An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Maria Immaculata Community College
Dunmanway, County Cork
Roll number: 76086P
Date of inspection: 28 and 29 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maria Immaculata Community College, Dunmanway. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics 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 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.
Home Economics is offered as an optional subject in Maria Immaculata Community College. There is, however, one exception to this general finding and that is in Transition Year (TY), where Home Economics is a mandatory area of study for all students. This measure is commended for the exposure to the subject that it provides for students who may not have opted to study Home Economics for the Junior Certificate. Overall, both in junior and senior cycle, Home Economics demonstrates healthy uptake levels. It is a very popular choice amongst the female student cohort and in almost every year group a number of male students have also opted to study Home Economics. Increasing the numbers of boys choosing Home Economics has been identified by the members of the subject department as an area requiring some attention, with some work having already been undertaken in this regard. The members of the home economics department are encouraged in their efforts to find additional ways of addressing this national challenge.
Access to all option subjects, including Home Economics, is advantaged by the very open and student-friendly approach to subject choice that operates in the school. Student demand dictates the formation of subject option blocks in each year, and in almost all year groups Home Economics is provided for in two or more of the blocks. This level of provision is highly praised. It is clear that the school operates a very systematic approach to subject choice and as an approach it is designed to truly support both students and parents in the onerous task of choosing subjects, whether prior to entry or before progressing onto senior cycle. Currently the school does not provide a taster programme in first year and therefore students choose the subjects they wish to study prior to entry. This is under review. First-year students study four option subjects, choosing three out of the original four prior to entry to second year. This, in essence, could be described as a form of taster programme. In addition, a considerable flexibility exists during the first few weeks of term with regard to first-year, second-year and fifth-year students who, having reconsidered their options, seek to change a subject. This degree of flexibility is highly praised. There is clear evidence that higher-level aspirations are being fostered in students by the home economics teachers. Some scope does exist, however, for even further encouraging a very small percentage of junior-cycle students to sit the examination at the higher level.
Best practice dictates the deployment of staff for the teaching of Home Economics. For example, every effort is made to ensure that teachers retain class groups originally assigned to them, through all years of both the junior and senior cycles. In addition, management seeks to ensure that all teachers are afforded the opportunity to teach all year groups. In the deployment of staff for the teaching of TY Home Economics it is recommended that, in the interest of continuity and therefore enhanced learning, the practice of former years, whereby each teacher retained the class assigned to them in September for the whole year, be reverted to.††
The timetabling of Home Economics is also noted as very favourable. Sufficient time is allocated to the delivery of each syllabus, although optimal practice would be the provision in first year of four, as opposed to the current three, class periods. Double periods are provided for practical work and the timetabling of these demonstrates a consciousness with regard to the avoidance of clashes. It is acknowledged that this is made more difficult by the fact that three teachers have to be timetabled for two rooms. In fact, over and above one clash, every other class has unrestricted access to the home economics rooms. This level of provision is applauded. On a minor point, currently sixth-year classes are timetabled for two double periods and one single, while timetabling provides for one double and three single periods for fifth-year classes. In the future timetabling of senior cycle Home Economics a reversal of this is recommended, as the fifth-year syllabus places greater emphasis on practical food studies and its associated journal work. Timetabling also seeks to ensure that studentsí contact with Home Economics is nicely spread over the weekly timetable and class sizes, which never exceed twenty, also provide for the safe delivery of the practical components of each syllabus.†††
As a means of further supporting teachers in their efforts to provide for a good quality of teaching and learning, a number of specific timetabling suggestions are made. First of all, it is suggested that every effort be made to ensure timetabled access to the schoolís information and communication technology (ICT) rooms for the Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) classes. Secondly, to further support the integration of some students from Rang Saoirse into the mainstream junior cycle home economics classes, some consideration should be given to the timetabling of the relevant home economics teacher with these students, as has been done previously, for at least one other period. This would ensure that these students, who have special educational needs (SEN), are given the additional support and help that they require, as well as every opportunity to succeed in their efforts to sit the Junior Certificate home economics examination. Such an approach is reported to have worked well in the past.
Maria Immaculata Community College houses two fine home economics kitchens. The rooms are very well maintained and appropriately resourced. The home economics department is allocated an annual budget. This is commended. In addition to this, all requests for additional resources are, budget permitting, greeted favourably. Currently, the subject department is in the process of seeking quotes for a room-based laptop and data projector. This initiative is fully encouraged, as it is clear that this technology will be put to good use in the department in question. The members of the home economics department are currently discussing the possibility of converting one of the store rooms attached to the kitchens into a subject-specific office and resource library. This move is fully encouraged, as it will help to consolidate the sharing of resources that programme planning has just begun to foster.
Managementís considerable support for the concept and practice of collaborative subject-department planning is clearly evident. Formal meeting time is provided three to four times each year and much guidance is offered to departments in terms of the work that they might engage in during these times. The home economics department also cited managementís ongoing support for all initiatives arising out of subject department meetings, for example, the annual ĎHealth Awareness Weekí. This is organised by the home economics department in conjunction with the physical education department.††
The schoolís health and safety statement includes a section specific to Home Economics. The approach adopted to the development of the statement is consistent with best practice. In the next review, consideration should be given to a greater highlighting of the possible hazards attached to the dual-purpose use of both rooms, that is their use for food preparation and cooking, as well as textile work.††††††††††
The members of the home economics department have fully embraced the concept and practice of collaborative subject department planning. While a co-ordinator, who is appointed on a rotational basis, oversees the work that is undertaken, it is clear that the departmentís planning work is equally shared amongst all department members. In addition to the formal meetings, informal meetings are held on a very regular basis. Agendas are issued and minutes are maintained for each of the formal meetings. The commitment, enthusiasm and professionalism of the home economics teachers is very evident, both in their general subject planning and preparation and their more specific planning and preparation for teaching and learning. Collaboration and collegiality is to the fore. As a result, much progress is being made in relation to subject department planning but particularly in relation to programme planning.
Outline programmes of work have been agreed for each year group. These are commended in that they are both syllabus-based and time-based. They also provide for an integration of topics, as well as for an integration of practical, project and journal work. Time for revision has also been provided for in all outline programmes. The department is encouraged to provide more specifics in relation to practical, project and journal work. For example, in the Junior Certificate outline programmes, the dish or task planned for each lesson should be provided. Similarly in the fifth-year programme outline, the theme and focus of each task should be detailed.
The further development of the outline programmes of work is also well underway. The approach that has been adopted by the home economics department to this project illustrates, once again, the high levels of co-operation and teamwork that exist. At present, for each topic that is explored with students, teachers are maintaining a detailed record of the methodologies and resources used, the homework that was assigned and the assessment approaches utilised. In addition, these records provide scope for the provision of individual teacher comment relevant to teaching and learning in each identified topic. This overall approach is very highly commended. The departmentís collective intention to use these individual teacher plans as a basis for agreeing a more detailed programme of work is also very praiseworthy. What is most significant is that the members of the home economics department fully recognise the valuable contribution that this exercise can make to an even greater sharing of approaches to teaching and learning and therefore an enhancement of both. This realisation, which reflects the underlying philosophy of subject department planning, is most refreshing.
Large numbers of individual teachersí files, housing handouts, worksheets, homework assignments and assessment papers as well as other valuable resources, were reviewed as part of the subject inspection. This is another indicator of teachersí dedication to planning and preparation. Some of the files were organised in such a manner so as to correspond with the planned programmes of work. This was most impressive. Plans are also underway to prepare general files for department use that would house resources relevant to each year group. The intention to convert one of the store rooms attached to each kitchen into an office and resource library, as detailed previously, is highly praised and fully encouraged.
Planning for the very specific and individual needs of students with special educational needs (SEN) was also obvious, both in the documentation that was reviewed and in the lessons observed. Teachersí pragmatic yet highly supportive approach to such planning and provision is highly praised. The members of the home economics department also demonstrate a willingness to plan for the integration and inclusion of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, designed to extend student learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. This is highly commended.
Some excellent practice, which resulted in very high quality teaching and enhanced student learning, was observed over the course of the Home Economics subject inspection.
Short-term planning was evident for all lessons, some of which was of a very, high quality indeed. As a result, lessons tended to demonstrate a natural progression from one section to the next, which in some instances fostered a notable curiosity amongst students. The level of planning observed also sought to ensure that lessons were extremely purposeful, with all chosen activities demonstrating clear aims and objectives. Very good practice was observed where the intended learning outcomes, both general and specific, were shared and discussed with students as lessons commenced, or immediately prior to or following an activity. Best practice was where general outcomes were revisited as lessons concluded and where they were used to support the summary of lesson content and an evaluation of studentsí understanding and learning of work covered. The revisitation of learning outcomes and their use as outlined is recommended for greater application. In the main, careful planning also provided for the appropriate pacing of lesson content. Where this was not the case, some consideration should be given to reducing the volume of content. This would seek to ensure a more enhanced exploration of new matter by students and thereby, greater understanding and learning.
A very impressive number of resources had been prepared and collected for use in lessons. This is also indicative of the quality of the short-term planning observed. This included some of the more usual resources such as pre-prepared acetates, handouts and worksheets. Some of the worksheets provided graphic organisers, designed to help students to structure information for later study and learning. Student copybooks and files indicated that this is a practiced approach in the home economics department. This is praised. In addition, the following are examples of other resources utilised in lesson delivery: fabric samples, a PowerPoint slide show, video clips, statement envelopes, whose application will be explained later in this section, maps, flags, foods and food products, cooking utensils and equipment and cookery books. In one lesson, good use was also made of the room-based ICT. The continuous and sustained use of this wonderful resource is further encouraged.†
An extensive range of methodologies was utilised in the delivery of lesson content, the majority of which required the physical and cognitive participation of students. This range included: brainstorming, strategies that facilitated the use of pair work and group work, activities that fostered an investigative and discovery approach to learning, note-making as opposed to note-taking, food sampling and analysis exercises, and self-assessment techniques. The statement envelope referenced previously, is an example of a strategy that was used to support pair and group work. In one lesson, for example, following a very stimulating discussion and exploration of how silk is made, students were issued with envelopes. Each envelope housed a series of sentences relating to the stages of silk production. Students were required to rearrange the statements, in a flow diagram format, in order to accurately represent the production process. A similar approach was used in another lesson in relation to cheese production. Following completion of the exercise, students were referred to their textbooks in order to check their efforts. The overall approach is commended on a number of levels. First of all, for the provision it made for the checking of student understanding and learning by the teacher, secondly for the way it promoted student self-assessment and thirdly for itís facilitation of co-operative learning. Studentsí participation in all activities was carefully monitored, with constructive input being provided by their teachers, as appropriate and as required. While every lesson incorporated active learning strategies, some did so to a greater degree than others. Where relevant, therefore, it is recommended that every effort is made to provide for an even greater balance between formal teacher input and the active, Ďhands-oní participation of all students.
In the exploration of subject matter with students, teachers sought to provide for each of the three preferred learning styles, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. This consciousness is commended. In one lesson, for example, the map of China was introduced in order to assist with the explanation of the regional variation in cooking styles in the country. In the same lesson, following formal teacher input on Chinese cookery, students set to work producing a poster that summarised the key information that they had heard and discussed. As a subject, Home Economics very much lends itself to the incorporation and use of visual stimuli. As a result, and as applicable, teachers are further encouraged to strengthen their focus on the visual learner, by using every opportunity possible to introduce and incorporate visuals that will enhance teaching and foster even greater learning. The use of active learning methodologies together with the efforts made to provide for all three learning styles, assisted teachers in their efforts to differentiate and thereby provide for the individual learning needs of the students.
In the practical class visited, there was a very good focus on the development of studentsí skills and competencies, as well as on the enhancement of student knowledge. Significant efforts were made to link and examine theory previously explored with students, as well as to introduce an appropriate amount of new theory. A combination of whole-class instruction, on-spot demonstrations and a very thorough one-to-one monitoring of studentsí participation and efforts were used to ensure that learning took place. Students worked in a competent fashion, adhering to established practices and procedures that related to, for example, preparation for work, safety and hygiene. Approaches designed to ensure a good application of food preparation and cooking principles were very well used in the lesson. For example, a catchphrase, ĎPinch, Raise and Rubí was introduced to students, almost in the form of a mantra, to help them in their use of the rub-in method. Time was provided in the latter half of the lesson for students to evaluate the end product and their own work. This is consistent with good practice.
The instruction provided by teachers was very clear. Significant efforts were made to make the information being presented to students more interesting and more relevant. Links were established on an on-going basis between new topics and work previously covered in each lesson. References that were designed to demystify the state examination process and deconstruct the paper and its associated marking scheme were subtly but effectively introduced over the course of lessons. There was strong evidence to suggest that the design brief approach has been adopted for the delivery of the practical textiles section of the Junior Certificate syllabus. This is highly commended.††
Classroom walls were richly decorated with a series of posters. While some of these were of the commercial variety, others were posters which had been prepared by the teachers themselves. This included Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) key-word posters. Studentsí work also featured on the walls of each of the rooms. This provided a very attractive learning environment and a source of reference for teachers as lessons unfolded. Classroom atmosphere was notably positive. This can be largely attributed to the very favourable teacher-student relations that were observed. Students were very happy to contribute to lesson content and their participation was encouraged, welcomed, acknowledged and affirmed. In the main students were highly engaged in lesson content and actively participated in all planned exercises. It was clear from teachersí questioning of students, both throughout lessons and as lessons drew to a close, that learning either had occurred or was taking place. Questions, which were often generally posed, were well distributed to students. On occasions there was evidence of the inclusion of higher-order questions. This type of questioning is further encouraged in all lessons.† †
A range of assessment modes is employed by the members of the home economics department in order to determine studentsí progress and achievement in home economics. This includes: oral questioning in class, topic tests, the formal assessment of project work and the more in-formal assessment of studentsí practical food studies work or journal work. The task-based approach to the informal assessment of the practical, food studies work of third-year, junior cycle students is commended. The extension of this approach to first-year and second-year students should be considered. The introduction of a more formal assessment of the practical, food studies work of junior-cycle students is currently being explored. This is commended and strongly encouraged. Simultaneously, consideration should also be given to the periodic grading of studentsí journal work. A direct application of the journal marking scheme to a percentage of the tasks, would help students in their efforts to complete journal work to the required standard. There was evidence also of some in-class provision of opportunities whereby students could engage in self-assessment. This is applauded.
In addition to the strategies already outlined, formal in-house examinations are organised for non-examination classes at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays. As appropriate, common papers are issued to all students of the same year group. Teacher files indicated that these examination papers reflect the layout and style of past state examination papers. This approach is highly praised. Mock examinations are arranged for third-year and sixth-year students. While mock examination papers are sourced and marked externally, teachers review the papers on their return in order to monitor studentsí performance and standards. This is commended.
Homework was assigned in all lessons. Studentsí copybooks also suggest a regular assigning of homework. A varied approach to the monitoring of student homework was evident, with some very good practice being observed. This included: provision for comment-based marking, particularly in senior-cycle copybooks and files, dating to indicate when work was assigned and when it was monitored, a periodic grading of studentsí efforts and studentsí correction of monitored work. It is suggested that the department discuss adopting an agreed approach to the monitoring and correction of studentsí homework.††††
A number of mechanisms are employed in order to keep parents informed of studentsí advancement and attainment. Teachers systematically maintain records of studentsí attendance, participation and progress. A number of approaches seek to ensure that parents are kept well informed in relation to their sonís or daughterís overall progress and achievement. Student journals are used for routine communication between parents and teachers. School reports are issued following each of the formal, in-house examinations. In future reports, the members of the home economics department are encouraged to consider providing one aggregate mark. This type of mark, which would make provision for all examinable components of a syllabus, would provide a more accurate indicator of studentís actual achievement in Home Economics. It is considered desirable practice that, in addition to the provision of a grade, teachers are afforded the opportunity to provide an individual, hand-written comment in these reports. A parent-student-teacher meeting is organised on an annual basis for each year group. Periodically a postcard, designed to celebrate a studentís participation, advancement or success, may be posted home. As the need arises, subject teachers provide verbal reports on studentsí progress to their relevant class teachers. In addition to each of these strategies, and at any point in the school year, parents or teachers may request an Ďacademic reviewí of a studentís progress. While the overall approach is highly praised, the final point is deserving of particular commendation.†
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 Home Economics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, December 2008