An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Ennis, County Clare
Roll number: 61930Q
Date of inspection: 7 May 2009
REPORT ON the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Muire, Ennis. 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
In Coláiste Muire Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle. As part of the Transition Year (TY) programme a geography module is provided for half the year and is allocated a double class period per week. Geography becomes an optional subject at senior cycle. At this level students are provided with an open-choice system of subject selection from which subject option bands are subsequently designed to facilitate maximum student choice. This student-centred approach is commended. Time allocation to the subject in both cycles is in line with syllabus recommendations. The majority of classes are well distributed across the week. It is recommended at junior cycle that timetabling of geography lessons on three consecutive days for class groups be avoided. It is also recommended that Geography should be timetabled for no more than one last class period of the day for any particular group.
There is very good whole school support for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography. The three geography teachers are qualified to teach the subject and have been facilitated to teach in both cycles. School management has supported teachers’ professional development and all the geography teachers availed of in-service for the Revised Leaving Certificate geography syllabus. The geography teachers have also attended the “ICT in Geography” course provided by the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service (GSS). Teachers have base classrooms which facilitates the storage of resource materials and the creation of print-rich learning environments. There was variation in the degree to which subject-related materials were displayed in rooms. It is recommended that the potential of base classrooms be further developed to provide for stimulating geographical environments.
The geography department is allocated an annual budget for the purchase of resources. Two of the three base classrooms require large maps of Europe. This should be addressed as part of planning for future resources acquisition. The school has good information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities which enable the use of web-based geographical resources. It was reported that there is limited use of ICT with class groups apart from TY students. As part of the collaborative planning process the geography teachers should focus on strategies and set targets to increase the integration of ICT. In this regard it is recommended that the teachers use the extensive range of online resources and Scoilnet maps, the geographical information system provided by the GSS to support teaching and learning in the subject.
Some small-scale co-curricular activities based in the local environment have been organised with junior cycle classes. These initiatives are commended and further encouraged as they extend students learning in the subject beyond the classroom. The school has actively promoted environmental awareness among its student body and is congratulated on its recent acquisition of the Green Flag. This is highly commended.
The geography teachers work in a collaborative manner and share responsibility for subject planning. While this collegiality is commended it is recommended that one of the teachers be nominated as co-ordinator in order to focus responsibility for leading subject planning. This individual should also assume responsibility for staying abreast of developments in the subject. The position of co-ordination should be rotated regularly among the teachers so that all have the opportunity to experience a leadership role and to share the associated workload.
Subject department planning is supported by the allocation of time by school management for formal meetings once per term. The subject department plan contains an agreed teaching programme for each year group. These long-term curricular plans outline topics to be taught during each term. In order to transform these plans into valuable working documents to support everyday teaching it is recommended that they be further developed to indicate in an integrated manner the syllabus content to be covered within shorter timeframes, the corresponding learning outcomes to be achieved, the specific resources employed to support the teaching of topics, and the methodologies and assessment modes used by teachers. It is also recommended that the organisational details of the department, minutes of meetings and other practices such as record keeping, assessment and reporting procedures, fieldwork policy, and provisions for students with additional needs be documented in the subject plan. In acknowledgement of the time involved in carrying out this work it is suggested that such plans are developed on a phased basis with priority given to State examination class groups.
The teaching programme for first-year students includes the introduction of Ordnance Survey map skills. This is good practice. It is recommended at this early stage that the teaching of physical geography topics in a linear fashion be reviewed and that these topics should be interspersed with less technical topics. This should also be applied to the teaching of physical geography in senior cycle. It is also recommended that the teaching of syllabus units such as meteorology be deferred until third year due to their complexity.
The TY programme provides an interesting module for Geography which aims to expand students’ knowledge of historical geography, heritage issues, Karst landscapes, land use patterns and associated planning issues. The programme promotes the development of geographical skills and knowledge through comprehensive fieldwork activities in the local environment. This provision is highly commended as it provides students with experiential learning opportunities in line with the ethos of TY.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced at a level appropriate to the needs of students. Effective short-term planning for lessons was reflected in the generation of handouts which provided supplementary material on the subject, use of rock samples and provision of soil samples and other materials necessary to test soil characteristics including the acid/alkaline content of the soil. Students were informed of the learning objectives which were communicated to them at the outset. Lesson content was in all cases in line with syllabus requirements.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident during the course of the evaluation. Where very good practice was observed the methodologies employed facilitated active student engagement with the lesson material. These methodologies which included the use of practical tasks and experimental activities appropriately challenged students and enabled them to apply and reinforce their learning in a practical context. In other lessons while learning did take place teacher input tended to predominate over student input. It is thus recommended that lesson planning should provide for more student-based activities such as the completion of short tasks based on the material under study. This provision will create an appropriate balance between teacher talk and student input and add variety to lessons.
In all lessons teacher exposition was clear and students were provided with very good overviews of the topics under study. In some lessons the whiteboard was used well to structure lesson material and outline key points of information. It is recommended, particularly in relation to revision of topics that teachers use mind maps or other graphical organiser to summarise topics and highlight the links between key learning points. The students should be encouraged to maintain such notes in a separate section of their copybooks as they are useful aids at times of revision.
As a strategy questioning was used widely in all lessons to span and review material and deliver lesson content. There was good use of higher order questioning which developed students’ skills of analysis and synthesis. In some lessons where global questioning dominated the increased integration of targeted questions to named individuals is recommended. This methodology is an important technique for assessing individual student’s knowledge and will ensure the participation of all students in the lesson.
As subject-specific language was encountered in lessons it was appropriately clarified and reinforced. This is good practice. There were instances which indicated that some students were experiencing difficulty with technical terminology both in its meaning and application. Given the mixed-ability composition of all class groups it is recommended that key word lists are displayed on topics as they are taught and students should also be required to maintain a glossary of geographical terms on each topic in their copybooks. These provisions will help students to become more familiar with the language of geography and thereby enhance their access to the subject. There were some very good examples of reference to the local environment to support students understanding of topics and relate the study of geography to the real world. This provided for a meaningful learning context and is further encouraged. Where visual stimuli such as rock samples, soil samples and photographs were integrated these served to enhance students learning. In this regard the use of ICT and extensive range of web-based resources is recommended in developing a visual approach to the teaching of Geography.
In most cases students displayed a very good knowledge and understanding of the topics under study as was evident from their answers to questions and their ability to complete short class tasks. Their written work in copybooks was neatly presented, of a good standard and diagrams were very well drawn. In all classrooms there was a positive learning atmosphere characterised by mutual respect.
Standard arrangements are in place for formal assessment of students at Christmas and the end of the school year. Students preparing for State examinations sit mock examinations in the spring. Parents are appropriately informed of students’ progress through school reports, annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group and the student journal. In the event of any concerns in relation to a student’s work a letter is issued to parents to invoke their support in ensuring the required work is satisfactory.
Students’ knowledge and understanding were assessed informally in all lessons observed. The use of small-scale project work is recommended as an additional mode of assessment. This work should then be displayed in classrooms to increase the visibility of geography and enhance the learning environment. Homework is regularly set and a range of written work had been completed in line with syllabus requirements. The use of constructive feedback and State examination marking criteria were evident in the correction of students’ work. This is very good practice. It was also noted however from a review of copybooks that some work was marked by neither students nor teacher. It is recommended in order to maximise the learning value of correcting homework in class that students should be required to mark their work during this time and to record any additional material provided by the teachers. Such practice will foster students’ self-assessment and independence as learners.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Geography forms part of the Transition Year (TY) programme.
· The school operates an open-choice system for subject selection at senior cycle.
· There is very good whole school support for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography in terms of resource provision and support for teachers’ professional development.
· Students’ experience of Geography has included participation in co-curricular activities.
· Coláiste Muire has been awarded the Green Flag.
· The geography teachers are engaged in collaborative planning for the subject.
· Good quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation.
· Excellent practice was noted in lessons where active learning methodologies dominated.
· Students generally displayed a good knowledge and understanding of the topics under study.
· A positive learning environment characterised by mutual respect prevailed in all lessons.
· Parents are appropriately informed of students’ progress in the subject.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The geography teachers should focus on strategies and set targets to increase the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) resources to support teaching and learning in the subject.
· The subject plan and curricular plans for each year group should be developed in line with the recommendation outlined in the main body of the report.
· Lesson planning should provide for more student-based activities and active learning methodologies.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009