An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina
Sutton, Dublin 13
Roll number: 60380C
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina, conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Geography 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 teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
School management supports teaching and learning in Geography effectively by providing teacher-based classrooms and a wide range of resources. Teachers are also provided with access to a wide range of information and communications technology (ICT) resources to support teaching and learning. An inventory of resources is included in the subject department plan. Following a review of this inventory it is now suggested that greater detail be included such as a list of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and aerial photographs. This level of detail would be particularly useful to new members of the subject department and could provide a better basis for the future development of resources.
Geography is a compulsory subject for all students in the junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week in each of the three years. The Transition Year (TY) programme, which is compulsory in the school, includes a module entitled Social and Environmental Studies which includes topics drawn from Geography, notably geopolitics and European studies. Each module lasts for eight weeks and is allocated three class periods per week. For the Established Leaving Certificate, Geography is an optional subject and is allocated five single class periods per week. This allocation is in line with syllabus recommendations. Students are provided with an open choice of subject before option bands are generated and they are supported and advised prior to making subject choices. According to the data provided by the State Examinations Commission, the uptake of the subject in the school has declined significantly in recent years. School management and the geography teachers should seek ways to address this downward trend in the number of students studying the subject. All geography classes, in both junior and senior cycle, are of mixed ability and this is good practice.
Currently four teachers make up the geography department in St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina and they work collaboratively in sharing their professional expertise. Two teachers act as co-ordinators for the subject, one teacher being responsible for the junior cycle and the other for the senior cycle. Teachers have attended in-service in relation to the introduction of the current Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus and the school pays the membership fee for any teachers wishing to become a member of the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI). Teachers are encouraged to avail of this generous offer by school management.
Subject department planning is well established in St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina. School management supports the planning process by providing time for formal planning at the start and again at the end of the school year. Informal planning takes place on an on-going basis amongst members of the geography teaching team. A subject department plan, a plan for the social and environmental studies module within TY and minutes of department meetings were provided during the evaluation. The subject department plan contains a teaching programme for each year group to be delivered within agreed timeframes. The plan also makes reference to aims, objectives, textbooks, teaching methods, homework and assessment procedures. In reviewing the subject department plan it is recommended that teachers focus on learning outcomes as well as curriculum content and that these outcomes be related to teaching methodologies, resources and methods of assessment. The subject department plan should also contain plans for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
The planned teaching programme for the junior cycle contains many commendable features, including the focus on the development of map and photograph skills, locational geography and plans for out-of-class learning opportunities. However, the first-year teaching programme mainly contains topics drawn from physical geography. This places significant demands on students at an early stage in terms of technical vocabulary and understanding of complex processes. It is recommended that the planned teaching programme for the junior cycle be reviewed so as to introduce students to map and photograph skills while in first year. These key geographic skills can then be integrated into the planned teaching programme for later years. It is further recommended that those topics which are intellectually less challenging to students be included in the first-year teaching programme leaving the more complex geographic concepts until later in the junior cycle. Documentation provided to teachers during the evaluation will facilitate them in this review.
Commendably, the subject plan focuses on the area of Geopolitics, encouraging students to be aware of the world outside the classroom and illustrates how a study of Geography can help students understand issues of national and global importance. Students are encouraged to develop their spatial awareness by completing exercises in locational geography. An examination of studentsí projects indicated that they are being encouraged to develop an investigative and exploratory approach to the subject and this is commended.
Very effective short-term planning by individual teachers was evident in all of the classrooms visited. In some instances individual lesson plans were provided. Lessons had clear aims and were developed from previous learning. The good practice of sharing the planned learning outcomes with students was evident in some lessons and its wider use is encouraged. This practice provides a clear sense of direction for students and when lessons are successfully completed it can provide them with a sense of achievement.
Planning for individual lessons included the preparation of a range of appropriate resources to support teaching and learning. Resources used in the lessons observed included: maps, overhead projector transparencies, summaries of work done by students, and worksheets. These resources were used effectively by teachers to enhance the learning process. Teachers plan to further develop teaching resources and to share these amongst members of the subject department. This is commended as teachers will benefit from sharing their professional expertise particularly in using resources that enable students to experience a variety of teaching methodologies.
High quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed as teachers used a wide variety of methods to engage students in the learning process. The good practice of recalling the main learning points from the previous lesson was evident and this set the context for the introduction of new subject matter. The range of teaching methods used included: teacher exposition and note-taking by students, question-and-answer sessions, completion of short tasks by students, small-group work and, in one instance, students reported to the class on recently completed projects for part of a lesson. It was good to note that when students were presenting to the class they were effectively and sensitively supported through teacher questioning. Studentsí knowledge of their projects was evident as they outlined the topic to the class. The slogan Ďthink, pair and shareí was used and encapsulates the thinking behind the studentsí project work. Students used their ICT skills both for research and presentation and this deserves to be acknowledged. Presenting to the class facilitates the development of studentsí oral skills and helps to develop their self-confidence. This is good practice. Using variety in teaching methodology ensured students remained engaged with the lesson. However, care is needed to ensure that where teacher exposition is used it does not become the dominant approach used. Students were provided with an opportunity to learn from each other as they completed set tasks and their enjoyment of the process was evident. Topics taught in the lessons observed included: temperate climates, culture and identity, and primary economic activities.
Teachers have adopted a skills-based approach to the teaching of Geography in line with syllabus recommendations. There was a clear emphasis on developing higher-order thinking skills. Students were encouraged to reflect on their knowledge and through skilful questioning were challenged to offer explanations for geographic phenomena. Teachers made reference to current affairs as a means of stimulating student interest and of establishing connections between the study of Geography and the world outside the classroom. This is highly commended. There was a clear focus on developing studentsí knowledge of the language appropriate to Geography. As lessons progressed new terms were introduced and explained and students were encouraged to use these in their answers to teacher-directed questions. The white board and the overhead projector were used effectively to stimulate interest, to clarify teacher exposition and to cater for those students whose preferred learning style is visual. Students were knowledgeable about their courses and willingly participated in the planned learning activities. In answering questions they used appropriate geographical terms and were able to recall past learning.
Classroom management was of a high standard. Tasks were clearly explained to students and there was an easy transition between different parts of the lesson. All lessons were appropriately paced. As students participated in the planned learning activities they were frequently affirmed by their teachers and this resulted in a mutually respectful atmosphere in the classrooms visited. The relaxed yet focused atmosphere in classrooms resulted in students seeking clarification of geographic concepts as the lessons progressed.
Teachers in St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina use a variety of methods to assess studentsí progress. These include: focused questioning during lessons, homework, end-of-topic assessments and formal examinations. Teachers use a process of continuous assessment as the basis for the Christmas report to parents. Formal written examinations are held in the second term for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students and for all students at the end of the school year. Reports are issued to parents following these examinations. Student progress is also reported on at formal parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group. Assessment within the TY includes project work that is very much in keeping with the spirit of this programme. Teachers maintain records of all assessments.
Homework is regularly assigned, corrected and monitored. An examination of studentsí copybooks indicated that they are generally well maintained. Work is kept in a logical order and neatly presented with headings highlighted and maps and diagrams carefully drawn and appropriately coloured. Copybooks also contained support materials provided by teachers. Best practice was observed where teachers provided feedback to students on their work and indicated areas for improvement. It is recommended that the geography teachers develop a policy in relation to the use of assessment for learning (AfL) principles and practices and this should be included in the subject department plan. Support materials provided to the teachers during the evaluation will facilitate this development.
The subject department plan makes provision for revision and this is good practice. Geographical investigations completed as part of the Leaving Certificate assessment process are collected by individual teachers and then securely stored. It is noteworthy that the majority of students studying Geography take higher level in the certificate examinations, an outcome that reflects the high teacher expectations that exist.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ School management supports teaching and learning in Geography effectively by providing teacher-based classrooms and a wide range of resources.
∑ Subject department planning is well established, a co-ordinator is in place, a subject department plan, a plan for the Social and Environmental Studies module within TY and minutes of
department meetings were provided during the evaluation.
∑ High quality teaching and learning were evident in the lessons observed as teachers used a variety of methods to engage students in the learning process.
∑ Teachers have adopted a skills-based approach to the teaching of Geography in line with syllabus recommendations.
∑ There was a clear emphasis on developing higher-order thinking skills. Students were encouraged to reflect on their knowledge and, through skilful questioning, were challenged to offer
explanations for geographic phenomena.
∑ Students were knowledgeable about their courses and willingly participated in the planned learning activities.
∑ In the lessons observed, teachers made reference to current affairs as a means of stimulating student interest and of establishing connections between the study of Geography and the world outside the
∑ Classroom management was of a high standard and students were frequently affirmed by their teachers.
∑ The majority of students studying Geography take higher level in the certificate examinations.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ School management and the geography teachers should seek ways to address the downward trend in the number of students studying the subject for the Leaving Certificate.
∑ In reviewing the subject department plan it is recommended that teachers focus on learning outcomes as well as curriculum content and that these outcomes be related to teaching
methodologies, resources and methods of assessment.
∑ It is recommended that the planned teaching programme for the junior cycle be reviewed so as to reduce the current focus on physical geography in first year and to introduce students to
map and photograph skills to students at an early stage.
∑ It is recommended that the geography teachers develop a policy in relation to assessment for learning (AfL) and this should be included in the subject department plan
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Geography 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