An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Chapel Street, Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63880O
Date of inspection: 24 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Rís, conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation. 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.
There is good whole-school provision for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography. Teachers are assigned base classrooms which have information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. A wide range of resources to support teaching and learning is available and a store room is provided for these resources. It is recommended that the geography teaching team catalogues all the resources currently available for teaching Geography and uses this as the basis for planning the further development of resources to support teaching and learning in the subject.
Timetabling arrangements are in line with syllabus recommendations and lessons are appropriately spread throughout the week. In the junior cycle, Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three class periods per week in each year. All classes are of mixed ability and this is commended.
In the senior cycle, Geography is included within the Transition Year (TY) programme under the title “Environmental Studies” and is allocated three class periods per week. For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC), Geography is an optional subject and is allocated five class periods per week, consisting of one double and three single class periods. Classes are also of mixed ability at this level, thus providing for the widest possible subject choice by students. It was reported that students are offered an open choice of subject before option bands are generated and this good practice is commended. The uptake of the subject at this level is in a very healthy state with three class groups studying the subject in each of the Leaving Certificate years.
There are currently eight teachers of Geography in Coláiste Rís and they have begun to work collaboratively on a range of issues which will enhance the teaching of the subject. These include department planning and the development of a policy in relation to homework. A co-ordinator for the subject is in place and it is suggested that this role be rotated amongst the members of the department. Teachers have availed of continuing professional development (CPD) by attendance at in-service in relation to the implementation of the Leaving Certificate geography syllabus.
Plans for the geography department and for the Environmental Studies module within the TY have been developed and were made available during the evaluation. Commendably school management supports the planning process by facilitating teachers to meet six times during the school year. The subject department plan contained an outline of the teaching programme for each year group to be delivered within agreed time frames. It also referred to a policy on homework, arrangements for assessment, and criteria to be used when advising students on the choice of subject level in relation to the certificate examinations. It is recommended that the geography teaching team, working collaboratively, expands the scope of the subject department plan particularly in the areas of provision for students with additional educational needs, the integration of ICT into the curriculum and planning for the geographical investigation as part of the senior cycle plan. An examination of the planning documentation indicated a focus on topics from physical geography in first year. This places considerable demands on students at this early stage in terms of technical vocabulary, understanding of complex geomorphic processes and landform descriptions. It is recommended that this focus on the teaching of topics on physical geography be reviewed and that the development of map and photograph skills be considered as an alternative for first year students. Large-scale maps and photographs of the local area, with its rich geographical and historical resources, could be used to develop students’ knowledge of their locality. This exercise would facilitate the development of geographical skills which could subsequently be applied to many sections of the geography syllabuses.
The plan for the TY was written in line with the template provided in the document ‘Writing the Transition Year Plan’ and this is commended. Three areas of study are identified, and these include a geographical investigation in the local area, a module on the Third World and a module on East European Culture. The use of the local environment as the setting for a geographical investigation is an example of very good practice. The other areas of study reflect the relevance of the subject to issues facing contemporary Irish society and their inclusion in the planning for the TY is very highly commended. Within the module on East European Culture students develop knowledge of the Russian language and cooking, thus providing cross-curricular links.
Effective planning and preparation by all teachers was evident with individual lessons having clear learning objectives and, in most but not all cases, resources had been prepared to support teaching and learning. Resources used to support student learning included: Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, photographs, statistical diagrams, video clips and, in some lessons, worksheets. Folders containing supplementary textual material were made available during the evaluation process. The provision of teacher-generated support materials is highly commended as these cater for the particular needs of students and help to enrich their learning experiences.
An atmosphere of mutual respect was evident between students and teachers in all of the classrooms visited. Students responded to teachers’ invitations to ask questions and were affirmed for their efforts. Clear routines were observed in the classrooms visited. Lessons began with roll call, homework was monitored and corrected and in some instances this provided the starting point of the lesson. The good practice of sharing the learning objectives with the students at the start of the lesson was evident; this provided a focus for students’ attention from the outset and, for that reason, deserves particular commendation.
Classrooms had displays of maps, photographs, and in some instances articles and photographs from the print media. These served very effectively to create a stimulating learning environment. Using material from the print media is an effective way of establishing the relationship between the study of Geography and enabling students to understand and appreciate the world outside the classroom and its wider use is encouraged. Students in Coláiste Rís are provided with an opportunity to contribute educational materials to a third-world country as part of a project organised by the Transition Year students. This project provides a further example of how students are encouraged to appreciate the inter-relationship between their studies and the world outside the classroom. Students in the TY are encouraged to make a personal commitment to supporting a third-world school and to record this in a written contract, an approach which enables them to develop empathy and not just have an intellectual grasp of the issues involved.
A wide range of teaching methodologies was evident in the lessons observed. These ranged from methodologies which encouraged students to become actively engaged in the learning process to traditional methods which were teacher-led and had an over-reliance on the use of the textbook. Methodologies used to actively engage students, including the use of pair work and small-group work, were observed in a number of lessons. High-quality stimulus materials such as colour photographs and a video clip were provided to initiate discussion or to expand students’ knowledge in one lesson observed. Students completed a task outlined by the teacher and then feedback was taken in a whole-class setting. Feedback was recorded on the white board and this was used to discuss the topic at a deeper level as the teacher skilfully developed students’ understanding by the use of directed questioning. The enjoyment of the learning process was evident as students engaged enthusiastically in the planned learning activities. While students were engaged in completing the tasks assigned the teacher moved around the classroom offering clarification, encouragement and affirmation as appropriate.
The use of the white board, in a number of the lessons observed, to record the progress of the lesson or to illustrate teaching points also provided a means of engaging students and catered effectively for those students whose preferred learning style is visual. Best practice was observed when the textbook was used as a resource to support teaching and learning rather than as the main source of instruction. It is recommended that the repertoire of teaching methodologies be expanded to ensure that students are actively engaged and involved in the learning process in all lessons. The use of additional methodologies would also enable students to develop as independent learners and to learn from each other. To achieve this, the use of the resources provided during the evaluation process is suggested. Also, the Guidelines for Teachers published to support the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate geography syllabus should be referred to.
In most of the lessons observed there was an appropriate focus on the development of students’ geographical skills. This involved the use of OS maps, photographs and statistical diagrams. The focus on skills development is a major recommendation of the geography syllabuses. The development of students’ skills was most effective where the skill was outlined by the teacher and then the students were provided with an opportunity to practise the skill as the teacher moved around the classroom offering guidance and affirmation. While the development of students’ geographical vocabulary was a feature of most lessons most effective practice occurred when new terms were introduced, clearly explained and subsequently re-enforced throughout the lesson. This good practice could be further supported by the display of key words in the classroom. During discussions with the inspector students showed a good grasp of the subject and displayed an ability to use geographical terms appropriately.
Teachers are made aware of students with additional educational needs in their classrooms and this is commended. To cater effectively for these students in mixed-ability class settings teachers are encouraged to use differentiated teaching strategies in the delivery of the geography programmes of study. This will be supported by the use of resource materials provided during the evaluation process and by reference to the publication of the Inspectorate Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines.
On-going assessment of students’ grasp of topics was observed in lessons as teachers checked students’ understanding by questions directed to individually named students or to the class. Homework is regularly assigned and is corrected at the beginning of lessons. A policy on homework is being developed by the members of the geography teaching team and this is commended. It is recommended that the range of assessment approaches be extended to include the development of assessment for learning (AfL) strategies. Support materials for this are available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this information. Class tests are held when sections of the teaching programme have been completed. During classroom visits students’ copybooks were examined and the good practice of having separate copybooks for notes and homework was evident in a number of instances. Some of the copybooks showed high-quality written work, with neatly coloured maps and diagrams, headings underlined and an ordered layout. However, in a number of cases the quality of written work needed to be improved and it is recommended that the geography teachers develop a policy to improve the standard of work in students’ notes copybooks as a means of assisting them in achieving their full potential in the subject.
The members of the geography department and the school principal undertake an analysis of results in the certificate examinations and this is praiseworthy. Student progress is formally assessed on four occasions during the school year: mid way through the first term, before Christmas, mid way through the second term and at the end of the school year. These assessments are based on on-going assessments by teachers, class tests, whole-school examinations and the holding of pre-examinations during the second term for those students preparing for certificate examinations in the current year. Reports are issued to parents following each of the four assessments and progress is also reported at formal parent-teacher meetings. Teachers maintain records on attendance, homework and the results of class tests and these are used to inform discussions at parent-teacher meetings. This level of reporting to parents 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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Geography, the principal and the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008