An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale
Roll number: 76061W
Date of inspection: 15 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Trócaire, 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.
Timetable provision for English is in line with syllabus requirements. From 2008/09 onward, provision for junior cycle English will increase from five periods in first year and four periods in second and third year to five periods in first year and an extra period in either second or third year. This increase in provision is commended. Provision for English in senior cycle is adequate in Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and is generous for classes in the established Leaving Certificate programme.
Seven teachers are currently involved in the delivery of English in the school. The subject department itself organises the allocation of its members to all classes of English. Commendably, the deployment of the teachers is in line with their qualifications, skills, and interests and facilitates the rotation of all teachers across subject levels and programmes.
General resource provision for the teaching of English is good. The general school policy is to have teachers based in their own rooms, thus facilitating resource storage and the creation of print-rich environments, and this policy is commended. Almost all classrooms visited were equipped with notice boards, storage cabinets, and shelving. Various items of audio-visual (AV) equipment are located in some classrooms. Swopping arrangements are entered into by teachers to facilitate the use of these AV aids in particular lessons and this practice is commended. Resources are generally provided by school management in response to individual teacher requests. The school’s book loan scheme is a further support to the teaching and learning of English. Looking toward the future, it is advised that an inventory be compiled of the resources located in the classrooms of the teachers of English and in rooms where resource support is provided, to ensure that all relevant teachers are made aware of the school’s entire stock of potential teaching aids to support literacy development.
In relation to information and communication technologies (ICT), teachers may use the two computers with internet access and the printer in the staff room for lesson preparation. Furthermore, two computer labs are available for booking, as well as four laptops and six data projectors. The teachers of English look forward to the completion of a pending broadband- updating project, which will provide broadband access throughout the school. It is suggested that the English department consider preparing lists of websites to support the teaching of particular topics/texts. Handouts featuring those lists could then be included in the subject department plan and distributed to all members.
The English department is conscious of the importance of promoting personal reading. Initiatives such as taking junior cycle students to the local library for personal reading sessions, encouraging students to complete reviews on books they have read independently, establishing cross-age paired reading projects, and creating a class library are highly commended. To further motivate students’ personal reading, it is recommended that the English department explicitly interweave the promotion of personal reading into its collective schemes of work for junior cycle students in particular and also for TY students. It is also suggested that the English department celebrate “World Book Day” and/or other similar landmark days, include the explicit teaching of dictionary skills and skimming and scanning techniques in the first-year scheme for English, and post a list of recommended books for particular age groups on classroom walls and/or have them included with booklists for parental reference. (See Circular M16/99 “Guidelines for reading at Second Level Schools”). Relevant JCSP in-service courses, the School Library Association of Ireland and the UK School Library Association would also be useful reference points to inform the further development of departmental practice in this area. (See http://www.libraryassociation.ie and http://www.sla.org.uk/advice-and-support.php).
First-year students are either placed in mixed-ability or in Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) class groups. At the end of first year, students are set into examination-level classes and are either moved from or remain in JCSP class groups. The fact that concurrent timetabling is provided in second, third, fifth, and sixth year means that students should be able to move between different examinations levels as appropriate and this is commended.
The school agreed a combined “literacy-numeracy and special educational needs policy” in 2005. The policy should be divided into two separate documents. It is suggested that the English department collaborate in reviewing and developing the literacy aspect of a whole-school literacy and numeracy policy with the JCSP co-ordinators, to identify strategies for supporting students with literacy difficulties that can be used by teachers of all subjects. Useful reference materials in this regard include the JCSP publication Between the Lines and the relevant JCSP in-service course.
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities support the teaching and learning of English in the school, including trips to theatrical productions and to the cinema, participation in a local poetry festival and in school-based workshops with visiting writers, and participation in TY shows. School management and the teachers of English are commended for organising such stimulating activities for their students. Finally, the school is very fortunate that a new public library and arts centre has opened in a location a five-minute walk from the school and links with that library have already been established.
English teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) activities. One specific CPD area that the department is encouraged to pursue is its use of ICT to support the teaching and learning of English. In this regard, it is encouraged that the teachers of English seek support from confident ICT users in their own school and/or from other schools in the County Limerick VEC scheme as well as from external CPD courses.
The teachers of English have been facilitated by senior management to engage in the formal process of subject department planning. The process has been supported by management’s organisation of inputs from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and by the scheduling of three formal subject department planning meetings each year. Additional informal meetings of the teachers of English are organised during the year. Aspects of the teaching and learning of English that have been developed through subject department planning include the preparation of common assessments, the organisation of students into classes, the agreement of texts for use with particular cohorts, and the documenting of departmental practice using the SDPI template for subject department plans. The collaborative relationship between the members of the department has contributed significantly to these achievements and this is highly commended.
Looking toward the future, it is recommended that a subject department co-ordinator role be established and that it be rotated annually to help develop leadership skills across the department. Furthermore, it will be important for senior management to review its system for organising formal subject department meetings to ensure that all teachers of English can be accommodated to attend their three formal meetings each year. Finally, it is recommended that time be specifically allocated for a “show and tell” input at the beginning of each subject department meeting, where individual members would be asked to present an effective resource/strategy they use in their practice and/or to share insights they gained from a professional development course, from practices they observed in the English departments of other schools, and/or from personal study. Documenting these shared strategies will further develop the teaching methodologies section of the subject department plan.
Evidence of individual planning by all teachers of English was provided during the evaluation. As yet, the department has not reviewed its individual plans of work to produce agreed departmental termly schemes of work for all programmes, including JCSP, TY, and LCA. It is recommended that the department begin this work by identifying what it considers the most appropriate learning outcomes (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) for students in each year group. (See the LC English syllabus and JCSP statement materials for exemplars of such learning outcomes). Schemes should outline the amount of content to be taught to each year group (such as the number of poems and short stories). In addition, schemes should set out planning for the development of students’ writing skills (developing pre-writing, drafting, proofing, editing, and modelling strategies; widening vocabularies; and developing spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing competencies), reading skills (teaching word and text-attack techniques, library layout and usage, and dictionary and thesaurus usage), and oral communication skills. Moreover, when planning to teach the various sections of courses examined in State examinations, teachers are reminded to refer to the mark allocations for those sections when planning the amount of time to be spent teaching them. Outlining strategies for working with students studying at different levels in the one class group and for stand-alone class groups studying at different levels will also be necessary. Individual teachers’ existing plans will be an important foundation for, and aid to, this work. The benefits of such year-group schemes will include more incremental, consistently-reinforced learning experiences for students and the creation of reference documents for new teachers. Ultimately, what is envisaged is a planning process guided by the advice outlined in chapter three of the 2006 inspectorate publication Looking at English and customised to the needs of the students of Coláiste na Trócaire.
The current TY English programme incorporates the following elements: the study of a novel, of dramatic extracts, poems, films, short stories and of the print media. A key strength of the programme is its incorporation of active learning opportunities such as writing workshops with a visiting poet and public speaking/debating preparation leading to participation in county competitions. Further development of three aspects of the programme will make it an even more educative experience. First, it is suggested that student projects could be introduced to promote the purposeful integration of independent learning, research, and presentation skills. Secondly, it is recommended that part of the programme involve the analysis of individual students’ language needs and also regular remediation work focused on those needs, to help improve their general life skills and preparedness for senior cycle study. (See the TYP Guidelines, page 2). Thirdly, the department is reminded that “where Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study it should be done so on the clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way in which it would have been treated in the two years to Leaving Certificate.” (See http://ty.slss.ie/resources/guidelines.pdf).
Junior students with learning-support or resource needs are supported through the JSCP. Students in the JSCP study one less subject than their peers. During the four periods available on their timetables as a result, those students are provided with extra English and Mathematics classes and two computer classes. In their extra English class, JCSP initiatives are worked on, including Make a Book and Word Millionaire. However, no formal co-planning has yet taken place among the teachers delivering “general” English to JCSP students during the week and the teachers delivering a “resource” English class once a week. Such co-planning is strongly recommended.
In all lessons observed, there was evidence of planning and all teachers acted as strong oral language role models for students. Lessons were well-structured, pace was appropriate, and learning outcomes were clearly communicated to students at the outset in most cases. Teachers had made significant efforts to create motivational print-rich environments to support their teaching of English and this is highly commended.
A variety of resources was used in the teaching of English including postcards, reading certificates, keyword notebooks, flashcards and posters for student assembly, a topical newspaper article, handouts, and concrete objects. White/chalkboards were also used to provide written reinforcement of new vocabulary, to set tasks, and to record student feedback. In addition, it was reported that teachers use film clips to support their teaching of specific texts. Building on this foundation and given the variety of learning styles and of student abilities in the school, it is recommended that more graphic organisers (such as grids, writing frames and mind maps), more audio resources, more concrete objects and more uses of ICT be utilised in the teaching of English.
In most classes visited, some active learning strategies were in use and this is highly commended. Among those methods observed were question and answer, teacher and student reading, student role playing of key actions from a text, peer learning, encouraging students to offer personal responses to texts, in-class poster-preparation work and subsequent oral presentations by students and a keyword approach. As was recommended in the previous section, the teachers of English should now formally share the various methodologies they employ and should continue to develop their collective repertoire of teaching strategies. Specific areas to focus on in these discussions should include differentiation, active learning techniques and the explicit, incremental teaching of the process and subskills of reading and writing
Very good rapport between teachers and students was evident in all classrooms visited. Discipline was maintained in all classes and all students were engaged in their learning. Where cohorts of students with literacy difficulties were observed, teachers interwove a holistic approach to promoting students’ sense of self-esteem, security in the class group, and enthusiasm for the subject with their teaching of specific content and this is highly commended. Oral questioning by teachers and by the inspector demonstrated students’ good levels of knowledge of studied texts. In relation to the minority of students where it was reported that their school attendance was erratic, a number of them were not achieving to their potential. An examination of students’ copies revealed that the majority of students had been assigned a variety of writing tasks, ranging from summaries and comprehension questions, to creative interventions (letters, diary entries, and dialogues) and compositions. Finally, it was noted that the written work of less academic students was more successful when keyword approaches, in-class writing preparation, writing frames and exemplars of specific forms of writing had been provided as supports to students by their teachers.
A number of the classes observed began with a review of homework or of work done in a previous class, thus maximising the chances that students would retain their new learning. Where best practice was observed, homework assignments were written on the board; students were given specific instructions on how homework was to be presented and on the criteria that work should meet (page length, number of points and quotations required); and sufficient time was allocated for students to note down their assignments.
From a review of student copies, it was evident that homework was being set and monitored in all classes. In some cases, students’ work was acknowledged by a tick and short comment. In other cases, the teacher comment offered formative feedback that affirmed specific strengths in the piece of writing and gave specific ideas for improvement and this is commended. The department is encouraged to discuss this issue and to arrive at a consensus on it, so that teachers’ responses to students’ writing are consistent from first to fifth year. In arriving at a common policy on the correction of mechanical errors and on the provision of formative feedback on substantial pieces of writing, the department is encouraged to draw on the information provided at its September 2008 whole-staff “Assessment for Learning” (AfL) in-service. Relevant reference materials for consultation could also include the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)’s AfL web pages and the JCSP publication Between the Lines.
Two other aspects of student assessment now need to be developed by the department. First, it is encouraged that teachers assign class time early in the first term of every year for students to produce a substantial personal writing sample. Analysing and recording the recurring errors in each student’s work will give the teacher a good benchmark for skill-development programme planning. Secondly, it is suggested that the department consider awarding some marks toward end-of-term results for tasks linked to the agreed learning outcomes for different year groups. (Those tasks could include spelling and vocabulary tests, a cumulative average for composition work, folder maintenance, oral presentations and project work.).
The English department is commended for its work in preparing and administering common examinations for classes following similar programmes in the different year groups. This practice facilitates the comparison of achievement and thus provides an evidence base for planning to meet students’ needs.
A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. Teachers write marks from class tests into students’ diaries and require parents to sign the diaries in acknowledgement. In addition to twice-yearly reports, ongoing information regarding students’ progress is also communicated to parents through annual parent-teacher meetings.
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 April 2009