An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Geography
Deerpark Christian Brothersí School
St. Patrickís Road, Cork City
Roll number: 62540I
Date of inspection: 26 February 2010
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deerpark CBS. 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 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 well supported by school management in Deerpark CBS and has a long tradition in the school. Geography forms part of the core curriculum in junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week. Students are placed into mixed-ability class groups up to February of first year. At this point, based on the outcomes of assessments and observation by teachers, the students are reorganised into one upper-band and two lower-band mixed-ability class groups. On completion of junior cycle, the optional Transition Year (TY) programme offers a full-year module of Geography that engages students mainly in the study of physical processes and environmental issues. On transfer into fifth year, students are offered a choice between the established Leaving Certificate programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Those students opting for the established Leaving Certificate are provided with an open choice of subjects. This allows for the creation of option blocks of subjects from which the students then choose their final combination of subjects. Geography has an allocation of two class periods per week in TY and five class periods per week in fifth year and in sixth year. There is a strong uptake of Geography in fifth year although uptake of higher level varies from year to year. Provision for the subject and the level of choice available to students in the school represents very good practice.
Deerpark CBS participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme which provides a range of supports to promote increased retention and attendance, improved literacy and numeracy, improved educational attainment in partnership with parents, the community, and external agencies. It is clear that participation in DEIS provides extra supports for geography students in the form of access to the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and specific supports for students with special educational needs and students for whom English is an additional language. The school also provides a unit to support students with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). These students are integrated into geography lessons and appropriate continuing professional development (CPD) supports have been availed of by geography teachers to build capacity in supporting these students in lessons. The work of school management and the geography teaching team in integrating available supports for students within the context of geography lessons is highly commended.
While there have been a number of recent changes in personnel due to the retirement of teachers, structures and routines within the geography department are well established. An identifiable departmental structure is in place and rooms for Geography are appropriately equipped and decorated with maps, posters and other visual materials. Important support links have been established with the education-support teachers in the school. Integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into geography lessons is ongoing. CPD supports have focused on JCSP methodologies, literacy and numeracy and classroom strategies relating to ASD in geography lessons. It is also clear that the educational and cultural diversity of the student cohort in the school is reflected in geography classrooms. Students with different learning needs, learning styles and cultural backgrounds are skilfully and very effectively included in geography lessons. The geography teachers are to be highly commended for their developmental work in this regard.
Individual planning and preparation for lessons was excellent. Strategies and methodologies to support the learning of the range of students in junior cycle lessons observed were particularly noteworthy. Good quality planning by individual teachers informed inclusive strategies such as differentiated questioning, visual-stimulus materials and tasks. These lessons were planned to engage students in their own learning and to facilitate active participation. Senior cycle lessons were equally well planned and prepared with a clear and appropriate examination focus. Strategies in the senior cycle lessons involved a clearly planned learning intention and a task-based approach that engaged and challenged students. It was clear that all lessons were set within the teacherís individual curricular plan but reflected an agreed subject-department plan to facilitate the delivery of the curriculum to geography students.
Collaborative planning for Geography is developing in line with the changing context of the geography classes and the whole school. A subject plan has been developed that includes common teaching programmes, details of the outcomes of CPD activities, assessment procedures, meeting agendas and outcomes, and a catalogue of resources for geography teaching. Collaborative planning has been influenced by changes in geography teaching personnel, the inclusion of students with special educational needs and particularly those students with ASD and students for whom English is an additional language. At whole-school level, collaborative planning for geography has been informed by DEIS action planning, including planning for students following the JCSP. In this context, it is clear that a collaborative planning process for Geography is in place in line with these ongoing changes at whole-school level. To build on current practice and in line with progress in DEIS action planning, it is recommended that the geography teachers establish a number of clear priorities to inform collaborative planning for the subject over the next number of years. These priorities could include developing and sharing new inclusive teaching and learning methodologies, differentiated strategies in the classroom and a focus on increasing uptake of higher-level geography. The agreed priorities should be informed by DEIS action planning.
The quality of teaching was observed to be very good in geography lessons. This very good practice reflected the skills and subject knowledge of the teachers, high quality individual planning for lessons, and reflective practice. The quality of studentsí learning was also observed to be very good. Students understood key geographical concepts, were proficient in appropriate geographical skills and displayed the ability to apply the learning point to local contexts. Increased uptake and improving outcomes at higher level in the Leaving Certificate geography examination are very positive and a focus on sustaining these patterns is encouraged.
Methodologies to engage students in learning were characterised primarily by inclusion and an informed awareness of the diversity of cultural backgrounds and learning styles present. To this end, a variety of methods was employed to engage students. The learning intention was clear in all cases. Lessons progressed based on a review of previous learning. Presentation of key points by the teacher was interspersed by questions targeted at individual students, who were then encouraged to develop their responses through further probing by the teacher. Key learning points were also illustrated using maps, photographs and diagrams on the whiteboard or using a digital data projector. In all cases students were engaged by these active methodologies. To build on this very good practice, it is recommended that teachers consider a learning-outcomes approach as appropriate to the needs of students. It could be helpful to focus at the outset on what the students will know and be able to do at the end of the lesson. The achievement of these outcomes could then be evaluated and highlighted for the students.
Lessons had a particular emphasis on literacy and numeracy in line with good practice generally and with JCSP strategies in particular. Key words were placed on the whiteboard as the lessons progressed and students transferred these to their notebooks. Key learning statements were planned for and achieved by those students following the JCSP. It is noteworthy however, that in the mixed-ability and diverse class groups observed, the appropriate focus was placed on differentiated teaching and learning to the benefit of all the students present. Particular skills were employed by geography teachers in the junior cycle lessons to meet the individual requirements of students with ASD in terms of structure and clarity around tasks and work in copybooks. Special needs assistants were also present in the lessons to support some students. Their work combined seamlessly with that of the geography teachers.
A key learning point of the Leaving Certificate syllabus was the focus of the senior cycle lesson observed. The approach was purposeful and was informed by a clear learning intention with an appropriate focus on presenting the key points within an examination question structure. The interpretation of diagrams and the reading on graphical data was central to this engaging and well-focused lesson.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was warm and inclusive. Lessons were purposeful and well paced. Students were busy and attentive and a very good rapport between students and their teachers was observed, often including amusing anecdotes and stories from the studentsí own experiences. The geography teachers are to be congratulated for their work in providing a very good quality classroom environment within which students can learn.
Assessment of learning was evident in all lessons observed. This was primarily informed by the very good quality individual lesson planning observed. Lessons had clear learning intentions and incorporated a review of previous learning. Progress in achieving the planned learning outcomes was assessed through questioning and the successful completion of tasks. Teachers created time in lessons to provide individual attention to students and to check on progress and understanding. This was particularly important for some students with ASD. These strategies represent good practice in the context of these mixed-ability class groups.
The quality of homework and notes in studentsí copybooks was observed to be very good. Particular attention was focused on the studentís journal to note the homework given based on the learning in lessons. While the work in their copybooks is monitored in geography lessons, it is recommended that students be provided with formative comments on homework tasks at reasonable intervals during the year. The comments should focus on the quality of each studentís response to the task and how this can be improved.
Whole-school assessment strategies are in line with normal practice. Assessment of studentsí individual needs is undertaken and co-ordinated by the education-support team. End-of-term assessments and certificate examinations are organised in line with good practice. The outcomes of these assessments are communicated to parents by written reports and at parent-teacher meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Geography is well supported by school management.
∑ Uptake is strong in senior cycle.
∑ Individual planning and preparation for lessons is excellent.
∑ Students with different learning needs, learning styles and cultural backgrounds are skilfully and very effectively included in geography lessons.
∑ The quality of teaching and learning was observed to be very good.
∑ The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was warm and inclusive.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The geography teachers should establish a number of clear priorities to inform collaborative planning for the subject.
∑ A learning-outcomes approach should be considered in lessons as appropriate to the needs of students.
∑ Students should be provided with formative comments on homework tasks at reasonable intervals during the year.
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 June 2010