An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Avondale Community College
Rathdrum, County Wicklow
Roll number: 70810H
Date of inspection: 10 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN ENGLISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Avondale Community 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 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. 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.
There is very good provision for English on the timetable. All junior cycle class groups have five English lesson periods a week, Transition Year (TY) class groups have four lesson periods each week and fifth-year and sixth-year class groups have six lesson periods weekly. These lessons are generally well distributed across the week. In addition, English is concurrently timetabled in second, third, fifth and sixth year which facilitates movement of students across levels and allows for the hosting of year group activities.
Good practice occurs in that first-year students are placed in mixed-ability class groups. Students are then banded into ability groupings from the beginning of second year. TY students are placed in mixed-ability class groups and then students are again banded in fifth year. This also is appropriate. School management and staff are very aware of the need to encourage as many students as possible to take higher level and have introduced initiatives for this purpose. Their aim is to have two higher-level English class groups in each year.
Strategies to support students with special educational needs (SEN) or learning support needs include team teaching, the provision of a small class group for English for students with additional needs in sixth year, group withdrawal, and, in very special circumstances, one-to-one support. Such flexibility in supporting these students is highly commended. English support lessons are provided to those who have Irish exemptions at the same time as Irish, or during some non-examination lessons for those who do not have exemptions. Resources have been compiled to support SEN students in each year group and the core SEN team meets weekly to plan for their students. A range of very good initiatives has been introduced to improve the literacy levels of students in the college and especially the literacy levels of students in receipt of learning support. Students have contributed to the compilation of books including a Recipe Book and a ‘Day in the Life’ book containing memories of students and staff. Students take part in the Reading Challenge and are involved in an intensive reading programme. Students also have a games club at lunchtime which includes the playing of games such as ‘Scrabble’ to improve vocabulary. Such planning and initiatives lead to a positive attitude towards reading among these students. Overall provision and delivery of support for students with SEN is highly commended and there was evidence of very good liaison between the SEN and English departments. The school is currently working towards providing strategies to help very able students in the school.
A range of excellent reading strategies has been introduced for all students in the school including: the Reading Programme; celebration of World Book Day; a Reading Week which includes Drop Everything and Read (DEAR); the distribution of reading lists to incoming first-years; and the promotion of the school library, which is open twice weekly at lunchtime. It is suggested that a recommended reading list be given to all year groups in the school as a guide to their reading.
Deployment of teachers to English is good and rotation of levels is assured. Management is supportive of continuous professional development (CPD). In-service on Assessment for Learning (AfL) was recently provided to the whole staff and the English department has successfully embraced many of the best AfL practices. This is commended.
There is very good whole school support from management for English. Resources to support teaching and learning for the subject are provided upon request. Information and communication technology (ICT) provision is good and management is supportive of strategies to promote English in the school. There is a book rental system in the school but students buy their own comparative texts. This allows texts to be chosen which suit the tastes, abilities and needs of each senior cycle year group.
A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is organised for students in the school including frequent theatre trips for all year groups, entry into writing competitions, the organisation of guest speakers and opportunities to participate in debating and public speaking. In recent years, students have had much success in the area of public speaking.
The school development planning (SDP) processes are of high quality in the school and are clearly having an impact on student learning, as was seen from the very good initiatives that have been introduced as an outcome of SDP; such as the library strategy, the ICT strategy, the push for higher level and the introduction of Assessment for Learning. The English department is focused on setting and reaching targets for improvement and this work is highly commended. Common examinations in English are planned this summer for the current first years. This is to be encouraged, especially as these students are placed in second-year class groups based partially on the results in summer examinations. Likewise, it is planned to introduce a common mid-term examination for fifth-year students. This is also to be encouraged as it will ensure correct placement of students. In this regard, it is recommended that students in all class groups in both second and fifth year commence the year by studying the same literary texts or genre until all student movement between class groups has ceased. A common novel in second year has been agreed, which is good practice.
The subject plan for English provides evidence that a wide range of genres is covered in all years. All first years study a novel and second years also study a novel and play. In one instance, second years study two novels. Although, most novels and plays were appropriate and Shakespeare is the chosen drama for higher level, it is recommended that all teachers ensure that the texts they choose are suitably challenging for the students and are also demanding enough to prepare students to meet the bigger challenges of the Leaving Certificate. It is also recommended that new material, such as another novel or play, be introduced into third year as opposed to the current practice of third year being mainly a consolidation and revision year. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) rebalanced Junior Certificate English syllabus should be consulted at www.ncca.ie to ensure that the appropriate learning outcomes are achieved for each junior cycle year group. A very good range of poetry is taught in each year.
The English department has two active co-ordinators at present and it was reported that this position is rotated. Monthly meetings of the English team are held and minutes of these meetings are recorded. Very good work has been done in compiling the English plan and the high quality of this planning document is commended. The mission statement for English: to ensure an appropriate education to meet students’ abilities, needs and interests, and the aims of the English department, which include: developing an appreciation of a wide variety of literature; developing competency in English; fostering enjoyment of English; and encouraging higher level where possible are commended. The overall English plan also contains the individual plans for each teacher.
There are two TY class groups in the school. One TY programme includes the study of speeches, Irish and American short stories, project work, poetry and film. The focus of this TY programme was appropriate as the material was interesting and challenging without being part of the Leaving Certificate programme. It is recommended that the genres covered in TY be the same for each class group even if the content is different.
Resources are centrally stored and there is also a shared folder on the college intranet to store electronic resources. There was evidence of ICT being used by teachers in the course of lessons and for downloading resources to supplement teaching and learning. Students also used ICT to type up work and for research purposes.
In keeping with good AfL techniques, a clear learning intention was shared with students and written on the board at the start of each lesson. In one instance, the homework assignment was also given to the students at the start of the lesson and the focus of the lesson was preparation for this assignment. Lessons were well structured and instructions were always clear.
Some examples of very good pre-reading strategies were in evidence such as when clear links were made with previous lessons and when the teacher invited students to comment on their personal experiences which linked with a theme to be studied. A particularly good pre-reading strategy was seen when students were invited to write down what they might put in a locket, as an introduction to a poem on that theme. In one instance, it would have been appropriate to have checked what happened in a previous chapter prior to embarking on a new chapter of the studied novel.
Very good use was made of the board and of ICT in the course of lessons. Both were used to display the learning intention and to record key points made during the lesson. ICT was also used to display visuals and exemplar material. Some of the classrooms are teacher based and there were samples of students’ work on display in these rooms including students’ book reviews and projects. Key quotes and key vocabulary relating to the subject were also on display. In addition, new vocabulary was often seamlessly integrated into lessons.
Some very good questioning strategies were observed. These were best when: the teacher asked questions of individual students as opposed to only asking questions of those with their hands up; the teachers allowed students time to structure an answer to the questions; the teachers asked both lower-order and higher-order questions to cater for all abilities; and the teachers probed students to develop their answers.
In lessons which involved reading a novel or short story, good practice was seen when the teacher stopped regularly to check understanding or to invite comments rather than reading long passages without stopping. In the teaching of poetry, very good practice was seen when the teacher invited students’ initial reaction to a studied poem individually and then in groups. This led to self-directed learning. In some instances, the lessons were inclined to be teacher led, which resulted in students being passive for part of or for the entire lesson. In these lessons, the teacher told students the answers as opposed to students being invited to find the answers themselves. It is recommended that the English teachers try different strategies to better include the student voice in the lesson. Such strategies could include some pair discussion on a topic, inviting students’ overall response to a poem before analysing it and giving opportunities for more independent learning through pair and group work. Where this was seen, the lesson was not only very enjoyable from the students’ point of view but the students learned from each other as well as from the teacher and enjoyed a range of different perspectives on the poem.
The focus on promoting reading from first year is highly commended. There was also an example observed where students were read to from a contemporary writer which gave them a flavour of the work and broadened their knowledge. This also improved their listening skills as they then had to describe what they heard and saw when listening to the extract. It is recommended that students be given more opportunities for oral presentations from first year, for example through internal classroom debates, making presentations on their book reviews or reciting poetry.
In all lessons, teachers managed their students very well and there were good teacher-student relationships. Teachers were affirming of their students’ efforts. Students displayed good knowledge when discussing their texts with the inspector. In addition, an examination of student work showed that, in most instances, a range of appropriate work had been covered. An analysis of state examination results in English shows that almost all students sit English at higher or ordinary level with just one result in foundation level English recorded in the past fours years. The push for students to achieve the highest possible standard according to their own ability is highly commended.
Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies are well embedded among members of the English department. Learning outcomes are shared with the students; teachers, in the main, give constructive comments on students’ written work; and exemplars of good work are used to support learning. These are good practices.
There is a homework policy in the school. An examination of students’ English work showed that, in almost all instances, students had received appropriate amounts of written work from the start of the year. Best practice was seen when students had practice in writing both long and short pieces of work throughout the year. In this regard, it is recommended that the English department agree a policy on frequency of longer pieces of work, including essay work for each year group.
Students’ copies showed that there is an appropriate focus on students having to plan their work. In most copies and folders observed, very good correction was in evidence and very good feedback was given to students. Criteria of assessment are used with examination classes as is appropriate. Some class groups had extremely well maintained folders which contained excellent resources generated by the teachers and the students.
The school holds Christmas and summer examinations and parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group. ‘Mock’ examinations are also conducted and these are corrected internally by the teachers. Academic awards and endeavour awards are given in each subject area.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good provision and support for English in the college.
· The college is making a concerted effort to encourage more students to take higher-level English.
· Some excellent strategies are in place to support students with special educational needs or learning support needs and a range of excellent initiatives has been introduced to
improve the literacy levels of students in the college.
· There is a strong focus on reading in the college.
· School development planning is highly commended in the college and a range of initiatives to enhance teaching and learning are in evidence.
· Very good work has taken place in compiling a high quality English plan.
· A clear learning intention was shared with students and written on the board at the start of each lesson.
· Very good use was made of the board and of ICT in the course of lessons.
· The quality of teaching was good and, in some instances, very good and students displayed good knowledge when discussing their texts with the inspector.
· Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies are well embedded among members of the English department.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that students in all class groups in both second and fifth year commence the year by studying the same texts or genre until all student movement between
class groups has ceased.
· All teachers should ensure that the texts they choose are suitably challenging.
· New material, such as another novel or play, should be introduced into third year.
· It is recommended that the genres covered in TY be the same for each class group even if the content is different.
· It is recommended that the English teachers try different strategies to better include the student voice in the lesson and that students be given more opportunities for oral
presentations from first year.
· It is recommended that the English department agree a policy on frequency of longer pieces of work, including essay work for each year group.
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.
Published March 2010