An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Ardscoil na mBráithre,
Clonmel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65320J
Date of inspection: 21 January 2008
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na mBráithre, conducted 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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 was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Music is available as an optional subject to all students in all years in Ardscoil na mBráithre. Students choose their Junior Certificate subjects prior to entry with Music being in an option block with German, Technology, Classical Studies and Art. All students in Transition Year (TY) have one period of Music Appreciation per week. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students prioritise their preferred subject options. There are viable numbers for Music at both junior and senior cycles, which is to be commended. Management is also to be commended for its continued support of Music in a boys’ school and for providing it to Leaving Certificate level. Timetable provision for Music is in line with Departmental guidelines, with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week along with a sufficient number of double periods in all year groups to facilitate practical work.
There is a good range of extra-curricular activities, which helps to raise the profile of Music in the school. Talent and variety shows, a Battle of the Bands, the open night, end-of-year events such as the sixth year graduation and occasional attendance at workshops and concerts are just some of the many musical activities in which the students are involved. The school also produces a musical every February in conjunction with a local girls’ school. This long standing tradition has been in existence for over thirty years and constitutes one of the highlights of the school year. It involves students from TY and fifth year and past shows include Grease and Rock Nativity. This year the production is entitled Back to the Eighties and at the time of the inspection, preparations were well under way. Rehearsals take place during lunchtime, after school until late evening and during weekends. Both management and staff involved in this production are to be commended for the commitment and support needed to produce such a successful event every year.
Ardscoil na mBráithre has a dedicated music room which also doubles as a stage and opens out into the main atrium. This room is appropriately equipped with a range of resources including a piano, a sound system, classroom instruments, two keyboards, a laptop, computer, stave board, overhead projector (OHP) and screen. There is also a good stock of sheet music and texts and audio resources. The walls are adorned with posters and charts about Music, student projects and notices pertaining to different aspects of the music courses. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended. One small shortcoming pertains to the speakers for the sound system, which are positioned incorrectly. The positioning of these speakers militates against quality aural development as all audio sources come from the left of the room from the students’ point of view. It is recommended that the speakers be positioned on the wall, on both sides of the staveboard, as this would improve the situation considerably and allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students.
The school has recently purchased some good quality public address (PA) and recording equipment to which the music department will also have access which is commendable. The department has also begun to develop music technology and has installed some software onto the laptop for this use. As students also have access to the school’s computer room, it is recommended that further exploration of suitable software packages for these computers be undertaken. It is recommended that the ongoing development of resources be continued, especially in the area of information and communications technology (ICT) in order to optimise the students’ music learning experiences.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in Ardscoil na mBráithre. A music plan, along with programmes of work scheduling the topics to be covered, was presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support-material resources suitable for all levels. In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons, and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as worksheets, sheet music and audio resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
To develop the plan further, it would be useful to document planned learning outcomes, consideration of student learning strategies, the inclusion of more active learning methodologies and appropriate assessment procedures. Advice on subject planning is available through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and a template can be accessed through the website at www.sdpi.ie. Planning could also be developed to facilitate more integration of the core activities of performing, composing and listening within the classroom context. It is recommended that both long-term planning and schemes of work be developed now with these areas in mind. Planning for the development of resources and how they would be utilised in the classroom setting is also recommended. Furthermore it is important that this plan be a flexible working document open to review so that the contents remain relevant and purposeful.
The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords her the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and network with other music teachers. In addition, the teacher avails of any ongoing training courses which contribute to overall continuing professional development (CPD). This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.
In all lessons visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. The music teacher created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning, were encouraged to ask appropriate questions and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented.
Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. In all lessons visited, a systematic approach, where the teacher went over completed homework, tests or work set was observed. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability. The repertoire chosen for performance was attractive. Examples included The Fields of Athenry and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, works accessible for the age levels concerned, and the resources chosen contributed to the quality of learning and are to be commended. Performing was at a suitable standard for the relevant levels and all classes visited were on target with the syllabus requirements.
In lessons that had a performing element, relevant rote learning, good rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, and assured teacher accompaniment were some of the activities seen. At times the activity was open-ended enough to allow students’ opinions to impact on the musical interpretation of these performances. This is commendable as it allows students to enrich their learning in a musically-focussed rather than a cognitive-centred way. In general, these whole-class performances of the music provided convincing evidence that most students are capable of maintaining their own part in group music making. This focus on building the role of Music as a living subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy classroom-based practical music making is entirely appropriate, and highly commendable. It is recommended that this focus be utilised in as many settings as possible in order to extend the range of musical experience of the students and to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material.
When new concepts and content were introduced, the teacher relied on clear explanations and demonstrations. In order to optimise learning, it is recommended that ways in which these methods could be expanded, to include more active involvement by the students, be explored. In some instances, too much emphasis on mechanical exercises and the theoretical nature of music meant that the main objective was lost. There was a tendency to approach concepts in reverse order, providing all the information first and then introducing the sounds. It is recommended that the ‘sound before symbol’ approach be explored to allow students experience a more meaningful exploration of the parameters of music. This would also open up opportunities for further music making activities encompassing the three areas of performing, composing and listening and form links with all aspects of the course in a more musically-focussed rather than cognitive-centred way.
In one lesson observed, a collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-peer interaction and purposeful group work was observed. With the teacher as facilitator, students were working on advertisements for their own products, choosing suitable music and presenting to their peers for comment. Not only were students exposed to a wide range of music and musical decision making, but were also acquiring skills which could be applied to other subjects as well which is commendable. Students need to be exposed to these types of teaching strategies to promote their own self-learning skills rather than relying too much on teacher instruction. A more cooperative learning environment which would allow for more peer-peer interaction and lessons with fewer teacher-led activities is recommended in all lessons.
In the main, the available resources were used appropriately in an integrated way to support the teaching and learning of Music. Although the music department does have an OHP, enhanced use of this resource is also worth considering. Its use, coupled with suitable software could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. Additionally, both the computer and OHP could be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture during ensemble performance for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Some student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance, while others were haphazard and contained loose sheets and handouts. Careful monitoring of student materials is recommended, especially with junior classes, as valuable supplementary information and work will invariably go astray if not documented and stored properly.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior 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 and is corrected as appropriate. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, and tests. It was good to note that constructive comments are provided wherever possible in order to enable better learning and improvement. Practical elements are continually assessed and students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a student’s progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in the state examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and, in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. These meetings also provide a forum for parents to discuss any concerns or difficulties students may be having. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their son’s progress.
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 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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management and Staff welcome the overall positive report on the teaching and learning of Music in the school.
The main strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the views of the Board. In particular, the inspector’s finding of skilful teaching, good in-class strategies, positive classroom atmosphere, students’ motivation and positive attitude towards Music are appreciated. Recognition of the teacher’s commitment to music and its development in the school, plus the school’s support in facilitating this is welcomed.
The Board will continue to build and develop these strengths.