An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School
Granard, County Longford
Roll number: 63730S
Date of inspection: 28 September 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cnoc Mhuire, 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 teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. 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 teachers.
Music has a good profile in Cnoc Mhuire and is available to all students in every year group as an optional subject. Students choose optional subjects before entering first year by placing, in order of preference, three subjects from French, German, Business Studies and Music with a view to studying two of these. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme includes a music module which the students follow for the entire year, and the ‘best fit’ approach is employed when students choose their subjects for Leaving Certificate. At present Music is in a block with Physics and Biology in fifth year and with Physics, Chemistry and Geography in sixth year. In addition a choir option is available to students not doing Materials Technology (Wood). Students may choose between Choir, Physical Education and Computers for one period per week in each of the three years in junior cycle. The number opting for Music is healthy, but the proportion of girls taking the subject is significantly higher. This gender imbalance is regrettable and thus it is recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake of Music by boys. The number of students opting for Music at Leaving Certificate level has been consistently high for the past five years which is highly commendable. Class groups can be quite large, ranging from 25 to 28 students. Should these numbers continue to increase, the formation of a second class group may be necessary in the future. Management is aware of this and is optimistic that any timetabling or resource problems will be surmountable if the situation arises. It is recommended that the ongoing monitoring of these numbers be continued by management and staff.
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.
One of the aims of the music department in Cnoc Mhuire is to “promote the awareness of music making and enjoyment of music in the school”. To this end, a range of activities are organised in addition to curricular aspects. A variety show or musical had always been part of the programme, and since 1997 a range of shows has been produced. These variety shows with catchy titles such as ‘A Class Act’, ‘A Really Class Act’, ‘The Ultimate Class Act’ and ‘Reach for the Stars’ were an integral part of the TY programme and also involved other students in the school. In order to sustain the inherent goodwill and enthusiasm and maintain a freshness of interest with these activities, a new format began in 2005 and now the school produces a show at Christmas which provides a showcase for all the music talent in the school. All music students perform either individually or in ensembles such as recorder groups, choir, folk groups, and ceilí bands. Guest musicians are also invited to perform both with the students and on their own. To date this new format has been a huge success and involves a significant number of the school community which is commendable.
As previously mentioned optional choir is timetabled for junior students. Cnoc Mhuire used to have a girls choir which rehearsed at lunchtime and performed at various events throughout the school year. The music teachers are keen to reinstate this choir as a senior mixed vocal group and are currently exploring ways in which this could be initiated. This is commendable and should open up even more performing opportunities for the students.
Instrumental ensembles such as those mentioned above also exist in the school and come together on an ad hoc basis depending on the type of instrumental players available. Brass instruments are also available in the school with an ensemble formed in 2002 and currently under review in order to develop it further. A range of cross-curricular opportunities exist also through these activities, with quite an overlap with the Religion, Irish, Media Studies, Drama and French departments. Strong links exist with the local community also, as many of the public performances take place in the local church and community centre and frequently involve fundraising for local charities.
All these musical activities contribute to the profile of Music in Cnoc Mhuire. Many of these activities are open to all students so that they may experience some type of music-making activity as part of their second-level education even if it is not part of their subject options. This is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school.
Cnoc Mhuire has a dedicated music room and two other class rooms which are used for music lessons, as well as the hall which is used for choir. The main room is suitably resourced with good quality audio equipment, audio resources, sheet music and texts, piano, a range of instruments and a store room. The room has flexible seating which can be re-arranged quite quickly and is spacious enough to incorporate a separate performing area. The second room is equipped with a piano, a sound system a whiteboard and an overhead projector (OHP) and screen. The hall has very good acoustics and has choir steps and a piano. The department has access to a range of audio-visual resources, has televisions and DVD players in both rooms and plans are afoot to develop the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the near future. The walls in both rooms are adorned with posters, charts and students’ projects, all of which heighten an awareness of the subject. This investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved, which is commendable. It is recommended that the ongoing development of resources be continued, especially in the area of ICT in order to optimise the students’ music learning experiences.
There was evidence of good collaborative planning for the development of Music in Cnoc Mhuire. The music teachers work as a team, planning programmes of work for the school year and organising other activities particular to Music. This planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. Programmes of work, scheduling the topics to be covered and subject plans outlining the broad aims for each class group, were presented. These were relevant to the syllabuses and the requirements of the examinations. Appropriate assessment procedures were also included in the planning which is commendable. From discussion with the teachers it was evident that considerable thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all music courses in the school. There is regular contact and cooperation between the teachers in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabuses with their classes. In all lessons observed, planning was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as handouts, worksheets, sheet music and audio resources.
Work has begun on subject department planning under the school development planning initiative (SDPI). It would be timely if the music teachers set about devising a five-year development plan for the music department at this stage. This could include planning for resources with a particular emphasis on technology, curricular plans especially for the TY music module, and proposals for the revived and updated extra-curricular activities. Differentiated teaching strategies could also be developed in light of any changing circumstances.
The music teachers are committed to continuing professional development (CPD) and keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and network with other music teachers whenever possible. 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 particularly in the area of ICT.
All lessons observed were presented in a coherent and confident manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teachers in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere with good use of humour. The music teachers created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
In most lessons visited, a variety of methodologies and examples of active music-making were seen. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability. Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were utilised to very good effect with the areas of performing, composing and listening integrated in a musically-focussed way. Thus for example in a senior cycle lesson focussing on a set work (in this case the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major), the students listened to the main themes, completed an ‘active listening’ worksheet, sang the main theme and then used its opening bars to compose a melody as per question one on the Leaving Certificate composing paper. This is commendable practice.
Examples of sound music-methodological practice were observed in most classes visited with well-prepared materials, and teaching that was supportive to all students. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students and facilitating collaborative and peer/peer interaction and learning through well-structured and varied activities. This was fully borne out during a session where the students played a ‘bingo-type’ board game devised by the teacher for example. The features of three set songs for Junior Certificate were introduced through this quick-fire game with students playing in pairs, and further consolidated aurally when the teacher played a few bars of the songs and students had to isolate those particular features. Finally the learning was reinforced once more through musical means when the students played the songs on the recorder. The manner in which this was introduced is commendable. In addition, this atmosphere of autonomous learning with the teacher as facilitator and enabler is highly commendable and contributes to students taking responsibility for their own learning.
Most lessons observed had some elements of performing. This was at a suitable standard for the levels visited and all classes seen were on target with the syllabus requirements. Relevant rote learning, vocal warm-ups and rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, were some of the other activities seen. Observation of students’ practical work showed that whilst some were challenged, few students were unable to cope with the musical demands.
The teachers have access to an overhead projector (OHP) which is used now and again. It is recommended that more ways in which it could be used to optimise learning be explored. When the music department begins work on its ICT plan, it is recommended that an examination of the feasibility of the technology option in the Leaving Certificate music syllabus be undertaken alongside the acquisition of appropriate resources to include further development of ICT. Its use, coupled with suitable software, could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance student 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 this light, it is strongly recommended as outlined above under planning and preparation, that the music teachers make the most of any CPD currently available, particularly in the area of ICT.
In all classes observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to an acceptable standard. Student folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance.
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. Examples of this include questioning in class, regular homework, completion of worksheets and tests at the end of a topic. It was good to note that, in addition to a grade, many of these assessments received a comment and/or words of encouragement from the teachers. This is to be commended. Practical assessment exists for all music classes, some of which is undertaken through public performance. It was noted that students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the State examinations from first year on, which is highly commended. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a students' progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in these examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teachers to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and in addition to reports issued at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups.
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 June 2008