An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Trá Lí, Contae Chiarraí
Roll number: 70560K
Date of inspection: 1 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation in Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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.
Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí is commended for its commitment to offering History as a compulsory subject to all junior classes. Timetable provision for first-year History is a little low, at two periods per week, explained by the school’s efforts to allow students to sample both French and German before opting for one of these languages at the end of first year. Second-year and third-year provision is a healthy three periods per week, all spaced across different days of the week and with two-thirds of periods in morning slots. This is satisfactory provision overall in junior History.
In senior cycle, the school is highly commended for its provision of History as a core subject in the Transition Year (TY) programme. Each of the two class groups in the optional TY programme has two single periods of History per week, which is good provision. As History enters option blocks after TY, timetable provision remains very good, with fifth-year History having a good five periods per week and the sixth-year class having six periods, configured as three double lessons. While double lessons are not necessarily ideal for History, the total of six periods per week for sixth-year History is excellent. The choice mechanism on offer for Leaving Certificate is very fair. Students select their preferences from an open choice initially and then the available subjects are organised in bands to provide the most suitable choices. In fifth year, for example, History is placed in a band opposite Biology and Technical Drawing, with the popular Biology also offered in a second block. This allows students every reasonable opportunity to study History if they so wish and this process is applauded.
Other whole-school provision for History is also satisfactory. Resources are provided for the subject within reasonable budgetary constraints, with DVDs and some books currently stored in a teacher’s press. Information and communication technology (ICT) has been well provided for in recent years, with classrooms now having networked broadband access. History teachers have good access to equipment, including overhead projectors and computer facilities. It has not proven feasible for a designated history room to be assigned in the school’s current confines, or for all teachers to have their own base rooms. However, there is some optimism that a proposed alteration to the use of part of the building may well create sufficient classroom space for either a subject-specific room for History or teacher base-rooms to become realities. Either of these prospects could be a great support to History, both for proper resource storage and for facilitating subject displays. The openness of management to such a proposition is very positive and, pending resources being available, the idea is certainly highly commended.
The level of planning and preparation by history teachers at individual level has been good throughout. Lesson topics and content, as well as the resources generated for lesson use have been fully linked to the relevant syllabus. Termly and yearly plans of work have been developed for all year groups, including for TY where a good mix of challenging material has been identified for study. A good focus on aims and methodology has been noted in teachers’ individual planning also. Some suggestions have been made, chiefly in relation to broadening the base of local historical study where practicable. Given the time constraints in first year, it is sensible that the planning in junior cycle sees a realisation that the final elements of the official first-year course may not be covered until early in second year. All appropriate topic options for Leaving Certificate have been identified, including the distinction between the compulsory documents options available to the current fifth-year and sixth-year classes.
Although the history department’s numbers are temporarily depleted at present, the department planning which has been engaged in has remained very evident. One formal meeting is held at the start of each year, with largely informal meetings thereafter. Given the relatively small number of teachers involved at present, this is acceptable. A fine subject folder has been developed in recent years, with the established tradition of having a designated subject co-ordinator. The folder contains outline schemes of work for each year, lists of available resources, guidelines and syllabus materials from the Department, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and other supports. Again, the inclusion of a local historical study among the stated aims of the department is suggested, and perhaps a little more development of the TY programme in time. The work done by department members in relation to identifying appropriate texts for students studying through Irish, including the development of significant amounts of glossary material themselves is deserving of great praise. The department has also been proactive in accessing supports from An Comhairle Oideachais do Ghaelscoileanna agus Gaelcholáistí (COGG). Good collaboration on teaching issues generally has been evident and it is simply encouraged that as much of the focus as possible in subject planning be maintained on such collaborative support for teaching and learning in History.
In terms of extramural planning involvement, the links which have been developed by department members with the Kerry and Cork branches of the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland (HTAI) have been very impressive. The attendance of both current department members at the HTAI annual conference in Kilkenny last year is further testament to a significant commitment to the subject. The links with HTAI have also assisted in students from the school entering a historical essay competition through Irish in recent years. Management and teachers are commended for the involvement of history teachers from the school at in-service training offered by the History In-Service Team (HIST) for Leaving Certificate in the past five years. The further involvement of teachers from the school, over a considerable period of time, in the development of a HIST resource bank for teachers operating through Irish is also highly commended, not least because this resource is now available to teachers nationally.
Very good levels of preparation by teachers played important roles in getting history lessons moving quickly. Handouts were used as supports to topic development in most lessons and in all cases were ready for distribution in advance. Whether large or small, classes developed a good work focus from very early on, with no behaviour difficulties developing in any lesson. In some instances, a good outline of lesson aims was given to students at the outset, including on the whiteboard, and this is recommended for use as an opening strategy in all lessons. Seating arrangements were appropriate to teacher movement and students’ viewing of the whiteboard area, while role-playing was also easily facilitated in one instance by having a prepared seating area. A computer and data projector were prepared and seamlessly deployed in both a single and double lesson observed.
The quality of teaching observed in all lessons was very good, and particularly suited to the mixed-ability contexts of all classes observed. High-quality explanations and a clear focus on syllabus-relevant material were the norm. As far as possible, explanations and lesson development were carried out in Irish. However, teachers showed good sensitivity to the need to translate terms occasionally into English, or simpler Irish, as required. Role playing was very gainfully employed in some lessons, allowing students to participate in lessons and developing their confidence levels. Where a special-needs assistant was present in one lesson, the assistant interacted supportively and seamlessly as required. In most lessons, good use was made of visual stimuli to support students’ learning, ranging from feudal pyramid diagrams to political cartoons and using overhead and data projectors in the process. This is an area recommended for greater emphasis, in the mixed-ability contexts and also given the strong visual potential of History. The deployment of images from the textbook or other sources for analysis and interpretation by students, or of simple maps and diagrams to enhance understanding, are examples which could be considered. So too could the whiteboard itself, particularly where key words or new concepts crop up which could benefit from visual reinforcement during a lesson via the board.
In general, a good focus on students’ responsiveness was maintained in all lessons, mainly through questioning at regular intervals. Teachers strove to spread questioning among as many students as possible, which is applauded, as is the gender balancing of such questioning which happened automatically. Questioning worked best when it mixed higher-order questions with lower-order ones. This form of questioning deserves to be augmented, with teachers encouraged to ask some further probing questions of students and resist the temptation to explain things too early. Asking students why rulers had such power in feudal times, why Americans opposed British rule or why the British delegates had advantages at the Anglo-Irish Treaty are examples of the sort of questioning which can promote student discussion and debate more readily than factual ones will. The opportunities provided by small-group or pair work to promote students’ discussion of History were well seized upon and this is a strategy also worthy of further deployment in, for example, short discussions on the pros and cons of America seeking independence from Britain, or of Ireland signing the Treaty in 1921.
Students appeared to have very little difficulty in coping with the level of Irish used during lessons, as with the historical content itself. Concentration levels remained as high towards the end of all lessons as they had been at the start. When questioned by their teachers, and by the inspector in most instances, students showed a good level of understanding and engagement. It is suggested that a little more emphasis on the basic strategy of getting students to make discerning notes for themselves would enhance long-term learning further, with the possibilities offered by such note making as an impetus to homework being turned to in the next section. Overall, a very good standard of History was evident in the lessons observed, characterised by the hard work of teachers and an impressive degree of student focus and understanding.
Informal assessment has been noted to take a number of forms in History. Good oral questioning of students featured in all lessons. Homework was assigned in most lessons, appropriately based on the topic covered. A very supportive cloze assignment was noted as part of the homework for first-year students. Good monitoring of older students’ longer homework, including teacher commentary, has been noted in some copybooks. A good commitment to assessment by project work in TY, and to structured research studies by Leaving Certificate students is also commended. It is suggested that a little more emphasis on variation in informal assessment is worthy of consideration. Asking students to assess each others’ responses, for instance, is an option, perhaps through inviting feedback from other students during oral questioning in class. Similarly, where time for teacher correction may not be available, making students aware of marking parameters like significant relevant statements (SRS) would be worthwhile. It could also be possible to encourage self-assessment of written work a little more, where students are supported to identify for themselves where areas for improvement may lie.
A good emphasis in homework on visual stimuli and assigning drawing tasks has been noted with junior students, and is worthy of even further development given the emphasis on source work in the syllabus. Where role-playing is to form part of a lesson, it is suggested that small script-writing tasks could be assigned as advance homework, encouraging self-directed learning. For essay-style homework tasks, the need for time-consuming answers requiring time-consuming correction can also be addressed. The possibility of asking students to write merely an opening paragraph, outlining the approach to be taken to a question, is worthy of consideration as a strategy for training students in question answering, relevance and structure. If new or key words arise in the course of lessons, the possibilities of using these as stimuli for homework, providing scaffolding for students’ extended writing or simply for students to write their own definitions to, are also worth exploring.
More formally, class tests and in-house examinations are used to assess students’ progress in History. Copies of a number of such tests have been noted in the department plan and have been found to be fully syllabus relevant and appropriate to the level students ought to be at. The school is also commended for its commitment to holding parent-teacher meetings for all year groups, including the additional support of a second parent-teacher meeting for students in third year and sixth year.
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 History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, April 2010