An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet Town, County Cork
Roll number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 17 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Millstreet Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics 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 the students and the teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed planning documentation and the teacherís 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.
Home Economics is provided for in each of the curricular programmes available in Millstreet Community School, namely, Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programmes. In general, it is offered as an optional subject. The exception to this is in first year and TY, where all students are required to study a half-year module of Home Economics. This is commended for the exposure to the subject that the practice facilitates, in advance of the requirement on students to make subject choices. †
It is a popular subject, demonstrating very good uptake levels. The percentage of female students opting to study Home Economics is very impressive, with a good majority of the girls choosing to study Home Economics for both the Junior and Leaving Certificate Examinations. Currently, none of the male student cohort has chosen to study Home Economics. This is unfortunate, in particular because it was found that from a systemís point of view there is very little else that management can do to seek to reverse this trend. The school, for example, already provides a taster programme in Home Economics, in order to assist first-year and TY students in making informed subject choices. In addition, the system of subject choice operating in the school, often referred to as the Ďbest-fití model, is one where studentsí preferences inform the design of subject blocks. It would appear therefore that the reversal of this trend centres on the breaking down of culturally embedded perceptions around what are traditionally perceived to be girlsí or boysí subjects. This is a much more difficult task and relies, in the main, on what could be termed subtle marketing. One of the suggestions provided on the day related to the development of the existing home economics notice-board, using it, for example, to highlight the career-relevance of the subject, the interesting co-educational features of the syllabuses and some positive male and female student perceptions of Home Economics. †Students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards, as is evident by the numbers of students opting to sit higher-level papers in both of the Certificate examinations. Studentsí results in the Certificate examinations are very good, a finding which could prove to be another effective marketing tool for the home economics department.
The timetabling of Home Economics was found to be very favourable. The time allocated to the subject is consistent with syllabus recommendations, double periods are provided for each class group, and studentsí contact with the subject is nicely spread over the weekly timetable. Class sizes are also conducive to the effective delivery of the more practical facets of each syllabus.† Home economics classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis.
Home Economics in Millstreet Community School was found to be well resourced. The school houses a highly organised and very well maintained home economics kitchen. The facility is appropriately equipped, including provision for a desktop computer and a printer. Requests for replacement or additional equipment are, budget permitting, greeted favourably. While kitchen rules have been developed and safety signage is obvious in the specialist room, it is recommended that a subject specific safety statement be developed. It is suggested that this would be based on the approach obvious in the whole-school policy where hazards, levels of risk and control measures are clearly identified. An identification of hazards that arise when the room is fully operational should also feature in this statement.
Managementís support for formal subject-department planning is demonstrated by its provision of time over the course of the school year for subject-department meetings. The full benefits of the practice of formal, subject-department planning are more difficult to realise in a one-teacher department. This is due, in the main, to the absence of opportunities to collaborate on a common ground and therefore to share experiences in relation to teaching and learning in a subject. Both management and the subject department are encouraged therefore to formalise measures that would seek to ensure that, on occasions, the home economics department would get the opportunity to formally interact with colleagues in different subject areas with a view to sharing and discussing different approaches to planning, teaching & learning, and assessment. Management is supportive of teachersí continuing professional development (CPD), both in terms of facilitating teachers to attend relevant in-service or workshops, and through the provision of an annual whole-staff CPD programme.
Formal subject planning is evident in the home economics department, with much progress being made to date. This is indicative of the value that the subject department places on this activity and of its commitment to same. A well developed subject plan is in place, the contents of which support the four sub-headings in this report, namely subject provision & support, planning & preparation, teaching & learning, and assessment. This approach is commended. Management provides worksheets for completion by teachers during formal planning sessions. The emphasis on reflection and evaluation in these worksheets is deserving of particular mention and praise. The very focused completion of the worksheets by the home economics subject department is also deserving of recognition. †
Programmes of work have been devised for each year group and these are quite well developed. It is positive that the programmes are time-bound, outlining the topics to be covered on a term-by-term basis, and that in conjunction with the identification of topics to be covered, they provide detail relating to valuable resources as well as to the corresponding suitable methodologies. The senior cycle programmes also make provision for the homework associated with each topic. The provision of this information in the junior cycle programmes of work is also suggested for consideration. One of the most positive features of each of these documents is the space provided for review and evaluation following the completion of each topic. Some notes were evident here and therefore the fuller utilisation of this feature is recommended. Where programmes of work are concerned it is important to realise and understand that there will always be scope for further development and that they are, in fact, working documents. The subject department should include in the plan a statement of learning outcomes for each part of the syllabus. Learning outcomes are simple statements of the knowledge, skills, and abilities individual students will possess and can demonstrate upon completion of a learning experience or sequence of learning experiences. The inclusion in time of detail relating to how learning is assessed is also deserving of consideration.
Opportunities to enhance student learning by co-operating with other subject departments in planning and delivering a series of topics is recognised by the home economics department as important. As a result some good links have been established with both the Business and Science departments for the teaching of topics that are common to these subject areas. This, which is supportive of the practice of cross-curricular student learning, is highly praised. Planning for co-curricular activities is also evident. For example, home economics students are encouraged to get involved in a whole-school and wider community World-Wide Welcome event that seeks to acknowledge and celebrate the language, culture and food of foreign nationals who are living in the local area. To this end, home economics students are invited to create dishes to share at this event.
Planning for resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is also evident. A variety of support materials including videos, charts, reference books, educational packs and leaflets have been gathered together. These resources are easily accessed and are utilised by the teacher over the course of lesson delivery, and by students either during class or for their own independent research and study. This is noted as another very positive feature of the work of the home economics department. †
The quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics in Millstreet Community School is very good.
Each of the lessons observed demonstrated a consistency with the relevant planned programme of work. There was evidence of very good quality, short-term planning for lessons. As a result, lessons were very purposeful, well structured, appropriately paced, and took cognisance of studentsí levels and abilities. The plan for the lesson was shared with the students and the intended learning outcomes were clearly identified at the start of each lesson. This is recognised as consistent with best practice and is therefore highly praised. In an effort to increase the relevance of the lesson for students, the teacher sought to provide a meaningful context for each identified learning outcome. This had the obvious effect of increasing studentsí attention levels, as well as their motivation. In a senior cycle lesson, it was very obvious that the identified learning outcomes were synonymous with the demands of the relevant section of the Home Economics Scientific & Social Syllabus, another very positive trait of the teaching observed. †
In linking new topics to work completed in previous lessons, the opportunity to examine student learning from earlier lessons was fully exploited. In fact, such opportunities were availed of on a constant basis throughout lessons. This approach is praised as it has the effect of highlighting for students the need to listen in class, to ask questions for clarification, and to engage in personal study on a regular basis as part of their home economics homework. To this end, questioning was well utilised. A mixture of global and directed questioning was apparent. Sufficient time was provided to allow students to think about and compose their responses, with subtle prompting from the teacher to support students who demonstrated a difficulty in answering. There were some fine examples of the incorporation of higher-order questions too. This praiseworthy practice is further encouraged. Studentsí answering demonstrated a good level of knowledge of the topics previously explored.
A good selection of resources was prepared and collected for use in lesson delivery. This included lesson-specific handouts and worksheets, recipe sheets, a selection of books, as well as a series of topic-specific props. The incorporation of a range of strategies was also evident in lessons, a number of which sought to involve students directly in the lesson. Both approaches are commended as they ensure variety and keep students interested and therefore engaged. A particularly positive finding is that in the selection of strategies there was an obvious consciousness towards seeking to provide for the preferred learning style of all students, be that auditory, visual or kinaesthetic. This consciousness is to be applauded, and further encouraged. A good, self-evaluation tool in this regard is to ask oneself, both at lesson planning and delivery stages, ĎWhat demands does this lesson place on each of my students?í
Teacher instruction was clear, thorough, accurate and very well informed. At all times it sought to simplify information and thereby made learning more accessible to the students. Where appropriate, this verbal input was supported by the use of pre-prepared acetates. These often contained diagrams that sought to assist the teacher in explaining what could be described as the more abstract concepts of a topic. In addition, it was also supported by the use of the whiteboard to convey simple graphic organisers, such as flow diagrams and tables. It was clear from the very natural note-taking evident in a senior cycle lesson that this is an approach with which the students are very familiar. The inclusion of the key word approach to teaching and learning was also obvious. This not only supported studentsí learning of the more tedious aspects of the topics being explored, but it also allowed for a focus on and development of studentsí †literacy skills. As a result the approach is highly praised. Repetition featured strongly in all lessons, and this facilitated an emphasis on key information and the checking of student understanding. In addition, this also ensured high levels of engagement, as students could not predict when next they might be asked to contribute to lesson content. In all lessons, before moving onto the next stage, students were asked if what they had just heard was clear and if it was understood. With a view to enhancing the already good practice obvious in lessons with regard to checking student understanding, the provision of time as lessons draw to a close to facilitate a lesson recap is suggested. Best practice is where the approach employed forges a link with the learning outcomes identified at lesson outset. Such an approach would provide for the examination of student learning as the lesson draws to a close, while identifying for the teacher aspects that may need to be revisited as part of the next lesson. †††††
In a demonstration lesson, designed to introduce a class of junior cycle students to practical food studies, a strong emphasis was placed on the development of skills, the application of health and safety guidelines, the promotion of the concept of resource management, and the recognition and understanding of good principles of cookery. What this illustrates is the amount of theory that was introduced and discussed as part of this demonstration lesson and the excellent emphasis that was placed on the acquisition of theory in tandem with the development of students practical skills. This approach is very highly praised. Significant efforts were made to involve the students in what is perceived traditionally as a very teacher-based teaching methodology. For example, work stations, consisting of groups of approximately four students, were utilised for the completion of tasks. A group of students was required to weigh the ingredients required for the demonstration, and this provided for a review of the skills that were taught and learnt in the previous weekís lesson. A number of students were also called on to complete aspects of the demonstration. Students were supported in all assigned activities, their participation was monitored, their efforts were encouraged and, as required they were provided with advice and guidance. This is applauded.
Classroom atmosphere was extremely positive. This can be largely attributed to the very favourable interactions observed between students and their teacher. Students were very eager to contribute to lesson content. Classroom walls provided much stimulation for students through the display of subject-specific posters, some of which were designed and produced by the students themselves.
Documents have been prepared which detail the home economics departmentís overall approach to the formal assessment of studentsí progress and achievement in the subject, including its approach to the assignment and monitoring of homework. This is commended.
A range of assessment modes is utilised in determining studentsí progress and achievement in Home Economics. The written assessment papers reviewed as part of the subject inspection demonstrated a consistency with the design and layout of past Certificate examination papers. This is praised. It is very positive that studentsí attainment in all examinable components of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses is assessed, and that a mark, grade or comment relative to each area is provided in relation to this work. This is consistent with syllabus recommendations. The issuing of an aggregate mark in reports, which would provide a more accurate indicator of studentsí actual achievement in Home Economics, whilst also informing expectations relative to the Certificate examinations, is recommended for consideration.
Studentsí completion of previously assigned homework was either monitored or examined at the beginning of each of the lessons observed. Additionally, homework was assigned in each lesson. A review of studentsí copybooks indicated that homework is assigned on a regular basis. Studentsí copybooks also demonstrated that the assigned homework is regularly monitored, with evidence of much annotation of studentsí work. The comments provided affirmed studentsí efforts, whilst providing encouragement and direction for future exercises. In addition to the provision of comments it is suggested that, periodically, studentsí homework be also marked and graded. The findings as described are indicative of the importance that is placed on the assigning, monitoring and correction of homework.
Reporting on studentsí progress and achievement in Home Economics is supported by a very strong tradition of record-keeping in the subject department. This tradition is nowhere more obvious than in the maintenance of a results book, which dates back to the early 1980s, which documents studentsí performance in the Certificate examinations. In addition, results in topic tests and in-house examinations are also recorded in the teacherís diary, as are attendance and details relative to studentsí project or journal work. Reporting to parents is made possible by the issuing of three school reports. The Christmas report is issued following class-based tests, while the February and summer reports follow on from the provision of formal, in-house examinations. Furthermore, an annual parent-teacher meeting is organised for each year group. Clearly, it can be concluded therefore that whole-school structures relative to assessment, recording and reporting support the subject departmentís work in the area of assessment.
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 home economics teacher 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