An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Presentation Secondary School
Listowel, County Kerry
Roll number: 61380H
Date of inspection: 10 December 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation Secondary School, Listowel, Co Kerry. 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 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.
Geography is in a strong position within the curricular framework in the school and is well supported by school management. Geography is a core subject in junior cycle and all class groups are mixed ability in nature. The subject has an allocation of two class periods per week in first year, increasing to three for the second and third year of junior cycle. The smaller allocation to the subject in first year is necessary to allow students the opportunity to sample all optional subjects in advance of the subject-choice process on transfer into second year. Uptake of Geography is also significantly strong at senior cycle, with large numbers of students opting to study Geography to Leaving Certificate level. School management and the geography teaching team are commended for the provision and support for Geography within the school.
Geography students have the opportunity to study the subject within the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. To experience the subject within the programme, students are timetabled to join fifth-year lessons for a number of periods per week to sample the subject in preparation for the subject-choice process for Leaving Certificate. While this arrangement may serve this need it does not enhance the students’ experience of Geography in TY and is not consistent with the spirit of the programme. It is therefore recommended that school management address the provision for the subject in TY by offering a module of Geography to students, if this is possible within current teaching resources. A well-planned and structured module could serve the dual purpose of providing an interesting and engaging geographical experience appropriate to TY and equally support the subject-choice process in advance of fifth year.
The school and the geography teachers have very high expectations for their students throughout junior and senior cycle. Almost all students begin their study of Geography in junior cycle at higher level in the mixed-ability classroom settings. A significant number of these students continue to study Geography to the higher Leaving Certificate level. Achievement in State examinations is also impressive and the commitment of teachers and management to high standards of student achievement is acknowledged.
Decisions relating to changing levels are taken normally on completion of the pre-examinations in the final year of the cycle. This is good practice as students are challenged to achieve to the best of their abilities. To change levels, students must complete a form signed by parents and their teacher in advance. This effective strategy ensures that such decisions are not taken lightly.
There is an identifiable and working geography department in the school. There are three geography teachers who form an effective teaching team. Planning for Geography is ongoing and the work of the team is characterised by collaboration and communication. Subject meetings are facilitated by school management and are supported by much informal collaboration. A designated social-studies room is shared with the History department. This room is well equipped with information and communication technology (ICT) and is used to store an impressive range of geography teaching resources. These resources have been catalogued and are shared by the members of the team.
Provision for ICT to support teaching and learning in Geography is very well advanced in the school. In addition to the equipment available in the social-studies room, the teachers also avail of the computer room when necessary, particularly to support the use of Scoilnet Maps in the teaching and application of geographical skills. A range of suitable websites is also provided to students by their teachers to support their learning in Geography. This engagement with ICT to support teaching and learning represents very good practice.
Support for students with additional educational needs is well integrated into the work of the geography department. Strong links and lines of communication have been established between those providing education support at whole-school level and the geography teachers. The individual needs of students are discussed, as are appropriate differentiated teaching and learning strategies for use in the classroom. This good practice by the geography teachers is characterised by both reflection and an ethos of student care.
Planning for Geography is very well advanced and the process to date is clearly reflected in an excellent plan for the subject. This document includes a curricular plan for each year group, strategies relating to support for students with additional needs, differentiated methodologies, an annual analysis of results in State examinations, and most impressively, an action plan for the subject, setting out priorities for development. This represents very good practice.
The subject plan is also characterised by two noteworthy elements. Firstly, the non-linear approach taken to the agreed curricular plan for each year group is based on reflection and on the experience of the teaching team. This represents good practice and is in line with syllabus guidelines. The second element concerns the use of an outings contract for students engaging in geographical fieldwork. This document sets out, in a very positive way, the expectations in terms of positive behaviour and engagement in the activity. Both of these elements of the plan testify to a teaching team that is concerned for, and committed to, a positive learning experience for students.
Individual planning for lessons was also impressive. All the lessons were well planned and structured, and reflected the agreed common curricular plan. Resources to support learning, including printed visual materials and maps, were prepared and integrated into the lessons. It is clear that the level of planning for Geography at both the individual and collaborative level has a significant positive impact on classroom practice.
The quality of teaching and learning was very good in the lessons observed. The lessons were very well structured and paced and the learning intention was clear in all cases. Students were active and engaged in their own learning and responded positively to the planned teaching and learning strategies employed by the teachers. The classroom atmosphere in all cases was warm and engaging and it was clear that good quality learning was taking place within the well-planned lessons. Classroom management was effective, resulting in lessons where students were both courteous and assertive in their engagement with the learning.
Questioning and discussion stimulated by the teacher was central to classroom methodologies. Students were questioned on previous learning and, in some cases, on the homework tasks completed. Questions ranged from lower-order factual questions to higher-order questions that challenged students to think and to further develop their answers. In all lessons, questions were skilfully targeted to include all students. Students were named and affirmed, and in many cases were challenged to develop their answer. Questioning strategies were observed to be of very good quality.
The well-planned lessons engaged students through the use of a range of stimulus materials including maps and photographs. Lessons had a particular focus on geographical skills emphasising map interpretation. The whiteboard was a central focus for learning as key points were gathered and sketch diagrams traced the learning point. It was impressive, as the normal routine of the lesson, that senior students made their own notes as the learning progressed.
Ordnance survey (OS) maps were central to a number of lessons and key geographical skills were both used and applied in the understanding of the concept of location and the impact of the physical environment on settlement. In other cases, lessons integrated the OS map and photographs from the textbook to visualise landscape processes in plan and elevation. Digital colour photographs were also used in combination with short student dialogues to study a particular landscape. The engagement with maps of the local area was also very impressive as students could relate to the landscape from both the map and their local knowledge. It was clear that the methodologies employed were very effective
Classroom activities had a particular and appropriate focus on assessment. The good practice observed included a review of previous learning as the lessons opened, and questioning and prompting of students to gauge and to progress learning. Clear learning outcomes ensured that the lessons were well paced and that students had time to engage with and understand the concepts under discussion. All lessons ended with the provision of appropriate homework and manageable homework tasks to support learning.
Assessment processes in geography lessons reflected the whole-school assessment policy. Class tests and other assessments are used to track students’ progress in their learning. More formal examinations take place in February and at the end of the summer term. Students, in preparation for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate, sit formal examinations at an appropriate time in the second term. Reports on performance in these examinations are communicated to parents through school reports, and parent-teacher meetings are organised at appropriate times during the school year. These whole-school assessment procedures are in line with good practice.
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 April 2010