An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Ballyshannon, County Donegal
Roll number: 91506V
Date of inspection: 26 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cholmcille, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Art 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 Art department at Coláiste Cholmcille is a very well established entity, operated by two dedicated members of staff. Commendably, both members of staff have in their own personal time attended a range of Art-related courses, which aid and shape the delivery of the subject in the school. Art department staff are keen to share their skills with the school at large and, in addition to a very well executed fixed exhibition of students’ work in the general school building, are also heavily involved in long and shorter-term projects and events during the school year. As a result Art is considered a very vital and worthwhile part of the school’s life and the Art department feels well supported both financially and organisationally by the school.
Commendably, an Art department structure has been established. As the team comprises two people who work closely together, they share responsibility for planning and decision-making equally. Presently this system works well, however it may be worthwhile to review this system in the future and if necessary to consider operating a rotating subject co-ordinator each year. Commendably, Art department meetings are held during the year in a formal and informal capacity as necessary. Some of these meetings are minuted and decisions are recorded. The agendas for these meetings to date have been centred around procedural and operational issues which effect teaching and learning. To further influence teaching and learning of Art in the school it is recommended that some of these formal meetings would be used to discuss the long term plans for the subject in the school and to consider how planning for each programme emphasising particular skills, habits and attitudes can enhance the delivery of the subject.
The Art department is fortunate in that it is very well serviced in terms of space and facilities. Two purpose built rooms with lockable storage areas are made available for the delivery of the subject. Careful attention was given to the choice of furniture and fittings in the Art department when kitting out the rooms and subsequent good maintenance and management has resulted in bright, clean and hospitable working environments. The wall spaces in both rooms are utilised carefully for display purposes, which adds to the learning potential of the subject. Commendably, both students’ work and exemplars are displayed, serving to both inspire and celebrate achievement. It is suggested to further use this technique to display the Art Elements with descriptive images in both classrooms to help weaker students understand concepts and to be able to use the terminology.
The number of students taking Art is very healthy and indicative of the status with which the subject is held in the school. The process of subject choice is given high priority at both junior and senior cycles. At first year a taster process is used whereby all students have a double period for Art. This is commendable as it offers students a very thorough experience of the subject. In addition to this, information evenings are held for both students and parents to help them make suitable subject decisions. Students are surveyed during the term by management to create subject groupings so that the majority of students can be satisfied in studying their chosen subjects.
Timetabling is reported to be very carefully organised so that adequate time periods are given including double periods and commendably, inspection of the timetable found this to be generally the case. However, this year, an anomaly has arisen as one group of senior cycle students receive five class periods per week as opposed to another in the same year group, which is receiving six. Whilst the efforts made to maximise the amount of the time given to the subject is highly commended, it is recommended to monitor the amount of time given to such class groups to ensure that all students are receiving equal amounts of tuition time. Discussion with management indicated that this issue is noted and being addressed.
The distribution of class groups to teachers is also reported to be given careful consideration as levels are rotated between teachers in a very fair and appropriate way. However, due to particular issues this year, only one teacher is dealing with Leaving Certificate Year One students. It was reported by management that this was a once off situation and the likelihood is that it will not happen again. It is suggested to avoid this type of situation if possible.
Transition Year Art is compulsory and delivered as part of an eight-week module during the year. Commendably, the teachers of this group have collaborated to create a cross curricular theme, allowing for a variety of different approaches to the topic and the possibility of these individual approaches feeding into different types of responses.
Resources are provided from an overall budget as the need arises. Commendably a special class benefits from extra financial support when necessary. Students are encouraged to obtain their own kit of materials such as sketchbooks and pencils to facilitate homework. It is suggested to further enhance the opportunity for students to engage with art materials outside of school time by encouraging students to obtain coloured media such as paints, brushes and colouring pencils. By encouraging students to be responsible for caring and for their own equipment it is also intended that respect for resources in general would be promoted.
Both rooms house dedicated ICT equipment, which is very fortunate. However, as there is only one computer per classroom it limits the numbers of students using this resource. To facilitate students, particularly Transition year students in their research, Art lessons are occasionally held in the school’s computer room.
As part of the evaluation an Art Department Plan was presented in addition to a document detailing curriculum content. Both of these documents contained some very good work. It is recommended to combine these two documents together to form a more comprehensive plan for all of the activities of the Art department.
Inspection of the planning for curricular delivery found that due consideration was given to how the subject would be delivered. However, the planning style used concentrated on schemes and plans for the individual year groups and did not consider the potential of planning for programmes as whole entities. To build on the planning process taking place and its subsequent effects on teaching and learning, it is recommended to plan for lessons whilst considering the delivery of Art over the entire school career of the student. In this way the appropriate attitudes and aptitudes can be instilled from first year. Particular attention should be paid to the introduction of Art History and Appreciation as well as developing work from primary sources, from first year. It is suggested that this will have particular benefits for student performance throughout the student’s entire school career.
Careful planning can also shape how students plan and prepare their work, which can positively affect their ability to work to deadlines and can also encourage autonomous learning. Actively targeting topics that shape students thinking such as how to develop work, how to research and how to use terminology also affect the students learning in a very productive manner. This work takes time and patience to prepare but pays dividends in the longer term as students have a better understanding of the context they are working in and also in that they become more self reliant in their work and decision making capacities.
Of the individual teaching plans observed, all were in line with the various syllabuses and showed that student interest and inclinations were considered. It is recommended to expand the level of detail currently existing in plans to include the particular skills and outcomes expected in each lesson and scheme. It is also recommended to vary the lengths of projects to include long term, short term and once off lessons to maximise student engagement and enjoyment.
Occasionally, as part of the planning of the department a report is submitted to management, especially in the case of issues arising. This type of yearly report is considered very good practice and it is suggested that it be compiled each year to record progress and successes as well as challenges.
In all four class groups were visited as part of the evaluation. All lessons observed showed a very high regard and concern for the general well-being and educational potential of each student in the department’s care. However, the styles of classroom management used varied considerably. Where classroom management worked to best effect, the style of management used was appropriately authoritative, teacher presence was obvious at all times and instruction was given effectively. As a result, a good working atmosphere was set where the pace was appropriate, very definite outcomes were expected from the students and they were continually monitored and kept on task. Good practice was observed in the giving of instruction to the group as a whole in an atmosphere of quiet attention. This approach, whilst maximising effective communication and being a very effective use of teacher time, is also a way of promoting student responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that this style of management and communication be extended to the majority of lessons in the Art department. As well as being very effective in managing large groups, this style of management also works well with small groups of students. In one lesson observed this approach was taken at the outset, where instruction and outcomes for the lesson were shared with the group. As some of the students in this group were very weak it was necessary to give a lot of individual tuition. This worked very well as students responded positively to the individual encouragement of the teacher and were occupied to the best of their abilities. Crucially, the individual instruction given was delivered whilst still monitoring the general behaviour of the group thus avoiding lack of engagement and its associated discipline problems. It is recommended that this excellent practice be extended to all lessons.
To further support teacher presence and order in the classroom it is suggested to assign seating arrangements to all class groups.
The lessons observed were purposeful and the topics chosen were in line with syllabus requirements. A lesson observed at senior level showed that students are progressing through the programme at an appropriate pace. This lesson in graphic design made good use of visual aids and images to inspire the students. The work observed displayed good drawing and colour skills. It is suggested to encourage the development of graphics from primary sources as a way of expanding students’ repertoire.
Two lessons were observed at junior cycle dealing with the topic of drawing. One of these lessons was a life drawing class. The lesson opened with a recap of the previous session’s drawing which is good practice. As the lesson progressed it was obvious that the lesson was a general exercise in life drawing. It is recommended at this stage of students’ development that each lesson would have very specific objectives; in this case contour drawing, or developing form, could have been targeted as a way of enhancing the learning. The other drawing lesson observed was centred around observational drawing of objects. Students were asked to bring in an object of their own choosing and to draw it to practice for the State Examination later in the year. Whilst this approach can be very productive for some groups of students, it is suggested that this particular group of students need more support in this area before they are left to their own devices. Particular attention should be drawn to the kinds of objects that are more interesting and enjoyable to draw. In the case of particular students not having appropriate objects with them, it is recommended that a collection of suitable objects would be permanently housed in the art room for such an eventuality. Discussions should also be held on the kinds of objects that are suitable. Where students have chosen appropriate objects and produced good work as a result, these should be used as examples and as discussion points. At this stage of the year it is also recommended that students are given more direct instruction in their drawing lessons so that they have the benefit of instruction up to and until the examinations.
Examination of students work in the classroom showed that students at all levels are progressing satisfactorily in a variety of media. The work of weaker students is particularly commended as are the efforts of the teaching staff to provide encouraging and positive environments with achievable positive results.
A very wide variety of co- and extra-curricular activities is organised by the Art department in addition to the collaboration that takes place with other subjects. Extra- and co-curricular activities take place in the form of trips to local and national galleries, museums and other places of interest, participating in local and national competitions, inviting relevant speakers into the Art department and providing the students with the direction and support that they need to create a portfolio for entry into Art College. This approach to Art Education allows the students to gain a much better understanding of the nature of the subject and also of professional practice. The efforts and foresight taken to provide these experiences are highly commended.
In particular the Transition Year programme in Art has been designed in conjunction with the Religious Education department and has developed a project theme. This is very good practice.
Although there are no formal plans for assessment, a combination of formative and summative assessment takes place in the Art department. Good positive and encouraging feedback is given during lessons and at the end of projects the work is given a grade, which is recorded and compiled into student profiles.
Students are also encouraged to assess their own work and it is suggested that this very good practice be extended to all class groups from first year, so that a culture of self-assessment is encouraged. To add to the good work in assessment being carried out it is recommended that assessment be considered as an integral part of lesson schemes and that different modes of assessment would be explored in the future. It is also recommended to avoid the introduction of an ‘exam mentality’ too early in the various programmes. Whilst it is very good practice to allow students to rehearse the examination process as part of their examination preparation, too much focus on the requirements of the examination limit the creative potential of both teaching and learning.
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:
· Formal Art department meetings should be used to consider how emphasising particular skills, habits and attitudes from early in the students’ career can enhance the delivery of the subject.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Art and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.