An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Cross and Passion College
Kilcullen, County Kildare
Roll number: 61690W
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cross and Passion College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
History has a strong presence in the breadth of education provided for the students of Cross and Passion College. All junior cycle students study History as a compulsory subject of their Junior Certificate curriculum. On completion of their Junior Certificate studies the studentsí progress to the schoolís Transition Year programme (TY). History is not provided as a discrete subject within the schoolís TY programme but the Humanities programme that is a component of TY helps to maintain the studentsí contact with History. Senior cycle students choose their preferred Leaving Certificate programme from a choice of the Leaving Certificate (established) (LCE), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The students who pursue either the LCE or the LCVP are provided with the opportunity to study History as one of their optional subject choices. The potential of History, therefore, to make a strong contribution to the holistic education of the students is recognised and supported.
Cross and Passion College has eight history teachers. Management has ensured that the full complement of the history teachers has been deployed to teach History. This practice is commended as it enables every member of the history subject team to assume an active role in the contribution that History makes to the education of the schoolís students. The practice of assigning history teachers to specific junior cycle history class groups for the three years of their programme is also commended. The assignment of the history teachers in this way enables the teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the coursework. In addition, two Higher Diploma in Education students are being facilitated in gaining experience in teaching History in the current academic year 2007-08.
Management supports the collaborative work of the History department in maintaining the continuous development of History throughout the school. Departmental meetings are scheduled and an annual budget is provided. Membership of the History Teachersí Association of Ireland (HTAI) is also funded by the school.† Attendance at the in-service courses for the new Leaving Certificate history syllabus is facilitated. The three members of the history subject team involved in teaching the new history syllabus have been accommodated in attending the in-service courses for the new syllabus. The importance of field trips in enriching the studentsí study of History is appreciated too, and management facilitates teachers in organising these activities during the course of the academic year. These are laudable forms of support. Managementís facilitation of†† the meetings of the History department at regular intervals is acknowledged in particular. The scheduling of formal meetings of the History department once per term will greatly assist the history subject team in maintaining the continued development of the teaching and study of History throughout the school.
A study of the time allocated to History shows that every junior cycle class has three periods per week. There are five class groups in each junior cycle year and all are mixed-ability classes. Fifth and sixth-year history students have been allocated five periods comprising one double period and three single periods per week. There is one mixed-ability history class group in fifth year and one in sixth year. The overall timetabled provision of history class periods is supportive of the teaching and learning of History. Attention, however, is drawn to the fact that, in the case of some junior cycle class groups, the timetabling of history class periods on consecutive days has resulted in a long interval occurring in teacher-class contact time between the last history class in the week and the first history class of the following week. It is also advocated that the timetabling of a class groupís three history periods in the afternoon be avoided and a more proportionate distribution between morning and afternoon lesson periods be timetabled.
The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to the schoolís facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support effective coverage of the coursework. The majority of the history teachers have their own base classrooms equipped with a TV and DVD. The teachers have access to photocopying facilities, history teaching aids, overhead projectors and information and communication technology (ICT). There is a spacious library on campus and a room adjoining the library has been provided as a history research station for the use of the history teachers and their students. The room contains two computers with internet access and a printer. The room also acts as a central location and storage area for history research materials and teaching aids. There is, however, limited access to the schoolís computer room for history class groups because of the heavy demands upon it.† It is recommended that management meet with the history department with a view to exploring the best means of enabling greater use of ICT in the history classroom.
The delivery of the lessons observed was carefully planned and prepared. In keeping with good teaching practice a definite topic was chosen for each lesson. The teachersí lesson plans provided the teachers with an informed overview of the lessons enabling them to guide the pace and structure of the lessons in ways that would steadily help to consolidate student learning. The advance readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of printed handouts, overhead transparencies, a poster, the review of selected pages in the class textbooks and the selection of written assignments including homework.
The collaborative action of the history teachers in formally establishing a history department and appointing a subject coordinator is commended. The formal history department has a very real role to play in promoting the continuous development of the teaching and study of History throughout the school. The department is a structured means of enabling the history teachers to meet together to pool skills, develop long and short-term strategies, and discuss issues impinging on History. It is advocated that the position of coordinator should be rotated at agreed intervals to enable each member of the history subject team to have this valuable professional experience. The regularity with which meetings of the history department are convened is lauded and in order to support this praiseworthy practice it is recommended that the convening of at least one formal meeting per term remain an established practice. The teachersí good use of their budgetary allocation to steadily augment their bank of communal teaching resources and the stock of history books in the school library and history research station is also commended.
The documentation of the subject department plan is a praiseworthy and worthwhile initiative. This document is in effect a framework policy document that gives shape and focus to the important work that takes place in the classroom. The continued development of the subject department plan is encouraged because proactive planning is always best viewed as work in progress rather than a finished product. The subject department plan would be strengthened by documenting the responsibilities of the subject coordinator, the history teachersí planning for the use of the ICT resources that are available to them, further development of the section relating to cross-curricular strategies and, the mentoring supports provided for Higher Diploma in Education students in History.† The final hardcopy version of the document should be typed. Consideration might also be given to creating an electronic folder for History that would contain the subject department plan and documentation such as the history syllabuses, chief examinersí reports, the year plans and material from the support services.
The departmental year plans that have been prepared for each year group are an important means of assisting teachers in their coverage of the coursework. To build on the good work being done, it is recommended that the agreed year plans be further developed to include details of recommended classroom methodologies and suitable resources for the teaching and study of the various coursework topics. The inclusion of proven strategies and resources for teaching particular topics should be collated from the meetings of the history teachers over a period of time. These formal meetings will provide opportunities for the history subject team to draw on their wealth of experience. It is not envisaged that the formulation of agreed year plans in this way would stifle teachers own initiatives in proactively exploring other classroom initiatives, rather it is important that the agreed year plans continue to evolve in the light of the history teachersí own experiences.
There was a positive teaching and learning atmosphere during all the lessons observed. The choice of a definite topic provided a clear focus for the studentsí attention. Classroom management was uniformly good. The teachersí interaction with their students contributed to the quality of the lessons and the students were frequently affirmed for their contributions during the lessons. The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers. The practice of displaying studentsí projects and history materials in the classroom is commended. This practice helps to affirm students publicly for their work and stimulate studentsí interest in History in a visual way.
The teachers engaged their students at the commencement of each lesson by informing them of the purpose of the lesson. Individual teachers also noted the lesson topic on the classroom board. The engagement of the students in their study of the lesson topic was then maintained by the teachers interacting with their students through questioning and, in some lessons, the correction of a homework task. The posing of questions and the correction of homework were conducted in a manner that helped introduce the students to their lesson topic by reviewing the knowledge they had acquired in previous lessons and providing them with an insightful understanding of the wider context in which the particular lesson was rooted. The lesson introduction was further consolidated by the highlighting of key points and words on the classroom board. The teaching strategies observed during the initial phase of the lessons impacted effectively on student learning.
The pedagogical skills of the teachers ensured that student learning was steadily consolidated as the lessons progressed.† The teachersí interaction with their students, for example when questions were addressed globally to the class and to named individuals, helped to increase the studentsí knowledge of the lesson topic, introduce new content and clarify studentsí understanding of the lesson material. The questioning techniques employed included the use of closed questions to prompt factual recall and open questions that challenged students to articulate an informed opinion. The reading of selected passages in the class textbook and a prepared handout were also enriched by the questioning techniques of the teachers. The posing of open and closed questions is a laudable strategy to employ in the history classroom and the universal use of this strategy is encouraged.
There was good use made of teaching resources, overall, to impact visually on student learning. The classroom board was used effectively to highlight key points of information and to expand on their meaning. Overhead transparencies were used to inform and stimulate a deeper understanding of a classís study of Unionist opposition to Home Rule for Ireland during the late nineteenth century. The incorporation of a wall map of the world and a pictorial illustration in a classís textbook of the route followed by Ferdinand Magellan helped the students to identify the location of places to which reference was made in their study of his pioneering circumnavigation of the globe, 1519-1522. In another instance, a prepared poster depicting items that related to Adolf Hitler provided students with visual depictions to enhance their understanding of Hitler before engaging the students in a brainstorming activity as part of the class lesson.† There was however, scope to make greater use of visual teaching aids.
Written assignments for the students were incorporated into the planned structure of several lessons. This purposeful strategy was another means employed to engage students actively in their study of the lesson topic and consolidate learning. The directing of students to transcribe information recorded on the classroom board at predetermined stages of the lesson for example, helped to impress upon the students the importance of the information and provide them with the opportunity to note in their copies important details relating to their lesson topic. Paired work was organised too. This strategy involved students working together in pairs to find the requisite information in their textbook or through mutual discussion before writing their answers, and helped students to assist each other in completing their written tasks. The setting of homework tended to occur in the final part of the lessons. The teachersí practice of regularly setting homework tasks for their students is commended because it helps to consolidate work done in class and encourages students to assume responsibility for their own learning.
Assessment and the monitoring of studentsí progress are important aspects of classroom teaching and the educational policies of the school. During the course of the lessons observed the on-going monitoring of studentsí understanding and progress was informed by the addressing of questions globally to the class and to named individuals.† The teachersí setting and correction of classroom assignments and homework tasks provided further means of tracking student progress and informing judgements. The use noted of a written feedback comment at the end of a studentís written homework exercise is universally encouraged, as a means of helping the students to assess their progress individually. The studentsí performances in class-based tests that are organised at appropriate times in the study of the coursework provide another indicator of the application of the individual students and their progress.† The history teachers also liaise with the schoolís learning support team and the special needs assistants assigned to individual students in order to ensure the progress of students with special educational needs.†
Formal school examinations are organised for all year groups with the exception of the first-year students at the end of the first term.† Continuous assessment is used to monitor the progress of first-year students during their first term in the school.† The Junior and Leaving Certificate examination classes sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term as part of their preparations for the state examinations in June. Formal summer examinations are organised at the end of the academic year for first, second and fifth-year students. The collaboration of the history teachers in the setting of a common paper for each year group in the in-house examinations is commended. It is recommended that the application, progress and academic performance of the students in their school examinations continue to guide the history teachers in advising the students about the most suitable level to sit in their Junior Certificate history examination.
School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the schoolís formal examination sessions. A parent-teacher meeting is organised annually for each year group to keep parents informed of progress.
The acknowledgement of student achievement figures strongly in the life of the school and occasions such as the graduation of the sixth-year students, when subject awards are made to meritorious students, provide opportunities to publicly acclaim their achievements. The affirmation given to meritorious students of History and their fellow students in other disciplines on all such celebratory occasions is commended.†
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 History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.