An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Monaghan Collegiate School
Monaghan, County Monaghan
Roll number: 64830E
Date of inspection: 2 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Monaghan Collegiate School. 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Monaghan Collegiate School was established in 1570 as a Church of Ireland Diocesan School for Clogher. It is one of twenty-eight post-primary schools under protestant management that are represented by the Irish School Heads’ Association and governed by a Board of Governors. It is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 237 students, 125 boys and 112 girls. The organisation, teaching and learning of Geography is very well supported by school management with the provision of a dedicated geography room and a wide range of resources. An inventory of these resources is included in the subject department plan. Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities are provided within the geography room and commendably ICT training has been undertaken by the whole staff. Geography teachers have attended in-service in relation to the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate geography syllabus.
In the junior cycle Geography is a compulsory subject and is allocated three single class periods per week in each of the three years. All classes are of mixed ability. At senior cycle students’ geographical knowledge is extended by studying a half-year module in Geography within the Transition Year (TY) programme which is compulsory in the school. Geography is an optional subject for the Leaving Certificate and is allocated five single class periods per week. This is in line with syllabus recommendations. While students are provided with an open choice of subject before option bands are generated, traditionally Geography has appeared against History in the option bands. The uptake of the subject is in a healthy state. Conscious of the need to have an inclusive culture in the school the geography teachers encourage students to participate in an Inter-Cultural Day organised by TY students which is planned for March. Cross-curricular planning with the Home Economics, Music, Irish and Art departments takes place in relation to this celebration and this is good practice. A notable feature of the displays in the geography room is a world map with flags representing the countries of origin of students.
Three teachers deliver the geography programme in Monaghan Collegiate School. They work together in a spirit of mutual support and willingly share their professional expertise and resources. One teacher acts as subject co-ordinator.
Planning for all of the lessons observed was of a high standard. All lessons had clear aims and formed part of a larger unit of work. The good practice of sharing the aims of the lesson with students was evident in all the classrooms visited. This provided a focus for students’ attention and helped to establish a link with previously taught subject matter. Planning for lessons included the preparation of resources which were appropriately used to support teaching and learning. These resources included: acetates for the overhead projector, worksheets, a video and a PowerPoint presentation. The use of such resources made a significant contribution to enhancing student engagement with the subject matter being taught.
A subject department plan has been developed and a copy was provided during the evaluation. Minutes of department meetings were also provided, giving a record of decisions arrived at and areas for future consideration. The plan also showed that it had undergone revision to ensure that students’ needs and abilities are provided for. It is recommended that the planned teaching programme for first year be reviewed and that map and photograph skills be introduced at an early stage to students. This would facilitate the integration of key geographical skills throughout the planned teaching programme. The reflective approach to planning is very good practice as it recognises the centrality of the student in the planning process. The plan begins with a mission statement before outlining the planned teaching programme for each year to be delivered within agreed timeframes. A list of textbooks is included as is reference to agreed procedures in relation to homework, assessment, record keeping and reporting on student progress. It also contains a record of continuing professional development (CPD) undertaken by members of the geography teaching team. In reviewing the subject department plan teachers should focus on learning outcomes linked to curricular content, timeframes, resources, teaching methodologies and assessment. This is in line with recommendations from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
A written plan for the geography module within the TY was also made available during the evaluation. This consists of a module on Tourism produced by Fáilte Ireland, a project on County Monaghan and commendably a geographical investigation. The inclusion of a geographical investigation is very much in keeping with the exploratory and investigative approach of the TY programme and will further enhance and develop key geographical skills for students. The role of the TY students in organising the planned Inter-Cultural Day is also very good practice. It is recommended that in reviewing the TY module the plan should be written using the document ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’ produced jointly by the Transition Year Curriculum Support Service (TYSS) and the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science. Using this template would help to ensure that due provision is made for assessment and evaluation of the module.
High quality teaching was evident in all of the lessons observed as teachers used a variety of pedagogical strategies to actively engage students in the learning process. There was a good balance between teacher exposition and student activity and this ensured the continued engagement of the students with the subject matter of the lesson. Particularly effective was the use of small-group work where students were provided with resource material and asked to complete a clearly defined task in relation to world population density. Students readily engaged with and enjoyed the task. This was evident as the inspector visited the various groups. The provision of a structured worksheet with specific questions would have enhanced the learning opportunity for students. Such a worksheet could include both lower order and higher-order questions so as to provide sufficient challenge for students and to allow students to learn from each other. The discussion of concepts like population density was enriched by reference to students’ personal experiences in County Monaghan and this is very good practice. When students had completed the assigned task feedback was recorded by the teacher in a very visual manner on the whiteboard. During feedback students were challenged to offer explanations for the geographical phenomena identified. This is good practice as it encourages students to develop higher-order thinking skills.
Teachers catered effectively for the variety of learning styles amongst students in their classrooms. The use of the overhead projector, flash cards, video and ICT all provided a very visual approach to the teaching of Geography. This visual approach was particularly effective when discussing such complex concepts as the Model of Demographic Transition. Following a discussion of the model students were set a short task to encourage them to reflect on the newly acquired subject matter. This is good practice and as students worked on the task the teacher moved around the classroom offering support and assessing students’ grasp of the topic. When dealing with such complex concepts it is advantageous to reveal the various stages in the model gradually and to develop students’ understanding by discussing it several times, each time increasing the complexity of the discussion in line with students’ growing understanding. The use of a PowerPoint presentation on the rock cycle again catered for the visual learners as did a video on mining. The learning potential of these resources could be further enhanced with the provision of a set of structured questions provided on a worksheet. Students’ grasp of the language of Geography was encouraged by the careful introduction and use of key terms during lessons. Students were impressive in their use of correct geographical terminology and this reflects the careful teaching of such terms. It is recommended that the good practices evident in relation to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning should be documented and included in the subject department plan.
The display of maps, charts, photographs of students engaged in fieldwork, items from the print-media in the geography room created a stimulating and attractive learning environment. Key words in relation to rock classification were displayed and this is good practice. The further development of lists of key words in relation to topics in Geography and their display is encouraged. These lists could then be provided to the learning support department to further support students with special educational needs.
A positive, affirming and mutually respectful atmosphere prevailed in all of the lessons observed. Classroom management was of a very high standard and clear routines were established. Lessons began with roll calls, homework was monitored and corrected, the aims of the lesson were made explicit and lessons concluded with appropriate homework being assigned. It was noted that as part of students’ homework they were encouraged to access appropriate internet sites.
During the evaluation a sample of students’ written work was examined in each of the classrooms visited. High-quality written work was evident in students’ copybooks reflecting the high expectations of their teachers. The good practice of students maintaining two copybooks, one for notes and the other for homework and class tests, was evident. Notes were kept in a logical sequence, headings were highlighted and maps and diagrams were accurately drawn and annotated. This is very good practice as it provides students with a sense of achievement and accurately kept notes will prove to be a valuable aid for revision. It was also noted that students had answered past examination questions and had received constructive feedback from their teachers. The application of assessment for learning (AfL) principles is praiseworthy and makes an important contribution to improving the quality of students’ written work. It is recommended that these assessment for learning practices should be documented and included in the subject department plan.
Teachers in Monaghan Collegiate School use a variety of methods to assess students’ progress. These include: in-class assessment through focused questioning, end-of-topic assessments, and formal examinations at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Students also sit pre-examinations during the second term and these were in progress during the evaluation. The range of assessment methods should be extended to include some small-scale project work. This would help students to develop as independent learners and could also help to develop their social skills if projects were undertaken as part of a group. Student progress is reported on at formal parent-teacher meetings, through school reports and meetings requested by individual parents. The good practice of setting common tests is in place. Students are not required to choose the level at which they will take the geography paper in the certificate examinations until after the pre-examinations and this is very good practice. Students are actively encouraged by their teachers to aspire to taking higher level papers.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Geography and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2009