An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Saint Brigid’s Vocational School, Loughrea, County Galway
Roll number: 71280J
Date of inspection: 11 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brigid’s Vocational School, Loughrea. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St. Brigid’s Vocational School is a co-educational school under the management of County Galway Vocational Education Committee. School management is supportive of the work of the geography department. There are currently four geography teachers in the school and they form a clearly identifiable and effective subject department. Geography benefits from a good level of resource provision with the allocation of a dedicated geography room and designated base classrooms for the geography teachers. A broad range of subject-specific resources has been developed within the department and audio visual equipment is available to support teaching and learning in the subject. The geography department has good access to information and communication technologies (ICT). The geography room is equipped with a data projector and laptop and one of the other rooms has an interactive whiteboard. The teachers also have access to the school’s computer room through a booking system. This level of resource provision is commended.
Management is commended for its promotion and support of teachers’ continuing professional development. Whole-staff in-service has been organised across a range of areas. In conjunction with Galway Education Centre courses have been provided in the school to up-skill teachers in the use of ICT. The geography teachers are also strongly committed to their own professional development and are highly commended in this regard. A number of the teachers have been advising and assistant examiners of the subject in State examinations. One of the teachers has also attended courses in ‘Geology in the Classroom’ and ‘ICT and Geography’. The expertise and skills gained from these experiences have been shared at departmental level.
Geography is a compulsory subject in first year and becomes an optional subject on entry into second year. Due to the structure of the optional subject list presented to students in second year if a student chooses to study Geography they are also compelled to study History. This structure has limited access to Geography and has resulted in a relatively low uptake in the subject in second year. It is recommended that subject choice at second year be reorganised to allow greater access to Geography. This provision would also positively impact on the uptake of Geography as an optional subject for the Leaving Certificate. All geography classes are of mixed ability. Time allocation to the subject at both junior cycle and senior cycle conforms to syllabus requirements.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is offered on an optional basis in the school. It is recommended that a module in Geography be included within the programme’s curricular provision. Currently a virtual learning environment using “Moodle” is at an early stage of development for Geography. The introduction of a geography module to TY could be used as an opportunity to further develop this worthwhile initiative.
There is a good spirit of collegiality among the geography teachers as reflected in the sharing of planning responsibilities and subject expertise. Subject department meetings are held once a term and the minutes are recorded. It is suggested that such minutes be recorded in the form of actions planned and indicate those individuals with responsibility for carrying out the actions.
The geography teachers have collaboratively developed a subject policy document which includes curricular plans for each year group. It is recommended that the proposed learning outcomes and the specific resources used in teaching the various units of the syllabus be incorporated into all such plans. It is also advised that a review section be included on plans. This section should be used to record comments on the attainment of the learning outcomes of lessons. These comments will assist teachers in planning for focused revision and inform practice and strategies suitable for teaching topics. It was noted that some of the classrooms are in need of larger maps to facilitate the teaching of locational Geography. It is recommended that this be addressed in the context of future planning for resource provision within the department.
In the context of an agreed programme of work common assessments have been developed for all first year class groups which is commendable. There was clear evidence of very effective planning for the integration of ICT resources particularly at senior cycle. This is commended in providing a rich and varied learning experience for students. There is scope for a greater use of ICT in teaching and learning in some of the junior cycle classes. Teachers are encouraged to use the resources provided by the Geography Support Service as many of these are relevant and useful for the teaching of junior cycle Geography.
Teaching and learning were of high quality in the geography lessons observed. There was a range of teaching methodologies in place which appropriately supported and enhanced student learning. In all cases the learning objectives were clarified at the outset of the lesson. This was followed by a quick review of previously related learning which formed an effective entry point into the topics for study. Lessons were well structured, generally suitably paced and pitched at a level appropriate to the needs and abilities of students.
Teacher instruction was comprehensive and combined with a range of strategies which was effective in engaging students in the learning process. Questioning was central to the methodology used in all classes and a good range of lower-order and higher-order questions was integrated into the development of topics. In most cases directed questioning was employed in a manner that challenged all students to remain alert and attentive and it was also effective in establishing the level of individual student’s knowledge. This is good practice and is further encouraged. In other lessons instruction was varied by the provision of short tasks using worksheets. This strategy further engaged students in their own learning and its use is recommended in all lessons.
The whiteboard and a PowerPoint presentation were used by teachers to structure and outline the main points of the lessons. In some cases the students recorded the key points in their copybooks. It is recommended that all teachers instruct their students to note these short summaries as they can be a very useful aid for revision.
In some lessons there was very effective use of ICT to illustrate the features and processes of coastal erosion and deposition. The development and reinforcement of skills in map and photograph interpretation were also skilfully integrated into the lesson. These visuals were very effectively combined with teacher explanations and questions and provided for visually stimulating and interesting lessons. This provision is highly commended. In senior-cycle lessons there was an appropriate focus on examination questions and marking schemes. The students were provided with clear guidelines on how to structure and organise their answers and the marks allocated to the various aspects of the question were outlined. In the PowerPoint presentation used in the lesson ‘significant relevant points’ were also outlined on the topic. This work is commended in assisting students to achieve their full potential.
Geographical terminology was well explained and used throughout the delivery of lessons. As a further support to students in becoming familiar with the language of Geography it is recommended that technical terms pertaining to topics be displayed in a strategic position in the classrooms as these topics are being taught.
All lessons were very well managed and were indicative of the effective short-term planning of the teachers for the lessons. In all classrooms the atmosphere was positive and conducive to learning. The students were very well-behaved and respectful of their peers and teachers. A good standard of work was observed in students’ copybooks. In all cases the students showed a clear understanding and good knowledge of the topics appropriate to both the cycle and level of the classes.
In St. Brigid’s Vocational School formal assessment procedures include monthly assessments in September, October, February, March and April in addition to Christmas and end-of-year examinations. The provision of such regular formal assessment of students is commended. State examination students also sit pre-certificate examinations in the spring. These procedures are complemented by ongoing informal assessment in all lessons.
There is good home-school communication in relation to students’ progress through the use of the school journal, end-of-term school reports, progress reports and parent-teacher meetings.
Students’ work was corrected and comments were placed in copies in a number of cases to guide students towards improvement. It is recommended that all teachers further develop the practice of providing formative comments on students’ work to assist them in improving the quality of their written work. Information on ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) principles can be accessed on www.nccca.ie the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
In one case there was clear evidence of the application of junior cycle marking criteria to assess student work. This is commended and its use is encouraged for all junior-cycle geography teachers.
A very high proportion of the geography students study the subject to higher level in the certificate examinations. This is commended and reflects the high expectations which the geography teachers set for their students and their commitment to the subject. The teachers also analyse national examination results and compare the school’s performance with national norms. The analysis of results is used to inform subject planning.
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.
Published January 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Geography has been included as a module in this year’s transition year programme (2008/2009)