An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Castlerea Community School
Castlerea, County Roscommon
Roll number: 91493P
Date of inspection: 16 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castlerea 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal. 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.
In Castlerea Community School Geography forms part of the core curriculum in junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week. The majority of classes are well spread across the week. Within timetabling constraints this provision should be extended to all class groups where possible so as to avoid the timetabling of geography lessons on three consecutive days. At senior cycle Geography is an optional subject. School management makes every effort to cater for studentsí subject preference and currently Geography is included in two of the option blocks. Prior to the selection of subjects, students and their parents are appropriately advised and supported by school personnel. In line with syllabus requirements, Geography is assigned five class periods per week at senior cycle. In both cycles all class groups are of mixed ability.
There is very good whole-school support for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography. All of the geography teachers have been allocated a base classroom. This allows each teacher to develop and store individual teaching resources and to decorate the classrooms with visual geographical materials. While all classrooms displayed some subject relevant posters, maps and student project work, a number of rooms had very well developed stimulating learning environments. This is highly commended. It is recommended that large maps of Ireland, Europe and the world are strategically displayed in all classrooms to support the teaching of locational Geography which is relevant to all areas of the syllabuses. Geography is a well-resourced subject and a catalogue of resources is contained 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 will prove useful to teachers when deciding on the selection of suitable resource materials as part of lesson planning.
School management is highly commended for the development of the schoolís extensive information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure which effectively facilitates teachers in the integration of ICT. Whilst there was use of ICT in some lessons the increased engagement with web-based resources, particularly Scoilnet Maps is recommended. This internet-based mapping and geographical information system (GIS) will provide access to a broad range of resources and enhance and enrich students learning in the subject.†
The school is supportive of teachersí in-career development in the subject. The geography teachers should avail of the upcoming course on Scoilnet Maps to be provided in local Education Centres.
Five teachers deliver the geography programme in Castlerea Community School. They form a clearly identifiable subject department with one teacher acting as co-ordinator. The co-ordination role should be rotated in order to distribute leadership and share responsibility among team members. The geography team meets formally each term and there is frequent informal contact among team members. It is recommended that minutes of meetings are maintained to provide a record of the planning process and to guide its future development.
A collaborative approach to subject planning was evident during the course of the evaluation. The geography teachers have developed a subject plan which contains the organisational details of the department, curricular programmes for each year group, copies of common assessments and the syllabuses. Good practice was noted in the development of curricular plans, particularly at senior cycle. This is commended. It is recommended that all curricular plans detail the resources used to support the teaching of topics, including the use of ICT, and the times and modes of assessment.
The geography teachers should review their first-year teaching programme which has a marked focus on topics from physical Geography and meteorology. As these sections of the syllabus contain many complex geomorphic processes and are technical some less difficult topics should be incorporated into the first-year programme. Also the study of meteorology should be deferred until third year due to its complexity. Consideration should be given to the development of map and photograph skills at an earlier stage in first year. The use of large-scale OS maps and aerial photographs of the local area would provide for a familiar and practical introduction to Geography. These fundamental skills could then be further developed in conjunction with the teaching of other topics.
Teachers are aware of students with additional educational needs and a number of practices are employed to support these students including a focus on key terms, individual in-class support, reasonable accommodations in mock examinations and the adaptation of the textbook to assist students. These provisions are commended. As part of the collaborative planning process these should be detailed in the subject department plan.
Very good individual planning for lessons was noted in the preparation and use of resource materials to support topic delivery and enhance studentsí learning. Lessons were well structured and in most cases progressed at an appropriate pace. All lessons had definite learning objectives that were explicitly communicated to students at the outset. This is good practice as it provides a clear direction for the lesson and a focus for student learning.†
Good quality teaching and learning was observed over the course of the evaluation. A variety of methodologies was employed which created an appropriate balance between teacher input and student input. The good practice of recalling the main learning points of the previous lesson formed the context for the introduction of new subject matter. Teacher exposition was appropriately combined with questioning to check studentsí knowledge and understanding and to further develop lesson material. Good practice was observed where targeted questions to named individuals were well distributed across the class whereas in other lessons questions tended to be directed at the whole-class. The more widespread use of targeted questioning strategies is recommended as a means of more effectively challenging individual students and ensuring their full engagement throughout the lesson. In all lessons instruction was clear and comprehensive and topics were well explained and developed. At the conclusion of lessons it is encouraged that a brief summary of the key learning points be provided to students as a further means of consolidating the main learning objectives.
In many cases teachers integrated a wide range of visual stimuli which very effectively enhanced student learning and provided for stimulating and interesting lessons. Powerpoint presentations and a CD-ROM were used to illustrate diagrams, photographs and maps of geographic features, and processes. Teachers are highly commended for the advance preparation and incorporation of these stimuli.
The board and Powerpoint were used to highlight aspects of topics and to supplement teacher exposition. This is good practice. There was a good focus on studentsí linguistic development and the acquisition of geographical terminology. As terms were encountered they were explained and reinforced and in some rooms key words were on display. In building on this good practice in a more sustained manner it is recommended that students maintain a glossary of key terms pertinent to each topic in their copybooks.
There was a focus on the development of studentsí geographical skills and this was evident where students were engaged in OS map work. It is recommended that suitable settings which provide a range of relevant examples are selected for the development of such skills. It is also recommended that the OS map be displayed on the overhead projector or digital projector to facilitate whole-class teaching and for ease of reference. The use of Scoilnet Maps is recommended as an ideal resource for teaching and developing map skills. Where individual learning tasks and pair work activities were incorporated into lessons these provided good opportunities for students to apply and reinforce their learning. The use of such activities is commended and further encouraged as a means of actively engaging students in their own learning.
The students were knowledgeable about their courses as was evident from their responses to questions and their engagement with tasks. The work completed in studentsí copybooks was also of a good standard. A positive learning environment prevailed in all lessons marked by mutual respect between teachers and students.†
Teachers utilise a variety of methods to assess studentsí progress in the subject. Studentsí knowledge of Geography was assessed through the correction of homework, provision of class tasks and questioning by the teacher.† It is recommended that teachers extend the range of assessments modes used to include small-scale project work. This may involve students developing geographical posters, Geo Newsboards or researching topics for class presentation. This provision will enable students to develop as independent learners and support the development of their research and ICT skills. The work produced should be displayed in classrooms in acknowledgement of their efforts. Class tests take place when sections of the planned teaching programme are completed. The outcomes of these assessments are recorded in the studentsí journals and must be signed by parents. This is good practice as it provides a mechanism for regular feedback to parents.
Homework is regularly assigned and corrected. As homework is being corrected in class it is recommended that students are required to mark their work. This will provide a good focus on the task and serve as a form of self-assessment. The use of developmental comments was evident in the correction of some work. The more widespread use of formative feedback in line with Assessment for Learning (AfL) principles is recommended on studentsí written work. Studentsí copybooks are well maintained and the presentation of the work completed was neat and organised. This is good practice and reflects the high expectations set by their teachers.
Formal examinations for all students are held twice a year. Reports are issued to parents following these examinations. Parents also receive feedback on students progress at parent-teacher meetings organised annually for each year group.
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 principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, April 2010