An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Malahide Community School
Broomfield, Malahide, County Dublin
Roll number: 91325R
Date of inspection: 26 April 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 Malahide Community School. 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 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 and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to respond in writing to the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Malahide Community School is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 1128 students, 644 boys and 464 girls. School management provides very good whole school support for the organisation of teaching and learning in Geography. A dedicated Geography Room is provided in which a wide range of resources is displayed, stored and made available to teachers. It was reported that all requests made to school management for resources have been acceded to and this was appreciated by members of the Geography teaching team. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) equipment has also been provided to support teaching and learning and the assistance of funds from ‘The Science Covenant Fund’, a voluntary contribution from parents, in this regard was gratefully acknowledged.
At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject, is allocated three class periods per week in each of the junior cycle years and all classes are of mixed ability. At senior cycle, the Transition Year Programme (TYP) contains a module in Geography that is delivered over two terms and is allocated four class periods per week. For the Established Leaving Certificate, Geography is an optional subject. Students receive appropriate support prior to making subject choices from subject teachers and the Career Guidance Counsellor (GC). Students are offered a free choice of subject and it was reported that every effort is made by the school to maximise student requests. An open night is held to provide parents with appropriate information and guidance in relation to programme and subject choices. The school is commended for its efforts to support parents and students at this point in transition from junior to senior cycle. The uptake of Geography in the senior cycle is satisfactory. Five class periods, consisting of a variety of single and double class periods, are allocated to Geography at this level and this is in line with syllabus requirements. All Geography classes at this level are also of mixed ability.
The seven members of the Geography teaching team form a very clearly identifiable subject department, with one teacher acting as subject co-ordinator, to which role a post of responsibility has been assigned. A high degree of co-operation and mutual support amongst the members of the department was evident during the evaluation process. Geography teachers have, with the support of school management, assembled a wide range of resources, some of which were displayed in the Geography Room and other classrooms. These resources include a collection of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and corresponding aerial photographs, wall maps and charts, rocks samples, weather instruments, a collection of videos and CD’s and recently instruments to be used in geographical investigations. School management is commended for this level of resource provision and it reflects a commitment to provide rich learning experiences for students. A catalogue of all available resources has been prepared by the members of the geography department and was made available during the evaluation process. The provision of such a catalogue facilitates lesson planning and is an example of very good practice.
Subject department planning is well established amongst the Geography teaching team in Malahide Community School. Teachers have worked collaboratively to produce a range of documents including a Department Plan, a catalogue of available resources, and have developed policy documents on homework, support for students with special educational needs and a policy for inclusion of international students. They have also identified short, medium and long-term aims for the department. In the introduction to the Department Plan the high ideals of creating a sensitive awareness, amongst students, of the complex interactions between the physical and human world and of fostering a sense of responsibility for care of the earth and its people are set out. The setting of such high aspirations is very highly commended and they were echoed in all of the lessons observed. Aims and, in most cases, objectives were set out for each year group and reflected those set out in the various syllabus documents. Reference was also made to content to be taught within given timeframes, resources available, arrangements for assessment and teaching methodologies. Some further detailed development of the course content in some of the years is suggested. The short-term aims have all been completed. The development of a policy on educational tours/trips on a regular basis in the junior cycle and fundraising for third world charities, the development of cross-curricular links and encouraging more students with special needs to continue the study of Geography in the senior cycle are amongst the laudable medium and long-term aims of the Geography Department. As part of the planning review process it is recommended that the focus on the study of Physical Geography in the first term in first year be reviewed and that a greater emphasis be placed on developing key map and photographic skills at an early stage in the junior cycle by using large scale OS maps (1:1000) and photographs of the local area. This focus on Physical Geography places challenging demands on students at this early stage in terms of the extensive range of terminology, understanding geomorphic processes and landform development.
A written plan was also provided for the geography module within the TYP. The aim of developing skills through the carrying out of a geographical investigation in the local environment were clearly set out and references were also made to knowledge to be acquired, resources available, methodologies to be used and to assessment. The planned development of cross-curricular links with History is good practice and is encouraged. The presentation of the geographical investigation using students ICT skills is commended.
There was clear evidence of very effective short term planning for all of the lessons observed. All lessons had clear aims and the good practice of sharing these with the students was evident. A range of high quality and appropriate resources had been prepared and were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times. Resources used included a PowerPoint presentation using very high quality labelled photographs and text, cloze tests and support material, maps and diagrams shown using a data projector or drawn on a white board and a selection of photographs. The provision of geography resources specially designed to support students with special educational needs deserves to be acknowledged and the school is highly commended for its concern to cater for the needs of all its students. This level of resource provision reflects the commitment of the teachers to providing stimulating and rich learning experiences for their students and is very highly commended.
Very high quality teaching and learning was evident in all of the classrooms visited and teachers employed a variety of effective teaching methods to engage students. Clear routines have been established for the beginning of classes, roll call was followed by the correction and monitoring of homework. The aims of the lesson were then shared with the students and this provided a clear focus for student’s attention. Lessons concluded with homework being assigned. This structured approach helped to create a sense of purpose and security within which learning could take place. Students were provided with an opportunity to develop their oral skills during question and answer sessions and they willingly participated in discussions and were knowledgeable in their answers showing a particularly good knowledge of their local environment. The good practice of getting students to offer explanations for geographic distributions was observed in most classrooms and this is commended as it helps to develop higher order thinking skills. This focus on the local environment is good practice as it facilitates student understanding of geographic concepts. As a means of further establishing a link between the study of Geography and the world outside the classroom it is suggested that a notice board devoted to GeoNews be provided particularly in the Geography Room. Students could be encouraged to provide photographs, maps and articles from the print media for display. In the classes observed the topics being taught included: contrasting models of urban in structure in Europe and in the United States, the study of sub-continental regions, Indian and South West United States, an introduction to the fishing industry, a review of fluvial processes and landforms and the processing of a geographical investigation on coastal geomorphology.
The use of ICT was a notable feature of the teaching methodology and teachers are commended for their work in this area. A set of very high quality photographs of fluvial landforms, obtained from an Internet search, made for a very visual and stimulating way to revise a topic in Physical Geography and the inclusion of labels and text added to the effectiveness of the lesson. Providing students with an opportunity to describe and explain the content of photographs would help to develop their oral skills and self-confidence while providing further variety in the teaching/learning methodology. As students were introduced to a study of the Indian Sub-Continent they were provided with a list of suitable web sites and with the help of a prepared worksheet were given an opportunity, by working in pairs, to use the school’s computers to research the topic. The results of the research were to be shared during a lesson planned for later in the week. The further integration of pair/small group work as a means of enabling students to learn from each other is recommended. Support for this will be provided in the materials supplied during the evaluation visit and from visiting the web site of the Geography Teachers Association of Ireland at www.agti.ie. These good practices are very highly commended as they provide a structured way for students to act as independent learners and also encourage collaborative learning amongst students and teachers. An examination of geographical investigations undertaken by students showed that they had used their ICT skills in processing and presenting their work. These good practices can form the basis for the development of a policy on the role of ICT across the curriculum in Geography and it is recommended that such a policy be developed as part of the subject department plan.
An examination of documentation provided by some teachers indicated that they were aware of the needs and preferred learning styles of their students. The visual approach, using maps drawn on whiteboards, maps shown on data projectors and a wide variety of textual materials, cloze tests and skilfully prepared worksheets provided effective scaffolding to supporting student learning. Where maps are used to provide a general overview of a region, a series of overhead transparencies overlaying each other can be particularly effective in a mixed ability class setting. Student learning can be further reinforced through the provision of a map/worksheet to be used for homework. In all of the lessons observed there was a clear emphasis on the development of geographical skills, in line with syllabus requirements. Careful attention was also paid to teaching the language of Geography. As new terms were introduced they were carefully explained and were used frequently throughout the lessons. The display of such key words in classrooms could further support students’ linguistic development. It was noted that in some copybooks ‘Mind Maps’ had been used to support students learning. This is a particularly effective way to summarise a long section of the syllabus, such as Plate Tectonics or a study of a Sub-Continental Region, and to help establish links between areas of the syllabus. The wider use of this method is strongly advocated. Resources designed to cater for students with special educational needs have been purchased and it was reported that effective communications are maintained between the geography department and members of the school’s learning support team. The school is commended for its efforts to cater for the needs of all its students and for its pastoral approach.
Fieldwork forms part of the teaching programme for Geography in Malahide Community School and the use of the rich local environment in this regard deserves to be acknowledged. Students preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination had completed a study of the processes and landforms of coastal erosion. Students in the TYP were involved in processing and preparing for the presentation of their investigation into coastal erosion and deposition. Students are supported in their work by the provision of clearly prepared worksheets and map. The Leaving Certificate 1 students were preparing for an educational visit to the Burren, where amongst other activities there would be a focus on the geographical significance of this unique landscape. Visits to secondary industries, it was reported, had also been arranged on occasion. Teachers are commended for their commitment and dedication by organising and facilitating such first hand and worthwhile learning experiences for their students.
A positive and mutually respectful atmosphere prevailed in all classrooms visited and students were supported and affirmed for their efforts by their teachers.
The Geography teaching team in Malahide Community School have included a section on assessment for each year group in their subject department plan and the implementation of this plan for assessment was evident during the evaluation process. During all of the lessons observed, student understanding was assessed through frequent questioning. Students willingly participated in discussions and were knowledgeable in their answers. Homework is regularly assigned, monitored and assessed. Students are encouraged to use hard backed copybooks for their work and an examination of a selection of these copybooks indicated that some are maintained to a very high standard with carefully drawn, coloured and annotated maps and diagrams. Students had received constructive feedback and their work was monitored on a regular basis. This focus on keeping well-maintained copybooks provides students with a sense of achievement, reflects the high expectations of their teachers and is highly commended. Class tests are held on a regular basis usually when a section of the syllabus has been completed and results are recorded in teacher’s diaries. This provides a basis for reporting on student progress at formal parent teacher meetings, which are held annually for each year group. The good practice of setting common agreed tests for each year group is an established practice and is highly commended. A number of samples of these tests were provided and they reflect the type of questions set in the State Examinations, including amongst others objective test items, stimulus response and testing geographical skills. The quality of these tests is commended and reflects a highly professional approach by the geography teaching team. It is recommended that teachers develop their methods of assessment particularly with reference to the use of small scale project work and the use of ‘comment only’ marking with reference to ‘Assessment for Learning’ principles. Information relating to these principles is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website, www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.
Parents of students in the Leaving Certificate 2 class receive a progress report in October and these students participate in an intensive teaching programme while other students sit formal examinations before Christmas. Pre-examinations are held during the second term. All students in non-examination years sit formal examinations in the summer. As part of the school’s planning review it is noted that the members of the geography department undertake a review of the results of students sitting State Examinations and this practice is commended.
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 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
I would like to thank and compliment the Inspector for the professional and constructive tenor of the report. The affirmation of the positive aspects of the school’s Geography department was very welcome and appreciated, while the suggestions for introduction or development were also valuable.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Geo notice-boards have been introduced into classrooms and a more comprehensive IT policy for Geography is under discussion.