An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Ardee Community School
Ardee, County Louth
Roll number: 91441T
Date of inspection: 24 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardee Community 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Ardee Community School is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 607 students, 262 girls and 345 boys. The teaching of Geography is very well supported by school management with the provision of a wide range of resources, the recent acquisition of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment and, where possible, the assignment of teachers to base classrooms.
Geography is a compulsory subject for all first-year students where it is allocated just two single class periods per week. In second year and third year Geography is not part of the core curriculum and is an optional subject where it is allocated four single class periods per week. Commendably, students are offered the possibility of studying the subject in two of the option bands thereby increasing their opportunity to study the subject. It is recommended that the core curriculum offered to junior cycle students be reviewed and consideration be given to including Geography within that curriculum provision. This would provide for a broader educational experience for students and would also offer a wider basis for subject choice in the senior cycle. Students participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) may also study Geography. For the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) Geography is an optional subject and there is scope to increase the uptake of the subject at this level. Geography is allocated five single class periods per week in each the two years of the senior cycle. This is in line with syllabus recommendations. Documentation provided by the school indicates that students and parents are well advised and supported in making subject choices and, commendably, geography teachers have provided an outline of the requirements of the Revised Leaving Certificate syllabus to the guidance counsellor. All geography classes, in both junior and senior cycle, are of mixed ability.
Ardee Community School accommodates an autism unit and Geography is provided to students in this unit. Students are taught as a class group for Geography and attend mainstream classes in a number of subjects. There was a clear focus on teaching and learning in the lesson observed and students were very well supported by the presence of two special needs assistants (SNAs). A member of the geography teaching team is undertaking a programme of study to cater for the educational needs of these students and this is praiseworthy.
Seven teachers currently make up the geography teaching team in Ardee Community School and they form a clearly identifiable subject department. A subject co-ordinator is in place and consideration should be given to rotating this role amongst the members of the department. Teachers have attended in-service in relation to the introduction of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. As a means of encouraging environmental awareness the school has engaged with the Green-Schools Programme. This is highly commended as the involvement of students in this movement will give a practical expression to some of the aims of the geography syllabuses.
A catalogue of resources is included in the subject department plan. There is scope for more detail to be provided in this inventory, such as a list of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and photographs. This would prove useful to new members of the department or to substitute teachers and could form the basis for future resource planning. A resource area is provided in the staffroom for the storage of resources. There is a clear commitment by members of the geography teaching team to share resources and this is very good practice.
Effective short-term planning by teachers was evident in all of the lessons observed. The aims of the lesson were made explicit to students who then had a clear focus for their attention and experienced a sense of satisfaction when the lesson was successfully concluded. It was clear that the lessons observed formed part of a larger planned unit of work. A number of teachers provided individual lesson plans. Some individual plans showed an impressive level of detail outlining various stages in the planned lesson including the integration of short student tasks into the overall lesson plan. However, there is scope for more detailed lesson planning in some instances, particularly in relation to student activity. The planning for such student tasks is an effective way of ensuring the continued engagement of students in the learning process and its wider use is encouraged. Tasks could be completed individually by students, in pairs or in small groups. Stimulating and appropriate resources were provided to support teaching and learning in all of the lessons observed. Resources used included: PowerPoint presentations, worksheets, compasses, supplementary textual material, maps, photographs, CD-ROM, soil sample, overhead projector and a video clip. Teachers are highly commended for the production and use of such resources as they reflect their commitment to providing rich learning experiences for their students.
Subject department planning is well established in Ardee Community School. A co-ordinator is in place and a subject department plan has been developed by teachers working collaboratively. The plan contains a teaching programme for each year group to be delivered within agreed timeframes. Reference is also made to teaching methodologies, provision for differentiation, homework, assessment, record keeping and reporting procedures. In reviewing the subject department plan it is recommended that teachers focus on learning outcomes for each year group as well as curriculum content and that these outcomes be related to teaching methodologies, resources and methods of assessment. It is also noted that planning has taken place in relation to the geographical investigation for Leaving Certificate students.
The planned teaching programme for first year contains a good balance between topics from both physical and human Geography. However, the introduction of map and photograph skills early in the junior cycle would enable these key geographical skills to be integrated into the remainder of the planned teaching programme. It is, therefore, recommended that the planned teaching programme for junior cycle be reviewed so as to include the introduction of these key skills at an early stage, perhaps, initially, using large scale maps and photographs of the local area. It is also noted that some of the topics taught in first year contain complex geographic concepts that students would find easier to grasp at a later stage. It is recommended that those topics which contain less complex concepts should be included in the planned teaching programme for first year. Resources provided by the inspector will support the members of the geography department in this review.
In discussions with the geography teaching team it was noted that there is ongoing consideration of the programme of study for students in the autism unit and it is hoped that, if appropriate, students will sit the Junior Certificate examination in Geography. Providing students with the opportunity to sit some certificate examinations is commended. In order to provide effectively for the learning needs of these students it is recommended that the geography teaching team works collaboratively to develop an appropriate teaching plan by referring to the Junior Certificate Geography Syllabus. Further support for teachers is available from the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and teachers are encouraged to access its website at www.sess.ie The planned teaching programme should be kept under review and should be included in the department plan for Geography.
There are plans to increase the provision of ICT equipment to enable teachers to be more innovative in the delivery of the planned teaching programme. Documentation provided to teachers during the evaluation in relation to ICT outlined the resources available to geography teachers and included suggestions as to how ICT could be used to support teaching and learning.
Classroom management was of a high standard in all the lessons observed. Teachers had established very clear classroom routines. Lessons began with roll call, homework was monitored and corrected and the aim of the lesson was made clear to students. Before new subject matter was introduced previously learned material was revised and lessons concluded with the assigning of appropriate homework which students recorded in their journals. This created a very positive and focused atmosphere that effectively supported teaching and learning. As students participated in the planned learning activities they were frequently affirmed by their teachers. Where teachers had base classrooms, maps, photographs and students’ work were displayed creating a map-rich and print-rich learning environment.
High quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed. Teachers used a variety of teaching strategies to engage students and to cater for the variety of learning styles in the classrooms visited. Particularly effective was the use of well-managed group work where students were provided with appropriate worksheets. Students were supported and affirmed as the teacher moved between the different groups. The visual approach evident in all lessons helped to facilitate students’ understanding of geographic concepts. The use of a soil sample very clearly illustrated the contents of soil to students before they began to discuss how soil is formed. In discussing global industrial regions the use of a series of appropriate photographs stimulated students’ interest and formed the basis for the complex process of classifying industrial regions. In many of the lessons observed teachers used ICT to introduce the topic and to support discussions with students. The integration of statistical diagrams into lessons is good practice as this facilitates the development of students’ descriptive and interpretive skills. As a means of providing variety in the learning process students would benefit from having short worksheets to complete when describing and analysing statistical diagrams. This could be done either individually or in small groups before whole class discussions. It is noteworthy that teachers used a variety of questioning techniques to encourage students to reflect on their knowledge and to develop higher order thinking skills by offering explanations for geographic phenomena. Particularly effective was a series of questions to named students in discussing the interpretation of an age-sex pyramid and the need to pay particular attention to the scale provided. Photographs and carefully worded questions were used to help students empathise with people in the photographs, an approach which helps to develop positive attitudes as recommended in the geography syllabuses.
There was also a focus on teaching the language appropriate to Geography and in one class students were keeping a glossary of new terms in their copybook. This is good practice and the display of key geographical terms in classrooms is encouraged. The textbook, where used, acted as a resource and, in line with best practice, it did not become the primary medium of instruction. Students were knowledgeable about the topics under discussion and were encouraged by their teachers to relate class discussions to the world outside the classroom. This is good practice. Topics taught in the lessons observed included: migration, direction and compass use, classification of global industrial regions, peripheral regions, soil formation, population and economic activities in a core region.
Teachers are made aware of students with additional educational needs in their classes and in a number of lessons teachers used differentiated strategies to support these students. In one lesson observed where group work was used students were provided with differentiated worksheets which included prompts thus scaffolding their learning. The teacher visited the different groups offering clarification when needed and affirmed students for their efforts. In another lesson the teacher made a point of discretely checking that homework had been accurately recorded by students with additional educational needs. Formal contact should be established between the learning support department and members of the geography teaching team, as a means of providing support to students with additional educational needs. The geography teachers could provide lists of key geographical terms and advise on revision plans while the learning support department could advise on appropriate teaching methodologies.
A formal school homework policy is in place. Teachers monitor student progress both on a formal and informal basis. Formal assessments are held in October and in the second term for third and sixth year students. First, second and fifth year students have formal assessments at Christmas and at the end of the school year. It is noted that to cater for students with additional educational needs a reader is provided for school examinations and where appropriate modified tests are set for those students. The provision of such supports for students in commended. The good practice of setting common tests has begun and its wider use is encouraged. Reports are issued to parents following these formal assessments and student progress is reported on at formal parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group.
In the lessons observed, student understanding was frequently assessed by questions directed to named students and by the completion of short student tasks. Class tests are set following the completion of sections of the teaching programme. Homework is regularly set, monitored and corrected. Teachers use a variety of methods in setting homework, including work-searches, crosswords and letter writing. This is good practice as it provides stimulating challenges for students and also helps to develop their literacy skills. In one lesson observed students were presented with an ‘Assessment Pyramid’ which was used to explain how the completed homework would be graded and how they could achieve top marks. This encouraged students to work to high standards and is an example of very good practice. The sharing of such pedagogical ideas amongst the members of the geography teaching team is encouraged.
Each year, an analysis of results obtained in the certificate examinations is carried out and there are plans to develop this process further. Documentation provided indicated how the school has analysed the results obtained by students in the Leaving Certificate examination of 2008 and this review resulted in a series of strategies for addressing issues identified. Teachers should now ensure that the strategies outlined in the documentation are implemented. Such a review of results is commended as it can result in improvement in students’ performance.
The good practice of students having two copybooks, one for homework and the other one for notes, was evident in the classrooms visited. It was also noted that, in one instance, students were provided with a resource folder which they developed during the course of their studies. This contained an outline of the syllabus, supplementary textual material, summaries of topics covered and examples of past examination questions. This very effectively supported students and is commended. Students’ written work was generally of a high standard reflecting teachers’ expectations. Written work was monitored by teachers, ranging from a ‘light touch’ tick to identifying areas for improvement.
Where students had answered past examination questions they had received constructive feedback, which affirmed good practice and identified areas for improvement. This approach to assessing students’ work is very good practice. As a means of further developing this approach to assessment the members of the geography department should develop a policy in relation to assessment for learning (AfL) and include this in the subject department plan. This will be supported by materials provided during the evaluation and by accessing the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teaching of Geography is very well supported by school management with the provision of a wide range of resources, the recent acquisition of ICT equipment and, where possible, the assignment of teachers
to base classrooms.
· Geography is taught to students in the autism unit.
· Subject department planning is well established, a co-ordinator is in place and a subject department plan has been developed.
· 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.
· High quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed.
· Teachers are made aware of students with additional education needs in their classes and in a number of lessons observed teachers used differentiated strategies to support these students.
· In all of the lessons observed there was a very positive classroom atmosphere. Students were affirmed by their teachers and willingly participated in the planned learning activities.
· Students’ written work was generally of a high standard reflecting teachers’ expectations.
· The good practice of setting common tests has begun.
· Where students have answered past examination questions in Geography they receive constructive and supportive feedback from their teacher.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the core curriculum offered to junior cycle students be reviewed and consideration be given to including Geography within that curriculum provision.
· The planned teaching programme for junior cycle Geography should be reviewed.
· It is recommended that the geography teaching team works collaboratively to develop an appropriate teaching plan for students in the autism unit.
· As a means of providing support to students with additional educational needs formal contact should be established between the learning support department and members of the geography teaching team.
· The members of the geography department should develop a policy in relation to assessment for learning (AfL) and include this 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.
Published March 2009