An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa
Carrignavar, Co. Cork
Roll number: 61380H
Date of inspection: 21 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa. 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 with the teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and subject teachers.
As a voluntary secondary school, Coláiste an Chroí Naofa provides History appropriately as a core subject for all junior cycle students. The allocation of three single periods weekly to the subject in all classes is satisfactory. With one minor anomaly, the spread of these junior classes across the days of the week and between morning and afternoon timeslots is very fair. All junior history classes are of mixed ability.
Turning to senior cycle provision, the fact that all students who opt for Transition Year (TY) at the school must study History as part of the programme is applauded. Some difficulty lies in the fact that the allocation of just one single period per week to History, allied to the natural disruption which is part of any TY programme, makes it very difficult to cover significant amounts of material overall. Ways of broadening the historical experience of students, either through greater provision on the timetable or via cross-curricular work, are encouraged for consideration. The current plan to organise a visit to Béal na Bláth and other locations as part of a History and Geography field trip is applauded as one means of broadening student access beyond this single period.
In fifth and sixth year, History is satisfactorily timetabled, with each history group having three single periods and one double period per week. There are two history classes, divided roughly into ordinary and higher level in sixth year, with one mixed-ability class in fifth year. History is part of an options mechanism in fifth and sixth year, with students asked to select from a line including Art, Chemistry and Home Economics. While the relatively fixed nature of these option blocks will need review from time to time, it is good to note that History is not offered across from either the school’s only foreign language or from Geography. It may well be that the present system is as supportive as an open choice would be to History, with the caveat that the current options may be contributing to a relatively low uptake of Leaving Certificate History by girls at the school.
The school’s library facility is a very interesting and bright room, but the stock of history books available is quite old. The move to subscribe to some periodicals, and links with both the UCC Boole Library and Cork City Library have greatly assisted students in doing their compulsory research studies for Leaving Certificate History. The recent addition of a storage press for subject-specific DVDs, video tapes and some books is applauded. However, the difficulties around library books, allied to the desirability of facilitating poster and project displays and regular access to either an overhead projector or data projector suggest that the idea of allocating a specific base room to History merits serious consideration. Anticipated classroom development and possible linkage with another social studies area to facilitate this have been discussed as a means of facilitating a base room for History. Should such a move prove feasible, it would be a tremendous boost to the teaching and learning of History. With a total of forty-seven periods of History on the current timetable in any given week, it does seem likely that a base room could be used very often for delivering the subject and it could go a considerable way towards facilitating further development of a book stock, visual displays and access to technology.
The school has good information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and these are readily available to history classes. Some problems outside of the school’s control have lingered in relation to access to some of the video-related sites being recommended by the History In-service Team (HIST). It is to be hoped that such problems will be rectified in time and certainly the school is commended for its proactivity in relation to ICT provision and usage in History.
Subject-department structures have been in place at the school for the past two years. The history team is commended on the amount of collaborative planning it has engaged in during that time. A subject convenor has been appointed, meetings held at a number of intervals during the recent academic year and minutes retained. One difficulty which has emerged is the difficulty of having all or even a majority of history teachers available for meetings, particularly where other subject meetings are timetabled simultaneously. It is noted that management has proposed that special provision for a history team meeting can be made upon request and this could be a very important support into the future.
Collaborative planning within the department has centred around the pooling of ICT-based resources in a combined teachers folder on the school’s network, which is an excellent idea, and the identification of main resource requirements, including the need for a subject-specific noticeboard to help its profile. The school’s participation in the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland (HTAI) (Cork Branch) annual junior quiz is further evidence of a fine departmental commitment, with teams finishing in first and third places overall in 2006. Consideration has also been given to accessing training on teaching History to students with special educational needs (SEN) and also to some team teaching in relation to senior essay-writing skills. These initiatives are deserving of the highest praise.
In turning to possible areas for development on a departmental level, it is recommended that consideration be given to setting examinations for year groups which contain at least some common elements. This can be a very useful means of gauging the level of borderline students in mixed-ability classes and of encouraging a common approach to syllabus coverage. Senior history teachers have attended the full range of in-service training provided by HIST and are active members of the HTAI as well. This is applauded and membership of the HTAI is certainly recommended to all teachers of the subject.
Some very good individual planning has been noted, with most teachers being at or ahead of where they might reasonably expect to be in terms of syllabus coverage. This is very important. If more time becomes available for TY History, it may well be possible to extend the range of material being covered. It is good to note the commitment to planning for student project work, with the development of ICT skills simultaneously being an added bonus. Several teachers have prepared thorough sets of handouts, overhead-projector acetates and other resources, with the idea of presenting senior students with copies of the relevant pages of the syllabus being a particularly simple and effective device to ensure that students remain fully au fait with what is required of them as they progress through the course.
Classroom atmosphere in history lessons was very positive. In the main, a very natural atmosphere obtained, with students settling down to work readily upon teachers’ directions. A very pleasant teacher-student rapport was noted in all lessons visited, with teachers dealing with rare instances of inattentiveness firmly but very fairly. All lessons took place in general classrooms or in one of the ICT facilities, with occasional visual displays being practicable and some teachers bringing substantial teaching aids to class with them. Occasionally, seating arrangements might have been more conducive to teacher mobility, or residual electronic noise made hearing slightly difficult. However, the overall room contexts in which History was taught were satisfactory.
A wide variety of resources was used in the teaching of History in the lessons observed. Some teachers brought visual stimuli to lessons, on occasion in poster form and at other times via the use of an overhead projector or data projector interlaced with individual computer access to a universal folder by students. Such resources added a highly visual and interesting element to lessons and were also wholly in keeping with the recommended methodologies of the relevant syllabus guidelines. Handouts compiled from textbook extracts and some very good, structured handouts, using either document-analysis or blank-filling tasks, were also deployed in some lessons, with occasional textbook reading and underlining being used elsewhere. Where this latter resource was utilised, it was most effective when linked to frequent questioning and commentary by teacher and students. Some very good emphasis on the pictorial information to be gleaned from textbooks was seen in some lessons too.
Some very good use of classroom whiteboards was noted in many lessons. The board was used to highlight key concepts and terms as they arose or to develop issues in a little more detail. This is applauded. As all classes at the school, with the exception of two in senior cycle, are of mixed ability, the use of the board and other stimuli to reinforce and clarify issues is both commended and recommended for further development. Where an important message is given aurally to students, the more it can be emphasised visually, the more readily it may be taken on board by students of differing ability levels. On some occasions, the possibility of encapsulating such key terms in a simple board list or in diagrammatic or time chart form has also been recommended.
A good focus on making students active in their own learning was seen in many lessons. Documents analysis work, whether of visual or verbal sources, tended to get students thinking and talking, asking and answering questions. Teachers who used such material also succeeded in reinforcing key issues, such as bias, distinction between fact and opinion, and consideration of primary and secondary sources. Some very good board work, linked to students making notes for themselves, was deserving of particular praise. Elsewhere, a clever strategy was employed where key information was covered until students were able to identify on a visual what the information might relate to. On another occasion, students were asked to work in small groups in analysing material on computer screens. This was successful in adding to their sense of engagement with the topic.
A good level of questioning was evident in most lessons. Students were sometimes shy but invariably gave very accurate responses to factual questions, usually about previous homework assignments. It was good to note how well occasionally poor oral answering was dealt with, with criticism used sparingly but sufficiently to encourage students simply to try harder. This is applauded. Some questioning sought to ensure that students understood new or difficult words, while other more thought-provoking questions asked students to delve into the why and how of History. In general, teachers varied both their questioning styles and the spread of questions between students who had their hands up and those who were more reticent.
A fine emphasis on the quality of historical understanding was evident in all lessons observed. Sometimes, local events were introduced to add clarity and relevance to national ones and this is always an effective device in engaging students. Where there was a danger of confusion over the terms involved in more challenging topics like the Reformation or constitutional nationalism, very careful emphasis on word explanations by teachers was evident. On occasion, it has also been suggested that delving into the word origins, perhaps linking to students’ knowledge of French, can assist their historical understanding as well. Many lessons were replete with interesting and valuable historical details which again added to the students’ interest and enjoyment of the subject. A fine emphasis on putting events and issues into their historical contexts, on reinforcing the distinctions between source types, political leaders and viewpoints was noted in a number of lessons. At times, a little more emphasis on encouraging students to make notes for retention purposes has been recommended. The possibility of getting junior students to develop a form of historical dictionary in which they would record and maintain definitions of the many subject-specific terms and concepts which arise is also worthy of consideration. In all lessons, the concentration levels of students throughout was a credit to them and to their teachers.
The general homework policy of the school favours regular monitoring of homework in junior cycle and correction of longer exercises in senior cycle. This is broadly what was found to obtain in the context of History too. Some very good oral monitoring and correction of homework was observed in junior lessons, sometimes with a teacher asking students to tease out and develop answers more thoroughly, which is applauded. Some very impressive student projects using PowerPoint displays have also been seen. Occasional recommendations have been made in relation to the value of including occasional visual tasks, such as map drawing, sketching or source analysis questions in junior homework, again with a view to enhancing the modes of assessment in mixed-ability settings, but the overall level of junior homework assignment was satisfactory. Early training of students in the ‘significant relevant statement’ mode of correction is also worth considering as a means of developing good writing skills from the outset. Senior students’ copybooks examined showed a fine commitment to assigning and correcting both long-answer questions and documents-based questions, including contextualisation questions.
Whole-school assessment policies provide for formal examinations for all classes twice a year, including pre-examinations for third and sixth year groups in spring. The possibility of developing a more common approach to end-of-term or end-of-year examinations, even if only practicable in part of an examination paper, has already been suggested. Normally, teachers hold class tests upon completion of a topic, which is a very good idea. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each class group, which is again wholly appropriate.
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 were held with the teachers of History and separately with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.