An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 60810B
Date of inspection: 17 & 18 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College Swords. 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 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Loreto College is an all-girls school with a current enrolment of 630 students. The organisation, teaching and learning of Geography is very well supported by school management by the provision of a dedicated geography room and a wide range of teaching resources. The range of resources includes collections of wall maps, charts, videos, rocks samples, weather instruments, Ordnance Survey (OS) map extracts and photographs. Teachers also have access to a digital camera, laptop computer and data projector and a range of fieldwork instruments.
At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three class periods per week in each of the junior cycle years. All classes have a mixed ability structure at this level. For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) Geography is an optional subject. Students and parents receive appropriate support prior to making programme and subject choices from the guidance counsellors, school principal, subject teachers and students who are currently studying the subject. Students are presented with an open choice of subject and it was reported that a high level of satisfaction had been recorded. The school is commended for providing this level of support as it encourages students to make informed choices and facilitates more effective career planning. The uptake of the subject at this level is in a healthy state with two class groups being formed in each of the Leaving Certificate years. Five teaching periods consisting of one double and three single class periods are allocated in each of these two years and this is in line with syllabus recommendations. All geography classes at this level are of mixed ability. Loreto College offers its students an opportunity to participate in the Transition Year Programme (TYP). Since Geography does not form part of this programme consideration should be given to the inclusion of a module on topics from Geography in any review of the TY, taking care to ensure a clear distinction is maintained between content and methodology for both the ELC and the TY.
There are currently six geography teachers in Loreto College and they form a very clearly identifiable subject department with one teacher acting as subject co-ordinator. The practice of rotating this role amongst the members of the department is commended. School management provides an annual budget to the department and this has been used to develop a wide range of resources to support teaching and learning. A catalogue of resources is provided in the subject department plan. Access to the geography room and to all resources is available to all members of the department. Information and communication technology (ICT) has been provided by school management and teachers and students are using these to enhance the teaching and learning process. During the evaluation visit students who had visited Iceland last autumn provided the inspector with an informative and enjoyable PowerPoint presentation of their visit. Teachers’ engagement in professional development activities, sometimes in out-of-school time, and their membership of the Geography Teachers Association of Ireland (AGTI) are evidence of their commitment to providing rich learning experiences for their students.
It was reported that teachers are made aware of the needs of individual students through contact with the learning support department. The members of the geography department have advised on syllabus requirements and have provided guidance on the language of geography. The display of lists of key words in classrooms would help to support the linguistic development of students and this is recommended
As a means of increasing environmental awareness amongst students the school has engaged with the Green-Schools programme and hopes to be awarded the Green Flag in the near future. This is very highly commended as it gives a practical expression to the aims of the geography syllabuses.
Subject department planning is at an advanced stage in Loreto College and a very comprehensive plan for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography was provided during the evaluation visit. The members of the geography teaching team worked collaboratively to produce this plan and this is commended. It was reported that collaborative planning has also facilitated preparation for the geographical investigation which is part of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. School management facilitates subject department planning by providing time at the start and at the end of the school year. Subject departments may also request time for planning meetings. In addition to these formal planning sessions on-going informal planning discussions also take place. Particularly noteworthy was a mission statement for the geography department which encourages students to take responsibility for the wellbeing of the planet so as to protect it for future generations. Curriculum plans for each year within given timeframes, references to teaching strategies including sample lesson plans, minutes of department meetings, resource planning and assessment were all referred to in the geography department plan. It is recommended that the focus on the study of topics from physical geography in first year be reviewed and greater emphasis be placed on the development of key map and photograph skills using large scale maps and photographs of the local area. The subject department plan is subject to on-going review and evaluation and this is commended.
Effective short term planning was evident; all lessons observed had clear aims that were shared with students at the start of the lesson. This approach is commended as it provides a focus for student attention and creates a sense of achievement when the lesson is successfully concluded. Teacher planning for lessons included the preparation of appropriate resources that were used to support teaching and learning. Resources used included: overhead projector transparencies, slides on a laptop computer, worksheets and supplementary textual material notably cartoons. The recently acquired OSiTrailmaster was also used. Teachers are commended for the careful planning and preparation of such resources as they made a significant contribution to clarifying issues for students and to maintaining interest throughout the lessons observed. In a number of instances individual teachers have developed folders of teaching resources over a period of time. This reflects a commitment by teachers to provide a variety of learning experiences for their students and is highly commended.
Classroom management was of a very high standard. Positive, affirming and mutually respectful relationships were evident between students and their teachers. Clear routines were observed in lessons which began with a roll call, homework was monitored and corrected and the aim of the lesson was outlined to students. This created a sense of order and provided a focus for students’ attention. Classrooms had displays of maps, charts, newspaper articles and in some cases students’ project work. These created a map-rich and print-rich environment that provided a stimulating learning environment for students. All of these practices are to be commended.
Very high quality teaching and learning was evident in all of the lessons observed. A variety of teaching methodologies was used to stimulate interest and allow students to become actively involved in their own learning. Teachers reported that the introduction of group work had resulted in a greater engagement by students with the subject matter being studied and had proved to be an enjoyable experience for both students and their teachers. During group work in a number of lessons students willingly engaged in discussion with the inspector, enjoyed the opportunity to express their own opinions and were knowledgeable about previously taught subject matter. During group discussion students were provided with stimulus material which gave direction to the activity and feedback taken in a whole class setting provided an opportunity for further clarification and for differing views to be aired. Reference to the textbook was only made to add further insights or to provide further stimulus materials. Sometimes students were set short written tasks based on the lesson and this provided variety to the teaching methodology. Teachers are highly commended for their willingness to engage with these more active learning methodologies.
A skills-based approach to the delivery of the syllabuses has been adopted by the teachers in Loreto College. This is in line with syllabus guidelines and is commended. Higher order thinking skills were developed through questions that challenged students to reflect on their learning and to offer explanations for geographic phenomena. OS map skills and the interpretation of statistical diagrams and photographs were integrated into the lessons at appropriate times. There was also good development of students’ linguistic skills. As new terms were introduced they were carefully explained and student understanding was checked through careful questioning. As lessons were developed an outline of the main points was recorded on the board, sometimes using coloured pens to highlight particular words and students were provided with an opportunity to copy these into their copybooks. Teachers moved around the classroom offering support and affirmation as appropriate. It was evident from class room displays and from students’ copybooks that clear links are established between the students’ experience of Geography in the classroom and current, local and world events. This practice is very highly commended.
Teachers have begun to explore the potential of ICT as an educational resource. A laptop computer and data projector were used in one lesson to present stimulus materials for group discussion. It was reported that students had used ICT to carry out research for project work. Teachers are encouraged to build on these good practices and develop further the use of ICT across all areas of teaching and learning in Geography.
Topics taught in the lessons observed included: an analysis of a past examination question on population, the dynamics of a region, soil, fluvial terminology, and colonial trade and the impact of colonisation.
A wide variety of assessment methods is used in Loreto College to monitor student progress and students are encouraged to pursue their studies at a level appropriate to their abilities and aspirations. Small scale project work has been used in a number of classes to help students to develop as independent learners. This has also enabled students to focus on their local environment in providing exemplars of geographic concepts thus facilitating greater understanding. Students have also used their ICT skills both in research and in the presentation of these projects. Projects included the development of local industry, local water supply, Fair Trade and weather observations. These are very good practices. The display of students’ work in classrooms is commended as it provides a means of acknowledging and celebrating student effort and achievement.
An examination of students’ copybooks showed their work was generally of a high standard. Work was neatly presented, headings underlined, notes were in point form and colour had been used effectively to aid understanding and learning. Students had been supported in this by receiving clear instructions from their teachers about presentation and format and this is commended. The good practice of having separate copybooks for homework and notes was also observed.
Student understanding was frequently assessed during class by appropriate and focused questions directed to named students, by the setting of short written tasks during the lesson and by the holding of class tests when sections of the syllabuses had been completed. Teachers had recorded test results, attendance and homework and these were used to inform discussions at parent teacher meeting which are held annually for each year group. Students had also begun to answer past examination questions in preparation for the pre-examinations and this is good practice. It is recommended that teachers further develop their methods of assessment particularly with reference to ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) principles and consider the use of ‘comment only’ marking when students begin to answer past examination questions. Resources to support this were provided during the evaluation visit. Further support is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.
Formal assessment takes place before Christmas and at the end of the school year, while students preparing for Certificate Examinations sit pre-examinations in the second term. Reports are issued after each formal assessment. The subject department plan indicated that teachers had been engaged in analysing the results of the Certificate Examinations and this good practice is commended. This is a valuable exercise and one that should be undertaken on an annual basis.
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.