An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Augustine’s College
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll number: 64890W
Date of inspection: 28 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Augustine’s College carried out as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 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 subject teachers.
Saint Augustine’s College is a co-educational school. There are five English lessons per week for classes in first year, second year, third year and fifth year. This is good provision. Three English lessons per week are provided for classes in Transition Year (TY). This is adequate. There are six English lessons per week provided for classes in sixth year. This is very good provision. English classes retain their teachers from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is worthwhile.
Junior cycle English classes are of mixed ability. Students are assigned to classes according to an alphabetical system. The organisation of classes on a mixed-ability basis is worthwhile. The possibility of occasionally adopting criteria in addition to alphabetical placement of students in different class groups might usefully be considered. This could be done in order to ensure an even mix of abilities and learning needs across all class groups. Banding is used to organise English classes in fifth year and in sixth year. Students are assigned to different bands on the basis of their results in the Junior Certificate and an assessment at the beginning of fifth year. While recognising the more limited class contact time between English teachers and their classes in TY, it is suggested that students’ performance in TY should also be considered when advising them regarding the level they should attempt when embarking on their Leaving Certificate course in fifth year. English classes in fifth year and in sixth year are timetabled concurrently. This is good practice, facilitating student movement between levels and classes should it become necessary.
There are informal induction procedures for new teachers and English teachers collaborate well together. It is suggested that these informal subject induction procedures should be formalised in the subject plan which itself could form a key element in the induction procedure. It must be noted that, at present, the number of qualified English teachers is relatively small, given the size of the student population. With this in mind, it is recommended that the school should prioritise expanding the cohort of qualified English teachers when next the opportunity to do so arises.
There are a number of English teacher baserooms. This is worthwhile. All English baserooms are provided with a television and a DVD player. This is positive given the central role played by film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus, along with the impact that the appropriate use of audio-visual material can make in junior cycle classes. It is suggested that an area worthy of further exploration is the use of audio recordings to bolster students’ appreciation of language in both poetry and dramatic presentations.
The school has a mobile library unit. This has been developed by the English department and has been used with first-year students in the past on a designated library day. This is laudable. It is suggested that the English department could investigate the further expansion of library services in the school, with the support of management. This might include the purchase of an eclectic range of texts, including high-interest/low reading ability books and readalong texts for reluctant readers, along with various periodicals and novels aimed at young adults. The occasional and appropriate use of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) strategies could also be considered as part of a reading policy to be adopted across the English department. A potential resource in the area of developing library services is the website www.jcspliteracy.ie which contains a useful evaluation report dealing with the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project. This report delineates various strategies utilised to harness library services as a key tool in the development of students’ literacy.
Broadband internet access is available in all classrooms. Teachers use information and communication technologies (ICT) as an aid to research for their lessons and in the compilation of notes and examination papers. In addition, a number of English teachers utilise their own laptop computers as an aid to their practice. There is a data projector in one teacher baseroom. There is also a computer room which is available through a booking system. The school has identified the integration of ICT into mainstream classes as a key aim. The English department is encouraged to continue to develop its use of ICT. Further areas for exploration might include the use of webquests, the creation of an English ‘favourites’ list of websites on the school network and the appropriate use of wordprocessing packages on the part of students for written exercises. This latter approach will draw students’ attention to the drafting and redrafting process while also increasing their engagement with written work. The further development of the use of the data projector as an element in English classrooms should also be considered as an element in the long term harnessing of ICT as a tool in enhancing students’ literacy.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). Teachers have participated in a number of inservice training courses through the Waterford Teachers’ Centre. Recent CPD activities undertaken by English teachers include courses on ICT, the teaching of film and creative writing. All of this is commendable and the English department is encouraged to formalise the manner in which information and ideas garnered from such courses can be returned to other members of the department.
There is a coordinator for English who is appointed on a rotational basis. There are regular meetings of the English department and minutes of meetings are stored in the English subject folder. Minutes of meetings are created with the aid of ICT. All of this is good practice. Recent meetings of the English department have focused on strategies for supporting students with special educational needs, practice in the area of assessment, the variation of texts in junior cycle and the TY programme.
Significant work has gone into the creation of a subject folder for English, which includes common plans. The folder contains numerous documents relevant to teaching and learning in English, including the Teaching English Magazine of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), a list of English resources available in the department, syllabus documents and a copy of the Department of Education and Science publication Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. This is commendable. It is suggested that further additions to the folder which might be considered include circulars regarding the current text choices available for the Leaving Certificate, along with the Primary School English Curriculum and Teacher Guidelines. Beyond this, the inclusion of an extended sheet dealing with methodologies relevant to the teaching of English might be worthwhile. It is recommended that the English department should adopt a specific teaching and learning focus for its subject planning which would build on, and consolidate, the current good practice in the department. One potential area for consideration is that of differentiated methodologies. Support in this endeavour may be accessed through the SLSS and their website at www.slss.ie.
Time-linked, termly, common plans have been developed for first year, second year, third year and TY. This is praiseworthy. The modification of these common plans to incorporate learning goals, alongside content to be covered and modes of assessment in a grid-based format should be considered and advanced on an incremental basis as an aid to the planning process. This approach will not only facilitate the planning of common assessment activities, it will also aid the achievement of one of the English department’s laudable goals of equipping students with skills which will stand to them throughout the course of their lives.
English teachers are involved in organising a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. These include visits to the theatre and involvement in the Soroptimists competition for those TY students who are interested. These efforts are to be praised.
Teachers vary the texts studied in junior cycle and in senior cycle. This is positive, given the facility provided in both syllabuses for teachers to suit text choice to students’ interests and experiences. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand the range of texts used in each cycle, within syllabus guidelines, not only to cater for different students’ learning needs, but also as a key element in their own professional development. Useful resources in the area of text choice can be found in the English area of the SLSS website and at www.childrensbooksireland.com. A ‘plain English’ version of a Shakespearean play has been developed by TY students in the recent past in order to facilitate some junior cycle students in accessing the language of the play. This is positive and the English department is encouraged to continue to advance differentiated methods of aiding students in accessing subject content. English teachers seek to ensure that the study of poetry in the Leaving Certificate course is synchronised between higher level class groups and ordinary level class groups in order to ensure ease of student movement between classes or levels, should it prove necessary. This is sound practice and the department is encouraged to include this as an element in the English subject plan. Sometimes three comparative texts are not included for study in the ordinary level Leaving Certificate course. It is recommended that the study of three comparative texts should be undertaken during the ordinary level Leaving Certificate course, as per syllabus guidelines, and this approach should be noted in the English subject plan.
There is a subject-specific programme for English within the school’s TY programme. This is very worthwhile. It is suggested that a student portfolio should be adopted as an element in the assessment procedures for TY. This would serve as a ‘centre of excellence’ for students’ written work and consist of a set number of major written genre exercises, to be assigned over the course of the year. These exercises should go through a number of drafts before being considered ready for inclusion in students’ portfolios. Such an approach will serve to place a strong emphasis on students’ written work, while also providing a useful bridge to elements of their Leaving Certificate studies.
The English department maintains links with the learning-support department. The different learning needs of particular students have been highlighted for English teachers by the learning-support department. Suggested strategies for aiding these students in accessing the curriculum have been included on a sheet in the English subject folder. This is positive. The English department is encouraged to access professional development opportunities in order to continue to advance efforts to support students with difficulties in the area of literacy development and with other special educational needs. Professional development courses can be accessed through the website of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) at www.sess.ie. Beyond this, useful ideas to support students’ literacy development can be accessed at www.jcspliteracy.ie. The development of cooperative teaching as a further extension of the school’s current model of provision for students with special educational needs could serve as a further aid in this context.
Objectives were clear in all lessons. Particularly good practice was seen in one instance where the objective of the lesson was explicitly stated for the benefit of the class group. This strategy exemplified an assessment for learning (AfL) approach and is to be commended. Planning was evident in all cases. In one instance, a poem dealing with Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic was well chosen and succeeded in engaging students’ interest. Indeed, this could have been extended still further to look at the topic through the lens of a variety of other genres.
A wide range of resources was used in English lessons. These included photocopies, visual displays, textbooks, posters, figurines and the whiteboard. The inclusion of an extract from a character’s diary, alongside the study of a poem dealing with the character in question was particularly imaginative and worthwhile in one senior cycle lesson. It is suggested that, as a further expansion of this very good approach, the utilisation of illustrations of the events in question to serve as catalysts for a prereading exercise might have been considered. The use of concrete artefacts in the shape of evocative faerie figurines and posters was a particularly strong feature in another lesson and their success in harnessing students’ imaginations was clearly evident. This could have been further developed to serve as a spur to students’ descriptive powers in a written exercise set as part of either classwork or homework. It is suggested that the use of a dictionary and thesaurus at appropriate times should be incorporated as an element in the English subject plan. The English department is to be praised for its use of a variety of resources to capture students’ interest and is encouraged to continue to develop this very positive part of its practice. This would be especially beneficial in the area of visual and concrete resources which can serve to increase the engagement of students who are less motivated by purely verbal or written presentations.
Lessons began in a number of ways. The roll was taken in most cases and this was often followed by a recapitulation of topics previously covered as a means of linking students’ prior knowledge to new material. This is good practice and, where it occurred, was generally led by a question and answer session. In one instance there was an effective review of ideas about the writing of personal essays and it is suggested that the impact of this session could have been added to still more through the consolidation of students’ contributions on the whiteboard. Teachers’ questioning of students was a regular feature in English lessons and most effective practice was seen where higher-order questions were utilised and students were asked to provide evidence to support their responses.
A common feature in lessons was the reading of texts by teachers. These readings were presented in an engaging manner and in a number of instances teachers engaged students in pre-reading exercises to enhance personal engagement with the text which was about to be explored. In one of these lessons, a reading of ‘The Stolen Child’ by W.B. Yeats was preceded by a discussion with junior cycle students about their awareness of different elements of folklore. This was further supported by students’ engagement in pairwork and the teacher’s enthusiastic reading of the poem in question. As a further extension of this good work, the breaking of the poem into more digestible pieces could be considered in order to assist students’ appreciation. The appropriate use of prereading exercises and prediction exercises should be extended across the English department to be utilised in enhancing students’ personal responses to the literature being studied. An additional possibility is the adoption of guided reading and choral readings of poetry, as lessons develop, to further enhance students’ awareness of the use of language in these pieces. The use of creative models in a senior cycle lesson, to focus students on key elements to be developed in their written work, was good practice, as was a move in another, junior cycle lesson, towards students’ writing semi-independently, with teacher support where appropriate.
The use of active methodologies, pair work and group work was a positive feature in some English lessons. In one instance, students were divided into groups which were to examine the use of language in a poem. The teacher organised and facilitated the groupwork well, ensuring that a significant amount of work was covered, while maintaining the very good pacing of the lesson. In another instance, where students were placed in pairs, the development of signals to control pairwork, along with strategies to support the acquisition of listening skills on the part of students, should be developed. The English department is encouraged to continue to expand the use of pair work, group work and other differentiated methodologies as part of its practice. There was a good focus on the use of language in most English lessons. The assigning of specific roles in groupwork with regard to language might be usefully considered as a further development in this area.
Classroom management was good in all cases. There were very good relationships between teachers and students. In a number of instances teachers incorporated humour or personal anecdotes into their presentations and these worked well in engaging students’ interest. Teachers were affirming with regard to students’ efforts in all cases. Students were generally engaged by the work undertaken. In particular, students worked well where they were placed in pairs or groups by teachers for a particular task. Students displayed good knowledge of topics studied during the year when questioned.
There was some evidence of a print-rich environment being developed in all classrooms. A variety of students’ written work was on display, including profiles of people students admired and film reviews. This was most positive, creating an added sense of ‘audience’ for students’ work. These developments are to be praised and the English department is exhorted to further expand this element of its practice. Additional items which may prove useful in encouraging learning for all students include character diagrams, keywords and mindmaps, along with the display of additional examples of genre work by students. A further very worthwhile feature in a number of English baserooms was the display of a variety of texts and mini-libraries for students’ use. Teachers are to be praised for the development of these facilities.
There is an agreed homework policy and English homework procedures have been delineated in the English subject plan. There is a brief list of genres to be explored included as part of the English homework procedures. This is positive and it is suggested that the English department could investigate the creation of a broader list of genres to aid in the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses. Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in almost all cases. It is suggested that the use of writing frames as an aid to differentiation in the assigning of written homework could prove beneficial. This strategy would be of particular benefit to those students experiencing difficulties in literacy development, along with students studying English as an additional language (EAL). As an aid to students’ written work in ordinary level senior cycle classes, it is suggested that, where practicable and useful, some written assignments could be set and completed during in-class time. This would allow a greater appreciation to develop among students of the type of work expected in the State examinations.
There was evidence of formative, comment-based correction in all instances. This is positive. In one lesson, peer assessment of students’ work was observed and this was worthwhile. Both of these approaches conform to an assessment for learning (AfL) approach and it is therefore recommended that English teachers should seek to build on the good practice already present in the department by exploring assessment for learning as part of the subject planning process. A useful resource which deals with this topic can be accessed through the assessment for learning area on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
There was evidence in some classes of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabuses in students’ homework. The imaginative setting of genre exercises involving the creation of ‘The Venetian Observer’ based on the events of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was a very good example of this, alongside the use of a class novel to underpin students’ writing of a book review. A possible addition to the former activity is the employment of a webquest which would serve to support students’ creation of a newspaper based in the time of the play. Beyond this, the range of genres explored in conjunction with the literature being studied should be expanded. The regular use of writing in different genres would also allow for the summarising of key events in texts being studied from different characters’ points of view. All of this would serve to enhance students’ appreciation of the different areas of the junior cycle and senior cycle courses. This strategy could be further extended to include the use of specific language devices as an element in students’ written homework. It is recommended that the integration of the language and literature elements of the course should be noted as a key methodology in the English subject plan and form a key element in teachers’ practice.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas and summer, with continuous assessment also serving to inform students’ marks. Pre-State examinations are organised for those students who will be participating in the State examinations. These latter examinations are set and marked by external examiners. English teachers review students’ papers when they are returned to the school. This practice is worthwhile and it is suggested that it be set down as part of the assessment procedures in the subject plan. There has been some use of common examinations in junior cycle. This is positive and the practice should be extended to include all year groups. This is of particular relevance to those year groups which are organised on the basis of mixed-ability classes but should also include the setting of common examinations for those students studying at the same level in other year groups. The increased use of common examinations will not only allow for a clear appreciation of individual students’ performances in the context of their own year cohort, it will also eliminate needless duplication of work by teachers.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the use of student diaries, formal reports and parent-teacher meetings. There is a parent-teacher meeting once per year for each year group. Reports for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students are issued to parents at Christmas and summer. Reports regarding students’ progress in third year and in sixth year are issued in October, at Christmas and following the pre-State examinations. There are four reports issued for Transition Year students over the course of the year. These links with parents are to be commended.
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 English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008