the current circumstances and the appointment of an additional teacher have led to a more settled music department in 2007.
Commendably, the school offers a taster system for optional subjects. All first-year students study Music for ten weeks. At the end of the year, students choose between Art and Music. Support is available from teachers and the guidance counsellor to enable students to make their decisions. The uptake of Music is excellent throughout junior cycle and timetabling is in line with syllabus guidelines.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme and Music is compulsory within this. Music is a ten-week modular subject and delivered to three groups in TY. The music department facilitates students who may wish to take up Music in fifth year by providing a curriculum in TY designed to fulfil this aim. This dedication is commended. Music is banded with Geography, Accountancy and Chemistry in senior cycle. The uptake of Music is high and trends indicate that it has increased in recent years. Timetabling is in line with syllabus guidelines and the combination of single and double periods in Music facilitates the integration of practical activities very readily. This is commended.
There is no fixed budget for Music, but needs are met on a needs basis. For example, the music department recently added a new keyboard, professionally produced print work materials and tin whistles to its resources. The absence of stave boards and percussions instruments was noted and, as part of planning, it is recommended that these would be added to the resources in the department when possible. Teachers work in their own rooms, which are also used for the delivery of other subjects. Great efforts have been made by each teacher to develop a vibrant classroom atmosphere. Displays of student work and various professionally produced charts containing items pertaining to Music were evident in the rooms. This is to be commended. Other resources include TVs, DVDs, over-head projectors (OHP), portable stereos, keyboards, recorders, an upright piano and various books and CDs. Plans are in place to provide a laptop for the music department and this is welcome. Music technology is a useful teaching tool for the disciplines in Music such as composition. It also can be used as an instrument for the practical component of certificate examinations and its increased use is recommended.
Music enjoys a very good profile in Marian College and the number of activities on offer to students is a factor in this. Students can participate in a small choral group, traditional Irish group, liturgical ceremonies, trips to concerts including the National Concert Hall (NCH) and workshops. Guitar lessons are also provided at lunchtime. In addition, the school produces the annual musical and collaborates with a neighbouring school in this regard. These productions have been a long-standing tradition in the school and have included Fiddler on the Roof, Grease and this year, Les Miserables. Such provision enhances the students’ musical experiences and the commitment and dedication of all involved in this provision is highly commended.
There is a commitment to continuous professional development by the music department. Management is also very supportive of the teachers and pays for attendance at conferences and facilitates attendance at other courses as the need arises. Previous courses attended include behavioural management and forthcoming plans include attendance at a traditional Irish music course with Comhaltas. Both teachers are members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and have attended their conferences. This commitment to professional development is very laudable and is commended.
School development planning is ongoing and has extended into curricular areas. One formal planning meeting is held at the start of the year and thereafter teachers are facilitated to meet if required. It is recommended that the school arrange for more regular subject department planning meetings. Minutes are kept of all formal meetings.
A department plan which included schemes of work, an itemised list of music resources, extra-curricular activities and an outline of assessment modes was presented to the inspector. This is a good start to planning. Consideration should now be given to the inclusion of learning outcomes for students and the methodologies that will be used for the delivery of different components of the curriculum. A TY plan was also included and indicated the programme content for the year. Further advice on planning the TY programme can be accessed at www.slss.ie.
Individual lessons were well planned and took cognisance of the need for including practical music-making activities. Both members of the music department have compiled a number of resources, a proportion of which have been devised by the teachers themselves. This is very good practice and takes account of the individual needs of students. Such valuable resources should now be stored centrally so that they can be readily accessed by both teachers. As information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are available in the staff room, some resources might also be stored electronically. All handouts were prepared in advance for lessons.
Four lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation; two at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. In all lessons, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers and an atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed. Lessons began with a roll call followed by a clear statement of aims and objectives. Links were made with every day material. For example a Christmas carol was used to illustrate the concept of sequences for students engaged with composing. In other lessons, students were encouraged to use a good level of musical language when identifying features of music. This approach is commendable.
Clearly, students are encouraged to work independently due to the number of projects that were on display on the walls, presented in lessons or stored in their folders. This is very good practice as it fosters responsibility among students for their own learning. Teaching and learning strategies were varied and included teacher-talk, student and teacher practical performances, students working on task, questioning and the use of various resources including OHPs. Content was varied in some lessons. The variety of methodologies used ensured that students were engaged.
Commendably, the Sound before Symbol approach to composing featured in all lessons. In one lesson, melodies which the students had composed were compiled and placed on an acetate for display purposes to enable students to form opinions. This is excellent as students, through discussions and performing, critically analysed these melodies and provided some excellent responses. A second lesson on Irish music was an example of how a variety of methodologies can be employed, although it was apparent that a double lesson on Irish music, which included a high level of intense listening, was too long. This should be avoided.
The delivery of Music in Marian College is good. The three disciplines—listening, composing and performing—are well catered for in this school. This is to be commended.
Formal assessments are held for all year groups at Christmas and also in summer for first, second and fifth-year groups. Music practicals form a percentage of all formal assessments. “Mock” examinations are held for third and sixth-year students in March. Continuous assessments are provided to TY students. Teachers produce their own assessments although some collaboration takes place. Consideration might now be given to the introduction of sharing the assessment process. This will ensure that there is consistency regarding marking criteria and will also enhance collaboration between both teachers in this regard. The school journal is used as an additional mode of communication. Parents can also meet with teachers to discuss progress at parent-teacher meetings. Reports are issued following formal assessments.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. However it was noted that large gaps were evident in students’ journals regarding the recording of homework. It is important that adequate time is given to students to record homework systematically each evening before the end of class. Homework was monitored by teachers and there was evidence that the assessment for learning model was applied as comments outlining strategies for improvement were included. Such work could now inform student profiles which are being developed by teachers. This will allow valuable information regarding students’ strengths and weaknesses to inform teaching and learning very readily.
A variety of questioning strategies was deployed by teachers. These ranged from open-ended questions allowing students to respond using higher-order thinking skills and those requiring specific answers. Questions were directed at named students or put to the entire class for discussion. In some cases, as befitting a mixed-ability setting, responses were of a very high quality. Practical performances were wide ranging. These included performances on recorder, tin whistle and singing, the last of which was very laudable. This is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Music is very well supported by the school as evidenced by timetabling and the commitment to enhancing resources.
· Music is available to all students in TY.
· The uptake of Music is high and trends show that this is set to continue.
· The music department is committed to continuous professional development.
· Planning is progressing well in Marian College.
· Students are afforded the opportunity to participate in a wide range of activities.
· The three disciplines—listening, composing and performing—are well catered for in this school.
· A range of assessment and questioning strategies are used.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should now be given to the inclusion of learning outcomes for students and the methodologies that will be used for the delivery of different components of the curriculum in the department plan.
· Consideration might now be given to the introduction of a format whereby teachers set and mark an examination for music classes other than their own.
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.