An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Roll number: 60550B
Date of inspection: 1 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject
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.
Geography is a compulsory subject for all students in the junior cycle. The subject is allocated three class periods per week in each of the three years and this is satisfactory. Based on the results of a range of assessments conducted by the school, first year students area assigned to a single top-stream class or to one of a number of mixed ability classes. This arrangement applies to all subjects including Geography. This method of class organisation which continues throughout the junior cycle is currently being reviewed. In the interests of providing most effectively for all students, it is recommended that all geography classes in the junior cycle be arranged on a mixed ability basis. The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative and it introduced the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in 2007. Students following the JCSP form part of a mixed ability class group and this is good practice.
The Transition Year programme (TY) is offered to students as part of the senior cycle; however, Geography is not currently included in the planned teaching programme. It is recommended that a module in Geography be introduced into the TY. It is suggested that in writing the TY plan for Geography 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 (DES).
For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) Geography is an optional subject and is allocated five single class periods per week. This time allocation is in line with syllabus recommendations. Students and their parents receive appropriate support and advice prior to making subject choices. A copy of a booklet outlining the importance of subject choice and information on the various subjects given to students was provided during the evaluation. Students are given an open choice of subject before option bands are generated and this is good practice. The uptake of the subject in senior cycle is in a very healthy state, with two class groups formed in each of the two years. Classes in the senior cycle are timetabled to run concurrently.
Three teachers deliver the geography programme and they form an identifiable subject department. One teacher, who was chosen by the subject team, acts as subject co-ordinator. Consideration should be given to rotating this role amongst other members of the teaching team in order to provide all teachers with relevant experience. Teachers have attended in-service in relation to the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. As a means of continuing their professional development teachers are encouraged to become members of the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI).
Very effective short-term planning was evident in all of the classrooms visited. All lessons had clear aims. Teacher planning for lessons included the organisation and preparation of appropriate resources that were used effectively to support teaching and learning. Resources used included charts, worksheets, supplementary textual material, overhead projector transparencies, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, atlases and a globe. In most cases teachers also made available an extensive range of resources that had been developed over a period of time. These included a variety of worksheets, supplementary textual material obtained from the internet, quizzes and games, revision aids and test material. The preparation of such resources is very highly commended as this enables teachers to provide rich educational experiences for students.
Subject department planning is well established in
The planned teaching programme for first year includes topics from geomorphology, climatology, meteorology and bio-geography. This places considerable demands on students at this early stage in terms of technical vocabulary and the understanding of complex processes. It is recommended that the planned teaching programme for first year be reviewed and that map and photograph skills be introduced at an early stage. This will facilitate the integration of these key geographical skills into the planned teaching programme.
The school is currently upgrading and extending its information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. In order to maximise the use of these facilities it is recommended that a comprehensive plan for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning be developed by the geography teaching team. The team will be supported in this by resource materials provided by the Geography Support Service at recent in-service days.
In all of the classrooms visited teachers had established clear routines. Lessons began with roll call, homework was corrected, and knowledge or skills from previous lessons were recapped through focused questioning. The aim of the lesson was shared with the students and this good practice provides a focus for the students’ attention. The lesson concluded with homework being explained and recorded in students’ journals. These good practices contributed to creating a clear focus on teaching and learning. In all of the lessons observed there was a very positive classroom atmosphere. Students responded to teachers’ invitations to engage in the learning process and were affirmed for their efforts. Topics taught in the lessons observed included: factors affecting climate, settlement patterns on OS maps, plate tectonics, Scania as an example of a core region and a review of fluvial processes for students who has completed the pre-examination in Leaving Certificate Geography.
All teachers have adopted a visual approach to teaching the subject. This was particularly apparent where teachers had prepared charts or overhead transparencies to illustrate geographical concepts. The use of mind-maps, drawn on the whiteboard or provided as handouts, to summarise topics would also prove useful in consolidating students’ knowledge. Resources provided during the evaluation will be useful in this regard. Teachers are encouraged to explore the potential of ICT, as an additional means, of providing visual stimuli to clarify issues and to engage students in the learning process.
There was also an appropriate focus on developing students’ geographical skills and this was evident where students were learning how to give grid references and to recognise, describe and account for settlement patterns on OS maps. Students were encouraged to develop higher-order thinking skills where they were challenged to offer explanations for geographic phenomena and not just provide descriptions. These good practices are fully in line with syllabus recommendations. As a means of developing students’ linguistic skills it is suggested that lists of key words related to the topic being studied be displayed in classrooms. These lists of key words could also be made available to the learning-support department as a means of providing further support to students.
In most of the lessons observed there was a significant teacher input either by way of explanation or where the teacher read from the textbook or teacher- and this good practice provides a focus for the students’ attention prepared handouts. Where question and answer sessions occurred or where the textbook was used as a resource there was greater engagement by students. It is recommended that teachers increase the range of teaching methodologies employed, particularly the greater use of pair work and small-group work, as a means of increasing students’ active participation in the learning process. For example, where the climate of a county is being discussed the provision of relevant climatic data and a worksheet with appropriate questions could replace teacher exposition. The completion of the worksheet could be used as an opportunity for students to work in pairs or small groups. On completion of the exercise whole-class teaching could be used to describe and account for the climate. As students are engaged in activities, opportunities will be provided for teachers to move around the classroom and to offer support to students as appropriate. Further opportunities for the active participation of students in lessons could be developed where they are provided with a set of questions on a worksheet based on an aerial photograph or OS map. In discussing previously taught subject matter students showed a good knowledge of their courses.
The development of a whole-school policy on homework has begun and this is commended. Teachers keep records of attendance, homework and test results and these are used to report on students’ progress at formal parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group. Since January 2008 the school has begun to issue monthly reports to parents in relation to homework, stating the number of times homework was assigned and the number of times students completed the assigned homework. The school is commended for this pro-active approach in keeping parents informed and of involving them in their sons’ education.
An examination of students’ copybooks indicated that they are being monitored by teachers and constructive comments are provided. Where appropriate, students had completed past examination questions and, commendably, constructive feedback was provided by teachers. It is recommended that the geography teachers develop further a policy in relation to assessment for learning (AfL) and this should be included in the subject department plan. Support for this will be provided by resource materials made available during the evaluation. While the quality of work in some students’ copybooks was of a high standard it was evident that other students need support and guidance in relation to the improvement of their written work. It is recommended that the geography teaching team develops strategies designed to improve the quality of students’ written work. This should included reference to assessment for learning principles. The use of separate copybooks for class and homework might be considered, folders could also prove useful for storing worksheets and supplementary materials. Teachers should also consider the use of small-scale project work as a means of assessing students’ progress and of encouraging students to become independent learners. Students could also use their ICT skills for both research and presentation of their projects.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The organisation, teaching and learning of Geography is very well supported by school management with the provision of a dedicated geography room, teacher-based classrooms and a wide range of resources.
· The school introduced the JCSP in 2007 as a means of catering for the needs of its students.
· Subject department planning is well established and is supported by the appointment of a subject co-ordinator who was chosen by the geography teaching team.
· Very effective short-term planning was evident, all lessons had clear aims and teachers have developed a wide range of resources to support teaching and learning.
· In all of the lessons observed there was a very positive classroom atmosphere. Students responded to teachers’ invitations to engage in the learning process and were affirmed for their efforts.
· There was an appropriate focus on developing students’ geographical skills and all teachers have adopted a visual approach to teaching the subject.
· The good practice of setting common tests and providing common marking schemes has begun.
· Parents receive monthly reports of students’ performance in relation to homework.
· Teachers provided constructive feedback to students in their copybooks and where students had completed past examination questions.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a module in Geography be introduced into the TY.
· In the interests of providing most effectively for all students, it is recommended that all geography classes in the junior cycle be arranged on a mixed ability basis.
· In reviewing the subject department plan it is recommended that teachers focus on learning outcomes as well as curriculum content and that these outcomes be related to teaching methodologies, resources and methods of assessment.
· It is recommended that the planned teaching programme for first year be reviewed and that map and photograph skills be introduced at an early stage.
· In order to maximise the use of the school’s developing ICT facilities it is recommended that a comprehensive plan for the use of ICT into teaching and learning be developed by the geography teaching team.
· There is scope to increase the range of teaching methodologies employed, particularly the greater use of pair work and small-group work as a means of increasing students’ active participation in the learning process.
· It is recommended that the geography teaching team develops strategies designed to improve the quality of students’ written work.
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