An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Gormanston, County Meath
Roll number: 64420I
Date of inspection: 14 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Franciscan College, Gormanston. 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.
Geography is a well-supported subject in Franciscan College, Gormanston. At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and at this level classes are streamed. Three class periods per week are allocated in each year of the junior cycle. At senior cycle, the Transition Year Programme (TYP) contains a module in Geography and is allocated two class periods per week over the school year. While the TYP is optional within the school it was reported that a very high percentage of students avail of the programme. For the Leaving Certificate (Established) Geography is an optional subject and students receive appropriate support and guidance prior to making subject choices. The school is commended for offering an open subject choice to students before option bands are generated from which students make final choices. Five teaching periods per week are provided in each of the senior cycle years and where possible one double period is provided and all class groupings are of mixed ability. The uptake of the subject is very healthy and there are three class groups in each year of the Leaving Certificate (Established). Class groupings are not timetabled to run currently, thereby increasing student choice of subject options. Teachers are commended for maintaining a high profile for the subject in the school.
The school does not currently provide a dedicated Geography Room but it was reported that it will be re-instated in September 2006. This will provide teachers with an opportunity to develop a map rich and print rich learning environment for students and will facilitate the display of students’ work. The school currently supports teaching and learning in Geography by the provision of resources including wall maps and charts, a collections of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and aerial photographs, videos slides and CD’s, rock samples, soil test kit, and field work instruments. While the Geography department does not have an annual budget allocation, school management provides resources as needs arise and this it commended. It is recommended that the Geography teaching team gather and catalogue all available resources for the teaching of Geography within the school and that these are centrally stored and made available to all teachers as required. This will allow for the effective sharing of resources, will enable future resource needs to be identified and prioritised and facilitate future department planning and school budgeting.
There are currently six teachers of Geography in the school and they form a clearly identifiable subject department. Two teachers currently share the role of subject co-ordinator and it is suggested that this role be rotated amongst the members of the department as this will facilitate the sharing of responsibility and the workload associated with the position.
There was clear evidence of long-term planning by the Geography teaching team and the Geography department plan was made available during the evaluation process. The department plan was linked to the school’s Mission Statement and also identified specific aims for the department these included amongst others developing a love for the subject and working in a spirit of co-operation. Setting a context for the work of the department is good practice and is commended. The plan also identified some of the challenges facing the department, including teaching mixed ability classes, addressing the needs of international students and having appropriate access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The planning process will provide opportunities to consider and address these concerns.
Written plans were included for the delivery of the syllabus in the junior cycle, with different approaches being taken for each of the junior cycle years. In all cases there was a clear statement of topics to be taught, sometimes within given time frames. In some instances a non-linear approach was taken with a focus on a clear statement of a key idea to be taught and then the appropriate topic and lesson content were identified. References were also made in some instances to teaching strategies, resources and methods of assessment.
It is recommended that teachers work collaboratively to produce a formal and comprehensive plan for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography within the school. Within this plan consideration should be given to identifying agreed learning outcomes for each year group, teaching methodologies that will help to develop students as independent learners, fieldwork and project work polices and assessment procedures. The opportunities provided by the recent availability of broadband internet access should be fully explored by developing strategies to use this facility for both resource provision and for presentations by both students and teachers. Teachers will be supported in this collaborative planning by reference to resource material provided during the evaluation visit, by accessing the website of the Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI) at www.agti.ie and by the use of the ‘Guidelines for Teachers’ relating to the Revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. This level of planning will also facilitate the school’s engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). It was noted during a review of the planning documentation that the planned programme for first year classes contained a lot of emphasis on the study of topics from Physical Geography. This places challenging demands on students at this early stage in terms of the extensive range of terminology, understanding geomorphic processes and landform development. It is recommended that the Geography teaching team review this focus on Physical Geography in first year and that greater emphasis be placed on developing map and photograph skills at this early stage.
A written plan was also provided for the module on Geography within the TYP. This plan contained a statement of aims and objectives, references to teaching strategies, assessment, resources and the content of the module. The inclusion of references to such topics as the European Union and new member states, climatic change and sustainable living and local and global issues is to be welcomed. In teaching these topics frequent references are made to Locational Geography and this good practice is commended. As part of the planning review of the TYP, it is recommended that the Geography teachers working collaboratively consider ways to introduce and develop geographical investigation skills and a portfolio approach to student assessment and achievement.
There was clear evidence of planning and preparation for all of the Geography lessons observed. All lessons had clear aims and appropriate resources were used to support student learning. In some cases individual lessons plans were presented and these were impressive in their references to planned learning outcomes, lesson content, references to previous knowledge, homework and proposed lesson follow-up. What was particularly appropriate in one lesson plan was detailed references to planned student and teacher activity. This very comprehensive approach to lesson planning is highly commended particularly where student activity is planned for as an integral part of the lesson. Actively involving students in the learning process facilitates greater understanding, helps to develop students as independent learners, increases motivation and its wider use in all lessons is encouraged. Appropriate resource materials were provided and were effectively used to support student learning. The provision of worksheets and supplementary textual material provided students with opportunities to work independently and this good practice is commended. Teachers are encouraged to avail of opportunities provided by the availability of internet access to further provide resources to support teaching and learning.
In classes visited the topics covered included: the factors affecting climate, the physical landscape of the Mezzogiorno, a review of the Rock Cycle, settlement as shown on OS maps and a consideration of conflicting views relating to the location of a waste management plant. In all of the lessons observed, material was presented at a pace that suited the abilities of the students. The good practice of the teacher sharing the planned learning outcomes of the lesson with students was observed and this is commended as it provides a focus for student attention. Lessons generally began with homework being corrected or with a discussion on student’s prior knowledge of a topic. These good practices are commended as they provide a suitable context for the introduction of new subject matter.
A variety of teaching methods was observed. In most of the lessons teachers had adopted a visual approach to the teaching of Geography by the use of wall charts, the overhead projector and clearly drawn maps and diagrams on the blackboard. These were used to introduce the topic and to clarify and summarise geographic concepts and knowledge. The overhead projector was very effectively used to provide students with different perspectives on the Rock Cycle as a series of transparencies were used to outline and discuss the topic. The visual and colourful resources used engaged students who willingly participated in discussion with their teacher. This discussion then led to an analysis of an examination question where students were advised as to appropriate answering technique for both higher and ordinary levels. Students were then set the task of answering the question for homework. This focus on revision and answering technique was most appropriate for this time of the year. Diagrams and maps drawn on the blackboard were also used effectively to outline the structure of lessons and to provide a visual stimulus for students. These clearly drawn diagrams/maps were used to re-cap on the lesson and to assess student understanding. The good practice of allowing students a ‘quiet time’ to copy notes from the blackboard and to reflect on new subject matter was observed in some lessons and is commended. This also provided the teacher with an opportunity to move around the classroom to support and affirm students. During question and answer sessions, students readily engaged with their teachers and were frequently challenged to offer explanations for geographic phenomena and not just provide descriptions. In discussions students were encouraged to use knowledge of previous sections of the syllabus and teachers developed the links between Physical and Human Geography. These good practices are commended as they help to develop higher order thinking skills amongst students.
In some lessons worksheets and textual material were used to support student learning. An interesting discussion was held around the location of a waste management plant where students were asked to read aloud from the handout. As students read the teacher recorded the key works on the blackboard and terms used were explained carefully to the class. Students were then required to work in pairs and to decide if permission for the facility should be granted or not by the planning authority and to outline reasons for their decision all of which was to be recorded on a worksheet provided. The variety of methods used, the relevance of the topic to the world outside the classroom and the active engagement of the students in paired work are very highly commended as they engage students in their own learning, provide opportunities for students to learn from each other and add variety from a more didactic approach which relies heavily on input from the teacher. It is recommended that these good practices be integrated into all lessons and that teachers develop a broad range of teaching methodologies which will facilitate the more active engagement of students in their own learning. The development of an ICT policy for the Geography Department would also provide opportunities for students to develop as independent learners and to use and develop their presentation skills.
In all of the classrooms visited there was a mutually respectful atmosphere between students and their teachers. Teachers frequently affirmed students for their efforts and encouraged them to participate in class discussions. Students remained on task and as required sought clarification from their teachers. An examination of student’s copybooks showed good quality work, with neatly drawn maps and diagrams. This reflected the high expectations of their teachers and is commended.
Teachers in Franciscan College use a variety of methods for assessing student progress. Formal tests are held for all students in October and at Christmas, students in examination years sit pre-examinations in the second term and non-examination students have formal assessments at Easter and summer. Reports are issued to parents after all formal assessments. Student progress is also reported on at parent-teacher meetings.
During all classes visited teachers assessed student’s progress through focused questioning. Questions were directed to named individuals or were open to the entire class. Students willingly engaged in discussions with their teachers and showed a good knowledge of their courses. Student progress is assessed by holding class tests when sections of the syllabus have been completed and test results are recorded in teacher’s diaries. The work observed in student’s copybooks was generally of a high standard and it is noted that students had separate copies for notes and for homework. This good practice is commended, as notes carefully developed over the year can be a valuable revision aid at the time of examinations. In some copybooks teachers had provided useful summaries and had provided revision worksheets for students. These good practices are commended and their wider use is encouraged. Teachers have been monitoring work in copybooks and have in some instances provided feedback to students on their progress. This was particularly helpful where students had received feedback following their attempts to answer sample examination questions. Teachers are encouraged to further develop their methods of assessment particularly with reference to ‘Assessment for Learning’ principles. The documentation provided during the evaluation process and accessing the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie will assist teachers in developing assessment procedures.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 principal and with the teachers of Geography at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.