An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Harbour Road, Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63290Q
Date of inspection: 7 and 8 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Mullingar. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History 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 and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an 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 of this report.
Loreto College, Mullingar offers History as a core subject for Junior Certificate. Timetabling provision for History is very good with three periods a week for Junior Cycle classes and five periods a week at Leaving Certificate level. In Transition Year (TY) students have three history periods a week across the full year. This is commendable. There is a good spread of lessons between morning and afternoon across all year groups.
The arrangements for student access to the subject at Leaving Certificate level are very good and there are good uptake levels of History to Leaving Certificate. Students are offered an open choice when choosing subjects for Leaving Certificate and are well supported when making that choice. This is praiseworthy. Every year the school organises an information morning on subject choices for prospective Leaving Certificate students. This provides them with an opportunity to speak to Leaving Certificate students already studying the subject. An information talk for parents is also organised. The history department has also produced a handout for students entitled “Why study Leaving Certificate History”. These measures are commendable.
In terms of broader provision, management is open to providing resources to history teachers on a needs basis. Some resources are stored centrally and the library has a small stock of history books. To build on this good work, it is recommended that, early each year, the department consider what resources are required to support the teaching and learning of History in the school and build up their resources in this fashion. It is commendable that the department has started to put together a folder of teacher-produced resources suitable for each year group. It is suggested that these resources are stored electronically as well as in hard-copy form in a history folder on the school’s intranet system.
Students in the school are classroom-based in the main and the majority of teachers move from one classroom to another. While it is acknowledged that this system has some advantages, it can create difficulty around the creation of a subject-related stimulating learning environment for students and the use and storage of teaching resources. It is recommended that management review current practice regarding room allocation for History.
The school has wireless broadband available in each room and teachers have access to information and communication technology (ICT) equipment. It was noted that ICT is used by teachers in the preparation of resources, but is not routinely used to support teaching and learning in the classroom. It is recommended that history teachers have easy access to a screen and a data-projector or overhead projector, when resources permit, in order to extend their use of ICT in the classroom.
Senior cycle teachers’ attendance at in-service sessions given by the History In-Service Team (HIST) over the past few years has been facilitated by management. This is praiseworthy.
At present there are seven teachers of History in the school, one of whom is the history co-ordinator. Some of the teachers are members of the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland (HTAI), one having held the office of secretary of the local branch. Such commitment is applauded. The willingness of school management to pay teacher subscription fees to the HTAI from the school year 2009/10 is noted and commended as a good support to history teaching in the school. At present only one teacher is involved in teaching Leaving Certificate History. It is recommended that a greater range of teachers be given the experience of teaching History to both junior and senior cycle level to build capacity within the department.
Good departmental planning is in place. Department meetings are held four times a year. The departmental folder includes the minutes of meetings, the aims and objectives and curriculum content planning for Junior Certificate History, a broad outline of the programme in Transition Year (TY) History, as well as a list of methodologies relevant to history teaching. Also included is a draft English as an additional language (EAL) policy and draft special educational needs policy. These policies have been adapted from the school policies and relate specifically to the teaching and learning of History. It is commendable that the history department plans for the inclusion of all students. It was noted that none of the school planning documents deals with History at Leaving Certificate level. It is recommended that planning for Leaving Certificate History be included in the history departmental plan. This could be based on the comprehensive individual planning documentation made available during the evaluation.
It is recommended that teaching and learning and suitable methodologies be discussed at departmental planning meetings and included in the department plan. The plan should also contain a catalogue of the history resources available in the school, which should be updated as new resources are acquired.
Individual planning for lessons observed was good and in all instances teachers had prepared a good range of resources to support their teaching. Some commendable work in the areas of co-curricular planning was evident. For example, at senior cycle, visits to the school by a local historian and a visit to the local library are good supports for students undertaking the Leaving Certificate History research study. Planning for field trips and cross-curricular projects were in evidence at junior cycle level. Very good planning for the inclusion of students with additional educational needs was apparent in some instances. This is to be commended.
Good quality teaching and learning was in evidence in the majority of lessons observed. In all of the classrooms visited students were attentive and cooperative. In almost all of the lessons observed the teacher introduced the learning objective of the lesson by either writing it on the blackboard or in one instance by affixing a relevant poster to the board. This is good practice and should be extended to all lessons.
A good range of methodologies was observed during the course of the inspection. These included the use of teacher questioning to check and develop understanding, the use of film and the use of individual and pair work. Modern-day analogies and humour were used to engage student interest and this is commended. For example in a first-year lesson on the Renaissance students were helped to understand the concept of mirror-writing by reference to how a logo on a t-shirt looks when viewed in a mirror. In the main, the learning activities were well managed and there were smooth transitions between one activity and the next.
A very good range of resources, many of them produced by individual teachers, including a card sorting exercise, hand-outs, cloze tests, word-searches, laminated pictures and a short-film clip were used to further student engagement. Good use of visuals to cement student understanding was seen in all classes. This is in accordance with best practice. To further build on this good practice it is recommended that teachers investigate strategies whereby the use of ICT is extended as a learning tool in the classroom.
The use of differentiated resources and support for students identified as having special educational needs or EAL students is highly commendable. For example, in one junior cycle lesson a student had been supplied with a folder with translations of key words associated with the topic and a dictionary to support her learning. In another junior cycle class some students were working on differentiated work sheets. In many lessons, teachers checked student understanding of difficult terminology. These commendable strategies could be enhanced even further if the teacher noted key words on the board and encouraged students to note them in their copybooks. This also encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning and is a good aid to retention.
Some good examples of the promotion of active learning strategies were seen in the course of the inspection. The use of a pair-work sorting exercise where students were encouraged to put a set of cards detailing the series of historical events leading up to World War 11 in chronological order and the use of a cloze test with a junior cycle class are two such examples. These methodologies encourage students to be active in their own learning. In a minority of lessons there was an imbalance between teacher input and student activity and students were passive in their learning. It is recommended that teachers look at more ways to encourage student participation and self-directed learning in the classroom. It is also recommended that cooperative learning strategies be developed through the expansion of pair-work or group-work.
When questioned by the inspector, students were knowledgeable about course content and their oral and written responses demonstrated good quality learning. Teaching in all cases was relevant to the syllabus and in line with history department plans as detailed in the planning folder.
Good assessment strategies were noted during the course of the inspection. Informal assessment techniques observed included oral questioning and the monitoring of homework. Oral questioning was a feature of all lessons observed. In most lessons a good range of questioning was used and some fine examples of higher-order questioning were in evidence in some instances. In every lesson observed relevant homework was assigned. This is commended. An examination of a sample of copybooks and folders showed, in most instances, a range of comprehensive work with frequent monitoring of work evident. Good examples of formative assessment were seen at senior level where constructive feedback was provided to students. It is recommended that Assessment for Learning (AfL) principles be further developed and that more detailed feedback on strengths and areas that require further improvement be provided in students’ written work. It is recommended that at junior cycle level teachers should ensure that their students become familiar with the concept of ‘significant relevant statements’, as outlined in the Junior Certificate marking schemes available on http://www.examinations.ie/. This could be a useful formative tool which shows students how to develop their writing skills in History.
End of topic tests were in evidence in many instances. This is good practice. Formal testing takes place before Christmas and summer holidays. The use of common papers across all junior cycle groupings is praiseworthy. The use of differentiated tests within the mixed ability groupings is highly commended and underlines the school’s commitment to the inclusion of all students. At senior level the use of a continuous assessment component in the summer exam is a good aid to students undertaking the research study.
Teachers keep good progress records of student achievement which are used to inform parents of student progress at parent-teacher meetings. These meetings are held once a year for each year group.
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 History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The History Teachers were happy with the content of the History Inspection Report.
The Board of Management feel that this is an affirmation of the History Teaching in the School.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Teachers in Leaving Certificate History: Three teachers have expressed an interest in teaching Leaving Certificate History and have attended the in-service training.
Resources: In order to centralise History resources, a cabinet will be purchased and located in a room where senior History will be timetabled. The on-line folder is being explored by History Teachers also.
ICT: A number of data projectors have been purchased and training organised.
Formative Assessment Strategies: History Teachers are introducing a project component to the assessment of 1st Year History. Other assessment for learning techniques are being discussed and trialled by teachers.