An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Music
Riversdale Community College
Blanchardstown, Dublin 15
Roll number: 70081V
Date of inspection: 5 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Music. 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 teachers’ 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.
Riversdale Community College caters for 230 male and 205 female students. Music is available to all year groups including those following the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. There is a very strong tradition of music education in the school.
The music department is staffed by one, fully qualified, specialist teacher of Music. There are two other qualified teachers of Music on the school staff but they have been allocated to other subject departments in order to meet the general staffing requirements of the school. The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) but does not ordinarily attend conferences organised by the association. These conferences afford valuable opportunities for networking with fellow professionals, engaging in constructive dialogue and keeping abreast of all innovations pertaining to music education. Attendance is strongly encouraged.
There is considerable expertise within the music department regarding music technology. However, this has yet to be offered as an option to students for the practical element of the Leaving Certificate examination. This is regrettable and should be addressed at the earliest opportunity. In time, the music department could also explore strategies for integrating music technology into lessons beyond the requirements of practical examinations.
Timetabling arrangements for Music in junior cycle and in senior cycle are in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses. There are a sufficient number of double periods which facilitate practical activities. The uptake of Music is very good. The systems used in junior cycle and in senior cycle to support students when choosing optional subjects are appropriate. Students entering first year and those entering fifth year choose their preferred subjects from a menu from which option bands are then generated. First-year students sample all optional subjects prior to making any final decisions regarding their choice of subjects for the Junior Certificate examination.
In this school, Music is an optional subject within the TY programme. There is very good provision for the subject within this programme as these students study Music for the full academic year.
Budgetary arrangements in the school are supportive of the subject. Resources for Music are good. Music lessons are held in a large and spacious room which is appropriately equipped. There is an extensive range of instruments. However, one particular shortcoming was noted in relation to the audio equipment; the current positioning of the speakers does not allow for optimal acoustical effects for students engaged in listening activities. Therefore, it is recommended that the speakers be mounted on the wall on either side of the white board so that students’ aural skills can be developed more effectively.
Some efforts have been made to create a learning environment that is attractive and stimulating for the students. This includes illustrations of past musical activities, hand-crafted posters of theoretical concepts and a poster containing traditional Irish instruments. Students would benefit considerably from the addition of a wider range of illustrations from other facets of Music such as orchestral instruments, and examples of students’ work. This is recommended.
In addition to the curricular opportunities and preparation for certificate examinations, a variety of additional music activities is available for the students. These include participation in all liturgical ceremonies and school trips. The music teacher is one of the key organisers of the Festival of Music concerts, hosted every year by the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC). Students from all schools within this scheme are invited to participate in these concerts which are performed in the National Concert Hall. The work of the music teacher and the level of commitment that is needed in facilitating this and all other activities is commended.
The school provides formal opportunities for subject departments to meet three times each year. The music teacher works alone on subject planning on such occasions. Given the availability of other qualified music teachers on the staff, it could be useful to engage with other colleagues in planning the music programmes for the various year groups. In addition, such meetings could provide useful opportunities for discussion around good practices and other issues pertaining to music education and this should be borne in mind.
There is a good level of planning for Music within the school. For instance, the extracurricular music activities could not occur so successfully without a high level of advance planning. A plan for teaching and learning in Music was presented on the day of the evaluation. This contained broad, long-term content plans. It is good to note that practical music-making activities are a core component of the TY programme. However, an examination of students’ manuscripts and copies illustrates that students in the first year of the Leaving Certificate had not yet encountered composing or unprescribed listening activities at the time of the evaluation. It is essential that planning takes cognisance of the need to include listening and composing disciplines at an earlier stage of the academic year.
Overall the music plan presented lacked sufficient detail. In order to develop the plan further, it is recommended that the topics to be taught should be linked to methodologies, expected learning outcomes and modes of assessment. The plan should also be based on a Sound before Symbol approach to Music and should allow for the integration of the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—into music lessons. 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) is a useful reference point and is available at www.sdpi.ie. In addition, the inspectorate report Looking at Music provides useful advice for developing a music department plan. This is available at www.education.gov.ie
Planning and preparation for some of the lessons observed was good. These lessons contained varied content and methodologies and there was an appropriate level of active student participation. It is essential at the initial planning stages to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between teacher-led activities and student activities in each lesson: due regard should be taken of this.
The music teacher has spent time and effort developing resources including worksheets and handouts for the students. These contained very valuable information about the particular topic at hand. However, given the wide range of learning needs in the classes, consideration should now be given to differentiating worksheets to meet the full range of ability levels of students, where appropriate. This is recommended.
Three lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, one in junior cycle and two in senior cycle. No roll call was taken in any lessons observed and no record of student attendance in music lessons was available on the day of the evaluation. It is recommended that a roll call be taken in all lessons. A caring atmosphere was created by the teacher in all classes visited and students’ responses were warmly received. Lessons evaluated were logical and sequential and good links were made with previous learning. All lessons were purposeful but the learning intention was not shared with students at the outset. It is important that the objective of each lesson is shared with students. This will provide them with a focus for the lesson and place responsibility upon them for their own learning.
Some good quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. This was evident when there was a good balance between teacher and student input. For instance, in one class visited, the topic at hand was a study of a song entitled The Fox. The objective of the lesson was to compare two versions of the same song through a range of teaching and learning strategies. Students demonstrated the ability to express opinions about the songs and their critical thinking skills were developed. Although the standard of responses varied, which is to be expected in a mixed ability setting, students tackled the activities enthusiastically and their enjoyment was very evident. It was also apparent that students’ knowledge of particular rhythms had been successfully reinforced as a result of their active participation in the lesson. Allowing students the opportunity to be involved in practical music-making activities such as these is good practice and this strategy, should be deployed in music lessons wherever possible.
In another lesson visited, the quality of learning was not as good. This was essentially due to the imbalance between teacher and student input. A traditional lecture style was deployed by the teacher throughout most of the lesson. No opportunity was provided to students to engage with the music. Students were provided with a handout containing a detailed analysis of the music. Students benefit more from such resources when they have been given time to explore and discuss the material first. Summary handouts should only be provided as a final synopsis of all learning that has gone before. This should be borne in mind.
Questioning strategies were varied in some lessons and on occasion, good use was made of questions which required students to think analytically at a higher cognitive level. In these instances, students displayed the ability to respond critically. The wider use of questioning strategies which prompt students to evaluate, analyse and express opinions is recommended.
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.
Some students store materials which have been provided by the teacher in copies or folders. However, this practice was not consistent among all students. It is essential that students be given clear direction regarding the appropriate storage of materials and that this be checked regularly.
Monitoring of students’ work does not occur regularly in all classes. An examination of copies and materials showed that many exercises had not been marked. It is recommended as a matter of priority that student’s work is monitored frequently and that comment indicating how improvements can be made be provided where appropriate. No records of students’ progress or attainment in class activities or homework were available on the day of the evaluation. It is good practice to maintain such records and this must be borne in mind.
In addition to reports being issued after formal assessments, annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. Patterns of uptake in certificate examinations are good but there is scope to explore this further to ensure that all students are reaching their full potential. This is recommended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a very strong tradition of music education in this school.
· Timetabling arrangements for Music are in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses.
· Budgetary arrangements in the school are supportive of the subject and resources for Music are good.
· A variety of additional music activities is available for the students.
· A caring atmosphere was created by the teacher in all lessons observed.
· The lessons evaluated were logical and sequential and good links were made with students’ previous learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The plan for Music should be developed further to include the linking of topics to methodologies, expected student learning outcomes and the modes of assessment to be used. The plan should
be based on the Sound before Symbol approach to Music.
· At the initial planning stages, care should be taken to ensure that there is provision for an appropriate level of student activity to be incorporated into lessons.
· A record of student attendance should be taken in all lessons.
· It is essential that students’ work is monitored regularly and that records of ongoing progress and attainment are maintained.
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 May 2010