An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Scoil Muire gan Smál,
Roscommon, County Roscommon
Roll number: 65090S
Date of inspection: 01 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Muire gan Smál. 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 Scoil Muire gan Smál a strong spirit of collegiality characterises the work and commitment of the Geography teachers to the development of a vibrant Geography department. The teachers promote high expectations for learning and a significant proportion of students take higher level papers in the State examinations. The senior-cycle teachers have attended in-service provided by the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service. The resource materials obtained at these training sessions have been appropriately disseminated among the junior-cycle Geography teachers. Other opportunities to enhance professional development have also been availed of by the teachers. The Geography department benefits from the experience of a number of teachers who have been assistant examiners of the subject in State examinations. Some teachers are also members of the Association of Geography Teachers Ireland (AGTI).
The provision of co-curricular learning experiences has been facilitated by the Geography teachers. These activities include involvement in recycling initiatives both within the school and in the local community, educational trips and participation in project work. The Geography teachers are commended for the promotion of such projects as they enable students to develop a practical awareness of the importance of environmental protection and extend learning and experience of the subject into the real world.
There is very good provision and whole-school support for the subject. There is a well equipped Geography room with an adjacent resource room. This room is used to store classroom resources, geographical instruments and videos. It also contains a range of appropriate reference materials including the National Geographic magazine. This development is praiseworthy and serves as an excellent resource for both teachers and students. Teachers are facilitated in gaining access to the Geography and resource rooms when required. A wide range of subject specific resources is available to support teaching and learning in the subject. These are appropriately catalogued and filed in the Geography plan.
Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and receives a time allocation of three class periods per week. It is recommended that timetabling for the subject at this level endeavours to provide for a more even spread of classes over the week. There are four mixed-ability class groups in each of the junior-cycle years.
At senior cycle class period provision for Geography is in line with syllabus requirements. Students entering fifth year are well supported in making appropriate subject choices. The school holds an awareness week for the subjects offered on the senior-cycle curriculum. Subject teachers provide information and advice to students on their respective subjects. Students are also given the opportunity to discuss the various subjects on offer with senior-cycle students. In addition there is an open night held for parents which facilitates the dissemination of information on subject and programme options.
Geography is also present on the school’s Transition Year (TY) programme. A variety of coursework is offered to students including the Tourism Awareness Programme certified by Fáilte Ireland and an investigation of the local area. Students also engage in environmental studies with a focus on promoting environmental awareness and protection, energy conservation and recycling activities. The Geography teachers are commended for this provision as students are provided with the opportunity to undertake fieldwork and to develop research skills using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). To build on this good work it is recommended that a more detailed fieldwork component be included in the programme. It is also suggested that consideration be given to a programme of work based on OSi Trail Master (Ordnance Survey Ireland).
The Geography room is equipped with a computer and all classrooms are networked with internet access. Some teachers have acquired their own personal laptops. There are a number of mobile data projector units and there are five computers and a printer available for use in the school. The computer room can also be accessed through a booking system. The Geography teachers indicated a positive attitude to Information and Communication Technologies. The increased use of ICT is further encouraged.
The Geography teachers work very well together as a team and have collaboratively developed common programmes of work for each year group. Subject department planning is facilitated by school management through the provision of formal meeting time on a number of occasions during the year. There are also ongoing informal meetings among the Geography teachers as exemplified by the weekly meeting held by the senior-cycle Geography teachers.
The schemes provided during the evaluation consisted of a sequence of topics and indicated the corresponding number of classes designated to cover them. They provided a clear description of the expected learning outcomes and the skills which students should acquire in each year group. The curricular plans for senior cycle also detailed a range of resources to be used in supporting the teaching of topics. The Geography teachers are commended for the good planning work achieved to date. It is suggested that consideration be given to documenting students’ progress in the various units of the syllabus. This could be achieved by including a comment section at the end of each topic to record such details.
There are nine teachers delivering the Geography syllabuses and one senior teacher is a long-serving co-ordinator of the subject. While the Geography teachers adopt a team-based approach to the co-ordination of the department it is recommended that the position of co-ordinator is assigned on a rotational basis. This will enable the leadership skills that such a role entails to be experienced by all members.
The Geography teachers are informed of students with special educational needs (SEN) and those requiring learning support. Subject teachers can obtain advice from the learning support department to assist them in meeting the needs of students. It was reported that in some cases assessments are modified and class notes are typed for students. To further develop this good work it is recommended that key word lists on topics be displayed in classrooms. These will beneficially support students’ linguistic development. It is recommended that school management should organise further support for staff with this work. The expertise of the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie could be availed of to assist teachers in implementing differentiated methodologies for use in the mixed-ability classroom setting. This support would further facilitate teachers to plan and prepare for lessons so as to cater for the needs of all students within the mainstream setting.
It was noted from the curricular plan for first years that the teaching of physical Geography including geomorphology, meteorology and climate feature prominently in this year. These topics contain a multiplicity of technical terminology and complex processes and are thus theoretically challenging. If this provision is to continue, it is recommended that it be reviewed to include a general treatment of these topics in first year and that they are revisited in second and third years for further development in line with syllabus requirements. An alternative approach would be the development of map and photograph skills at an early stage in first year using large-scale OS maps (1:1000) and aerial photographs of the local area. This would provide for a more familiar and activity-based introduction to Geography. The resource material provided by the inspector will provide some ideas on developing a programme for junior-cycle Geography.
High quality teaching was in evidence during the course of the evaluation. Teachers utilised a variety of methodologies to create an appropriate balance between teacher input and active student engagement with learning tasks. It was quite evident from the organisation and sequencing of classroom activities that all lessons had been carefully planned. The learning objectives were communicated to students at the outset of lessons and in all cases these were effectively achieved.
Classes were generally initiated with a recap of the previous lesson to activate student engagement with the topic. This is good practice as it reinforces learning and enables teachers to check student knowledge and understanding. New material was subsequently introduced within this context. A combination of both global and directed questioning strategies was used to progress lesson content and trigger reflection on points. The students were skilfully guided through logical analysis and deduction to arrive at the required information. In one class a structured and comprehensive analysis and overview of the Paris Basin was undertaken using this methodology.
Teacher explanations were in all cases clear and instruction included practical activities. These tasks provided an opportunity for students to practically apply and consolidate their knowledge. As worksheets were completed the teachers rotated among students monitoring their progress and providing guidance to any individuals experiencing difficulties. In some classes co-operative learning was facilitated by pair work. This was conducted with competence. The questions allocated to complete tasks were specific and responsibility for the recording and reporting of information was assigned to individuals. Whole-class correction of work was carried out as students answers were recorded on the whiteboard in a feedback session. These clear and structured procedures provided for a beneficial learning experience.
A range of resources and visual stimuli were integrated into the delivery of lesson content. These effectively complemented instruction and supported student learning. A series of colourful overhead projector transparencies were employed to enhance student understanding of the demographic transition cycle and the associated population pyramids. Students were also provided with the relevant information and materials to complete a population pyramid of their county. The linking of geographical concepts to the real world and in particular to the students’ familiar environment is commended. The provision of such experiences creates a more meaningful and relevant learning context.
Some teachers make frequent use of ICT as evidenced in the preparation of PowerPoint presentations on a variety of topics. These were used to deliver lesson content, outline key learning points and illustrate maps and photographs. In some classes students had been provided with a printed copy of these materials. This practice is praiseworthy as these summaries will serve as a useful revision aid to students and assist them in organising and managing their own learning.
The main focus in some lessons was on revision and preparation for the impending State examinations. The dominant methodologies employed in the review of topics included discussion and continuous questioning to span and recap on material and assess student progress. This approach provided for the development of themes and the reinforcement of map skills was also appropriately incorporated. Students were well advised on the time to allocate to questions in relation to the marks assigned to these questions. Their attention was also directed to underlining key phrases in questions. This structured and methodical approach to revision and the answering of examination questions makes an invaluable contribution to student performance. These provisions reflect the commitment of teachers to assisting students to achieve their maximum potential. It was also noted that in classrooms posters on the layout of examination papers and associated time allocations in addition to essential elements for inclusion in the drawing of diagrams and sketch maps were strategically displayed.
Good attention was paid to the language of Geography and key terms were well explained and reinforced throughout the lessons. To build on this good practice it is recommended that technical terms pertaining to topics be displayed in classrooms as these topics are being taught. These will support students’ linguistic development and assist them in using geographical terminology in both their oral communications and written work.
The management of lessons was clearly informed by careful planning and the preparation of resource materials and worksheets. The stimuli used in lessons focused the attention of students and enabled their active engagement in the learning process. Students’ responses to questions indicated a good level of knowledge appropriate to their age, ability and class level. It was also clear from their discussions with the inspector that they had acquired a sufficient understanding of concepts to be able to apply their knowledge to a range of contexts. A good standard of work was observed in students’ copybooks. The students were most courteous and pleasant. A warm and inclusive environment fostered a partnership approach to learning. The students asked questions with ease and engaged with diligence and interest in the tasks set during the lesson. In turn they were addressed by their first names and affirmed for their responses. This secure and encouraging atmosphere created an environment conducive to learning.
Continuous informal assessment is carried out in class. Teachers assess student learning through questioning, monitoring of homework and provision of in-class worksheets. Class tests are given at regular intervals during the year. It was evident from an examination of students’ copybooks that homework is administered on an ongoing basis in accordance with the subject plan. It was noted that written work was annotated with qualitative and developmental comments. This practice is commended and further encouraged. Constructive feedback encourages students to reflect on their learning and provides advice on improving the quality of their work.
Formal assessments are held at Christmas and the end of the year. Teachers set common papers in these examinations. This is commended. Students preparing for Certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the spring.
The Geography department has diagrammatically collated students’ performance in State examinations for the past six years. The annual analysis of results is used to inform subject planning.
Parents receive a written report following each formal assessment. Some teachers also require that class tests are signed by parents. The school encourages contact with parents through use of the student journal which is checked and signed by class teachers. Feedback to parents is also provided through annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. This level of communication with parents in relation to students’ progress is 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:
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.