An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Killarney Community College
New Road, Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 70450D
Date of inspection: 22-23 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killarney Community College, 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.
Killarney Community College is a co-educational school. One class in first year has four English lessons per week. This is adequate provision. The other class in first year has five English lessons per week which are supplemented by a further lesson in Communications. Classes in second year have five English lessons per week. This is good provision. Classes in third year have five English lessons per week. This is also good provision. One class in fourth year (Leaving Certificate Year 1) and one class in fifth year (Leaving Certificate Year 2) are provided with six English lessons per week. In both cases, one of these lessons is taught by a teacher who is assigned to the relevant English class, in addition to their normal class teacher. The other class in fourth year and the other class in fifth year have five English lessons per week. Classes in fourth year and fifth year have a good level of provision in English. The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) classes in Year 1 and Year 2 of the programme are provided with three lessons per week in English and Communications. This is adequate provision. It is suggested that, in the future, the possibility of expanding the number of English lessons provided for students in the early years of the junior cycle should be explored. Such additional provision could serve as a significant aid in students’ long-term acquisition of literacy skills. In all cases, the spread of English lessons across the week is well managed, allowing for the maximum number of contact points between classes and the subject.
Classes in second year are run concurrently on the school timetable. Two of the three classes in third year are run concurrently and classes in fourth year and in fifth year are run concurrently. This is positive, allowing for ease of movement for students between classes where necessary. The school is encouraged to expand its use of concurrent timetabling in English, where practicable. The English department is encouraged to explore the possibilities afforded by such arrangements through the adoption of strategies like team-teaching and the organisation of joint-class activities, on occasion. English classes generally retain their teachers from fourth year through to fifth year. This is good practice, allowing for the development of consistent pedagogical strategies with specific class groups. In junior cycle, this arrangement does not necessarily obtain. It is recommended that junior cycle classes should retain their English teachers for the duration of their programme or, at a minimum, from second year through to third year. Any other approach introduces unnecessary disruption into the learning processes of students while simultaneously hindering the ability of teachers to plan adequately and consistently. This should be addressed as being of central importance to the planning of the English programme in the future. There is some rotation of English teachers between levels and cycles, although this is not the case currently in senior cycle. The maintenance of a wide skills base within the English department is an important aim. Consequently, the school should seek to harness the very good skills which are currently available in senior cycle to induct other English teachers into the instruction of the Leaving Certificate higher-level course.
There is a special educational needs class and a mixed-ability class in both first year and second year. There is a higher-level, ordinary-level and learning-support class in third year. Students are assigned to the two groups in first year based on reports from primary schools and a school-based assessment. Based on performance in school examinations, students may transfer between groups on occasion. The levels at which students are to participate in the Junior Certificate are determined through in-house examinations, assessments and consultations between teachers, pupils and parents. In senior cycle, students are divided between a Leaving Certificate Applied class, a higher-level class and an ordinary-level class. Students are assigned to these groups based on their performance in the Junior Certificate examination, along with the criteria previously listed with regard to choice of Junior Certificate levels. A number of English teachers have baserooms. This provision is positive. Currently, many of the resources available in the English department are stored in these rooms, along with the learning-support suite. The school is encouraged to extend the provision of baserooms to all English teachers, if possible. Baserooms will greatly facilitate individual teachers’ capacity to store resources, along with their ability to enhance the ‘English environment’ in their classrooms.
There is a school library. A postholder is in charge of the library. The school is hopeful of obtaining funding for a significant redevelopment of the library facility. Recently, funding has been received to create a ‘reading corner.’ A further addition to library services is the availability of a number of class sets of novels, along with the high-interest/low-reading ability books in the learning-support suite. This is positive and the school, along with the English department, is encouraged to pursue the expansion of library services as a key tool in enhancing students’ literacy and love of reading. Potential areas to explore include: the purchase of specific library furniture and ‘beanbags’ for the room to provide an air of difference between the facility and general classrooms; the use of media posters associated with literary texts as an addition to the current artwork in the room; the purchase of an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction texts; the display of laminated students’ reviews of books; the use of ‘readalong’ books in conjunction with a ‘cosy corner’ and the provision of a selection of magazines and periodicals for student reading. A useful text from which more ideas in this area might be garnered is Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project which is available from the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Support Services. A paired-reading project has been underway for the last two years as a support to students in junior cycle. The involvement of senior students in this scheme is very worthwhile. This project is most praiseworthy, as is the organisation of a ‘Word Millionaire’ scheme for students participating in the JCSP.
Teachers report that there is good access to audio-visual facilities. This is positive, given the importance of film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus and the impact which may be made through the judicious use of such resources in delivering the English syllabus in junior cycle.
There are two full computer rooms. One of these serves as a base for the school’s secretarial course. There are also information and communications technology (ICT) facilities in two other rooms, although one of these is temporarily unavailable. ICT is often used by learning-support students in developing pieces of written work, while spelling programmes are also utilised. The Make a Book scheme in the JCSP classes also harnesses ICT in creating a text based on students’ experiences in the ORBIT (Outdoor Resources Brought into Teaching) Programme. The Leaving Certificate Applied classes also make extensive use of ICT in creating their key assignments and key assignments are stored by students using the school’s ICT facilities. The English department is to be praised for this use of ICT. It is suggested that this very good practice should be extended, insofar as this is practicable, to other English classes in the school. This will allow ICT to be harnessed as a further motivational tool for the development of students’ literacy skills.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. This is commendable. Teachers have participated in JCSP in-service training courses and have been supported by County Kerry VEC with a variety of different resources. The English department has also taken advantage of courses organised by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) in the past and one teacher has recently completed a course of postgraduate study. Teachers are encouraged to continue to avail of inservice training opportunities and to return the information garnered through such courses to other English teachers through the medium of subject department meetings.
County Kerry VEC provides an induction day for teachers new to the scheme. New teachers in the school have participated in this day and this is positive. There are largely informal induction procedures when new teachers arrive in the school, with an introduction to staff and students being provided and a subject teacher being adopted as a mentor. This is worthwhile and it is suggested that these procedures should be formalised, as part of the subject plan. They might also be extended to include support for new teachers in the form of observation of an experienced colleague in the classroom. Such a process would be advantageous as a means of maintaining and extending the good practice in teaching which already exists.
Teachers are involved in organising a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Some of these include drama excursions, the JCSP Make a Book exhibition, and drama workshops. Of particular note is the work undertaken in writing a drama script as part of students’ participation in the ORBIT programme. All of this is laudable and teachers are to be praised for their efforts in these areas.
There is a subject co-ordinator. The co-ordinator is appointed on a rotational basis. Formal departmental planning meetings have begun this academic year. This is positive. There has been one meeting in the year so far and it is planned that there would be three provided for each subject department each year. There are also informal meetings which are aided by the good relationships between teachers in the English department. These arrangements are to be commended and it is recommended that the plans regarding the provision of more time for formal departmental meetings should be carried through. It is further recommended that an agenda should be created for each meeting and brief minutes of meetings should be kept.
Subject planning is in the very early stages of development. It is recommended that an English subject plan should be created with input from all members of the department. The development of the plan should be viewed as an opportunity for the advancing of professional expertise, the sharing of ideas and the extension of good practice within the department. Beyond this, it should support the English department in developing a focused and consistent approach to delivering the syllabus and enhancing students’ literacy skills in both junior and senior cycle. Typical areas for exploration would include: analysis of state examination results versus national norms; a list of resources available for the teaching of English; a listing and explanation of teaching methodologies; use of ICT in English and feedback from in-service training courses. It should be emphasised that the advancement of the plan should be approached in a graduated, staged manner. The creation of common, skills-based, termly plans for each year group could be one of the initial starting points for the development of the plan. It should be noted that, given the manner in which classes are organised throughout the school, this need not imply that all classes in a particular year study the same topics at the same pace, but rather that teachers agree on a common approach to be taken when they are assigned to a particular class group or level. This would aid the induction of new teachers into their responsibilities while also enhancing the department’s communication with regard to the ‘technical core’ of teaching and learning.
There is some variation in text choice in junior and senior cycle to suit class context and interest. Novels and plays in junior cycle are chosen from a relatively narrow band of texts. The variation of text choice is positive and teachers are encouraged to expand their choice of texts still further, to allow for greater flexibility in catering to the needs of particular groups of students. A support in this endeavour, at junior cycle, can be found at www.childrensbooksireland.com or in the English area of the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie. In higher-level junior cycle classes the manner in which Shakespeare is studied varies from year to year. Depending on the class group, students may encounter Shakespearean texts in either extract form or through the study of a full play. This is within the requirements of the syllabus. However, it is suggested that the English department should keep the practice under close review. This is especially pertinent with regard to the impact of the former approach on students’ facility in dealing with the Shakespearean element of the higher-level Leaving Certificate syllabus. In senior cycle, two texts are currently studied for the comparative element of the course at ordinary level. It is recommended that this approach be expanded to include the study of a third text in order to comply with the requirements of the syllabus. There was a well-planned approach towards the organisation and teaching of the English and Communications element of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. This is commendable.
The school has a number of students in receipt of language support. These students receive English as a Second Language (ESL) lessons and are withdrawn from lessons in small groups. ICT is used in some of these lessons, along with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) texts. Contact has been made with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). The school is encouraged to continue to develop contacts with this organisation through participation in IILT training courses. It is noted that, in a number of cases, speakers of English as a first language are withdrawn from lessons and included in ESL class groups. This situation should be kept under close review in order to determine whether this approach to ESL lessons is benefiting or hindering the learning processes of language-support students.
English teachers communicate with the learning-support department through informal discussions with regard to students’ progress and JCSP profiling meetings. These arrangements are positive and teachers are encouraged to continue to develop these processes. The Individual Education Plans (IEPs) which have been created for those students in receipt of resource hours should be of benefit in further advancing communication between the two departments.
All lessons were planned and were within syllabus guidelines. Objectives were clear in almost all lessons. Where this was not the case, it is suggested that the clear delineation of learning objectives to be achieved, at the start of the lesson, would be of benefit. Pacing was well managed generally, but in a number of lessons more rapid shifts between different methodological approaches would have added to students’ engagement with the topics being explored.
A range of resources was used in the teaching of English. These included the blackboard, the whiteboard, photocopies, textbooks, cloze exercises, overhead projector, internet sources, newspapers and scaffolded writing exercises. Blackboard or whiteboard work was presented clearly and in a structured manner. The linking of this work to students’ own copybooks and writing would have been a worthwhile exercise in a number of lessons. This could serve as a means of consolidating the good ideas produced by students and also as a means of increasing students’ focus on topics being explored. The use of scissors and glue with one class group, in piecing together a newspaper front page, was noted as an example of good practice, harnessing tactile approaches rather than merely relying on verbal or written exercises. The use of visual resources in a number of lessons was also positive and the English department is encouraged to continue to expand its use of these resources in lessons as a means of further harnessing students’ engagement.
Lessons frequently began with the calling of the roll. This was good practice, allowing students the time to settle into work, while also signalling the beginning of the lesson. Questioning was used in all classes as a means of assessing students’ understanding and was most effective where care was taken with the distribution of questions to ensure all members of the class were involved.
There was a good focus on language in most lessons. In one instance, the language of the characters in a play was discussed. In another case, students participated in completing a cloze exercise on a poem by Sylvia Plath in a manner which displayed high engagement with the task in hand and encouraged the further development of their critical literacy skills. Spelling was the focus for part of a junior cycle lesson and this was worthwhile. It is, however, suggested that a further extension of this activity would be the explicit instruction of students regarding specific strategies and approaches towards successful spelling. A useful addition to a number of lessons would have been the use of dictionaries by students, to be referred to when confronted by difficult or novel words.
Pair work and group work were utilised in most lessons, along with other active methodologies. This was sound practice, allowing for variation in the pacing of lessons while also facilitating contributions from all students in classroom discussions. English teachers are encouraged to continue to expand their use of these methodologies as a means of further developing students’ participation in lessons.
Students were generally engaged in lessons. Particularly good practice was observed where teachers encouraged higher-order thinking and students’ responses displayed good understanding of the texts being examined, along with the language used by the writer in question. In the few instances where students’ engagement in lessons could have been increased, it is suggested that the greater use of pair work, alongside structured, activity-based learning strategies would have been of benefit.
There was a good relationship between teachers and students. Humour was used effectively and, in one lesson, the flexibility shown towards seating arrangements, in order to facilitate students’ communication between themselves and with the teacher was worthwhile. In one instance, teacher mobility within the classroom should be increased. This would add considerably to the sense of energy and enthusiasm communicated to students during the presentation of both new and familiar topics.
There was evidence of the development of a print-rich environment in most classrooms. Teachers are encouraged to continue to develop their practice in this area through the continued use of keyword posters, along with the adoption of character diagrams and displays of students’ written work in different genres. The good practice which is already evident with regard to the creation of print-rich and text-rich environments should be further consolidated through the setting down of this strategy as a key English department policy in the subject plan.
In all cases homework was regularly assigned and corrected. In almost all classes the amount of written homework assigned was appropriate. The focus on written work is positive since ‘students learn to write by writing’ and this practice should continue to be emphasised as much as possible. The use of ICT on the part of the JCSP and LCA classes has already been noted. The English department should continue to expand the use of ICT as a tool in developing students’ homework and as a means of drawing their attention to the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing. A further motivational tool with regard to students’ written work could be the setting of regular ‘high-status’ exercises which could subsequently be revised with the aid of ICT and then be displayed, having been laminated, in teacher baserooms or the library.
There was evidence of the use of comment-based formative assessment in all classes. The English department is encouraged to further expand its use of this strategy wherever practicable due to the very real difference that such an approach can make to students’ written work. In one junior cycle lesson students’ homework was read out to the class and this was positive. This exercise might have been further added to through the placing of greater emphasis on students’ responses to their peers’ homework, thus encouraging the development of listening skills in the class group.
There was some evidence of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses. This was a very worthwhile endeavour and should be adopted on a departmental basis. This would allow for literature to act as a ‘springboard’ to the language element of the course, while the study of language would simultaneously support students’ engagement with texts being studied. It is suggested that, where grammar is studied, the adoption of an ‘applied’ approach to the subject would be of benefit in reinforcing students’ understanding of the topics being explored.
There are formal, house examinations at Christmas for second-year, third-year, fourth-year and fifth-year students. There are also formal summer examinations for second-year and fourth-year students. Fifth-year and third-year students participate in mock examinations in February of each year, although no report is sent to parents based on these examinations. Classes in first year do not participate in formal examinations. Instead, they are assessed using a variety of criteria, dependent on the subject teacher. These may include in-class tests, assessment of homework or an average based on students’ performance in continuous assessment tasks set by teachers. In addition to this, the JCSP English Statements are used as a further assessment tool.
Given the good work in assessment practices which is already being done in English, it is suggested that an immediate aim of the department should be an agreed assessment policy. This policy would allow for a unified approach to marking, examinations and other forms of assessment based on current best practice in the school. It would also create an opportunity to investigate the appropriateness of a wide range of possibilities in assessment such as differentiated assessment and assessment for learning. This endeavour could be supported by the Assessment for Learning (AfL) area on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie. The policy should then be included in the subject plan and referred to, on occasion, at departmental meetings, to ensure that it is being adhered to.
There is one parent/teacher meeting per year for each year group. Reports on students’ progress are sent to parents at Christmas for all year groups and at summer for those students who are not participating in the state examinations. In the case of students in receipt of literacy support there are additional contacts with the home through awards days, informal meetings and telephone contacts. These contacts with parents are to be commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a good relationship between teachers and students.
· Classes generally retain their English teacher in senior cycle. It is important that this practice should be maintained.
· There are informal induction procedures for new teachers as well as formal induction from County Kerry VEC. This is positive.
· A number of teachers have baserooms. This practice is to be strongly encouraged.
· Subject department planning is in the early stages of development.
· There is good access to ICT for use in English lessons. ICT is used in LCA and JCSP classes and English teachers are encouraged to further expand the use of ICT in English as a key motivational tool and support for literacy development.
· There is a library and funding to support its development is expected in the near future.
· A paired-reading programme with Gaisce students has been developed as part of the JCSP.
· Active methodologies were used in a number of lessons. This is good practice.
· Whole-school literacy strategies were evident in a number of lessons. This approach should be consolidated and developed through the creation of a whole-school literacy committee to aid in the development of a whole-school literacy policy.
· Two novels are studied in junior cycle, along with a play. This is positive and might be further expanded with a wider range of texts being utilised to suit class context.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The subject plan should be further developed with input from the entire English department.
· Classes should retain their English teacher in junior cycle as an aid to teachers’ ability to plan the English programme. At a minimum, classes should retain English teachers from second year into third year.
· There should be regular, formal subject departmental meetings. There should be an agenda and minutes should be kept of meetings.
· Three comparative texts should be studied in the senior cycle ordinary-level course.
· The library should be developed as a support to students’ literacy attainment.
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.