An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Dunshaughlin Community College
Dunshaughlin, County Meath
Roll number: 71960I
Date of inspection: 10 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the Dunshaughlin Community College. 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.
The organisation, teaching and learning of Geography is very well supported by school management especially in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) provision. All classrooms have been provided with data projectors and computers with broadband internet access. Students and teachers have access to the school’s computer facilities. A wide range of resources developed by teachers can be accessed through the school’s Share Point system. These resources include syllabus documents, examination guidelines and PowerPoint presentations on a variety of geographical topics. Students are also provided with an opportunity to submit assignments electronically and to receive feedback from their teachers.
There is a dedicated geography room and most teachers have their own base classrooms. These classrooms contained a wide range of resources including: wall maps and charts, rock samples, videos, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, aerial photographs, weather instruments and fieldwork equipment. It is recommended that all resources for teaching and learning be catalogued and that this inventory be included in the subject department plan.
Geography is a compulsory subject for all students in the junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week in each of the three years. In the senior cycle, Geography is included within the Transition Year (TY) programme where it is allocated two class periods per week. For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) Geography is an optional subject available to all students. Five teaching periods are provided at this level, consisting of double and single class periods. This is in line with syllabus recommendations. All geography classes in both junior and senior cycles are of mixed ability. Students and parents receive appropriate advice and support prior to making subject choices and this is commended. The uptake of the subject for the ELC is in a very healthy state.
Environmental awareness amongst the school community is encouraged and the school has been awarded the Green Flag which is displayed at the school entrance. This co-curricular activity is commended and gives a practical expression to the aims of the geography syllabuses.
Five teachers constitute the geography department with one member acting as subject co-ordinator on a rotating basis. A very clear subject department has been established where teachers provide mutual support and share their considerable professional expertise. They also share an extensive range of resources which they have developed. Teachers have availed of continuous professional development (CPD) by attending in-service provided in relation to the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus.
A very comprehensive subject department plan has been developed by the collaborative efforts of the members of the geography department. The non-linear approach to the planned delivery of the Junior Certificate syllabus is commended. This plan includes reference to curriculum content linked to agreed timeframes, teaching methodologies, resources and assessment methods. This very comprehensive approach to planning for the delivery of the Junior Certificate syllabus could be extended to planning of the Leaving Certificate syllabus. As a means of developing students’ geographical skills it is recommended that the development of map and photograph skills be introduced at an early stage in first year.
A written plan for teaching and learning of Geography within the TY is in place and is currently being reviewed. This plan includes the study of medical geography, a trip to the Burren and a geographical investigation on a topic in urban geography. The inclusion of a geographical investigation within this plan is commended as it provides students with an opportunity to engage in an exploratory and investigative approach to learning. Students develop appropriate geographical skills, which will be of benefit to them in pursuing the ELC.
An action plan for the future development of the subject is included in this plan. Areas identified for development include: a review of teaching programmes and resources, devising measures to further develop inclusive strategies for students with additional educational needs, cross-curricular links and the completion of a project to celebrate cultural diversity within the school. This level of strategic planning with specific targets, within agreed timeframes, and with success criteria identified is a further example of excellent practice.
Planning and preparation by individual teachers showed many examples of very good practice. Lessons had clear objectives and learning was supported by the provision of very high quality, and appropriate, resource materials. These resources included: the OSi Trail Master, video clips, and transparencies for the overhead projector, photographs and worksheets with supplementary textual material. The provision of such resources is very highly commended, as it clearly demonstrates the desire of teachers to create high quality educational experiences for their students.
The quality of teaching and learning in all of the lessons observed was of a very high standard. Teachers used a variety of teaching methods that actively engaged students in the learning process. Topics taught in the lessons observed included: mass movement, urban geography, processing results from a geographical investigation, the interpretation of population pyramids and preparation for a geographical investigation in an urban environment. Teachers taught with competence and enthusiasm and this stimulated students to participate in the planned learning activities. Particularly effective was the use of small-group work in preparing a questionnaire to be used in gathering information for a geographical investigation. Teacher and students discussed the merits of using ‘closed questions’ in a survey. This was followed by the teacher setting students the task of devising the actual questions to be used in the planned survey. As students were engaged in the assigned task the teacher moved around the classroom offering support and affirmation. This facilitated a collaborative approach to learning and is an example of very good practice.
Independent learning was also encouraged, in another classroom, as a teacher and students discussed the results of a coastal study. Conclusions were drawn from results obtained during out-of-class activity. Key points from the discussion were recorded on the whiteboard and students were then set the task of developing these points using their own words in a written report. This approach to the processing of results clearly separates the work of the teacher from that of students and facilitates the development of students as independent learners. It was reported that teachers had engaged in team-teaching in the preparation of a geographical investigation as part of the teaching programme for the Leaving Certificate. This is a further example of a collaborative approach to delivering the geography syllabuses and is commended.
In a number of lessons observed there was an appropriate focus on examination preparation. Students were given clear and appropriate advice on answering techniques and guidelines in relation to the writing of the report on the geographical investigation. Homework was assigned from past examination papers and this provided students with experience in answering data-response questions. These are examples of very good practice.
Questioning techniques used by teachers further facilitated the engagement of students. Question and answer sessions frequently preceded the introduction of new subject matter. This approach prepared students to receive new knowledge and awakened their interest in the topic. The development of higher-order thinking skills was encouraged by teachers challenging students to reflect on what they are learned, to offer explanations for geographic phenomena and not merely provide descriptions.
Teachers in Dunshaughlin Community College have adopted a very visual approach to the teaching of Geography. ICT was an integral part of the teaching methodology in most of the lessons observed and it made a significant contribution to student understanding and enjoyment. Teachers provided information to students in relation to appropriate websites relevant to the topics under discussion and they encouraged students to access these sites. A video clip was accessed via the internet where the planning problems arising in a city in the USA were discussed. This provided the basis for a lively discussion of urban problems in the students’ home region. In another lesson a website was accessed where the problems of overpopulation in Bangladesh were outlined. This provided the context for a focused discussion between the students and their teacher.
The linguistic development of students was facilitated by the introduction of key terms at appropriate times during the lessons observed. These terms were clearly explained and used throughout the remainder of the lesson. Student learning was of a very high standard as students were knowledgeable about their courses and were familiar with the language of Geography.
Teachers were aware of students with additional educational needs and best practice was observed when students were included through focused questioning and by the provision of modified worksheets. It was reported during the evaluation that personalised learning is being developed by the geography teachers and will be used to provide appropriate and challenging learning opportunities for ‘gifted students’. Teachers should refer to the recent NCCA publication Exceptionally Able Students: Draft Guidelines for Teachers for support in this initiative. This approach to differentiated learning is an example of excellent practice as it caters effectively for the wide range of abilities of the student population.
Classroom management was excellent. Students were supported and affirmed by their teachers and an atmosphere of mutual respect was evident in all of the classrooms visited. The display of maps, charts and student project work helped to create stimulating learning environments.
Teachers in Dunshaughlin Community College use a wide range of assessment methods to monitor and report on student progress. Particularly noteworthy is the use of small-scale project work which encourages students to develop as independent learners. Students’ efforts were acknowledged and celebrated by the display of their work in classrooms and on corridors. Ongoing assessment of students’ understanding was evident during lessons, as teachers directed questions to named students. Teachers encouraged students to seek clarification and they responded in a positive manner by asking questions. Class tests are held when sections of the teaching programme have been completed.
An interesting method of assessing homework was observed when students swapped their copybooks and corrected each other’s work under the guidance of their teacher. This involved students making appropriate insertions into the work. This exercise provided a valuable opportunity for students to learn from and discuss their mistakes.
The good practice of students having two copybooks was evident, one for homework and the other to be kept for notes. The quality of students’ work in their copybooks is considered as part of the evaluation of their progress for in-school examinations. This is commended. Formal assessments also take place and are held the end of the first and final terms. Pre-examinations are held during the second term for students preparing for certificate examinations. There is scope for the school to review the levels taken by students in the Junior Certificate examination, and in so doing more students should be encouraged to attempt the higher-level paper. Teachers keep records of attendance, homework and assessments. Students’ progress is reported on by the issuing of reports to parents and by the formal parent-teacher meetings, which are held annually for each year group. Parents can monitor student progress on an ongoing basis by accessing student records on the school’s ePortal system.
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.