An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
De La Salle College
Macroom, County Cork
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 25 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Macroom. 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 subject teachers.
De La Salle College is a voluntary secondary school participating in the free education scheme. There is good provision of English lessons for classes in junior cycle, with five lessons per week being allocated to each class. There is very good provision of English lessons for classes in senior cycle, with six lessons per week being allocated to each class. The current arrangement of lessons, which ensures that all classes benefit from at least one contact point with the subject per day, is to be praised. Beyond this, the use of concurrent timetabling arrangements for English lessons in each of third year, Transition Year, fifth year and sixth year is very worthwhile and might profitably be extended to include first-year and second-year classes. The necessary and inevitable constraints of the timetabling process must, however, be acknowledged in making this suggestion. Timetabling arrangements for English are good. English classes generally retain their English teachers from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is good practice. There is rotation of English teachers between levels and cycles and, again, this is positive, ensuring the maintenance of as wide a skills base as possible in the English department.
English classes in junior cycle and in Transition Year are of mixed ability. The English department moved to a mixed ability arrangement for junior cycle classes in the recent past, a move which is to be praised and which has resulted in very positive developments with regard to the subject’s profile in the school. English classes in fifth year and in sixth year are set, with students opting for either the higher level or ordinary level course. Students are assigned to these classes on the basis of informal teacher assessments, examination results and the students’ and their parents’ own wishes. This is sound practice.
There is a dedicated English base room which has been in existence for two years. The room is very well equipped, with a laptop computer, data projector, television, DVD player and a compact disc player. The school is to be strongly praised for the allocation of this room to the English department and for the provision of appropriate resources which will add to students’ study and appreciation of English during their post-primary education. Furthermore, the English department is to be highly commended for its pursuit of a central teaching space for the subject along with its subsequent development of an ‘English atmosphere’ in the room. Resource packs for English and a variety of booksets have been developed in the English base room and this is commendable.
A library has been developed as part of the English base room. The English department has plans to further enhance the library as a means of encouraging a love of reading, of literature and of the subject among the student body. The school has been supportive of these efforts. Sets of books have been purchased for use by classes, along with an eclectic mix of other texts. The purchase of high interest / low reading ability texts, readalong books and the development of a paired reading programme between Transition Year students and first-year students might add to the already considerable efforts of the English department in this area. The inclusion of a ‘reading programme’, incorporating all of the strategies used by the English department to encourage reading, could also be included in the subject plan. Further ideas to aid in the continuation of this very good work may be garnered from the recent publication Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project, which is available on the website www.jcspliteracy.ie .
There is good provision of audio-visual facilities and information and communications technology (ICT) in the English base room. The English department makes use of this equipment to facilitate the showing of films, the use of PowerPoint presentations and audio recordings of poetry for the benefit of students. Current plans to develop the use of PowerPoint as a means of enhancing students’ visual literacy are particularly worthwhile and might be further added to through the continued expansion of students’ opportunities to utilise ICT in making oral presentations. The latter approach could form an element in the department’s assessment policy, for example. The use of ICT in the teaching of English is also highlighted in the English subject plan, which is positive.
There are good arrangements for the induction of new teachers and student teachers into the English department. These are greatly facilitated by the size of the English department and have included experienced members of the department encouraging the observation of their own lessons by new teachers or student teachers, along with the observation of new and student teachers’ lessons by established members of the department. All of this is very positive and it is suggested that these procedures should be briefly set down as part of the English subject plan.
The school is supportive of English teachers’ continuing professional development. English teachers have shown considerable commitment to their own professional development. Members of the English department have participated in a wide range of courses, including Using ICT in English Teaching and Using Film in the English Classroom. In addition, postgraduate work in the area of cooperative learning has been undertaken in the department. Arising from this, it is planned that in-service training on the use of cooperative learning will be provided by a number of teachers, on a whole-staff basis, in the coming months. All of these efforts are highly commendable.
Teachers are involved in organising a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Among these are included an annual whole-school dramatic production, theatre visits, debating and cinema visits. Connections with the Cork Film Festival have also been pursued and it is anticipated that in the coming year the school will enter the Transition Year National Drama Festival. Of particular note is the department’s recent entry of a play titled ‘The Willie Shaker Show’ in the Cork Schools Shakespearean Competition, a competition in which the school has enjoyed considerable success in recent years. Teachers’ efforts in all of these areas are to be applauded. In addition, the English department is involved in cross-curricular work with other subject departments through its work with regard to drama, the production of school magazines and the Transition Year English programme.
A subject co-ordinator is appointed in the English department on a rotating basis. This is good practice. It should also be mentioned, however, that a very good collaborative approach characterises the work of the English department in general and that this teamwork has been key to the successful development of the subject in the school. There is generally one formal meeting of the department per term, along with numerous informal meetings between the members of the department. English teachers report that agendas are set and minutes are kept of formal departmental meetings. This practice is most worthwhile as a means of recording decisions made and as a service in tracking the development of the department over time. It is suggested that minutes of departmental meetings should, in future, be stored with the subject plan for ease of access. Senior management provides the English department with a comparison of results and uptake levels in the state examinations with national norms. This is good practice and the information has been utilised to good effect in the department. The school has been generous in providing the English department with resources when these have been requested.
A subject plan for English has been developed. ICT has been used in the creation of the plan and this is good practice, ensuring that the document can be easily adjusted, should the need arise. The subject plan includes a list of teaching methodologies to be utilised in the English department, along with time-linked plans for each year group. This is most worthwhile and it is recommended that these plans should be further developed to incorporate syllabus-based, skills-based learning goals to be achieved by students in connection with the content they are studying. Such an approach should prove a further aid in developing the cycle of planning, learning and teaching and assessment. The English department is to be praised for the professional and dedicated approach it has taken towards the utilisation of the subject-planning process as an aid in developing the profile of English in the school.
Texts have been varied in junior cycle and in senior cycle. This is worthwhile, ensuring that texts may be suited to class context and interest while also serving teachers’ own professional development needs. The practice of varying text choice has been supported by the purchase of class sets of novels by the English department. The English department is encouraged to continue to use this approach to support the variation of text choice in junior and senior cycle. The department is aware of the need to synchronise the study of poetry between higher and ordinary level classes in senior cycle and this is positive. Three novels are currently studied by students during their junior cycle course and this is sound practice. The department maintains an awareness of the texts which first-year students have encountered during their primary education and this is useful as a means of avoiding unnecessary repetition in the novel chosen for study during their initial year in the school.
There is a subject-specific programme for English within the school’s Transition Year programme. The English programme is imaginative and incorporates a drama element which has proven to be very popular with students. The English department is currently considering the possibility of extending its work in the area of drama to its inclusion as an additional optional subject in Transition Year, separate from its current place as an element in the English programme. This is most positive. The current plan to include drama as an element in student assessment is worthwhile and the continued widening of strategies, used by the department, for assessment in Transition Year may be worth investigating. Another interesting feature of the Transition Year English programme is the section on ‘cultural clash’ which leads into a debating element on the topic.
The English department maintains both formal and informal contact with the special educational needs department. This is positive and these links should continue to be expanded. English teachers displayed familiarity with the particular learning needs of students in their classes. Teachers’ sense of care and responsibility towards students with special educational needs was also in evidence. There has been a whole-staff in-service training course in the area of special educational needs in the recent past and this is positive. The English department is encouraged to continue to develop its skills in this area. Support in this regard may be accessed through the Special Education Support Service (SESS) at their website www.sess.ie. Another potentially useful resource for professional development in the area of special educational needs is the website of the Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe (ICEP (Europe)) at www.icepe.eu.
Individual teacher planning for lessons was evident in all cases. In almost all cases teachers stated the learning objective clearly at the beginning of the lesson. This good practice worked especially well where the objective was written clearly on the whiteboard in order to maintain students’ consciousness of the overall aim of the lesson. A range of resources was used to assist learning and teaching in lessons and these included texts, ICT and props connected to the development of students’ creative writing. This latter strategy is deserving of praise as considerable imagination was shown in its presentation. Beyond this, it also aided students’ understanding of key concepts, offering visual links to the written exercise towards which the lesson was progressing. The linking of the exercise to a popular television programme was a worthwhile strategy in engaging students’ own experiences and interests. It is suggested that the presentation of a creative model or writing frame could have served as an additional support for the very good work done in the lesson.
A particularly strong feature of the work of the English department was its use of cooperative learning strategies in lessons. Group or pair work featured in all lessons and were well managed. The use of a group-reading strategy during the initial exploration of one text, followed by students reading to the class as a whole was especially noteworthy. This approach facilitated students becoming familiarised with the text while ensuring the lesson remained well paced. In addition, students had the opportunity of harnessing peer support when necessary. The fact that students enthusiastically adopted the personae of different characters in the piece further added to the clear efficacy of the lesson. While the use of a grid, focused on particular elements relevant to their course, might have further added to the impact of the lesson, it should be stated that this is a minor point, given the fact that this was students’ first encounter with the text. Teacher questioning following these readings sought expansive answers from students on their thoughts on what had occurred in the text, which was a further example of good practice. In another lesson, student groups were organised to aid the recapitulation of recent work and it was notable that this focused on forms of non-verbal communication, a positive approach in the context of the text being studied. Particularly good practice was observed in a number of lessons where students were assigned different roles in groups, thus enhancing the potential for students to benefit from a cooperative learning approach.
The study of language featured in a number of lessons. In one lesson, students were divided into pairs and asked to create different metaphors to be written in their copybooks. This exercise originated in the study of a novel in class and was ultimately directed towards an exercise on the subject of metaphors being assigned for students’ homework. Such an integrated approach towards the study of language and literature, with students’ reading ultimately leading to written work and vice versa, is to be strongly praised. A further addition to the lesson might have been the setting out of the ultimate direction of the exercises undertaken in a sort of ‘map’ on the whiteboard. This would have added still more to students’ awareness of the aims of the exercises being undertaken. The use of dictionaries from the library was also an element of the lesson and is to be praised. The utilisation of a thesaurus by students as an aid to the development of their vocabulary would have been a further extension of this worthwhile activity.
There was a good relationship between teachers and students, with humour being used as an effective classroom management tool in a number of instances. Classes were well managed and teachers were universally affirming to students. Students were engaged during lessons and this was due in no small part to the use of varied teaching methodologies on the part of teachers. Students responded to teacher questioning readily and displayed a good understanding of the texts they had studied.
The English department is deserving of particular praise for the manner in which it has seized the opportunity to create a print-rich and text-rich environment in the English base room. Keywords are displayed in the room, along with students’ work. Beyond this, the display of numerous visual resources in the room adds to the potential for visual literacy to be explored during lessons.
Appropriate amounts of homework were assigned in English lessons and these were regularly corrected. The use of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabuses was evident in the homework assigned in most classes. The adoption of an integrated approach towards the teaching of novels is highlighted in the English subject plan and it is suggested that this worthwhile element might be extended to include reference to a wide range of genres to be explored in students’ writing when undertaking the study of a drama or other literary forms. In one lesson observed it was suggested that differentiated written exercises could be adopted in the assigning of homework, which would serve to increase students’ engagement with the text being explored. Such Directed Activities Related to Texts (DARTS) might include sequencing, cloze procedures, prediction, cross-genre transfer and the creation of graphic organisers, among others.
Students’ progress is evaluated using a combination of formal house examinations and continuous assessment. There are also mock examinations set for those classes which will be participating in the state examinations. These latter examinations are set by external examiners and are corrected by the school’s English teachers. Common examinations are set for each year group up to and including Transition Year. This is worthwhile, allowing for comparison of student achievement across a year cohort. A further element of the department’s good practice in this regard is the utilisation of internal, and some external, moderating arrangements. The use of formative, comment-based assessment was evident in the correction of students’ homework in all lessons observed, along with the application of and familiarisation of students with the marking scheme utilised in the state examinations. It is suggested that these very worthwhile approaches might be set down as a further element in the assessment section of the department’s subject plan. It is recommended that the English department focus on this area of the plan to note and, where practicable, to expand its use of differentiated forms of assessment, along with the formalisation of an assessment for learning strategy. A useful resource for such an approach can be found on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
Contacts between teachers and parents regarding students’ progress are maintained through use of the students’ homework journal, reports home regarding performance in examinations and parent/teacher meetings. Parent/teacher meetings are organised for each year group once per year. In addition, parents are free to meet teachers to discuss student’s progress upon request. These arrangements are commendable.
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 English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.