An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
CBS James Street
James’s Street, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60410I
Date of inspection: 28 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS James Street. 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 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 History teachers.
There is good provision for History in the school. Junior cycle class groups are timetabled for four class periods of History per week through the three years to Junior Certificate. Those students following the JCSP programme take Environmental and Social Studies which combines History and Geography. The classes are streamed but have a wide spectrum of ability within each grouping. In senior cycle, History classes have five single periods of History per week. While there are no double classes included in the timetabling for History in senior cycle, the teachers are satisfied that the class times allocated are well spread out and effective for teaching and learning the History syllabus. All History and ESS classes take place in dedicated teacher/subject rooms which ensures that students are taught in a stimulus-rich environment in all lessons in these subjects. This practice is to be commended.
Students are offered a choice of subjects on embarking upon their senior cycle. History is a popular choice, with up to half the student cohort opting for the subject in most years. There is a well-established choice system, and subject options are explained to students and parents or guardians well in advance of starting fifth year. This is good practice, reflected in the number of students taking the subject through to the Leaving Certificate. Higher and ordinary levels are taught in the same class, as there is one group for History in each of the senior cycle years.
Classrooms are teacher-based and, as such, act as resource areas for their subjects. Each of the History teachers teaches more than one subject, and all of these subjects are represented in the material on display in their rooms. The stimulus material in History is very impressive, varied, visible and used in the teaching of the lessons in the subject. This is to be applauded as good practice. The rooms are well equipped, with access to data projectors, DVD players, TV monitors, display areas and white boards. There are lock-up facilities in some of the rooms for the storage of History resources, while other items reside in the school library. This library, supported by JCSP, has a dedicated librarian who assists the teachers and students. There is a very good and growing History section, containing modern works on Irish and world History, as well as storage and display for DVDs, videos, CD-ROMs and posters.
The History teachers avail of in-service provided by the History In-Service Team (HIST) and by the subject association, the History Teachers Association of Ireland (HTAI). All five sessions of in-service provided for the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus have been attended by teachers taking senior cycle classes in the subject, and they report that the courses and materials were found to be very helpful. Some of the History teachers are members of their subject association, and at least one teacher usually attends the annual HTAI conference. They take the journal of the association and find it helpful in planning and teaching History. There is also experience among the History team in marking state examinations, which they find positive in their teaching and assessment of the subject.
The History teachers meet as a team, usually three times a year, but often also hold ad hoc meetings to deal with specific or topical items. There is a coordinator of History, and that job rotates, though not necessarily annually. Teachers are well qualified in History and are involved in Continual Professional Development (CPD). Planning for History is one of the main functions of the team, and they have produced a thorough and detailed plan for History in the school. While the plan leans heavily on SDP templates, it has been well developed and fleshed out to cater for the particular needs of History in the school. There is enough detail in the plan to allow all History teachers to develop their own plans, including lesson plans, from the overall document. This was clearly reflected in the material produced and used in the History lessons throughout the school.
Apart from the History plan for the school, there is also a History ‘folder’ in which all relevant material, both planning and resources, is kept and easily accessed. All this material is generated using various forms of IT and this in itself is good practice as the material can be utilised by any of the teachers electronically or through the folder.
In some examples, students were provided with the plan for the day’s lesson, attached to other documents or work being used in that particular lesson. This gave an ‘agenda’ and a programme which students could clearly follow through the lesson and the topic being covered. This is good practice and worked well where it was seen in operation during the inspection. Not all classes had a printed lesson plan, but verbal information to the class on the work for the day was also effective.
In each class inspected, there was evidence of good planning and preparation. Various media were used in this preparation, and all equipment and material had been assembled in advance of the lessons. This enabled lessons to run smoothly and for the teacher to change method and pace as required. This proved interesting and effective and reflected good preparation practices, which are commended.
The library, and the IT room, are used in lessons and in preparation for History classes. This is particularly evident in the research work undertaken by senior cycle History students. Much of the material made available by the HIST in-service team has had an influence in this area and reflects good use of resources and support materials by the History teachers.
It was also noted that a proportion of the material displayed in the classrooms was generated by the students themselves, and was useful for reference in lessons and to encourage students in their present or future work in the subject.
Teaching and learning
Teaching and learning observed during the inspection was good in all lessons. Detailed preparation for classes, and use of multi-media approaches to History ensured a varied and interesting environment in which students could learn comfortably. As the focus changed, so did the emphasis and the involvement of students in their lessons. There was good use of questioning, both for purposes of recap at the outset, and during the lesson as each section came to a conclusion. Importantly, within the question-and-answer sessions, there was a variety of ‘named’ questions, general or generic questions, but also a good proportion of ‘higher-order’ questioning. This gave rise to discussion in some instances and was positive; it was particularly successful in more senior classes, where students were encouraged to contribute and to extrapolate from answers to questions.
Very good use was made of the resources in the classrooms, and material on the walls, particularly pictures, maps and cartoons, were introduced into the teaching of several topics. It was apparent that this methodology was not only usual, but positive in reinforcing students’ learning in the subject. This is to be commended as good practice. Use of PowerPoint, DVD material, video-clips and audio extracts (from a laptop computer), all played an important part in introducing and illustrating material in several lessons. Such material was not always interrupted while being played, but was followed up by relevant questioning and invitation to students to contribute or question further. In the use of cartoons, at both junior and senior cycle level, students were made to interpret the message for themselves, which is good and positive practice, as it strongly reinforces the lesson to be learned.
Where printed material was distributed or used during lessons, it was always carefully timed and linked to the subject matter at the appropriate juncture in the teaching of the topic. It was common practice to introduce the material before the printed matter was given to the students, so that its relevance was apparent immediately. While it was good to see the introduction of modern technology into the teaching and learning process, it was also relevant and reinforcing to use the textbook, sparingly, on occasions. Short extracts were read by the students and/or the teacher in different lessons, and were always followed by questions on the passage studied. Frequently documents, printed sheets and the textbook were interrogated during the lesson with students being encouraged to ask questions of their own. This was positive reinforcement and good methodological practice at work in the classroom. The use of such methods and the introduction of documents and sources in the classroom is a headline practice that encourages students in their research studies for the Leaving Certificate. In fact, many of the students are moving ahead well with their research studies and this is to be commended.
There was constant opportunity given to students to consider parallels to the topic being taught. Modern examples were introduced on several occasions, and reference to current world affairs was made in more senior classes where students could be drawn out on topics reasonably familiar to them. Such concepts as propaganda, bias, objectivity, use of technology by leaders of countries, and coercion and use of force were introduced to different classes in differing ways, but students were able to understand and react to the process. They were clear in their understanding of primary and secondary sources, and how these could be used by historians in the writing of History. The use of this information and these methods in the classes inspected was interesting, positive and well managed. Again, this is good practice and is to be commended.
It is important at the same time to keep emphasis on the ‘continuum’ of the topic and the lesson. While the use of the methods referred to above is very positive, it is equally important to keep the lesson moving forward. It would greatly enhance the methods being used if the teachers were to write key words, concepts and names on the board, ensure that the students understood them, and then write them into their copies for further reference. This reinforcement would be good in the lesson and for homework or revision purposes.
The school organises outings and visits for the students and, situated as they are in the midst of medieval and historic Dublin, this is to be applauded and encouraged further. Contemporary photographs and records of the area as seen in a classroom setting are a very valuable means to helping establish empathy and understanding in students very many of whom reside in the locality of the school. This practice is very positive and its expansion where possible is a way forward for the History teachers.
Teaching methods were good across the board, and learning by the students was good in many instances observed in classes inspected. The reinforcement that takes place is principally verbal, and while exercises are set for homework in accordance with the school’s homework policy, it might be positive for more written work to be undertaken in class, whether the reinforcing of work already done, or using the new words introduced during that lesson. These practices would assist in students’ completion of more formal written work, which is required to greater or lesser extents in examinations at both certificate levels.
Students’ attainment in history varies as there is a wide spectrum of ability levels in all classes, and over the years there has been a high uptake of the subject in senior cycle. Attainment levels have been positive and widespread in both junior and senior cycles, and teachers do a great deal to maximise the outcomes for their students in this subject.
It is important to note that good classroom management was observed in all lessons inspected, and there was a good collaborative work ethic in the classes. Respect was mutual and behaviour in all instances was good. This was observed in all classes inspected and the students and teachers are to be commended on the atmosphere engendered in their subject and their classrooms.
Assessment takes place at different levels and in various formats in History classes. Classroom assessment during the lesson starts with questioning, which is good, and leads on to interrogation of sources and material introduced during the class. Written homework is set regularly by the History teachers in all the classes inspected, and is assessed, marked, commented upon, or corrected by students themselves in the classroom in various examples observed.
A cross-section of students’ work was examined during the inspection and yielded a variety of standards and approaches in written History. This being the case, it is important that teachers practice more positive formative assessment in the correction of students’ work. This practice could lead to students’ augmenting or improving their work either at home as further homework or as an exercise in class, where the progress could be more closely monitored by the teachers. It is also important that such work concentrate not just on factual matter, but on structure, manner of answering questions, and accuracy in grammar and spelling, particularly of important words, names and concepts.
Class tests are carried out either monthly or at the conclusion of individual topics in History. These are marked, recorded and returned to the students. There are two in-house examinations each year, at Christmas and summer for years 1, 2 and 5, with ‘mock’ certificate examinations held in years 3 and 6. Students also undertake written or illustrated projects in some classes, and examples of such work were seen on display on the classroom walls. This is good practice and it was positive to note that some of the better examples were used in the teaching of the topic concerned. Teachers keep records of their students’ progress, and also mark attendance books at the commencement of each lesson. This is good practice and also contributes to good classroom management. Students work at both levels, higher and ordinary, in each of the classes, and are entered for examinations at those levels. It is important, in each class, that ordinary and higher levels are kept under review in order to maximise the students’ abilities and potential. It was noted that numbers of students taking the different levels varied from class to class and it is therefore suggested that students should be encouraged to take the highest level commensurate with their ability.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009