An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Coláiste an Chraobhín
Roll number: 70990M
Date of inspection: 24 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in MUSIC
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chraoibhín. 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 the 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 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.
Music is available as an optional subject to all students in all years in Coláiste an Chraoibhín. A three-week taster system operates in first year after which students make their subject choices for Junior Certificate, this year choosing among Music, Materials Technology (Wood), History, Business and Art. Despite a short taster system, which is understandable given the extensive range of subjects on offer, every effort is made by the school to ensure that all students are fully informed before choosing their subjects. Students make their choices in February but there is some flexibility if it is felt a student has made the wrong choice. All students in the optional Transition Year (TY) programme have one period of Music per week which is commendable. The option blocks for the Leaving Certificate vary to maximise students’ preferences, with Music placed in the block that facilitates the majority of those students wishing to take the subject. Thus in the current fifth-year Music is in the block containing Geography, Design and Communication Graphics, Art and Business, while in sixth-year, the subjects are Business, Construction Studies and Chemistry. A healthy proportion of students opts for Music throughout the school, with a good gender balance generally, given the current enrolment ratio of boys to girls. Music is a viable subject in Coláiste an Chraobhín and is well supported by in-school management which is commendable.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with guidelines from the Department with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week. Class periods in Coláiste an Chraoibhín are fifty-five minutes long so although there are no double periods set for Music, the duration of the lessons is sufficient to accommodate practical work.
In addition to the curricular opportunities, a variety of extracurricular musical activities is due to take place later on in the school year. Instrumental tuition is available for percussion, brass and guitar and it is hoped to re-instate the school choir this term. In addition a music committee is about to be set up whereby students can become involved in the organisation of musical events taking place in the school. Regular musical events are held such as lunchtime concerts, school concerts, Battle of the Bands competitions, and carol services, through which students can develop their skills as performers. Through these activities all students have access to some form of music-making, which is commendable. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are commendable.
Due to recent building work and renovations, the music room has been resituated to another area of the school. The current site is an average size classroom which, although very well-resourced, is crammed with furniture including a baby grand piano which takes up quite a bit of space in the room. It is understood however, that the piano is there on a temporary basis and will be replaced by an upright piano in due course. It must also be acknowledged that it is early in the school year and both teacher and management are commended for the speed with which the room was reorganised given the disruption caused by the building project. The school has an extensive range of resources which contribute to a heightened awareness of Music in the school. There is an array of musical posters on the walls, and a selection of classroom instruments including guitars, percussion instruments and a drum kit are also prominently positioned all around the room. There is also a sound system, a computer with some music software installed, a whiteboard and a chalkboard.
Notwithstanding the efforts made to establish a music room straight away, it is recommended that the room be re-organised to optimise the use of the current resources. One priority would be to re-position the speakers for the sound system. At present, 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. Positioning the speakers on the wall on both sides of the whiteboard would improve the situation considerably and allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students.
The chalkboard has four small staves painted on it which are inadequate. This is problematic as it means the teacher has to draw rough staves when dealing with the more technical aspects of Music. It is recommended that either the chalkboard be replaced with a new white board with proper staves on it, or preferably an overhead projector (OHP) or other suitable projection equipment be acquired for the music room. In this way staves could be projected onto the existing whiteboard when needed. Other reasons for utilising an OHP to optimise learning are outlined below. The ongoing development of other resources should also be continued, and should include further development of information and communication technology (ICT).
Coláiste an Chraoibhín is very supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) and has already facilitated the music teacher’s membership of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). This affords the teacher the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level and to keep up-to-date with ongoing curricular innovation. All this will pay dividends in the future not only to the overall CPD of the teacher but also to the development of this thriving department. 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.
The music teacher in Coláiste an Chraoibhín is newly qualified and is covering a career break. It is commendable that this teacher received significant guidance from the two experienced teachers who were in the school previously prior to his taking up the position. The subject department’s plan and the new teacher’s individual planning documentation were presented during the inspection. Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets and an organised stock of support material suitable for all levels. To develop the subject plan further, it would be useful to document planned learning outcomes, consideration of learning strategies, to include more active-learning methodologies and to incorporate more music-specific methodologies. It is acknowledged however, that this type of planning becomes more meaningful with experience. It would also be beneficial to plan carefully for the ongoing development of resources and music technology. Furthermore it is important that this plan be a flexible working document open to review so that the contents remain relevant and purposeful.
The planning documentation received with respect to this academic year was thorough and cognisant of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. Detailed material outlining yearly schemes for each programme was also presented. This was relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the ability level of the students in question. In general a high level of planning for all lessons was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials – sheet music, worksheets, and relevant audio resources etc. This indicates that short term planning is at a satisfactory level.
In all lessons observed, a secure, enthusiastic, work-orientated atmosphere prevailed. Material was presented in a coherent manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. The music teacher created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. A warm, friendly rapport prevailed between the students and the teacher at all times. There was a good level of student engagement in the lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
All lessons observed had an aural focus and included performing opportunities, which is commendable. Examples of appropriate music methodological practice were observed in most classes visited, whether the lesson focused on the introduction of new material, listening activities or the performance of students’ compositions. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive of all students. The good teaching seen was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students through well-structured and varied activities. These approaches contributed to the good quality of learning and are to be commended.
The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. Clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons, and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. Students’ knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible, which is commendable. For example, in a first year lesson, which was the second lesson as part of the taster system, the teacher used the homework set during the previous lesson, “My favourite type of music”, to link into an interesting discussion on genre in music. This was followed by exposure to a range of musical styles, both through skilful demonstrations by the teacher on a variety of instruments, and an eclectic choice of musical extracts to which the students listened and answered questions on a worksheet. This learning was further consolidated through the homework set in this lesson, which was to analyse a favourite song according to the terms that had been introduced during the lesson, notably tempo, timbre and genre.
A range of teaching strategies to promote the students' own self-learning skills was also seen in a senior lesson. A collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer interaction was observed, where the teacher guided students through various stages and facilitated a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment. This revolved around homework set which was to compose two pieces of music – one a landscape and another which “pokes fun at a musical style” and linked into Raymond Deane’s Seachanges, one of the prescribed works for the Leaving Certificate examination. In this lesson the students performed their own compositions to the group and listened to comments and suggestions from their peers. The teacher also interjected with references to relevant musical terms and then skilfully linked these student compositions to Seachanges to illustrate the composition techniques used in this work. 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. It is recommended that these strategies be expanded and used in all lessons in order to minimise teacher-led activities and to encourage students towards more self-directed and autonomous learning. This would also open up opportunities for further music-making activities encompassing the three areas of performing, composing and listening and also form links with all aspects of the course in a more musically-focused rather than cognitive-centred way.
The available classroom resources are used appropriately and contribute to the learning environment. It is recommended however, that ways in which an OHP or other projection equipment could be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored, as it would greatly enhance the learning situation. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated questions on the board for example, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handout materials. This could enhance students’ engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture when performing on instruments or singing, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, as the plan is to develop ICT, some consideration should be given to looking at ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting. The effective use of these resources would greatly enhance students' learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term.
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation for this time of the year, were generally neat in appearance and contained coursework, words of songs, sheet music and worksheets.
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. Good quality homework practices include written, aural and practical work, which is given on a regular basis. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and ‘quick-fire’ tests. It is good to note that students frequently receive comments and words of encouragement on their assessments. In keeping with the recommendations in planning and preparation above, it would be timely to establish and maintain student progress reports and build up profiles of students’ musical competencies.
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 or daughter’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.
Published, January 2010