An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Roll number: 61860V
Date of inspection: 13 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in History in Dominican College, Wicklow, conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation. 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 the subject teachers.
History is well provided for in the school. Time provision for History is good: years one, two and three have three class periods per week, the Transition Year (TY) has three classes per week in a rotating ten-week module, and both Leaving Certificate years have five class periods per week. The latter are divided into double and single periods, which are reported to be satisfactory. All History classes throughout the school are placed in mixed-ability groups. Uptake in History for the Leaving Certificate classes is high and increasing at present, possibly due to the interest in the new Leaving Certificate syllabus. Teachers report that the trend appears to be upwards.
Classrooms are generally bright and of an adequate size for their student numbers. Rooms are bases for class groups in first year, and are allocated to teachers or subjects thereafter. This has the effect of leaving History without a base or resource room, although not all History teachers are without their own room. As the rooms tend to ‘belong’ to different classes and teachers, there is generally a mixed variety of different subjects’ stimulus materials and student work on the walls. While this is less than ideal, it does provide some useful reference points for the subject.
There is a good school library with a reasonably large History section. Other History books are held by the teachers in the staff work room for use by the History teachers in preparing work and for class reference purposes. Development of the History section in the library or the creation of a History resource area may help to resolve this situation.
Information Communication Technology (ICT) is developing in the school. There are two dedicated computer rooms which can be booked for use by various subject groups. These areas have internet broadband connection and a data projector. There are a few other projectors in the school though not sufficient to serve all subjects’ needs. The broadband connection is available to a few areas in the school, and it is intended to expand that facility. It is clear that there is a need to develop ICT services and hardware in the school, and that it is only sometimes available to subjects like History which has a particular need for ICT particularly in the light of the requirements of the new Leaving Certificate syllabus and its methodologies. It is recommended that ICT be used more generally in preparation and planning for History and ICT applications in the classroom should be brought forward as soon as possible.
Some audio-visual (AV) equipment is available for use, but in most instances needs to be moved around, as the majority of rooms do not have their own AV hardware. Consequently there is not as much use of AV materials in the teaching and learning of History as one might expect. It is recommended that this situation be resolved to maximise the use of materials available.
There is a transparent and effective subject choice system in place for students, particularly on entering the Leaving Certificate years. Students’ overall views are canvassed, information is provided for students and parents, and a final set of choice blocks are created from the process. The high uptake in History is at least partly due to the open choice system and this is to be commended. Apart from this process, there is good contact with parents, at information evenings and parent-teacher meetings, and there is regular communication with parents concerning students’ progress. Both students and teachers of History state that this is beneficial, particularly as students are always aware of their progress and achievement. The school is to be commended for this good practice in its support of subjects.
Frequent planning meetings, currently two per term, are made available for the History teaching team. They tend to meet informally, yet produce excellent planning materials, a full folder of plans covering all six years in the school, and aims, objectives and resources for their subject. Transition Year (TY) has a specific rotating module designed so that all students in the year can access History. The module is well planned and contains original ideas and materials.
The planning process for History displays good practice which could be enhanced by the nomination of a coordinator for the subject, whose role would be to take charge of the planning process, and whose job could be rotated every year or so. This would give each teacher experience and insight into the planning of the subject while preventing one person from carrying that responsibility for too long.
The History teachers are enthusiastic about their subject and clearly wish it to succeed and develop in the school. This is commendable, and could be reinforced and focused for the future by devoting at least one planning meeting a year to devising and reviewing annually a strategic mid-term to long-term plan for History. This plan should examine the role and status of History in the school now and into the future, and how to present the subject to students and teachers as the team changes or develops.
There is excellent preparation for teaching lessons in History, and the team have devised a programme that ensures that all teachers and classes are roughly at the same point in the syllabus at any one time. Bearing in mind the mixed-ability nature of all classes, this is good practice and was apparent in the teaching and learning process in classes inspected. Very good lesson plans, handouts and other materials are prepared for each class, and they are efficiently timed so that the aims and objectives of that lesson are achieved within the timeframe of the class period. This is very good practice and was seen in operation on several occasions during the inspection.
Teachers had gone to considerable trouble to prepare visual materials and diagrams, as well as revision notes and class activity templates, and all of these worked successfully in practice. They could perhaps go one stage further and transfer some of the important visual material to large charts or OHP transparencies, to make the images more visible and useful in teaching the classes for which they are intended. Considerable research and cooperation were in evidence in preparing materials which were generally of a high quality and should be retained for further use in future lessons. The advantage of creating an electronic record of such matter is that it can be accessed, amended, updated and used in future classes at the touch of a button. Some material is recorded this way and it is recommended that this should become common practice in the preparation of teaching materials for History lessons. In some instances teachers had gone to considerable trouble to present visual images in an attractive and durable manner for their students, and this is to be commended as very good practice.
All the History teachers have become engaged in Continuous Professional Development (CPD) in recent times, the most common experience being attendance at History Inservice Team (HIST) sessions. These support the introduction and teaching of the new History syllabus. The teachers have found these presentations and inservice days invaluable, and the website and links to further material of great benefit in their preparation for teaching fifth and sixth-year classes. Other courses, for example, ICT inservice, have proved beneficial, and should be pursued further. Membership of the subject association gives access to further seminars, courses, activities and specific student-focused events: some of the teachers belong to their association and further participation in their activities is to be recommended. The school supports teachers in their attendance at CPD courses and this is good practice which will ultimately benefit the school and its teaching and learning. Keeping in contact with their local education centres, which teachers have already visited for various purposes, will also benefit teachers looking for new ideas, support and contacts and this is recommended.
Evidence of the planning and preparation carried out by the History teachers was clearly apparent in the lessons observed during the inspection. Each class was started in a different but equally successful manner. In some cases, students were asked to think, immediately on arrival, of ideas and examples for the main topic or question for the day. While they were doing so, roll would be called or homework handed back or taken in. This was an efficient use of class time and ensured that the students were on task from the outset. In other instances, questions and answers were the lead-in for the start of the lesson, and these were carefully and skilfully used so that all students could become involved in answering. Closed and direct questions were interspersed with higher-order questioning, this taking into account the mixed-ability nature of the class. Another feature of the dialogue which developed was the use of named questions, or the naming of students who volunteered information. In this way, all students were integrated into the action of the lesson and were frequently affirmed and praised for correct responses.
Good classroom management was apparent from the outset of each lesson: students cooperated, worked together and became involved very quickly in the work of the class. There was a good rapport between students and teachers and between students themselves. A good work ethic was in evidence as was mutual respect between class and teacher; this is to be commended as a strong point in the conduct and work of the History lessons inspected.
Teachers produced good quality teaching and learning aids during class which were well woven into the fabric of the class. In some cases students were arranged in groups with specific tasks to be completed in a set time. The efficiency of this was to be commended as all activities finished in the time intended. The idea of altering the pace and dynamic of lessons to involve students more directly in their learning is a tried and tested method and was successful where seen in these History classes. It is recommended that this practice be extended in various ways to all classes, so that both teachers and students can benefit from the change in emphasis and direction. In all lessons observed, teachers circulated in their classrooms and assisted students with work and queries about subject-matter. This is clearly the preferred method of delivery in the History department and is an example of best practice. At no time was there too much reliance on either board work or reading the text book. The book was used, typically as a reference, or as a resource for completing homework exercises. This is to be applauded.
Some lessons were commenced with the topic for the day written on the board, and key words added to the board during the class. This is very good practice as it keeps students focused on the work of the day. It is recommended that all lessons, as far as possible, be started in this manner, and that students be given time towards the end of the lesson, to write the topic and key words into their copy or notebook, This reinforces the message of the lesson and provides a good starting point for revision when needed.
It is also advised that visuals, and graphic images, where used, be enlarged so that they can be clearly seen and understood by all students in the class. This could be achieved through simple enlargement, use of large classroom maps, making OHP transparencies or employing various ICT applications as and when appropriate and available. Whichever option is chosen, the material thus prepared can be kept for further use, and should be added to the resources of the History department. A careful inventory of this material, and all other resources available, should be developed and amended annually, possibly in preparation for one of the History teachers’ planning meetings.
In general, all classes succeeded in attaining their objectives, student collaboration was of a high order, all syllabus work was up to date and there was good interaction between teachers and students in all classes visited. There are also History outings and visits which greatly reinforce the teaching of History, and occasional class or individual projects which further the experience of the students in the subject. This all represents successful History teaching and learning and is to be greatly commended.
Assessment in History starts with question and answer sessions in lessons, small class-based exercises and activities and reviewing of recent homework. Homework assignments are given regularly to all History classes, pitched at a level where all students can benefit from the work. Monitoring, dating, initialling and correcting work is carried out methodically by the teachers, who very often add positive remarks and annotations whereby students can develop and improve their own work. This use of formative assessment methods is to be applauded and it should continue to be applied to all written homework assignments.
Tests are held at the end of topics or sections of courses and grades are recorded for these, as are the grades at the in-house examinations twice-yearly. Short-form reports are sent to parents frequently, ands longer, computer generated reports are sent twice a year after examinations. State examination classes currently have examinations at Christmas, and a mock examination in the spring, again after which reports are sent home. This system is currently under review.
Most examination papers set for junior cycle classes are common-level and teachers collaborate in their setting of these examinations. This is good practice as it gives a fair reflection across the mixed ability classes of the year. Good class progress books are maintained by the teachers who use them as a source of information for parents at parent-teacher meetings. All students are encouraged to take the subject at as high a level as is consistent with their abilities, and there is a high proportion of students taking higher level papers in both Junior and Leaving Certificate at present. This is good practice and should continue to be kept under review annually.
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.