An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
St. Paulís CBS,
North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7
Roll number: 60430O
Date of inspection: 27 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Paulís CBS. 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.
Management provides strong support for the teaching and study of History in St. Paulís CBS. History is compulsory study for all junior cycle and transition-year students. Fifth-year students pursue either the Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) as their preferred Leaving Certificate programme. The LCE students are provided with the opportunity to continue their study of History as an optional subject choice.
The five members of the history subject team are deployed in teaching the subject. This practice is lauded as it enables every member of the team to remain actively involved in supporting the continuous development of History in the school. In addition, efforts are made to ensure that the teachers assigned to first-year class groups continue with the same group until the students sit their Junior Certificate examinations. This enables the history teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework.
The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to the schoolís facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support the teaching and study of History. The history teachers have their own base classrooms, facilitating the exploration of a wide variety of teaching methodologies and the display of subject materials including studentsí work. Teaching aids such as audio-visual equipment, information and communication technology (ICT) and photocopiers are readily available. The school has two computer rooms that can be booked for class lessons.
A study of the time allocated to History shows that every junior cycle class has three periods per week. In the case of one junior cycle class group, two members of the history team have been concurrently timetabled to team-teach the group. The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional for students and in the current academic year 2006/2007 there are two TY class groups. The TY students study a yearlong history module and both class groups have been allocated two history periods per week. The popularity of the TY programme has impacted on the numbers of senior cycle students in fifth and sixth year with the result that there is no LCE class in sixth year. History is studied in the senior cycle at present by one fifth-year class comprising fifteen students. The fifth-year history students have five history class periods per week. The timetabled allocation of history class periods together with the pattern of their distribution contributes to the supportive context for History in the school.
Management is committed to the continuous development of the learning environment within the school. The important role of the history department is recognised and the collaborative work of the history teachers is supported and encouraged. Funding is provided on a needs basis and attendance of members of the history team at in-service training is accommodated. Management is also very supportive of teachers who organise field trips for their students. It was reported that difficulties have been encountered in securing the attendance of the full complement of the history teachers at formal departmental meetings because the history teachers are involved in teaching other subjects. It is recommended, therefore, that management explore with the history teachers means of scheduling one formal meeting per term in order to overcome difficulties that have sometimes been encountered.
The collaboration of the history teachers in formally establishing a history department is commended. The history department is a structured means of enabling the history teachers to meet together to discuss issues impinging on the subject, collaborate on curricular planning and pool skills. Indeed, the departmental planning documentation that has already been compiled is evidence of much good collaborative work being done. It is recommended that a subject co-ordinator be appointed to chair the formal meetings of the history department and that the issues discussed and the decisions taken be recorded. The position of subject co-ordinator is a voluntary one and ideally, the position should be rotated at agreed intervals so that the responsibilities of the position are shared. It is advocated that the period of office be two years to enable the co-ordinator to have sufficient time to settle into the role.
The documented framework history policy document and the agreed year plans give shape and focus to the work of the history subject team. The continued development of subject planning is encouraged because proactive subject planning is always work in progress rather than a finished product. So as to build on the good work done it is recommended that the framework history policy document be strengthened by discussing and documenting the agreed responsibilities attached to the position of subject co-ordinator, detailing a more extensive list of effective teaching methodologies for classroom purposes, outlining the mentoring practices adopted for assisting higher diploma students and providing further information about cross-curricular planning. In relation to the mentoring of higher diploma students it is advocated that a member of the history team act as the master teacher for the students in addition to the supports provided by the individual history teachers.
The departmental year plans that have been prepared for each year group reflect the attention given to curricular planning by the history subject team. The agreed year plans are an important planning resource and the progress made is commended. At present the year plans mainly focus on the sequence and timeline according to which the coursework topics will be studied. The inclusion in the year plans of recommended classroom methodologies and suitable resources alongside the various coursework topics would enable this planning resource to draw on the experience of the teachers to a greater degree and continue to help subject planning evolve in the light of that experience. It is not envisaged that the formulation of agreed year plans in this way would stifle teachersí own proactive exploration of other classroom initiatives, for the continuous development of teaching and learning strategies is important in meeting the needs of the students.
The TY history module has the potential to make a strong contribution to the breadth of the TY programme in St. Paulís. The module provides the opportunity for the TY students to become more informed about the wealth of history associated with their immediate locality including their school and the centre of Dublin. It also ensures that the students maintain contact with the subject following completion of their Junior Certificate programme. A variety of commendable teaching and learning methodologies have been incorporated into the study of the module including field trips to places of historical interest, project work and ICT. In the context of maintaining the development of the TY history module it is recommended that the history subject team continue to collaborate on the design and content of the module. It is further recommended that as many history teachers as circumstances permit become involved in teaching the agreed departmental TY history module in order to firmly establish its presence in the schoolís TY programme.
There was clear evidence of individual planning and preparation for the four lessons observed. In keeping with good teaching practice a definite topic or task was chosen for each lesson. The lesson topics formed part of the continued study of extended historical topics such as the Renaissance, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, and the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Within the context of the Renaissance period the students were to be introduced to the invention of printing and in the case of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the particular focus of the lesson was to make the students more informed about the use of propaganda by Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement at that time. The purpose of the lesson on the Industrial Revolution was to consolidate the studentsí knowledge of the topic which had been studied in previous lessons. One class group was engaged in project work and had visited the National Art Gallery where they had studied paintings and gathered information in preparation for the lesson task. It was planned that each student would write an account of the visit and a personal response to a painting of his own choosing. The students would then type their accounts on the schoolís computers.
The advanced readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of lesson materials such as class handouts, overhead transparencies, powerpoint slides, items for demonstration purposes and, in one instance, the booking of a computer room for the lesson. The prior planning of the teachers also included determining the strategies to be employed in maintaining the engagement of the students and consolidating their learning. These strategies included teacher-led questions, written assignments, ICT research and the selection of homework.† The display of studentsí projects and history materials in a number of the classrooms visited is commendable practice because it helps to affirm students publicly for their work and visually stimulate their interest in History.††
Teaching and learning in the lessons observed were directed in a positive and supportive manner. The choice of a definite topic or task gave the students a focus for their attention and helped them to engage quickly with the lesson. Classroom management was uniformly good and the classroom skills of the teachers ensured that the students were maintained on task. The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers. Team-teaching was observed in one lesson.†
The teachers effectively engaged their students at the outset in a variety of different ways such as the consolidation of material previously studied before progressing to new material, the drawing of the studentsí attention to information that had already been written on the classroom board prior to the commencement of the lesson by way of introduction to the new topic, the distribution of a class handout to facilitate studentsí revision of the Industrial Revolution or the provision of clear instructions to the class about the writing of a personal response to a chosen painting before the task was undertaken by the students. Good use was also made of resources during this initial phase of the lesson to support student learning. These resources included overhead transparencies, the class handout and the classroom board.
Student learning was encouraged and supported at all times. In one instance, for example, the noting of key words on the board and the familiarisation of the students with the words, which they later wrote into their copybooks, preceded the introduction of the students to the study of their new lesson topic. The strong visual content of the class handout on the Industrial Revolution coupled with the teacherís interaction with the students helped to steadily consolidate the studentsí knowledge of the lesson topic and secure their strong participation in the lesson. The handout also provided the students with a helpful revision guide for their studies. The demonstration of a simple means of printing using a potato, paper and ink and how the wet print was dried in an early print shop was another effective strategy that increased the studentsí interest in their study of the lesson topic.
The teachers frequently interacted with their students during the course of the lessons to impact on student learning by posing questions, and providing additional clarification and comment where it was deemed necessary. Important points of information were recorded on the board and their importance impressed on the students. The subtleties of the terminology used by Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement were explored and emphasised by these means. The progress of the students in completing written tasks was monitored and guided with helpful advice. The setting of the written assignments gave added variety to the pace and structure of the lessons apart from one lesson where the written task made such a large demand on class time that the intended use of other strategies during the lesson had to be postponed.
The potential of ICT to contribute to the studentsí study of the lesson topic was demonstrated by the display of a number of powerpoint slides depicting the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery for violating segregation laws. The visual display provided a clear focus for the studentsí attention.† The slides included the painted wood sculpture of her arrest by Marshall D. Rumbaugh. The study and discussion of the wood sculpture by the class was followed by a worksheet assignment that required the students to answer set questions, which helped the students to analyse the painting and write about it.† The combined use of ICT, the teacher-led questions and the worksheet in consolidating student learning is commended.
The studentsí study of printing also involved the commendable use of ICT. At a predetermined point in the class lesson the students were directed to use the internet and access the website of the British Library in order to view original copies of the Gutenberg Bible, which was the first book that was printed using metallic type. The two-teacher team guided the students in studying and recognising important details about the layout of the bible by comparing two copies of the bible and questioning the students on their observations. The students were then in turn directed to read aloud short excerpts about the bible and this was followed by a short recap of what they had learned.
The setting and correction of homework are part of the teachersí classroom practices. The setting of homework took place towards the end of the lesson and clear directions outlining what was required were given to the students. The studentsí copies and folders perused during the inspection visit indicated the importance attached to homework.† The practice of writing a teacherís comment at the end of a studentís homework assignment in order to provide feedback to a student is commended. The organisation of field trips for the students is also commended. It is a very worthwhile means of helping students to develop their interest in History.
Assessment and evaluation are important aspects of classroom practices and the educational policies of the school. Junior cycle students are organised into class groups that pursue either the Junior Certificate programme or the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). The students with the greatest need of learning support follow the JCSP and are organised into designated class groups for this purpose. The students with special education needs are identified through the assessment tests which they sit prior to their entry in first year, communication with their parents and national school teachers and referral by their mainstream teachers for learning support subsequent to the commencement of their secondary schooling. The principal, in consultation with the learning support teacher, resource teacher and year head, selects the students who will follow the JCSP and determines the number of JCSP class groups that need to be formed in each year group.
In the classroom the history teachers use a combination of questioning, the setting of assignments, homework, projects and class tests to assess their studentsí progress. Oral assessment is an intrinsic part of the teachersí questioning techniques. The studentsí responses enable the teachers to gauge their grasp and understanding of the lesson material. The setting and correction of class assignments, homework tasks and projects also help to inform the teachers about the progress and application of their students. The studentsí performance in the class-based tests that are organised at appropriate times in their study of the coursework provide another means of tracking studentsí progress and informing judgements.
Formal school examinations are organised for all year groups, with the exception of the TY students, before the Christmas holidays commence. The third-year junior cycle students and the final year LCE students sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term as part of their preparations for the state examinations in June. The first, second and fifth-year students sit summer examinations at the end of the academic year. The history teachers set their own test papers for the end-of-term examinations.
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 and provides the opportunity for parents and guardians to meet with the teachers to discuss issues in greater detail. The award to a meritorious student of History that forms part of the graduation ceremony for sixth-year students is a laudable means of nurturing studentsí interest in the subject.†
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
∑ Whole-school support for History is demonstrated by the accessibility of the subject to students pursuing the Junior Certificate programme, the Junior Certificate School Programme, the Transition Year programme and the established Leaving Certificate programme.
∑ The timetabled allocation and distribution of history class periods are supportive of the teaching and study of History.
∑ The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to the schoolís facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support the teaching and study of History.
∑ There was a positive teaching and learning atmosphere in all the classes visited. The lessons had a definite focus; classroom management was uniformly good and the commitment of the teachers to their students was much in evidence.
∑ Assessment and monitoring of student progress are actively pursued.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that that management explore with the history teachers means of scheduling one formal meeting of the entire history subject team per term.
∑ It is recommended that a subject coordinator be appointed to chair the formal meetings of the history department and that the issues discussed and the decisions taken be recorded.
∑ It is recommended that the departmental framework policy document and the agreed year plans be further developed.† The latter should include details of recommended strategies and resources for the teaching and study of the various coursework topics.
∑ In the context of maintaining the development of the TY history module, it is recommended that the history subject team continue to collaborate on the design and content of the departmental TY history module for the TY programme.
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.