An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Lanesboro Community College
Lanesboro, County Longford
Roll number: 71720L
Date of inspection: 21and 22 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Lanesboro 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Lanesboro Community College provides English in the Junior Certificate programme (JC), Leaving Certificate programme (LC) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students in the LC and LCVP follow the same English syllabus.
Four lessons are allocated to English in first year and five in all other year groups. Consideration could be given to allocating an additional lesson in first year, resources permitting, in order to develop skills. It is commendable that, in most cases, lessons are evenly distributed over the week. This good practice should be extended to all classes.
English is taught in a mixed-ability setting in first and second year. Students in third, fifth and sixth year are assigned to higher-level and ordinary-level classes. Except for first years, English lessons are timetabled concurrently and this facilitates movement from one level to another. Access to levels in third year and in the senior cycle is determined by performance in examinations, on-going assessment and observation. Students who wish to change level receive advice from their teachers and the guidance counsellor.
While many English classes retain the same teacher from one year to another, due to curricular requirements in relation to the deployment of teachers, this is not always possible. For example, when students are assigned to higher-level and ordinary-level classes in third year, it may mean a change of teacher. Some teachers are involved in teaching senior cycle English only and have no contact with the junior cycle. While it is acknowledged that some constraints are placed on small schools in regard to deployment, nonetheless, ways should be explored to address the issue since best practice suggests that teachers should have contact with English across a range of programmes and levels.
The school has benefited from recent refurbishment and teachers have designated classrooms in some cases. This facilitates the storage of materials. For those teachers who must move from one room to another, designated space in classrooms should be found. Provision of resources such as audio-visual equipment, books and DVDs is generally good. The school has dedicated a compact and well organised space for use as a lending library. This facility is open to students during break time and this is commended. To develop the facility further, information could be accessed at the websites of the School Library Association in the Republic of Ireland (SLARI), and the School Library Association of Britain (www.sla.org.uk/).
Resources such as the department’s DVD and CD collection could be stored securely in the library space. The school has quite good ICT facilities but these are placed under considerable pressure by the post-Leaving Certificate course (PLC). A booking form should be placed in the staffroom so that teachers of English can reserve the computer room for their classes. Broadband internet connection is available in classrooms.
Three teachers are involved in mainstream English. It is reported that there are difficulties accessing continuous professional development (CPD) courses for reasons of distance and because of the small number of teachers deployed in the subject area. Appropriate courses are run in the Athlone Education centre. In view of reported difficulties, consideration could be given to arranging cluster meetings with other schools within the immediate geographical location on an occasional basis. Contact could be made with both the County Longford Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and with the Second Level Support Services (SLSS). English departmental meetings are a forum for sharing ideas and resources. Meetings could be arranged with other subject groups within the school to share good practice in pedagogical areas. On-line information and courses could also be investigated. Themes common to all subjects could be planned for futre staff-development days. The English teachers should identify their CPD needs and plan for these in the context of departmental meetings.
There is good liaison between the teachers of English and the learning-support department. A significant minority of students have learning-support needs. At present, there is no fully qualified learning-support teacher but those involved in provision are seeking to up-skill themselves. Efforts are also being made to build up a suitable bank of resources and this is commended. Funding was recently made available for this purpose. There are formal written policies in the area of learning support. Students with literacy needs are identified through in-house assessment and psychological tests. They are withdrawn from Irish if they have exemptions from the subject.
A small number of students present with additional language needs. They are assessed by the relevant teaching staff and are withdrawn for additional English lessons, usually from Irish. Good practice was noted in a classroom visited where words were written in Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish. This contributed to a positive multi-cultural environment in the classroom.
Extra-curricular and co-curricular activities extend students’ experience of English. Students go on drama outings and have participated in writing workshops. Drama is also staged in the school and the school has participated in the Abbey Theatre’s outreach programme.
Collaborative planning takes place formally at staff development days. There is a strong spirit of collegiality in the English department and teachers meet informally on a regular basis. There is no formal departmental structure in place and no co-ordinator of English. It is recommended that a member of the teaching team undertake the role of co-ordinator to give coherence and direction to planning activity and to ensure that meetings, whether formal or informal, are used to best advantage. The role of co-ordinator could be undertaken on a rotating basis to give each teacher experience of leadership and to distribute responsibility equitably.
There were records of some meetings in the planning folder. Two separate outline plans for English exist, one for the senior cycle and one for the junior cycle. Both follow the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template and are in need of development. The two documents should be brought together since English should be experienced on a continuum and skills should be taught and learned incrementally over the two cycles. The English department should consult the composite report, Looking at English, published by the Department of Education and Science in November 2006. The document was issued to all schools and contains useful information that should inform the planning and delivery of English in the junior and senior cycle. The report can be accessed at www.education.ie. When developing the plan for English, the following areas should be prioritised: a reading policy; a greater range of texts in the junior cycle; assessment. A range of teaching strategies should be documented. The plan should contain an inventory of all available resources and should indicate how these can be accessed. All documents should be dated so that progress can be tracked. A date for review should be scheduled. It is recommended that the team engage in strategic planning with the target of encouraging more students to attempt higher-level English.
Long-term and short-term schemes of work should make specific reference to syllabus aims and objectives. The pace of syllabus delivery should be reviewed. The department as a whole should document a timeframe for syllabus delivery in the junior and senior cycle and clear timelines should be laid down. Long-term schemes of work for each class should be detailed and reflect the syllabus. Individual lesson plans should document the learning outcomes to be achieved in the lesson, the resources and methodologies to be deployed in the lesson, and the nature of assessment to be used.
Decisions on the choice of texts and materials are taken in consultation with department members. The abilities and interests of class groups are taken into consideration. First-year texts are chosen on the basis of teacher preference and past experience. In the context of future planning, the department should review a wide range of texts including more recent publications. Students should be exposed to a wider range of genres and all students should have access to Shakespeare in some form, whether text, performance, audio or video and DVD.
Observation of lessons showed a good level of planning in most cases. Resources that were necessary to enable learning were prepared in advance and very good practice was noted in one lesson where planning for resources ensured the smooth flow of the lesson, maintained student engagement and helped to achieve the learning intention.
Content of the lessons observed was appropriate and engaged students’ interest. Lessons ranged over drama (Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars), media studies and fiction (Death and Nightingales by Eugene McCabe and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne). The lesson objectives were implicit in most cases. Best practice was noted where the learning intention was clearly conveyed to students and instructions were simple and direct. In most cases, lessons were well structured, the pace was appropriate to the needs of the learners and time was efficiently used. In a minority of cases, there was a tendency to digress from the central point. It is recommended that, in all cases, achievable, syllabus-related learning outcomes be written on the board (what students must, should and could know by the end of the lesson). The closing phase of the lesson should be used to assess the extent to which the intended outcomes have been achieved. Content, strategies and resources should be planned to achieve the specified outcomes.
Resources used were limited to the board and the text in most cases but these were generally used appropriately. A greater variety of resources could be used to support teaching and learning in all lessons in order to engage students’ interest, to develop a range of skills and to cater for different learning styles. Very good practice was noted in a lesson observed where a wide variety of resources was used: visual material, the board, a DVD still and good worksheets were deployed effectively. This is highly commended.
The board was used to record students’ contributions, to give focus to lessons and in a minority of cases, for new words. Every lesson should provide an opportunity to learn language skills. The development of students’ expressive language through vocabulary building is to be encouraged. Language is most effectively taught when grounded in the texts being read and it is therefore recommended that the teaching of language and literature be integrated in all lessons. When reading in class, directed activities related to texts (DARTs) should be used in order to ensure active participation. It might also be helpful to have audio recordings of texts, particularly for those whose mother tongue is not English. Copybooks indicate that there is a strong emphasis on writing summaries of texts. Summary writing reinforces and embeds students’ knowledge of details and sequence of events. This is laudable. Selectivity should be encouraged. To balance this activity there should be more emphasis on evaluative writing. Students should learn writing skills and due emphasis should be placed on writing as process. For example, drafts of stories or poems at different stages could be kept in a student folder. This activity would provide an opportunity for students to use word-processing applications on the computer. It is recommended that all students learn the skills of writing and that they be given sufficient writing practice in a variety of genres.
Teaching strategies were, in general, effectively deployed and learners were engaged in the classes visited. Questioning was used for a variety of purposes. It was used to review previous lesson content and to activate prior learning in order to lead students into the day’s lesson. Teachers used questioning to assess understanding and to give feedback where necessary. In some cases, students were encouraged to formulate an answer collectively through brainstorming and their answers and ideas were recorded on the board. A bubble chart provided the scaffolding for a collective response that could be written later. Through staged questioning, teachers drew students out. It is highly commendable that questioning was not limited to information retrieval but that students were encouraged to make judgements and to substantiate views with reference to the texts. Students who expressed judgements for which there was no textual evidence were challenged and encouraged to moderate their views in line with the available evidence. This is good practice and is to be encouraged. Students were asked for their opinions. Building on this good practice, all students should be encouraged to keep a personal response diary. In the best lessons, there was a good balance between global questioning and questions addressed to individuals. This should be kept under constant review as it is important that all students are targeted for questioning during a lesson.
Students were engaged in collaborative learning. In lessons observed, good practice was noted where they worked in pairs. In one instance, specific roles were assigned and students performed a task outlined in their worksheets. Other strategies also encouraged learning: a mnemonic was used to assist memory and humour was appropriately used to stimulate interest. It is highly commendable that a class group visited had been taken to a performance of a play that they had studied. Interaction with the inspector indicated a very good understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the play as a result of seeing it on stage.
Good practice was observed in the use of the classroom as a teaching resource in one lesson observed. Wall mounted displays acted as teaching aids. This good practice should be extended to all classes. In addition, an attractive class library could be created, appropriate to year group, in each classroom. Such usage promotes the classroom as a place conducive to the learning of English.
Students learn in a supportive environment. Discipline was firm but relaxed. In all lessons visited, there was a very good rapport between students and teachers. Students were willing to contribute in class and were lively and engaged.
Homework was regularly assigned in some cases and there was evidence of a good range of content including personal and creative writing. Feedback was given and this directed students to become better learners. Students had also recorded useful revision notes and this was helpful for examination preparation. However, in general, there is scope for development in the area of assigning and monitoring homework. It is of particular importance in the case of senior examination classes that they are introduced to the discrete criteria employed by the examiners in the state examinations and these should be used in the marking of written work. Students could be directed to the chief examiner’s reports in English from the State Examinations Commission (SEC) at www.examinations.ie. It is recommended that accurate records of all assessments, including non-written tasks, be kept in order to maintain accurate student profiles. Written homework should be dated to track progress. Records of attendance are kept.
Formal assessment takes place through in-house examinations and “mock” examinations. There are no common papers set at present and this is an area for development. Mock examinations are set and corrected externally. Examination outcomes are analysed.
The school communicates with parents through the student homework journal and parent-teacher meetings. These are held annually for each year group. Other informal meetings can also be arranged on request. The school has developed a homework policy. The policy emphasises the importance of school as a place where learning takes place and the role of students in taking responsibility for their learning. There are guidelines on the amount of time recommended for each year group. The role of the subject teacher in relation to assessment is omitted and this should be reviewed. The school homework policy should be customised for English. Policy and procedures should be clearly and specifically documented and should be underpinned by a commitment to assessment for learning. The department plan should outline clearly the various types of assessment that are used and the number of substantial written assignments to be completed in each year group.
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.