An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Raphoe, County Donegal
Roll number: 71230R
Date of inspection: 24 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deele College as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 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.
Deele College provides courses leading to the Junior Certificate, including the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Programmes offered in senior cycle include the Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. English is a core subject on the school’s curriculum and all students take this subject.
At the time of a previous evaluation of teaching and learning in English, the school had been actively considering adopting a mixed-ability method of class formation. No decision has been made on this in the interim. Currently, students are assigned to class groups following their enrolment, based on their ability in the subject. The factors which determine the class group for English to which a student is assigned include information provided by primary schools and the student’s performance in entrance tests. Separate class groups are formed for the higher and ordinary level courses and students with learning support needs generally follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). It is recommended that this arrangement should be reviewed. Decisions in relation to the level at which a student should study English should be delayed as long as possible in order to allow students settle into post-primary education and to encourage them to have the highest realistic expectations. The current class arrangements for English in junior cycle should be reviewed. Consideration might be given to extend the arrangement currently employed for other subjects in junior cycle, whereby a number of mixed-ability class groups are formed within ability bands, to include English. In senior cycle, English is concurrently timetabled for all classes to facilitate the teaching and learning of the higher and ordinary level courses.
The timetabled provision for the teaching of English is very good, with five lessons a week in junior cycle and six lessons for the Leaving Certificate class groups. The deployment of an additional teacher for English to the JCSP in third year is noted as a good support to students on this programme. The English teaching team, the majority of whose members hold specialist qualifications in the subject, is provided with a good range of resources to support its work. Teachers are based in their own classrooms where they display a variety of stimulating and supportive visual materials, many of which were generated by students. Audio-visual equipment is available as is a mobile data projector. While teachers of English have limited access to the school’s computer rooms, they make good use of the school’s information and communications technology (ICT) in both the planning and delivery of lesson content. Management is proactive in facilitating continuing professional development. There has been whole-staff training in the area of literacy development across the curriculum in the recent past and in-service training in differentiation is planned for later this year. Members of the English department have attended the Moving Image training provided by the Teaching English Support Service.
The school library is currently located in an English classroom. Shelving along two walls provides good display space and posters illustrating available titles are displayed. While students have limited access to these books at break and lunch times, the teachers of English facilitate and encourage reading in a number of ways. Acting on a recommendation made in an earlier subject inspection report, teachers have assembled class library boxes so that books can be brought to junior cycle classes, for instance. Time for reading and research is included in teachers’ planning documents and students on the JCSP participate in the reading challenge and the Make-A-Book initiatives. A six-week paired reading programme, involving students on the JCSP, LCA and TY programmes, is also offered. The teachers of English are commended for their efforts to promote reading. The school reported that a new library will be available in the near future. There is ample evidence that the teachers of English will make significant and effective use of this anticipated resource, to the benefit of students across the ability range.
English teachers are involved in organising a range of co-curricular activities. Among these are public speaking; a TY magazine; short story and poetry writing competitions; participation in an inter-schools drama competition; theatre trips and involvement in a number of debating competitions. The generous commitment of teachers to coordinating all of these activities is highly commended.
Subject department planning is very well established in Deele College. This eight-teacher department meets regularly throughout the year, both informally and formally. The time provided to the department once each term is well used and minutes record the issues discussed. These indicated on-going planning for teaching and learning and for a range of enrichment activities in the subject. Planning documents presented at the time of the evaluation indicated that good use had been made of templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative to write a subject department plan. This provided clear information on the organisation of the department and on curriculum planning in English for each programme. It is noted that, while all aspects of syllabus and programme requirements are reflected in the planning documentation, the organising principle is the format of the certificate examinations, rather than the skills focus advocated in the syllabuses. In reviewing the plan, it is recommended that the knowledge, skills and understanding which the students are expected to acquire in each year should be identified. Teachers of English are referred to the draft rebalanced Junior Certificate syllabus and to section 4 of the Leaving Certificate syllabus, both of which are available on www.ncca.ie during this review.
Planning for specific programmes is good. School documentation stated that the TY plan for English is designed to “offer opportunities to put into an active context skills already touched upon in junior cycle”. There was ample evidence that this aim was being realised through writing workshops, a Write-Present-Perform approach and public speaking and debating events. The plan provides students on this programme with opportunities to both study and use language skills in a variety of real communicative contexts. This is very good. Planning for the English and Communications course in the LCA ensures that the learning tasks set by key language assignments on this programme are achieved. The Junior Certificate School Programme is offered to students identified as having special educational or other needs. Relevant JCSP strategies, for example, the use of learning statements and the maintenance of student profiles, are used.
Individual teachers’ plans for teaching are found in the subject department plan. These schemes of work provide an overview of the work proposed for the year with each class group. Teachers have used a variety of templates to record their plans. These identified the content to be covered on a weekly or termly basis and, in most, included notes on the teaching strategies, resources, and assessment procedures to be used. The very best plans also recorded learning targets for individual class groups and brief reflective notes on how lessons had progressed. Accompanying resource folders and materials were also presented for inspection and these indicated the very thorough preparation for lessons which was a hallmark of the lessons observed during this evaluation. In reviewing their individual plans, it is suggested that a common template should be adopted to reflect the best practice in the department. Following on from the recommendation made for planning at a department level, teachers’ individual schemes of work should include an indicative list of intended learning outcomes. This would place the student, rather than the texts, at the centre of planning and facilitate effective assessment of learners’ progress.
Preparation for teaching was very good, as evidenced by the good working atmosphere which was established at the beginning of each lesson observed. Roll call and reviews of homework ensured that students quickly settled down to work and that good links were established with previous lessons. To augment the strategies used to engage students, it is recommended that teachers should outline a clear learning objective for lessons at the outset. This would help to focus students and situate the work being done. In all lessons, teachers ensured that the necessary resources were on hand. Sets of novels ensured that all students had a copy of the text in one lesson, for example, and in another, good preparation meant that the relevant segment of a film being studied was pre-cued. Handouts used were well designed and accessible to the students with whom they were used.
The pacing of lessons was very well managed. Really good practice in this regard was exemplified in a junior cycle lesson where the teacher had planned two distinct learning activities. Lesson time was carefully managed so that the lesson objectives were achieved. This strategy worked well to keep students engaged and stimulated and the transition from one task to the next was well managed. The first phase of this lesson focussed on reinforcing students’ knowledge of the plot of a drama text. The use of a cloze-type exercise was a very effective support to less-able students in the group, particularly as the discussion prompted by teacher questions provided supplementary detail. A further strength of this lesson was the way that the teaching of the appropriate format for a letter was integrated with the study of the text in the second phase of the lesson. This is very good practice as it provided both a context and a purpose for letter writing.
Teaching approaches observed included a well-judged balance of whole-class and individual activities. In a senior cycle lesson, students reported back to the class on research which they had carried out in small groups. This provided very good oral language practice and opportunities for students to hone their presentational skills. Students had used the internet well to gather background information on the play they were studying, including contextual information about the cultural and social environment within which it had been set. The quality of the presentations was generally good, though there was some unprocessed reproduction of notes and other information. However, it is acknowledged that the planned emphasis in this particular lesson was on student participation and, in that regard, it was very successful.
It was clear from an examination of students’ copies and observation of practice in some lessons that teachers provide model essays and dictated notes to help support students’ learning. This is good practice but care should always be taken to teach students how to critically appraise the value of information found in notes and how to use models effectively. The latter was well done in a lesson on narrative writing in a senior cycle class. Prior to introducing a model horror story, students were prompted to identify the elements which create suspense and horror in stories with which they were familiar. The model story was then read in class, with frequent pauses to allow students identify those techniques as they occurred. They were encouraged to consider how effective each was in the context of the model story and to suggest alternative techniques which the writer might have used. This teaching approach ensured that the model was advisory rather than prescriptive, leaving room for student creativity in the writing exercise which was set for homework.
In all classes visited, students maintained good homework copies or files and the standard of presentation was generally good. It was evident that the full range of ability is represented in the school, with some students struggling to manage the writing tasks set by teachers. In these instances, student writing lacked narrative shape and there was poor use of the conventions associated with particular language registers. Answers to homework questions lacked sufficient development and, while students were able to list techniques such as simile, metaphor or alliteration, they were not always able to apply them meaningfully. The teachers of English have identified raising the achievements of students as a key developmental target and, in the recent past, there has been an increase in the uptake of English at higher level in the senior cycle. Certainly, a significant number of students demonstrated good ability in the subject during the evaluation. Many of these wrote purposeful and coherent assignments and successfully sustained the appropriate register when applicable. The written work demonstrated a good level of personal engagement with texts studied, together with an ability to articulate and support their opinions.
Students’ oral work and contributions in class were of a very good standard. They had a good knowledge of their texts and were confident tackling exercises set for completion within class time.
Oral questioning is used in lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions and, generally, questions were sufficiently differentiated to include all members of the class. Students’ responses indicated that they were interested and engaged. A whole-school policy on homework has been developed and the teachers of English regularly set work designed to help students revise or extend classroom learning. Teachers correct work promptly and, in some instances, their comments provide good developmental feedback which both identifies areas for improvement and affirms the work done. However, there is a need to address more thoroughly the recommendation about feedback on homework made in the earlier English inspection report. Planning for assessment should include opportunities for the more active involvement of students in monitoring their achievements in English. By developing the success criteria for specific tasks with the input of students, teachers can help them to identify specific skills on which they should focus. This approach also allows the teacher to target specific areas of difficulty when setting homework and to give clear feedback related to those criteria when marking assignments. Action in this regard is recommended. In all cases, appropriate records of students’ results were maintained and teachers were knowledgeable about the progress being made by students in their care.
In addition to continuous in-class monitoring of students’ work, summative assessment tests are held in October, at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Formal reports issue during the year, and parents of first years are invited into the school after the first six weeks of the autumn term to review how their children are settling in. The full range of JCSP strategies for reporting to parents is used in Deele College so that there are plenty of opportunities made available to parents to report on positive developments or discuss concerns with a teacher.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school offers a full range of courses to meet the educational needs of its students.
· The timetabled provision for the teaching of English is very good and the subject is well resourced. Teachers make good use of the library, the audio-visual and the ICT resources available to deliver their courses.
· A wide variety of co-curricular activities is available to students. The teachers of English are commended for their efforts to promote reading.
· There is very good on-going planning for teaching and learning and for a range of enrichment activities in the subject.
· Lessons were well prepared and resources were well used to support students’ learning.
· Appropriate teaching strategies were used effectively and actively engaged students in their own learning.
· A whole-school policy on homework has been developed and work is regularly set and marked. Teachers maintain good records of students’ achievements.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The current class arrangements for English in junior cycle should be reviewed. Consideration might be given to extend the arrangement currently employed for other subjects in junior cycle,
whereby a number of mixed-ability class groups are formed within ability bands, to include English.
· The teachers of English should, in the context of a review of their department plan, develop a stronger focus on the knowledge, skills and understanding which the students are expected to
acquire in each year at junior cycle level. Following on from this, teachers’ individual schemes of work should include an indicative list of intended learning outcomes.
· Students should be more actively involved in developing the success criteria for specific homework tasks.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of English 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 2009