An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre

Clonmel, County Tipperary

Roll number: 65320J

 

Date of inspection: 22 January 2008

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na mBráithre, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English 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 teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel is an all-boys school. Classes in first year have five English lessons per week. This is good provision. Classes in second year and in third year have four English lessons per week. This is adequate provision. Two English lessons have been scheduled on the same day in the case of a number of classes in second year and in third year. Consequently the classes involved do not make contact with the subject on two days during the week. This is not ideal and this arrangement should be avoided in the future, if at all practicable. The inevitable constraints of the timetabling process are, however, recognised in making this observation. English classes in Transition Year (TY) are provided with three English lessons per week. This is adequate provision. English classes in fifth year and in sixth year have five English lessons per week. This is good provision. All classes in fifth year and in sixth year are concurrent. There is also some concurrent timetabling between classes in second year and in third year. This is worthwhile, facilitating students’ movement between classes and levels where necessary. Teachers are allocated to levels and cycles on a rotational basis. This arrangement is strongly commended as it ensures the maintenance of a wide skills base across the English department. There is a formal induction process in the school for new teachers, alongside good, informal subject induction procedures. This is positive and it is suggested that subject induction procedures might also be formalised to ensure continued ease of transition for teachers who are new to the English department.

 

Classes in junior cycle are of mixed ability. Students are encouraged to attempt the higher level Junior Certificate examination if at all practicable. The future ‘setting’ of English classes in second year and in third year is currently under consideration by the English department. This is being examined with a view to catering for the diverse needs of learners as they have developed over the last number of years. The maintenance of a mixed-ability approach to class groups in first year is envisaged. This is positive and the suitability of such an approach in first year is supported by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication Moving Up: The Experiences of First-Year Students in Post-Primary Education. A further useful resource from the NCCA which could be investigated with regard to the arrangement of classes in junior cycle is Pathways through the Junior Cycle: The Experiences of Second Year Students. Both of these publications may be accessed through the NCCA website at www.ncca.ie. Beyond this, the recent Department of Education and Science (DES) Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (pp.50-57) contains useful information with regard to possible models of class organisation in core subjects. There is a single TY class group which is a mixed-ability group. This is positive as it is consistent with the aims and spirit of the TY programme. Classes in fifth year and in sixth year are set. Students are allocated to these classes on the basis of their results in the pre-Junior Certificate examination in third year, their results in the Junior Certificate examination, student preference and their performance in the TY programme, where applicable. This latter consideration is particularly important, given the potential for TY to serve in developing students’ maturity and learning skills. This year the English department agreed to review student placements in October, based on records of work in English classes over the previous two months. This is worthwhile as a further means of informing students’ choice of level. Students generally retain their English teachers for their Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate studies. This is good practice, facilitating the development of consistent pedagogical strategies with particular class groups.

 

There is a bright and attractive library which is open at lunchtime on Thursdays. TY and fifth-year students are involved in facilitating this arrangement, while other means of broadening access to the library are also being discussed. There is a wide selection of up-to-date teen fiction, along with a selection of different periodicals and magazines. There are bright displays regarding students’ achievements and other topics around the room. In addition, library furniture has been set out in the room, creating a sense of a ‘different space’ to the rest of the school building which is further enhanced through the provision of armchairs in some parts of the room. The library has been named after a past teacher of the school, adding to a sense of its place in the culture and history of Ardscoil na mBráithre. It is anticipated that a number of computers will soon be installed in the library. The ongoing work in developing the library is to be strongly praised. The recognition of the library as a powerful resource in supporting learning and teaching is to be strongly encouraged. Potential ideas for inclusion as this project progresses might include the occasional display of laminated student reviews of books, the appropriate use of DEAR (‘Drop Everything and Read’) time as part of a reading programme in junior cycle classes, the purchase of readalong books and the creation of ‘cosy corners’ to encourage reluctant readers. A potential resource in this area is the website www.jcspliteracy.ie which contains a useful evaluation report of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project and the various strategies adopted to harness the school library as a key tool in the development of students’ literature. There is currently a reading initiative underway in first year, which has been organised by English teachers. This is worthwhile, as is the use of ‘book boxes’ by some teachers with their class groups in the promotion of reading.

 

English teachers have access to audio-visual equipment in several areas of the school. This is positive and it is suggested that the school should seek to incrementally increase the availability of audio-visual equipment in classrooms over time. This would serve to enhance teachers’ ability to incorporate visual materials into their work, thus furthering the development of teaching and learning in the subject.

 

The use by teachers of information and communications technology (ICT) was observed during the evaluation, with illustrations and other information garnered from the internet being used in lessons. Computer access is available in the staffroom. Beyond this, broadband internet access is available in all classrooms and the computer room may be booked for use by a class group through a booking sheet. All of this is commendable. The English department is encouraged to continue to develop its use of ICT, both in the areas of planning and preparation for lessons and in the teaching and learning process itself as the school continues to expand ICT facilities in mainstream classrooms. In particular, the department is encouraged to investigate the use of wordprocessing packages at appropriate times by students both inside of and outside of English classrooms. Wordprocessing will serve to heighten students’ awareness of the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing. Beyond this, the investigation of the use of webquests and the creation of an English ‘favourites’ list of websites might be considered, alongside other developments in the area of English and ICT.

 

The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) and funds an membership of the relevant subject association for a nominated department member. This is commendable. Teachers have availed of continuing professional development opportunities in the past. English teachers are encouraged to avail of inservice opportunities where possible, not only in the area of the specific subject, English, but also in other areas of pedagogy which may prove useful. Information on possible courses can be garnered from the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie. Material from inservice training courses has also been brought to the attention of all members of the English department and is stored in the subject folder. All of this is commendable and the return of CPD material and information could become a regular element of the subject planning process, where this is felt to be worthwhile. Such an approach will serve to inform and develop the already good practice which exists in the English department.

 

Planning and preparation

 

There is a subject coordinator for English. This is worthwhile. At present the coordinator is appointed on a voluntary basis with a teacher being nominated at the departmental meeting in September. This is positive and it is suggested that the position of coordinator should be filled on a rotational basis, thus allowing for the development of a wide leadership skills base within the English department. Beyond this, such an arrangement will ensure that the duties of coordinator do not become onerous for any one individual. There are two formal meetings of the English department each year, with one in September and one in May. In addition, fifth year English teachers held a formal meeting in October of this academic year. Additional subject-meeting time was provided in January of last year to allow for the preparation of subject files. Additional meetings are facilitated on request. Minutes of departmental meetings are kept in the subject folder. The most recent focus of departmental meetings has been around timetabling arrangements, textbooks and arrangements for fifth year students. All of this is positive and, it is suggested that the current practice of allocating time for three formal meetings of the English department per year should be consolidated. In making this suggestion, the difficulties inherent in organising a subject meeting for a large teaching team are recognised. The possibility of allowing for sub-groups of teachers dealing with particular cycles or year groups to meet could be examined as one solution to this difficulty.

 

Subject department planning is in the early stages of development. Common plans have been created. This is worthwhile and the work that has gone into these plans is to be praised. There is a subject folder which contains several documents relevant to the teaching of English. Among these is the DES Inspectorate publication Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. It is recommended that work on the development of the subject plan should continue. Initially this work should focus on the further development of the common plans for English. These plans should be time-linked, syllabus-based and learning-goal oriented. The common plans for each year group should be developed on an incremental basis. Other areas which would typically form part of the subject-planning process include the analysis of results and uptake in the state examinations versus national norms, the investigation of possible new novels and plays for use in senior and in junior cycle, and the potential of ICT in English. A further suggestion is the incorporation of a separate page, to be included in the subject folder, setting out methodologies for use in the teaching of English.

 

English teachers are involved in organising a range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Among these are included public speaking in TY, lunch-time debates (including an anticipated debating league this year for second, third, TY and fifth year students), Toastmasters in TY, an annual show with TY and fifth year students, theatre trips and involvement in a number of debating competitions. Teachers’ commitment in coordinating all of these activities is to be lauded.

 

Texts are varied in junior and in senior cycle. This is worthwhile as it enables teachers to suit novels and plays to class context and interest, while simultaneously facilitating teachers’ professional development through encounters with new texts. The English department is encouraged to continue to vary texts studied in junior and senior cycle, where practicable and within syllabus guidelines. At present there are two novels and two plays studied by students during the junior cycle. It is suggested that the possibility of studying an additional novel over the course of the junior cycle might profitably be considered. A further point which the English department should explore is the synchronising of poems studied at higher level and ordinary level in the Leaving Certificate course. This should be considered in order to facilitate students’ movement between levels in senior cycle.

 

There is an original and worthwhile TY English programme. This incorporates a range of active approaches to the study of English and work done by students during TY is displayed during the TY night. This is all very worthwhile. The English department is referred to www.transitionyear.ie, the website of the TY support service. Included on the website, in the ‘resources’ area, is a document entitled Writing the Transition Year Programme which could be used as a template for the consolidation of current planning in TY. Beyond this, the development of a portfolio system to aid assessment in TY English could be considered.

 

There was a consistent and good level of awareness on the part of English teachers regarding the particular learning needs of students in their classes. There is formal communication between the special educational needs department and the English department at the beginning of the school year regarding students in first year with special educational needs. English teachers also refer students to the special educational needs department where appropriate. These arrangements are worthwhile. An especially positive feature of provision for students with special educational neds in Ardscoil na mBráithre is the use of team-teaching in some lessons. This is worthwhile and further information with regard to developing this model can be accessed in the DES Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs:Post-Primary Guidelines which has been mentioned earlier in this report. There has been whole-staff inservice training in the area of special needs. This is commendable and individual teachers can extend their understanding and practice in this area through courses offered by ICEP Europe which can be accessed through the website of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) at www.sess.ie. It is notable that a number of members of the English department have taken opportunities to extend their expertise in this area in the past.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

There is a dedicated and professional English teaching team. Planning was presented in almost all cases. In one instance the manner in which the choice of text had been made was noteworthy, with students adding their opinions to the choice of what should be studied. This was worthwhile as a means of enhancing student engagement and motivation through the accessing of ‘student voice.’ Objectives were clear in lessons and particularly good practice was observed in a number of lessons where teachers explicitly set out at the beginning of the lesson what was to be covered and achieved by the end of the lesson. This assessment for learning approach is to be applauded as a means of focusing students on the work at hand. Many lessons began with a brief question and answer session to recapitulate work which had previously been undertaken. In one, senior cycle, class the reading homework assigned the previous night was evaluated using a photocopied sheet made up of photographs which could be linked to the text in question. Not only did this encourage personal response on the part of students, it also focused on the development of their visual literacy, an important element in the Leaving Certificate course. Beyond this, the use of a visual resource was valuable as a means of differentiating the ways in which students were facilitated in engaging with the text. Teachers were universally affirming to students during the course of English lessons.

 

A range of resources was used in the teaching of English. Among these were included photocopied resources, downloaded material from the internet, textbooks, the blackboard, artefacts from World War 2 and props for an exercise in Drama in Education. These were worthwhile and the success of the concrete artefacts from the Second World War and the theatre props was clear to see, with students engaging enthusiastically with the texts they represented. It is suggested that the expansion of the use of visual and concrete resources in the teaching of English should be explored. English teachers have built up a large store of resources to support teaching and learning in the subject and this is positive. During the evaluation, the use of a dictionary was observed during a number of lessons. This is good practice and the English department is encouraged to incorporate the regular use of a dictionary and thesaurus as part of students’ everyday classroom activities. This point is especially relevant in the context of those English as an Additional Language (EAL) students who are enrolled. In a number of instances the blackboard was used with admirable clarity and organisation in order to consolidate work done in class. This is worthwhile, particularly in the context of the wide range of learning needs which may be present in any classroom at a particular time.

 

Questioning of students in order to evaluate learning and to develop work in lessons featured strongly. This was done particularly effectively where students’ answers were consolidated on the blackboard clearly and where students’ answers were waited upon by teachers in order to encourage students’ independent learning. On occasion, the use of pair work as a means of eliciting responses from those students who were more reluctant to participate might have been worth considering.

 

There was some use of active methodologies and differentiated teaching strategies in English lessons. Particularly impressive during the course of one, senior cycle, lesson was the use of a ‘freeze-frame’ and ‘thought–tracking’, with the aid of props, which focused students’ attention on the text while also encouraging a personal response with regard to the characters in the play being studied. Students were also divided into groups for this exercise, allowing for discussion and the particular strengths of different students to be utilised as part of each group. In another lesson, students were guided towards homework which was to be based on both written and visual responses to the characters they were encountering in a novel. This was worthwhile and might have been further expanded with a view to allowing for the development of maps and various exercises in different genres, alongside the use of web-based research. A genre transfer exercise was undertaken by students in a junior cycle lesson, with students rewriting a short story in dramatic form. This was a very good strategy, ensuring students’ engagement with and comprehension of, the text at hand. An additional possibility here might have been to encourage peer assessment of the product at the end of the task. Beyond these examples, however, the use of active methodologies and differentiated teaching strategies was limited during English lessons. Therefore it is recommended that the English department should investigate the further expansion of its use of such strategies.

 

A feature of most lessons was a focus on the use of language in texts being examined. This focus was effectively sustained in one lesson where students’ own observations regarding language were sought and, in turn, consolidated on the blackboard. In another lesson a creative model was distributed to students and their attention was drawn to the various aspects of the piece as it was read through, with key phrases connected to the genre being examined highlighted by the teacher. This, in turn, fed into to students’ own written work, a most effective strategy. In other lessons words and stylistic devices were highlighted as work progressed.

 

There was good classroom management in all cases. In one instance this might have been enhanced through greater teacher mobility. Humour was used effectively as a classroom management tool on occasion and there were a number of examples of dynamic and energetic teacher presentations. Students displayed good knowledge of texts being studied when questioned. Students were generally engaged by lessons. In a number of instances the level of student engagement might have been increased through a shift in methodology during the course of the lesson, which would have served as an aid to pacing. In addition, the employment of pair work as a means of eliciting answers from those students who were less inclined to actively participate in the lesson would have been beneficial. In one instance, the employment of text-marking from the beginning of the lesson in order to focus students on the exercise they were to undertake after reading a text would have added to their engagement.

 

There was an impressive print-rich environment throughout the school corridors. The recent purchase of two LCD television screens which are displayed in the main assembly area is also noteworthy as the school moves towards developing these into digital communication screens for the student body. There was also some evidence of the development of a print-rich environment in classrooms. In one, junior cycle, classroom this was particularly notable. Beyond this, evidence was furnished of previous displays which English teachers had developed in classrooms in connection with the subject. The difficulties in developing a print-rich environment in rooms which are not teacher baserooms are noted; nevertheless it is suggested that this remains a worthwhile avenue for the English department to explore, particularly with the diverse learning needs which are currently presenting in the school in the area of literacy development. The potential for a ‘subject’ baseroom for English to be developed, allowing for the display of keywords, character diagrams and students work in different genres might profitably be examined. Alternatively, the creation of an ‘English’ noticeboard on the corridors of the school might be worthwhile as either an area in which current newspaper reports could be presented or as a space for displays of genre work by different class groups on a rotational basis through the year. Such a development should be considered worthwhile, catering to students’ awareness of audience when they are writing, encouraging a consciousness of the need to draft and redraft material and encouraging student motivation and self-esteem with regard to their work. Beyond this, such approaches would fit comfortably with the overall ethos of the school so clearly displayed on its corridors and other public areas.

 

Assessment

 

There is a homework policy. This states that teachers will ‘set homework which matches the ability and needs of the student’ and lists a wide range of possible homework activities for students to attempt. This is a well-thought out document, particularly due to the manner in which it places a clear emphasis on the need for differentiation in the setting of homework. As an extension of this very good work, it is suggested that the English department might profitably set out to ‘break down’ some of the writing and other tasks mentioned in the policy into the possible range of genres to be explored in English lessons. Other potential means of consolidating students’ knowledge through homework, such as ‘mindmaps’ and writing frames, particularly in the case of students who may be experiencing difficulties in literacy development, might also be delineated.

 

There was evidence of formative, comment-based correction in most cases. This is good practice. In one, senior cycle, class, the use of the PCLM (Clarity of purpose, coherence of delivery, efficiency of language use, accuracy of mechanics) marking system, utilised in the Leaving Certificate examination, was observed. This was very worthwhile, encouraging awareness on the part of students of the rubrics governing marking in their upcoming examination. English teachers are encouraged to continue with the current practice of comment-based, formative assessment and to expand it where practicable and within time constraints. This might be aided through the adoption of, for example, peer assessment and self assessment, based on clearly set out criteria. This and other assessment for learning approaches could be profitably investigated by the English department on the website of the NCCA at www.ncca.ie and might ultimately inform the development of an assessment policy as part of the English department subject plan regarding practice in English lessons. Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in all cases. In particular, one teacher’s reference to the use of A4 copies in a senior cycle class as being based on the creation of a ‘centre for excellence’ for students’ written work was noteworthy.

 

There was some evidence of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in students’ homework. This took the form of personal accounts of events from a particular character’s point of view in a short story, along with diary entries and newspaper articles connected to literature being studied. This is good practice and it is recommended that the English department should continue to develop and expand its use of an integrated approach to the teaching of English in both classwork and in homework and this practice should be incorporated in the subject plan. This will allow for literature to act as a ‘springboard’ to the language part of the course and vice versa.

 

Formal mock examinations are organised for those students who will participate in the state examinations at the end of the school year. Formal house examinations are organised for other year groups in the summer. Teachers also assess students’ performance through class tests organised at the end of terms or upon completion of particular topics. Beyond this, classwork is regularly monitored by teachers, along with student presentations and project work. A very positive feature of the collaborative atmosphere which exists between English teachers is the practice of consulting with colleagues on how state-examinations marking schemes would gauge  the performance of students in particular exercises. This practice might easily be extended to include the occasional marking of each others’ class groups by English teachers, in order to further inform, and moderate, in-house marking practices. Currently common examinations are not set for the various year groups. It is recommended that common examinations should be developed in junior cycle year groups. The creation of the common subject plan, mentioned earlier in this report, should greatly facilitate the setting of common examinations in particular year groups. Common examinations will not only allow for a clear view of students’ performance across a year group, it will also eliminate needless duplication of work by teachers. It is suggested that a further extension of this practice, which could be explored, would be the setting of some common components of examinations where students are studying different levels in the subject.

 

There is one parent teacher meeting per year group each year. In addition, parents are kept informed regarding students’ progress through school reports which issue to them at Christmas, summer and following the mock examinations. Beyond this, teachers maintain contact with parents through use of the student diary, copybooks and homework letters. These arrangements are positive.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

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 English and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

  

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Inspection Report School Response Form

 

 

            Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

The School Authorities welcome the very positive report on the quality of teaching and learning of English and the recognition of the facilities and environment that supports the ongoing development of the language within the school. The Board is happy that the teaching team are commended for their interest in developing the subject and that the report recognises the fact that there is a dedicated and professional teaching team. The strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the views of the Board and the School Authorities will continue to build and develop these strengths into the future.

 

The inspection report will be helpful, supportive and formative in developing curricular plans and in moving towards an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the course.