An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Loreto Secondary School
Balbriggan, County Dublin
Roll number: 60010P
Date of inspection: 13 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary 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 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 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.
Loreto Secondary School is an all-girls post-primary school and its current enrolment is 1148. The geography teaching team is very well supported by school management as evidenced by the provision of a dedicated geography room, a wide range of resources and access to information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. Students and teachers have access to the school’s computer rooms and a data projector has been provided to the geography department. Commendably the provision of ICT resources has enabled teachers to be innovative in the delivery of the planned teaching programme to students. Resources have been catalogued and this inventory is included in the subject department plan.
Geography is a compulsory subject for all students in the junior cycle and it is allocated three class periods per week in each of the three years. It was noted that, in some instances, students have two geography class periods on the same day. It is recommended that, for these students, the distribution of geography lessons throughout the week should be reviewed so as to achieve a more even distribution of lessons thus maximising teaching and learning. The Transition Year (TY) programme is compulsory in the school. Geography is included, as an optional subject, within the TY and it is allocated three class periods per week, consisting of one single and one double class period. For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) Geography is an optional subject and the uptake of the subject with three, and sometimes four, class groups is in a healthy state. At this level Geography is allocated five class periods per week, consisting of both double and single class periods. This time allocation is in line with syllabus recommendations. Commendably students are offered an open choice of subject before option bands are generated and they are well supported by the school in the process of choosing subjects to study for the Leaving Certificate. All geography classes, in both junior cycle and senior cycle, are of mixed ability.
Twelve teachers currently make up the geography teaching team in Loreto Secondary School and they form a very clearly identifiable subject department. A subject co-ordinator is in place and commendably this role is rotated amongst the members of the department. Teachers have attended in-service in relation to the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus and they are encouraged to continue their professional development by becoming members of the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI).
Planning by teachers for all of the individual lessons observed was exemplary. This was evidenced by the identification of clear aims and the provision of stimulating and appropriate resource materials. It was observed that lessons formed part of a larger planned unit of work. Resources used included: aerial photographs, statistical diagrams, PowerPoint presentations with accompanying worksheets, flash cards, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, transparencies for the overhead projector, supplementary textual materials and past examination questions. The provision of high-quality resources made a significant contribution to stimulating students’ interest. The use of worksheets to accompany teacher presentations is commended as this facilitates students’ engagement with the learning process and prevents them from becoming mere spectators. It is suggested that where worksheets are used that questions be very specific to ensure maximum effectiveness in advancing students’ learning. Commendably, the geography teaching team, working collaboratively, has developed a wide range of resources to support teaching and learning. These resources are available to all teachers and are stored in the geography room.
Subject department planning is very well established in Loreto Secondary School. A subject department plan, that includes a plan for Geography within the TY, was provided during the evaluation. Individual teachers have adapted the subject department plan to meet the needs of their specific class and this is commended. It is praiseworthy that the subject department plan is subject to review. The plan contains a teaching programme for each year group to be delivered within agreed timeframes. Reference is also made to teaching methods, co-curricular activities and to methods of assessment and the recording of students’ progress. Commendably teachers have access to information in relation to students with additional educational needs in their classes and suggestions in relation to appropriate teaching strategies are included in the geography department plan. It is recommended that the planned teaching programme for junior cycle be reviewed. This review should facilitate the development of map and photograph skills at an early stage, a reduction on the focus on topics in physical geography in first year and review of the number of topics to be studied in third year. It is also recommended that the good practices in relation to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning evident during the evaluation be documented and included in the subject department plan.
The plan for Geography within the TY makes reference to the aims, the planned teaching programme, methods of assessment and commendably the use of ICT by students for research purposes. There was also a good focus on developing key geographical skills including a geographical investigation. However, some of the content of the TY plan is closely related to that of the ELC, particularly in relation to physical and regional geography. It is recommended that all members of the geography teaching team work collaboratively to review the geography programme within the TY to ensure that it is fully in keeping with the philosophy and spirit of the TY. This review should ensure that a clear distinction is maintained between the content and methodology for the ELC and TY. It is also suggested that in writing the TY plan reference should be made to the document ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’ produced jointly by the Transition Year Curriculum Support Service (TYSS) and the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science.
In all of the lessons observed classroom management was of a very high standard. Teachers had established very clear classroom routines. Lessons began with roll call, homework was monitored, the aim of the lesson was made clear to students, previously learned material was revised before new subject matter was introduced and lessons concluded with the assignment of appropriate homework. This created a very positive, relaxed and focused classroom atmosphere which was highly conducive to teaching and learning. Students were frequently affirmed by their teachers.
There was very high quality teaching and learning evident in all of the classrooms visited. Teachers used a variety of methodologies that actively engaged students in the learning process. The range of teaching methods used included: brainstorming, question-and-answer sessions, small group and pair work, students providing feedback to the whole class and teacher exposition. These methods facilitated an exploratory and investigative approach to learning and students experienced a sense of fun in their learning. In all lessons there was a good balance between teaching input and student participation. Commendably the textbook, when used, provided resource material and was not allowed to become the main medium of instruction. When students were engaged in the planned learning activities teachers moved around the classroom supporting students’ learning and offering affirmation as appropriate. Teachers’ enthusiasm for the subject and their care for students were evident. Students were knowledgeable about their courses and willingly engaged with their teachers and the inspector.
Out-of-class learning forms part of the planned teaching programme and this is commended. In addition to the mandatory geographical investigation for the Leaving Certificate, students in TY and students in the junior cycle also undertake fieldwork. In the past this has included visiting the Intel facility in Kildare and fieldwork in the local area by investigating the development of settlement in the Boyne Valley. The integration of this latter study into the planned teaching programme for third year students is an example of very good practice as the fieldwork becomes an integral part of students’ engagement with the subject and helps them develop an appreciation of the rich local environment.
Teachers have adopted a very visual approach to the teaching of Geography and there was a focus on developing geographical skills and the language appropriate to the subject. Where ICT was used by teachers it was integrated into the learning process and it provided valuable visual stimuli for students. This is commended. The outline of some lessons developed on the whiteboard provided an effective means of summarising the lesson. The use of ‘mind maps’ would also be useful in this regard. Resources provided during the evaluation will support the use of ‘mind maps. New terms were introduced into lessons at appropriate times, were clearly explained and were used frequently to reinforce their meaning. Lessons were appropriately paced to cater for the variety of students in classrooms. Students were frequently challenged to develop higher order thinking skills as they were asked to offer possible explanations for geographic features and distributions. This was particularly effective where students used their knowledge of physical geography to suggest possible explanations for distributions in human geography. The good practice of using the local environment and issues arising from current affaires was also observed.
In some of the classrooms visited charts, maps, photographs and articles from the print media were displayed. Where students’ projects were displayed they helped to enrich the learning environment and were a way of acknowledging and celebrating students’ achievement. This is very good practice.
Teachers in Loreto Secondary School use a variety of methods to assess students’ progress. These include: focused questioning during lessons, end-of-topic assessments and formal assessments at Christmas and summer. Students preparing for certificate examinations sit pre-examinations in the second term. The good practice of setting common tests for end-of-year examinations is in place. Homework is regularly assigned, monitored and corrected. Commendably, the school has a homework policy in place. Teachers maintain records of test results, homework and attendance and these are used to inform discussions at formal parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group.
Students were well supported by their teachers in preparation for the certificate examinations through organised revision and by receiving constructive feedback on their answers to past examination questions. This good practice of using assessment for learning (AfL) principles should be recorded in the subject department plan. The school is commended for encouraging the uptake of higher level papers in the certificate examinations thus reflecting high teacher expectations. Students’ written work is contained in copybooks and folders and the standard of written work was impressive. Work was well presented with neatly drawn and coloured maps and diagrams. This work has been developed into a useful learning resource for students and will prove invaluable for revision.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The geography teaching team is very well supported by school management as evidenced by the provision of a dedicated geography room, a wide range of resources and access to ICT facilities.
· Subject department planning is very well established, a subject co-ordinator is in place and a subject department plan that includes a plan for Geography within the TY, was provided.
· Planning by teachers for all of the individual lessons observed was exemplary.
· The geography teaching team working collaboratively, has developed a wide range of resources to support teaching and learning. These resources are available to all members of the geography teaching team.
· Classroom management was of a very high standard. There was a relaxed, yet focused atmosphere and students were frequently affirmed by their teachers.
· There was very high quality teaching and learning evident in the lessons observed. Teachers’ enthusiasm for the subject and their care for students were evident.
· Teachers have adopted a very visual approach to the teaching of Geography and there was a focus on developing geographical skills and the language appropriate to the subject.
· Students were knowledgeable about their courses and willingly engaged with their teachers and the inspector.
· Out-of-class learning is an important feature of the learning programme as students undertake a geographical investigation in junior cycle, TY and for the Leaving Certificate.
· Students were well supported by their teachers in preparation for the certificate examination through organised revision and by receiving constructive feedback on their answers to past examination questions.
· Homework is regularly assigned, monitored and corrected. The school has a homework policy in place.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The distribution of geography lessons throughout the week for some classes should be reviewed so as to achieve a more even distribution of lessons.
· The planned teaching programme for junior cycle should be reviewed.
· All members of the geography teaching team work should work collaboratively to review the geography programme within the TY so as to ensure that it is fully in keeping with the philosophy and spirit of the TY.
· The good practices in relation to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning evident during the evaluation should 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.