An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Carrickmacross, County Monaghan
Roll number: 72180K
Date of inspection: 28 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Inver 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
Inver College has a current enrolment of 504 students and it provides a wide range of courses to meet their educational needs. These include the Junior Certificate programme, the Junior Certificate School programme (JCSP), the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), and the Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) programmes. An optional Transition Year (TY) programme is also available in senior cycle and a single class group is formed each year. English is a core subject on all curricular programmes and timetabled provision for the subject is very good in all cases. The school is included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan. A School Completion Programme (SCP) operates in the college and this provides a range of supports to students, including a homework club. The home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator provides an important link with parents in the area.
Generally, students in first year are placed in mixed-ability class groups for English and their progress is monitored through the year. From second year, students are placed in banded classes so that the higher and ordinary level courses are taught in separate class groups. Students on the JCSP are fully integrated with their peers in subject class groups across the curriculum. Consideration should be given to the formation of a JCSP class group for English in second year and third year so that additional support in the subject can be directed to this group. This would provide an opportunity for students to become more involved in their own learning through the discussion of JCSP learning statements and profiles. Concurrent timetabling from second year through to sixth year enables students who wish to do so to change levels where appropriate. The majority of students take the certificate examinations at ordinary level and achieve well at that level. Students who take the higher level course for the Leaving Certificate examination in English tend to achieve very good grades.
The English teaching team comprises six subject specialists and they are allocated to class groups across all subject levels and all programmes. Teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) activities and to share good practice within the subject department. The teachers of English have benefited from whole-school in-service on classroom management and on the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the classroom, for example. The identification in the subject plan of a need for further training in differentiation is an indication of the teachersí interest in continuing professional development.
Resource provision to support the teaching and learning of English is very good. While the school has a library, demands for classroom space mean that it is permanently assigned to a teacher so that students have very limited access to what was described in the school as outdated book stock. The plans in place to reinvigorate the library were acknowledged and encouraged by the inspector during the evaluation visit. Whilst a library is a resource for the whole school, not just the English department, it has the potential to be a valuable support to the efforts made by the teachers of English to promote good reading habits. These supports include the participation of students on the JCSP programme in the reading challenge initiative and their involvement in a paired-reading programme; involvement in the MS Readathon by the wider student body; and a wide-range of activities designed to provide students with opportunities to write creatively.
The general school policy of having teachers based in their own rooms where possible is to be commended in that it facilitates resource storage and the display of studentsí work and other learning materials. Teachers have used the opportunity to display posters, wall charts and other learning aids designed to reinforce key vocabulary and quotations. They have created a stimulating and print-rich learning environment. There are excellent ICT facilities available in the school to support the teaching of the subject, including internet access in all teachersí classrooms.
The range of co-curricular activities available for students of English provides opportunities to acquire and practise a range of language skills. Students have the opportunity to participate in public speaking competitions and teachers arrange trips to the theatre to see professional productions of the plays being studied for examinations. The skills of debating and speech writing are taught in class and teachers take advantage of concurrent timetabling to organise inter-class debating. The school is commended for facilitating these arrangements and the involvement of teachers is an indicator of their commitment to the subject.
In summary, there is very good support for the teaching and learning of English in Inver College.
A very good collaborative spirit is evident among the teachers of English. In addition to two formal department meetings each year, they meet regularly during non-class contact time to support each other in delivering the curriculum. This indicates their enthusiasm for developing the department and working co-operatively. Minutes are maintained of the issues discussed and of the decisions made at subject department meetings.
A structured approach is taken to planning the delivery of English in Inver College. The department plan presented at the time of the evaluation included details on the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. These were appropriately brief so that the central focus in the plan was on teaching and learning. A particular strength of the department plan was the clarity with which learning outcomes, medium-term plans and long-term plans of work and assessment practices were defined. This ensured that the emphasis was on the language skills to be taught, rather than on the content. While the teachers work collaboratively to make decisions about core textbooks to be used, they are free to choose texts for study independently and often do so. This flexibility ensures that teachersí choice of texts is informed by the abilities and interests of their students.
Programme plans generally correspond with syllabus requirements and the requirements of the certificate examinations. It is suggested that there is scope to improve opportunities to study the short story in the junior cycle programme to provide students with opportunities to experience a fuller range of literary genres and to develop their critical literacy skills. The inclusion of a taught module on Patrick Kavanagh in the English plan ensures that students are in touch with a rich local literary heritage.
Following consultation with parents, a small number of students are placed on the JCSP. Relevant JCSP strategies, for example, the use of learning statements and the maintenance of student profiles, are used well to meet the needs of these students. Active learning methodologies are planned for and students are encouraged to participate fully in their own learning.
Planning for learning support begins with screening all incoming first years for learning difficulties, using standardised, norm-referenced tests of achievement. In addition, the school liaises closely with the feeder primary schools and parents to identify students who may have literacy support needs. Students who have exemptions from Irish attend for learning support while the rest of their group are in Irish class. Learning support provision is also timetabled against French. As is good practice, there is regular liaison between the subject department and teams supporting students with additional educational needs. A note on each student receiving support, including a brief description of his or her support needs, is provided to class teachers as appropriate. The English department plan has also been provided to the learning support department. In this way, the support offered in the learning support class can be aligned with the work being done in mainstream English lessons.
Teachersí individual planning for lessons takes cognisance of studentsí abilities, syllabus requirements and the subject departmentís plan. In all classes visited, lessons were well structured, purposeful and links were created with previous lessons. The pace and content of each lesson were generally appropriate to the class group with time being efficiently used.
A very good range of appropriate teaching and learning resources has been developed by the teachers of English and they are commended for their efforts in this regard. Effective use is made of these resources, including ICT, to deliver lessons. In a junior-cycle lesson, for example, students were provided with a visual reminder of the appropriate layout for letter writing. In another lesson on poetry, the data projector was used to show an interview with the poet to senior-cycle students and to juxtapose a map of the Blasket Islands with the text. This was a particularly successful pre-reading exercise which created an atmosphere of enquiry for students as they began to engage with the language of the poem. Students quickly identified words and phrases in the text which conveyed a sense of loneliness and desolation and were confident when defining its mood. A similarly effective lesson was observed in junior cycle. Here, the teacher used a set of pictures and flash cards to revise the five senses before introducing a short poem. The apt choice of poem and large typeface on the handout used ensured that the text was accessible to all the students in this ordinary-level class group. The teacher here is commended particularly for the level of advance planning which ensured that a number of physical props were available to reinforce studentsí engagement with the topic of the poem.
Both the lessons described above provided evidence that sufficient attention is given to developing studentsí sensitivity to language and their imaginative engagement with what they read. This was also evident in the other classes visited, where teachers encouraged students to formulate their own responses to texts. An example of this was observed when students were asked to review a performance they had attended the previous night. A handout prepared by the teacher prompted studentsí talk. By recording their ideas on the whiteboard, the teacher both affirmed their contributions and took the opportunity to revise relevant vocabulary. In this way, students learned from each other and the teacher only intervened to make suggestions or give information where it was needed.
Throughout the lessons observed, there was a commendable emphasis on participatory learning. Strategies used included hot-seating, where a student adopted the persona of a character in the text and responded to studentsí questions; pair work; concept mapping and whole-class discussion. Throughout the lesson, the focus was on helping students to explore and infer meaning in the texts studied. The same approach was evident in the written tasks assigned to students. By writing a diary entry from the point of view of a character, for example, or creating a media account of an event, students both rehearse the appropriate register, adapting their use of language to meet their purpose, and develop a fuller understanding of the texts being studied.
Teachers used questioning to check studentsí understanding of the work being done and their responses were very positively affirmed. In general, students with different levels of ability were catered for in all classes. However, it is recommended that teachers raise their expectations of the better able students. These students should be pushed to develop their critical skills by asking them higher order questions, rather than recall and comprehending type questions. A similar approach should be taken with their homework activities, so that they are sufficiently challenged.
It was evident in studentsí copies that they are given regular opportunities to practise a range of writing tasks and that teachers provide a number of supports for them in the form of outline notes, writing models and skeleton answers. This support material is drawn from a number of sources and students are encouraged to keep it carefully in folders. This is a very helpful approach, particularly where a good balance has been achieved between teachersí notes and studentsí work. In some instances, however, it was evident that overly detailed handouts inhibited studentsí writing. In these cases, students had insufficient opportunities to communicate their own ideas and to complete exercises in evaluation, critical commentary and critical analysis independently. To address this issue, a review of the support materials used is suggested.
In general, students demonstrated familiarity with and competence in using the concepts and skills necessary to complete their courses and evidence indicated that students were making appropriate progress according to their abilities. This was, in most cases, reflected in studentsí ability to discuss topics and to ask and answer questions with the minimum of prompting. In addition, inspectorsí questions revealed that students had a very good knowledge of their courses.
Teachers checked student learning during the lessons observed, either by questioning or by setting short writing exercises. The teachers regularly moved through the room to interact with students and it was evident that any difficulties in understanding were identified and dealt with quickly. A broad range of writing exercises is regularly assigned as homework in order to check achievement of understanding and provide students with opportunities to practise newly acquired skills. The quality of work in studentsí copies is generally very good and, in some instances, the teachers provided them with excellent feedback, including suggestions for improvement and positive comments. This is good practice as it develops studentsí understanding and skills and is an important teaching technique. More extensive use of this kind of feedback is suggested.
In many instances studentsí work is labelled and dated and its legibility is well-supported by the neatness of their handwriting. It was evident that some English teachers have established very clear expectations regarding the quality of presentation and layout for studentsí work and the storage of notes and handouts. It is suggested that agreeing common expectations in this regard across the subject department would be very beneficial for both teachers and students.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and the end of the summer term for students in first year, second year and fifth year. Common questions are set as appropriate for class groups within each year. This good practice allows comparison of studentsí progress while facilitating careful planning to meet their needs and is commended. Assessments are held three times during the school year for TY students. Third-year and sixth-year students also sit Christmas assessment tests and these are followed in the spring term by pre-certificate examinations.
Teachers maintain very good records of studentsí achievements and these inform reports sent home to parents. Parents are also kept informed of their childrenís progress through a variety of means, including the homework journal, which is used as a mode of communication between home and school. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group and parents may meet the relevant teacher by appointment to discuss their childrenís progress.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ There is very good support for the teaching and learning of English, including the provision of appropriate teaching resources, including ICT. Very good use is made of these resources to deliver lessons.
∑ The range of co-curricular activities available for students of English provides opportunities to acquire and practise a range of language skills.
∑ A structured approach is taken to planning the delivery of English. A particular strength of the department plan was the clarity with which learning outcomes, medium-term and long-term plans of work and assessment practices were defined.
∑ There is good liaison between the subject department and teams supporting students with additional educational needs.
∑ A range of teaching and learning strategies is deployed in English and there is an appropriate emphasis on participatory learning.
∑ Attention is given to developing studentsí sensitivity to language and their imaginative engagement with what they read.
∑ The quality of work in studentsí copies is generally very good and they are making appropriate progress according to their abilities.
∑ Teachers maintain very good records of studentsí achievements and these inform reports sent home to parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Consideration should be given to the formation of a JCSP class group for English in second year and in third year
∑ Teachers should raise their expectations of the better able students.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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 May 2009