An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Ardscoil La Salle
Raheny Road, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60291D
Date of inspection: 13 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil La Salle, Raheny. 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 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 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.
Ardscoil La Salle is voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the De La Salle Brothers. It is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 451 students. At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated two or three class periods per week in each of the junior cycle years, the number of class periods varies on a yearly basis being rotated with History. A banding and mixed ability class structure is used at this level. It was reported that movement of students within this organisational structure is possible following in-house assessments and at the request of teachers.
In the senior cycle, the Transition Year Programme (TYP) contains a module in Geography and is allocated two class periods per week. For the Established Leaving Certificate, Geography is an optional subject. Parents and students receive support and advice from the guidance counsellor prior to making subject choices and a parents’ night is held. Subject option lines arrived at in the light of past experiences are presented to students from which final choices are made. It was reported that adjustments are made to option lines in the light of student requests. Currently Geography appears on two option lines, thereby increasing student choice and this is good practice. The uptake of the subject at this level is very satisfactory and this is commended. Five teaching periods consisting of one double and three single class periods are allocated in each of the senior cycle years and this time allocation is in line with syllabus requirements. Class groupings at this level are of mixed ability.
There are currently five teachers of Geography in the school consisting of established members of staff and some teachers who have recently arrived. The creation of an identifiable subject department has been facilitated by the appointment of a subject co-ordinator and it is suggested that consideration be given to rotating this role amongst the members of the Geography team. There is very good whole school support for the organisation, teaching and learning in Geography. A dedicated Geography room and teacher based classrooms have been provided by school management. The room contains a collection of rock samples, Ordnance Survey (OS) map extracts, aerial photographs and videos. Teachers also have access to the use of overhead projectors, video equipment and the school’s computer room. A list of videos is made available to members of the Geography department and a copy of this was provided during the evaluation visit. It is recommended that a complete inventory be made of all resources in the school available to support teaching and learning in Geography and that this be included in the subject department plan and made available to all Geography teachers. This will facilitate discussion of future resource needs by the members of the Geography department, particularly in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and working with school management will help plan for the future development of resources that will further enhance teaching and learning.
School management facilitates subject department planning by the provision of two formal planning opportunities per year and this is commended. The Geography team has produced a subject department plan which was made available during the evaluation visit. This plan contained a statement of agreed textbooks, agreed curriculum plans for each year group within given timeframes, references to classroom strategies for dealing with students with special educational needs, teaching resources, assessment procedures and record keeping. The inclusion of a more developed section on teaching methodologies and plans for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning is suggested. It was reported that it is planned for sixth year students to undertake a geographical investigation in the near future in order to fulfil the requirements of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. The planning document indicated a degree of concentration on topics from Geomorphology and Meteorology in first year. This places significant demands on students, at this early stage, in terms of specialised vocabulary and the understanding of complex processes. It is recommended that the focus on Physical Geography be reviewed and the development of appropriate OS map and photograph skills be developed in first year. A written plan was also provided for the Geography module within the TYP. In reviewing the plan for Geography within the TYP the Geography teachers are encouraged to consider the inclusion of a Geographical Investigation, focus on learning outcomes, include a variety of assessment procedures and an evaluation of the module. This will provide the team with an opportunity to work collaboratively and to benefit from sharing their individual expertise. This review will be supported by reference to the document ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’.
All of the lessons observed had clear aims and were developed from previously taught subject matter. The good practice of sharing the planned learning outcomes with the students was a notable feature in most lessons and the writing of these on the blackboard in one lesson provided students with a clear focus for their attention. Folders containing extensive teaching resources were also made available by some teachers during the evaluation visit. The development of such resources over a period of time can provide effective supports for learning and teaching and is commended. Individual planning and preparation in some lessons included the creation of worksheets, word searches, supplementary textual material and in one instance a PowerPoint presentation and satellite images. The use of ICT in the creation of resources to support teaching and learning is very highly commended. As part of subject department planning it is recommended that consideration be given to the greater integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography. This could facilitate the development of self-directed learning on the part of students. Where these resources were used in lessons they made a significant contribution to maintaining student interest and provided teachers with an opportunity to support individual students as the rest of the class were engaged in individual learning tasks.
A wide range of teaching methodologies was observed in the classrooms visited. These included teacher exposition of the topic, the use of question and answer sessions, individual work by students in their copybooks and reading the textbook by students and teacher. The use of a PowerPoint presentation in conjunction with resource materials and a worksheet was particularly effective in stimulating students to be actively engaged in their own learning. Students worked in pairs as they completed the worksheet provided and this afforded an opportunity for students to learn from each other and is an example of very good practice. As students completed the set activity the teacher moved around the classroom offering support and affirmation to students as appropriate. In lessons where statistical charts or photographs were used student engagement could have been increased by the provision of worksheets. This would provide an opportunity for some pair or small group work.
Those teaching methodologies that involved exploratory or investigative activities engaged students most effectively and they displayed a greater enthusiasm for learning. Lessons were less effective in stimulating student interest and learning where there was an overemphasis on teacher exposition or on an over reliance on the textbook. It is recommended that teachers consider the wider use of active leaning methodologies as a means of more actively involving students in their own learning. Teachers will be facilitated in developing these active learning methodologies by identifying learning outcomes for each lesson rather than focusing on lesson content, by reference to support materials provided during the evaluation visit and the Guidelines for Teachers produced to support the introduction of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. Support is also available on the website of the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI) at www.agti.ie.
In classes visited the topics being taught included: economic development, weathering, Karst landforms, analysis of weather maps and statistics and the development of light industry. In a number of lessons teachers adopted a visual approach to the delivery of the teaching programme. The use of satellite images, statistical data and maps, the recording of lesson outlines on blackboards and photographs of landforms all helped to explain and clarify issues for students. There were frequent references to students’ personal experiences and to geographic examples drawn from the local area and this good practice is commended as it facilitates understanding of more remote and complex geographic concepts. The display of photographs and articles from the print media on notice boards is commended as a means of linking the Geography syllabuses to the world outside the classroom and of providing a stimulation learning environment for students. Students could also be encouraged to contribute materials to such displays and take responsibility for updating materials displayed. This can have the effect of further developing a co-operative approach to learning between students and teacher.
The development of higher order thinking skills was encouraged, in some classes, as students were challenged to suggest solutions to problems or to offer explanations for geographic phenomena. This good practice is highly commended and its wider use in encouraged. Teachers were aware of students with special educational needs and took care to explain fully and carefully new geographic terms when these were introduced. The good practice of displaying lists of key words was observed in one classroom and teachers are encouraged to further develop this practice as a means of facilitating literacy improvement in students. Formal contact between the Geography department and the learning support teachers is encouraged. The Geography team could advise on syllabus requirements, revision plans and provide lists of key words, while the learning support teachers could advise on appropriate teaching methodologies. Teachers are also encouraged to consider the pacing of lessons and the provision of summaries on handouts or on the overhead projector to support students with literacy difficulties rather than dictating notes. The good practice of using ‘mind maps’, observed in some copybooks, to summarise sections of the course is particularly commended.
In all of the lessons observed classroom management was effective and a mutually respectful atmosphere was evident between students and their teachers. The display, in classrooms, of rules for behaviour accompanied by lists of rewards and sanctions is commented, as a means of creating a positive classroom atmosphere. Students were addressed by their first names and willingly engaged in discussions with their teachers who frequently affirmed students for their efforts.
The subject department plan for Geography in Ardscoil La Salle makes reference to homework procedures, the development of appropriate geographical skills through homework, the need to learn specific geographic terms, the setting of end of topic tests and record keeping. The inclusion of assessment as part of the subject department plan is commended. It is recommended that consideration should be given to further developing an assessment policy for teaching and learning in Geography, particularly with reference to the introduction of small scale project work and assessment for learning principles. The use of ‘comment only’ marking should be considered when students begin to write answers to past examination questions. Documentation provided during the evaluation and accessing the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie will assist teachers in developing assessment procedures in this area.
Student understanding was assessed frequently during lessons through focused questioning of named individual students and through the correction of homework which is generally given on a daily basis in line with the Geography department policy. In one lesson observed students completed a short assessment test and then exchanged completed answer sheets to be corrected. This process added variety to the lesson structure, enabled students to learn from each others mistakes and is commended. The work observed in students’ copybooks, both written work and diagrams was generally of a high standard and it was noted that students had separate copybooks for notes and homework. This good practice is commended, as notes carefully developed over the year can be a valuable aid when it comes to revision for tests. The provision of ‘mind maps’ observed in some copybooks is a valuable way of enabling students to make links between different parts of a topic thereby facilitating greater understanding and its wider use is encouraged. Where teachers had monitored students’ work in copybooks and had written constructive and affirming comments students were encouraged to further improve the standard of their written work.
Formal assessment procedures are in place to monitor student progress and to inform discussions at parent teacher meetings. All students sit formal examinations prior to Christmas. First, second and Leaving Certificate 1 students also sit formal assessments at the end of the school year. Students preparing for the Certificate Examinations sit pre-examinations during the second term. It is recommended that a review take place of the number of students taking the ordinary level particularly at Junior Certificate level in Geography and as many students as possible be encouraged to attempt the higher level paper, keeping in mind student abilities and aspirations. Parents receive reports after all formal assessments. It was reported that the setting of common tests for students in first and second year is encouraged. This is commended and the Geography teachers are encouraged to consider the setting of common tests for students in all year groups thereby using the expertise of all members of the department and further developing a collaborative approach to the delivery of the Geography syllabuses.
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:
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board members were generally happy with the report and affirmed the work of the teachers. The Principal informed the Board that discussions had already taken place in relation to the recommendations, especially the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography. The Board members expressed great satisfaction at the positive and affirming way in which the inspection was carried out.