An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Loreto Community School
Milford, County Donegal
Roll number: 91500J
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Community School. Milford, Co. Donegal. 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.
In the weeks prior to the subject inspection visit the students and staff of Loreto Community School occupied a newly completed school building. A dedicated geography room has been provided and teachers are also assigned base classrooms. A wide range of resources is provided to support teaching and learning in Geography and these include the provision of a television and DVD player, four computers and printer for the use of students in the geography room. Teachers also have access to laptop computers and data projectors and to school computer rooms. In the context of this generous provision for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) it is recommended that the geography teachers develop policy and procedures for the fullest integration of these technologies into teaching and learning. This will make a significant contribution to developing students as independent learners. Other resources include wall maps and charts, a selection of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and aerial photographs, rock samples and a section of videos.
While the geography department does not have an annual budget it was reported that school management accommodates all reasonable requests for resources. School management is commended for this generous provision of resources and this reflects a commitment to providing rich learning experiences for students. In order to maximise the use of all available resources in the school to support teaching and learning in the subject it is recommended, as a priority, that the geography team catalogue all available resources in the school, store these in the geography room, provide a copy of this catalogue to all existing and new members of the department and put in place arrangements whereby all teachers can access these resources. It is also recommended that arrangements be put in place to ensure the availability of the dedicated geography room to all class groups.
At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject. The good practice of providing students with ‘taster subjects’ in first year has been introduced in the current school year and this has necessitated the adjustment in time allocation to individual subjects. Geography is allocated two or three class periods per week in first year and three class periods per week in second and third year. All geography classes at this level are of mixed ability.
Geography is also present in the Transition Year Programme (TYP). It is delivered as a module over half of the school year and is allocated two class periods per week. The inclusion of the subject within the TYP is commended as it provides an opportunity for students to further develop their geographic skills and to engage in explorative and investigative learning. For the Established Leaving Certificate Geography is an optional subject and students and parents are supported in making subject choices at this level by the guidance counsellor, subject teachers and an evening meeting for parents is held. The uptake of the subject at this level is satisfactory. At this level Geography is allocated five class periods per week, consisting of three single and one double class periods. In the context of a nine period day this time allocation is broadly in line with syllabus recommendations.
There are currently five members in the subject department at Loreto Community School and one teacher acts a subject co-ordinator. The rotation of this role amongst all members of the department is encouraged. The members of the Geography department are commended for their collaboration with the learning support department to cater for the needs of all students. During the evaluation visit lists of key works relating to a variety of topics in Geography and worksheets supplied to the learning support teacher were made available. Advice provided by the learning support teachers on appropriate teaching methodologies will be of particular help in teaching in a mixed-ability class setting.
Documentation provided during the evaluation showed that the process of subject department planning has been taking place. A subject co-ordinator is in place and school management has provided opportunities for formal planning meetings to be held at the beginning and conclusion of the school year. The aims and objectives in the plan are in line with syllabus requirements. Other areas covered in the department plan include: a common teaching programme for all years within given timeframes and references to teaching methodologies, provision for students with special education needs and assessment. The inclusion of planned periods for revision within the teaching programme is welcomed. In reviewing the planning documentation it was noted that the programme for first year contains a focus on Geomorphology, Meteorology and Climatology. This places considerable demands on students at this early stage in post-primary school in terms of the extensive range of technical terminology used and the understanding of complex processes. It is recommended that this focus on topics in Physical Geography be reviewed and the development of map and photograph skills be considered as an alternative. The use of large scale OS maps (1:1000) and photographs of the local area could be useful in this regard.
A written plan for the geography module within the TYP was also made available. During discussions the two main activities of the module were highlighted, namely the creating of 3D landscape models of the local landscape and the carrying out of a geographical investigation. The introduction of a study of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was discussed and this would be a most welcome development and entirely in line with the ethos the TYP. Assessment will be both at a group and individual level.
In all of the lessons observed there was clear evidence of planning and preparation by individual teachers. Each lesson had a clear focus and the good practice of sharing the aim of the lesson with the students was observed in a number of instances. Previously prepared resource materials were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times. Resources included worksheets, OS maps in textbooks, a cut-out model of a volcano, a video recording of a television news item and a PowerPoint presentation. The provision of these resources made an important contribution to enhancing student understanding and helped to maintain student interest during the lessons. The integration of ICT into the teaching programme is a welcome development. The continued development of such resources is encouraged and will be facilitated by the school’s provision of Broadband Internet access.
A map-rich environment was in evidence in all of the classrooms visited with displays of wall maps, charts and photographs of geographic significance. The good practice of displaying photographs and articles from the print media relating to current events was noted in one classroom and the wider use of this is advocated. Students could be encouraged to contribute to such displays and material could be adapted to form the basis of worksheets as resources provided during the evaluation visit will indicate. The use of appropriate Internet searches could also prove to be fruitful in this regard and would be facilitated by the development of an ICT policy by the members of the geography department. The linking of current events with classroom experiences for students can make a significant contribution to understanding geographic concepts.
In the lessons observed the topics being studied included: types of geographic region, local water supply, sedimentary rocks and volcanoes, the human cost of earthquakes and volcanoes and method for giving grid references. A variety of teaching methods was used in the lessons observed. These ranged from brainstorming and the recording of the results of this activity on the whiteboard, the viewing of a short recorded news item and an ensuing question and answer session between teacher and students to a more traditional teaching method where the teacher or a student read from a textbook. Students were more engaged and stimulated by lessons where they were actively involved in the learning activities and where there was a focus on investigative methods of learning. These active learning methods were effectively demonstrated where a brainstorming session was followed by a PowerPoint presentation. Students were required to complete a worksheet during the presentation. The use of map and photographic evidence in a variety of settings provided a stimulating and challenging opportunity for students to apply and test their knowledge. As students viewed the presentation the teacher moved around the classroom supporting students and clarifying issues as they arose for individual students. The completed worksheets were then exchanged between students for correction, as the teacher engaged in a question and answer session with students. This good practice enabled students to contribute to the learning process and to learn from each others’ mistakes.
It is recommended that the geography teaching team, using the resources provided during the evaluation process, extend the repertoire of teaching methodologies currently being used and include an outline of these methods and some sample lessons in the subject department plan. These methods could include the inclusion of small group or pair work and would cater more effectively for mixed-ability class settings. The pacing of lessons was satisfactory in most of the classrooms visited, however, in some instances the lesson could have moved along at a faster pace and care needs to be taken in planning that the lesson contains sufficient challenge for students of all abilities. Consideration could also be given to the appropriateness of some classroom activities which could be more suited to completion at home.
As a means of facilitating student understand the good practice of drawing examples from the local environment was observed and this is commended. Care was also taken to develop student’s understanding and use of the language of Geography. New terms were introduced, clearly explained and then student understanding was checked through questioning. The further development of student’s literacy would be facilitated by the display of lists of keywords relating to a particular topic in classrooms and teachers are encouraged to engage in this effective practice. In most lessons observed teachers had adopted a visual approach to the teaching of Geography. A news item recorded from the television, a PowerPoint presentation and the overhead projector were used effectively to cater for those students whose preferred learning style is visual. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on the use of such materials so as to ensure the active engagement of students and to avoid the possibility of students becoming mere spectators to teacher presentations.
A variety of formal assessment procedures is in place in Loreto Community School. The progress of students in third year and Leaving Certificate Year 2 classes is assessed on three occasions during the first term. All other students sit formal examinations before Christmas. Pre examination tests are held in the second term for students in examination years and there are formal examinations at the end of the school year. Parents receive progress reports after all assessments. Students’ progress is also reported on at parent teacher meetings, held annually for each year group. It was reported during the evaluation visit that results from the Certificate Examinations are analysed by the school. Results are supplied to the relevant individual teachers, the principal reports to the Board of Management (BOM) and parents representatives on the BOM report back to the Parents’ Association.. It was reported that the school has embarked on developing a whole school policy in relation to homework and this is highly commended.
The subject department plan contains references to the types of assessment to be used in monitoring student’s progress. These include references to homework and the monitoring of copybooks. The good practice of setting common tests by members of the geography teaching team is noted and commended. An examination of work in students’ copybooks indicated that, in some instances, this work would benefit from some closer monitoring by teachers and students need to be provided with guidelines and guidance on maintaining a high standard in their written work. Students in examination years will also gain experience in answering past examination questions. This good practice was observed in one classroom where students were provided with a handout containing a sample of past examination questions. The introduction of ‘comment only’ marking for students answering past examination questions is encouraged. It is recommended that the range of assessment instruments be extended to include small scale project work and the development of Assessment for Learning principles. Accessing the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and support materials provided during the evaluation visit will facilitate this. During discussion at the post-evaluation meeting it was reported that the members of the geography department hope to engage with the Green-Schools Project. This would give a practical expression to many of the objectives of the geography syllabuses and is very highly commended.
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.