An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Mullingar Community College
Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 71450I
Date of inspection: 25 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mullingar Community College. 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
There is good whole school support for Geography in Mullingar Community College. All junior cycle students either study Geography or Environmental and Social Studies (ESS) depending on which class group they are in. There are four class groups in each of the three years of the junior cycle. Two bands are created in the first year. Students in the upper range of ability are placed in one band. At present those students in second year and third year are streamed into two class groups. It is reported that the present first-year group in the upper range of ability are divided into two mixed-ability class groups. This move to mixed ability from streaming is to be commended and encouraged. Consideration should be given to allocating all first year students to mixed ability class groups. The second band in each year group is streamed into two groups and one of the lower second and third year sets is the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) class. Geography is compulsory at junior cycle for students in the upper range of ability band while those students in the lower range of ability band and JCSP students ESS is studied. High levels of satisfaction were reported regarding the students engagement with the ESS syllabus and their levels of achievement in the Junior Certificate examinations. It is recommended however, that the inclusion of ESS be regularly reviewed and evaluated, particularly in light of the revisions to the Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. The revised syllabus is designed to be taught to mixed- ability class groups and to be accessible to students of all abilities. Students that study ESS at junior cycle are at a considerable disadvantage if studying Geography for the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC).
At senior cycle Geography is offered within set option blocks. There is an appropriate time allocation of five class periods per week in accordance with syllabus recommendations. Generally classes are well distributed throughout the school week. This is good practice as it facilitates regular contact between the students and their teachers. Uptake of Geography at senior cycle is very good and this is a reflection of the commitment of both school management and the Geography teachers to the subject.
There is one dedicated geography room which has a wide variety of resources to support teaching. A separate storage area is located at the top of the geography room. The majority of teachers have their own base classrooms and others are timetabled for the geography room whenever possible. School management is commended for the wide range of subject specific resources made available to the geography department. These include large European and World maps, rock samples, videos, fieldwork equipment, overhead projector and data projector. These resources are catalogued in the school plan and stored in the geography room. It is important that the geography resources list be regularly reviewed and updated to assist with the identification of future resource needs and the subsequent planning for their provision. While there is no specific budget allocation for Geography, requests for resources are regularly met.
There is good provision of information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities to support teaching and learning in the subject. The geography room has its own data projector and the room is networked. Access is also available to the schools’ computer rooms. The integration of ICT is to be commended and encouraged in the teaching of Geography. Teachers have availed of continuous professional development (CPD) by attending the in-service provided in relation to the introduction of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus.
A clear geography department has been established in Mullingar Community College where teachers share their considerable expertise and extensive range of resources. One teacher acts as subject co-ordinator. It is recommended that the role of co-ordinator be rotated so that all members of the geography teaching team gain the experience and leadership skills associated with the role as well as sharing the workload. It was reported that formal subject department planning is in its infancy and to date two formal department meetings have been held. Some records of these meetings were provided during the evaluation. This good practice of keeping records of the main areas discussed and key decisions taken at these formal meetings is commended as it supports continuity in the planning process.
A copy of the subject plan was viewed during the evaluation. Long-term curricular plans have been devised for each year group which indicate broad topics to be covered during the year. In building on the good work accomplished to date, it is recommended that these plans be further developed to include a more detailed breakdown of course content to be covered within shorter timeframes. The list of resource materials outlined in the plan and the methodologies to be used to support the teaching of syllabus units should also be integrated into these schemes of work in addition to the expected learning outcomes to be achieved by students. Future planning for the use of ICT should also be documented in these plans. Within the whole-school development planning process priorities for the future development of the school have been identified. These include planning for a wider range of teaching methodologies, sharing good practice and increased collaboration. These priorities should be reflected upon by the geography department in planning for the future. In acknowledgement of the work and time involved in undertaking this task it is suggested that it be carried out on a phased basis.
Planning and preparation by individual teachers showed examples of very good practice with lessons having clear objectives and learning was supported by high quality and appropriate resource materials. In collaboration with some of the newcomer students a list of geographical terms have been translated into Polish and Lithuanian. This level of individual planning is very praiseworthy and was seen to have positive outcomes for student engagement. As a means of developing this geography teachers should share good practice especially with new teachers to the school. The department should focus on need to plan for differentiated strategies and active methodologies to engage all students in the geography lessons.
Good quality teaching and learning was in evidence in the Geography and ESS lessons observed. Lessons were carefully planned and progressed on previous learning. The learning intentions were set out clearly and shared with the students which helped to focus their attention. Topics taught in the lessons observed included river processes, local water supply, functions of urban areas and the preparation for a geographical investigation in an urban environment. As a means of facilitating student understanding the good practice of drawing examples from the local environment was observed in almost all lessons. This is very effective.
A variety and range of teaching and learning strategies were observed throughout the evaluation. Teaching methodologies associated with the JCSP were in evidence. Teachers focused on students’ literacy and regularly used key word lists. Any new terms were listed on the JCSP key word charts and students took them down in their copies. This is very good practice. There was a strong skills base to other lessons. This included map reading and photograph interpretation. These lessons were punctuated with tasks. Teachers circulated to give individual attention to students. This is very good practice as it allows teachers to target students that may need extra support. To develop this good practice it is recommended that teachers reflect on these effective methodologies including those of the JCSP to ensure the inclusion of all students.
Individual lesson preparation incorporating a wide variety of stimulus materials engaged students effectively in the learning process. The OSi Trail Master software was used to display Ordnance Survey (OS) maps of the local area. Digital photographs of the local water works and the streetscape were very effective visual stimulus. The further integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Geography is to be encouraged where possible and practicable. In most lessons key points of information were presented in short sentences or bullet points on the board, overhead transparencies or PowerPoint slides. Students were directed to take these brief notes down in their copies. This approach to the presentation of information and note-taking is very good practice and should be extended to all lessons. Students could be given the task of developing these points either as a homework exercise or in class working in pairs. These and other similar activities would engage students in their own learning and provide the teacher with short periods of time in the lesson to monitor individual students’ progress.
The questioning techniques used by the teachers further facilitated the engagement of students. Questions were generally spread throughout the class and targeted at individuals. Students were given sufficient time to answer questions. They were encouraged to develop their answers and constantly affirmed. Other students were asked to repeat the answers. This is very good practice as it consolidates learning and keeps students focused on the lesson.
The diversity of student background and needs observed in some lessons presented challenges. Best practice was observed when students were included through focused questioning and one to one instruction. Informal contacts exist between the individual geography teachers and those involved in the delivery of supports to students. It is recommended that a formal communication process be established between the mainstream geography teachers, the school’s special education support team and those providing language supports to students for whom English is an additional language. This communication should include discussions relating to the differentiated teaching methodologies and strategies for the effective and ongoing inclusion of these students in geography lessons. This communication should also feed back to the teachers providing additional supports. Formalised communication will further enhance the educational and social experiences of these students in the classroom.
The physical environment of the classrooms provided a print-rich learning environment with the display of maps, photographs, charts and some work carried out by the students. The History/Geography Media Board displaying articles from the print media established clear cross-curricular links between the two subjects and also with the outside world. This is highly commended.
Classroom management was effective and facilitated by the significant level of individual planning. There was a positive atmosphere evident in lessons and students were regularly affirmed. The pace of the majority of lessons was appropriate to the level of the students. Students generally displayed a good level of understanding of the topics being studied. Throughout the lessons students’ responses demonstrated understanding.
A variety of assessment procedures are utilised to assess students’ progress and competence. Informal assessment is ongoing in classes through the use of class discussion and questioning strategies. Teachers encouraged students to seek clarification and they responded in a positive manner by asking questions. Informal class tests are given when a topic is completed. The progress of JCSP students is reviewed through the use of the profiling system.
The school has a homework policy. It is recommended that the geography department identify the implementation of this policy as a priority. Assigning and monitoring appropriate homework is necessary to consolidate the learning process. In some lessons detailed formative comment was provided to students to guide the further development of answers. This is highly commended. It recommended that the geography teachers focus on the type of feedback given to students following the correction of students’ copies and class assessments. The Geography department should implement strategies associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL).These assessment methods give students more detailed feedback on strengths and areas for improvement. Information on AfL is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) www.ncca.ie. These student assessment issues should be considered as part of the further development of the geography subject plan.
Formal assessments are given in term one and at the end of the summer term. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations in term two in preparation for the state examinations in June. The outcomes of formal and informal assessments are reported to parents through parent-teacher meetings and school reports.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Geography is a well supported subject in terms of the range of subject specific resources available to it.
· Good quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation.
· School management facilitate and encourage the continuing professional development of teachers.
· Uptake of Geography at senior cycle is very good.
· Teachers are engaged in a significant level of individual planning for teaching.
· A positive atmosphere where students are regularly affirmed was evident in classrooms.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the inclusion of ESS in the junior cycle curriculum be regularly reviewed and evaluated.
· The role of subject department co-ordinator should be rotated.
· Subject planning should be further developed in line with the recommendations outlined in the body of the report.
· Teachers should reflect on appropriate and effective teaching methodologies including those of the JCSP to ensure inclusion of all students.
· A formal communication should be established between the geography teachers, the special education support team and all who provide language support.
· The geography department should identify the implementation of the schools’ homework policy as a priority.
· The geography teachers should reflect on strategies associated with AfL in relation to the type of feedback given to students following correction of students’ copies and class assessments.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Geography and with the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008