An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Geography

REPORT

 

Seamount College

Kinvara, County Galway

Roll number: 63050T

 

Date of inspection: 24 October 2007

Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Seamount College, Kinvara. 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; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Seamount College has a well-developed geography department. School management has made available a wide range of resources to support teaching and learning in the subject. The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the teaching of Geography has been actively facilitated by providing the geography teachers with easy access to the school’s ICT facilities. These facilities include the computer room, three laptops, two data projectors and a scanner. This provision is commended.  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.

 

 

The geography teachers have undertaken an audit of the school’s stock of geography resources and these are catalogued in the subject plan. This work is lauded as this list will enable new members of the geography department to easily establish the resources available for use in their teaching. It will also assist the department in the identification of future resource requirements. It was noted that the classrooms had no maps. It is recommended that large maps of Ireland, Europe and the world be displayed in all classrooms where geography lessons are held. These are an essential resource for the teaching of locational Geography, which is relevant to all areas of the syllabuses.

 

The geography teachers have also developed a subject-specific reference section in the library. This consists of a variety of resource packs, textbooks and publications on a range of geographical topics. This provision is commended as it can be a very beneficial support for teachers and a rich resource for students.

 

School management is supportive of the teachers’ continuing professional development. The senior-cycle geography teacher has been facilitated to attend the recent in-service for the implementation of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. One of the teachers has undertaken a range of courses in ICT provided by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE). This expertise is a valuable asset to the geography department. The commitment by individual teachers to their own professional development is praiseworthy.

 

Geography is a core subject at junior cycle and becomes an optional subject for the Established Leaving Certificate. The time allocations to the subject are in line with syllabus requirements. It is recommended that future timetabling for class groups at junior cycle should provide for a more even distribution of classes over the week to ensure that students have a more balanced exposure to the subject.

 

The Transition Year (TY) programme is an optional programme in the school. All of the TY students take a geography module consisting of two classes per week.  The module aims to increase students’ knowledge of aspects of social, economic and physical Geography. While the module contains a field trip it is recommended that a fieldwork investigation be undertaken by students. This will enable them to develop and expand their existing geographical skills and experience their practical application in the real world. This work will also enhance the students’ research and project presentation skills and will be a beneficial learning opportunity for those students who plan to study senior cycle Geography. It is good to note that the programme OSi Trail Master (Ordnance Survey Ireland) is used in the development of map skills and that model production forms part of the programmes. This diversity is commended.  Development Education is also part of the TY programme. Cross-curricular opportunities with geography lessons are exploited to help broaden and reinforce students’ understanding of social issues. This is good practice.

 

Planning and preparation

 

A strong spirit of collegiality underpins the work of the geography teachers. They have collaboratively gathered or developed a series of PowerPoint presentations, photographs, worksheets and other geographical materials to support their teaching. These are compiled in a common folder for use by all teachers. This sharing of materials is commended and is further encouraged. They have done good work in the development of a subject plan which outlines the practices and procedures of the geography department. This work has been facilitated by regular meetings of the geography teachers both on a formal and informal basis. It is suggested that the minutes of these meetings be kept to support continuity of planning.

 

Curricular plans have been developed for each year group. It is recommended these plans be re-organised to be presented in an integrated format that shows the subject topics, planned timeframes to cover them, the corresponding resource materials and methodologies that are used to teach them and the expected learning outcomes to be achieved by students.  This reorganisation of the curricular documents will provide for more comprehensive plans that will beneficially support teachers in their short-term planning. This work can be carried out on a phased basis and should be used as an opportunity to further share good practice and ideas. It is also recommended that the TY programme be developed in consultation with the geography teaching team. Such a collaborative input will ensure that the programme offered appropriately bridges the gap between   junior cycle and senior cycle Geography.

 

The senior teacher acts as co-ordinator of the department as the other members of the geography teaching team are new to the department. It is recommended that the role be rotated as this will enable all of the teachers to acquire the skills associated with the role and will enhance collective responsibility for subject department planning.

 

The teaching of physical Geography dominates in the first term of first year.  These sections of the junior cycle syllabus place challenging demands on students in terms of the vast range of technical terminology and complex geomorphic processes. In this early stage of first year it is recommended that these topics be interspersed with less technical topics or that they be taught in a general manner and revisited in second or third year for further development.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Good quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. There was evidence of effective short-term planning for the lessons observed. In all cases the planned learning outcome was stated at the start of each lesson. This is good practice as it provides a focus for students on the learning task and encourages them to be more responsible for their own learning. Teachers had prepared a range of resources including work sheets, handouts, text for discussion and overhead projector transparencies. These were appropriately integrated into the lesson and effectively supported students’ learning.

 

A variety of methodologies was incorporated into the lessons which included whole-class teaching, questioning, reading from text, use of visual stimuli and group work. This varied approach is commended and encouraged as it helps to create interesting learning experiences. In some lessons the use of ICT was the dominant strategy employed to support teaching and learning. The students, either working in pairs or individually, were competent in accessing various geographical websites and extracting relevant text and images in preparation for the development of a PowerPoint presentation on the topic. This activity was well organised as the students were provided with appropriate headings to focus web searches and structure their presentations. This work is commended for creating stimulating learning opportunities for students.

 

Questioning was frequently integrated to advance lesson content and to assess students’ understanding and knowledge of the lesson material. This is good practice. It is recommended that teachers be mindful of using an appropriate mix of both global and targeted questioning strategies as a means of challenging and further ensuring the participation of all students in the learning process. Reading from text was among the methodologies employed in some classes to introduce new materials and to supplement teachers’ explanations. In order to derive optimal benefit from text material it is recommended that key terms and sentences be underlined to focus students’ attention on the most important elements. This practice will also assist students in making independent effective use of the text. It is also recommended that the lesson material be structured on the board as a focused guide and support to students when revising topics. In this context the use of mind maps or other simple visuals such as spray diagrams may be very beneficial. Giving students the time to write these short summaries in their copybooks will also help them to reflect on and assimilate the new subject matter.

 

Students with special educational needs are very well supported in their study of Geography. The school is lucky to have a former geography teacher who provides supplementary tuition to students on a voluntary basis. This provision is organised in close liaison with the mainstream geography teachers and serves as an invaluable support in helping students to reach their full potential in the subject. The geography teachers repeatedly expressed their gratitude for such support. This work is acknowledged and highly commended. The subject plan outlines a number of strategies that the geography teachers adopt and are encouraged to use to enable them to appropriately differentiate the syllabuses so as to meet the needs of all students within the mixed-ability classroom setting.  These practices are commended and their widespread use is advocated. In some lessons geographical terminology was well developed and reinforced. The wider use of this practice is encouraged. It is recommended that all teachers display key word lists on topics as they are being taught. These will help students in their linguistic development and enhance their accessibility to Geography. Key word lists should be displayed in a strategic place, for example at the top of the room, so that they are clearly visible to the students at all times.

 

There was a positive atmosphere in all lessons. Teacher-student interactions were characterised by mutual respect which created an environment supportive of learning. The students in general had gained a clear understanding of the topics for study as was evident from their ability to answer questions and their participation in class discussions. An examination of students’ copybooks indicated that a good standard of work has been achieved on a range of topics. 

 

Assessment

 

Informal assessment of students is carried out on in all lessons on an ongoing basis. It is good to note that project work is included in the repertoire of assessment modes used by teachers. This is commended as project work creates opportunities for students to engage in independent learning activities and also promotes the development of research and presentation skills. Homework is set on a regular basis in line with the guidelines stipulated in the school’s homework policy. It was evident from students’ copybooks that written work was corrected and marked with some general qualitative and developmental comments.  This is good practice and is further encouraged to include more detailed comment, which should inform students on ways to improve the quality and standard of their work.  Information on the development of ‘Assessment for Learning’ principles can be obtained on www.ncca.ie , the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

 

The geography teachers peruse State examination results for their particular class groups. It is recommended that this information be discussed at departmental level as a means of further guiding and supporting curricular planning and provision.

 

Formal assessments are held on a number of occasions during the year. Parents are well informed on students’ progress as reports are sent home four times a year. Feedback to parents is also provided at annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group.  This level of communication is commended.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

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:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were 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.