An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Kilrush Community School
Roll number: 91448K
Date of inspection: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilrush 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 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 one of the 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.
Kilrush Community School is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 383 students. There is very good whole school support for Geography as school management has provided two dedicated social studies rooms which are used for both Geography and History. A wide range of resources is available to support teaching and learning in the subject. These resources include wall maps, a collection of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, both large and small scale, aerial photographs, weather and fieldwork instruments, soil test set, digital camera and a collection of DVDs and videos. It is recommended that the school’s stock of fieldwork instruments be detailed in the inventory of resources included in the subject department plan. The geography teachers expressed satisfaction with the level of resource provision and the procedures in place for the requisition of resources.
The geography teachers reported that their current level of access to the school’s computer room is sufficient to accommodate the adequate integration of information and communication technologies (ICT). However it was also clear from discussions held during the evaluation that there are variations in the extent to which ICT is used by teachers. Use of ICT is essential to derive maximum benefit from Scoilnet Maps, the online interactive mapping website which features Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) maps, aerial photographs and online resources that support the learning and teaching of Geography in second-level schools. In this regard it is recommended that future planning by the geography department should focus on ways of supporting and enabling teachers to increase the use of ICT in the classroom.
Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and has an allocation of three class periods per week. The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) was introduced in 2007 and a small group of students study Geography as part of this programme.
At Leaving Certificate level Geography is an optional subject. Students have an open choice of subjects from which optional subject blocks are designed to give students their optimum number of choices. This good practice is commended. Uptake in senior cycle Geography reflects the national norm. Class period provision at this level is in line with syllabus requirements. Teachers generally retain their assigned class groups in junior and senior cycle. This good practice is commended. Timetabling supports the delivery of the curricula with almost all lessons receiving an even spread of lessons over the week.
The geography teachers form a clearly identifiable subject department. Subject department planning is facilitated by the provision of formal time provided by management. It is recommended that the minutes of such meeting be recorded to support continuity in planning. These records should outline the key items discussed and the action plans agreed and should be incorporated into the subject department plan. Responsibility for subject planning is shared by all the geography teachers. It is recommended that one of the teachers act as subject co-ordinator in leading the planning process forward and that this position be assigned on a rotational basis among the other members of the geography teaching team.
The geography teachers are engaged in collaborative subject planning and have developed a subject department policy document. This document contains curricular plans which provide a list of topics to be taught to each year group. It is recommended that more comprehensive curricular plans be developed to indicate in an integrated manner the syllabus content to be covered, the corresponding learning outcomes to be achieved, the specific resources employed to support the teaching of topics, and the methodologies and assessment modes used by teachers. Planning for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning should also be incorporated into these documents. It is also recommended that a review section be included on plans to record comments on students’ progress and the attainment of the learning outcomes of lessons. These comments will be a useful guide for teachers in planning for revision of course material and evaluating the effectiveness of particular teaching strategies and resource materials in supporting student learning. In acknowledgement of the time involved in developing such plans it is suggested that this work be undertaken on a phased basis, with priority given to State examination class groups.
The first year programme focuses exclusively on the teaching of physical geography, meteorology and climatology. It is recommended that this provision be reviewed and consideration be given to the introduction of some less technical areas of the syllabus and the development of map and photograph skills in first year.
There was evidence of short-term planning for the lessons observed. Teachers had prepared handouts, overhead transparencies and downloaded resource materials from a geographical website. All lessons had definite learning objectives which provided a clear focus for students’ attention. Lessons were delivered in a structured manner and generally paced at a level suitable to the needs and abilities of students.
In the lessons evaluated the topics being taught included types of rainfall, currents of the North Atlantic and their effects, the Paris Basin and the rock cycle with a focus on the formation of limestone. Good quality teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation. The dominant methodologies employed in lessons included teacher instruction coupled with student questioning. Teachers provided good overviews of the material under study and in some cases the use of visual stimuli was effective in clarifying and supporting students’ understanding of complex processes and concepts. Such a visual approach is commended and is encouraged in all lessons. Questioning was used to good effect to review previously covered material, to advance the delivery of lesson content and to enhance the participation of students in the lessons. Students were challenged by a mix of questions which required factual recall of information and the development of higher order thinking skills.
There was an appropriate focus on the development of geographical skills as evidenced by the integration into lessons of figure interpretation and data analysis. Opportunities to develop students’ knowledge of locational Geography were also developed. These provisions are commended. It was reported that some fieldwork activity in the local environment is carried out with students at junior cycle. This provision is commended as it exposes students to a practical encounter with the subject and effectively links the study of Geography to the real world. Subject-specific terminology was well reinforced and explained in lessons. Given the mixed ability composition of classes it is recommended that lists of the main terminology pertinent to the topic being taught be displayed in a strategic location in the classroom. A student notebook of key words may prove very useful to this end.
The geography teachers are provided with base classrooms and these were largely decorated with maps. There is scope to enhance the physical environment of classrooms with a range of geographical charts and posters, GeoNews notice boards and students’ project work. It is suggested that teachers enlist the assistance of students with this development.
Teachers are aware of students with additional educational needs. It is recommended that formal links be established with the learning support department to support the geography teachers in implementing differentiated teaching strategies to cater for the wide range of abilities within the mixed-ability classroom setting. School management intends to engage the services of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) to advise and support the staff in this regard. It is also recommended that geography teachers outline in the subject department plan the specific strategies they employ in geography lessons to support students with additional educational needs.
Classroom management was effective and a co-operative and positive atmosphere that was supportive of learning was evident in all lessons. Students generally displayed a level of knowledge appropriate to their class group and ability levels.
In the lessons observed informal assessment of students’ learning was carried out through intensive questioning of students and in one case the correction of homework. Students’ copybooks indicated that homework is regularly assigned and reflected the teaching plan. Best practice was observed where the State examination marking scheme was applied to the correction of students’ written work and it was annotated with developmental comments. However in some cases the completion of homework was acknowledged only by a tick mark and teacher initials and lacked any evidence of formative comment. It is recommended that students’ written work should be regularly checked and students provided with developmental feedback on how they might improve their work. Information on the development of Assessment for Learning principles can be accessed on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website, www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.
Assessment of students also occurs through regular class tests at appropriate times during the teaching programme for each class group. It is suggested that small-scale project work be included in the range of assessment instruments used by teachers. This work should then be displayed in acknowledgement of students’ achievement and as a means of enhancing the physical learning environment of classrooms. All students sit formal tests at Christmas while first-year, second-year and Leaving Certificate 1 students have formal examinations in the second and third term. Pre-examinations are held for third and Leaving Certificate 2 students in the spring. The junior-cycle Geography syllabus is designed as a syllabus with a small number of extra settings for higher level students only. It is recommended that the geography teachers keep the uptake in levels of Junior Certificate Geography under review and continue to challenge students to study the higher-level syllabus.
Parents are kept very well informed and updated on student progress in the subject. They receive written school reports which are issued three times a year. Feedback to parents is also provided through annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. This level of communication is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole school support for Geography with the provision of two social studies rooms, a wide range of teaching resources and appropriate timetabling arrangements.
· Geography is offered as an optional subject within an open choice structure for the Leaving Certificate. Uptake in senior cycle Geography reflects the national norm.
· The Geography teachers are engaged in collaborative planning for the subject and have developed a subject policy document.
· There was evidence of short-term planning for the lessons observed.
· Good quality teaching was observed during the course of the evaluation.
· Students in junior cycle engage in fieldwork activities.
· Parents are kept very well informed and updated on student progress in the subject.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Future planning by the geography department should focus on ways of supporting and enabling teachers to increase the use of ICT in the classroom.
· Curricular plans for each year group should be developed in line with the recommendations outlined in the main body of the report. Minutes of planning meetings should be recorded and co-ordination of the department should be rotated.
· Formal links should be established with the learning support department to support the geography teachers in implementing differentiated teaching strategies to cater for the wide range of abilities within the mixed-ability classroom setting. The subject department plan should outline the specific strategies employed in geography lessons to support students with additional educational needs.
· Students’ written work should be regularly checked and students should be provided with developmental feedback on how they might improve their work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with one of 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.
30 September 2008