An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa
Carraig na bhFear, County Cork
Roll number: 62130M
Date of inspection: 20 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Music is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa. Students taste all subjects in first year, and have two periods of Music per week. Students then choose two subjects from Business, Technical Graphics, Home Economics, Music and Art for the Junior Certificate. This system was introduced last year, following a consultation process involving the whole school community. Students previously chose between Music and Technical Graphics, but this new system has resulted in the smallest second-year music class in thirty years. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme includes a music module which the students follow for the entire year, and at senior cycle, students may choose Music as an ‘eighth subject’ if they wish. This system was devised around twenty years ago in order to keep the subject on the senior curriculum. Surveys regarding Music in senior cycle have taken place within the department with more students opting for the current system rather than having Music within the option blocks. However, preliminary discussions have recently taken place in order to ascertain the best way to facilitate Music in senior cycle and to see if it can be brought in line with the choice process for other Leaving Certificate subjects. At present there is concern about the uptake of Music generally and the new choice procedure in junior cycle further adds to this. Ongoing monitoring of the impact the first-year subject choice arrangements are having on the uptake of Music is recommended. It is further recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake of Music, in light of changing circumstances, as sustaining low numbers in the future could prove difficult.
Timetable provision for Music is generally in line with departmental guidelines. With the change in options at junior cycle, students will have the required four periods a week next year. At senior cycle, because both teachers take different aspects of the course and it is timetabled against study and computer classes, students receive three periods per week in both fifth and sixth year. Although time allocated falls below the syllabus guidelines, teachers feel that the small numbers allow for more intensive learning situations. In addition, senior music students are required to attend the school choir rehearsals and this extra hour per week forms part of their aural and practical work for the Leaving Certificate programme.
In addition to curricular aspects, other musical activities contribute to the profile of Music in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa. The school has a long choral tradition and its choir, which has been successful in a number of choral festivals through the years, is a significant contributor to raising awareness of the school’s activities. The school also has an orchestra comprising fifteen players on strings, flutes, trumpets, percussion and piano. Both these groups rehearse after school and perform for the many events which take place during the school year, for example the open day, liturgies, and Christmas festivities. An annual musical evening is also held in May which showcases the many musical talents of the student cohort. In addition, the school choir and vocal ensembles participate in Feis Maitiú, usually to huge success. Both choir and orchestra, and the first year music students, enter the annual Choirs, Orchestras and Military Bands (COMB) examinations. TY students have also participated in the Composer in the Classroom project, which is organised by the Cork International Choral Festival. Many of these activities are open to all students so that they may experience some type of music-making activity as part of their second-level education even if it is not part of their subject options. This is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school.
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa has a dedicated music room which is, however, unsuitable for teaching and learning in a group setting. Formerly two small offices, this narrow room is furnished with cumbersome double desks more suited to primary students rather than growing adolescents. The arrangement of these desks is such that it prevents suitable sightlines to the two small blackboards as the majority of the students are seated at right angles to these boards. Furthermore, these blackboards are quite worn and the light from the two windows opposite further impedes visibility. A large piano, in need of repair, takes up the remaining available space, and teacher mobility is severely constrained. Although some attempts have been made to heighten awareness of the subject through charts of musical instruments on the walls, essentially this environment is not conducive to effective teaching and learning.
The department also has a small store room used as a teacher’s office and to house other resources such as sheet music, texts and some classroom instruments. The chapel is also used for choir and orchestra practice and some classes are held in the gallery. In addition, the chapel is used for the practical examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate, as well as for the COMB examinations. This is commendable as it allows the students ample time to familiarise themselves with the examination setting. Furthermore, the suitable acoustic and the good quality piano available here ensure that the musical standard is not compromised through inadequate resources.
It was stated during the inspection that under the current refurbishment project in the school, there is a plan to move the music room to another location. This move is welcomed and it is recommended that much thought be put into the design and layout of the room in order to maximise its use for the myriad music-teaching settings available and facilitate opportunities for more innovative learning experiences. In this light, the introduction of music technology resources would be appropriate as an absence of same was noted during the evaluation. In addition, it is recommended that a portion of the room be designated a permanent performing space to allow for a more fluid learning environment where performing, composing and listening activities could be undertaken with minimal upheaval. It is important to state that a continuing enhancement of the available resources and environment could also help foster an interest in Music and possibly contribute to a significant increase in its uptake.
There was evidence of collaborative planning for the development of Music in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa. The music teachers work as a team, planning programmes of work for the school year and organising other activities particular to Music. This planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. In junior cycle, classes are assigned on a rotational basis where possible, and class groups are shared for the delivery of the Leaving Certificate programme, which allows each teacher to focus on his or her individual strengths. Programmes of work, scheduling the topics to be covered and subject plans outlining the broad aims for each class group, were presented. These were relevant to the syllabuses and the requirements of the examinations. From discussion with the teachers it was evident that some thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all music courses in the school. There is regular contact and cooperation between the teachers in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabuses with their classes.
Work has begun on subject department planning under the school development planning initiative (SDPI), and records of meetings held to date were presented. It would be timely if the music teachers set about devising a five-year development plan for the music department at this stage. This could include planning for resources with a particular emphasis on technology, curricular plans especially for the first-year and TY modules. Differentiated teaching strategies could be developed in light of any changing circumstances. Moreover, strategies to encourage greater participation in Music and to increase significantly its profile within the school should be devised.
In all lessons observed, some planning was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as handouts, worksheets, sheet music and audio-visual resources. It is recommended that future planning include consideration of student learning strategies and of ways of encouraging students to reflect on their learning. Planning to include some broader aspects of musical development is also recommended with a focus on precise medium and short term targets and the inclusion of more active learning methodologies. Planning could also be developed to facilitate more integration of the core activities of performing, composing and listening within the classroom context.
In all lessons visited, a clear code of behaviour was very much in evidence. There was a good rapport between the students and teachers in a secure, purposeful and work-orientated atmosphere. In the main, lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability.
In most classes seen, the focus was on the forthcoming practical assessments for Junior and Leaving Certificate and the COMB examinations, activities which are entirely appropriate for this time of year. Other activities included a further development of the general study section of the Junior Certificate course with an emphasis on flamenco music.
In the lessons focussing on preparation for the impending practical examinations, a good standard of vocal performance obtained. The students perform regularly both in public and for competitions, and this contributes to their development as confident, competent singers. Initial activity revolved around suitable vocal warm-up exercises and an emphasis on correct posture. Good teacher demonstration, accompaniment, relevant rote learning and good rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, were some of the activities seen. It was good to note that students work from sheet music at all times, and when correcting errors or shortcomings in the performance, the teachers interspersed their explanations with appropriate technical terms, thus contributing to a further consolidation of the more theoretical aspects of Music. Thus, for example, rather than stating that the singers were flat in a particular bar, the students were informed that the section containing a ‘leading note’ or a series of ‘rising fourths’ required more acute listening. This is to be commended. Furthermore, the focus on examination performance, coupled with sound advice from the teachers on the nature of performing, ensures that students are extremely well prepared for their practical examinations and are very familiar with the process.
Strategies linking some aspects of the curriculum were utilised to good effect. In the lesson focusing on flamenco music for example, the curricular areas of performing and listening were integrated through comparing two video extracts of flamenco, passing around some castanets, clapping flamenco rhythms, answering questions on the instruments and features particular to flamenco music, and finally consolidating this information through an aural worksheet. This type of linking of activities and active participation by the students does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material and is commendable.
When an entire class group was involved in a specific activity, total student engagement was evident. However when the focus was on a specific group of students, the lack of any supplementary work for the remainder meant that there was a reduced level of engagement. It is recommended that ways to ensure that all students are involved in the learning process be explored. It would be important to involve all students in the group even when working with specific subgroups. The others could become ‘critical friends’ ascertaining the quality of performance for their examinations, for example. Moreover the boys whose voices are changing and have to opt out of singing for a while could be involved through listening to the balance, diction or interpretation of the music, which would contribute to the development of other musical skills.
When suitable resources are acquired and the music department obtains a computer, it is recommended that an examination of the feasibility of the technology option in the Leaving Certificate music syllabus be undertaken alongside the acquisition of appropriate resources to include further development of information and communication technology (ICT). Although the use of an overhead projector (OHP) is not possible in the current classroom, it is recommended that ways it could be used in future settings should be explored. Its use, coupled with suitable software, could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance student learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. Additionally, both the computer and OHP could be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture during ensemble performance, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. In this light, it is also recommended that the music teachers make the most of any continuing professional development (CPD) currently available, particularly in the area of ICT.
In all classes observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to an acceptable standard. Some student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance, while others were haphazard and contained loose sheets and handouts. Careful monitoring of student materials is recommended, especially with junior classes, as valuable supplementary information and work will invariably go astray if not documented properly.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Examples of this include questioning in class, regular homework, completion of worksheets and tests at the end of a topic. Practical assessment exists for all music classes, some of which is undertaken through public performance and competition. It was noted that students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations, which is commended. The school has an open communication policy for parents and in addition to reports issued at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups.
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 Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.