An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Adamstown, County Wexford
Roll number: 71600B
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Abbain, Adamstown. 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 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Coláiste Abbain has recently introduced the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and, among the current first-year student cohort, one class group is comprised of JCSP students and the other class group is comprised of mainstream Junior Certificate students. As this is the first year of the programme in the school, there are no JCSP students in second and third year. Students’ placement in JCSP is determined by liaison with key staff in the feeder primary schools and information from a school-based assessment prior to entry. There is one class group in second year and the practice is for this group to be set into two groups in third year. There is one class group in fifth year and again the practice of the school is to divide the fifth-year class at the beginning of sixth year into one ordinary-level class group and one higher-level class group for English. Concurrent timetabling is provided for third and sixth-year English class groups to allow for movement of students. This is good practice.
All class groups in junior cycle have just four English lessons each week, although many students get extra support in literacy. The school week falls short of the twenty-eight hours tuition time recommended in Circular M29/95. In amending the timetable to bring the school up to the required twenty-eight hours, the school should strongly consider giving another period to English in each year of junior cycle as literacy proficiency underpins all subjects. Provision of English in senior cycle improves as students have five English lessons each week. However, fifth-year class groups have English twice on one day. An even distribution of lesson periods across the week for all year groups is more desirable.
Students in the school are provided with a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. For example, students are brought to the theatre to see plays on their course, and teachers also arrange for visiting speakers, writers and theatre groups to come to the school. Students also participate in a range of debating and public speaking competitions and it was reported that there are regular in-class debates held during English lessons. This is commended.
There are two mainstream English teachers, who rotate the teaching of higher-level and ordinary-level English on a fair basis. The learning support teacher also takes one class group of third years for English.
The school has a small library which is quite well stocked with books and is open to all students at lunchtime. Teachers use book boxes to bring the books from the library to their classrooms to encourage the reading habit among students, which is very good practice.
English teachers have their own base classrooms which are well resourced. There is a television and DVD player in each room. One classroom was particularly well decorated with key words pertaining to English, project work and displays of information about writers and poets, which are all useful teaching and learning resources. This is very good practice and should be extended across the English department. Each teacher in the school has been supplied with a laptop which is mainly used for planning. The school is wired for broadband and there are a number of data projectors available. There is a computer room and two interactive whiteboards in the school. Therefore, it is recommended that English teachers explore and develop the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning practices. The learning support room itself is very well resourced and includes an interactive whiteboard and computers. There is good whole school support for English in the school.
Students in need of learning support or resource teaching receive extra support from first year through to sixth year if necessary. Students are generally withdrawn twice weekly in small groups for learning support during Irish lessons if they have an exemption from Irish. Alternatively, they are withdrawn from a range of other subjects with the prior approval of the teacher involved.
An intensive reading programme called Acceleread Accelerwrite was recently introduced for students with literacy difficulties. This is commended. Good practice takes place in that students taking this programme are tested at the start and at the end of the programme to ascertain improvements. Currently, other students are not retested to ascertain improvements in literacy levels from the start to the end of the year, but the school is planning to introduce this which is to be encouraged.
The school provides time for subject department planning during the year. Frequent informal meetings are held to supplement formal planning. Minutes of formal meetings are recorded which is good practice. Teachers share responsibility for co-ordination of the subject. The English subject plan is well developed and follows the school development planning initiative template. The aims of the English department are outlined in the plan and include: developing students' language skills in the areas of reading, writing and speaking; developing an awareness and command of different registers and developing students’ self-expression and creativity. In addition, the English teachers have developed Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate folders, which contain relevant documentation including the learning objectives or outcomes that students should achieve for each aspect of the course. This is highly commended. These learning outcomes, like the JCSP statements on English could be used as a check list for students to track their own achievements over time. The folders also contain a section on teaching methods.
Presently, first years study a novel which is very good practice and in some cases they also study at least one drama text. Students generally study another novel in second year. It is suggested that a third novel be introduced in junior cycle and that the better able third-year group be given some exposure to Shakespeare, such as reading an abridged version of a play or viewing a film adaptation of a Shakespearean drama. Overall, it is recommended that teachers agree the minimum number of poems, short stories, dramas and novels to teach in each year of junior cycle. It is also recommended that poetry be taught across each year of junior cycle, as opposed to in one block and perhaps taught thematically so that it is linked with other genres on the course. At senior cycle, the Shakespearean text is taught in fifth year. It is suggested that this text be delayed until sixth year when students are in the differentiated class groupings.
The school’s literacy support plan was drawn up by the learning support department in liaison with the English department. This is exemplary practice. The school’s learning support/special educational needs policy is also commended as it outlines the responsibilities of all parties in this area and how a whole-school approach is to be taken to learning support. The number of teachers providing learning support for students is increasing and therefore makes co-ordination more difficult, which is an area that might be reviewed by management.
Some very good teaching and learning resources have been prepared by teachers for their students on all aspects of the course. In addition, teachers were well organised and, in one instance, work was laid out in fortnightly plans which focused on the key skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
There was a clear purpose to all lessons observed and this purpose was sometimes shared with students by writing it on the board. This is very good practice. Teachers created good links between texts to put learning in context. There was also a good emphasis on vocabulary development although the timing of this was not always optimal. In one instance, the focus on vocabulary development should have been delayed until after a general discussion on the content of the text that had just been introduced. In some instances, when a new text was introduced, there was a tendency to immediately analyse the techniques of the text or to move to a writing exercise on the text as opposed to looking for an initial reaction and encouraging discussion and appreciation of the text. This was a lost opportunity as the texts used were interesting and had potential to generate good discussion. However, in another instance the good practice of seeking students’ initial reaction before analysing a poem in detail was observed.
Teachers had to cater for a range of abilities in all lessons. Individual attention was given to students with a lower ability in English when work was set for a portion of the lesson. Questioning was used as a method of encouraging students to participate in lessons. There was a tendency in one instance to ask only lower-order questions. This suited the lower-ability students but there is also a need to challenge the better-able students by asking higher-order questions which elicit their opinions. Therefore, it is recommended, in some instances, that more higher-order, open-ended questions be asked, especially in the classes of higher ability. Where higher-order questioning was employed it led to good discussion and skilful questions also led students to probe their texts deeper and thus facilitated learning. Good practice took place as questions were asked of named students and this ensured that all students were on task.
Different styles of teaching were observed during the evaluation. In some lessons, learning was facilitated through engaging students in tasks which led to self-directed and active learning while in other lessons a teacher-led approach was adopted which sometimes led to passive learners in the classroom. Learning was sometimes facilitated through the use of effective group work. This work was well organised and generated good discussion among the entire group and class. There was evidence that students were given engaging work in the groups including creating a magazine as part of media studies and a project on their novel. These projects are commended as the learning of language and literature was integrated; for example, students had to write newspaper articles on events in their novel and some groups used ICT to write up their projects. In another instance, students were given an essay on a similar topic to a studied drama, which is also commended. An appropriate focus on developing students’ personal response was also in evidence in some instances and this often led to good student discussion.
Good practice takes place in that audio and audio-visual versions of texts are used to reinforce learning and, in general, teachers used a range of textbooks as teaching resources as opposed to rigidly adhering to one textbook. In one instance, a range of very useful text resources had been created in different genre to enhance learning. The board was well used to record key points made by students in their lessons and to record students’ homework.
It is commendable that the number of students in the school sitting foundation-level English in Junior Certificate has declined and that students are encouraged to aim for their highest achievable level in the state examinations.
All students sit formal in-school examinations at Christmas and examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations in the second term. All other students sit end-of-year summer examinations. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for all year groups and twice yearly for the examination year groups.
A whole-school homework policy is in the process of being developed. In conjunction with this, it is recommended that the English department agree the appropriate amount of homework in English for each year group, especially the frequency of setting longer pieces of work including essays. In this way an incremental approach to writing should be achieved so that students build on their writing skills as each year progresses.
The standard of students’ copies varied. There was evidence of frequent work assigned but this work was often just ticked and dated with no formative or constructive feedback given. It is recommended that constructive commentary form the basis of correcting longer pieces of work so that students are aware of the areas where they need to improve. Students in some classes had folders which contained a range of appropriate and useful notes which would facilitate revision. Senior cycle students were reported to be familiar with the discrete criteria of assessment, which is good practice and there was evidence that modelling is encouraged through the use of exemplars of standard. This is commended.
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 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 November 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
· Fair and Worthwhile
· Comprehensive Report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· Curriculum review taskforce set up at staff meeting of 26th August ‘08
· Timetable Taskforce also established at same meeting to explore the introduction of 28 hour working week
· English Dept / Subject planning meetings have discussed the suggestions of the draft report and have adapted same
· New homework policy has been introduced to the school with May 2010 review date