An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 Subject Inspection of Geography

REPORT

 

Presentation College

Athenry, County Galway

Roll number: 62870G

 

Date of inspection: 30 April 2007

Date of issue of report:  8 November 2007

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, Athenry. 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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

In Presentation College, Athenry Geography is a well-established subject on the school curriculum. It is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and is available to all students as an optional subject for the Established Leaving Certificate.  The uptake of Geography at senior cycle is generally in line with national norms. The provision of an open choice of subjects at senior cycle and the placing of Geography on a number of the subsequently created option bands are commended in facilitating student access to the subject. Good support is provided to the students and their parents to assist them in making appropriate subject choices. An information evening is held for parents at which the subject options and programmes are discussed. Subject teachers also discuss their respective subjects with students. There are two class groups in both fifth and sixth years which are assigned an appropriate mix of both single and double class periods. Sixth year class groupings receive a generous time allocation of six class periods per week.

 

The school offers students the opportunity to sample a broad range of junior cycle subjects in first year. Consequently the time allocation to Geography consists of two teaching periods per week during this year. The time allocation subsequently increases to three class periods per week in both second and third year. It is recommended that timetabling provision endeavours to provide an even spread of classes over the week as a further support to the delivery of the junior cycle Geography curriculum.

 

The Transition Year (TY) programme contains a module which has some links with Geography. It is recommended that school management should consider the inclusion of a stand-alone Geography module within the transition year curricular provision. This could be used as an opportunity to provide students with a suitable taster of what the subject entails at senior cycle and thus assist them in making more informed subject decisions. The inclusion of a fieldwork component based on the local environment would enable students to develop existing geographical skills, acquire new skills and experience their practical application in the real world. This exposure would also beneficially prepare students for undertaking the geographical investigation as part of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. In keeping with the philosophy of transition year it is encouraged that the provision of a Geography module should focus on novel and practical learning experiences for students. In developing a transition year curricular plan for Geography it is advised that teachers consult the ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’ document to support this work.   

 

School management is committed in its efforts to supporting students with special educational needs (SEN). The school promotes a philosophy of integration and is actively working towards the development of a whole-school approach that will focus on inclusion of students with special educational needs within the mainstream classroom as far as is practicable. There are two qualified learning support teachers in the school and two other members of staff are currently undertaking the post-graduate diploma in special educational needs.  At the start of the school year the teachers are informed of students with learning difficulties. It was reported that a planned programme of supports is to be put in place next year which will include in-service to staff on methodologies for working with students with SEN in addition to the sharing of relevant information regarding various learning difficulties. These planned provisions are highly commended and will further assist the Geography teachers in differentiating the syllabuses to cater for the needs of all students within the mixed-ability Geography class settings.

 

The Geography department has access to a variety of resources which include wall maps, aerial photographs, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, soil test set, camera, rock samples, overhead projectors and a TV and DVD/VCR unit. It was reported that the available range of weather and fieldwork instruments is quite limited. It is recommended that in planning for the future development of resources that consideration is given to replenishing and expanding the current stock of geographical instruments in order to meet the required needs of the department. It was   evident that some base classrooms and other rooms used by the Geography teachers were lacking in maps and other visual aids to support the teaching of the subject. The provision of large European and world maps in all classrooms where Geography is taught should be addressed.  In addition, it is recommended that the teachers develop print-rich and stimulating geographical learning environments. This could be achieved through the display of maps, photographs, geographical posters and student project work. The creation of geo news boards should also be considered and students should be encouraged to contribute articles from the print media and geographical websites.  

 

Resources are currently stored in a number of classrooms thus creating certain difficulties for teachers in obtaining access to them.  In this regard it is strongly encouraged that a central storage area for resources is arranged to facilitate easier access to their use.  

 

The school has very good information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. There are currently two computer rooms which can be used by the Geography teachers subject to availability and a third computer room is to be available in the next academic year. Teachers have been supported financially by the board of management in the purchase of their own laptops. In addition the Geography department has access via a booking schedule to a mobile laptop and data projector unit. School management is commended for these provisions as they facilitate the use of ICT across all areas of the curriculum.  While there was some evidence of ICT being used during the evaluation the Geography teachers are strongly encouraged to plan for its increased integration in supporting teaching and learning in Geography. The materials provided by the Geography Support Service contain valuable resources to support the extended use of ICT as an effective teaching aid.

Planning and preparation

There are seven Geography teachers and they form a clearly identifiable subject department. While a senior teacher acts as co-ordinator of Geography it was reported that the entire Geography team contributes to the work of co-ordination of the department. Notwithstanding this collegial support, it is recommended that the position of co-ordinator be rotated on a regular basis in order to create a broad skills base among all members of the Geography teaching team.

 

School management has facilitated the development of subject planning through the provision of formal meeting times on a number of occasions during the year. These are further supported by regular communication among the teachers to discuss subject related issues. The practice of maintaining minutes for formal meetings was observed and this is encouraged in assisting continuity of planning. To further build on this good practice it is advised that the subject plan incorporate a review section. This should be used to record evaluations of the work of various aspects of the department and to document areas for development and associated action plans.

 

A copy of the subject plan was viewed during the evaluation. Common programmes of work have been devised for all year groups and this is good practice as it enhances the standardisation of teaching and learning in Geography. Good work has been done in developing schemes of work for junior cycle year groups. These documents contained reference to the topics to be studied over term timeframes and outlined in considerable detail the specific learning outcomes expected for students. The resources to be integrated into the delivery of these units of the syllabus were also listed. It was noted that these were quite varied and included project work, a fieldtrip, use of the internet, newspaper articles, TV documentaries, videos and photographs. The use of a broad range of resources is  highly commended in providing varied learning experiences for students.

 

The current first-year programme shows a marked emphasis on physical Geography including geomorphology, meteorology and climatology. It is evident from the observation of classes that these topics are covered in considerable detail. At this early stage in post-primary school these areas of the syllabus are challenging for students in terms of their specialised vocabulary and the range of complex processes. It is thus suggested that physical Geography taught in first year be covered in a more general manner. It is recommended that map and photograph skills are introduced at an early stage in first year by using large scale (1:1000) maps and aerial photographs of the local area. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of less technical topics. The resource material provided by the inspector will provide some guidelines and ideas on developing a programme for junior cycle Geography.

 

Long-term schemes of work have been developed for senior cycle class groups which consisted of a list of topics to be taught over weekly timeframes. It is recommended that these be developed into short-term schemes of work that indicate the desired learning outcomes for each year group and the integration of methodologies, ICT  and resources to be used in the delivery of the various units of the syllabus. This work will provide a good opportunity for teachers to further engage in collaborative planning and dialogue in relation to the sharing of ideas and practice. This team work will enrich the quality of curricular provision for all involved.

 

Some teachers had compiled their own individual resources which included notes on topics, photographs and diagrams, overhead transparencies, PowerPoint presentations, worksheets and assessments. This level of planning and preparation is commended and provides for good quality teaching.

 

There was evidence of very good short-term planning in classes where pre-prepared resource materials were used to vary the learning process and to support students in their work. In all lessons teachers’ knowledge of the subject indicated a good level of preparation.

 

Teaching and learning

Effective teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation. The lessons were well structured and delivered at a pace which was generally suited to the abilities and needs of students. At the outset of some lessons the learning objective was communicated either orally or documented on the board. This suitably informed students of the work in hand and provided focus and direction to the progression of the lesson. This is good practice and its use is encouraged in all classes. Lesson content was in all cases in line with syllabus requirements.

 

The presentation of lesson material was characterised by the use of a variety of teaching methodologies which in some cases were commendably supported by the integration of visual stimuli to support teaching and learning. In one class the provision of a short video on various coastal features effectively enhanced students understanding of coastal processes. The students were required to complete a worksheet during viewing which had been pre-explained by the teacher. This is commended as it provided for focused viewing and appropriately directed the students’ attention to particular aspects of the video. They embarked on the task with diligence and it was obvious from their enthusiasm that they enjoyed this visual learning experience. They were also knowledgeable and accurate in their answers. In another class students presented a number of visual stimuli on renewable and non-renewable energy sources. The integration of a  visual approach to the teaching of Geography is encouraged in all classes as a means of  facilitating student learning and catering for the range of learning styles within mixed ability classroom settings. The resource materials provided by the Geography Support Service provide plenty of opportunity for creating visually stimulating learning encounters.

 

In many classes the development of lesson material was outlined on the whiteboard. This is good practice. It is recommended that such presentations are confined to main points, key terms and definitions. In this regard it is encouraged that the use of mind maps and flow diagrams might be considered as a means of providing simple summaries of lesson content. These would also be of benefit in assisting students to establish connections between different parts of the topic.

 

In all classes instruction was comprehensive and informative and incorporated a scaffolded approach to the development of topics. Questioning was used effectively to lead students along specific lines of enquiry and to lead them to the required information through reflection and analysis. Maximum use was made of students prior learning in this regard.  In some cases the textbook was referred to or read to supplement instruction.  It is recommended that key information is highlighted in the textbook in order to direct students’ attention and assist them in the use of this valuable learning resource.

 

Geographical terminology was reinforced through explanation, the provision of definitions on terms and in some cases a recap of terms at the end of the lesson. This is good practice. As some units of the syllabus contain an extensive range of technical terms, in particular physical geography, it is recommended that lists of these terms are displayed in classrooms as topics are being taught. This exposure will serve to enhance students’ familiarity with these terms and their ability to integrate and use them in their communications.  

 

In some classes there was a focus on examinations as was appropriate for the time of year. The students were well advised in relation to the allocation of marks and the corresponding number of significant relevant points required for inclusion in their answers. Students were provided with the opportunity to practice and develop these necessary examination techniques as they were guided through the answering of some sample questions. This work is commended.

 

Students generally displayed a good knowledge of their courses. Their engagement with learning was most purposeful where practical tasks were integrated with instruction. The provision of such tasks adds variety to lessons and students are challenged to apply what they have learned.  In this context it is recommended that consideration be given to the increased use of teaching strategies that will actively engage students in the learning process.  It was evident from an examination of some students’ copybooks that work has been completed on a range of topics. This work while of a good standard reflected the mixed ability nature of class groupings.

 

An encouraging atmosphere prevailed in all classrooms. Students were addressed by first name and affirmed for their efforts and contributions.  In turn students were polite and courteous and willingly engaged in and co-operated with all classroom activities.   

Assessment

Formative and summative assessment is conducted on an ongoing basis. Teachers employed a variety of informal assessment procedures in class through questioning, the provision of worksheets and the correction of homework. Oral assessment was effectively integrated into all lesson activities to test student knowledge, reinforce important learning points and to progress lesson content and the development of themes. During class exercises teachers circulated among students assessing their progress and providing guidance where necessary.

 

It was reported by some teachers that they occasionally get their students to undertake small scale project work. It is recommended that all of the Geography teachers employ project work as an additional mode of assessment. This valuable and activity-based learning experience could be used as an opportunity to develop students as independent learners and simultaneously enhance the development of their ICT skills. Student achievement should then be acknowledged by displaying their completed projects. These displays would further promote the creation of motivational and stimulating learning environments.

 

The homework policy of the Geography department details practice in relation to homework, assessment and record keeping. Homework is set on a regular basis as was evident from both the policy and an examination of students’ copybooks. This is good practice as it builds on class work and further enhances student learning. However it was evident that there were variations in the extent to which homework is corrected. It is recommended that all homework is corrected in a whole-class setting. Students should also be instructed to mark their own work. Such a provision would allow for errors to be identified and addressed at both a global and individual level and correct work to be affirmed and reinforced. Students would also be enabled to evaluate and improve on their own work.

 

Some of the work completed by students was annotated with developmental comments. It is recommended that this practice be further developed. Students should be informed on their strengths and be provided with constructive feedback on ways to improve the quality of their work. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie will provide useful information to assist with the implementation of this practice.

 

The quality of record keeping is of a high standard. Teachers systematically record attendance, the results of students’ assessments and incidences of the non-completion of homework. This is good practice as these records can be used to establish patterns in student achievement and to address the needs of individual students.

 

There is regular year-group formal assessment with reports issued to parents four times a year following these formal assessments. Home-school communication is also maintained through the school journal and annual parent teacher meetings. This level of communication with parents is commended

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • There is good whole school support for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography.
  • School management is committed in its efforts to support students with special educational needs
  • Teachers are engaged in collaborative planning, a subject department plan and co-ordinator are in place.
  • Effective teaching and learning were observed during the course of the evaluation.
  • Teachers employed a variety of methodologies which included oral instruction and visual and practical learning experiences.
  • There was a positive and encouraging atmosphere in all classrooms.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • The Transition Year programme should include a stand-alone Geography module.
  • Planning for the future resource needs of the Geography department should focus on geographical instruments for fieldwork and the provision of maps in classrooms. It is also recommended that stimulating geographical learning environments are developed in classrooms.
  • It is recommended that the senior-cycle curricular plan be developed in line with the recommendations outlined in the body of the report. The emphasis on physical Geography in first year should also be reviewed.
  • It is recommended that consideration be given to the increased use of methodologies that actively engage students in the learning process.
  • In future planning, it is recommended that the Geography teachers give consideration to a broadening of current assessment practices to include the greater use of project work and the increased implementation of assessment for learning principles.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were 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.