An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Strokestown, County Roscommon
Roll number: 65100S
Date of inspection: 24 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire, Strokestown. 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.
In Scoil Mhuire Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle. It is also included within the Transition Year (TY) programme. For the Established Leaving Certificate Geography becomes an optional subject. Students are provided with an open choice of subjects prior to the construction of option bands to facilitate maximum student choice. This good practice is commended. Uptake in the subject at this level is relatively low. Whilst acknowledging the impact of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme in this regard it is recommended that the geography teachers and school management regularly review uptake patterns at senior cycle to ensure the growth and vibrancy of the subject at this level.
School management provides good whole school support for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography. Timetabling arrangements are in line with syllabus recommendations at both junior and senior cycle. The vast majority of lessons are appropriately spread across the week to enable students to have regular contact with the subject as is appropriate. All classes are of mixed ability and this is commended.
Resource provision to the geography department is adequate and it also benefits from the allocation of an annual budget for the acquisition of resources. It is recommended that the geography teachers include a detailed inventory of geographical resources in the subject department plan so that they are fully aware of and can readily identify suitable resources to support teaching and learning in the subject. Such a catalogue will also assist with the prioritisation of future resource needs.
The geography teachers are facilitated in using information and communication technologies (ICT) geographical resources. They can gain access to the computer room via a booking schedule. The geography department has a designated laptop and there are two mobile data projectors available in the school. There is limited use of ICT with class groups apart from TY students. It is recommended particularly at senior cycle, that the geography teachers focus on strategies to increase the integration of the extensive range of online resources and Scoilnet maps to support and enrich teaching and learning in the subject. As part of the collaborative planning process it is encouraged that the ICT expertise within the geography department is fully accessed.
School management promotes and supports the continuing professional development of teachers. All the geography teachers have been facilitated to attend recent in-service in the subject and a number of teachers have also availed of an evening course on Scoilnet maps. As a further means of being informed of ongoing developments in the subject the teachers are encouraged to become affiliated to the Association of Geography Teachers Ireland (AGTI).
The geography teachers have organised local trips for students to places of geographical interest including the Arigna mines and Strokestown Park House. These provisions are commended and further encouraged as they enrich students learning of Geography.
As part of the school’s engagement with school development planning, formalised subject department planning commenced in 2007. School management has facilitated the planning process through the provision of time for formal meetings on a number of occasions during the school year. It is recommended that the minutes of these meetings are recorded and filed in the subject plan to support continuity in planning. This will help to identify key issues and to ensure that these issues are addressed in a progressive manner. One of the senior geography teachers has recently taken up the position of subject co-ordinator. This is a positive step in moving forward the future development of the subject in the school. It is recommended that this role be regularly rotated in order to share collective responsibility for the operation of the geography department.
A copy of the subject plan was made available during the evaluation. Curricular plans for year groups have been developed to varying degrees. In building on the work achieved to date and to standardise the approach to planning across the department the following recommendations are made. Comprehensive short-term curricular plans should be developed for each year group. These plans should outline in an integrated manner the topics to be covered with each year group within monthly or weekly timeframes, the learning outcomes to be achieved and the methodologies and assessment modes employed by teachers. The specific resources, including ICT resources used by teachers to support the delivery of topics should be outlined in these plans. In addition the differentiated strategies to support the inclusion of students with additional educational needs should also be documented in these plans. The completion of this work should form the focus of future department planning. The collaborative sharing and development of practice and resource materials is strongly encouraged as part of the process.
A planned programme for TY was made available during the evaluation. The modules on offer aim to expand students’ knowledge of environmental geography, trade and globalisation and regional geography. This is commended. Whilst students engage in some fieldwork activities it is recommended that a more substantial geographical investigation, broadly modelled on the Leaving Certificate be included in the TY programme. This provision will facilitate the development and application of geographical skills that will effectively bridge the gap between junior cycle and senior cycle Geography. It will also provide very good opportunities for experiential learning in line with the ethos of TY and be a suitable taster of what the subject entails at senior cycle. The written curricular plan for TY should also be developed in line with the recommendations outlined above for other year groups. The document ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’ should be consulted in this regard.
The teaching programme for first-year students includes the introduction of map and aerial photograph skills. This is good practice. It is recommended at this early stage that the teaching of physical geography topics in a linear fashion be reviewed and that these topics should be interspersed with less technical topics. This should also be applied to the teaching of physical geography in senior cycle. It is also recommended that the teaching of syllabus units such as meteorology be deferred until third year due to their complexity.
All classes had definite teaching objectives and the planned learning outcomes were shared with students. Most lessons were well structured; however it is recommended that teachers are mindful of pacing given the breadth of the syllabuses. This is particularly important in the case of revision lessons to ensure adequate coverage of topic material. Individual planning for lessons was evident in the preparation of materials and resources, including a PowerPoint presentation, worksheet and a summary handout of the topic under study. Teachers are commended for this preparation.
In some lessons the teaching methodologies employed actively engaged students in the learning process. This was achieved where a targeted questioning strategy was a central element of the lesson and students were continually challenged by directed questions. Class tasks were also used effectively to ensure the active participation of students. As these were being completed the teacher monitored progress and provided assistance as required. In other cases lessons depended largely on oral presentation by the teacher with some questioning of students and resulted in passive learning. These students should be engaged in learning through the use of a variety of teaching methodologies. It is recommended that in all lessons an appropriate balance be maintained between teacher input and active student engagement in learning. To achieve this teacher should consider a range of additional teaching methodologies such as worksheets, pair-work and group work. In all lessons tasks should be interspersed with instruction, note-taking and questioning.
Visual stimuli were very well integrated to illustrate marine processes and features of erosion and deposition in one lesson. The students were stimulated and engaged by these digital photographs. This visual approach is commended and further encouraged. A wealth of geographical materials and visual resources can be accessed through the use of the internet. It is recommended that these be sourced and integrated into the teaching of Geography as a further means of enhancing student understanding of geographical processes.
The main focus in some lessons was on revision and preparation for the impending State examinations. In one case students were provided with very good guidelines on how to approach, organise and present information on a sample examination question. This good practice is highly commended. It is recommended in all State examination classes that sample examination questions are central to the revision of topics. As a means of developing students’ examination skills and techniques it is also advised that their written work be marked using examination marking criteria. This will enable students to have a clear insight into where they are losing and gaining marks.
The geography teachers are informed of students with special educational needs at the start of the year and have informal contact with the learning-support department in this regard. It is recommended that a more formal communication process be established between the geography teachers and the learning-support team. This communication should include discussion on differentiated teaching methodologies and strategies to support the ongoing inclusion of students with additional educational needs within the mainstream setting. The resources of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) could provide useful information and guidance to support this process. Given the mixed-ability nature of all classes it is recommended that key word lists are displayed on topics as they are being taught. These will assist students in becoming familiar with subject-specific terminology and further enhance their literacy skills.
It was evident from a review of a sample of students’ copybooks and classroom observation that in some lessons note-taking is a common element of classroom practice. Given that all students have a textbook it is recommended that such note-taking be limited to key points. The use of mind maps and/or other graphic organisers are encouraged to present this information. This provision will serve as a useful revision for students and beneficially support them in accessing the textbook.
A positive atmosphere prevailed in all lessons. Teachers were encouraging and affirmed students appropriately. In turn students were most courteous and polite and engaged willingly with classroom activities as required. The students generally displayed a good understanding and knowledge of the topics under study.
All non-examination students have formal examinations at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Formal assessment of third year and sixth year students is based on class tests throughout the year. It is recommended in order to prepare these students for the State examination situation that arrangements are put in place for a longer period of testing during or at the end of the first term. State examination classes also sit mock examinations in the spring. Parents are appropriately informed of students’ progress through school reports and annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. The school journal is also used as an avenue of communication with parents.
It is clear from an analysis of State examination results that the level of achievement at higher level needs to be raised. It is recommended that school management and the geography teachers monitor closely achievement in State examinations on an annual basis and focus on strategies to enhance students’ performance.
Informal assessment of students’ progress in Geography is conducted on an ongoing basis. The range of assessment modes utilised to determine students’ progress include homework, questioning and in-class exercises. In some lessons very good use was made of questioning which challenged and engaged students. The more widespread use of this practice is recommended in all lessons. Teachers should also give consideration to the inclusion of small-scale project work as an instrument of assessment. This provision will enable students to engage in activity-based learning and will also cater for the variety of learning styles in mixed-ability settings. It is also recommended that this work be displayed in classrooms to acknowledge students achievement and to enhance the visibility of Geography in the school.
It was evident from a random sample of students’ copybooks that a range of work has been completed in line with syllabus requirements. This is good practice. Homework plays a vital role in consolidating learning that takes place in class and it is recommended that it be administered in all lessons. Some very good practice was evident in the corrections provided in some cases which included formative comments on work completed. However, in other instances copybooks had limited developmental corrections and in some cases work was neither marked by students nor teacher. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed to ensure that atudents’ work is annotated with formative feedback to enable improvement in student learning. It is further recommended to maximise the learning value of correcting homework in class that students should be required to mark their work during this time and to record any additional material provided by the teacher. Such practice will foster students’ self-assessment and independence as learners.
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.
Published November 2009