An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Graignamanagh, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70590T
Date of inspection: 30 January 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN ENGLISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Duiske College. 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 teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Duiske College is a small school under the remit of County Kilkenny Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) containing ninety-four second-level students. The school participates in the Delivering Equality in Schools (DEIS) scheme. Because there is just one class group in each year in the school, each class group is mixed ability which means that a range of abilities are present varying from students with a low reading age to high achieving students. Class sizes are small. About one-fifth of the school population is in receipt of special educational needs (SEN) support. The mixed-ability setting for all year groups was observed to be working extremely successfully in English lessons and there was much evidence that all students were challenged to reach their full potential. The English department engages students in peer mentoring which means that a less able student is paired with a more able student for all classes in English. In this way, the less able students were learning from their peers as well as from their teacher in a secure learning environment. Students are encouraged to aim for higher-level English wherever possible and decisions regarding the level they will sit in state examinations are not made until third or sixth year. This push for the highest attainable standards across the school is highly commended.
There is good additional support for SEN students. They are withdrawn for extra support by SEN trained teachers or, often in the case of students requiring additional literacy support, by the English teacher. There was evidence of close collaboration between the SEN and English departments and work covered in mainstream English lessons is reinforced for students in literacy support lessons. In addition, it was reported that first-year SEN students are reviewed during the first term to assess their progress.
Class periods are just thirty-eight minutes in length. There are four English class periods per week in each year of junior cycle which is just adequate to complete the broad and commendable programme of study devised by the English department. It is recommended that management endeavour to increase provision of English in the school at junior cycle to five periods each week. Management might look at improving provision for first-year English as an initial step, as it is in first year that the foundations are laid in developing literacy and in key skills in English. Provision improves for senior cycle students who have five English lessons each week in the form of three single periods and one double period.
Provision of resources for English is good. It was reported that management endeavours to meet all requests by the English department for resources that will enhance the learning of the cohort of students. This is highly commended. A computer room is accessible for use in English lessons. A laptop and data projector is also available for use in the English classroom, which is broadband enabled. The English classroom also houses the English library which is quite well stocked with a range of books to cater for all abilities. This library is clearly in regular use and the English department is commended for its efforts to foster an interest in reading among the students in the school. A range of other material resources was also in evidence including useful resources downloaded from the internet as well as audio-visual resources.
The English department consists of one teacher who has the relevant qualifications to teach all levels and programmes in English. Staff in the school has participated in a range of in-service courses provided at VEC level. The English department is also highly commended for pursuing other continuous professional development courses including a course in ‘Active Communication’ which was observed to be paying dividends in the classroom.
Students in Duiske College were taken to see a number of productions of texts on their course. In addition, they have participated in a range of writing competitions with much success. Students have also staged productions of dramas on their course and have taken part in poetry recitals for the school community. The English department has been involved in organising much of this work. The focus on developing the oral and presentation skills of students as well as the overall aim of making English an enjoyable experience for students is highly commended.
There is a well developed subject plan for English. This plan describes the organisation of the department and contains a description of course content for each year group in the school. Management designates time for planning at staff meetings and it is clear that the department invests considerable time in planning effective lessons, as the quality of planning and of teaching and learning was excellent. The English subject plan contains commendable aims for junior and senior cycle English. What is even more commendable is the fact that these aims were clearly being realised. The aims included: developing the intellectual, imaginative and emotional growth of each student; developing proficiency in personal, social and cultural literacy; fostering an appreciation and respect for literature; developing skills in each of the four key areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening; fostering a sense of enjoyment and discovery in English; developing self-confidence and independence among students; and teaching English as an experience of “organic wholeness”.
The course content for each year group in the school is commended as it broadens students’ experience of English and gives them access to all genres in an integrated manner. This is in keeping with one of the aims of the English department. The teacher plans the programme from first year through to sixth year as a continuum of skills development. The content of the junior cycle programme and the skills developed are suitable for preparing students for the greater challenges of senior cycle. First-year students study two novels, a film, short stories and a drama extract as well as a range of poetry. There was evidence that students do an in-depth study of these texts as well as a variety of other functional and creative writing tasks which are often linked with their studied texts and this is good practice. A novel and drama are also studied in each of second year and third year which means that students have covered a number of texts by the time they sit their Junior Certificate English examination. The programme is planned in such a way as to make learning enjoyable for students. For example, first-year students staged the balcony scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and second-year students participated in a production of ‘The Field’. First-year and second-year students participate in a ‘Readathon’ and demonstrated much enthusiasm for the books they read. They did projects on these books which they presented to their peers, thus developing their oral skills. Although there was evidence that students are learning a range of skills in each year, it is suggested that the English department access the NCCA’s rebalanced ‘Draft syllabus for Junior Certificate English’ which is available on the NCCA website www.ncca.ie. This review of the English syllabus outlines learning outcomes for each aspect of the junior cycle English course and should be of benefit as a type of tick list, in order to double check that all key skills have been covered.
The content of the Leaving Certificate English course was also seen to be appropriate for the cohort of students who were clearly managing and enjoying the programme of study.
The quality of teaching and learning is highly commended. A range of appropriate teaching methodologies was observed. Time was efficiently used and links were created with previous learning and with the students’ lives which put learning in context. There was a focus on active learning and as a result there was very good participation in all lessons through answering questions and through discussions in groups. An example of effective group work was seen when students were put into groups to discuss key moments in their comparative study. This group work was successfully executed; a scribe was appointed for each group and an effective plenary session took place after the group work, thus allowing students to give feedback to the entire class. There were also examples of good discussion generated; sixth-year students had just been to see a production of their Shakespearean drama and they were invited to discuss what impacted on them most from this production. This proved to be a valuable revision of the plot of the play. Students were then set to work in groups to help each other to answer a very useful quiz on this text which was also good preparation for their ‘mock’ examinations. In this instance, students were clearly engaged in self-directed learning by working together to discuss their comparative texts, by identifying the differences between tabloid and broadsheet newspapers and by discussing answers to the Shakespearean quiz. It was reported that students work together in groups on writing summaries of scenes and discussing key moments. This is commendable practice and is a true example of self-directed learning.
The lessons generally opened with the taking of the roll and the teacher moved swiftly into the lesson. However, it is recommended that the teacher share the learning outcome of the lesson with the students from the outset so that students are fully aware of what they will be doing during the course of the lesson. It is also suggested that the teacher spend the last part of each lesson checking with students to see if this outcome was achieved. In this way, students will take even more ownership of their learning. Very good advice and instructions were given to students. The fact that the English department has experience in correcting state examinations in English at Junior and Leaving Certificate level assists students as the teacher has knowledge of the methods of approaching examination questions.
There was a very good focus on extending students’ vocabulary in all lessons and the dictionary was very well used in one lesson for this purpose. In addition, the focus placed on key moments in comparative modes was appropriate, as such focus reveals how the author develops character, establishes tension, and creates dramatic movement. With such understanding, the students were able to read the rest of the text more insightfully.
Teaching methodologies were effectively differentiated to suit the range of abilities present in the classroom and this is highly commended. For example, an outcome of successful differentiation was that the better able students were able to identify concepts such as satire and sensationalism. As already noted, students are placed in mentoring pairs so that they assist each other in the learning process and this supports mixed-ability teaching. By asking both higher-order and lower-order questions, the teacher catered for all ability levels. In addition, the use of higher-order questions challenged all students and enabled them to draw comparisons and links between texts and characters. It is commendable that the use of higher-order questions elicited good responses from the students. Questioning was best when students were named to respond as, in this way, all students had to participate in the lesson.
The board was well used to record key points and the students’ responses during the lesson. It was also reported that information and communications technology (ICT) is sometimes used to display visuals of texts and for other teaching purposes. It is suggested that the audio version of chosen plays be also used in teaching drama as such use focuses attention on words and tone and allows for visualisation of action and gesture.
The presentation of the learning environment of the English classroom was exemplary. Key words and quotes were on display, as were samples of students’ work and other relevant posters pertaining to English. This print-rich environment was further enhanced by the library situated at the back of the room.
In all lessons, very good student-teacher relationships were evident and a very pleasant atmosphere prevailed. Students were learning in a secure environment which was important given the range of abilities present in each class group and the need to ensure that all students would feel confident enough to express their viewpoint. Students are highly commended for their manner and their participation. The lessons were enjoyable from the perspective of the students and the inspector. In interaction with the inspector, the students responded well and displayed clear evidence of learning well. The fact that the teacher displayed enthusiasm for the subject matter being taught led the students to respond with equal enthusiasm to this subject matter.
The expectations of high standards from students by the teacher were seen in all lessons and students rose to this expectation. In particular, high standards were seen in the quality of work produced by the students. Each student in each class had a hardback copy for notes and another copy for other written work. The quality and maintenance of these copies was of a particularly high standard as was the content in these copies.
The school has a formal homework policy and it was reported to be currently under review. Students’ progress is monitored closely by the staff and management in the school. There are four formal tests each year; at mid-term, Christmas, Easter and summer. Parents receive reports on their child’s progress at these times. Apart from these reports, students receive regular verbal feedback on their progress and the student journal is also used as a conduit to communicate with parents. A parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group in the school on an annual basis. A detailed record of students’ results is kept by the English teacher. ‘Mock’ examinations are held for third and sixth years and these are corrected by the English teacher which is good practice.
The principal carries out an annual analysis of results in state examinations and discusses these results with the subject teachers on an individual basis. It is commendable that the number of students taking higher-level English is increasing at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level and that no student has taken foundation level English in the last number of years.
There was much evidence that students in each year in the school receive appropriate written work in a range of genres to consolidate work done in class and to develop their writing skills. It is particularly commendable that students receive regular practice in writing longer pieces of work including creative writing. Students had written stories and their own poetry. There was evidence of the integration of language and literature; for example, students had written a diary entry from the point of view of a character in a studied text. Much of the students’ written work was very well corrected, particularly at senior cycle where constructive written comments for improvement were given to students and the discrete criteria for assessment were also shared with the student. In correcting junior cycle work there was a focus on correcting students’ spelling. This is commendable. However, it is recommended that constructive feedback on where students need to improve in their general writing be also given to students in junior cycle.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The mixed-ability placement of students was found to be very successful as all students were challenged to reach their full potential and were learning well in
the secure environment provided.
· The quality of planning and of teaching and learning was excellent.
· Students are encouraged to attain their full potential in the school.
· There is close collaboration between the SEN and English departments.
· There is good whole school support from management for English.
· The English department fosters an interest in reading among the students in the school.
· Students have participated in a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English.
· The focus on developing the oral and presentation skills of students as well as the overall aim of making English an enjoyable experience for students
is highly commended.
· The commendable aims for junior and senior cycle English are clearly being realised.
· The course content for each year group broadens students’ experience of English and gives them access to all genres. The key skills of reading, writing, speaking a
nd listening are developed in each year.
· Students have covered a wide range of texts by the time they sit their Junior Certificate English examination. The skills and content of the junior cycle programme are
challenging enough to prepare students for the greater challenges of senior cycle.
· There was a focus on active learning and, as a result, there was very good participation in all lessons. Students were engaged in self-directed learning.
· The number of students taking higher-level English is increasing at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level.
· Students in each year in the school receive appropriate written work in a range of genres to consolidate work done in class and to develop their writing skills.
· Strong enthusiasm for the subject matter was expressed by both students and teacher.
· The expectations of high standards from students by the teacher were seen in all lessons and in the quality of students’ work.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that management endeavour to increase provision of English in the school at junior cycle to five periods each week.
· It is recommended that the teacher share the learning outcome of the lesson with the students from the outset and that more constructive feedback be given on
junior cycle students’ written work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.
Published October 2009