An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh
Cahir, County Tipperary
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 15 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. 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 two days 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.
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh is a co-educational school. English classes in first year have four English lessons per week. This is adequate provision, although attempts should be made to expand this, if at all possible. Classes in second year have five English lessons per week, apart from those students in literacy-support classes who have six English lessons per week. This is good provision. In third year classes have five English lessons per week, apart from one class which has four English lessons per week. Provision for this latter group should be considered adequate, while provision for all other groups is good. Transition Year classes have four English lessons per week and this is good provision. Classes in fifth year have five English lessons per week while classes in sixth year have six English lessons per week. This is good provision. Classes in the Year 1 of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme have three lessons in English and Communications per week, which is adequate. Classes in Year 2 of the programme have four lessons in English and Communications per week and this is good provision. It should, however, be noted that students in the Leaving Certificate Applied Year 1, who do not partake in work experience on one day of the week, receive additional English lessons. This is very positive and is to be commended.
Classes in first year are of mixed ability. Following first year, a common assessment system is utilised to divide students into streamed groups in second year. In second year there are five classes, although in the case of English, in order to allow for additional support in literacy, two of the streamed groups are divided into five smaller classes. A similar arrangement obtains in third year, with one of the class groups being divided between two teachers. Classes in senior cycle are set based on the results obtained in students’ Junior Certificate examination and on parents’ wishes. In general, there is limited use of concurrency in timetabling for junior cycle classes. This is unfortunate, as such an approach would allow for greater ease of student movement across levels and classes and it is recommended that greater use of concurrent timetabling should be pursued. Beyond this, it is recommended that the manner in which students are chosen for different streams in English, following first year, should be revised. In particular, it is recommended that English teachers’ comments regarding student placement should be a formal and consistent element of the process. A further concern with regard to the timetabling of English is the need for a more consistent approach to be adopted regarding the spread of English lessons during the school week. This situation is most clearly of concern in the case of junior cycle classes. The school is strongly encouraged to ensure that students are provided with the maximum number of contact points possible with the subject across the week.
English classes retain their English teachers from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is positive as it allows English teachers to develop consistent pedagogical strategies with particular class groups. English teachers are assigned to levels and cycles on a rotational basis. Again, this is good practice, allowing for the development of a wide skills base across the department.
Currently English teachers do not have base rooms. It is recognised that there are considerable space and organisational restrictions with regard to such provision. Consequently, it is recommended that, in the absence of teacher-based rooms, the assignment of a subject base room for English be explored. Such a base room would allow for the development of an ‘English atmosphere’ which would serve to enhance students’ experiences of the subject. There is a space assigned for the storage of English resources in the teachers’ workroom. Book sets and examination papers are amongst the items kept there. This is very worthwhile, and should continue to be developed in order to ensure that items which may prove useful to members of the department are readily available. The clear identification of the space through the use of signage is positive. The use of lamination as a means of ensuring the durability of this signage might be considered.
There is a library. Very good work has gone into the organisation of the library and the school has adopted a computerised system for recording books. As the library is currently located in a rather restricted space, however, the school has plans to expand this facility in the near future. It is anticipated that the library will be relocated in the general purpose area and this move will be enhanced through the purchase of new shelving units. Teachers have been diligent and imaginative in ensuring that library services are maintained throughout the school. The development of a ‘mobile library’ through the use of ‘book boxes’ is to be particularly highlighted. The boxes used are bright, transparent, plastic units and ensure that the books can be viewed in an attractive light by students. The school is to be praised for its awareness of the powerful impact that the library can make in the enhancing of students’ literacy skills. Continued input from the English department as a whole into the development of the library is to be encouraged, and the creation of a brief policy statement dealing with the different ways in which the library is used to support the teaching and learning of English and literacy might also be worthwhile. A useful text from which more ideas in this area might be garnered is Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project which is available from the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Support Services. Equally, the establishment of a link with the School Library Association Republic of Ireland (SLARI) may be worth pursuing. An area which should be explored by the English department, when the library moves to its more permanent location, is the use of the space as a focus for the department’s work in developing a print-rich environment around the school. This might be achieved through the display of student genre work, students’ reviews of books and media posters with a literary connection. The use of lamination as a means of, not only preserving, but giving increased status to, the aforementioned students’ work, might also be considered.
A shared reading programme has been organised in the past, between first-year students and their parents. Currently, this approach is also being adopted between students for whom English is an additional language and their parents. This is most praiseworthy. Transition Year students are currently involved in a homework club with younger students. It is suggested that the involvement of Transition Year students in a shared reading programme with first-year students might also be explored and that, if practicable, the involvement of some international students in the programme, either as tutors or tutees, might be of benefit.
There is very good access to audio-visual facilities for English teachers. Access is arranged through a booking system. This is positive, particularly in the context of the role played by film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus, along with the potential impact of the judicious use of audio-visual resources in junior cycle classes.
English classes can gain access to the school’s computer rooms through a booking system. There is also a laptop trolley suite which can be utilised. Teachers can access information and communications technology (ICT) facilities in a room next to the staffroom. There is good access to ICT facilities for students and teachers of English for which management is to be praised. The English department has grasped the opportunity afforded through judicious use of ICT to support literacy acquisition in the student body. Teachers use the internet as a means of researching material for their classes. Publishing packages have also been utilised in junior cycle classes to enhance students’ awareness of the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing. Students in one junior cycle class were in the process of developing their own booklets of stories with the aid of ICT. Particularly laudable was the use of a data projector in a computer room as a tool through which the teacher employed creative modelling for a literacy-support class. The imaginative use of ICT as a means of developing and using writing frames should also be highlighted in this instance. Further ideas which might be explored profitably by the department in the future include the occasional use of webquests as a support for students’ project work and the creation of an English department internet ‘favourites’ list on the school network. It should be stated, however, that these suggestions are made with a full acknowledgement of the English department’s, already very good, work in this area. The setting down of the department’s current practice in the subject plan is also to be praised and should continue to be expanded as new ideas are presented. This should be viewed as one of many continuing professional development opportunities in which all members of the department should partake.
An induction pack is provided for new or student teachers. Student teachers in English rarely conduct their teaching practice in the school, but, where this occurs, an experienced teacher is assigned to the student. It is suggested that the department should consider the creation of a brief subject induction policy, not only for student teachers, but also for newly qualified teachers and teachers who are joining the school for the first time. This might include the development of further mentoring approaches such as the observation of new and student teachers by experienced teachers and the observation of experienced teachers by the newer members of staff. Such an approach would ensure the continuation and expansion of the very good practice which already exists in the English department.
The school is supportive of teachers’ participation in continuing professional development. This is positive. Teachers have maintained links with the Waterford Teachers’ Centre. A number of English teachers are members of their subject association. Links are also maintained with the Irish Learning Support Association (ILSA). All English teachers are encouraged to continue to explore opportunities for further professional development. This should not be restricted to in-service training courses specifically focused on English, but should also incorporate generic courses on teaching and learning. The department is encouraged to develop a brief professional development policy which will emphasise the manner in which this area is viewed by the English department as being of central importance to all teachers’ professional identities. Beyond this, the policy should set out how English teachers may return the new skills they have garnered through these courses to the department as a body. This might be achieved through occasional inputs at departmental meetings or through the further collaborative development of the subject plan. Finally, the considerable expertise currently present in the department should be viewed as the most valuable resource of all in terms of professional development. Occasional presentations to the department, or even to the whole-staff, during a ‘teaching and learning’ session or day might be worth considering. These could involve a particular English teacher setting out, and exploring with colleagues, strategies which have proven to be successful in dealing with particular groups of students or areas of the course.
English teachers are involved in organising a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Among these are included, a drama club, visits to the theatre and literary exhibitions, public speaking in Transition Year and visits to cultural parks and museums. Of particular note is the planned link to the Outreach/Education Department of the Abbey Theatre through its production of Julius Caesar. Students have been distributed with packs on the play in order to prepare for a workshop in which they will participate. Teachers have organised a module on this work for groups in fifth year and have laid particular emphasis on the fact that students who may not have encountered Shakespeare previously in their studies shall be participating. This approach is to be strongly praised. The organisation of a team-teaching approach to this endeavour is also to be commended. A trip to meet the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne, has also been organised for some junior cycle students and it is anticipated that visits by another writer will be arranged for the coming academic year. Teachers’ efforts in this area are to be roundly praised.
The position of co-ordinator for English is appointed on a rotational basis. This is good practice. Formal departmental meetings are held five times per year. This apportioning of time for formal departmental planning is invaluable. Management should be praised for their provision in this area and the number of formal meetings should be maintained. Teachers also meet on an informal basis. Understandable difficulties occur in scheduling meetings of the English department, due to clashes with other subject groups. Nevertheless, management is encouraged to explore avenues through which contributions from all members of the department might be ensured when departmental meetings occur. The team has begun to take minutes of departmental meetings. This is good practice. Minutes are stored in the subject folder which, again, is positive. It is suggested that as a further extension of this approach, agendas for meetings should be set in advance. The creation of both minutes and agendas should be facilitated through the use of ICT and these should both then be organised in a specific area of the subject folder. Such an approach will allow for easy reference to the department’s decisions regarding actions to be taken and responsibilities with regard to carrying out these actions, along with associated timelines. Furthermore, this resource will allow for department members to appreciate, and be affirmed by, the advances which they have achieved as part of the subject-planning process.
A subject plan has begun to be developed, with common plans, which is kept in a box folder. This is commendable. The subject folder contains a range of policies and documents alongside the subject plan. Among these are included the school homework policy, the anti-bullying policy, resource documents on critical incidents, material from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), assigned material for the Leaving Certificate course, the English Transition Year programme and syllabus documents and guidelines for English teachers. The storing of material relevant to the teaching and learning of English in this manner is most worthwhile. It is suggested that, in future, only material of this nature should be kept in the subject folder. A worthwhile addition to the folder in this regard would be the recent Department of Education and Science document Looking at English – Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. It is recommended that the department continue to develop the subject plan. A major initial focus for this work should be the extension of the current common plans towards the creation of common, skills-based, time-linked and syllabus-linked, termly schemes of work. The further enhancement of these common plans should be viewed as an opportunity for the sharing of the impressive professional knowledge which already exists in the English department and as a key professional development opportunity. Consequently, all members of the English department should participate in this process. While different plans might be expected to be developed for classes of significantly differing aptitudes in English, all members of the English department should be aware of, and involved in, the development of the plans to be implemented at each level and these should be stored as part of the subject plan in the subject folder. These plans should be developed over time, possibly beginning with first year this year, and so on. Other areas which might profitably be explored through the subject-planning process include: the analysis of state-examination results and uptake of levels versus national norms; a detailed list of resources available in the English department; the use of ICT in the teaching of English and the development of an assessment for learning approach in English classes. Support in this latter endeavour can be accessed on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. A final, profitable focus for a departmental meeting should be the delineation of the various active methodologies utilised in the teaching of English. While a brief list of such approaches already exists in the subject plan, this does not fully reflect the true range of imaginative and creative work observed in this area during the evaluation. This exercise should be viewed as another very important opportunity for teachers to share their own practice and continue to develop and enhance their professional expertise.
Texts are varied in junior and senior cycle to suit class context and interests. This is most worthwhile and reflects the aspirations of both the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate syllabuses. The school’s book scheme supports English teachers in their endeavours in this area and this is praiseworthy. It should be noted that such an approach to text choice not only serves students’ needs, but is also sound practice as a means of ensuring that teachers are presented with new and interesting teaching challenges from year to year. There is some synchronisation of texts between teachers where it is considered that there is a possibility of movement between classes or levels. This is worthwhile. Of particular note were the efforts of one teacher in ensuring that students participating in the ordinary-level course were provided with success-filled experiences of a Shakespearean text. This is laudable.
There is a subject-specific programme for English within the school’s Transition Year programme. This is positive. It is suggested that ICT should be used in setting out the programme in future, in order to allow for ease of revision and storage. As part of the subject planning process, the Transition Year English programme should be revised with input from all English teachers. This should be done as a means of ensuring that all teachers are aware of the content of the programme and are able to contribute to its continued development. Beyond this, the department is encouraged to view the Transition Year programme as an opportunity to explore texts outside of those included in the current Leaving Certificate syllabus. Opportunities for further experiential approaches to the teaching and learning of the subject might also be explored. A number of projects have been completed for English. These are to be displayed on the Transition Year night and, again, this is worthwhile. An extension of this activity would be the adoption of a specific portfolio approach for English as part of assessment in Transition Year. This would encourage greater amounts of written work from students while emphasising the need for care to be taken with writing in order for it to qualify for inclusion in a student’s portfolio. Planning for the Leaving Certificate Applied course in English and Communications was also in evidence during the evaluation.
The school has made contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) which provides training and resources for language-support teachers. The school has been proactive in providing support for students with language-support needs. A well-developed ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programme has been developed. Teachers’ and management’s efforts in this area are highly commendable.
There are good links between English teachers and the special educational needs department. In most cases, teachers of learning-support streams in English are qualified in the area of learning support. Teachers report students experiencing literacy difficulties to the learning-support department. A sample of the student’s written work is also included when such reports are made. The school is encouraged to continue to develop these links, particularly through the individual education plan (IEP) process. There has been in-service training for teachers on the area of special educational needs in the recent past. This is creditable. A worthwhile area to be explored on a whole-school basis would be the creation and implementation of a whole-school literacy policy. A useful point at which to begin an investigation of the implications of such a policy would be the book Between the Lines: Literacy at Junior Cycle which is available from the Junior Certificate School Programme Support Services.
Overall, a good standard of teaching was observed during the evaluation. In almost all cases, lessons were well planned and objectives were clear. Where this was not the case, a statement at the beginning of the lesson regarding the learning objective to be achieved would have been of benefit. Planning was presented in all lessons. In one instance this was of an especially high standard, acknowledging the need for the integration of language and literature to be adopted as a key strategy in the teaching and learning of the syllabus. Lessons were generally well structured, especially where regular shifts in methodological approaches were adopted. Teachers were uniformly affirming to students.
A wide range of resources was used to support teaching and learning in English lessons. Among these were included photocopies, the whiteboard, the blackboard, a scales and a knife, a textbook, television and DVD and ICT. The use of photocopied illustrations of characters from a novel as a means of distinguishing their respective characteristics and roles was a most effective approach in one lesson and succeeded in heightening students’ engagement with the text in question. Beyond this, the featuring of a scales and a knife as props in a ‘freeze frame’ approach to exploring The Merchant of Venice was also noteworthy. The department as a whole is to be complimented on its awareness of the need to use a wide selection of different resources, rather than placing too severe an emphasis on purely text-based approaches. The use of visual resources is to be particularly praised as a means of involving students who might not otherwise be engaged by purely verbal presentations.
Classes typically began with the calling of the roll. This is good practice, allowing for a positive working atmosphere to be created rapidly once students have entered the classroom. Teachers generally followed this with a recapitulation of topics previously covered, whether this was in the form of questioning or through the reading by students of their homework from the previous evening. This was worthwhile.
Reading by teachers or students featured in most classes. In one instance, the enthusiastic reading of a novel by a teacher was interspersed with dynamic questioning to maintain students’ engagement. This was successful and the impact of this approach might have been added to still more through an additional focus on the language of the text. This might in turn have allowed for the development of the novel as a creative model for students’ own writing. In making this observation, however, it should be acknowledged that this was an initial reading of the novel in question and that, consequently, the need to maintain students’ awareness of plot and character development was appropriate. In another instance, the students’ engagement could have been added to through the use of a pre-reading exercise of the poem being studied and greater utilisation of active methodologies.
A strong emphasis was placed on written work in some lessons. The use of ICT in support of this was commendable in one instance, with students’ work being saved and even printed for their benefit. A possible addition to the good practice observed might have been the creation of minor, additional exercises for those students who complete written tasks prior to their peers. In another junior cycle class, students’ ideas regarding the development of fictional works were consolidated on the blackboard. A strong emphasis was placed on the use of interesting vocabulary in their writing and on the need to appeal to the reader’s senses. Another worthwhile element of the lesson was the reading aloud of students’ own work and this might have been added to still further through a form of peer correction where students would note the language techniques used in each others’ work. This could, in turn, lead to an exploration of why such techniques were chosen by the student writer in question. Indeed, language was explored in almost all classes. This was particularly notable in a film studies lesson where the language of film was explored, with camera angles and scene composition being particularly highlighted. This was valuable.
Active methodologies, pair work and group work were used in most classes. These were facilitated well by teachers, and students responded with clear enthusiasm. The English department is encouraged to continue with, and expand, its use of these methodologies.
A good relationship between teachers and students was in evidence. Humour was used as a classroom management tool in many classes. In a number of cases, particularly dynamic and energetic presentations on the part of teachers were observed. The enthusiasm of these teachers for their subject was communicated effectively to class groups and, where this was the case, students responded in kind. In almost all cases students were engaged by teachers’ presentation of material. This was evident through the spontaneous taking of notes on the part of students, their enthusiastic participation in classwork and a level of answering which suggested a good knowledge of the topics being studied. In the one instance where student engagement was lacking, it is suggested that an increase in teacher mobility, alongside the use of active methodologies and the ensuring of access to the relevant text for all students in the class group, would be of benefit.
There were admirable efforts to create a print-rich environment on the part of many teachers. These efforts included the display of students’ work, keywords and displays concerning characters encountered in novels and plays. All of this is commendable and teachers are encouraged to continue with their efforts in this regard, wherever practicable. An acknowledgement of the aspiration towards the creation and maintenance of a print-rich environment in English classrooms should also be included in the subject plan, along with ideas to be explored as part of this project. It must be stated, however, that the difficulties inherent in maintaining this strategy without teacher-based rooms are recognised. Nevertheless, the impact of such an approach on students’ awareness of audience, along with the status attained by written exercises which are ‘published’ through displays of students’ work, should not be discounted. A most worthwhile idea was observed in one classroom where a ‘Reading Wall,’ consisting of daily newspaper extracts, was maintained. It is suggested that a valuable expansion of this strategy would be the creation of a ‘reading wall’ in a public area of the school where clippings from current newspapers might be displayed as an encouragement towards students developing a personal interest in the written word.
The school has a homework policy. This is positive. Homework was assigned regularly in almost all classes. In the very few instances where limited amounts of homework were completed by students, while recognising the class context, it is suggested that a renewed focus on ‘high-status’ written exercises might be profitably utilised. In one junior cycle class the use of copybooks rather than a folder system for daily exercises would be worth adopting.
There was evidence of the use of formative, comment-based assessment being used in most classes. This is most positive and teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand their use of this strategy. A further, worthwhile, feature of a number of classes was the use of personal response journals as an element in homework. This encouraged active engagement by students with the texts being studied. The integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses was evident in a number of classes and the English department is exhorted to expand the use of this strategy in the setting of homework wherever practicable, allowing for the use of the literature element of the syllabus as a ‘springboard’ to language. The use of an integrated approach of this nature should be set down as a key strategy in the subject plan and should include an aspiration towards the exploration of a wide range of genres in students’ writing.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas and summer for first-year, second-year, third-year, Transition Year and fifth-year students. Students in third-year and sixth-year classes participate in formal house examinations at Christmas and mock examinations are held in February. Common examinations are set for first-year classes. This is good practice and the English department is encouraged to further extend this approach, where practicable and appropriate. Such a strategy will allow for clearer comparisons of students’ performance across a year cohort. It will also avoid the needless duplication of work by teachers. The setting of common examinations should be considerably aided through the development of common plans, as mentioned earlier in this report.
Reports regarding students’ performances are sent to parents of sixth-year students on a monthly basis. Reports to the parents of third-year students are sent at Christmas and following the mock examinations in February. The parents of students in all other year groups receive reports at Christmas and summer. There is one parent-teacher meeting for each year group during the academic year. Teachers and parents may also contact each other through the student journal. Meetings may also be arranged between parents and teachers should the need arise. These arrangements are commendable.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A good relationship was evident between teachers and students.
· The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. Teachers have attended in-service training courses. This is commendable.
· The department varies texts at both junior and senior cycle to suit class context. This is done imaginatively and is supported by the book scheme.
· A subject-department plan has begun to be developed. The department’s work on this is to be commended.
· Teachers organise a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. This is to be applauded.
· Active methodologies were used effectively in most cases. The department should continue to harness and expand the use of these strategies.
· Links with the learning support team are good and there is good support for students with literacy difficulties.There is good support for students with literacy difficulties.
· There are five subject departmental planning meetings per year. This is very good practice and should be maintained.
· Very good work has gone into the school library and the school has plans to further extend this facility. This is praiseworthy.
· An integrated approach to the teaching of language and literature was in evidence.
· There is good access to audio-visual facilities for English teachers.
· The English department is to be highly commended for its use of ICT as a key tool in the development of student literacy. The provision of ICT, particularly for classes for students with special educational needs, is laudable
· There was evidence of the development of a print-rich environment throughout the school. This is commendable.
· The school has placed commendable emphasis on the development of an ESOL programme. This proactive approach is to by roundly applauded. The school maintains links with IILT.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The subject plan should continue to be developed.
· The school should revise its methods of selection of students for streaming in second year English. In particular, English teachers’ comments regarding the placement of students should be a formal and consistent element of the process. Greater use of concurrent timetabling of English lessons should be explored.
· The assignment of a base room for English should be pursued. It is recognised that there are currently some restrictions with regard to this development.
· The greatest possible number of contact points between students and the subject during the week should be pursued in the timetabling process.
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.