An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63880O
Date of inspection: 20 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Rís, Dundalk. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Coláiste Rís, Dundalk 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
Coláiste Rís, Dundalk currently caters for 515 students, 390 boys and 125 girls. The music department is staffed by one fully qualified specialist teacher who is currently job-sharing. Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and is available to most year groups. Staffing constraints mean that Music is not available in Transition year (TY) this year. However, the school intends to reinstate Music in TY at the earliest opportunity. First-year students are provided with a menu of subject options and they make their selections prior to entry in September. Music is currently banded against French, Home Economics, Art and Materials Technology (Wood). The school is exploring the possible introduction of a sampling programme for the next academic year. The uptake of Music throughout junior cycle is very good.
Students entering fifth year are also provided with a menu of subject options. Music is currently banded against Construction Studies, Biology, Geography, Chemistry and Art. There is no music class in sixth year as a result of students’ choices. However, the uptake of Music in fifth year is very good.
Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities have been made available to the music department. Currently, Sibelius III has been installed in the music room. Software, which has been loaded in the computer room for the use of music students, does not allow material to be saved. It is recommended that the music department installs a package which would allow students to save their work. For example, packages such as Finale Notepad are free and can be readily downloaded from the internet. This would enhance the good work already taking place in this regard.
Attendance at continuing professional development events that promote the teaching and learning of Music is encouraged and supported by the school. The music teacher is a member of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and has attended a number of conferences which offered opportunities to engage in constructive dialogue with fellow professionals. Other activities participated in include traditional Irish music workshops and music seminars in the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM). This commitment to continuing professional development is commended.
There is no pre-determined budget set for Music. Instead direct requests are made to school management when resources are needed and this system is reported to work very well. Resources and storage facilities for music are good. However, an audit of resource needs should be conducted and communicated to senior management to ensure that there is a school-based library of CDs available for use in music lessons.
Music lessons are held in a room which does not easily facilitate student movement for practical activities. In order to compensate for this, students are divided into three groups during practical music lessons. Two groups are moved to two separate rooms to work on individual practical activities, whilst the third group remains in the music room. This means that two groups of students remain unsupervised on these occasions. Although students behaved responsibly and worked diligently during the evaluation visit, this practice must stop immediately because of the inherent risk to health and safety.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is available for the students. These include liturgical ceremonies, instrumental ensemble, Stars in Your Eyes talent competition, instrumental lessons, and the Battle of the Bands competition. A choir is formed on a needs basis and performs at various school events including the annual information evening. Traditional Irish music is particularly strong in Coláiste Rís and many students are members of their local branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Comhaltas). Links have also been made with the Dundalk branch of Comhaltas whose members use the school each week. A traditional Irish group has been formed in the school and participates at many school events. The level of provision for the students is very good and the commitment of the music teacher in this regard is acknowledged and commended. The school is very supportive of these activities and has allocated part of a post of responsibility for the organisation of music events.
All subject departments meet formally three times per year. The music teacher meets with colleagues from other similarly small subject departments—for example, Religion, Art and Physical Education—at some of these planning times to collaborate and discuss key issues common to these departments. This is good practice. There is also much informal contact with senior management during the course of the year regarding planning for Music.
A music plan was presented on the day of the evaluation and this included the organisational details of the department. Information was provided regarding the available resources for Music, and all resources developed or acquired by the teacher have been meticulously filed and catalogued. A broad outline of content for the year was recorded. It is noted that first-year students are provided with a good range of musical experiences which include listening activities. However, in second year, very little time is given to listening analytically to previously unheard pieces of Music. It is important that none of the key skills in Music, such as this, is excluded in the planning for Music and that students encounter the three disciplines—listening, composing and performing—in their fullness on an ongoing basis.
The music plan refers to the use of ICT both as a teaching tool and for developing worksheets and handouts. References were also made to the methodologies being used for different components of the course but these did not fully indicate the good practices that are happening on the ground. This plan should now be further developed by the inclusion of the following: a clear statement of content linked to student learning outcomes, a description of the full range of methodologies and modes of assessment being applied and an outline of the manner in which the three disciplines are being integrated into lessons. This would ensure that the plan is fully reflective of the very good practices which were evident during this evaluation and which are so essential in good teaching of Music. Maintaining records of work would provide a useful point of reference for future planning.
Individual planning for all lessons was found to be very good. All lessons were well structured, logical and sequential. Handouts and worksheets were expertly integrated at appropriate stages of the lesson. Attendance is systematically recorded by the teacher in all lessons and records are maintained.
Three lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation; two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle. In all lessons, a clear statement of the theme of the lesson and the planned learning outcomes was provided. This is very good practice. Lesson content and pace were appropriate to the class group and to the time available and there was very good continuity with prior learning.
High expectations of the students were set and students responded positively to all challenges posed by the teacher. Students were managed firmly but sensitively by the teacher in all classes visited. Students were actively encouraged to use their initiative and creativity in lessons visited. This was particularly evident in the one practical lesson observed.
It is good to note that every opportunity for synthesising the three disciplines of Music was exploited. For example, in one lesson, links were made between the first section of the lesson, Irish music, and the second section, composing. This was accomplished using an Irish jig, Planxty Power as the basis of a backing chord question. This is very good practice as it allows students to engage meaningfully with composing. During the same lesson, students’ practical abilities were fully optimised as one student performed the jig so that the class had the opportunity to hear the melody prior to tackling the assignment. This ‘Sound before Symbol’ approach to composition is optimal practice and is commended.
In a second lesson observed, expert links were made between aural activities and composing. Students, through a rhythmical and melodic dictation exercise, devised a four bar melody. This was then used as the basis for a composition activity where they were guided through the process of adding four more bars to complete the composition. In some cases, students experienced difficulties with the first part of the lesson. It is important that after each phase of the lesson, care should be taken to reinforce learning before moving to the next section.
Teaching and learning was supported by the range of teaching methodologies used and by the appropriate balance between teacher and student input into lessons. Some high quality learning was seen in the practical performances, whether playing or clapping, and in the good standard of responses to questions asked.
In addition to formal assessments at Christmas and summer and informal assessments in October and February, mock certificate examinations are held in the spring for third-year and sixth-year students. Reports are issued to parents following all formal assessments.
Formative assessment occurs in a variety of ways. Homework is allocated on a regular basis. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and practical assessments. Peer assessment is also used very frequently in lessons. Practical music-making activities are frequently integrated as a core component of lessons. This is very good practice. It also enables the assessment of these skills on an ongoing basis.
Overall, a high level of assessment activity was observed during lessons visited. However, there was evidence that the outcomes of this were not always used to inform the teaching and learning that took place immediately afterwards. For example, during one lesson, some students clearly struggled with an aural dictation exercise and, although difficulties were identified during the course of the activity, students were not provided with strategies to help them to overcome the obstacles they had met. It is recommended that particular attention be paid to ensuring that the outcomes of assessment conducted in class are used to guide subsequent teaching so as to ensure maximum learning for students.
Some students store materials which have been provided by the teacher in folders. These materials generally take the form of listening and composing assignments. However, this practice was not consistent among all students. It is essential that students be given clear direction regarding the appropriate storage of materials and that this be checked regularly. This is recommended. It is good to note that students’ work is monitored regularly and comments indicating strategies for improvement are provided.
Annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. Achievement in certificate examinations is good and student uptake of Music at higher level is very good. However, there is scope to examine the achievement levels of the better able students with the objective of ensuring that the teaching and learning strategies being deployed are meeting the needs of these students in the best possible way. To challenge these students further, some additional provision such as differentiated worksheets tailored specifically to their needs and abilities could be considered.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Music enjoys a very good profile in the school.
· The uptake of Music throughout junior and senior cycles is very good.
· Attendance at music courses is encouraged and supported by the school.
· The music teacher is very clearly committed to continuing professional development.
· Resources and storage facilities for Music are good.
· A wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is available for students. Part of a post of responsibility has been allocated to manage this provision.
· In all lessons, a clear statement of the theme of the lesson and the planned learning outcomes were provided.
· Every opportunity for synthesising the three disciplines of Music in lessons is being optimised.
· Students’ work is monitored regularly and students’ homework is annotated with written comments to aid improvement.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The current arrangement for practical activities during music lessons whereby groups of students are allocated to separate rooms where there is no supervision must stop immediately.
· As soon as teaching resources become available, Music should be reinstated in TY.
· The music department should install a music software package which would allow students to save their work.
· The music plan should now be further developed by including a clear statement of content linked to student learning outcomes, a description of the full range of methodologies and modes
of assessment being applied and an outline of the manner in which the three disciplines are being integrated into lessons.
· Care must be taken to ensure that none of the key skills in Music is excluded and that students encounter the three disciplines in their fullness on an ongoing basis.
· In order to maximise student improvement, assessment outcomes should be used to inform and guide teaching in the classroom.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teacher of Music and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2009