An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Dundalk Grammar School
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63920A
Date of inspection: 25 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dundalk Grammar 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 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, deputy 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.
Dundalk Grammar School is a co-educational, fee-paying, secondary school and has a current enrolment of 508 students. Teaching and learning in Geography is very well supported by school management. A dedicated geography room has been provided and teachers have developed a wide range of resources over a period of time. The resources have been catalogued and commendably they are available to all members of the geography department. Information and communication technology (ICT) equipment had been provided and is used to enhance teaching and learning.
In the junior cycle, Geography is a compulsory subject and it is allocated three class periods per week in each of the three years. Geography is included within the compulsory Transition Year programme (TY) where it is taught as a half-year module and it is allocated four class periods per week. Teachers expressed satisfaction with this current arrangement for Geography within the TY. For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) Geography is an optional subject and it is allocated five class periods per week, consisting of one single and two double class periods. This time allocation is in line with syllabus recommendations. Class groupings for Geography in all years are of mixed ability. Students choose subjects from pre-set option blocks and commendably Geography appears in two of these blocks thus providing good access to the subject. School management has conducted a review of the subjects within option blocks and this is commended. It is recommended that the school reviews the subject option structure for the Leaving Certificate by providing students with an open choice of subject before option blocks are generated.
Students are well supported in their choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate, notably with the holding of an information evening for parents and with the provision of a booklet outlining the content of each subject. The reference to Geography in this booklet should be updated so as to include information on the importance of the geographical investigation in the revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. The uptake of the subject for the Leaving Certificate is in a healthy state with two class groups in each of the years.
Currently five teachers deliver the geography programme and they form a very clearly identifiable subject department with one teacher acting as subject co-ordinator. Teachers have availed of continuing professional development (CPD) in relation to the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. Commendably they have also attended in-service provided by the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI).
The school has been awarded the Green Flag and is involved in recycling waste. This is highly commended as it gives a practical expression to the aims of the geography syllabuses.
Subject department planning is very well established in Dundalk Grammar School and written plans were provided for the subject and for the TY module. Minutes of subject department meetings were also provided during the evaluation. Formal subject department meetings are held monthly, organised by teachers during lunchtime, and there is on-going informal contact between members of the department. Meetings are organised by the subject co-ordinator and a very good esprit de corps was evident during the evaluation. The teachers’ sharing of resources and of their professional expertise has facilitated a collaborative approach to planning within the geography department.
The subject department plan is based on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template and contains an agreed teaching plan for each year group within given timeframes. Commendably the teaching plan for first-year students focuses on the development of students’ geographical skills and contains a good balance of topics from both physical and human geography. The more difficult geographical concepts are included in the plan for third year and this is good practice. Teachers are commended for adapting the planned teaching programme to the needs of students and for their non-linear approach to the delivery of the Junior Certificate Geography syllabus. Commendably the plan also refers to a variety of teaching methodologies, co-curricular activities, provision for students with additional educational needs and procedures for assessment and reporting on students’ progress. The plan identifies areas for further development and these include: the greater provision of resources for students with additional educational needs, the development of an assessment policy and the promotion of the subject within the school. This developmental approach to subject department planning is very good practice. In reviewing the subject department plan it is recommended that teachers focus on identifying learning outcomes linked to curriculum content, timeframes, resources, teaching methodologies and methods of assessment.
The written plan for the TY contains a list of possible topics, including reference to both human and physical geography. Teachers choose from this list, as appropriate, and commendably a geographical investigation is included in the planned teaching programme. This provides for out-of-class learning and facilitates the development of key geographical skills. Students use their ICT skills for research and presentation. Teachers also make use of ICT both in the preparation of resources to support teaching and learning and in the delivery of the geography syllabuses. It is recommended that the good practices evident in relation to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning be documented and included in the subject department plan.
Planning for individual lessons showed examples of excellent practice. In all cases, the aims of the lessons were shared with the students, lessons were very clearly structured, and teaching and learning were supported by a range of appropriate resources. The resources used included: supplementary textual material, transparencies for use on the overhead projector, locational maps, PowerPoint presentations and worksheets. The good practice of providing worksheets to accompany presentations is commended as this encourages students’ participation in the learning process. The provision of this wide range of resources is a measure of the commitment of teachers to provide stimulating learning experiences for their students and is highly commended.
Classroom management, in all of the lessons observed, was of a very high standard. There was a focused yet relaxed atmosphere and students were affirmed by their teachers. Students willingly engaged in the planned learning activities. In their interactions with their teachers and with the inspector students were respectful, and knowledgeable about their courses. They willingly expressed their opinions and this contributed to creating an atmosphere conducive to productive teaching and learning.
Very high quality teaching and learning was evident in all of the classrooms visited as teachers used a variety of methods to actively engage the students in the learning process. Lessons were particularly effective where there was a balance between student activity and teacher exposition. Topics discussed in the lessons observed included: settlement patterns, the Mezzogiorno as an example of a peripheral region, the processing of results from a fieldwork exercise and a revision class on the Paris Basin. Teacher exposition was clear, appropriately paced and was supported by teacher-generated resources. When students were engaged in a learning activity, either on their own or in small groups, best practice was observed when teachers moved around the classroom offering support and affirmation to students. In one classroom visited students preparing for certificate examinations had been provided with a list of revision topics and these were ticked when revised. This is good practice as it provides students with a sense of direction for their revision and a sense of achievement as topics are revised. The display of maps and charts created stimulating learning environments for students and this is commended.
Teachers are made aware of the learning needs of individual students by the learning-support department and appropriate strategies for supporting students are outlined in the subject department plan. Teachers provided one-to-one support for individual students during activity-based learning. It was reported that team teaching has also been used as a means of supporting students. This is a very effective means of delivering support to students and its wider use is encouraged. The geography teaching team has developed a glossary of key geographical terms and this has been shared with the learning-support teachers. The display of such lists of key terms in classrooms would also support students’ learning. A visual approach to the delivery of the planned teaching programme was evident in the lessons observed and this supports students’ understanding and knowledge. The use of students’ own experiences and references to the local environment further facilitated student engagement and understanding of geographical concepts.
Out-of-class learning forms a significant part of the geography programme in Dundalk Grammar School. Students visit a number of important geographical sites and commendably undertake geographical investigations in the local area. This is very highly commended as it provides an investigative and exploratory approach to learning and students develop a range of social skills as they engage in common tasks. Skills in relation to map reading, photograph analysis and the use of instruments in the gathering of information are also developed. A folder containing support material in relation to such learning activities was provided to the inspector. It is commendable that this type of learning is provided to most year groups and not just confined to TY students or those undertaking the geographical investigation for the Leaving Certificate examination. In one of the classrooms visited, students were observed processing information that they had collected and their enjoyment of the process was evident. The support materials provided were of a very high standard and scaffolded students’ learning. The processing of information collected was then used to develop students’ ability to draw statistical diagrams. The use of such primary data makes a significant contribution to students’ understanding as they learn how best to present the data they have collected. Consideration should be given to providing more specific and limited tasks to groups of students or to reducing the scope of some topics under investigation. Higher order thinking skills were developed during lessons as students were frequently invited to reflect on what they had learned and to offer explanations in addition to providing descriptions.
A range of assessment methods, both formal and informal, is used by the geography teachers in Dundalk Grammar School to assess student progress. These include questioning during lessons, regularly assigned homework and class tests when sections of the teaching programme have been completed. Formal assessments are held at Christmas and summer and students preparing for certificate examinations sit pre-examinations in the second term. Teachers keep records of attendance, homework and tests and these are used to report on students’ progress at parent-teacher meetings which are held annually for each year group. Commendably teachers use assessment for learning (AfL) principles in the Leaving Certificate geographical investigation and in some cases students are encouraged to engage in reflective practice and self-assessment. Teachers set common tests and the school is developing a policy in relation to homework. This is commended. In order to complement the good practice that is already in place, it is recommended that teachers develop a policy in relation to AfL and include this policy in the subject department plan. Resource materials provided during the evaluation will support this development.
Clear procedures are in place in relation to how students store handouts and how copybooks should be maintained. These are commended. An examination of students’ copybooks showed some very high quality work with neatly drawn maps and diagrams and a high level of presentation overall. This reflects the high standards set by teachers and is a further example of good practice. Work in copybooks is monitored and students are supported with constructive comments added by teachers.
Assessment within the TY is based on a ‘credit system’ and commendably students’ participation in the learning process, particularly in relation to working with other students, is acknowledged in the assessment process.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Teaching and learning in Geography is very well supported by school management.
· Resources have been catalogued and are available to all members of the geography department.
· The uptake of the subject for the Leaving Certificate is in a healthy state with two class groups in each of the years.
· Teachers have availed of the continuing professional development opportunities made available to support the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus and commendably they have also attended in-
service provided by the AGTI.
· Subject department planning is very well established and commendably the plan has identified areas for further development.
· Planning for individual lessons showed examples of excellent practice.
· Classroom management, in all of the lessons observed, was of a very high standard.
· Very high quality teaching and learning were evident in all of the classrooms visited as teachers used a variety of methods to actively engage the students in the learning process.
· Out-of-class learning forms a significant part of the geography teaching programme.
· Teachers have adopted a visual approach to teaching Geography and they have focused on the development of geographical skills in line with syllabus recommendations.
· There is on-going liaison with the learning-support department and the geography teachers who have developed a glossary of key terms in relation to the subject.
· Teachers set common tests and the school is developing a policy in relation to homework.
· A range of assessment methods, both formal and informal, is used to assess students’ progress and teachers use assessment for learning (AfL) principles.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the school reviews the subject option structure for the Leaving Certificate.
· In reviewing the subject department plan it is recommended that teachers focus on identifying learning outcomes linked to curriculum content, timeframes, resources, teaching methodologies and methods of
· It is recommended that the good practices evident in relation to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning be documented and included in the subject department plan.
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.
Published November 2008