An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Music
Ard Scoil Mhuire
Roll number: 64020P
Date of inspection: 22 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in MUSIC
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ard Scoil Mhuire. 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. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Music is available as an optional subject to all students in all years in Ard Scoil Mhuire. A system which allows students to experience all optional subjects operates in first year until the February mid-term. After this, students make their subject choices for Junior Certificate, this year choosing from Music, Technical Graphics and Home Economics. All students in the optional Transition Year (TY) programme have two single periods of Music per week. This is good provision. The option blocks for the Leaving Certificate vary to accommodate students’ preferences, with Music placed in the block that facilitates the majority of those students wishing to take the subject. Thus for current fifth-years Music is in the block containing Construction Studies, Biology, History and Physics, while in sixth-year, the subjects are Agricultural Science, History, Construction Studies, Accounting and Biology. First-year and senior students also have one period a week of Choir. This is very good. The uptake of Music throughout the school is good. In line with national norms, significantly more girls than boys studying the subject. Music is a viable subject in Ard Scoil Mhuire and is well supported by in-school management which is commendable. Given the profile of Music in the school, further exploration into ways of encouraging a higher uptake by boys is recommended.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with syllabus guidelines and there is an appropriate spread of contact time for individual class groups throughout the week. It is good that there are a sufficient number of double periods in all year groups to facilitate practical work.
In addition to curricular provision, other activities
contribute to raising the profile of Music in Ard Scoil Mhuire. An annual musical
involving mostly TY students, as well as a growing number of students from
other class groups, showcases the musical talent in the school. Usually held in
late February, early March, this constitutes one of the highlights of the
school year. ‘Back to the 80s’ is this year’s production. The students’
music experiences are also continually enriched by a variety of trips to
concerts and performances by musicians in the
Ard Scoil Mhuire has a dedicated music room which, despite being small and of an unusual shape is suitably resourced. Optimum use is made of the available space although changing the orientation of the room is under consideration at the moment. The room is equipped with computer, sound system, piano, digital piano, a range of other instruments such as guitars and drum kit, a chalkboard and stave board. There is also some storage and notice boards containing information about music and a range of student art work on the walls around the room. Although good use is being made of the space in the room, there are a few shortcomings. The positioning of the computer on the teacher’s desk which is in front of the chalkboard has resulted in restricted sight lines for the students. At present the computer monitor is obscuring parts of the material written on the board. In addition the positioning of the speakers for the sound system, on top of the cupboard next to each other in the far left side of the room, is of concern. The positioning of these speakers militates against quality aural development as all audio sources come from the left of the room from the students’ point of view. It is recommended that the speakers be positioned on the wall, on both sides of the chalkboards as it would, in this case, improve the situation considerably and allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students. It is also recommended that in time replacement of the chalkboards should be considered as chalk dust can be damaging to instruments and electronic equipment. If this was to happen, obtaining an overhead projector (OHP) or some type of projection equipment may also be in order with the whiteboard doubling as a projection area. The ongoing development of other resources should also be continued, and should include further development of information and communication technology (ICT).
Unfortunately, no planning documentation was presented when requested during the inspection. However, the fact that so much progress has been made for the forthcoming TY musical, along with clear objectives for all classes, indicates that some planning has taken place.
The staff of the music department is encouraged to avail of any opportunities to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at post-primary level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. In this regard, it is good that membership of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) has been established. It is important that management makes every effort to continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) in music education that arise in the future.
In all lessons visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. A clear and fair code of behaviour was very much in evidence and provided a calm environment for learning to take place. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. A good level of student engagement in lessons was seen, with a firm focus on music-making activities. The students were attentive, interested, and enthusiastic, and participated very well in the learning process. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students, the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability and the teaching was supportive to all students.
Examples of appropriate music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on listening activities, the introduction of new material and concepts, performing, or analysis. All lessons observed had an aural focus and included performing opportunities, which is commendable. The introduction of skills required to undertake the dictation question in the Junior Certificate examination for example was approached in a musically focussed rather than a mechanical way. This is very good as it allows the focus to remain on the music as opposed to the ‘skill and drill’ tactics usually associated with this area. Students' aural competencies were suitably developed through sight singing and aural exercises, which were appropriately checked and evaluated throughout the activity. The teacher also gave sufficient guidance to tackle the four-bar pattern with student contributions welcomed and affirmed. This is very good practice.
Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were also utilised to very good effect, again through appropriate practical and aural elements. Consistent cross-referencing with other parameters of music was evident and contributed to an effective integration of the curricular areas of performing and listening. The curricular areas of performing and listening were linked appropriately at all times. However, opportunities to include the integration of composing were often overlooked. It is recommended that greater consideration be given to the manner in which the three areas of performing, composing and listening could be integrated in musically-focussed ways in all lessons.
The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. Students’ knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible. Thus when being introduced to new sight singing patterns such as ‘doh-ray-soh’ for example, the students were encouraged to listen to their favourite songs at home and see if they could recognise the pattern. Similarly, when being introduced to the concept of a descant, students were reminded of a song which contained such a technique (‘It’s Raining on Prom Night’) performed in the previous school musical. Total student participation in all these activities enhanced the quality of learning and was a notable positive feature of this successful lesson. Students frequently gathered around the piano, engaged in singing a range of songs from different genres. The linking of activities and active participation by the students does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material. It also extends the range of musical experience of the students and is highly effective in developing critical listening skills. This focus on building the role of music as a living subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy practical music-making is entirely appropriate and contributes to high quality learning.
Good questioning was seen in all lessons with the teacher demonstrating particular skill at eliciting information from the students and often probing further especially if a student was on the wrong track. A range of lower-order questioning was utilised to ascertain student learning of basic terminology used in Music as well as ensuring that students understood the necessary instructions in a workbook activity. Although these techniques meant the teacher was aware of the extent of student knowledge, they were exclusively teacher-led. It is recommended that these strategies be expanded in order to minimise teacher-led activities and to encourage students towards more self-directed and autonomous learning. A more collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-to-peer interaction and purposeful group work, where the teacher could guide students through various stages would ensure a more stimulating and challenging music-learning environment for all students.
Despite the physical shortcomings of the music room outlined above, the resources available in there are used to good effect and contribute to an effective learning environment. Suitable worksheets and handouts were used to supplement textbooks and other materials and appropriate use of the board and musical extracts were seen. It is recommended however that ways in which an OHP or other suitable projection device could be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored as it would greatly enhance the learning situation. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated questions on the board and reduce photocopying, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture when performing on instruments or singing for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, some consideration should be given to exploring other ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, were generally neat in appearance and contained coursework, words of songs, sheet music and worksheets.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the “mock” examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis and consistently marked. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and practical assessments. It is good to note that students frequently receive comments and words of encouragement and guidance on their assessments. At this stage it would be timely to organise assessment strategies which would help develop students as independent learners. This could help build up an awareness of individual students’ musical competencies balanced in terms of examination requirements and overall musical development.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and, in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings also provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having.
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 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, May 2010