An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Drumcondra, Dublin 9
Roll number: 60840K
Date of inspection: 24 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maryfield College, Drumcondra. 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Maryfield College currently caters for 614 female students. The music department is staffed by one specialist teacher. Music has a high profile in the school and is available as an optional subject to students in all year groups.
Timetabling arrangements for Music in junior and senior cycle are in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses. One period of choir is also allocated to all first-year class groups. This is very good provision. The arrangements in junior cycle and in senior cycle for choosing optional subjects are appropriate. Students entering first year and those entering fifth year select all their optional subjects from a menu of subject choices prior to the commencement of the September term. The uptake of Music throughout junior and senior cycle is very impressive.
In this school, Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme in senior cycle and there is good provision for the subject. A ten-week module of Music is delivered to all TY students and four periods have been allocated for this purpose. Each year, TY students perform for parents as part of the annual TY Open Day.
Very good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities are provided in the school. One computer is available in the music room for music technology. In addition, all senior cycle students are timetabled for one period each week in the school computer room and Finale Notepad, free music software, has been installed. Consequently, music technology is being delivered to a large number of music students and integrated into music lessons beyond the practical requirements of certificate examinations. The ICT facilities are also used by the teacher to create and store materials designed to support student learning.
The school actively encourages and supports attendance at continuing professional development events. The music department has benefited from the music teacher’s involvement in the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). Attendance at PPMTA conferences offers opportunities for teachers to engage in constructive dialogue with fellow professionals and membership is a strong support to music teachers.
Budgetary arrangements in the school are supportive of the subject. There is no pre-determined budget for Music. Instead, direct requests are made to school management when resources are needed. This system is reported to work very well. Resources and storage facilities for Music are very good. Music lessons are held in a large, spacious room and students can move easily for practical activities. Good efforts have been made to create a learning environment that is attractive and stimulating for students. Two separate rooms attached to the music room are also available to the music students. A number of keyboards are stored in one of these rooms and the second is used for storage purposes. As resources allow, the acquisition of percussion instruments would be very beneficial for the music department.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and preparation for certificate examinations, a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities in Music is available for the students. Students can participate in a traditional Irish music group. A senior cycle students’ choir and a school orchestra are formed on a needs basis. Through membership of the choir and orchestra students can participate in liturgical ceremonies. At least one school concert is held each year. Additionally, first-year students perform in an annual concert for their parents. The commitment of the music department in facilitating all of these activities is commended. It is very good to note the high level of support provided to the music department by two teachers from other subject departments for these activities.
Formal planning meetings are held in the school each term to facilitate subject department planning. The music teacher uses these occasions to plan for the music department. However, the teacher does not meet with any other colleagues at such planning times. In order to provide valuable support to the music teacher, it is recommended that management ensures that this time is used occasionally by the music department to meet with other, similarly sized, departments. This could be mutually beneficial during the planning process and for the sharing of good practice.
A music plan was presented on the day of the evaluation. This provided information regarding the organisation of the department and contained broad, long-term content plans. Music department planning is based on the Sound before Symbol approach to Music, the integration of music technology into composing activities and on the synthesis of the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—into music lessons. These are excellent foundations for a music plan. Overall, the music plan lacked sufficient detail. For instance, the TY written plan does not do justice to the wide and varied programme being delivered to students in the classroom.
In order to develop the music plan, it is recommended that the topics to be taught be linked to methodologies, expected student learning outcomes and modes of assessment. The plan should also indicate the estimated timeframe for the completion of each topic. The template which has been developed by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) would be a useful reference point and is available at www.sdpi.ie. In addition, the inspectorate report Looking at Music which is the result of an analysis of forty-five subject inspection reports, provides useful advice for developing a music department plan. This is available at www.education.gov.ie.
Individual preparation for all lessons observed was very good. The music teacher has spent considerable time and effort in developing a resource book for each class group. This contains worksheets which are developmental and tailored to meet the needs of the students. It is good to note that composing exercises are based on music that is familiar to the students. These exercises facilitate a creative approach to this discipline and are informed but not dictated by certificate examination questions. Each year, the music department evaluates the resource book and amends where necessary. The development of the music plan, recommended above, will ensure that this very good practice is reflected in school documentation.
Three lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle. No roll call was taken in any lesson observed. It is recommended that a record of student attendance be kept in all lessons. A caring atmosphere was created by the teacher in all lessons observed and students’ responses were warmly welcomed. Students were introduced to the topic of the lesson and to the intended learning objective at the outset. This is very good practice as it provides students with a focus and a structure for the lesson. Lessons observed were logical and sequential and good links were made with previous learning.
High quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. The Sound before Symbol approach to music teaching was adopted in the lessons observed. The three disciplines of Music were expertly integrated into lessons. For instance, in one composing lesson, students were brought around the piano to sing I Dreamed a Dream, from Les Miserablés and Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity. Students completed a worksheet which was designed to elicit information regarding the compositional devices used in these songs. Individual attention was provided to students who were encountering difficulties. Theoretical concepts were further reinforced through singing the appropriate excerpts from the two songs. Students’ responses in the worksheet and to the oral questions indicated a level of knowledge that was impressive.
In one lesson observed, students were revising material for examination purposes. The lesson was very stimulating due to the sound methodological practices that were evident. Students’ knowledge of appropriate melody writing strategies was reinforced through careful analysis of a selection of melodies and through singing activities. Students were afforded opportunities to think creatively as they were requested to improvise. The students responded with proficiency to this challenge and were able to clap and sing their compositions confidently.
Questioning strategies throughout the evaluation were varied and there was a good balance between those requiring a specific answer and those which encouraged students to think analytically at a higher cognitive level. Students were challenged constantly to use appropriate music vocabulary when responding to all questions posed by the teacher.
Practical activities were incorporated into all lessons and the standard throughout was good. Students sang tunefully and musically for all singing activities. Accompaniments provided by the teacher were very supportive but students were equally competent at singing unaccompanied.
Students are making very good progress through their music programme. They demonstrated good knowledge of topics in class and were successful in completing the tasks presented in lessons. The quality of work in students’ folders, copies and manuscripts was generally very good. Students have been taught a number of strategies for tackling written assignments and these have served them well.
Formal assessments are held for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students at Christmas and summer. Mock certificate examinations are held for third-year and sixth-year students in the spring. Reports are issued following all formal assessments. Practical activities form a percentage of all formal assessments.
Formative assessment in Music includes questioning strategies, completion of worksheets and practical activities. Homework is given on a regular basis and is monitored frequently by the teacher. Comments and suggestions to aid improvement are provided by the teacher and this is good practice.
The music department expects students to store and maintain all their own music resources and materials. These materials generally take the form of written assignments and handouts. Standards regarding the organisation and maintenance of work were very good.
In addition to reports being issued after formal assessments, annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. Patterns of achievement in certificate examinations are excellent.
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 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, December 2009