An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Boherbue Comprehensive School

Boherbue, County Cork

Roll number: 81009B

 

Date of inspection: 28 September 2007

Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Boherbue Comprehensive School. 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Boherbue Comprehensive School is a co-educational school. First-year classes have four English lessons per week. This is adequate provision. Classes in second year, third year and fourth year (Leaving Certificate Year 1) have five English lessons per week, which is good provision. Fifth-year (Leaving Certificate Year 2) classes have six English lessons per week which is very good provision. It is suggested that the possibility of rebalancing the provision of English lessons in order to allow for an increase in the number of lessons provided for first-year classes should be examined, within the inevitable constraints of the timetabling process. This should be done in order to achieve the optimal timetabled provision for first-year classes, as set out in the Department of Education and Science publication Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. Overall there is good timetabled provision for English. English teachers are assigned to levels and cycles on a rotational basis wherever possible. This is worthwhile, allowing for the development of a wide skills base within the English department. English classes retain their teachers from second year to third year and from fourth year to fifth year and this too is good practice.

 

Classes in first year are of mixed ability. A common English examination at the end of first year is used to inform the assigning of students to higher-level or ordinary-level class groups at the beginning of second year. Students are encouraged by teachers to participate in the higher-level course wherever practicable. This is positive. It is suggested that consideration might be given to delaying the current arrangements with regard to uptake of the higher-level course in junior cycle until later in the second year of the course. This would allow students to gain a clearer perception of their facility with the subject, while simultaneously recognising the uneven academic development of some students during junior cycle. Students are selected for literacy support on the basis of contacts with their primary schools, made through the first-year head and the principal, along with assessment tests which are conducted when they arrive in the school in September. These, in turn, may lead to diagnostic tests for some students where difficulties in the area of literacy have been identified. The school should consider the movement of the initial screening process to the academic year preceding studentsí arrival in first year. This would greatly facilitate the planning process in the area of literacy support and of special educational needs in general. Students may also be referred for additional support by mainstream teachers in the event of noticeable difficulties arising in the area of literacy. Students are placed in higher-level or ordinary-level classes in fourth year based on their performance in the Junior Certificate examination, teacher assessments and input from parents and students themselves. Classes in each of second year, third year, fourth year and fifth year are timetabled concurrently in order to facilitate ease of movement should students wish to change levels during the year. This is good practice. English teachers are provided with base rooms which are well equipped for the teaching of the subject. English lessons are generally conducted in these teacher base rooms, apart from the case of first-year classes which have their own classrooms.

 

The school has a library, responsibility for which is the duty of a postholder. There is an annual budget and the facility is open four days a week at lunchtimes. English classes are brought to the library at other times during the week. There are good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities, with a bank of computers stored in easily accessible cabinets along one wall of the room. An induction programme for first-year students is used to promote reading and use of the library. The recent organising of a reading initiative for first-year students is a particularly praiseworthy endeavour, with teachers promoting a Reading Challenge for students to increase their interest in reading for pleasure. This idea has been adapted from the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Parental involvement in studentsí reading is also encouraged. The school has participated in the MS Readathon in the recent past. There is a wide and eclectic range of books available for students in the library, including high interest / low reading ability texts to encourage reluctant readers. In addition, the lending period for books has recently been extended to three weeks as a further incentive to student borrowing. Peer reviews of texts are displayed in the library and choice of novels for the first-year English course is based on input from previous first-year students regarding books which have appealed to them. This is very positive and it is suggested that an extension of this good practice might be to formally seek recommendations through the student council for future purchases in the library itself. Further ideas for the development of the library might include the purchase of graphic novels and magazines, the creation of Ďcosy cornersí in the room, teacher modelling of library usage and the display of media posters with literary connections. The organisation of a paired-reading programme as an extension of the already praiseworthy buddy system between sixth-year and first-year students, where senior cycle and junior cycle students have already been asked to set up a book club, might also be worthwhile. Further ideas for the development of the library can be garnered from the publication Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project which is available on www.jcspliteracy.ie. Great praise is due to the English department for its dynamic approach towards enhancing junior cycle studentsí appreciation of reading and for its identification of this as a key area for development through the subject planning process.

 

Each English base room has a television and a DVD player. This is very positive. An interactive whiteboard and a data projector have been installed in one English base room. This is a most worthwhile development. Already this is being used to good effect and, with the imminent arrival of additional software, the impact of this resource on student learning will be significant. There are internet access points in all classrooms. In addition, the school has a laptop room, a laptop trolley and two computer rooms, with computer access also available for teachers in the staffroom. Home use of laptops by students is facilitated, particularly for students in need of additional literacy support. The laptop room is used by the learning-support teacher as an aid to studentsí literacy, with a range of interactive computer software. There is very good provision of information and communications technology (ICT). English teachers have participated in ICT training courses in the past. The school participated in the Laptops Initiative organised by the National Council for Technology in Education (NCTE). The principal states that he is willing to facilitate the further development of the use of ICT for the teaching of English through the provision of additional ICT resources should they be requested and utilised. The English department has identified the increased use of ICT as an area to be explored. It is recommended that the English department use the subject planning process to support the further acquisition of ICT resources for English base rooms, while utilising the expertise available within the department and the school to enhance teachersí current skills with ICT. This should be done with the clear goal of harnessing ICT as a central tool to be used in increasing studentsí motivation in the subject, along with their general literacy.

 

The school is supportive of English teachersí continuing professional development. This is positive. English teachers have attended in-service training courses on approaches to poetry and creative writing, along with ICT training courses. This commitment to continuing professional development is worthwhile and teachers are encouraged to continue to pursue such opportunities.

 

Planning and preparation

 

There is no subject co-ordinator for English. While it would usually be recommended that such a position be created in the department on a rotational basis, the arrangements which are currently in place are working very well. Each member of the English department has been assigned a particular task and the members of the department work very well together in co-ordinating the subject. It is suggested that the task assigned to each teacher might be set down briefly in the subject plan as a means of formalising these arrangements. There are three formal meetings of the English department each year, along with numerous informal meetings. Agendas are set and minutes are taken in formal meetings. ICT has been used in the creation of these agendas and minutes and this is positive. The impact of these meetings, both formal and informal, can be seen through the genuine and focused subject planning process in which the English department has been engaged.

 

There is a very good subject plan. The plan is viewed as a developing work in progress and this is appropriate. The English department has adopted a staged approach towards the development of the subject plan. Work to date has included the creation of time-linked, skills-based common plans, with clear learning outcomes highlighted. This approach serves to facilitate the creation of common examinations for English classes, along with accurate assessment of student learning. In particular, the learning outcomes for first-year classes are appropriate and are set out in a brief, grid structure. It is apparent that this approach is being adopted in each year group on an incremental basis and this is most positive. It is important that learning outcomes are delineated in specific terms as the plan progresses, in the same way as has occurred with the first-year plan. Great praise is due to English teachers for the work which has been done in this area up to this point. It is recommended that the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus should be highlighted in the subject plan as a key methodology to be utilised in the teaching of English in both junior and senior cycle. Thus language may be used as a Ďspringboardí to literature and vice versa. Beyond this, a focus will be maintained on the familiarisation of students with as wide a range of different genres as is possible in their encounters with the subject. The English subject folder includes circular letters relating to the current Leaving Certificate course, along with lists of resources available in the English department and minutes and agendas of English department meetings. Teachers are familiar with the Department of Education and Science (DES) publication Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools and it is suggested that this too might be included in the folder, along with elements from the English curriculum for primary schools and the primary teacher guidelines for English. The latter items could serve as an aid in helping teachers to facilitate studentsí transition from learning English in a primary to a post-primary context and may be accessed through the website www.curriculumonline.ie.

 

The English department is deserving of particular praise for the manner in which it has harnessed the subject planning process to positively influence student achievement. As has been previously noted, this is best exemplified by the first-year reading initiative organised this year, along with the identification of ICT as an area for further development. The focus by the department on a limited number of achievable goals is commendable. Following the achievement of these goals it is suggested that areas for exploration might include the continued expansion of the use of assessment for learning strategies, along with the further development of differentiated teaching and assessment strategies in the English department. Support in these endeavours can be accessed, respectively, through the Assessment for Learning area on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and the recent NCCA publication Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities.

 

English teachers organise a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. These have included a visiting drama group for first-year students in connection with the UCC Access programme, theatre visits, public speaking and visiting speakers. Teachers are to be praised for their efforts in this area.

 

Teachers collaborate in choosing texts for English classes. Texts are varied in junior cycle to suit class context and interest. There is also evidence that text choice is varied in senior cycle from year to year. This is good practice and the school is encouraged to support this variation of texts through the book scheme. The English department has also begun to plan for such variation through the purchase of class sets of novels. This is worthwhile and should continue, allowing for the development of a large bank of texts from which teachers and classes can choose each year, within syllabus guidelines. On average two to three novels are studied during the course of studentsí junior cycle studies and this is appropriate. Two websites which may be of service in choosing novels in junior cycle are www.childrensbooksireland.com and the English section of the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie. The department discusses text choice in senior cycle as a means of facilitating student movement between levels. It is suggested that the department should also consider strategies to ensure a structured approach towards the study of ordinary-level poems as an element in studentsí higher-level studies in senior cycle. This would serve to further facilitate ease of student movement between levels where necessary.

 

There are two qualified learning-support teachers. There are two tuition rooms and a computer room available for learning support. In junior cycle, second-year and third-year students with difficulties in literacy development are placed in small class groups for English as an additional support. The school also operates a system of one-to-one withdrawal and group withdrawal as a means of delivering literacy support. This is worthwhile. It is suggested that senior management, along with the special educational needs department, should investigate the potential for classroom support and team teaching to be added to the range of supports already deployed. This would allow for further flexibility in the delivery of the literacy-support programme within the school.

 

The school is in the process of developing a special educational needs policy. A most useful resource to inform the further development of this policy is the recent DES publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines which outlines a variety of key strategies to be adopted in areas such as whole-school approaches to inclusion, arrangements for the provision of additional support, co-operative teaching, the role of the mainstream teacher and teaching for inclusion. The development of the special educational needs policy should be viewed as an important process in advancing the good work already being done to support students with difficulties in literacy development.

 

There are regular meetings between representatives of the special educational needs department and mainstream English teachers on a formal and informal basis. The school is in the initial stages of developing an IEP process. This is positive and the special educational needs department is encouraged to continue with its work in this area. In particular the use of IEPs as a means of communicating with mainstream teachers with regard to facilitating access to the curriculum for students with special educational needs should prove beneficial.

 

The school has a small number of students in receipt of English language support. A mentoring system has also been set up for English as an Additional Language (EAL) students. The school is referred to the website of Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) for further support in this area. The website of IILT can be found at www.iilt.ie. The recent publication A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools should be of particular use in this area. Beyond this, the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks for non-English speaking Students at Post-Primary Level, along with the European Language Portfolio should be of service. The former text should be of particular use in assessing studentsí proficiency with regard to English and their progress in the language during the language-support programme.

 

Teaching and learning

 

A very good standard of teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. In almost all cases learning objectives were set out clearly at the beginning of the lesson and this was particularly effective where the objective was also noted on the whiteboard. Planning was presented in all cases and this was a key element in the success of the lessons observed during the evaluation.

 

A wide range of resources was used in the teaching of English. These included photocopied handouts, the whiteboard, the overhead projector, ICT and a mould of a wooden raft. All of this was positive, allowing students to access learning through a variety of different routes Ė concrete, visual and written. Of particular note was the use of a typed acetate sheet, placed on an overhead projector, to inform students of their homework for the evening. This practice catered effectively for the different learning needs of students in the class. A very worthwhile feature was the use of dictionaries during a number of lessons. It is suggested that the impact of this approach might be added to still further through the adoption of thesauruses as another tool in the expansion of studentsí vocabularies.

 

Reading was a consistent feature of English lessons. In one instance, an excerpt from a novel was read by students, who each adopted a different character role in the text. This was a worthwhile exercise, increasing studentsí engagement with the text while ensuring their active participation in the lesson. A similar dramatic reading of a text by different students was adopted in a junior cycle lesson. It is suggested that the impact of this good practice could have been added to still further through the adoption of a guided reading approach where students were directed towards key items in the text, around which they would be questioned following an initial encounter with the piece. A noteworthy strategy used in another junior cycle lesson occurred when students were invited to choose their favourite examples of writing from samples of their peersí homework. Students then discussed the pieces chosen which were presented on a smartboard. Features of style were commented on by the teacher, and student work was praised through the use of Ďtrack changesí displayed on the smartboard. This approach is to be strongly praised as it not only integrated studentsí awareness of their reading and writing skills, but also served to strengthen studentsí self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy.

 

A variety of approaches was used to facilitate studentsí engagement with written texts. A focus on the senses in connection with one text was very worthwhile and was further developed through students being placed in pairs to work on the area topic together. In another lesson, the opportunity for members of the class to explore the writing of a debate was offered. This was considerably added to through the mounting of the initial stages of a debate in class. This was very worthwhile and worked well. Initial teacher modelling of the activity in question could have served as a further aid to the flow of the lesson in question. Group work was observed in a junior cycle lesson where students were quizzed on the novel they had been studying. It is suggested that, as an extension of this activity, language terms might have been included as the basis for some questions in order to further consolidate studentsí awareness of such terms.

 

There was a very good focus on language in English lessons. In a senior cycle lesson a clear link was drawn between a creative model and studentsí own work. This strong, integrated approach might have been further added to through students being exhorted to delineate some of the language techniques used in the piece. In another, senior cycle, lesson there was a very sound focus on the purpose of a particular text, its audience and the language used. Another area to explore when approaching such a text in future might be the adoption of text-marking from the early stages of the exercise, which could, in turn, lead to peer-assisted learning as the lesson progresses.

 

Classroom management was good in all cases. Students were regularly affirmed in classes and there was a good relationship between teachers and students. Students were engaged by the subjects being studied in all lessons and there was evidence of spontaneous note-taking in a majority of classes. Students responded readily and accurately to questions posed by their teachers and the inspector during, or at the end of, lessons.

 

There was evidence of a print-rich environment being developed in all English base rooms. This was particularly impressive in one room where studentsí work had been laminated and displayed and keywords connected to the study of the English language were displayed on the wall, along with a map of the region being discussed in the class novel. In other rooms multimedia posters connected to literature, along with information relating to the reading initiative for first-year students were prominently displayed. Teachers are encouraged to continue to develop and expand the print-rich environment in English base rooms as a means of ensuring the achievement of the maximum impact from these resources as a tool in developing studentsí literacy. The display of keywords, character diagrams, graphic organisers and studentsí work completed on ICT could all add to the impact of such an environment and could largely be achieved through studentsí own learning activities in class. In a number of instances, the marking scheme for Leaving Certificate English was displayed in the classroom. This too was worthwhile, ensuring transparency in marking procedures and the inculcation of peer-marking and self-evaluative skills in students.

 

Assessment

 

There is a whole-school homework policy and the English department has developed its own procedures based on this policy. This is worthwhile and it is particularly notable that the departmentís procedures acknowledge the importance of an assessment for learning approach in the teaching of English. The impact of this was exemplified by the universal use of comment-based, formative assessment in the correction of studentsí work, which is very good practice. Teachers are encouraged to continue with this practice and expand it where practicable and within time constraints.

 

Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in almost all cases. In the one instance where the possibility of increasing the amount of written homework was pointed out, evidence was furnished that this was part of the teacherís plan for the year and that such an approach was anticipated. A particularly impressive feature in two classes was the production of student booklets on, respectively, the novels the class had studied and the play studied. These booklets spoke to a high level of dedication and imagination on the part of teachers and the potential to move such exercises towards incorporating a range of genre writing inspired by the texts in question might also be worth considering as a further extension of the publicationsí impact on student learning.

 

There was evidence of an integrated approach towards the teaching of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses in studentsí homework. The English department is encouraged to further expand its use of this strategy as a means of using the different elements in the syllabuses to reinforce each other. In particular it is suggested that the setting of a wider range of genre-based exercises in connection with the literature being studied would be of benefit. In a number of instances, examples of the use of differentiated exercises in the form of writing frames, graphic organisers and mapwork were found in studentsí homework. This was most worthwhile.

 

Formal house examinations are organised at Christmas for students who will be participating in the state examinations, along with mock examinations later in the academic year. Continuous assessment is also used to support the learning of these students. Students in non-examination classes are provided with three in-class assessments in the first term and with formal house examinations in the summer. Common papers, along with agreed marking schemes, are utilised for the latter examinations and this is good practice. Each year overall results in the state examinations are analysed versus national norms and the analysis of uptake of levels has been added to this process since the beginning of the current academic year. All of this is very positive.

 

Contact between the school and parents is facilitated through the student diary, the year head, verbal communication and report cards dealing with studentsí progress in the subject. There are also parent / teacher meetings held once per year for each year group. All of this is worthwhile.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

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.