Subject Inspection Report – Music

SUBJECT INSPECTION REPORT

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Paul’s Community College. 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 teacher, 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 deputy principal and subject teacher. 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.

SUBJECT PROVISION AND WHOLE SCHOOL SUPPORT

Music is available as an optional subject to all students in all years in St Paul’s Community College. A taster system operates in first year whereby all students study Music for the entire year and then make their choices for Junior Certificate by placing, in order of preference, four subjects from a list of nine with a view to studying three of these. The format of the optional Transition Year (TY) programme has changed this year and so Music is unavailable. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students prioritise their preferred subjects with a view to studying four out of their five preferences. At present there is a very small uptake in second year and no third year or TY group. In previous years Music in senior cycle seemed to have been offered on alternate years only. Although the numbers in senior cycle are healthy at present, given that there are no music groups in third year and TY, sustaining the subject could be difficult in the future. This is a worrying trend and it is recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake for Music.

Timetable provision for Music is in line with Departmental guidelines with an appropriate spread of contact time throughout the week. The first year taster programme is organised so that each group has one double period per week. It is recommended that, in as far as is practicable, first years be timetabled for two single periods per week as more frequent exposure to the subject may encourage a greater uptake. That said, having a sufficient number of double periods in other year groups to facilitate practical work is commendable.

In addition to the curricular opportunities, an array of extra-curricular musical activities exists in the school. In-house lunchtime concerts, a talent show, band competitions, Christmas carol service, prize night and end-of-year services are just some of the many activities that continue right throughout the school year. In addition, workshops and performances from visiting musicians take place in the school, such as the Samba initiative and céilís. Trips to concerts and other musical events are also available for students studying Music, and at the time of the inspection, arrangements had been put in place for a trip to the Cork Pops schools’ concert in Cork the following day. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are commendable.

St Paul’s Community College has a dedicated music room which is spacious and bright, has good acoustics and is very well resourced. The room is appropriately equipped with a piano, a sound system, classroom instruments, a drum kit, three computers, chalkboard, and a portable whiteboard. The room also has a TV with video and DVD players and two adjoining rooms, providing ample storage and practice space. There is an attractive range of musical posters on the walls, examples of students’ work, and bulletin boards with notices and information about various aspects of music. This is commendable as it all serves to heighten an awareness of Music and the musical activities that go on in the school. This investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved, which is commendable. In order to optimise the students’ music learning experiences, the ongoing development of resources should be continued however, and should include further development of information and communications technology (ICT) and the acquisition of an overhead projector (OHP). It may be worthwhile replacing the chalkboard with a whiteboard as chalk dust is not kind to either electronic equipment or to musical instruments. This board could also double as a projection area.

Despite this well-resourced department, there is one serious shortcoming. The windows cannot be opened and the extractor fan has been broken since last year. This has resulted in very poor ventilation in this room, experienced first hand during the inspection. After a half an hour, the oppressive air was overpowering and by the end of the day quite nauseating. It is strongly recommended that this issue be resolved as not only does it impact on both the teacher’s and students’ work, but it is also a health and safety issue. The windows are due to be replaced, but as no date has been given for this it is recommended that this be expedited as a matter of urgency.

PLANNING AND PREPARATION

A good level of planning for the development of Music exists in St Paul’s Community School. Comprehensive programmes of work, scheduling the topics to be covered, were presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the wide range of ability of the students in question. Subject planning outlining the broad plan for each class group, included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets, an organised and comprehensive stock of support material suitable for all levels and differentiated teaching strategies. It was good to note also, that this planning documentation was a flexible working document which was reviewed according to the student profile. It would be timely if a five-year development plan for the music department was instigated at this stage. This could include planning for resources with a particular emphasis on technology, curricular plans to include the role of ICT in teaching and learning, the re-introduction of a music module for TY and strategies which could be put in place in order to increase the uptake for the subject.

In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio and visual resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.

The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords the teacher the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. In addition, the teacher avails of any ongoing training courses which contribute to overall continuing professional development (CPD). This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.

TEACHING AND LEARNING

In all lessons visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere. The music teacher created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts. Effective questioning to named students was employed to evaluate prior learning and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter.

Examples of appropriate music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited, whether the lesson focused on listening activities, analysis, or performing. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students, the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability and the teaching was supportive to all students. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students through well-structured and varied activities. Good learning was seen through listening and analysis, skill development, trial and error, and progressive refinement in all activities. The repertoire chosen for performance was suitable for the age levels while the approaches chosen contributed to the quality of learning and are to be commended.

The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. Learning methods which were appealing to the students, such as devising their own key words to remember the features of prescribed material and attractive and stimulating worksheets, did much to ensure that the students were actively engaged in purposeful work. Information was presented with a good degree of clarity and skilful teacher demonstration on the cello enhanced understanding and is commendable. Multiple entry points of understanding specifically visual, aural and experiential, were skilfully used by the teacher. This was exemplified by consistent cross-referencing with aspects familiar to the students such as comparing ‘Sunrise In The Alps’ with the Comeragh mountain range, linking a bass line in a Mozart concerto with the foundations of a house and the bass guitar in a rock band, and playing the cello solo from the William Tell Overture and reinforcing this with the words “Whenever this music is played you’ll remember me sitting down playing the cello”. Anytime the students completed worksheets or exercises connected to a specific piece of music, the extract was played while the students were writing, once more consolidating the material covered, and providing more listening opportunities.

A good range of teaching strategies to promote the students’ own self-learning skills was also seen. A collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive 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. Some notable examples included improvising using the words ‘exhilaration’, ‘anticipation’ and ‘contentment’ as stimuli, and group composing which conjured up impressions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and connected into Raymond Deane’s Seachanges, one of the prescribed works for the Leaving Certificate examination. This atmosphere of autonomous learning with the teacher as facilitator and enabler is highly commendable and contributes to students taking responsibility for their own learning.

All lessons observed had an aural focus and included performing opportunities, which is commendable. As well as the composing and improvising activities referred to above, students also sang and played a variety of pieces such as California Dreaming, On My Own, The River, and When She Loved Me. Total student participation in all these activities enhanced the quality of learning and is commendable. The linking of activities and active participation by the students is commendable and does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material. It also extends the range of musical experience of the students and is highly effective in developing critical listening skills. This focus on building the role of music as a living subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy practical music-making are entirely appropriate and highly commendable.

The resources available in the music room, particularly the range of instruments, are used to very good effect and contribute to a very effective learning environment. It is recommended however, that ways in which an OHP could be used effectively in a music-teaching setting be explored, as it would greatly enhance students’ learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated questions on the board, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance students’ engagement and allow for more appropriate posture when performing on instruments or singing, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, as the plan is to develop ICT, some consideration should be given to looking at ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting.

The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are well addressed in St Paul’s Community College, and they are linked and integrated in a balanced way. A positive learning environment was evident in all classes observed, and it contributed to an enjoyment of music for the students. This positive learning environment, the use of varied learning methods and strategies which were used to increase and develop their aural awareness, understanding and appreciation of music are highly commendable.

ASSESSMENT

In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders and copybooks were very well organised and generally neat in appearance. These contained a range of materials and coursework, and the good organisational habits which were established in the junior cycle were a significant means of support for the less able student. Students’ work is checked regularly by the teacher, both to monitor standards of work completed and to ensure that all relevant work is filed and stored appropriately. This is commendable as is the fact that constructive comments were provided to enable better learning and improvement.

In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the autumn and 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 and is usually corrected in the next lesson. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, quizzes, practical assessments and end-of-topic tests. Practical elements are continually assessed and students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the State examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a student’s progress, provide appropriate guidelines for performance in the State examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential in Music.

The school has an open communication policy for parents and, in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular 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. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their children’s progress.

SUMMARY OF MAIN FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
• Very good standards of teaching and learning employing appropriate musical practice, and a positive classroom atmosphere were significant aspects of the lessons seen during the visit.
• A well-resourced, dedicated music-teaching area exists in the school, and is used appropriately and effectively in an integrated way to support the teaching and learning of Music.
• Students’ involvement in extra-curricular musical activities also impacts greatly on their musical development. The teacher’s commitment to all these activities and the school’s support in facilitating these experiences are highly commended.

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
• Replacement of the windows in the music room is strongly recommended as a matter of urgency.
• An exploration of the many ways in which the OHP can be used to great effect in a music lesson should be undertaken. This would help enhance the learning situation, allow for a more efficient use of teacher time and foster more effective teaching and learning.
• It would be timely if a five-year development plan for the music department was instigated at this stage. This could include planning for resources with a particular emphasis on technology, curricular plans to include the role of ICT in teaching and learning, the re-introduction of a music module for TY and strategies which could be put in place in order to increase the uptake for the subject.
• Enhancement of the available resources in the music room to include further development of ICT is recommended.

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Music and with the 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

Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

Some of the recommended areas of the report have already been undertaken
• Windows replaced
• Increased ICT supports
• Use of OHP
• Music will be part of TY curriculum Next year.