An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Loreto Community School
Milford, County Donegal
Roll number: 91500J
Date of inspection: 7 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Community School, Milford. 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 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 teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Loreto Community School, Milford, currently caters for 580 male and female students. The music department is staffed by one fully qualified music teacher. Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and is available to all year groups. First year students sample Music for half of the academic year. Towards the end of the year, students select their subjects for the Junior Certificate from an open menu of subjects and bands are formed around their choices. The uptake of Music throughout junior cycle is very good.
The uptake of Music is also very good in senior cycle. Transition year (TY) is an optional programme and within this, Music is compulsory. For fifth year, students are also provided with an open menu from which to choose optional subjects. Timetable provision for Music is in line with syllabus guidelines and it provides an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week. A sufficient number of double periods have been allocated to all year groups to facilitate practical work. This is commended.
Music lessons are held in a large and spacious room, which is also used by other subject departments. This room is very well equipped and resources available include two digital pianos, thirteen keyboards, guitars, a drum kit, a stereo, four computers, and an overhead projector. Ample storage facilities ensure that all books and CDs can be securely stored. A notice board is available and used effectively to display information regarding current music courses in colleges and universities and other items of interest to students. A vibrant learning atmosphere has been created. For example, posters, both professionally printed and handcrafted, were on display. These posters include illustrations of components of Music such as orchestral instruments, photographs of past musical events and theoretical concepts.
Music technology is very strong in the school and it plays an integral part in the students’ learning. Composition, for example, is taught using both traditional methods and music technology. Commendably, fifth year students are timetabled in the computer room for music technology and this provision ensures a high level of access. Many software packages are used for sound engineering and incorporated into lessons. This level of integration of information and communication technology (ICT) is progressive and is highly commended.
Management is very supportive regarding the professional development needs of the music department. Membership of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) is paid for by the school and attendance at conferences is partially subsidised. The music teacher has also attended other courses including Teach to the Future, and Keyboards in the Classroom. In addition, music technology courses organised by the PPMTA have been attended. This commitment to continuing professional development is acknowledged.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a wide variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is available for students. These include participation in the school choir, concerts, liturgical ceremonies, traditional Irish music sessions, guitar lessons, workshops, trips to concerts, and competitions, both national and school-based. The music department has also been involved with the Composer in Residence series, which culminated in a concert performance of Flight of the Earls. External musicians such as Donegal VEC string tutors have been invited to the school to provide instrumental workshops for the students. This level of provision is very good and the music department is commended in this regard.
School development planning in Loreto Community School is ongoing and has extended to subject department planning. Formal time is allocated to all staff at the start of the academic year for subject planning purposes. The music teacher has met with the principal on these occasions and minutes of the meetings have been kept. There is also a high level of informal contact between the music teacher and senior management.
A detailed music plan was presented containing documentation outlining the running of this department. Cross-curricular planning was highlighted along with long-term curriculum planning. The schedule of topics to be covered was relevant to the syllabus and to the requirements of the certificate examinations. It is very clear that the Sound before Symbol approach to composition is at the forefront of all such activities. This is commended. To enhance this good work, it is recommended that methodologies be recorded in the plan: this would provide a useful tool for future planning. The music teacher works effectively to plan programmes of work for the year, to organise the musical activities which take place in the school and to ensure the smooth running of the practical examinations.
A TY plan was also included and this outlined the details of a guitar module which is taught by an external tutor. It is evident that care has been given to provide TY students with a musical experience that is active and experiential and this is commended.
In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. Attention was paid to the careful development of differentiated worksheets, a very good approach as it ensures that the needs of all students are being met. ICT was used for the development of many of these resources and integrated very successfully into some lessons. Clearly, ICT is used beyond the confines of the practical requirements of certificate examinations and this is very good practice. In the lessons observed, content and methodologies were appropriately varied. In all lessons, the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—were successively synthesised and well balanced.
Three lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation: two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle. In all lessons, there was a very supportive and affirming learning environment. In addition to the whiteboard, stereo, piano, handouts and ICT, teaching and learning was supported by a range of teaching methodologies including pair and group work activities, teacher talk and teacher and student demonstration. Students were challenged and motivated by all activities and clearly engaged with the content of lessons. However, there is scope to allow students more opportunities to work independently. For example, students can successfully perform compositions or music excerpts for the class instead of the teacher. It is recommended that strategies be expanded to include those which reduce teacher-led activities, the objective being to further encourage students to assume greater responsibility in lessons.
All lessons were well structured. Close attention was paid to the measured acquisition of skills through questioning, student performances or carefully structured worksheets which were developmental in design. Examples of sound music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on composing activities, introducing new material or performing. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was very supportive to all students.
In one lesson observed, the topic at hand was folk music. Through questioning, students analysed the elements of a folk song and subsequently were required to compose their own version. This is an excellent example how listening and analysis can be skilfully linked with composing and this is commended. A collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-to-peer interaction and purposeful group work was also observed. Students were consistently challenged to use appropriate musical vocabulary and terminology and were encouraged until they met this challenge. This is very good practice.
Practical activities were well organised and were integrated into all lessons observed. It was very evident that students have been systematically tutored in keyboard playing for performing their compositions, an approach that has resulted in high levels of competence in certain skills. In addition, opportunities were provided for the more proficient students to work at a higher level more appropriate to their ability. For example, in a composing lesson, students performed their melodies, and if competent, also performed the corresponding backing chord. This strategy ensured that all students were challenged and motivated at all times. These strategies are commended.
One shortfall was noted during the course of the evaluation. It is evident that singing is not accorded the same amount of time as keyboard playing. It is important that students are provided with the opportunity to gain skill and confidence at singing in order to enable them to acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of this important medium in music. Therefore, it is recommended that a greater level of singing be integrated into lessons.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock certificate examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis. A high level of monitoring regarding all written assignments was also observed. It is good to note that ‘assessment for learning’ approaches, as recommended by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), are implemented regularly.
Other examples of assessment include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and practical assessments. Practical elements are continuously assessed and students perform in class regularly. Students currently do not experience practical assessments in Music similar to those encountered in the certificate examinations. These would provide the students with sound guidelines for performance in the certificate examinations and afford students the invaluable experience of performing under such conditions. It is recommended that a percentage of marks should now be given for practical activities in school-based assessments.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, particularly in senior cycle. In addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings also provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having.
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.
Published October 2008