An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Roll number: 62440E
Date of inspection: 26 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject
Geography is a core subject at junior cycle in the school and as such is allocated three class periods per week. Geography also forms part of the optional Transition Year (TY) programme and is allocated one class period per week for one half of the school year. In senior cycle, Geography is allocated five class periods per week. This allocation includes one double lesson each week. There are five geography teachers in the school. Three teachers concentrate on teaching the subject at junior cycle while two teach the senior cycle classes.
Students are given an open choice of subjects to facilitate transfer to senior cycle. From these first choices, optional blocks of subjects are created and the students then make their final choices. A significant number of students opt to study Geography on transfer into senior cycle from junior cycle or on completion of the TY programme. A very high proportion study the senior cycle syllabus to higher level. This pattern is to be highly commended as it clearly illustrates the high expectations of the geography teachers for their students and enthusiasm for the subject.
There is an identifiable geography department in the school. The teaching team is engaged in subject planning and in the challenges of implementing the revised Leaving Certificate geography syllabus. There is an impressive geography notice board containing information on current geographical events and school fieldwork activities. There is no geography room in the school and teachers are not allocated to base classrooms. This results in the need to store teaching resources centrally and carry these to the appropriate classroom. The school has allocated a small central resource storage area to the subject. The small number of teaching resources available have been catalogued and are accessible to all teachers. It is recommended that the teaching team concentrate on developing the range of teaching resources over time, particularly in relation to the challenges of syllabus change.
The geography department is advancing the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into the teaching of the subject, in line with whole-school developments in this area. There was very impressive use of ICT in evidence in the teaching of the subject to students in receipt of additional small-group teaching support. Live internet downloads were used, as were resources from a range of geography web sites. ICT was also in evidence in individual teacher planning and preparation for lessons through the use of a wide variety of internet sources. Where observed, these activities were very impressive. The challenge for the geography department is to further develop the use of ICT in both teaching and learning appropriate to the skill levels of individual teachers. The current availability of portable ICT equipment in the school will facilitate these developments. The teachers are also encouraged to engage with the ICT resources provided by the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service, including the “Trail-Master” DVD to facilitate the teaching of map and photograph interpretation skills and the “ICT in the Classroom” programme.
Students with special educational needs are very well supported in Geography. While all class groups are mixed-ability in nature, the school also provides an extra class period per week for a small number of students requiring additional support in Geography. This class period for small-group teaching is provided for all the year groups at junior cycle and for fifth year at senior cycle. Combined with this provision, is the impressive level of teamwork in evidence among the teachers providing this support. Equally impressive is the constant and regular communication between the geography teachers of the main classes and teachers of the small groups. This structure of support is to be encouraged and highly commended for its level of provision, organisation and flexibility in supporting the needs of these students.
There was a range of evidence of individual planning and preparation in the lessons observed. Most lessons were well prepared. It was also clear that in most cases the level of individual planning was very impressive and advanced. Most teachers had folders of prepared worksheets, notes and summary materials to assist student learning. Where observed, these materials were very impressive. All members of the teaching team should engage in this good practice. The textbook and associated workbook was central to the structure of a number of lessons, while in other cases revision for the upcoming examinations was the focus. The use of student atlases in combination with the textbook was successful in providing students with a range of data sources within the lesson. The use of the ordnance survey (OS) map and aerial photograph of the local area in the teaching of map skills was also effective in engaging students within the lesson structure.
The geography teachers have engaged in an impressive level of collaborative planning. Subject department meetings are held regularly and the issues discussed and the actions planned are recorded. The teaching team has produced a very good quality subject department plan in line with the school’s progress in school development planning. The team has agreed and is in the process of implementing a common programme of study for all junior cycle classes. This process will also facilitate common assessment of students within the mixed-ability classroom settings. When fully implemented, this process will allow for flexibility and movement between classes and will assist in planning for differentiated methodologies for students requiring extra support in the subject.
The geography teaching team has also produced an impressive TY plan for Geography. This plan outlines an effective geography module for students taking the programme and includes an important fieldwork component. While Geography within TY is confined to one period per week in a half-year module, it does provide a good basis from which students can both enjoy the subject and inform their subject choice in advance of senior cycle.
Teaching and learning was of a high quality in the geography lessons observed. The methodologies used were teacher led with students responding to teacher questions and through tasks set in a small number of lessons. The lesson opening and the learning objective was clear in all cases. A number of lessons used the correction of homework as the entry point into the new topic for study. Homework was corrected orally in these cases and students were challenged to extend their answers when appropriate. In a number of lessons, a variety of source materials were introduced to develop the learning point. The use of atlases, OS maps and aerial photographs to extend and elicit student responses is to be commended. Textbooks were used appropriately in all lessons, avoiding over-reliance but allowing the textbook to act as the overarching guide to progress through the syllabus. As the common teaching plan is implemented at junior cycle, this practice should be further reinforced. ICT sources acted as a very effective stimulus to learning, particularly in the small class setting used to provide extra support for some students.
Teacher questioning was central to the methodology used in all classes. These questions ranged across previous learning and were equally used to challenge students relating to new topics for study. Teacher questioning was used effectively in the focussed revision lessons observed in senior cycle. Students preparing for forthcoming pre examinations were challenged with both questions requiring factual recall and those requiring more depth and thought. It is recommended that the geography teaching team focus particularly on questioning techniques within classroom practice. Lower-order questions seeking facts should be interspersed with higher-order questions seeking deeper analysis and discussion. These questions, when targeted at individuals and at the whole class, will challenge individual students and ensure the active engagement of all within the lesson.
While students were engaged by the methodologies used in the lessons observed, it is recommended that the geography teaching team should focus on teaching methodologies as they advance their already impressive level of collaborative planning. This focus should involve a discussion among team members of their experience of effective and ineffective methodologies used in particular class contexts. This discussion should then extend to the identification of particular teaching methodologies that might be trialled by team members. These could then be incorporated into appropriate sections of the agreed teaching plan. “Assessment for Learning” (AfL) strategies available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) web site www.ncca.ie could act as a suitable entry point to begin this work. These strategies for effective teaching and learning involve the variety of classroom practices including the sharing of the learning intention and the learning outcomes of the lesson with students. The exploration of these strategies should allow the teaching team to reflect on and further develop their current teaching methodologies. It should equally result in the active engagement of students in their own learning.
Classroom management was effective and sensitive in all lessons observed. Seating plans were in place in a number of lessons and in all cases students were attentive and engaged in the lessons. The focus of attention on questioning previous learning was also effective in keeping students on task. In all cases students were aware of their responsibility to have completed homework tasks and to respond to questions from the teachers. Students were respectful and courteous in all the lessons observed. Equally their teachers were both challenging and sensitive to the responses of individual students. There was a warm, secure and ordered classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed.
Student learning in all classroom settings was appropriate to syllabus requirements and to the abilities of the students. When the students were challenged by higher-order questions from the inspector they responded appropriately and were able to apply geographical patterns and processes to other settings and to identify key issues. Student learning is also reflected in the strong level of uptake of higher level at both junior and senior cycle and successful student outcomes from this pattern. The high expectations of the teachers for their students are reflected in these patterns of uptake of higher level Geography. This is to be highly commended.
Student learning was assessed informally in all lessons observed. In some cases, teacher questioning was combined with a focus on homework correction in class. In other lessons, particularly those dealing with revision topics, ongoing assessment focussed on intensive questioning of students. Both methods were effective. Student homework copybooks and workbooks also reflected student progress within the learning plan. Student copybooks contained appropriate homework tasks but in some lessons lacked any evidence of teacher monitoring, comment or assessment. In other cases the student notebooks and copybooks were regularly checked and marked. It is recommended that student notebooks and copybooks should be regularly monitored and that the students receive appropriate feedback on the quality of their homework. Teachers should also reconsider the use of workbooks as a vehicle for assessment of student learning. Workbooks often provide useful stimulus-response exercises but can limit students in fully developing their written answers. These student assessment issues should be considered as part of the further development of the geography subject plan.
Teachers also assess student learning through informal class tests at appropriate times during the teaching programme for each class group. Formal assessments are held in November for all classes and at the end of the summer term for first-year, second-year and fifth-year class groups. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations in February in preparation for state examinations in June. Feedback from all these assessments is provided to parents and students 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 and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.