An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Eureka Secondary School
Kells, County Meath
Roll number: 64410F
Date of inspection: 25 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Eureka Secondary School, carried out as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Music 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.
Eureka Secondary School, Kells currently caters for 680 female students and nine male students. The music department is staffed by three specialist teachers, one of whom joined this team in 2007. Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and it is available to all year groups. All classes are of mixed ability. First-year students are provided with the opportunity to sample Music for the full academic year. The uptake of Music in second and third year is very healthy and the school believes that these arrangements have partially contributed to these successful trends. Two periods per week are allocated to Music in first year and this is increased to four periods per week for the remainder of the junior cycle. This provision fulfils the recommendations of the syllabus. These students are then provided with an open menu of subjects and bands are formed around their choices. Senior-cycle students also select their subjects from an open menu. Five periods per week have been allocated to Music for the established Leaving Certificate programme and two periods per week for fifth-year students following the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. The uptake of Music throughout senior cycle is also very healthy.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme and all TY students study Music. A core component of the curriculum is the production of the annual school musical in which TY students participate. In order to facilitate rehearsals of the full TY cast, both class groups have been concurrently timetabled. Three periods per week are allocated for this purpose. In addition to the musical production, a Digital Creator Course which includes a music component is delivered. A further two periods per week have been allocated to this. Overall, this is very good music provision for TY students.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is an area that is very strong within the music department. Students are provided with the opportunity to study music technology as part of the practical component of the Leaving Certificate examination. Music technology is also used as a teaching and learning tool for melodic composition. One computer is available in each music room. Two computers are accessible to students and these are stored beside one of the music rooms. Optimal use is also made of the facilities that are available in the computer room. Sibelius IV, a free demonstration version, has been downloaded onto seventeen computers and this enables a high number of students to experience music technology. Teachers are also proactive in using ICT for the creation of handouts and worksheets. This level of interest in, and usage of, ICT is very good.
Attendance at music courses is encouraged and supported by the school. All three teachers are members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). This involvement provides opportunities for networking and engaging in useful dialogue with fellow professionals. Members of the music department are also involved with a local church group as conductor, with a local harp group as organiser and as members of a local amateur orchestra. All of these activities have positively impacted on the standard of teaching and learning in Music and particularly on the practical music work in the school. Individual members have been actively involved in the compilation of notes for the annual PPMTA Leaving Certificate Revision Courses for students and, in 2007, for teachers; they have also attended a workshop organised by the Kodaly Society of Ireland. This commitment is to be commended.
There is no pre-determined budget for Music. Instead staff members make direct requests to school management when resources are needed and this system is reported to work very well. Lessons are held in two large and spacious rooms; one is dedicated exclusively to the music department while the other is used for other subjects. Both rooms are well equipped and resources available include three pianos including one electric and one keyboard, portable stereos, percussion instruments, TVs, DVD players, guitars, books, sheet music, scores, CDs and DVDs. Good storage facilities ensure that resources and equipment can be stored safely. Overall, good efforts have been made to create a vibrant learning atmosphere. For example, there are posters, both professionally printed and handcrafted, in the rooms which include illustrations of components such as performers, orchestral instruments and theoretical concepts. Increasing the extent of these posters in one of the rooms would enhance this provision.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is available for students. These include participation in the school choir, the annual TY musical production to which first-year students and fifth-year students provide additional vocal support, liturgical ceremonies, several concerts, the school talent competition, extensive trips to concerts and participation in workshops. Instrumental lessons in piano, guitar and harp are also available to the students. This level of provision for the students is very good and the music department is commended in this regard. These are held at lunchtime or during the school day and lesson times are rotated each week.
School development planning is ongoing and subject departments have been established. Formal planning meetings are held three times per year. Records are kept of all such meetings. One teacher acts as subject co-ordinator.
It is very apparent that members of the music department collaborate closely regarding many planning matters. A detailed music plan was presented and this contained documentation outlining how the department is run. It also included long-term curriculum planning containing schedules of the topics to be covered with an estimated timeframe, a broad list of methodologies and a list of some resources. These schedules were relevant to the syllabus and to the requirements of the certificate examinations. However, in junior cycle, melody writing by the students does not occur until third year and this is in accordance with the school’s music plan. Current practice is to allow students to acquire an understanding of this discipline aurally through dictation. It is very good practice that the Sound before Symbol approach has been adopted. Nevertheless, it is recommended that students should be introduced to melody prior to third year. As a further aid, references could be made to renowned pieces of music to heighten awareness of good composing techniques; this, as a strategy, would further promote an integrated approach to these two disciplines.
From classroom observations and through discussions with the teachers, it is clear that in general, every effort is made to adopt an integrated approach to the delivery of the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—in lessons. However, this is not indicated in the written subject plan. Therefore, in order to ensure that individual planning is fully reflective of practice on the ground, it is recommended that planning now include the development of individual schemes of work for class groups. These should include methodologies, learning outcomes that indicate the desired skills acquisition by the students, resources, modes of assessment in addition to the content list already outlined in the main subject plan.
The TY plan makes reference to the annual musical production but no formal written plan was presented for this aspect of the programme. A statement of content was provided in the music department plan. However, as the music department works closely with the drama department each year, this production could not occur so successfully without a high level of advance planning. From classroom observation, it is clear that prior to auditioning and casting students for the show, a proportion of lessons is devoted to activities which will provide students with the necessary skills to perform in a musical. This is very good practice. These lessons should now be formally documented and included in both the music department plan and the TY plan. A detailed plan was provided for the Digital Creator Course provided in TY. This plan outlines the content, time allocation, modes of assessment, learning outcomes and cross-curricular links. This programme is highly innovative and very appropriate to the students.
The extent and quality of planning and preparation for the individual lessons observed was very good. Each of the teachers has devoted much time to the creation of handouts and resources. Those observed during the evaluation were tailored specifically for the students’ needs, were developmental in design and seamlessly integrated at the appropriate stages in lessons. In most cases, content was varied and included the synthesis of the three disciplines of Music. Meticulous attention is paid by all teachers in keeping a daily record of work covered in lessons. This is very good practice and is commended.
Five lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation: two in junior cycle and three in senior cycle. In all lessons, there was a supportive and affirming learning environment. Students were introduced to the theme of each lesson from the outset and in some cases this was clearly stated. It is recommended that all teachers should share the planned learning outcomes with the students at the beginning of each lesson. This would provide a focus and a structure for the lesson and help students take responsibility for what they should understand and be able to do at the end of the lesson. All lessons were logical, sequential and there was very good continuity with prior learning. Clear instructions were provided to the students for all activities. Lesson content and pace was generally appropriate to the class group and to the time available.
High levels of competence and skill demonstrated by all teachers in the subject were evident in all lessons. Student activity, initiative and creativity were actively encouraged through practical music-making activities. This occurred very successfully in a senior cycle lesson observed. Students engaged with their prescribed work Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major by Mozart. Students sang through the main themes to reinforce their knowledge. A DVD containing a performance of the work was subsequently played. Although students’ attention was primarily focused on the instruments, they were encouraged to sing to the DVD as the main themes occurred.
In most lessons observed, opportunities were provided for students to work collaboratively. For example, students completed class-based tasks in small groups and these activities were effectively monitored by the teacher. In one lesson, there was an excellent example of the teacher acting as facilitator. Students, in groups, prepared short sketches which, where appropriate, included some songs. The purpose was to demonstrate their singing and acting abilities. Throughout the entire exercise, students were encouraged, affirmed and any difficulties were very sensitively handled. This style of teaching actively encouraged students to assume responsibility for their own learning. This led to an engaging lesson where there was a very high level of learning for all.
In most lessons, technical concepts were demonstrated through performing. Given the standard of practical abilities of some students, there is scope to allow them to assume a more central role in this regard. For example, when a student has the necessary skills to demonstrate technical or compositional features through performance, this should be encouraged.
Composing occurred in most lessons observed. Careful attention was paid to the provision of worksheets tailored specifically for the students’ needs. In some cases, focus was placed on developing students’ skills by concentrating on exercises written in the style of examination questions. While it is very appropriate to prepare students for certificate examinations in this way, care should be taken to include composing exercises which allow students to engage with this discipline freely. While preparing students for a backing chord question, the provision of exercises taken from well known popular songs or pieces would achieve the same learning outcome. This should be borne in mind.
Most lessons contained varied content and this in turn motivated and sustained the students’ interest. In a junior cycle lesson observed, topics included clapping tests at sight, aural clapping tests and rhythmic dictation, and triad composition. A section on Irish music then followed which incorporated listening and written exercises regarding traditional and non-traditional instruments, singing, and the recognition of instruments from a DVD. This variety helped to sustain students’ attention and is commended.
Questioning strategies were varied and included those which were directed to the entire class and those which were aimed at named students. Classroom management was very good. Attendance was recorded in all lessons. Discipline was firmly but sensitively maintained. Very high expectations of the students were set in all lessons observed and students were frequently probed and challenged. In all cases, students responded very well to these challenges.
In addition to the whiteboard, stereo, piano, handouts and ICT, teaching and learning was supported by a range of teaching methodologies including pair work and group work activities, teacher talk and teacher demonstration. Commendably, the content and objective of all worksheets used were clearly explained to the students at all times. Consequently, students were able to tackle the exercises more readily. This approach is commended.
In the lessons observed, students were motivated and fully engaged by the lesson content. Singing activities were very good and included a sufficient amount of time for warm-up exercises. The choice of material was equally appropriate and in keeping with their interests as evidenced, for example, by the inclusion of songs from Mamma Mia. In some cases, students were brought around the piano and this allowed the teacher to monitor participation very closely. In all lessons, students were able to demonstrate clear knowledge and understanding of the topics. Students' written and practical work indicates that good progress is being made and students are very well organised and purposeful in their work.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer and the mock certificate examinations for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Homework, which includes written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets, end-of-topic tests and practical assessments. Practical skills are continually assessed as music-making activities are a core component of lessons.
All students are required to maintain their materials, worksheets and handouts in folders. These are clearly labelled. Students are constantly reminded to store materials in the correct location. Careful monitoring of these folders occurs. As a result, students have developed very good habits regarding the collation of the materials and very high standards of storage and presentation were evident. Good progress is being made in their work. Assessment of students’ work is also ongoing during lessons as students work on tasks.
In the lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. In addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas and summer, annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having. Achievement in certificate examinations is analysed, alongside school-level statistical information, annually by the music department. This is very good practice.
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 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 May 2009