An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Holy Family Secondary School
Newbridge, County Kildare
Roll number: 61682A
††††Date of inspection: 22 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge 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 the teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school 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 the subject teacher.
The music department is staffed by one fully qualified music teacher. Music enjoys a good profile in the school and is available to all year groups as an optional subject and as a core component of the Transition Year (TY) curriculum. Prior to entry in September, first-year students are presented with an open menu of subjects and bands are then formed around their choices. The uptake of Music throughout junior cycle is very good. Fifth-year students are also provided with an open menu from which to choose optional subjects. However, this year, there was insufficient interest in Music to warrant the creation of a music class. This is unfortunate. It is important that both management and the music teacher collaborate regarding strategies to ensure that this does not recur. Such deliberations could include the provision of an appropriate music technology module for TY students which could equip them with the necessary skills to pursue Music at senior cycle. In addition, those students who are skilled at playing an instrument but who have not studied music theory could be considered for entry into senior cycle Music.†
Facilities are appropriate for the teaching and learning of the subject. All resources are acquired through requisition but management is flexible in this regard. This system is working well in the school. One large and spacious room is available and is well equipped. Resources include a white board, stave board, upright piano, digital piano, stereo with a wide range of CDs, over head and multi-media projectors, DVDs, books and magazines. A very vibrant learning atmosphere has also been created. For example, posters, both hand-crafted and professionally printed, were evident. These posters include illustrations of orchestral instruments, technical terms and composing features in Music. A very good level of shelving and cabinets facilitates the storage of all materials. A large concert hall is also available and this is particularly beneficial to the music department for all music productions and concerts.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with syllabus guidelines and it provides an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week. A sufficient number of double periods have been allocated to all year groups to facilitate practical work.
Music technology is very strong in Holy Family Secondary School and it plays an integral part in teaching and learning, essentially in the preparation of students for the practical component of certificate examinations. This preparation is undertaken at lunchtime or after school. Given the very apparent level of teacher competence in this regard, there is scope to increase the use of music technology in lessons. For example, downloading Finale, a free software notation package onto several computers in the computer room will enable access to music technology during music lessons. It will also facilitate greater numbers of students to study this discipline beyond the requirements of the practical certificate examination. Therefore, it is recommended that management and the music department collaborate regarding ways in which music technology can be accessed by a wider number of students.
Information and communications technology (ICT) is also used by the teacher for a variety of purposes such as obtaining resources from the Internet. This is very good practice as it ensures that resources used by the teacher are continuously updated and appropriate to the cohort of students. ICT is also used for the preparation of materials such as worksheets and PowerPoint presentations.
Management is very supportive regarding the professional development needs of the music department. Time is provided to the teacher for attendance at conferences organised by the Post Primary Music Teacher Association (PPMTA). Several choral and conducting courses have also been attended. These include the World Choral Symposium in Copenhagen, a choral movement course in Chicago, choral conducting and ABCD courses in England. In the past, the teacher has played an active role in the PPMTA by providing courses for teachers and compiling revision notes designed specifically for students. This commitment by the music teacher to continuing professional development is commended.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a wide variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is available for students. These include participation in the school choir, Christmas and summer concerts, liturgical ceremonies, the annual school musical, workshops, traditional Irish music and trips to concerts. The contribution of a second member of staff to these activities is noted. This level of provision for the students is very good and both teachers are commended in this regard.
School development planning is ongoing and subject departments are well established. Formal time is allocated to all staff at the start of the academic year for subject planning purposes. The music teacher currently does not meet with any colleagues on these occasions. It is recommended that management ensures that time is used by the music department to collaborate with other similarly sized departments. This will provide valuable support to the music department during the planning process and for the writing of the plan.
A detailed music plan was presented containing documentation outlining the running of this department. Cross-curricular planning was highlighted along with long-term curriculum planning that scheduled the topics to be covered. These were relevant to the syllabus and to the requirements of the certificate examinations. In addition, homework and assessment procedures and a detailed catalogue of all resources were also included in the plan. A TY plan was also provided and a number of topics were included. At the core of this programme is the provision of opportunities for students to participate in practical music-making activities and to assume responsibility for their own learning through engagement with project work. These are good practices.
It is very apparent that meticulous planning is an important feature of the music department. This was evident for example, by the number of resources that have been devised by the teacher, systematic recording of work taught in each lesson and the high level of ICT which is used. Students are also afforded the opportunity to input into the plan. For example, any requests by students to learn a song are welcomed by the teacher and integrated into subsequent lessons when they can be used meaningfully to highlight a specific learning purpose. This form of negotiated learning is very good practice. To build on this very good work, it is recommended that future planning now include the development of schemes of work outlining short-term content for the year, methodologies, student learning outcomes and resources to be used.†
In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. ICT was integrated very successfully into 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 very supportive and affirming learning environment. In addition to the whiteboard, stereo, piano, handouts and ICT, teaching and learning were supported by a wide range of teaching methodologies. Students were challenged and motivated by all activities and clearly engaged with the content of lessons, which was varied. This is commended.
Examples of sound music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on composing activities, introducing new material or performing. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. Careful attention was paid to the inclusion of music-technical language and students displayed an appropriate level of competence in this regard. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students through well-structured and varied activities. The three disciplines of Music, listening, composing and performing, were well synthesised in all lessons observed. For example, students were requested to sing the main themes in Morning, a movement from their prescribed work The Peer Gynt Suite, to further reinforce their understanding of the work. Teaching was rooted in the sound before symbol approach for music composing. For example, the song You are not Alone was used to demonstrate key components of harmony.
Good learning was seen through composing and analysis, skill development, progressive refinement in all activities and a thorough consolidation and reinforcement of previously learnt material. A collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-to-peer interaction and purposeful group work was observed, where the teacher guided students through various stages and facilitated a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment. Learning was frequently assessed by the teacher through the systematic monitoring of all class-based assignments.
Lesson content and pace were appropriate at all times to all class groups. All lessons were well structured, logical and sequential. Student initiative and creativity were encouraged through independent and collaborative learning opportunities. All resources were effectively integrated into all lessons. Questioning strategies were generally limited to global questions directed at the entire class. Effective use should now be made of targeted questioning to individuals to encourage all students to become involved in their learning. Practical activities were well organised. Students were provided with ample opportunity to warm up before singing songs.
Classroom management was very effective and discipline was sensitively maintained. A very warm rapport was evident and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere helped to create a good learning environment. High expectations of the students, commensurate with their abilities, were set. A good level of student enthusiasm for the subject was evident. Attendance was duly recorded in all lessons observed.
Students demonstrated an appropriate level of knowledge in their responses to questions and in their written work. Students are clearly provided with opportunities to experience a broad music education. For example, references were frequently made to different genres to demonstrate technical concepts. This is good practice. Students are well organised and purposeful in their work and achievement in certificate examinations is good. †
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 and practical assessments. End-of-topic tests are also set. Ongoing monitoring of students in lessons also occurs and in some cases, methods and content were modified in response to studentsí needs. Practical elements are continually assessed and students perform in class regularly. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the certificate examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a studentís progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in the certificate examinations and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.
It is noted that the music department does not conduct a statistical analysis of music certificate examinations results. It is therefore recommended that the department accesses and analyses student attainment in certificate examinations at the beginning of each academic year. This would allow the department to engage meaningfully with internal examination trends and to ensure that these fully reflect the abilities of the students.†
In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Studentsí work is frequently monitored and records of all assessments are kept by the teacher. Comments are also provided which outline guidelines for improvement. This is good practice. In addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas and summer, annual 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.
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, June 2009