An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
MeŠn Scoil an Chlochair
Kilbeggan, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63221U
Date of inspection: 23 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in MeŠn Scoil an Chlochair. 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 one day 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.† The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Whole school support for History is very good as indicated by the accessibility of the subject to all students in the schoolís curricular programmes, namely the Junior Certificate Programme (JCP), the Transition Year programme (TY), the established Leaving Certificate (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). History is a mandatory component of the JCP. The schoolís TYP is optional but the students who elect to join the TYP study History as part of their coursework. Senior-cycle students choose their preferred Leaving Certificate programme from a choice of the LCE and the LCVP. They are provided with the opportunity to continue their study of History as an optional subject choice.
Managementís deployment of the three history teachers enables each member of the history team to remain actively involved in supporting the continuous development of the teaching and study of History. The provision of teaching aids and supportive facilities available to the teachers and their students includes audio-visual equipment, access to information and communication technology (ICT) and a designated History Room replete with a data projector and laptop. The History Room is a large spacious room. It is the base classroom of one of the history teachers but is available to the other members of the history team. It is suggested that the history section of the schoolís library be relocated to this room and that the stock of resource materials be further developed over a period of time. This should prove especially useful to the teachers in assisting senior-cycle students to undertake the researched history topic that is now part of the new Leaving Certificate syllabus.
A study of the time allocation to History shows that every junior cycle class group has three periods per week. Efforts are made to ensure that the teachers assigned to first-year classes continue with their students until the students sit their Junior Certificate examinations. This practice is commended as it enables teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework. The TY students comprise one class group of twenty-five students in the current academic year 2006/2007 and have two single class periods per week. The fifth-year history class group and the sixth-year history class group have both five class periods per week. The avoidance of a long interval in teacher-class contact time between the last history class in the week and the first history class of the following week is encouraged. This undesirable pattern occurred in the case of junior cycle classes 081R, 082R and 082Y due to the history class periods occurring on three consecutive days, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Yet, it is acknowledged that the allocation of class periods to History and the pattern of their distribution overall are supportive of the teaching and learning of History throughout the school.
Management supports and encourages collaborative planning within the history subject team. Meetings of the history department are facilitated. Funding is provided on a needs basis. The organisation of field trips to places of historical interest for the students is facilitated.† The importance of in-service training is recognised and management has accommodated the attendance of the teachers at the in-service courses for the new syllabus. The history teachers have also benefited from the organisation of a workshop on mixed-ability teaching that was organised for the teaching staff in the recent past.
The history subject team share a commitment to maintaining good quality teaching and learning in their classrooms. This was indicated by the prior preparations and planning that the teachers gave to the lessons observed. In keeping with good teaching practice a definite topic was chosen for each lesson. The structure and pace of the lessons were facilitated by the advanced preparation of overhead transparencies, class handouts and notes, the review of selected pages in the studentsí textbooks and the selection of homework. It is advocated that the verbal content of overhead transparencies be printed rather than handwritten and that the size and style of the print be varied where it can be used effectively to impact on student learning. The strategy of selecting a particular aspect of a broad lesson topic that will require an extended period of study was incorporated into the lesson plans of individual teachers and was later shown to be an effective strategy. The history classes are mixed-ability groupings and so it is recommended that lesson plans clearly detail the teaching and learning methodologies that are integrated into the lessons. This will help teachers to ensure that their lesson plans cater appropriately for the many different kinds of learner in the mixed-ability history classroom.
The schoolís history department has a very real role in promoting the continuing development of the teaching and study of History throughout the school. The history department is a structured forum for formally addressing issues and collaborating on the development of planning strategies that will impact on the history classroom. It is recommended that the position of co-ordinator, which is voluntary, be rotated at two yearly intervals among the members of the history subject team. This will enable each member to contribute to the development of the potential of the department. It is further recommended that departmental year plans be drawn up over a period of time for the various year groups. These long-term plans should list the coursework topics, provide an outline of the intended allocation of time to each topic, identify the teaching and learning methodologies that the history subject team recommends be incorporated into the teaching of† the topics, and indicate the resources that will be used. It is not envisaged that the formulation of agreed year plans would stifle teachersí own initiatives for year plans are best viewed as work in progress that can be adapted as the need arises.
The provision of the modular programme in History for the schoolís TYP is commended. The history module enables the TY students to maintain uninterrupted contact with History and affords them a timely opportunity to develop their interest in History before they progress to their Leaving Certificate studies. The documented plan of the TY history module provides a framework for the module and includes details of the coursework under a variety of headings. It is recommended that the potential of the framework document continue to be developed. The content of the coursework should be reviewed to ensure that it is not too closely aligned with topics that will be studied by the students at a later date as part of their Leaving Certificate coursework. For example, the proposed study of Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell runs the risk of students covering much of Topic 2 of the new Leaving Certificate history syllabus as part of their TY history coursework. The study of local history and the emphases on the teaching and learning methodologies such as ICT, group work, project work and the invitation of guest speakers to address the students are strengths of the module and it is advocated that they be retained. It is recommended that the coursework topics be listed and that recommended teaching and learning methodologies and resources be detailed alongside each topic. A list of the available resources should be compiled and if possible, steadily augmented. Consideration might also be given to detailing the means of applying continuous assessment to the studentsí coverage of the coursework. Further helpful advice is available on the School Development Planning Initiative website www.sdpi.ie to assist in the documentation of the content of the departmental TY plan for History.
There was a positive teaching and learning atmosphere in all the classes visited. The teachers sought to motivate their students and encourage learning at all times. Discipline was sensitively maintained and the prior preparations that had been undertaken by the teachers meant that each teacher had an informed overview of the structure and pace of the lesson. The students were attentive and engaged in the study of their respective lesson topics.
The focus of each lesson was made clear to the students at the outset and was written on the board. The subsequent correction of homework, which was preceded in one lesson by a short period of quiet reading of previously studied material, and the collection of the studentsí projects, which was the homework task in another lesson, were conducted in ways that impacted on student learning. These included the directing of individual students to read out their answers to particular questions, the addressing of questions to students about their projects and the clarification of points by the teachers. The interaction between teacher and students during the course of these activities also helped to engage the students.
Good use was made of the classroom board and overhead transparencies to provide the students with a greater knowledge of the new material and to draw them further into their study of the lesson topic. In one instance, the recalling of the studentsí attention to the title of the lesson topic on the board was followed by a purposeful brainstorming session. The students displayed a good amount of acquired knowledge of the topic and many of the key details, which they mentioned, were recorded on the board to consolidate their learning. Similarly, the gradual completion of a spider diagram on the board was effected through the questions that the teacher posed to the class and provided the students with a more detailed knowledge of the background to the lesson topic. Overhead transparencies were used to impact on student learning at key stages during the course of the lessons. For example, during the introduction of a class group to their study of early Irish monasteries a transparency was used effectively to make the students more informed about the layout of the monastery. At later stages of the lessons overhead transparencies were used to provide the students with additional information and accounts of aspects of the lesson topics which they were directed to transcribe into their notes copybooks on a number of occasions. It is advocated that copies of transparencies, which prove to be particularly effective in the delivery of class lessons, be placed in a departmental folder for the use of the history teachers.
The involvement of the students in their own learning was maintained by a variety of strategies that were interwoven into the fabric of the lessons. The teachersí judicious use of questions, the written tasks that were a feature of all the lessons observed, and the directing of students to read short excerpts from the class textbook all provided the students with opportunities to participate in the study of the lesson topic and consolidate their own learning. It is advocated that consideration be given to setting students the task of identifying the key points in the textbook account of the lesson topic or a defined section of the topic as a learning activity to help them develop their own note-taking skills. It is also advocated that students rather than the teacher undertake the task of reading aloud unless there is a definite reason for doing otherwise.
The setting of homework obviously encourages students to assume responsibility for their own independent learning. The encouragement given to the students through the setting of various homework assignments and the project tasks is acknowledged. The display of studentsí projects in the designated History Room and the decoration of the walls of the room with interesting history materials are commended and serve to indicate that the members of the history team are strongly focused on ensuring that the teaching and learning of History is an enriching experience for their students.
Assessment and evaluation were an intrinsic part of the teaching methodologies observed. The history teachers use a combination of classroom questioning, the setting of assignments, homework and class tests to assess continuously their studentsí progress. The oral questioning of the students enabled the teachers to gauge the studentsí learning and understanding. The clarification of points given by the teachers, where it was deemed necessary, was also indicative of classroom assessment. The standard of work observed in a number of studentsí copybooks indicated their steady progress through the coursework. The inclusion of a teacherís comment at the end of a homework exercise is always to be recommended and was noted. The teachers give class-based tests at appropriate times within their teaching schemes of the coursework. The results provide another means of tracking studentsí progress and of informing judgements.†
Formal school examinations are organised for all students at the end of the first term. The Junior and Leaving Certificate examination classes sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term to assist the students in their preparations for the state examinations in June. First, second and fifth-year students sit formal in-house examinations at the end of the academic year. School reports are sent to the homes of the students to keep parents and guardians informed. A parent-teacher meeting is organised annually for each year group and provides an important opportunity for parents/guardians and teachers to meet to discuss the progress of students individually.
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.