An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
De La Salle College
Macroom, County Cork
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 27 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College. 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.
There is very good provision for Geography in De La Salle College. Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week. Geography is also present on the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme in the school and is allocated four class periods per week. Geography experiences a strong uptake at senior cycle and is allocated five class periods per week. Uptake of higher-level geography at both junior and senior cycle is very strong and has been over time. This pattern is to be highly commended as it clearly illustrates the high expectations of teachers for their students and the high profile of Geography in the school.
Students make their choice of subjects for Leaving Certificate at the end of third year and in advance of the Junior Certificate examination. They then purchase their Leaving Certificate geography textbooks in advance of undertaking their study of Geography in TY. It is clear from the TY plan and the observation of a classroom practice that the geography programme is dominated by Leaving Certificate syllabus material and teaching methodologies that are unsuited to the rationale and spirit of the TY programme. In this regard reference should be made to circular M1/00 which outlines clearly the relationship between the TY programme and Leaving Certificate programmes. It is recommended that school management and the geography teaching team revisit the TY plan for Geography to ensure that students experience a range of teaching approaches to geographical studies and skills that will enhance their educational and social development within the programme. The resources available through the Second-Level Support Service (SLSS) website www.slss.ie could be useful in supporting these changes.
There is a strong and identifiable geography department in the school. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed and work on developing the department is ongoing. The school has an impressive geography room that is well equipped with teaching resources, maps, rock samples and posters. These have been gathered over time, catalogued and stored. The room has a range of audio-visual equipment and provides a print-rich and visual environment for the teaching of the subject. The quality of this geography room is a testament to the commitment of the geography teachers past and present and to the support of school management for the subject.
Class groups are allocated to base classrooms in the school and as a result teachers move between classrooms to access their classes. This requires teachers to carry any teaching resources needed in the lesson to that particular classroom. The geography teachers share access to the geography room and move their class groups to the room as appropriate. This is organised by the co-ordinator and a timetable for access to the room has been developed. School management is to be commended for not using this valuable room as a base classroom and therefore limiting access to the room for other geography class groups.
An ongoing and effective subject planning process is in place in the geography department. Recent changes in personnel have resulted in a refocusing of this process. There is a well developed subject plan that outlines a common teaching programme for all class groups in the school. This plan has been developed as a result of a collaborative planning process in the geography department. Regular subject planning meetings are organised and records are kept of issues that were discussed and actions planned. This process is to be both commended and encouraged. To build on the good work to date, it is recommended that the geography teachers develop the subject plan to identify key priorities for the subject. Targets to achieve these priorities should be set within realistic timeframes. These priorities should include planning for the use of active and differentiated teaching and learning methodologies to engage all students in the mixed-ability geography class groups. A further planning priority should be a review of the content and methodologies used in the TY geography programme. Another priority could see the geography department engaging in further planning for resources particularly in the area of ICT. The use of the “Trail-Master” DVD to support the teaching of map and photograph interpretation skills would be a useful entry point for teachers in this aspect of the process. The material and resources available on the Geography Support Service website www.scoilnet.ie/geography would be useful in developing this planning process.
Teachers are engaged in individual planning for teaching. Individual lesson plans and teacher files containing resource sheets, notes and visual stimulus materials were in evidence. This level of individual planning is to be highly commended. To build on this, the geography teachers should focus on the need to individually plan for active teaching and learning methodologies to fully engage the range of students in the mixed ability classroom settings in the school.
Good quality teaching was in evidence in the geography lessons observed. The learning intention in all lessons was clear from the outset. Topics for study included energy resources, the rock cycle, peripheral regions and economic activities. Students had a good knowledge of these topics and understood the underlying geographical concepts. Equally, students were able to use and apply key geographical skills. It was clear that students were learning in the lessons observed.
In most lessons observed teaching methodologies were dominated by teacher inputs. Key points placed on the whiteboard or overhead transparencies and illustrations from the textbook were used to introduce and progress the lessons. Teacher explanations were used to deepen understanding and questions to students were used to gauge learning. Students took down the key learning points in their copybooks. While these methodologies were effective, it is recommended that teachers also consider a range of additional teaching methodologies that will actively engage students in their own learning. Tasks and the application of skills should be interspersed with questioning and note-taking. Students could be given responsibility for making their own short notes on the topic or be asked to research additional information, whether from the textbook or from other sources. These and other similar activities would engage students in their own learning and provide the teacher with short periods of time in the lesson to monitor individual students’ progress.
There was good evidence of the use of student tasks and visual stimulus materials in some lessons. Students were engaged by the content of a videotape but their viewing was very effectively focused by the use of a well-planned question sheet. The video was paused to allow students to complete different sections of the question sheet. Questioning was also effectively used to focus on the key points and to widen the issue to national current events. This methodology was very effective in engaging students in the topic for study. In other cases strategies included the use of worksheets and skills-based tasks within the lesson period. These teaching methodologies are to be commended. Such approaches should also be considered following the revision of the TY programme for Geography. Geographical investigations, projects, local studies and the use of ICT as a research tool should form the basis for the teaching methodologies in TY Geography in the school. These methodologies will engage students in the study of relevant geographical concepts by using significantly different approaches. The impressive range of teaching packs and other resources that are available in the geography room should be used implement these changes in the TY programme.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was warm and mutually respectful within an ordered learning environment. Students were courteous and responsive in their interactions with their teachers in all the lessons observed. The pace of all lessons was well suited to the diversity of students in the mixed-ability classroom settings. It was clear from the work in students’ copybooks, and from the responses to questions from both the teachers and inspector, that learning was taking place in geography lessons.
Students’ knowledge and understanding is assessed informally in all lessons. Students were questioned on previous learning to monitor understanding and progress. Homework is assigned and regularly monitored.
The geography teachers are planning for the development of common assessments for junior cycle class groups in line with the agreed common teaching plan. Alternative assessment methods should also be introduced in the TY geography programme in line with best practice guidelines. As part of the ongoing collaborative planning process the geography teachers should also focus on the type of feedback given to students following the correction of students’ copies and class assessments. The methods set out in the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project should be used to implement these strategies. These assessment methodologies include a focus on sharing learning outcomes with students and on formative comment on students’ work. Information on AfL is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) www.ncca.ie.
Formal assessments are given to all class groups at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations at appropriate times in preparation for state examinations in June. The outcomes of formal and informal assessments are reported to parents through parent-teacher meetings and school reports.
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.