An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Mount Mercy College
Model Farm Road, Cork City
Roll number: 62661U
Date of inspection: 22 November 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 Mount Mercy College. 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 was given the 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 to this report.
Music is available as an optional subject to all students in all years in Mount Mercy College. Students choose their Junior Certificate subjects prior to entry by opting for two subjects from Art, Business Studies, German, Home Economics, Music, and Spanish and highlighting a third subject in the event of timetabling difficulties. All students in Transition Year (TY) have the option of taking Music and Drama which run as fixed modules all year to facilitate the annual show. Students choose from fixed option blocks for Leaving Certificate with Music set against Biology, Accounting, History and Home Economics. In addition, fifth year students may choose Choir, which is timetabled for one double period per week.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with Departmental guidelines, with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week along with a sufficient number of double periods in all year groups to facilitate practical work.
As well as the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, some other musical activities take place during the school year. TY students produce a musical every year as part of their programme, an event which constitutes one of the highlights of the music departmentís activities. Past shows include Guys and Dolls and Thank You for the Music. All TY students are involved in some aspect of the production and since September have had classes in theatre craft, vocal preparation and basic performance skills. The fifth year choir performs at many choral festivals and occasionally enters the annual Choirs, Orchestras and Military Bands (COMB) examinations. This year, the choir is involved in the Composer in the Classroom project, which is organised by the Cork International Choral Festival. Other activities include carol services, end of year recitals, participation in community music, workshops and trips to concerts and shows. Senior students are also involved in some music activities and organise a singing club for junior students and first year show around the beginning of December. A lunchtime grķpa tradisiķnta has also just begun in the school facilitating those who have an interest in Irish traditional music. The teacherís and studentsí involvement in these activities is highly commended. †
Music lessons mostly take place in the school library. This room is spacious and acoustically satisfactory and is equipped with some music resources, namely three pianos, a portable sound system, white board and stave board. There are some musical posters on the walls and examples of student work, which help to heighten an awareness of Music and the musical activities that go on in the school. The music department has recently introduced the optional music technology module for Leaving Certificate so students have access to the computer room where Sibelius software has been installed on two computers. In order to optimise the studentsí music-learning experiences, the ongoing development of resources should be continued to include further development of information and communications technology (ICT) and the acquisition of an overhead projector (OHP) and screen.
A subject department plan was presented during the inspection. This document outlined the running of the department and included long-term curriculum planning, consisting of lists of content to be covered with each year group. Some schemes of work were also presented containing more specific content to be covered although these did not always correspond with the long-term plans. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support material and resources suitable for all levels. It is recommended that future planning includes consideration of studentsí 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 additional 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, along with a variety of suitable assessment procedures.
The initial activity with regard to the introduction of music technology is over therefore meticulous planning, both for differentiated teaching strategies and the development of the technology within this area, is of the utmost importance. Further planning for the development of other classroom resources is also recommended. Furthermore, it is important that the music department plan be a flexible working document open to review so that the contents remain relevant and purposeful.
The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachersí Association (PPMTA). This affords the teacher the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level and to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation. In addition, the teacher avails of any ongoing training courses which contribute to overall continuing professional development (CPD). 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. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. Student engagement was good and the students were secure in asking questions during the course of the lessons.
Some lessons observed had elements of vocal performing. Performances of varied pieces such as The Girl With The Buckles On Her Shoes, Canít Help Loviní Dat Man Of Mine and I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet extend the range of musical experience of the students and are commended. Other vocal techniques such as the layering of polyrhythms and the use of melisma to reinforce concepts encountered when studying Latin American music were also practised. Questioning about the interpretation of performances, relevant rote learning and rehearsal technique, where awkward sections were isolated and worked on, were some of the other activities seen and are commended.
In one instance, a collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-peer interaction and purposeful group work was observed, with students engaged in musical decision making, the teacher guiding students through various stages and facilitating a challenging music-learning environment. This atmosphere of autonomous learning with the teacher as facilitator and enabler is commendable and contributes to students taking responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that this be developed in all lessons, even when undertaking revision, in order to minimise teacher-led activities and to encourage students towards more self-directed and autonomous learning. When presenting material which is essentially revision of a previously covered topic, different techniques and methodologies should be used. Little is gained from introducing a topic in exactly the same way and distributing identical supplementary material as it neither ascertains the extent of studentsí learning or understanding, nor does it assess their retention. In this light also, students should be dissuaded from reproducing model answers compiled by the teacher as not only does this limit their opportunities to make musical choices and decisions but also can hinder the development of confidence, initiative and independence.
The school has recently introduced music technology for senior cycle classes with the help of an external facilitator. These lessons take place in the computer room where, as previously mentioned, Sibelius software has been installed on two computers. To date, this has been sufficient while the students were being introduced to the technology and assigned appropriate tasks. It has now come to the point where strategies need to be put in place to ensure that valuable learning time is not eroded while students wait their turn to use the computer. Differentiated teaching strategies should now be initiated by the music teacher in order to maximise student engagement and learning and provide a more cohesive development of this area.
The available resources are used appropriately and contribute to the learning environment. It is recommended however, that ways in which an OHP could be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored, as it would greatly enhance the learning situation. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated questions on the board for example, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture when performing on instruments or singing, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, as the plan is to develop ICT, some consideration should be given to looking at ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting. The effective use of these resources would greatly enhance student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to an acceptable standard. Some student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance, while others were haphazard and contained loose sheets and handouts. Careful monitoring of student materials is recommended, especially with junior classes, as valuable supplementary information and work will invariably go astray if not documented properly.†
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 is given on a regular basis and is corrected when appropriate. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. It was good to note that, in addition to a grade, many of these assessments received a comment or words of encouragement from the teacher. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the State examinations, which is commendable.
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 meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings also provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their daughterís 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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
†Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
Subject† Provision and Whole School Support
The music department at Mount Mercy College is committed to the introduction and continuation of music technology to enhance the studentsí experience of this subject.† A module in this area was piloted by an external facilitator during the school year 2007-2008 and currently staff of the music department is undergoing training to ensure that we are in a position to provide this aspect of the course from within our own teaching resources.
In regard to the provision of IT equipment, school Management has constraints in regard to funding.† Notwithstanding this it is part of our ICT overall development plan to provide extra computers and software and also a data projects for the music department for September 2008.† We would stress however that ICT budgets require a serious investment of funding by the D.E.S.
In regards to the use of an overhead projector, Mount Mercy College has a bank of this equipment which is mobile and available to all departments. Therefore, the music department can and does use the teaching resource when and where appropriate.
Music was introduced as an examination subject to our curriculum 7 years ago.† Over time the interest in the subject has grown and the numbers taking it are healthy but will continue to be monitored.† The music department is committed to and well versed in the use of active teaching methodologies.† Over the duration of the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes adequate attention is given to the core activities of performing, composing and listening and this practice will continue.
In regard to the provision of a dedicated space or facility for music, the Board of Management is constrained by available accommodation.† It is therefore not within the remit of the Board to comply with the recommendation in regard to the minimising of the use of the music Room for other lessons.† All music classes are scheduled in the school library which is adjacent to the School Hall and this facilitates music theory, practice and performance.
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection