An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ
Limerick, County Limerick
Roll number: 64260M
Date of inspection: 17 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ. 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 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.
Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ is a girls’ secondary school under the trusteeship of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three teaching periods per week in each of the junior cycle years. All classes have a mixed-ability structure at this level. Classes generally retain the same teacher from first year to third year. This is commended as it supports continuity of learning. In most cases the class periods assigned to the subject for the various year groups are well distributed across the school week. This is good practice as it facilitates regular contact between the students and their teachers and the geographical material being studied. It is recommended that future timetabling should provide for a balanced provision of classes to all year groups as far as is possible. This would further support continuity in the learning process.
The Transition Year (TY) programme in the school is compulsory. Geography is allocated three class periods per week in a modular structure. The module aims to expand students’ knowledge of locational Geography at local, national and European levels. It also aims to develop an understanding of aspects of both physical and human geography in parallel with relevant fieldwork studies in these areas. The use of fieldwork is praiseworthy in developing students’ geographical skills and it is encouraged that such activity be the focus of the module into the future. It is recommended that this module be used as an opportunity to integrate the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the teaching of Geography both as a valuable learning and research resource.
Geography becomes an optional subject offered within an open choice structure for the Established Leaving Certificate. The uptake of Geography is good given that the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is offered at senior cycle and that Geography is not currently accepted nationally within the LCVP subject groupings. The time allocation of five weekly teaching periods is in accordance with syllabus recommendations. The inclusion of double period lessons at senior cycle is good practice as it facilitates teachers and students in undertaking practical work.
School management is commended for the wide range of subject specific resources made available to the geography department. These resources are catalogued in the school plan and stored in a room that facilitates easy access to their use. It is encouraged that the geography resource list be regularly reviewed to assist with the identification of future resource needs and the subsequent planning for their provision. While there is no specific budget allocation for Geography, requests for resources are generally met. In planning for future resource provision it is recommended that large European and world maps be displayed in classrooms where a significant number of geography lessons are held. This provision would be most beneficial in supporting the teaching of locational Geography which permeates all aspects of the syllabuses. Maps would also serve to enhance the visible presence of Geography. In this regard it is recommended that student project work and articles from the media relating to Geography be displayed as a means of creating visually stimulating geographical learning environments.
It was reported that there is limited use of ICT in the teaching of Geography. Use of ICT is essential to support the teaching and learning of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus and to derive maximum benefit from the resources provided by the Geography Support Service for its implementation. In this regard it is recommended that school management and the geography teaching team give priority to its increased integration to support teaching in the subject particularly at senior cycle. The school has one computer room which can be reserved by subject departments via a booking system. It is recommended that senior cycle classes be timetabled for dedicated access to this room. This provision would encourage and effectively facilitate the integration of ICT as a valuable teaching and learning aid.
The school’s support of the continuing professional development of its teachers is commendable. Teachers have been facilitated in their attendance at the recent in-service for the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. All of the teachers are members of the North Munster branch of the Geography Teachers Association.
There was clear evidence of collaborative planning amongst the geography teachers. Formal department meetings are held twice a year and there is also regular informal contact among the teachers to discuss subject issues. It is suggested that the main areas discussed and key decisions taken at formal meetings be recorded to further support continuity of the planning process. All of the geography team members contribute to subject department planning. While this collegial approach is commended, it is recommended that in order to focus responsibility for leading subject planning that a co-ordinator be appointed. This role should be rotated on a regular basis so that the work involved is shared and all of the teachers have the opportunity to gain experience of the position.
A copy of the subject plan was viewed during the evaluation. Long-term curricular plans have been devised for each year group which indicate broad topics to be covered during the year. In building on the good work accomplished to date, it is recommended that these plans be further developed to include a more detailed breakdown of course content to be covered within shorter timeframes. The list of resource materials and methodologies outlined in the plan to support the teaching of syllabus units should also be integrated into these schemes of work in addition to the expected learning outcomes to be achieved by students. Future planning for the use of ICT should also be documented in these plans. In acknowledgement of the work and time involved in undertaking this task it is suggested that it be carried out on a phased basis, for example one senior cycle and one junior cycle year group per annum. The geography teachers engage in ongoing revision of the subject plan. This is good practice. It is advised that the subject plan incorporate a section to reflect the outcomes of such reviews.
The current first-year programme indicates an emphasis on physical Geography including geomorphology and meteorology. At this early stage in post-primary school these areas of the syllabus are challenging for students in terms of their specialised vocabulary and the range of complex processes. It is thus suggested that physical Geography taught in first year be covered in a general manner and revisited in second or third years for further development in line with syllabus requirements. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of less technical topics. The resource material provided by the inspector will provide some guidelines and ideas in this regard.
A co-operative atmosphere that was supportive of learning was evident in all lessons. There was a caring relationship between teachers and students and all interactions were marked by mutual respect. The students were addressed by name and their efforts and contributions were always affirmed. High expectations for learning were continually promoted in all of the lessons. Students who were absent from the previous lesson were well catered for through a brief recap of the key learning points prior to the introduction of new material. In one case the teacher provided a handout of the main points of the lesson for the benefit of those students who were absent. This level of support is commended.
The students showed a very good level of knowledge and understanding of the subject and were impressive in their ability to recall information. They remained focused and attentive throughout each lesson and participated in all lesson activities with diligence. An examination of copybooks indicated a good standard of work achieved on a range of topics.
Good quality teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation. There was evidence of effective short-term planning in the preparation of worksheets, overhead transparencies and handouts appropriate to the work in hand. All of the lessons were coherent, well structured and in the main were appropriately paced. The students were clearly informed of the focus of each lesson as the learning objectives were explicitly communicated to them. This good practice is commended.
There was a good range of teaching methodologies incorporated into the delivery of lesson content which included questioning, explanation, use of overhead transparencies, worksheet activities and pair work. These added variety to the lessons and purposefully engaged students in their work. The observed use of visual materials in supporting students’ understanding of abstract concepts is commended. Teachers are encouraged to further develop this good practice. In one class the process of long shore drift was effectively illustrated and explained to students through the use of video and teacher-generated diagrams. A wealth of geographical materials and visual resources can be accessed through use of the internet. It is recommended that these be sourced and integrated into the teaching of Geography as a further means of enhancing students’ understanding of geographical processes and in serving the variety of learning styles that exist in mixed-ability class groupings.
Teacher instructions were clear and all material was explained in a systematic and comprehensive manner. In some cases lesson content was structured on overhead transparencies either in sentence or bullet point format. To maximise the value of this provision as a useful revision aid for students it is recommended that the material presented be confined to key points. The use of mind maps, flow charts or other simple visual representations is suggested as a means of summarising material and establishing connections between different parts of the topics. There was good reference to the local environment where relevant. This is good practice as it creates meaningful links with geographical theory and concepts and the real world.
The geography teachers liaise with the learning-support department in relation to any student in receipt of additional support in Geography. This is commended. It is also indicated in the subject plan that extra help in the form of photocopied notes and worksheets is provided to students when the need arises. Given the mixed-ability nature of all geography classes it is recommended that key word lists be displayed on topics as they are being taught. This strategy will further assist students in their literacy development and in their understanding and application of geographical terminology.
Map reading skills were well taught and students were appropriately assisted in the practical application of these skills. It is recommended during such lessons that the ordnance survey map be displayed on the overhead projector to further facilitate whole class teaching of skills and concepts and for ease of reference. The incorporation of worksheets and practical activities into all lessons created opportunities to reinforce and test students learning. This provision is in line with best practice. These tasks also ensured maximum student involvement in the learning process.
A variety of assessment modes is utilised to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of Geography. Informal assessment is ongoing in classes through the use of class discussions, questioning strategies and completion of worksheets. Informal class tests are given when a topic is completed. The results of these are recorded by the teacher. A variety and range of homework is assigned and regularly monitored. In some lessons detailed formative comment was provided to students to guide the further development of answers. This is to be highly commended. Formative assessment techniques are encouraged in line with Assessment for Learning (AfL) principles. These give students more detailed feedback on strengths and areas for improvement.
Formal assessments are given at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations in term two in preparation for the State examinations in June. Continuous assessment is used to monitor the TY students during the school year and also first-year students in term one. The outcomes of formal and informal assessments are reported to parents through parent-teacher meetings and school reports.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Geography is offered as part of the TY programme.
· A student-centred approach is applied to the selection and provision of subject choices at senior cycle.
· The geography department has access to a broad range of resources to support teaching in the subject. Time allocations to the subject are appropriate.
· The geography teachers are commended for their engagement in continuing professional development.
· The geography teaching team members are engaged in collaborative planning for the subject both on a formal and informal basis.
· Good quality teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation.
· Teachers employed a range of methodologies and resource materials to support students in their work.
· The students demonstrated a very good level of knowledge of the subject.
· In all classrooms a positive atmosphere characterised by mutual respect created an environment conducive to learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that large European and world maps be displayed in classrooms where geography lessons are held. Print-rich geographical learning environments should also be encouraged and developed.
· In planning for the future development of the subject the integration of ICT should be given priority by the geography teachers in consultation with school management.
· It is recommended that subject planning be further developed in line with the recommendations outlined in the body of the report.
· The focus on physical Geography should be reviewed.
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.