An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
East Glendalough School
Station Road, Wicklow
Roll number: 81016V
Date of inspection: 20 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN ENGLISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in East Glendalough School. 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 one day 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Timetabling provision of English lessons is generally good. Five English lessons are provided each week for all year groups except second years and Transition Years (TY). These have four lessons each week. While four English lessons is good provision for TY students, it is just satisfactory for second years. There is a good distribution of English lessons across the week for each year group with teachers expressing satisfaction with the double periods provided for third-year and TY class groups. The concurrent timetabling of each year group is also good practice as it allows for movement of students between levels and for whole year group activities to be held. English is predominantly timetabled in the afternoon this year, but management has given a commitment that there will be a better spread of English lessons across the entire school day in future.
Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups in first and second year and are then banded into higher-level and ordinary-level class groups in third year. The English department encourages as many students as possible to take higher level in the state examinations. Students are banded in fifth and sixth year with generally two higher-level class groups and one ordinary-level group formed. These methods of placement of students are appropriate.
Deployment of English teachers is good with all teachers being allocated fairly to different programmes and levels on a rotating basis. The small teaching team facilitates sharing of experience and expertise. All teachers are qualified to teach English to the highest level. English teachers have attended relevant in-service events. In addition, the school has provided in-service for all teaching staff on dealing with gifted students. A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is organised for students, including trips to the theatre for most year groups, the hosting of drama events including the staging of a Shakespearean drama, involvement of students in public speaking and debating competitions and entry into writing competitions.
English teachers have their own classrooms which are well stocked with resources such as televisions and DVD players. One of the English classrooms is the designated area for storage of resources. It would be useful if a data projector was installed in each room to facilitate the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of English and current plans to purchase these this summer are therefore welcome. Good practice was evident in many of the classrooms as students’ work and displays relating to English were to be seen. The school has a new library which is a very good and well resourced facility for all students in the school.
The school has made good progress in supporting students with special educational needs (SEN). These students are mainly withdrawn from mainstream classes for literacy support in small groups or on a one-to-one basis. Team or co-teaching is another strategy that could be used for supporting SEN students in mainstream English classes as it already has been trialled in Mathematics. There is good liaison between the SEN department and the English department and it was reported that there is good reinforcement of the work done in English lessons in SEN support lessons. It is recommended that the SEN co-ordinator attend English department meetings to discuss effective teaching and learning strategies on a formal basis and to inform all teachers of the very useful resources available for teaching English to SEN students. The SEN team could also brief the entire staff on appropriate strategies for teaching students with SEN. Currently, due to space restrictions, resource teaching takes place in the library which is not an ideal location for such support as it means that the library is not always available to mainstream classes.
English teachers meet as a department on a termly basis during the school year. The responsibility for the co-ordination of the English department is rotated among teachers and there was evidence of good collaboration among members of the English department. For example, sixth-year English teachers exchange class groups to teach different aspects of the course. Teachers follow common programmes of work and set common examinations for classes. All of this is very good practice.
Subject plans presented demonstrate thorough planning for each area of work for each year group and the plans contain many useful resources for use in teaching each of these areas. They also demonstrate that skills acquired in each year group are built on so that an incremental approach to learning is achieved. Such work and collaboration are highly commended. Fifth-year and sixth-year students must study three comparative texts.
Every teacher has a folder for each year group which contains the outlined common programme of work, effective teaching methodologies and resources for use with each group. In addition, the course content section of the English plan is written in terms of student outcomes or what students will be able to do at the end of each section. This is highly commended. The plans for English include many noteworthy aspects. All first years do a very interesting and useful piece of work throughout the year which involves creating their autobiography by writing in different genres. Also commended is the fact that poetry is taught thematically in each year of junior cycle. To build on this good planning practice, it is suggested that the actual subject plans for each year group be extrapolated and put into a subject folder and that the English department also include their desired aims for teaching English from first year through to sixth year. In addition, as an alternative to photocopying all resources for use with each year group, a shared electronic folder could be established on the school intranet system for storage of resources in relation to each area and topic in English.
The TY English programme offers students a range of creative opportunities and involves very good integration of skills including the development of oral communication skills through the public speaking module. The content of this programme is highly commended. Students study modules on short stories, film, language work, drama and poetry with set tasks at the end of each module. They also complete a ‘hotel project’ with the focus being on the language of information and persuasion.
Management provides time for meetings once a term and teachers also meet informally on a needs basis and often weekly. Minutes of these meetings show discussion on planning of course work and examinations as well as good discussion and exchange of information on effective teaching methodologies.
All lessons had a clear purpose with the learning intention of the lesson communicated to students. Links were also made with prior learning. Clear instructions were always given. Pre-reading exercises were used to gain students’ interest and give background information about the text to be studied.
Students participated actively in their lessons. Teachers are commended for encouraging this active learning and for allowing students opportunities for independent learning. Group work was observed in some lessons, which is a commendable strategy for active student participation. Best practice was seen in this regard when students were appointed specific roles in the group. In some lessons, group work was particularly well executed as the students were focused and on task. Very good practice was seen in one instance when, in the plenary session, rather than just accepting the feedback from the students, the teacher questioned the students further and also invited responses to the feedback from other students. In this way, students were challenged to think more deeply about their text.
A particular feature of the English lessons was the many opportunities taken by teachers to integrate the course areas so that students saw the course as a whole as opposed to a series of genres learned in isolation. The work displayed on classroom walls provided evidence of interesting and enjoyable activities used to promote learning, such as a student-created newspaper based on events in the Shakespearean drama and a collage based on events in a poem
Questioning was generally very good, although it was recommended to some teachers that naming students when asking questions might be more useful than asking general questions of the full class. This is particularly important as a classroom management strategy to avoid students shouting out the answers, which was observed in one instance. It is also an important strategy for including all students in the lesson. When work was assigned for a portion of the lesson, attention was appropriately given to individual students or groups. In one instance, however, it was observed that the teacher tended to focus on one side of the class only which meant that some students were more isolated. Care needs to be taken to include all students in classroom activities.
In most lessons, there was evidence of a good student-teacher relationship, which led to a secure environment where effective learning could take place. It was observed in one double lesson, however, that students’ behaviour was not satisfactory as they were very talkative and quite disrespectful of their teacher. A proactive approach to stemming this behaviour needs to be taken so that students are clearly aware of what the boundaries are from the outset. Good practices were seen in the many instances when there were smooth transitions between tasks and the pace of the lesson was appropriate. In the one instance of student misbehaviour observed, a faster pace of movement between tasks was recommended so that students would not be allowed the opportunity to become distracted. Also, a seating plan should be implemented as was seen in other classrooms.
First-year students have a reading class in the library once a week where they may read books of their choice. While the efforts to promote and develop a love of reading among students is to be highly commended, it was noted that there was a lack of structure to the reading class observed as the students read books silently but to no purpose; they did not write reviews of these books or make presentations on them to their peers. It is recommended that more thought be given to the planning and structure of reading classes and that they become more purposeful. In addition, the English department should reconsider these reading classes taking place over the entire year. The role of the teacher should also be established during these classes. It is suggested that the teacher take a more proactive role in assisting some students in their silent reading.
Examination of students’ written work showed an appropriate focus on eliciting students’ personal responses and developing their writing skills. Other effective methods observed were creative modelling, a focus on key moments in comparative texts and use of exemplars of good work. The board was well used to record key points and to introduce main ideas and new vocabulary. Students in turn were encouraged to record these points. ICT was used quite effectively for a pre-reading exercise to introduce a poet although the lack of data projector in the room made the task more challenging.
Students demonstrated good knowledge of their texts. In addition, students’ results in English in the state examinations over the past number of years are commended as being very good. There has been a very good uptake of higher level in English in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate state examinations and there was evidence that this high uptake has increased slightly in recent years which shows the encouragement of higher level by teachers. No student has taken foundation level English in recent years. In addition, students achieve very well in their chosen level as seen from the very high honours rate in data examined from past Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations.
Students are regularly assessed in a variety of ways throughout their time in school. They sit two formal tests annually, and third, fifth and sixth years also sit monthly tests. Good practice occurs in that ‘mock’ examinations are internally corrected by a different English teacher to the teacher responsible for teaching the class. Reports are frequently sent home and a parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group in the school. There was also evidence of students being given frequent and purposeful written work in most lessons. To build on this good practice it is recommended that English teachers agree a policy on frequency of written work for each year group and especially frequency of longer pieces of work. It was noted that personal writing is a module of work taught in the last term by some teachers to some year groups. It is recommended that personal writing activities should be integrated across the entire year for all classes and levels.
TY students sit a formal examination to assess their work. It is recommended that a portfolio of their English work be also used for assessment purposes as folders examined showed that many students had compiled interesting work over the course of TY.
English homework was very well corrected with constructive feedback given to students in their copies on areas where they needed to improve. The discrete criteria of assessment are used at senior cycle which is good practice. In addition, students’ copies demonstrated that students were often assigned interesting and enjoyable work, which enhanced learning. This included very good exercises which integrated the teaching of language and literature. The focus on students drafting and redrafting their work, as was observed in one instance, is also commended.
Good practice takes place in that results in state examinations are analysed by senior management and compared with national norms. In most instances, teachers kept a very good record of students’ results in formal and class tests. This important practice should be adopted all teachers.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The English department encourages as many students as possible to take higher level in state examinations. There is a very good uptake of higher level in English.
· A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is organised for students.
· Students’ work and displays relating to English were to be seen in many classrooms.
· There was evidence of good collaboration among members of the English department.
· Subject plans presented demonstrated thorough planning for each area of work for each year group and ensured that skills acquired in each year group were built on so that an incremental
approach to learning was achieved.
· The TY English programme offers students a range of creative opportunities and involves very good integration of skills.
· All lessons had a clear purpose with the learning intention of the lesson communicated to students.
· A particular feature of the English lessons was the many opportunities taken by teachers to integrate the course areas.
· There was an appropriate focus on eliciting students’ personal responses and developing their writing skills.
· Students demonstrated good knowledge of their texts.
· Students’ results in English in the state examinations over the past number of years are very good. These results are examined by senior management annually and compared with national norms.
· Students are regularly assessed throughout their time in school. They are given frequent and purposeful written work in most lessons.
· English homework was very well corrected with constructive feedback given to students in their copies on areas where they needed to improve.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Fifth-year and sixth-year students must study three comparative texts.
· It is recommended that more thought be given to the planning, structure and duration of the first-year reading classes and that they become more purposeful.
· It recommended that English teachers agree a policy on frequency of written work for each year group and especially frequency of longer pieces of work. Personal writing activities
should be integrated across the entire year for all classes and levels.
· It is recommended that all teachers name students when asking questions.
· In one instance, a proactive approach to stemming poor student behaviour needs to be taken.
· It is recommended that the SEN co-ordinator attend English meetings and that the SEN team also brief the entire staff on appropriate strategies for teaching students with SEN.
· It is recommended that students’ portfolios of TY English work be used for assessment purposes.
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 March 2010