An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Eureka Secondary School
Kells, County Meath
Roll number: 64410F
Date of inspection: 2 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 24 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Eureka Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Geography and geography 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 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.
Eureka Secondary School, which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation in 2006, is a voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of Catholic Education – an Irish Schools Trust (CEIST). It has a current enrolment of 719 students, 706 girls and 13 boys. The boys are repeating the Leaving Certificate Examination.
There is very good provision and whole school support for teaching and learning in Geography with the provision of a dedicated geography room, a wide range of resources and the recent provision of information and communication technology (ICT) resources in the geography room. Resources are stored in the geography room and in the school library. A catalogue of these resources is included in the subject department plan. Where possible only geography classes should be assigned to use the geography room.
In junior cycle, Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three class periods per week in each of the three years. All classes in first year are of mixed ability, while in other years a banding arrangement is in place. Issues around class organisation and subject choice are currently being reviewed and discussed within the school. In the senior cycle, Geography is offered within the Transition Year programme (TY), which is optional, and for the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC). Within the TY, Geography is allocated two class periods per week. For the ELC five class periods per week are allocated to the subject and this is in line with syllabus recommendations. There is scope to increase the uptake of Geography for the ELC. The subject department plan contains a document entitled ‘Geography for the Leaving’ prepared by the geography teaching team and this is made available to parents and students. This provides a rationale for continuing the study of the subject, information on the content of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus and a list of careers where the study of Geography would be useful. Teachers are highly commended for the initiative in preparing this document as a means of supporting parents and students in making subject choices.
There are currently six geography teachers in Eureka Secondary School and they form a very clearly identifiable subject department with one teacher acting as subject co-ordinator. The high level of co-operation and mutual support offered by members of the department was acknowledged during the evaluation visit and is commended. It is suggested that the good practice of rotating the role of subject co-ordinator be adopted. Teachers have availed of continuing professional development (CPD) in relation to the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus and to the use of ICT in teaching Geography. This has been provided both in-house and in Navan Education Centre. Details of CPD undertaken by teachers are contained in the subject department plan.
Attention is paid to students with special educational needs and teachers are aware of students in their classes with special needs. This was evidenced in discussions at school level during the evaluation visit and in scrutiny of the subject department plan. It is suggested that more formal contacts be established between the geography teachers and the learning support department. The geography teachers could provide lists of key words and revision plans while the members of the learning support department could advise on appropriate teaching methodologies. This is particularly important within the context of a mixed ability class settings. It was reported that team teaching is being used to provide support for students in a number of classes. This is very good practice and its wider use should be encouraged.
The members of the geography teaching team have engaged with ICT and recognise the potential of this to provide rich learning experiences for students. ICT is currently being used by teachers to bring the benefits of supplementary teaching materials obtained from the internet to their students and in the preparation of worksheets and revision aids. From September 2007 the geography teaching team has set itself the task of more fully integrating the use of ICT into teaching and learning. This is very highly commended.
A very comprehensive subject department plan has been developed through the collaborative efforts of the geography teaching team, a copy of which was provided during the evaluation visit. Minutes of subject department meetings were also provided. The plan outlines the school’s mission statement and a policy document for the geography department. Curriculum plans within given timeframes, teaching methodologies and resources available for each year group are included. In reviewing the curriculum plans it is suggested that the geography teaching team focuses on learning outcomes to be expected rather than on content to be covered. It is recommended that the teaching programme for first year classes be reviewed, particularly the focus on physical geography. This could be replaced by the development of map and photograph skills using maps and photographs of the local area. Policy statements on homework, assessment and recording procedures have also been prepared. Commendably the plan outlines areas for further development for the subject department. The areas for development include timetabling of the geography room, the further development of resources to support teaching learning, extended use of fieldwork, promotion of the subject among students, further CPD for teachers in the area of special needs and the integration of ICT across all areas of the curriculum from the start of the next school year.
A plan for the geography module within the TY is also included in the subject department plan. The focus on the development of students’ knowledge of locational geography and the inclusion of a geographical investigation (GI) are commended. The undertaking of a GI is most appropriate as it will enable students to develop their investigative skills and enable them to experience Geography outside the classroom. It is recommended that the TY module in Geography be reviewed, especially the units on plate tectonics and glaciation, so as to ensure a clear distinction is maintained between the study of these topics within the TY and the ELC. In writing the TY plan for Geography reference should be made to the document Writing the Transition Year Plan and consideration be given to methods of assessing student progress and an evaluation of the module. This document which was produced jointly by the Transition Year Curriculum Support Service (TYSS) and the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science is available at TYSS website (ty.slss.ie/resources)
All individual lessons observed were meticulously planned. They had clear aims and a range of appropriate resources was used to support teaching and learning. In some instances individual lesson plans were provided. The good practice of sharing the aims of the lesson with students was evident in all of the lessons observed. This provided a clear focus for students’ attention and provided continuity between lessons. Teacher planning and preparation included the provision of resources. These resources included: worksheets, wall maps and charts, transparencies for the overhead projector, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and a video. During the evaluation visit, teachers also made available folders with an extensive range of other teaching resources which had been developed over a period of time. The production of these resources is very highly commended as it reflects the commitment of teachers to provide stimulating and enjoyable educational experiences for their students.
Observation of classroom management in the lessons visited provided many examples of excellent practice. Students remained on task, willingly engaged in the planned learning activities and were affirmed and supported by their teachers. In all of the lessons observed very clear routines had been established and this created a sense of order that facilitated a focus on teaching and learning: lessons began with roll call; homework was monitored and corrected; knowledge gained in previous lessons was recalled before new subject matter was introduced. The good practice of referring to students’ personal experiences or to the local environment was evident during discussions between teachers and students. The content of the lessons was developed from previously taught subject matter and was delivered at an appropriate pace to ensure engagement by all students. Lessons concluded with homework being assigned and recorded in students’ journals.
The range of topics covered in the lessons observed included: preparation for a planned fieldwork in the local area, global warming, international aid, world inequalities, revision of fluvial and glacial geomorphology, and a study of peripheral regions. Teachers used a variety of teaching methodologies that actively engaged students in the learning process and their enthusiasm for their subject was evident. These methodologies included question and answer sessions, brainstorming, whole class teaching, the completion of worksheets individually or in pairs, and the provision of a ‘quiet time’ for students to copy lesson summaries into their notes copy. Interest and variety was added to all of the lessons observed by the use of the overhead projector where statistical diagrams, photographs and maps were used to develop the lesson. A photograph provided by a student and made into an overhead transparency was used very effectively to convey the idea of a cultural region. The encouragement of this type of engagement by students with the learning process is commended. Student enjoyment of the learning process was evident when a short video clip was used in one lesson. The provision of a worksheet to accompany the video helped to ensure student engagement and prevented students from becoming mere spectators and this is very good practice. This visual approach adopted by all members of the geography teaching team is very highly commended.
The development of students’ geographic skills was also evident in the lessons observed. OS maps, statistical diagrams and photographs were integrated, where appropriate, into the lessons and this is very much in line with syllabus recommendations. Students were challenged through focussed questioning to offer explanations for geographic distributions and to elaborate on their answers. This good practice helps to develop higher order thinking skills. There was also a focus on teaching the language of Geography. New terms were introduced, clearly explained and then used by both students and teacher in the remainder of the lesson. The display of lists of key word in classrooms would facilitate the linguistic development of students and this should be considered.
The geography room provided a map-rich and a print-rich learning environment with the display of maps, photographs, charts and some work carried out by students. This display of students’ work is an important way to acknowledge effort and is good practice. News items from the print media were also explained. Teachers are encouraged to build on these good practices by introducing the idea of a GeoNews notice board to the geography room. Students and teachers could contribute photographs and articles from the print media for display and some of these could be developed into resources for worksheets as resource provided during the evaluation will demonstrate.
Fieldwork forms an important part of the teaching programme in Eureka Secondary School. The collaborative efforts of the members of the geography teaching team in the preparation of fieldwork are acknowledged. In the current school year fieldwork has been undertaken by students preparing for the ELC and students in the TY. In discussions it was noted that it is hoped to extent this important out-of-class activity to other year groups and this is highly commended.
The geography subject department plan for Eureka Secondary School outlines a variety of assessment procedures to be used in monitoring student progress. These include ongoing oral assessment during class time, setting of homework, class tests when sections of the teaching programme have been completed and the assessment and marking of fieldwork and project work. Teachers record test results, homework and attendance and these are used to inform discussions at formal parent teacher meeting which are held annually for each year group. It was reported during the inspection visit that the good practice of setting common tests for some year groups had commenced. The extension of this, with agreed marking schemes, should be actively considered where possible.
An examination of students’ copybooks indicated that some students are working to a very high standard. Work was logically and neatly presented, headings were in colour or underlined and maps and diagrams were carefully drawn and coloured. However, in a number of instances students’ work could be improved and support materials provided by teachers were not included in the appropriate place in copybooks. It is recommended that the members of the geography department consider strategies to improve the quality of students’ written work and the organisation of students’ notes and resource materials.
Formal assessment takes place at the end of the first and third terms while pre-examinations are held in the second term for students taking the Certificate Examinations in that year. Reports are issued to parents following all formal assessments. An analysis of results in Certificate Examinations is undertaken by the members of the geography department and the school principal and this is praiseworthy. The school is to be commended for the high proportion of students that take higher level Geography for both the Leaving Certificate and the Junior Certificate. In this regard, an examination of the performance of the students who have taken the ordinary level for the Junior Certificate suggests that some of these students could, with encouragement, have successfully completed the higher level course. It is recommended that this be taken into consideration in future years.
In some of the lessons observed there was an appropriate focus on revision for Certificate Examinations at this time of year. Students had answered past examination questions and had received appropriate feed back from their teacher. This is good practice as constructive feedback enables students to develop and improve their answering skills. Teachers are encouraged to develop further ‘Assessment for Learning’ principles and consider the use of ‘comment only’ marking when students first begin to answer past examination questions. Resources provided during the evaluation will support teachers in this approach to student assessment.
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
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. Geography room only accessible to Geography students now
2. Greater emphasis in 1st year on Map Skills
3. More project work planned for TY.
4. More structured approach to note keeping e.g. folder