Monthly Archives: November 2015

School self-evaluation – our third focus.

The Process so far.

For the past two years school self-evaluation has been on-going in RETNS. Our first area of focus was literacy, and after gaining information from questionnaires to staff, parents and pupils, analysing standardised test scores, looking at children’s work and talking to staff and children, we arrived at three main conclusions:

  • That pupils’ extensive oral vocabulary needs to be reflected in their writing.
  • That pupils need to communicate clearly and confidently in writing and pupils’ writing should reflect the high reading attainment levels in the school.
  • That pupils need specific teaching in a range of different genres.

We outlined our actions and detailed how we might achieve our targets over a three-year period. This work is on-going.

Last year our focus was on Numeracy. We looked firstly at how well our pupils were doing in numeracy. We then gathered information from staff, pupils and parents, looked at pupils’ work in class, analysed standardised test results, talked to pupils and teachers and gathered information from a problem-solving rubric given to pupils, to identify areas of need. We identified a need to look at pupils’ problem solving in maths, specifically:

  • to develop pupils’ ability to discuss ways of solving problems and
  • to teach pupils a range of strategies that they can use in problem-solving.

Again, we detailed the actions required to meet our targets over a three year period.

Reports on these two areas of school self-evaluation are currently available on the website, under Information/SSE.

Parents can help at home by giving problems and challenges for children to solve or by allowing them to challenge you!!

A range of websites is listed on the website under Daily Life/ICT. An additional, highly recommended, website is Khan Academy, which has a parents’ section entitled, Help Your Child Learn Anything.

Third area of focus

This year we are required to take a third area of focus, of the school’s choosing. After some brainstorming with staff we have decided to review our teaching of Visual Arts. Our reason for choosing this is because we know that we are doing some  things very well, but feel that there are some areas of art in which we are not so strong. We gave the children a comprehensive questionnaire, which they completed online, and analysed the results in conjunction with the results of a teachers’ survey. Our main findings were:

  • Children and teachers enjoy art.
  • Teachers feel that we are good at teaching drawing and painting; pupils feel these are the areas they are most confident in.
  • Children identified printing, construction and working with fabric and fibre as areas they would like more help with. Teachers feel less confident in teaching printing and construction.
  • Children enjoy when ‘real artists’ and parents work with them in art lessons. Teachers also value having parental support for art lessons.

As a result of the findings we have agreed that our aim is to build confidence for children in working in the areas of print, construction, and fabric & fibre, to ensure that teachers are upskilled and confident in teaching in these areas, that those who have skills in particular areas get an opportunity to share their skills with colleagues, and to give children lots of experiences where they are working with different adults so that they can avail of a range of expertise.

Initially we will be working on construction and fabric & fibre as we prepare our new corridor display, based on a biodiversity theme, and there are ample opportunities for parents to help out, either in the classrooms or at home. If you would like to help out at home you can provide experiences for the children in any of these areas of visual arts by allowing them to design and make, work with different kinds of fabrics and materials and use simple methods of printing.

We will work on the area of printing on a whole school basis next term. If any parent has a background in printing and would like to become involved in school with this area of art, either ‘hands on’ or to give a talk on the art of printing, please let us know.

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  There is a great tradition of parents, staff and children working together on art projects in RETNS.

National Flag for Primary Schools Initiative

In order to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising and to celebrate 100 years since the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, members of Óglaigh na hÉireann have been delivering a National Flag to every primary school in the country, presented in a special ceremony. Our ceremony took place on Monday, November 16th.

On arrival, the three members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, Air Corps, were met by a guard of honour from fifth and sixth class students. They then proceeded into the hall carrying the Flag. The ceremony was conducted by sixth class members of the Student Council.

Our MC for the occasion was Kyle Quinn, who welcomed and introduced our special guests and explained how the ceremony would proceed.

We began by singing our school song, Diversity.

Óglaigh na hÉireann members Stephen, Joe and Dan then talked to the children about why they were there and read from the Proclamation, pausing at paragraph four, which was then read by Michelle O’Reilly, chairperson of our Student Council.

The ceremony continued with some questions and answers on the National Flag, then Padraig Pearse’s poem Wayfarer was read by Saoirse Kavanagh.

Before presenting us with our Flag, the soldiers explained some flag protocols and how we should care for our National Flag. The Flag was then presented to Niamh Cunningham and Ellen Needham, who received it on behalf of the school.

It was then time for the children to ask their questions and they had some interesting questions, including asking why soldiers salute. The men gave very interesting answers when they were asked about some of the work they do as members of the Air Corps and why they joined the Defence Forces.

Kyle concluded the ceremony by thanking the soldiers in Irish and announcing that we would all stand for the singing of Amhrán na bhFiann. During the singing the children saw in action the soldiers’ salute to our National Anthem.

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Dan, Joe and Stephen, members of Óglaigh na hÉireann.
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Niamh and Ellen received the National Flag on behalf of the school.
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Kyle was our MC for the ceremony.
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Saoirse read ‘The Wayfarer’ by Padraig Pearse. Michelle read paragraph four of the Proclamation.

 

The road to digital distinction!

It seems a long time ago now since then Principal Paddie Murphy and myself attended a meeting in Blackrock Education Centre to hear that the Department of Education was beginning to roll out schools broadband and was encouraging schools to invest in networking of their systems. It appeared to be a radical move since at the time we were still operating with one or two standalone pcs per class, and it seemed to have the potential to change our use of ICT in the school. We subsequently went to tender and our board of management chose a company to provide our new network server.

That was back in 2003 and we felt that we were really progressing in terms of ICT development in the school. We were now able to share files, save data centrally for use by all staff and children, and develop our store of digital resources. Over the next few years there were some department grants which provided more classroom pcs, and together with our own parental contributions, we became more innovative and installed a number of interactive whiteboards in the school. The pupils in these classes availed of a new way of interactive learning and it soon became obvious that this considerably increased ICT potential. Further grants and investment by our board of management increased our stock of hardware until we were equipped with one interactive whiteboard per class and a set of laptops for use throughout the school, but unfortunately the schools broadband infrastructure was not keeping pace with our hardware acquisition and internet speeds were a constant cause of frustration.

During the life of the present board we have seen investment in ICT become a priority and most recently we have been able to upgrade our entire system and now have a fully monitored system. Everything has been done to maximise the sharing of the broadband through installation of a number of wi-fi points, but it remains a source of frustration to this day as the primary school broadband speeds are not nearly fit for purpose. Notwithstanding this, our aim in recent years has been to maximise the use of the hardware that we are fortunate to have and all staff have used our ICT facilities to their utmost degree to aid teaching and learning.

Digital technologies and teaching.

A recent OECD report on the merits of using ICT in teaching and learning sparked off a debate in education circles by its apparent criticism of current use of new technologies in teaching, claiming that:

we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology …adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.

Students, Computers and Learning – Making the Connection (OECD, 2015).

In many ways this argument is true. Technology has thrown up a need to re-assess our teaching practices and teachers need to embrace these new methodologies in their planning, delivery and assessment of learning. Technology invites more discovery-based learning, more collaborative learning involving opportunities for students to discuss and to evaluate what they are learning. Teachers need to be able to facilitate this learning and to provide carefully planned learning experiences by which discovery learning can happen. They need to be able to provide differentiated experiences for different learning abilities and enable students to be discerning in the way they use the wealth of information available to them.

With internet based learning there are pitfalls that teachers need to be mindful of. Students are often faced with ‘information overload’ and need to be taught how to navigate their way through the countless pages of information available to them, to extract what they need, assess its trustworthiness and evaluate its usefulness to them. We also need to teach them how to be safe in this online world.

In RETNS we have been committed to embrace a new way of thinking about education in the light of technological developments, rather than just embrace new technology. Two years ago we formed an ICT staff committee to oversee the development of ICT in our school, with the eventual aim of applying for ‘Digital School of Distinction’ status. We looked at what was already in place in the school and where we needed to improve. Last year we also formed a student ICT committee to give the students a voice in the development of ICT in the school, and they quickly took up the challenge by introducing a ‘Kids’ Blog’ onto the website. Children have had a leading role in developing ICT in that they are enthusiastic about new developments, highly skilled themselves and willing to pass on their skills to others. Teachers are committed to ensuring that children are given every opportunity to use ICT to enhance their learning experiences.

Recently we had a visit from a digital schools validator, who talked to teachers and children and looked at the type of ICT experiences being provided in the school and how these are being used in an integrated way to improve children’s learning. His report was overwhelmingly positive, with great praise given for the way in which ICT is integrated in the school, for our up-to-date and very informative website, and for the way in which the children engaged with ICT and were able to articulate so well what they were doing in terms of ICT work. There was also praise for our board of management for the considerable investment they have made in this area and, without the need for further visits, we were awarded the badge of ‘Digital School of Distinction’. This is a very proud honour for the school given the journey we have made, and we can only go from strength to strength as we embrace new technologies and find ways to incorporate them into the teaching-learning process so that our children are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of an increasingly digital society.

Our ceremony to unveil our Digital School Plaque will be held on Friday, November 6th at 9.15 am. Guest speakers will include those who have helped us along the road to digital distinction.