An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Glenageary, County Dublin
Roll number: 60090Q
Date of inspection: 27 November 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN ENGLISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rathdown School, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Rathdown School 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.
All junior cycle class groups have four English lessons each week. In addition, first-year class groups have a timetabled library period weekly, which effectively brings provision up to five English lessons a week, although the library period is, this year, taken by a different teacher. The allocation of four English lesson periods a week is satisfactory, but not generous, provision. Provision is good in senior cycle, with Transition Year (TY) class groups having four lesson periods each week and fifth and sixth-year class groups having five lessons each week, including one double period. TY students may also choose the Creative Writing option which complements English. English lessons are concurrently timetabled from second year, which is commended as this facilitates students in changing levels and allows for the organisation of whole year group activities. English lessons are timetabled across the week in all years except TY, where two of the four lessons are timetabled on one day, but not as a double, and in one of the first-year English classes. A more even spread of lessons across the week is more desirable and is recommended.
First-year students are placed in mixed-ability class groups for English and generally remain in these groups until the end of third year. Senior management allocates an extra teacher to English in second and third year to facilitate the teaching of students who need extra support with English or who may wish to take ordinary-level English. Students may move in or out of this ‘language intensive’ group throughout second and third year. Likewise, senior management allocates an extra teacher to English in fifth and sixth year to facilitate the setting up of an ordinary-level class group. Such intervention is highly commended. Teachers are allocated to class groups from first year through to third year and from TY through to sixth year to ensure continuity of learning experiences for students. English teachers themselves make every effort to fairly rotate the teaching of levels. All English teachers are suitably qualified to teach their class groups, and teachers are deployed so that all teach at least two English class groups and in some cases considerably more. This is very good practice.
There are very good resources available to support the teaching and learning of English. An attractive and well-stocked library, managed by a full-time librarian, is a great support to English teachers and students. Students are constantly encouraged to develop their reading habits and the number of books they read is monitored. First, second and TY class groups are provided with lists of books for recommended reading. The librarian researches relevant English resources and makes these available to teachers and students. All students have access to the library for research purposes and teachers may bring their class groups there. The library also stocks a wide range of audio-visual material suitable for English lessons. There is a large resource area in the staffroom for storing relevant English material, which all English teachers can access. The school is also trialing the use of shared access folders on the school’s intranet for shared electronic resources. This is commended.
There is a commitment to building on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the school and ICT facilities are very good. All classrooms are fitted with data projectors and all teachers have been provided with laptops. There are two computer rooms in the school. There was much evidence that English teachers use ICT to enhance their teaching and student learning. For example, teachers download useful resources from the internet and use relevant internet sites in class; they also encourage students to type up key assignments and bring students to the computer room for research purposes. There is also ready access to televisions and DVD players.
A sizeable budget is available for English and this has been used for purchasing additional resources, funding guest speakers and theatre trips and funding membership of the Association of Teachers of English. It was evident that teachers are committed to continuous professional development (CPD) and have accessed a number of relevant courses in their efforts to constantly improve their teaching. Very good practice takes place in that good advice and useful resources accessed from such courses are shared among colleagues.
English teachers are congratulated for the range of co-curricular activities organised for their students including theatre and lecture visits, organising visiting speakers and writers, entry into public speaking and debating competitions and entry into various writing competitions.
An effective English department, with a tradition of very good collaboration, was observed in Rathdown School. English teachers are committed to their students and to the subject and aim to make English an interesting and enjoyable experience for students. This aim was being realised at the time of the evaluation.
The very good collaboration among the members of the English department was evident from the close co-operation in planning for each year group, including choosing common texts to facilitate ease of movement in the event of a student changing level. This collaboration was also evident in the sharing of resources and teaching strategies among all English teachers. For example, it was reported that TY teachers are in the early stages of planning a new poetry course. It was also reported that English teachers who are new to the school are very well supported by their more senior colleagues.
Senior management provides five meetings for subject planning each year and English teachers also meet regularly to plan. Minutes of English department meetings show much discussion on a range of relevant issues and that time for review is built into meetings at the end of each year. The department is very ably co-ordinated and all English teachers also share responsibility for organising events. It was reported that consideration is being given to rotating the position of co-ordinator among all English teachers and this is to be encouraged.
There is an overall English plan available, as well as separate English folders for each year group which contain relevant resources and the plan for each year. Good practice takes place in that all year groups are required to have a dictionary. In addition, there is an emphasis on spelling and the development of good writing skills in first year which lays the foundation for students’ future learning. As already noted, first-year students have a library class weekly. In this class, they are required to read books from their recommended reading list and to present book reviews. This means that some students may read a large number of books over the course of the year. However, junior cycle students only study one novel and one play formally in class. Although it is acknowledged that first years study a range of short stories, it is recommended that the English department give consideration to formally studying a novel in first year. This may require a change in the present timetabling of a different English teacher for library class among first-year class groups. The studied novel and play in second and third year are, in the main, suitably challenging although, in some instances, this was not the case. It is recommended that all teachers ensure that the studied novel and play are suitably challenging, not only to prepare students for the Junior Certificate examination, but also to prepare them for the more demanding senior cycle English course. It is further recommended that English teachers agree on a list of appropriate poems, short stories, plays and novels for each year of junior cycle as a guide to teachers, when devising their programme of work.
To build on the very good planning already achieved and, as a further support to any new English teachers to the school, it is recommended that the English plan be further developed to document the key skills or learning outcomes that each year of junior cycle, in particular, should achieve as opposed to just the genres to be taught. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) rebalanced draft Junior Certificate English syllabus may help in this regard. The Transition Year English plan should also be expanded to reflect the actual course content of TY English as opposed to confining it to stating the portfolio requirements. The content of TY is appropriate and students are exposed to a wide variety of genres and literature in an original way in keeping with the philosophy of TY. The content should be fully reflected in the recorded TY plan.
The quality of teaching and learning in English was very good in Rathdown School. Most lessons opened effectively with the learning intention shared with the students from the outset. In addition, the pace of most lessons was appropriate. Lessons were well structured, clear instructions were given and there was a very good work ethic in evidence. Teachers were well prepared for all lessons and appropriate resources were at hand. Tasks were well managed. A laudable feature of all lessons was the very good teacher-student and student-student relationships. The enthusiasm that teachers displayed for their subject ensured that students demonstrated equal enthusiasm for their learning in the lessons observed.
A significant characteristic of lessons was the very good learning that was observed and the clear progression in learning achieved. Learning was put in context for students in that the content of many lessons was related to the contemporary world, to other subjects and to the students’ own lives. This made learning interesting for students. Many cross-curricular references were also made during lessons. In addition, very good links were created between different texts so that English was seen as an integrated whole as opposed to a series of genres learned in isolation. For example, when teaching poetry, links were created with the studied play. Many teachers integrated the teaching of language and literature, which is also highly commended. For example, students wrote diary entries from the point of view of characters in a studied text and students summarised an entire Shakespearean play by presenting each act in the format of a news report using the reporting voice. In this way, lessons were enjoyable, interactive and purposeful and students were encouraged to be creative.
Another positive feature of all lessons was the very active learning that took place. Students participated fully in lessons and the teachers acted as facilitators of learning. This was achieved through effective group and pair work, role play, very good whole class discussion and very good question and answer sessions. Questioning was probing and challenging, and best practice was seen when the teacher asked questions of named students as opposed to just asking those who had their hands up. Open-ended questions provoked very useful discussion. It was obvious that students were well used to such participation and they proved to be articulate, well informed, confident and engaged. When introducing new texts, very good practice took place when students’ initial reaction to the text was invited. Pair and group work were well structured and ensured that all students had a voice in the classroom which resulted in co-operative learning.
English teachers are highly commended for developing the four key skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening among their students. Of particular note were the many opportunities students had to make oral presentations in class and to participate in discussion. This also developed the skill of listening which students did with respect. Good practice was seen when a recording of a poet reciting his poem was played. It is suggested that audio versions of other texts, especially Shakespearean drama texts, be used in lessons.
Students are given frequent opportunities to write in a range of genres. Written work was purposeful and creative. It clearly related to the content of the lesson and furthered students’ learning. For example, students were observed to listen to a new poem, record a number of words that they found effective in conveying the atmosphere of the poem and then go on to write their own poem using these words and applying poetic terms they had learned. Students’ critical responses to texts, as well as their own personal response, were clearly developed and opportunities for creative writing were built into all programmes of work. The Creative Writing option in TY is also impressive. Students have examined, for example, a range of poems and modelled these to create their own poetry. Students’ research skills are also developed; for example through the research done for the author project, and research done in media studies and in preparation for the novel.
There is a significant focus on self-directed learning and students taking responsibility for their own work, which is highly commended. For example, there is a requirement in fifth year that students will take responsibility for researching one of the poets on the course and the TY English portfolio puts the onus on students to take responsibility for their own learning.
Classrooms are generally student-based, and these rooms were well decorated with material from a range of subjects including English. The corridors of the school were also adorned with posters and projects, many relating to English. The English work on display in classrooms was mainly students’ own work including key words, students’ newspapers and illustrations of key scenes from texts and it was observed that these displays were used as an aid to learning in some lessons.
There was evidence of very good awareness among English teachers of students with special educational needs (SEN) and, because of the small class sizes, very good attention was paid to individual students. The board was very well used to record points made during lessons which the students then diligently recorded.
First, second and fifth years sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. The English examination papers are suitably challenging and reflect the work covered in class. There was evidence of frequent informal assessment including class tests and regular assignments, many of which are used to form part of formal assessment marks. Students receive grades for effort and progress in formal examinations as well as an overall test grade. This is motivational and good practice. Examination class groups sit frequent class-based tests as well as the ‘mock’ examinations. Fifth and sixth-year classes receive progress reports on a six-weekly basis. The English TY portfolio requirements are highly commended, as they demand a body of work from each student to reflect the development of key skills. These include a book report, play analysis, film analysis, poetry project, speech, essay, reports and a group literature project. Good practice also takes place in that some of these assignments must be orally presented in class.
The highly commendable assessment and examination procedures, as outlined in the English plan, were clearly in evidence in the classroom. An examination of students’ work showed evidence of frequent written work being assigned in a range of genres. This work, as already noted, was purposeful. Homework was, in most instances, very well corrected with very good written feedback observed in students’ copies and folders. At senior cycle, the discrete criteria of assessment as well as a comment are used to mark students’ work which is very good practice. There was evidence that students are aware of the marking scheme for English in the State Examination and this is highly commended. Students’ copies and folders were very well maintained, contained evidence of the very good work taking place in lessons and, overall, displayed a fine body of work.
The high expectations of English teachers are rewarded with very good English results in State Examinations. The vast majority of students sit higher level in these examinations. Very good practice takes place in that results in State Examinations in English are analysed both at senior management level and subject department level. These results are testament to the excellent work of the English department.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a very good allocation of English teachers to each year group.
· Very good resources are available to support the teaching and learning of English, including a well-stocked library and exemplary ICT facilities.
· English teachers have accessed a number of relevant in-service courses to constantly improve their teaching.
· A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English are organised.
· The reading habit is fostered among students in the school.
· There is a tradition of very good collaboration among English teachers in Rathdown School. Their aim of making English an interesting and
enjoyable experience is being realised.
· The quality of teaching and learning in English lessons observed was excellent.
· A feature of all lessons was the very good teacher-student and student-student relationships.
· The enthusiasm that teachers displayed for their subject ensured that students demonstrated equal enthusiasm.
· There was very good learning observed and clear progression in learning was achieved.
· Learning was put in context for students which made it interesting for them.
· Lessons were enjoyable, interactive and purposeful and students were encouraged to be creative.
· Active learning took place. Students participated fully in all lessons and the teachers acted as facilitators of learning. There is a praiseworthy focus on
students taking responsibility for their own learning.
· The four key skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening are developed in an integrated way.
· Written work was purposeful and creative, clearly related to the content of the lessons and furthered students’ learning.
· Students are frequently assessed both formally and informally.
· The English TY portfolio requirements are highly commended.
· The high expectations of English teachers are rewarded with very good English results in State Examinations.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A more even spread of English lessons across the week in some year groups is recommended.
· Consideration should be given to students formally studying a novel in first year.
· All teachers should ensure that the studied novel and play in junior cycle are suitably challenging. Therefore, English teachers should agree on a list of
appropriate poems, short stories, plays and novels for each year of junior cycle.
· The English plan should be further developed to document the key skills or learning outcomes that each year of junior cycle, in particular, should achieve.
· The Transition Year English plan should fully reflect the content of the programme.
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.
Published October 2009