An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Kilmuckridge Vocational College

Kilmuckridge, County Wexford

Roll number: 71650Q

 

Date of inspection: 21 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilmuckridge Vocational College, conducted 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.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The school timetable makes adequate provision for English in the senior cycle, with a thirty-five minute lesson every day in fifth and sixth year.  However, the time allocation for English in the junior cycle is inadequate in all cases except for the class group following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), which also has a thirty-five minute lesson every day.  All other junior cycle classes have just four English lessons per week.  In the case of one class group, two of these lessons are only thirty minutes long.  As it stands, the school timetable as a whole does not meet the minimum hours of instruction as set out in the Department circular M29/95.  It is strongly recommended that, when school management is addressing the current considerable shortfall in instruction time, provision for English in the junior cycle be increased to give a lesson per day to each class group.  This will enable the teaching team to establish a firm foundation of skills and knowledge which students can build on and develop throughout the junior cycle and beyond.  For this reason, priority should be given to the provision of a fifth lesson in first year.

 

Students are placed in mixed ability classes in first year.  The JCSP has recently been introduced and is being followed by a discrete group in second year.  Class groups are set for English in third year and timetabled concurrently to allow for the possibility of student transfer.  The English teaching team reported that the creation of a discrete JCSP group has enabled all second-year classes to make good progress and to work at an appropriate level, and observation during the inspection supported this view.  However, continuing vigilance is required to ensure that all students are both supported and challenged in their work through the setting and maintaining of appropriately high standards for all class groups. 

 

Class groups are usually set for English in the senior cycle and timetabled concurrently.  There is just one class group for English in the present fifth year and the group encompasses both higher and ordinary level and a broad spectrum of abilities.  Reorganised deployment of the teaching team to facilitate the creation of two class groups should be investigated and implemented for next year at least, so that the full range of students can be appropriately supported and challenged in sixth year.

 

Three teachers form the English teaching team in the school, and two have a substantial timetable commitment to the subject.  A system of rotation ensures that teachers encounter a range of levels, years and programmes, and this is commended.  However, the proportion of teachers’ timetables given to the delivery of resource hours should be reviewed and may need to be adjusted to achieve optimal delivery of the subject in the mainstream English classroom.  Deployment of teachers should also facilitate continuity of teaching from one year to the next, insofar as this is possible.

 

The new school building houses a library and the teachers of English are warmly commended for facilitating student access to it during lunch three times a week.  The current stock includes a good selection of fiction and biography, reference works, a number of ‘easy reading’ books and books on topics likely to appeal to students.  Four computers are also available in the library.  The very praiseworthy efforts of teachers to encourage students to use the library and to read for pleasure are acknowledged.  The involvement of the wider school community including parents in the ongoing development of the library is suggested as an area to be explored.

 

Resources available for use in classrooms include audiovisual equipment, data projectors and class sets of texts.  In some instances, students were using texts made available in class but which they did not bring home.  In order to facilitate the assigning and completion of substantial homework, students need to be able to take texts away from class, and a school-based book rental or purchase scheme for English schoolbooks could be established if deemed necessary.  It is also recommended that the school build up its library of audiotapes, particularly for drama.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

Meetings of the subject department are held once a term in the context of general planning meetings.  Minutes are not taken, and it is recommended that issues discussed and decisions taken be formally recorded, communicated to the school management and included in the subject planning folder.  The small size of the team and of the school has allowed a level of ongoing informal collaboration.  It was reported that meetings focus on text choice, class formation and agreed schemes of work for each term, and that these areas are reviewed and evaluated annually.  The teaching team is encouraged to develop this reflective practice further, identifying issues and suggesting solutions for consideration by the school management.

 

The role of co-ordinator has not been discussed or defined by the English teaching team in consultation with management, and has been nominally assigned to the senior teacher in the team, who holds a post as learning support co-ordinator.  The situation requires clarification.  It is recommended that an agreed description of the role of subject co-ordinator be drawn up and that a system of rotation for a defined term be considered as part of this process.  The section on planning in the inspectorate composite report, Looking at English, should be consulted as it emphasises the role of the co-ordinator in fostering collaborative planning and the sharing of good practice.

 

An English planning folder was made available during the inspection.  It contained relevant circulars on prescribed texts, JCSP statements and other material, information relating to learning support, and the current year’s subject plan based on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template.  The year plan included outline schemes of work for each term and lists of textbooks and materials to be used.  Commendably, it also contained a list of effective teaching methods with some reflective comment, and brief but helpful notes on planning for students with special needs.  In further developing the subject plan, the teaching team should consult the draft of the rebalanced junior cycle syllabus, which is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment web site (www.ncca.ie).  This makes clear statements in relation to learning outcomes for each area of the syllabus over the three years.  These statements provide a very good framework around which to plan for each year because, once the desired learning outcomes are clear, the teaching team can focus on the methods and materials best suited to their teaching, learning and assessment.  It is recommended that plans for each year be set out in a way that links course content, teaching and learning methods and activities, and forms of assessment.  The good use made of the JCSP target statements means that a model for this approach is already in place.

 

Appropriate and in some cases imaginative text choices have been made for each group.  A recommendation in an earlier subject inspection report that Shakespearean drama be included in the junior cycle has been implemented within the current second-year programme, and this is commended.  In general, teachers make individual choices of novels and plays for study, bearing in mind the aptitudes and interests of the class.  Given this flexibility, it is important to ensure that a similar number and variety of texts is studied by each group throughout the junior cycle, and that students have studied sufficient common material to facilitate transfer between classes.  Good choices have been made from the prescribed Leaving Certificate text lists.

 

The level of individual teacher planning varied.  Both individual lesson plans and term plans were made available, though not in all cases.  The recommendations made above in relation to the subject plan also have a bearing on individual planning, which should always reflect the programme of work arising from the agreed learning outcomes.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

Six lessons were observed during the course of the inspection, covering all years, levels and programmes and involving all members of the English teaching team.  Classroom management was good in all cases and a firm yet friendly control was exercised.  Students were encouraged to respond and were prepared to ask questions themselves and to volunteer responses where appropriate.

 

Although the lesson topic was clear in all cases, it would be helpful to state the focus of the lesson explicitly at the outset and specifically to convey it in terms of learning outcomes so that the students have a clear sense of what they should be able to do at the end of the lesson.  Where this practice was followed, it was observed to be effective in engaging students’ attention and reminding them of the need for their active participation and co-operation.  In most cases, lessons were well paced and a satisfactory amount of material was covered.  At times, however, the approaches taken slowed the pace in a way that lessened the sense of purposeful work; again, an initial statement of the learning outcome in terms of the point to be reached by lesson end may assist teacher and students to work at a quicker and more productive pace.  

 

Resources used included textbooks, novels and plays, the Olivier King Lear, past examination papers, the board and the overhead projector.  In many instances, the texts being used were distributed to students and taken up at the end of the lesson.  Teachers reported that students could be careless or forgetful about books.  A whole-school approach to students’ preparedness for lessons is indicated, and agreed practice should promote a responsible attitude that facilitates independent learning both inside and outside the classroom. 

 

The board was used effectively in the lessons observed to model accurate writing for the students to emulate, to provide visual reinforcement of aspects of examination technique, to record homework and to note down points made during the lesson.  The overhead projector was also used to provide a model of dialogue layout in a junior cycle lesson.  A data projector is available and its use with a laptop would open up many possibilities for the development of students’ writing skills.  In this regard, opportunities to use the school’s excellent information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities in order to improve creative and functional writing skills should be investigated.  Word processing and presentation programs provide very good opportunities for students to develop transferable skills in layout, sentence structure, text analysis and summary-writing.

 

In the teaching and learning methods and activities observed, considerable emphasis was placed on vocabulary building and comprehension.  A junior cycle lesson encompassed dictionary work following the reading of a piece from a past examination paper.  While such work is valuable, commendable emphasis was also placed on the context in which the words were found to enable students to make educated guesses about meaning.  Students preparing for examinations should practise the skill of establishing meaning from context, and should be encouraged to use a range of word-attack strategies.  When working on comprehension skills, teachers made good use of incidental questions to check students’ ability to retrieve information and made some use of more searching and open questions to encourage inferential reading.  In order to get most value from doing the set comprehension questions, teachers should spell out the difference between lower and higher order questions: specifically, students should be made aware of the difference between factual answers and analytical and affective responses.

 

There were good instances of the linking of reading and writing activities.  In a junior cycle lesson for example, a situation taken from the studied novel was used as a basis for dialogue writing, and students’ knowledge of the novel provided them with good material for the writing exercise.  However, in a senior cycle lesson focusing on preparation for Paper 1, the students’ attention was not directed to the theme of the paper which is given to assist them in both comprehending and composing tasks.  It is recommended that students be asked to note the theme and to consider it briefly before reading the body of the paper. 

 

There was some discussion during the evaluation of ways and means of improving students’ written work and encouraging them to respond at greater length and depth to writing tasks.  The teaching team is advised to collaborate on the development of a number of writing frames or templates which would provide students with a framework for their writing, encouraging them to structure and develop their responses.  An internet search using “writing frames” will yield useful material which can be adapted for a variety of writing tasks.

 

Some good work in the area of drama was observed in both junior and senior cycle.  Performance and interpretation were emphasised as being central to the nature of drama.  For example, parts were assigned to students, who read them competently and conveyed a good understanding of character and situation.  Students were encouraged to notice characters’ actions and reactions, and aspects of stagecraft were brought to their attention.  In general, there was a good balance between allowing words and actions to speak for themselves, and providing commentary or explanation where deemed necessary.  The importance of maintaining pace and tension should always be borne in mind, and teachers are encouraged to make use of good contemporary audiotapes so that students can hear the lines delivered intelligently and can create their own images of the accompanying actions.

 

In most cases, students showed a willingness to learn and to work co-operatively with their peers and with the teacher.  It was especially noted that where high expectations and a purposeful learning pace were established, students rose to the challenge and participated well.  In many instances, there was evidence of good recall and perceptive comment.  A review of recent data relating to the certificate examinations shows an improvement in the uptake of higher level English.  Increased success at all levels indicates that students are choosing to take the examinations at the level most appropriate to their abilities.

 

 

Assessment

 

Students’ levels of participation in class were generally well monitored, and this was clearly related to the maintenance of appropriately high expectations with regard to classwork.  Students’ efforts were affirmed in all the lessons observed, and affirmation linked to challenge was seen to be particularly effective in encouraging students towards more focused and accurate work.

 

Varying practices with regard to the setting and monitoring of homework were observed through an inspection of students’ copies and folders.  Best practice was followed where meaningful and imaginative work was set regularly and where substantial assignments received written feedback of a developmental nature, ensuring that assessment was informing learning.  Other aspects of assessment for learning were used in some cases, for example peer evaluation and self-evaluation.  These are to be encouraged as they foster in students a sense of their responsibility for and ownership of their own work.  All students should have at least two copies for English, and should be encouraged to maintain these so that they assist them in revision and in assessing their own progress.  Many of the copies inspected contained well-presented work.

 

Examinations are held twice yearly for most class groups.  As part of the subject plan described above, it is recommended that the teaching team work collaboratively on all school-based assessments, and that common assessments be set wherever appropriate.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Good practice encouraging use of the library and reading for pleasure is commended.

·         Planning for English includes teaching and learning methods and support for students with special needs.

·         Classroom management was good in all lessons observed and a firm yet friendly control was exercised.

·         There were good instances of the linking of reading and writing activities.  Performance and interpretation were emphasised as being central to the nature of drama. 

·         Where high expectations and a purposeful learning pace were established, students rose to the challenge and participated well. 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         As part of addressing the current shortfall in instruction time, provision for English in the junior cycle should be increased to give a lesson per day to each class group. 

·         Reorganised deployment of the teaching team to facilitate the creation of two fifth-year class groups should be investigated and implemented

      for next year at least, so that the full range of students can be appropriately supported and challenged in sixth year.

·         The proportion of teachers’ timetables given to the delivery of resource hours should be reviewed and may need to be adjusted to achieve

      optimal delivery of the subject in the mainstream English classroom. 

·         Opportunities to use the school’s excellent ICT facilities in order to improve creative and functional writing skills should be investigated. 

·         A whole-school approach to students’ preparedness for lessons is recommended, and agreed practice should promote a responsible attitude that

      facilitates independent learning both inside and outside the classroom. 

·         It is recommended that the teaching team work collaboratively on all school-based assessments, and that common assessments be set wherever appropriate.

 

 

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 2009