An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Buttevant, County Cork
Roll number: 76067L
Date of inspection: 4 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhuire. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Music 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 teacher, 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 subject teacher. The board of management was given the 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 to this report.
Music is available as an optional subject to all students in all years in Coláiste Mhuire. A five-week taster system operates in first year after which students make their choices for Junior Certificate, choosing between Music and Geography. All students in the optional Transition Year (TY) programme have a double period of Music per week. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students prioritise their preferred subject options. There is a very good uptake for Music at junior cycle with approximately forty to fifty per cent of the student cohort choosing Music. The numbers for Leaving Certificate however, are quite erratic with numbers varying from quite healthy to none at all, this year being one such example. This is a worrying trend and it is recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake for Leaving Certificate. Despite an almost balanced gender breakdown in the school, the proportion of girls taking Music is significantly higher. This gender imbalance is regrettable and thus further exploration into ways of encouraging a higher uptake of Music by boys is also recommended.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with guidelines from the Department with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week. Although there are double periods in senior cycle to facilitate practical work, there are none in junior cycle. As Music is opposite Geography this is perfectly understandable. At present the class groups are small enough to co-ordinate practical work during a single period but should the numbers taking Music increase in the future, it may be worth considering ways in which a double period could be facilitated.
In addition to the curricular opportunities, a variety of extracurricular musical activities exists in the school. The school produces a concert every second year and preparations for this year’s Ceolchoirm na Nollag were in full swing during the inspection. The programme this year includes a variety of solo performances, a range of repertoire from the school choir, a TY drama Cinderella, first-year and second-year dance groups and a traditional group comprising eight members playing a variety of dance tunes. The school also has a guitar club which rehearses during two lunchtimes per week and is open to junior cycle students. Trips to concerts and shows, samba workshops, Songskool, liturgical events and cross-curricular work with the Irish department for Seachtain na Gaeilge are just some of the other many events incorporating music which take place during the school year. Through these activities all students have access to some form of music-making, which is commendable. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are commendable.
Coláiste Mhuire has a good size room which, although not a dedicated music room leaves one in no doubt that this is an area where music activities take place. There is an attractive range of musical posters on the walls, examples of students’ work, and bulletin boards with notices and information about various aspects of music which are immediately apparent upon entering the room. A range of classroom instruments including guitars, percussion instruments, and a drum kit are also prominently positioned all around the room. There is also a piano, albeit in poor condition, a portable sound system, and a chalkboard. The music department also has use of the hall for choir practices which has suitable choir steps. Access to the computer room is also available where the software package Sibelius is installed. The room has no stave board or any suitable projection equipment. This is problematic as it means the teacher has to draw rough staves when dealing with the more technical aspects of Music. This was evidenced during the evaluation when the teacher partially outlined some music on the chalkboard when correcting exercises, with the resulting display reinforcing poor practice. It is recommended that either the chalkboard be replaced with a new white board with half the area covered in staves, or preferably a whiteboard and an overhead projector (OHP) be acquired for the music room. In this way staves could be projected onto the existing whiteboard when needed. Other reasons for utilising an OHP to optimise learning are outlined below. The ongoing development of other resources should also be continued, and should include further development of information and communication technology (ICT).
A subject department plan following the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template format was presented during the inspection. This document outlined the running of the department and included cross-curricular planning, homework and assessment procedures and record keeping. Long-term curriculum planning, which scheduled the topics to be covered, was relevant to the syllabuses and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question was also included. A detailed choir plan encompassing all the events throughout the school year and a very interesting TY programme were also outlined in the documentation.
Individual subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support material suitable for all levels. In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
To develop the plan further, it would be useful to document planned learning outcomes, consideration of learning strategies and the inclusion of more active-learning methodologies. It would also be beneficial to plan carefully for the ongoing development of resources and music technology. Furthermore it is important that this plan be a flexible working document open to review so that the contents remain relevant and purposeful.
The teacher is encouraged to avail of any opportunities which will allow her to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at post-primary level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. In addition, it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for continuing professional development in music education that arise in the future, particularly in the area of ICT.
In all lessons visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. Through the effective organisation and management of learning activities a positive learning environment ensued. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
The students were exposed to a wide variety of music repertoire through the activities seen, whether they were engaged in performing, composing or listening. Pieces such as Good Morning Baltimore, and Welcome to the Sixties from Hairspray, recordings of O Holy Night by both Maria Carey and Leontyne Price and songs like Happy Ending and Lollipop by Mika ensured that the range of musical experience of the students was extended. This is highly effective in developing critical listening skills and is commended.
There were good worksheet activities where the students were engaged in either focussed listening tasks or, to a lesser extent, composition. The worksheets were well designed and pitched at the age level and ability of the students concerned. At times however the length of the musical extract was unsuitable for the task at hand and, when too long, created a mismatch between the type of questions asked and the expected student response. When consolidating the material after the worksheet activity some very good questioning was observed, although the proportion of the lesson in which this was used was unfortunately too small. It is recommended that this be expanded and a more collaborative setting where teacher and students work together with developmental rather than terminal activities be used. This should help to enhance the students’ musical learning experience and broaden their musical education.
Most lessons observed had some elements of performing mostly revolving around preparations for the forthcoming Christmas concert. Suitable warm-up exercises both vocal and physical ensured that all groups were ready to sing. Performances of such pieces as Happy Ending, Because of You, Can You Feel the Love Tonight? and Jingle Bell Rock were enjoyed in the course of the evaluation. Total student participation in all these ensembles and supportive and assured accompaniments by both teacher and a student, enhanced the quality of these performances and are commended. Relevant rote learning and good rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, were some of the other activities seen. Whole-class performances of the music provided convincing evidence that most students are capable of maintaining their own part in group music-making. Observation of students’ practical work showed that whilst some were challenged, few students were unable to cope with the musical demands. This focus on building the role of Music as a living subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy practical music-making are entirely appropriate and highly commendable.
Although the performing, composing and listening elements of the syllabus are very well addressed as separate entities, it is recommended that more integration of these three principles now be developed in all lessons. In this way more opportunities for creative expression and experimentation from the students would evolve and there should follow a more favourable balance between students’ musical development and their preparation for the examinations.
The resources available in the music room are used to very good effect and contribute to an effective learning environment. It is recommended however, that ways in which an OHP could be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored, as it would greatly enhance the learning situation. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated questions on the board, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture when performing on instruments or singing, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, as the plan is to develop ICT, some consideration should be given to looking at ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting. The effective use of these resources would greatly enhance student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance. Special mention of the junior cycle copybooks and files has to be made. These were of an exceptionally high standard of organisation and neatness, which is highly commendable.
Coláiste Mhuire has a policy of whole-school assessments in every subject at regular intervals. These take place usually every five weeks throughout the year and the success of this system was reported on during the evaluation. Students and parents are made aware of the dates of these assessments at the start of the school year. An entire school day is set aside for these assessments and the material assessed in these tests is based on what has been covered in class since the previous assessments. Each assessment takes approximately 40 minutes to complete. Students are given marked scripts to correct their mistakes and show them to their parents who subsequently sign them. Teachers keep assessments and scripts filed in Subject Assessment Folders and students and parents receive a copy of monthly assessment results in the post each month. This system, which allows for the careful monitoring of a student’s progress and provides sound guidelines for performance in the state examinations, is indicative of the commitment of the teachers to helping all students achieve their potential and is highly commendable.
Along with this system, other formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis based on material which has been covered in class. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. Practical elements are continually assessed and students are well used to performing for each other. Constructive comments and words of encouragement were also noted in students’ corrected work which is commendable.
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 teacher of Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management of the school are pleased with the very comprehensive report which acknowledges and affirms the status of music in the school. Good practice is highly commended. There was ample evidence in the report of the efforts by the school to promote music and give students a love of music.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The music room has been equipped with a whiteboard, overhead projector and a computer with a projector. Monies have been spent on acquiring ICT music programs and music technology (Sibelius 5) is being used in the teaching of the leaving Certificate music course.