An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Boyne Community School
Trim, County Meath
Roll number: 91508C
Date of inspection: 4 October 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 Boyne Community School, Trim. 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 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 inclusive ethos of Boyne Community School was in evidence at the school’s entrance as the word ‘welcome’ was displayed in the languages of the students attending the school. This was further reinforced by a display of national flags in the foyer. The school is commended for these inclusive measures and this also makes a positive contribution to the student’s geographic education. There is very good whole school provision and support for teaching and learning in Geography and for the organisation of the subject generally. School management has provided a dedicated Geography room, teachers have been assigned base classrooms and a wide range of resources is available to support teaching and learning in the subject. Notable amongst the resources are up to date political maps of Europe and a collection of transparencies for use with an overhead projector. Other resources include a collection of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, aerial photographs, globes, rock samples, television and video recorder and weather instruments.
In the junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three class periods per week in each of the junior cycle years. A mixed ability class setting is used in all years at this level. The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) is also provided by the school and separate class groups are created to support students following this programme. Documentation was provided outlining the operation of this programme. This included procedures for the selection of students, involvement of parents, the use of resource allocations, the role of Special Needs Assistants (SNA’s), resources, the profiling of students, in-service for teachers and provision for ongoing review of the programme. Classroom observation indicated that teachers are using appropriate resources to support student learning in this programme as lists of key words were developed and displayed during lessons. School management and the teachers involved in the JCSP are very highly commended for their commitment to their students.
It was reported that it is hoped to introduce the Transition Year Programme (TYP) in the school year 2007/08. This is a welcome development and the members of the Geography department are encouraged to work collaboratively to develop a module in Geography for inclusion in the TYP. Consideration could be given to planning for the undertaking of a Geographical Investigation by students, a study of the European Union which would afford an opportunity for cross-curricular links with other subjects and the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to develop students as independent learners. For the Established Leaving Certificate Geography is an optional subject. Uptake of the subject is at a satisfactory level with two class groups in each of the senior cycle years. These class groups are not timetabled to run concurrently, thereby increasing student choice, and this is commended. The school makes every effort to provide for the subject requests of its students and they are given an open choice of subject before option lines are drawn up from which final choices are made. An information evening is held for parents and students receive support from the Career Guidance Counsellor and from subject teachers.
There are currently seven members of the Geography teaching team and they form a clearly identifiable subject department with one teacher acting as subject co-ordinator. The role of co-ordinator is to rotate amongst the members of the department and this good practice is commended. The school’s computer system has been networked and access is available to the three computer rooms. The school is currently hosting ICT in-service courses for Geography teachers. It is recommended that members of the Geography department avail of this opportunity to develop teaching methodologies in this area. Skills developed during in-service will enable teachers to integrate ICT into their teaching and provide students with an opportunity for more investigative and exploratory methods of learning.
There was clear evidence of effective individual planning for teaching in all of the classrooms visited. In most cases individual lesson plans were provided and these were most effective where the learning intention was clearly stated, new subject matter was linked to previously learned subject matter and where the integration of geographic skills was included in the lesson plan. Individual planning and preparation included the assembly of rock samples, overhead transparencies, wall maps and worksheets and these were effectively used to support student learning. Teachers are commended for the preparation of resource materials as they made a significant contribution to maintaining student interest throughout the lessons observed. The development of teachers’ ICT skills and the use of the Internet will further extend the range of resource materials available to support teaching and learning in Geography.
The members of the Geography department have also been engaged in a significant level of collaborative planning and this has been facilitated by school management with opportunities for ongoing meetings throughout the year. The good practice of rotating the role of subject co-ordinator is in place and is commended. Planning documentation provided during the evaluation visit included minutes of planning meetings, planned teaching programmes for each year group within given time frames, including references to resources, assessment and skills. Periods of revision and opportunities for students to answer past examination questions are also planned for and this is commended. A catalogue of all existing resources has been prepared and is made available to all Geography teachers. This good practice is commended. It is recommended that the development of a policy for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning be developed by the Geography team. The development of such a policy could be supported by the planned acquisition of appropriate resources. An examination of the subject department plan indicated that the senior cycle teaching programme begins with Regional Geography as a means of offering a new and stimulating topic of study for students. It was also noted that in the junior cycle areas of the syllabus involving the understanding of more complex concepts are taught in third year. This thoughtful approach to the delivery of the syllabuses is commended. The planned programme for first year students has a significant emphasis on the study of topics from Physical Geography and this places challenging demands on students in terms of the technical vocabulary involved and it is recommended that teachers review this and perhaps replace this unit of study with the development of map and photograph skills using local large scale Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and photographs of the local area.
A wide range of topics was being taught in the lessons observed and these included: rural urban migration, patterns of population change in Ireland, rock formation, earthquakes, and factors affecting climate. Most teachers have adopted a very visual approach to the teaching of Geography and this is commended as it caters effectively for mixed ability class settings. The use of the overhead projector, wall maps, the white board and the provision of rock samples all contributed to effective teaching and helped to maintain student interest throughout the lessons observed. The good practice of providing students with an opportunity to handle and examine rock samples is commended. There was also a focus on teaching the language of Geography. As new terms were introduced they were carefully explained, student’s understanding checked through questioning and were frequently used during the remainder of the lesson. In a number of lessons observed lists of key words relating to the topic being taught were either displayed or developed during the lesson. Resources provided for the delivery of the JCSP were used effectively in this regard. This good practice is commended as it makes a significant contribution to the linguistic development of all students and its wider use is encouraged.
The development of geographical skills was included in many lessons. Map reading, the reading and interpretation of statistical diagrams and the development of higher order thinking skills were integrated into the discussion of many of the topics being taught. The learning potential offered by the use of statistical diagrams and diagrams on overhead transparencies could be enhanced by more focused and directed questioning where the teacher would guide students to examine details shown or by the provision of an appropriate worksheet. This would be facilitated by a greater attention to the micro-planning of lessons.
A variety of teaching methods was used in the classrooms visited. These ranged from those methods which actively engaged students in the learning process to more traditional methods were there was a focus on teacher input. The methods which engaged students most actively in their own learning included brainstorming, question and answer sessions, the completion of worksheets, particularly when this involved pair work, and group work where small numbers of students and their teacher examined and discussed the appearance and formation of different rock types. Students were less engaged where there was an over emphasis on the use of the textbook or teacher exposition. It is recommended that teachers consider ways to extend the range of teaching methodologies currently in use and to develop methods that will focus on exploratory and investigative learning strategies. Teachers will be facilitated in this by sharing their individual expertise and by the use of resource materials provided during the evaluation visit. It was reported that team-teaching has been introduced into some of the JCSP lessons and this is a welcome development.
Student learning was supported in a number of classrooms visited by the presence of a Special Needs Assistant (SNA). Their valuable contribution in helping students is acknowledged and their presence was welcomed by teachers. Clear routines were in evidence in the lessons observed. Classes began with a roll call, homework was monitored and corrected and then new subject matter was introduced. Lessons were developed from previously taught subject matter and the aim of the lessons was generally shared with the students. These good practices are commended as they create a sense of security for students and help them to experience success when lessons are completed. In all of the lessons observed students engaged in the learning activities and a positive classroom atmosphere was observed to exist. Students were frequently affirmed by their teachers and willingly engaged in discussion activities. However, the practice of allowing global answering, which was observed in some classes, should be discouraged.
The good practice of using local examples and drawing on students’ personal experiences were frequently used in the classrooms visited. This can make a significant contribution to facilitating student understanding of geographic concepts and can be an important motivating factor in maintaining student interest. The provision of notice boards for the display of GeoNews would also help in this regard. Newspaper articles, photographs and other material related to the world of Geography could be displayed. This would further enhance the stimulating classroom environments observed were maps, charts and photographs of students undertaking geographical investigations were displayed.
The subject department plan for the teaching of Geography in Boyne Community School includes reference to assessment and notably includes a consideration of the value of assessment to students. The good practice of setting common tests for year groups has been established and is commended. A common project for all first year students is to be organised and consideration could be given to the further extension of this good practice to other year groups. A variety of assessment procedures is used to monitor student’s progress. These included focused questioning of individual students during lessons observed, the completion of homework and the setting of class tests when sections of the syllabuses have been completed. Records of student’s test results; attendance and homework are recorded by teachers and these are used to inform discussions at formal parent teacher meetings which are held annually for each year group. The student’s journal is also used in some instances to provide feedback to parents on test results. An examination of student’s copybooks and folders indicated some high quality work with neatly drawn diagrams and maps and headings underlined, however, in some cases students need some extra support in raising the standard of the presentation of their written work.
Formal assessments are held for all students before Christmas. Pre-Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations will be held during the second term and formal examinations are held at the end of the school year for students in non examination classes. Reports are issued to parents following each formal assessment. It was reported that assistant year heads monitor student progress in October and March and where a student has been identified as underperforming parents are usually contacted and the student is closely monitored. Consideration should be given to a review of the number of students taking the ordinary level in the Junior Certificate Examination in Geography and encourage as many students as possible to attempt the higher level, bearing in mind student abilities and aspirations The school is also in the process of developing a formal homework policy. It is recommended that the Geography teaching team extend the range of assessment procedures by developing Assessment for Learning strategies. Resources to support this were provided during the evaluation visit and further support is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.
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.