An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Westport, County Mayo
Roll number: 64700O
Date of inspection: 04 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rice College, Westport. 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.
Rice College is a single sex post-primary school with a current enrolment of 399 boys. There is good whole-school support for the teaching and learning of Geography through the provision of a range of resources, including information and communication technologies (ICT), audio-visual equipment and subject-specific resources. Whilst there is no dedicated geography room the majority of geography teachers are provided with base classrooms and there are two specialist rooms used for teaching the subject. One of these rooms has an interactive whiteboard and the second is equipped with a laptop and digital projector. These provisions are commended.
School management encourages and facilitates teachers continuing professional development. Membership fees of subject associations are paid and the geography teachers are members of the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI). It is encouraged that the geography teachers attend the current evening courses on Geography and the use of ICT resources provided by the Geography Support Service at selected Education Centres. The majority of geography teachers are graduates of the subject and are provided with the opportunity to teach in both cycles.
The geography teachers have organised a number of co-curricular activities which include trips to Croagh Patrick, Achill and local fieldwork activities with students in first year. Efforts have also been made at developing studentsí awareness of economic inequality through their participation in a fund-raising project in association with Westport Lions Club to build primary schools in Kenya. †These initiatives are commended and further encouraged as they extend studentsí experience of the subject beyond the classroom and give practical expression to the aims of the geography syllabus.
At junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three class periods in each of the junior cycle years. †Geography is also a component of the Transition Year (TY) programme and is assigned three teaching periods per week throughout the year. At Leaving Cert level Geography becomes an optional subject offered within an open choice structure. A generous time allocation of six teaching periods is assigned at this level, consisting of a mix of double and single class periods. †There is good uptake of the subject in senior cycle.
Classes generally retain as far as is practicable the same teacher from first year to third year. This is good practice. The majority of lessons are well distributed across the week. It is recommended that the time-tabling of Geography at junior level on three consecutive days be avoided as far as possible. Class organisation at all levels is of mixed ability.
There are six teachers delivering the geography syllabuses. The most experienced teacher acts as co-ordinator for the subject. It is recommended that this position be rotated so that all members of the geography teaching team have the opportunity to gain experience of the role as well as sharing the workload.
The geography teachers have a positive attitude to and interest in enhancing the provision of Geography in the school. They are involved in a meaningful collaborative planning and review process of Geography. This is highly commended and further encouraged. It was noted from planning documentation that a number of changes have been recently introduced into the junior cycle and senior cycle geography programmes. These initiatives aim to further support student learning and are commended. It is good to note that the first year Geography programme includes a range of topics across various areas of the syllabus as opposed to an extensive concentration on Physical Geography.† First-year students also have the opportunity to engage in fieldwork activities in the local environment. This is very good practice. The introduction of fieldwork for each year group is identified as a target for development within the geography department. This development is encouraged.
Long-term curricular plans have been developed for each year group. The plans outline an agreed teaching programme for each year group within term time-frames. It is recommended that these plans be further developed in line with the short-term scheme of work developed for the first-year teaching programme. These plans should outline in an integrated manner the syllabus content to be covered, the corresponding learning outcomes to be achieved, the specific resources employed to support the teaching of topics and the methodologies and assessment modes used by teachers. In keeping with the geography departmentsí target planning in relation to the increased integration of ICT by all teachers this should be reflected in schemes of work for year groups.
A planned teaching programme for TY was made available during the evaluation. It is recommended that this programme be reviewed to ensure that it effectively bridges the gap between junior cycle and senior cycle geography and provide a taster of what the subject entails at senior cycle. It is recommended that a geographical field investigation be included within the TY curricular provision as this will facilitate an investigative approach to the subject and enable students to develop important geographical skills of benefit to them in their Leaving Certificate studies. The modules currently on offer facilitate the development of studentsí ICT skills through assessment by project work. It is essential that all modules are directly related to Geography and that research skills be developed within a geographical context.
Very good collaborative planning for resource development at departmental level was also evident. Teachers contribute lessons to a bank of shared resources on the schoolís server where they are available to all members of the department. This is very good practice and is further encouraged.
Good quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. Subject matter was well structured and the pace of lessons was generally appropriate to the individual abilities of students. In line with the principles of assessment for learning, the learning objectives were outlined at the start of the lesson and in some cases written on the board. This provided a clear focus for students and accurately directed lesson delivery.
A range of teaching methodologies was employed in the lessons observed which included whole-class teaching, questioning, brainstorming, use of ICT, group work and in-class exercises. The use of visual stimuli to support student learning is highly commended in catering for the variety of learning styles found in the mixed-ability classroom setting. In this regard good use was made of the whiteboard to present teaching points and to record feedback from a brainstorming session. In another lesson digital images were appropriately employed to trace the historical development of settlements and to identify their associated functions. The increased integration of ICT is recommended as it made an effective contribution to student understanding of the topic and effectively maintained their interest in the lesson.
Questioning was continually integrated into teacher instruction. This was differentiated and included a good mix of higher and lower order questions. This is good practice. At times questions were directed at individual students, however, global questioning strategies tended to dominate with answers accepted from any student. It is recommended that teachers make greater use of targeted questioning as a means of monitoring studentsí understanding and to include all students in the work of the lesson.
Excellent use was made of the local urban environment to aid students learning and to discuss geographical concepts. This approach of linking lesson material to studentsí direct experience provided for stimulating lessons in which the students participated in the learning activity with interest and enthusiasm. Using an historical map of Westport and working in groups the students engaged eagerly in identifying differences in the past and present functions of the town. It was clear that learning was taking place in an enjoyable yet focused manner.
The use of student tasks added variety to lessons and provided opportunity for independent and peer learning. As students were engaged in tasks, the teachers circulated to support and affirm them. This is good practice as it allows teachers to target students who may need extra support.
Students demonstrated a good understanding of the topics under study. It was clear from a review of studentsí copybooks that work has been completed on a variety of topics in line with the planned teaching programme. The mixed-ability nature of classes was reflected in the standard of studentsí written work. In some cases it was evident that note-taking is a significant part of studentsí learning. It is recommended that such notes be brief and confined to the key points of the lesson. The use of mind maps or other visual aids to summarise lesson content and to highlight the links between the various aspects of a topic is encouraged in this regard.
The geography teachers are made aware of students with additional educational needs in their classes and liaise with the learning support department as the need arises. Whilst there was evidence of the use of differentiated strategies in the lessons observed the geography teachers are encouraged to access the website of the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie †to obtain further advice on differentiating the syllabuses to meet the needs of all students within the mixed-ability classroom.
An atmosphere of mutual respect and good rapport between teachers and students was evident in the lessons observed. Teachers appropriately affirmed studentsí responses. In turn students were very well behaved and participated willingly in lessons.
Formal and informal assessment of studentsí understanding and knowledge of the subject is ongoing. The use of small-scale project work is recommended as an additional method of assessment in all year groups. It is encouraged that this work be displayed as a means of acknowledging studentsí achievement. This will further enhance the geographical learning environment of classrooms. Parents/guardians are kept appropriately informed of studentsí progress through parent-teacher meetings and school reports which are issued following formal assessments. During the year parents are also informed by letter in the event of any concerns in relation to their sonís progress in Geography. This good practice is commended.
Homework is assigned on a regular basis. This is good practice as it helps to consolidate students learning. †Studentsí work is monitored and there was evidence of the use of formative feedback, including developmental feedback and comments on the quality of completed work. This is good practice and is further encouraged. The application of examination criteria in the correction of studentsí written work and the regular monitoring of the standard of presentation of studentsí written work is also recommended as means of assisting students to improve the standard of their work.†
Studentsí performance in State examinations is analysed by senior management. The geography department is encouraged to compare studentsí performance across an entire year group with national norms. This will provide a broad measure of self-evaluation for the department and will beneficially inform future subject planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The geography department has access to a broad range of resources including information and communication technologies (ICT), audio-visual equipment and subject-specific resources.
∑ School management encourages and supports teachersí continuing professional development.
∑ The geography teachers have organised a number of co-curricular activities to enhance and broaden studentsí experience of the subject.
∑ Timetabling arrangements support the delivery of the subject.
∑ The uptake in Geography at senior cycle reflects its popularity as an optional subject.
∑ The first-year geography programme includes a variety of topics appropriate to the abilities and interests of students.
∑ In line with best practice fieldwork activities are incorporated into the junior cycle teaching programme.
∑ The geography teachers are engaged in a meaningful collaborative planning and review process of Geography.
∑ Very good practice was evident in the co-operative planning for resource development.
∑ Good quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation.
∑ Students demonstrated a good understanding of the topics being taught.
∑ An atmosphere of mutual respect and good rapport between teachers and student was evident in the lessons observed.
∑ Formal and informal assessment of studentsí understanding and progress in the subject is ongoing. Parents are appropriately informed in this regard.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Long-term curricular plans should be further developed in an integrated manner into short-term schemes of work. †Strategic planning for the increased integration of ICT in the classroom should be incorporated into these plans.
∑ The Transition Year geography programme should be reviewed to ensure that all of the modules are directly related to Geography. The introduction of a geographical investigation is recommended to enable students to develop important geographical skills.
∑ The geography teachers should make greater use of targeted questioning strategies in all lessons.
∑ The use of examination criteria in the correction of studentsí work and the regular monitoring of the standard of presentation of students written work is recommended.
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 2009