An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Saint Columba’s Comprehensive School
Glenties, County Donegal
Roll number: 81010J
Date of inspection: 7 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Columba’s Comprehensive School, Glenties. 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 teacher’s 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.
St Columba’s Comprehensive School currently caters for 207 male and 198 female students. Music has a high profile in the school and is available to all year groups. Music is a core subject for all first-year students and is optional from second year. The arrangements for choosing optional subjects are satisfactory. At the end of the academic year, first-year students are provided with a menu of subjects from which they can make their selections. Similar arrangements are in place for in-coming fifth-year students. The uptake of Music in junior cycle and senior cycle is very good.
The music department is staffed by one, fully qualified, specialist teacher. This teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and has attended many conferences. These provide valuable opportunities for networking and constructive dialogue across a range of issues relevant to classroom practice. In addition, the teacher has attended a course entitled Music in the Classroom for Transition Year which was hosted by Donegal Education Centre. This commitment to continuing professional development is commended.
Timetabling arrangements for Music are in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses. However, the timetabling of some double classes in Music is such that they span the morning break. In order to allow for continuity within music lessons, it is recommended that the school endeavours to avoid this arrangement in future.
Transition year (TY) is an optional programme in senior cycle. All TY students study Music for the full academic year. This is good as it contributes very significantly to broadening the educational experience of students. This is commended.
Provision for Music is very good. While there is no pre-determined budget for Music in the school, direct requests are made to school management when resources are needed. This system is reported to work well. Music lessons are held in a very large and spacious room. Two separate storage rooms are also available to the music department which ensures that all resources and equipment can be stored safely. Resources for Music are very good. Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities are very good. One computer with data projector and screen is available for the teacher. Four additional computers are available for the students. It is good to note that these are being used beyond preparation for the practical requirements of certificate examinations in senior cycle.
Very good efforts have been made at creating a learning environment that is very attractive and stimulating for students of Music. Several subject-related posters, including some which have been created by the music teachers and students, are on display. These include illustrations of orchestral instruments, Irish instruments and various theoretical concepts. In addition, photographs of past events are also exhibited which further contributes to a learning environment that is very vibrant for students. This is commended.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and preparation for certificate examinations, a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities in Music is available for the students. These include traditional Irish music, participation in local Irish music festivals, participation in liturgical ceremonies and a regional talent competition, Stars in your Eyes. This year, a number of students will combine with students from a grammar school in Derry and Magee College in Derry to perform in a new composition entitled Ulysses. The commitment of the music department in facilitating all of these activities is commended.
Formal planning meetings are held in the school each term to facilitate subject department planning. On occasion, the music teacher meets with the principal formally to discuss issues relevant to music. In keeping with good practice, minutes are maintained from all formal meetings. On other occasions, the music teacher uses planning opportunities to prepare for lessons and activities. Consideration might be given to allocating some time on formal planning days for the music teacher to meet with the teachers of other similarly sized subject departments. This could provide valuable opportunities for these teachers to engage in constructive dialogue around common issues.
A music plan was presented on the day of the evaluation. This provided detailed information regarding the organisation of the department and included short-term schemes of work for all year groups. The aims and the intended learning objectives were stated in these schemes. In addition, a description of the resources that would be used to tackle each topic was included. This is good work. To progress this work further, it is recommended that the short-term schemes should be linked to methodologies and the modes of assessment being used. This plan should also indicate how the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—are being synthesised in lessons. Reference could also be made to the Inspectorate’s publication, Looking at Music for further advice. This is available on the Department’s website at www.education.gov.ie.
Some shortcomings were noted in the music plan provided in relation to the teaching of composing. It was evident that inadequate time is given to composing activities and in particular melody writing. It is very important that composing be tackled in a spiral and developmental manner over time with students. For instance, students could initially engage with composing through carefully devised aural and performing activities in order to gain knowledge and expertise in this discipline. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that attention be given to ensuring that adequate time is allocated for composing in both the junior cycle and senior cycle.
A second shortcoming in the music department plan is that examination questions are being used as the main resource for the teaching of composing. It is important that students are provided with opportunities to initially engage with this discipline without any reference to examination questions. This could be achieved, for example, by analysing well known melodies or songs to determine useful features of composing or by engaging with a composing exercise aurally through a carefully structured listening activity. These strategies would ensure that composing is rooted in real music for the students.
Students in St Columba’s Comprehensive School are provided with a wide breadth of music experiences. For instance, the first-year plan indicates that these students will learn both recorder and guitar playing. TY students are provided with a broad programme which includes a variety of music genres such as film music, Cuban, Celtic, and popular music. The active strategies used include practical work, project work and peer teaching. This creativity and innovation is to be commended.
Planning and preparation for individual lessons was found to be of a very high standard. All handouts and worksheets that have been designed or acquired by the teacher are filed and readily accessible. Lessons included the integration of handouts, resources and musical excerpts all of which were very appropriate to the students. This is commended. There was a well-planned balance between teacher input and participative strategies for the students.
Three classes were visited during the course of the evaluation; two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle.
All lessons were logical and sequential and moved seamlessly from one stage into the next. The learning intention was clearly stated in the lessons observed. This is good practice as it provides a sense of purpose for the students and keeps them focussed for the lesson. A very warm and caring atmosphere was created in the lessons observed. Matters relating to student discipline were sensitively handled.
A wide variety of teaching methodologies, many of which facilitated active and participative student activities, was integrated into all lessons. These included group work and pair work and the integration of practical activities including Irish dancing. For example, a lesson where students were revising material for examination purposes was observed to be very stimulating due to the sound methodological practices that were used; students’ knowledge of technical concepts was reinforced through performing and listening activities and, in some cases, students were moved into groups to tackle the written exercise. The outcome was that students were very active for the entire lesson and the learning intention was achieved. It is good also to note that some carefully chosen opportunities were provided to students to assume control over the lesson. For instance, in one lesson observed, students who were confident and competent at Irish dancing instructed their peers as part of a lesson on Irish music. This was a very creative and innovative way of reinforcing the rhythm and time signature of particular Irish dances.
Students were provided with the opportunity to use their initiative and creativity and to apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills very effectively. For example, the theme of one lesson was fusions in Irish music. Students were introduced to this style of music through a variety of methodologies. These students watched ‘Firedance’ from the DVD of Riverdance, listened to a succession of well chosen excerpts of music and answered questions orally. These activities were followed by a debate. Students were divided into groups and after a short period of preparation, expressed their opinions regarding whether or not Irish music should be fused with other genres. These students displayed a high level of competence at applying their knowledge of Irish music in this task and were clearly accustomed to this type of activity. This is commended.
Teacher-devised resources complemented the learning in all lessons. However, in the lesson on fusions, a detailed analysis of Irish music was presented to the students at the start of the listening activity. Students would benefit more from such resources when they have been given time to explore and discuss the material first. Summary information should only be provided as a final synopsis of the learning that has gone before.
Good learning was evidenced by the quality of students’ practical performances, responses to questions and their ability to apply knowledge in different activities. Questioning strategies deployed were well balanced between those requiring a specific answer and those which were more open-ended where students had to think analytically and critically for themselves.
In addition to formal assessments at Christmas and summer and informal assessments in October and February, mock certificate examinations are held in the spring for third-year and sixth-year students. Reports are issued to parents following all formal assessments.
Formative assessment occurs in a variety of ways. Homework is allocated on a regular basis. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and practical assessments. Peer assessment is also used very frequently in lessons. Practical music-making activities are frequently integrated as a core component of lessons. This is very good practice. It also enables the assessment of these skills on an ongoing basis.
Overall, a high level of assessment activity was observed during lessons visited. It is good to note that the outcomes of assessment were used to inform the teaching and learning that took place immediately afterwards. For example, during one lesson, some students clearly struggled with a particular technical concept. This was identified by the teacher who subsequently adapted the teaching methodologies in order to help them to overcome the obstacles they had met. This is very good practice as it helps to ensure maximum student engagement and achievement.
All students are required to store music materials in folders. These materials usually take the form of listening and some composing assignments. This practice was found to be adhered to by most students and, in the lessons observed, students were given very clear instructions regarding the storage of their work. This is good. However, it is important that folders are checked regularly to ensure that all students maintain all materials appropriately. This is recommended. It is good to note that students’ work is monitored regularly and comments indicating strategies for improvement are provided.
Annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. Achievement in certificate examinations and student uptake of Music at higher level are very good. However, there is scope to analyse the level of achievement of the better able students with the objective of ensuring that the teaching and learning strategies being deployed are focusing sufficiently on meeting the needs of these students. It is suggested that, to challenge these students further, some additional provision such as differentiated worksheets tailored specifically to their needs and abilities might be considered.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and is available to all year groups.
· The uptake of music is very good.
· The teacher’s attendance at music courses is supported by management.
· Resources for Music are very good and ICT is very well provided for in the school.
· Very good efforts have been made to create an attractive and stimulating learning environment for students of Music.
· A wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is available to the students.
· A detailed music plan was available.
· Individual planning for all lessons was very good.
· Innovative teaching and learning strategies were deployed in the music lessons observed.
· A wide variety of assessment modes is used to evaluate student learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Short-term schemes should now link content to methodologies, student learning outcomes and modes of assessment being used. Plans should also reflect how the three disciplines of Music
are being synthesised in lessons.
· A review of planning for the teaching of composing should be conducted and students should be given sufficient opportunities to engage with this discipline.
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 January 2010