An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Crescent College Comprehensive S.J.
Roll number: 81014R
Date of inspection: 16 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Crescent College Comprehensive 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 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.
Crescent College Comprehensive currently caters for 880 male and female students. The music department is staffed by one fully qualified teacher who has operated this department since 2007. Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and is available to all year groups. All classes are of mixed ability. First-year students have the opportunity to sample Music for a short period. This system works well for Music and the uptake for this subject overall throughout junior cycle and senior cycle is healthy.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme and all TY students study Music. This is currently taught in two discrete modules each alternating with Home Economics. As this system has just been introduced, the department has yet to evaluate whether it enables the effective delivery of the TY music programme. Such a review is advised after a period of time has elapsed.
In both junior cycle and senior cycle, there is a predominance of girls choosing Music. Management, in collaboration with the music department, should now explore ways in which the uptake of Music by boys can be increased. Timetable provision for Music for all year groups is in line with the syllabus guidelines. A sufficient number of double periods have been allocated to this subject, which readily facilitates the integration of practical activities.
Information and communications technology (ICT) is an area that is developing well within the music department. Students are provided with the opportunity to study music technology as part of the practical component of the certificate examination. A computer is available in the music room for this purpose and Finale Notepad, a free notation software package, has been installed. However, the music department has not yet made use of the facilities available in the computer room. Accessing these facilities would enable a larger and broader range of students to study music technology. Therefore, it is recommended that school management, in collaboration with the music department, devise strategies to create opportunities for the music department to access the computer room.
Attendance at music courses is encouraged and supported by the school and in turn, this has impacted positively on the teaching and learning of Music in the school. The teacher is also a member of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and has been particularly involved with the local branch. This involvement has provided opportunities for networking and engaging in useful dialogue with fellow professionals. This commitment is to be commended.
There is no pre-determined budget for Music. Instead staff makes direct requests to school management when resources are needed and this system works very well. Lessons are held in a large and spacious room dedicated exclusively to the music department. This room is well equipped and resources available include an upright piano, keyboard, portable stereo, one computer, guitars and percussion instruments. Two storage rooms, in conjunction with ample storage facilities in the music room, ensure that resources and equipment can be stored safely. One additional practice room can also be accessed by the students for instrumental and vocal activities. A good learning atmosphere has been created: for example, there are posters, both professionally printed and handcrafted, in the room that include illustrations of components such as performers, orchestral instruments and theoretical concepts.
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 orchestra, the school choir, an annual musical production, liturgical ceremonies and competitions. This level of provision for the students is very good and the music department is commended in this regard. The support of school management in providing time-in-lieu to the music department for choir and orchestra rehearsals is noted.
School development planning is ongoing and subject departments have been established. Weekly staff meetings are held each Thursday and subject departments meet once per month. These meetings have been facilitated by reducing class time by five minutes. In addition, tutors meet with class groups each morning and five minutes from the first lesson has been allocated for this purpose. These systems have directly impacted on valuable instruction time to Music and must be reviewed at the first available opportunity. To date, the music teacher has not yet met with any other member of staff during these formal meetings. This system might now be reviewed to ensure that the teacher is afforded the opportunity to discuss and share best practice with other colleagues.
A detailed music plan was presented containing documentation outlining how the department is run. Long-term curriculum planning containing schedules of the topics to be covered was also included. These schedules were relevant to the syllabus and to the requirements of the certificate examinations. Assessment strategies were also included in the plan. To build on this good work, it is recommended that planning now include the development of individual schemes of work for class groups outlining subject content for the year, methodologies and learning outcomes. Consideration should also be given to the way in which the three disciplines—listening, composing and performing—can be integrated meaningfully. A timeframe should also be included for the completion of all topics.
A TY plan was also included in the music department plan. This plan outlined wide and varied topics for the students and included a small proportion of resources taken from a Junior Certificate textbook as well as Leaving Certificate material. TY provides invaluable opportunities for students to encounter a programme of music using alternative textbooks and also resources accessed from the internet, which are widely available. This should be borne in mind. The inclusion of a module on music technology could also be considered. It is good to see that a hands-on approach has been taken as plans to instruct students on the mechanics of bodhrán making have been included. This will provide a stimulating insight into Irish music.
The extent and quality of planning and preparation for the individual lessons observed was good. Best practice was observed when the content was varied, when lessons included the synthesis of the three disciplines of Music—performing, listening and composing—and when the pacing was appropriate to the learners’ levels of achievement and motivation. It is recommended that attention should focus on ensuring that these occur in all lessons.
Three lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation: one in junior cycle and two 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. It is recommended that 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. A return to the learning outcomes at the end of lessons would help to summarise the learning for the students. 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 were generally appropriate to the class group and to the time available.
Levels of competence and skill demonstrated by the teacher in the subject were evident in all lessons. Students’ activity, initiative and creativity were sometimes encouraged through practical music-making activities. For example, this occurred very successfully in a senior cycle lesson observed. Students engaged with their prescribed work Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band through a class-based performance of the song of the same name. All students performed on instruments that included guitars, drums, flutes and voice. This method allowed students to engage with the music in a stimulating way. Consequently, the learning was highly successful and it was very evident that the students were highly motivated as a result. This good practice is commended. However, in one lesson observed, students were introduced to theory based initially on mechanical exercises with no reference to the sound itself. This is not good practice and should be avoided.
In some lessons observed, opportunities were provided to students to work collaboratively. For example, students completed class-based tasks in small groups and these activities were effectively monitored by the teacher. In all 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 lessons. For example, when a student has the necessary skills to demonstrate technical or compositional features through performance, this should be encouraged.
Questioning strategies were generally global in nature although a small number were targeted at individual students. Questioning strategies are most effective when a wider range of students are provided with opportunities to respond in lessons. This should be borne in mind. Classroom management was generally very good but the position of the students for choral activities will need to be reviewed. Attendance was recorded in all lessons. Discipline was firmly but sensitively maintained. Very high expectations of the students were set in all lessons observed. For example, in a practical lesson, students were introduced to choral singing and this included a short lecture regarding the correct stance and posture that should be assumed for this discipline. This led to a standard of singing that was very good and appropriate to the age and experiences of the students involved.
In addition to the whiteboard, stereo, piano, handouts and ICT, teaching and learning was supported by a range of teaching methodologies including some pair and group work activities, teacher talk and teacher demonstration. Worksheets, which were designed to build students’ knowledge progressively, were very effective and appropriately integrated into lessons. Commendably, the content and objective of these worksheets were clearly explained to the students at all times. Consequently, students were able to tackle the exercises more readily. This strategy is commended.
Students were motivated and fully engaged by lesson content when they were actively involved in their own learning. 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. Achievement in the certificate examinations is very good and this is commended.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer and the mock certificate 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. 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 all lessons.
Self-evaluation is a key feature of the TY programme. Using templates devised by the teacher, students are required to assess key aspects of each topic including individual planning, the skills acquired and the difficulties encountered. This form of peer-evaluation is very good practice as it encourages students to assume responsibility for their own learning. This is commended.
In the lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders and manuscripts are well organised. There was evidence that students’ work had been frequently monitored and comments with suggestions for improvement have been provided. In addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas and summer, regular 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.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Music enjoys a very good profile in the school and is available to all year groups.
· The uptake for Music throughout junior cycle and senior cycle is healthy.
· ICT is an area that is developing well in the music department.
· A detailed music plan has been developed by the music department.
· Music is very well resourced in the school.
· In all lessons there was a supportive learning environment.
· All lessons were logical, sequential and there was good continuity with prior learning.
· Very high expectations of the students were set in all lessons.
· Practical skills are continually assessed and music-making activities are a core component of music lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Management, in collaboration with the music department, could now explore ways in which the uptake of Music by boys can be increased.
· Opportunities should now be created to enable the music department to access the computer rooms in the school.
· Systems that are currently in place which shorten the time allocation to Music must be reviewed at the first available opportunity.
· Planning should now include the development of individual schemes of work outlining subject content for the year, methodologies and learning outcomes. Consideration should also
be given to how the thre disciplines can be integrated meaningfully.
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 June 2009