An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
†Ennistymon, County Clare
Roll number: 61950W
Date of inspection: 18 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon. 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 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.
In Scoil Mhuire Geography is a core subject on the junior cycle curriculum. Time allocations to the subject include two class periods per week in first year and three class periods per week in both second and third year. Geography also forms part of the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme and is assigned one teaching period per week. †The geography module on offer covers a range of topics which provide a focus on national and global environmental issues. It is recommended that the scope of the module be broadened to include a fieldwork component modelled on the Leaving Certificate geographical investigation. This work would provide a suitable taster of what the subject entails at senior cycle and will enable students to develop and further acquire geographical skills and report writing skills in a practical context.
At senior cycle Geography is an optional subject. Uptake in senior cycle geography is significantly below the national norm. Notwithstanding the fact that there are a number of contextual factors impacting on this uptake it is encouraged that the geography department explore ways of increasing student participation in the subject at senior cycle. Students are given an open choice of subjects from which subsequent option bands are created to facilitate maximum student choice. There are good supports in place to advise and assist parents and students in the process of subject and programme selection. These practices are commended. Time allocation to the subject in senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements and includes an appropriate mix of both double and single class periods. At both junior and senior cycle classes are well distributed across the week thus ensuring regular contact between students and their teachers and the geographical material being studied.
The geography department has access to a broad range of resources including subject-specific resources and audio-visual equipment. Whilst a dedicated geography room is not available some rooms were well decorated to provide print rich geographical learning environments. It is encouraged that this provision be developed in classrooms where geography is taught through the display of student project work, charts, photographs and other geographical materials. Classrooms should also have maps of Ireland, Europe and the world to support the teaching of locational geography which features across all areas of the syllabus.
†The school has excellent information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities, all classrooms are equipped with a computer, there are four interactive whiteboards and access to the computer room can be arranged through a booking schedule. The purchase of laptops by individual teachers was subsidised by the school and their use is supported by the availability of a number of portable data projectors. The geography teachers are working towards the increased use and integration of ICT to support teaching and learning in Geography and it is commended that they are availing of training to develop and improve their ICT skills. It is recommended that the geography department access Scoilnet maps; a web based geographical information system (GIS) that allows teachers and students to use an extensive range of maps, aerial photographs and geographical information. †It is suggested that part of the TY module could also be used as an opportunity for teachers and students to explore web-based geographical resources. This work will support the increased use of ICT and could assist in the development and compilation of ††an interesting and stimulating bank of resources to support teaching and learning in Geography across all year groups.
Senior management strongly supports and encourages teachersí continuing professional development. A variety of school based in-service seminars which provided a focus on teaching methodologies including mixed ability teaching and use of ICT has taken place. Subscription fees to Teacher Professional Networks or Subject Associations are also paid by the school. The geography department is encouraged to consider membership of the subject association so as to stay informed of ongoing developments in the subject. †
Subject department planning for Geography is ongoing and supported by regular formal and informal meetings of the geography teaching team. As both geography teachers teach at junior cycle a common teaching programme is in place which commendably incorporates common end-of-term assessments for relevant class groups. The planning documentation made available during the evaluation included schemes of work for each year group which outlined the content to be covered within term timeframes, detailed the learning outcomes to be attained and the assessment modes used by teachers. It is recommended that these be further developed to include the methodologies and resources used in teaching the various units of the syllabus. This planning will necessitate further discussion among the geography teachers and provide a rich opportunity for the sharing of ideas, expertise and pedagogical practice. To support this work it is recommended that the resources available under the general resource categories indicated in the subject plan are specified in detail. The resources provided by the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service should also be catalogued, shared and discussed within the department as some of them are suitable for use at junior cycle. Consideration should also be given to planning for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
It was noted from the planning documentation that the first year geography programme is heavily weighted with the more academically challenging areas of the syllabus in terms of their complexity and technical terminology. It is recommended that this provision be reviewed and consideration be given to the inclusion of some other less difficult topics at this early stage. The introduction of maps and photographs is encouraged in first year as a means of enabling students to have a practical encounter with the subject and to develop a range of geographical skills. These skills could then be further developed in conjunction with the teaching of various topics. ††
Good quality teaching and learning was observed in lessons during the course of the evaluation. Lessons were well planned and presented at a pace that was both challenging and suitable to the mixed abilities of the students. In cases where supplementary resource materials were prepared in advance these were well integrated into the development of the lesson and effectively supported studentsí learning. Learning outcomes for all lessons were clear and written on the board from the outset. This provided a clear focus for students on the work to be completed and gave specific direction and structure to teacher instruction.
A range of methodologies was used well during lessons. Whole-class teaching was balanced with questioning to facilitate active student engagement in the learning activity. A variety of questioning strategies was employed to present lesson material, elicit information from students and to support and challenge them in the development of higher order thinking skills. †It is recommended that teachers are mindful of using an appropriate mix of targeted and global questions and that students are given adequate time to formulate their answers.
Teacher instruction was clear and comprehensive and was enhanced by the provision of key learning points on the whiteboard or flipchart. It is recommended that students are required to record and maintain such notes as they provide a very good overview and summary of the lesson and are a useful revision aid. Good practice was observed in utilising studentsí prior learning to expand and develop concepts. These links provided a meaningful learning context and further facilitated studentsí understanding and engagement with their learning. †
The geographical skills of map reading and sketching were well taught and reinforced through demonstration and modelling using a map extract on the overhead projector and illustration on the whiteboard. Students demonstrated a very good knowledge in the practical application of these skills. Visual stimuli were also integrated to very good effect to provide an interesting and stimulating insight into and an analysis of the living conditions in the slums of the Philippines.† The incorporation of visual stimuli is highly commended and further encouraged as a means of supporting studentsí learning and understanding and catering for the diverse range of learning styles pertaining within the mixed ability classroom. To this end it is recommended that teachers access and integrate the rich range of web-based geographical resources to support the teaching and learning of Geography. †
The geography department have established contact with the schoolís learning support department in supporting students with additional educational needs. In the lessons observed there was evidence of the use of differentiated questioning and support was tailored to students experiencing difficulty. Teachers also reported that differentiated assessments are provided to students. These good practices are commended. There was good support for students literacy skills in the subject as technical terms where encountered in lessons were well explained and reinforced. As some units of the syllabuses contain an extensive range of technical terms it is recommended that lists of these terms are displayed to support students in becoming familiar with and accessing geographical terminology. ††
All the lessons observed were well managed. The relationship between students and teachers was positive and mutually respectful. Studentsí behaviour was exemplary and their contributions were affirmed by teachers.
The students participated in the learning activities with interest. They showed a good level of subject knowledge in the areas under study and ability to apply practical skills. Studentsí work in copybooks was neatly presented and of a good standard.
There was ongoing informal assessment of studentsí progress and knowledge in lessons through questioning and the correction of homework. A number of classes observed began with homework tasks discussed and corrected. †Oral feedback was provided to individual students and whole-class feedback provided on common points of note. This is good practice in consolidating studentsí new learning. It was evident from a review of a sample of studentsí copybooks that homework is set and monitored regularly in all classes. Good practice was evident where completed work was annotated by the geography teachers with both quality and developmental comments. The wider use of detailed formative comment is encouraged to assist students in improving the quality of their work. The geography teachers are also encouraged to include small-scale project work in their repertoire of instruments used to assess students. This work should then be displayed to acknowledge the achievements of students and used to create print-rich and motivational learning environments. This development will help to raise the profile and increase the visibility of Geography.
Students are formally assessed throughout the year and where teachers have the same year groups common assessment papers are set as appropriate. †The outcomes of these assessments are recorded by teachers and used to build a profile of studentsí achievement and progress in the subject. Parents are appropriately informed of studentsí progress through annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group and school reports which are issued four times a year. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students sit pre-examinations in spring in preparation for State examinations.
The good practice of analysing State examination results obtained by students is well established with the geography department. High expectations are set for learning and significant numbers of students take higher level papers particularly in the Junior Certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Geography is included within the Transition Year programme.
∑ The geography department benefits from a good level of resource provision.
∑ The school has excellent information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities which are available for use to the geography department.
∑ Senior management strongly supports and encourages teachers continuing professional development.
∑ Subject department planning for Geography is ongoing and a subject plan is in place.
∑ Individual planning for lessons was appropriate and effective.
∑ Good quality teaching and learning was observed in lessons.
∑ Studentsí behaviour was exemplary and their relationship with teachers is mutually positive and respectful.
∑ Studentsí written work was of a good standard and they showed a good level of subject knowledge.
∑ Good practice was observed in the use of formative feedback on studentsí work
∑ A range of assessment modes is used effectively to monitor studentsí progress.
∑ Parents are regularly informed of studentsí progress.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The increased use and integration of ICT is recommended to support teaching and learning in Geography. The geography department should access Scoilnet maps.
∑ Planning documentation should be further developed in line with the recommendations contained in the main body of the report.
∑ The first year geography programme should be reviewed as outlined.
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 October 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board welcomes the positive inspevtion report on the teaching of Geography in Scoil Mhuire Ennistymon.
Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
All recommendations will be implemented.