An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

  

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Christian Brothers School

Charleville, County Cork

Roll number: 62440E

 

 

Date of inspection: 26 January 2007

Date of issue of report: November 2007

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers Secondary School, Charleville. 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.

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Christian Brothers Secondary School , Charleville is an all-boys’ school. Classes in each of first year, second year and third year have four English lessons per week. While this is adequate provision, it is suggested that the possibility of extending provision somewhat in first or second year might be explored. This would serve in the development of the key literacy skills which will greatly enhance students’ ability to engage with the junior cycle and senior cycle syllabuses. The Transition Year (TY) class has four English lessons per week. This is good provision. Classes in fifth year and sixth year have five English lessons per week. This is good provision. English lessons for all class groups are spread evenly across the week, allowing for the maximum number of contact points between students and the study of the language. This is sound practice.

 

Classes in junior cycle and in TY are of mixed ability. Students in senior cycle are placed in set class groups dependent on Junior Certificate examination results, teacher recommendations and after consultation with their parents. Performance in TY is also taken into account for those who have completed the programme, along with students’ own decisions with regard to the level they wish to attempt in the Leaving Certificate examination. In all year groups, English lessons are run concurrently. This is positive, allowing for ease of student movement between classes and levels, when necessary. The English department is encouraged to explore the possibilities which these timetabling arrangements present to the greatest possible extent. In this context, the use of team-teaching which was observed during the evaluation, was most positive. It is suggested that concurrency might serve to facilitate the expansion of this type of approach through joint planning on the part of teachers, allowing for alternating roles between class groups, dependent on which areas of the syllabus are being studied at particular times. The organising of joint class activities could also be viewed as a means of further exploiting the provision of concurrent lesson times, if practicable within current space limitations. English classes generally retain their teacher from year to year in junior cycle and in senior cycle. This is good practice. There is rotation of levels and cycles between English teachers and this is worthwhile, allowing for the development of a wide skills base within the department.

 

There is good access to audio-visual facilities for English teachers. There are two audio-visual units on the ground floor and one on the first floor. In addition, the school has purchased a data projector which may also be used to enhance the delivery of the English programme. The availability of audio-visual facilities is to be praised, given the importance of film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus.

 

There is a designated space for English resources. These resources are listed in the subject plan and include a wide selection of textbooks and other texts. In addition, teachers share DVDs and videos for use with classes. It is suggested that a useful addition to these resources might be audio-tapes of readings of poetry or dramatised audio versions of plays. While the allocation of greater space for the storage of English resources through the provision of a subject locker or press might be of benefit, the difficulties with regard to achieving such provision due to space restrictions are recognised.

 

The school has a computer room and a mobile information and communication technology (ICT) unit with a laptop and data projector. All classrooms have been networked, giving broadband internet access. Access to the ICT room can be somewhat restricted, but is arranged through teachers facilitating each others’ class groups as the need arises. Use of ICT was evident in teachers’ planning and in some of the resources used in English lessons. Of particular note was the appropriate use of ICT as a tool in the development of the subject plan, thus facilitating revision of the plan, should the need arise. Students are also encouraged to utilise the internet as a research tool in their own homes. This is most praiseworthy and teachers are encouraged to continue to expand the very good practice which is already evident in the department. It is suggested that further areas which might prove to be worth exploring might include the use of webquests as an aid to student project work in junior cycle and the development of a ‘favourites’ list of recommended websites related to English on the school network. The use of wordprocessing packages as a motivational and drafting tool for students in enhancing their written work is already evident in the department. This is good practice and should continue to be used as a means of enhancing students’ literacy.

 

The school does not have a library at present. However, English teachers have developed some library services through the use of a book box and DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time in junior cycle classes. This is worthwhile and the English department is encouraged to further expand library services wherever practicable, along with an English department library policy, to be included in the subject plan. Some ideas which may prove useful in advancing this endeavour include: the expansion of the number of book boxes used on an incremental basis, supported through the purchase of an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction texts; reading competitions and the display of peer reviews of popular texts. The principal has indicated that he would be supportive of the further development of library services. A text from which some useful ideas might be garnered in this area is Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project which is available from the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Support Service. Ideas for suitable books for young adults can also be accessed at www.childrensbooksireland.com. Equally, the establishment of a link with the School Library Association of Ireland (SLARI) may be worth pursuing. A most encouraging strategy used with a junior cycle class was the creation of ‘mini-books’ on the part of students, providing students with a physical token through which they might gain ownership of their own reading experiences.

 

There is a good induction process for student teachers and new teachers. The student or new teacher is met with by the teachers of English at the beginning of the year and is given guidance on what needs to be studied with his or her English classes over the course of the coming year. Planning with regard to what is to be covered and what has been covered is also discussed with the teacher who will be responsible for the class group in the following year. The latter teacher acts as a mentor for the new teaching colleague. Beyond this, due to the nature and ethos of the school, the student or new teacher is welcome to approach other members of the English department should any questions arise. These induction arrangements are to be praised. It is suggested that, given the very good relations which obtain within the English department, the impact of this subject mentoring might be further enhanced through the development of teacher observation as part of the process. This might incorporate classroom observation by new teachers and Higher Diploma students of experienced colleagues as well as by experienced members of staff of new teachers and Higher Diploma students. This would allow for the possibility of both groups learning new skill sets from each other. It is further suggested that the current induction process should be summed up briefly as an additional element in the subject plan.

 

The school is supportive of continuing professional development (CPD) for English teachers. It facilitates teachers’ attendance at in-service training courses and also pays the subscription costs for teachers’ membership of the relevant subject association. This is commendable. English teachers have availed of in-service training courses and are members of their local subject-association branch. Where teachers attend in-service training courses, the ideas and information they have garnered are returned to the department. This commitment on the part of teachers is praiseworthy. As a further extension of these activities, it is suggested that, where it is felt that such an approach might be useful, presentations around new approaches encountered at in-service training courses might also be incorporated occasionally into subject department meetings. This might then lead to new directions in which the subject plan might be developed. It should be emphasised, however, that the current arrangements exemplify very good practice.

 

Teachers are involved in organising a range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities related to the subject. Amongst these are included public speaking, debating, visits to the theatre and the cinema and drama workshops. Teachers are applauded for their efforts in these areas.

Planning and preparation

 

A subject co-ordinator has been appointed on a rotational basis. There are formal collaborative subject planning meetings at the beginning of the school year and once per term thereafter. Agendas are set for meetings and minutes are recorded. The recent focus of meetings has been on senior cycle planning, the availability of ICT for English classes and the review of the senior and junior cycle plans. Management is to be praised for facilitating formal departmental meetings. Teachers are to be commended for their diligent approach towards the subject planning process.

 

A subject plan has been and continues to be developed by the English department. The plan is stored in a large folder with a variety of other material relevant to the teaching of English. The plan is reviewed on an annual basis. Amongst the documents included in the subject folder are: the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses; lists of the current Leaving Certificate texts; initial drafts of the subject plan and the recent DES publication Looking at English – Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. The subject plan incorporates common yearly plans, learning objectives in English, approaches to students with special educational needs and approaches to assessment. There is a clear sense in the department of the importance of the process involved in subject planning, alongside the necessity that a product of genuine worth should result from it. The subject plan is of an excellent standard, speaking to the considerable dedication and expertise teachers have brought to its development. A potential area which could be explored in the future is the further advancing of the current common planning to incorporate termly, skills-based plans. Such an approach would aid the induction of new teachers while allowing individual teachers their current freedom in choosing texts to suit particular class groups. The formal analysis, on a departmental basis, of results in the state examinations versus national norms would be a further, worthwhile, endeavour, alongside an exploration of the primary school curriculum and teacher guidelines to aid students’ transition into a post-primary context in first year. The adoption of a specific teaching and learning focus for the department over a set period of time might also be worth exploring.

 

Textbook choice is discussed within the department and adjusted where needed. There is some variation of fiction and drama texts at junior and senior cycle. Decisions on these texts are taken jointly within the English department. Variation of texts at junior cycle is limited to a narrow band of texts, partly due to limitations necessitated by the school’s book scheme. While recognising the practicalities of this situation, it is suggested that the department should seek to expand the variation of texts studied at all levels in English. This would ensure that an awareness of the potential for new texts to suit particular class contexts and interests is maintained. Beyond this, the opportunity for continuing professional development on the part of teachers through encounters with literary texts which are new to both themselves and their students should not be ignored. In the case of higher level classes in junior cycle, while a full Shakespearean text is often studied, this is not always the case. Instead, the requirements of the syllabus are sometimes fulfilled through the use of excerpts from different Shakespearean plays. While recognising that the syllabus allows for such an approach, it is suggested that the English department should keep this practice under close review in order to ensure that students’ transition to the demands of a compulsory study of Shakespeare in senior cycle higher level is facilitated as much as possible. Two comparative texts are currently studied in senior cycle English at ordinary level. It is recommended that this should be adjusted to incorporate a third text, as is required by the syllabus and as is stated in the subject plan.

 

There is a subject-specific programme for English within the school’s TY programme. The programme is well planned and adopts an imaginative approach to the subject which is highly appropriate. The programme is being implemented effectively. Among the experiential learning activities in English undertaken by students are work with a theatre group over a number of weeks and responsibility for input to the school yearbook. Beyond this, TY students also produce a newsletter which involves them in a range of publication activities. The English department is to be praised for its approach to the English element of the TY programme.

 

All lessons were well planned. In almost all cases, planning documentation was presented and, where this occurred, it was of a very high standard.

 

There is very good communication between English teachers and the learning-support department. English teachers are provided with a regular report of what resource teachers have worked on with students. Sheets focusing on the learning needs and strengths of students in receipt of resource hours are distributed to those English teachers responsible for the particular students. These arrangements are commendable. In the case of students studying English as a Second Language (ESL), the school is referred to Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT), the website of which can be found at www.iilt.ie. IILT offers resources and training for teachers and principals in the area of ESL teaching and intercultural education in schools.

Teaching and learning

 

A very good standard of teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation. Objectives were clear in almost all lessons. In one class, a clear line was taken in developing students’ awareness of elements of effective speech writing, based on a previous performance by a team of debaters. This was then linked to great speeches in literature by Shakespearean and other characters. The purpose of the exercise was clear throughout and established from the beginning of the lesson. In another lesson, a clear statement of learning goals at the outset would have been beneficial in providing students with clarity regarding the purpose towards which they were working.

 

Lessons were well structured. Pacing was generally good. In one instance this would have been  aided through the use of a greater variety of approaches, ensuring more active engagement on the part of students. A wide range of resources was used in lessons. Some of these included the whiteboard, textbooks, photocopies of scaffolded approaches to written exercises, newspapers, a laptop and data projector, internet book reviews and charts based on a studied novel. It was positive to note that, in one junior-cycle lesson, students were referred to dictionaries and provided with spelling strategies to aid in their engagement with a word-building exercise. It is suggested that a further addition to this approach might be the use of thesauruses as a means of adding to students’ skills with and awareness of these texts. Teachers’ efforts in using different resources to engage students were most praiseworthy and the English department is encouraged to continue to expand its practice in this area.

 

The whiteboard was used appropriately in lessons. In one instance, a senior-cycle class developed a written exercise by outlining the structure to be followed and the points to be made with the teacher noting their contributions on the whiteboard. The emphasis placed on accurate recall by students of events and key quotations in the play being discussed was commendable. It is suggested that, as a further extension of this good practice, consideration might be given to the employment of creative modelling on the part of the teacher. Thus, once the basic structure of the answer had been set out on the whiteboard, the first paragraph might be written by the teacher, drawing the attention of students to errors being made and adjusted as the piece is written. This approach might then lead to students being exhorted to write the next piece of the exercise, using the same, rapid, drafting and redrafting skills which the teacher has just demonstrated. This approach could also serve as a means of shifting methodology as the lesson progresses. It is suggested that creative modelling should be incorporated as an important methodology in the subject plan.

 

The use of group work and active methodologies was evident in most classes. In one instance, the former approach was particularly successful, with students displaying considerable ability to conduct research in an independent and purposeful manner. The imaginative use of ICT as a support to one of the groups through their accessing the internet by means of a laptop was especially worthwhile. Subsequent to their researching a topic on the internet, the group then made an oral presentation to the class about their endeavours, with the aid of a data projector. This focus on the development of students’ oral presentation skills is also to be praised. Other examples of active methodologies included the utilisation of scaffolded exercises to aid students in developing their own written work in specific genres and timed writing exercises, conducted during the course of a lesson.

 

There was a good focus on language in lessons. In a junior-cycle lesson where students were encountering different reviews, the noting of adjectives and other words was positive. Reading was also emphasised by teachers, with choral recitals of poems and reading aloud of written exercises by individual students. A possible addition to these strategies could be the placing of an increased emphasis on listening skills for other students through a demand that they should note key features of language utilised in the homework of their peers when it is read to the class. On occasion, the increased use of higher-order questioning with regard to language and other key elements of texts might be worth pursuing.

 

There was a good relationship between teachers and students in all classes and teachers were universally affirming towards students. In a number of instances, teachers displayed the ability to link into students’ interests. The enthusiasm of teachers for the subject was evident on a number of occasions and, where this was the case, students responded in kind. Students worked well in classes and were generally engaged by the tasks set for them. Students answered questions on texts readily and responded well to questions asked by teachers. Classes displayed good knowledge of the work encountered during the year and homework was completed diligently.

 

There was some evidence of the development of a print-rich environment in classrooms. There were also a number of examples of posters and other texts on display throughout the school. The work which has already been done is commendable, particularly given the fact that, at present, teachers do not have their own base rooms. The English department is encouraged to continue to seek to develop the print-rich environment in classrooms and throughout the school, where practicable. This aspiration should be highlighted in the subject plan, given the impact such an approach can have on student achievement, particularly through increased motivation, sense of audience and awareness of the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing. Ideas for the further development of the good work which has already been done in this area might include the further expansion of ICT-based genre displays of student work, character diagrams and keyword displays.

Assessment

 

Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in all classes. Amounts of homework set for students were appropriate. In one instance, the potential for the use of an A4 copy might on occasion be investigated for use when students are engaged in specific genre exercises. This would serve to raise the status of particular pieces of writing and, alongside this, the motivation of students when approaching them. The presence of pre-writing exercises in one group’s work, was very positive. In one instance, a particularly diligent approach to the creation of student folders was encountered. Folders were used to store students’ work which had been corrected in one senior-cycle class. At the front of each folder were columns naming the exercises completed, along with the grade achieved. These folders were to be used by the teacher in charge of the class, as a means of discussing students’ progress with parents at the annual parent-teacher meeting. These arrangements were commendable. In TY, it is suggested that the possibility of using a portfolio approach as part of the assessment of students’ achievements during the year might be explored as a further addition to the already very good strategies being used. In a number of instances, record keeping of student achievement was of a very high standard.

 

The subject plan refers to the assessment for learning area of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website (www.ncca.ie) and suggests that this approach should be adopted by the English department in its approach to student assessment. This is commendable and, in all instances, formative, comment-based assessment was in evidence. Teachers are encouraged to continue with this practice, given the very real difference to students’ learning and achievement which can result from such an approach, as opposed to corrections which merely involve the assignment of a grade or limited commentaries which are not focused on providing clear guidance to cultivate student improvement. The English department is encouraged to continue with its current approach and expand its use of this form of assessment where practicable and within time constraints.

 

While there were some examples of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in students’ homework, it is recommended that the department should increase its employment of this strategy. Thus, both elements of the course should work to support each other, with literature acting as a springboard to explorations of different genres in students’ writing. This might be accomplished in a variety of ways, for example, through the substituting of focused genre exercises for pure ‘summaries’ of chapters in texts being studied. Thus, revision-based exercises could simultaneously act as a reinforcement of particular writing skills. It is further recommended that the subject plan should include integration of language and literature as one of the key approaches to be used in the teaching of English.

 

There are formal, house examinations at Christmas and summer for first-year, second-year, TY and fifth-year students. Students in third year and sixth year participate in informal class tests in November. Mock examinations are organised for third-year and sixth-year students in February each year. While recognising that common elements sometimes form a part of these examinations, it is suggested that the organising of common examinations should be explored by the English department. Given that most classes in junior cycle are of mixed ability, this should prove to be possible through the implementation of common, termly, skills-based plans, as has been suggested. Common examinations would allow for comparison of students’ achievement across a year cohort, while simultaneously alleviating the unnecessary duplication of work by teachers.

 

Parents of students in first year, second year, TY and fifth year receive reports of students’ progress at Christmas and summer each year. Parents of students in third year and in sixth year receive reports in early December and following the mock examinations in February. There is a parent-teacher meeting for each year group in the school once in the academic year. Parents may request a report on a particular student’s progress at any stage in the school year. Homework journals are also utilised by teachers as a means of communicating with parents. These arrangements are commendable.

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • There is a very good relationship between students and teachers.
  • A subject plan has been, and continues to be, developed. This is of an excellent standard. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed on a rotational basis. Formal departmental meetings are held. There are agendas for departmental meetings and minutes are kept.
  • English teachers used ICT in preparing and planning their classes and with students in a number of instances. This is most creditable. Teachers are encouraged to continue to expand this practice.
  • The use of active methodologies, pair-work and group-work was observed. This was most positive and the English department is encouraged to continue to develop and expand its use of these strategies.
  • A well-planned and imaginative Transition Year Programme is being implemented.
  • There is some use of book boxes and DEAR time in the English department. The department is encouraged to further explore possibilities for the expansion of library services.
  • Significant quantities of written homework were in evidence. Comment-based, formative assessment was used. This was most positive.
  • A very good standard of teaching and learning was observed.
  • A full Shakespearean text is often studied during the junior cycle. Teachers are encouraged to explore opportunities to study a full Shakespearean play at junior cycle if at all practicable.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • The subject plan should highlight the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus as a key stratagem in enhancing students’ literacy and language skills. The English department should expand its use of this approach.
  • Three comparative texts should be studied in senior-cycle ordinary-level classes.

 

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.