An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Abbeyfeale County Limerick
Roll number: 71870H
Date of inspection: 15 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the Vocational School, Abbeyfeale conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.
Geography is a well-supported subject in the Vocational School, Abbeyfeale. Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week. First-year class groups are mixed ability in nature and follow a planned common programme of study in Geography. On completion of a common assessment the students are reorganised into streamed class groups for both second and third year. The school has access to the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and this programme is targeted at students in the lower streams in both second and third year.
At senior cycle, Geography is an optional subject and is allocated six class periods per week in both fifth year and sixth year. School management is to be commended for such a generous allocation of teaching time to the subject. Geography experiences a strong uptake at senior cycle even though the school provides all students with access to the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). This programme can limit uptake of Geography as the subject is not included within the subject groupings required for qualification. School management is to be commended for the recent adjustment of the subject choice process to facilitate access to Geography in response to students’ choice patterns.
While all junior cycle class groups are following the Junior Certificate geography syllabus it is clear that students identified to follow the JCSP are not completing all the programme statements for Geography. Only a limited number of the geography statements outlined by the programme are being followed in second and third year lessons. It is essential that students, identified for inclusion in the programme, be provided with the opportunity to engage in all aspects of JCSP geography. It is recommended that school management ensures the full integration of the JCSP profile statements at junior cycle. Equally, geography teachers should ensure that the profile statements for Geography form the basis of their teaching plan for these class groups. The teaching and learning methodologies appropriate to the programme should be employed in all JCSP geography lessons.
The school has a dedicated geography room that is the base classroom of the subject coordinator. The other teachers have base classrooms and a range of teaching resources for geography is available and shared by all members of the geography teaching team. The geography teachers are also developing the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into teaching and learning in geography classrooms. The ICT resources made available through the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service (GSS) have also been accessed by the geography teachers. The geography teaching team is in the process of developing the potential of these resources at both junior and senior cycles. Teachers have access to laptop computers and digital data projectors to facilitate the use of these resources in geography lessons. These ICT developments and the progressive approach of teachers to their integration into teaching and learning are to be commended.
The teacher engaged with senior cycle geography has been facilitated to attend the cluster group training days provided by the GSS to assist with the implementation of the revised Leaving Certificate geography syllabus. Other members of the teaching team have also attended in-service programmes dealing with methodologies focusing on active student participation in lessons. The facilitation by school management of access to such courses is to be commended. It is equally important however, that the skills and techniques developed should be shared with the wider teaching team in the school.
The geography teachers have a progressive approach to planning and preparation. There was clear evidence of individual planning and preparation for lessons. All lessons observed were planned. An individual lesson plan was presented outlining the content and delivery of one lesson with reference to methods, resources and learning outcomes. Such a detailed focus on lesson planning is to be commended. The delivery of other lessons also illustrated the extent of planning by the geography teachers. Short tasks, work sheets, digital photographs, overhead transparencies, group work and work sheets were integrated into a number of the lessons observed. This effective individual planning and preparation should also be extended to class groups that follow the JCSP.
The geography teachers are also engaged in collaborative planning. An impressive subject plan has been developed that outlines the aims and objectives of the subject department and includes an agreed teaching programme for all class groups. This programme is of particular importance for the first year of junior cycle. Teachers follow this programme in first year and then agree a common assessment in advance of the transfer of students into second year. The development of this collaborative subject plan is to be highly commended. Teachers should also consider the further development of this plan to include a focus on teaching and learning methodologies that could be used with class groups or individual students targeted for inclusion in the JCSP.
Teaching was of good quality in the lessons observed, however, some challenges relating to student engagement, attention levels and motivation were also in evidence. The learning intention was clear in all lessons and the planned approaches of the teachers were largely effective. Where active methodologies were employed the students were effectively engaged in learning. Group- work tasks were very successfully used in some lessons to engage students in learning. Students were interested and actively engaged by these methods and the learning outcomes were clear and achievable. The students were familiar with these activities and clearly enjoyed the tasks. In other lessons digital photographs and media reports were very successfully used in the presentation of a complex topic. The students were stimulated and engaged by these sources and were afforded the opportunity to respond and react to these visual and auditory sources. It was clear that these methods actively engaged students in learning. The successful use of these teaching and learning methodologies is to be highly commended.
In other lessons, teacher led approaches were seen to be less effective in engaging students. Lessons depending largely on oral presentation by the teacher and students’ responses to questions resulted in passive learning and some students who remained silent throughout the lessons. These students should be engaged in lessons and in learning through the use of a variety of teaching methodologies. Students should be engaged by short tasks, work sheets and varied questioning. The integration of geographical skills such as drawing diagrams, sketching, and map and photograph analysis will also engage students in learning. It is recommended that these active methodologies be used in all lessons at both junior and senior cycles. These methodologies, with an appropriate focus on numeracy and literacy, should also be used in JCSP geography lessons.
Questioning by the teacher was a central element in all the lessons observed. While this method was observed to be largely effective in maintaining lesson progress and student attention, it was also clear in a number of lessons that a minority of students were responding to the questions that were directed at the whole class. There was also a significant level of chorus answering in some lessons. This resulted in the strongest voices being dominant and a significant number of students not responding to any questions. It is recommended that the geography teachers should reflect on the effectiveness of the questioning strategies used in lessons. Chorus answering should be discouraged. Individual students should be targeted with questions. All students in the class should receive questions appropriate to their ability and confidence level. Higher-order and lower-order questions should be directed appropriately and individual students should be affirmed and encouraged to develop their answers. An appropriate time should also be provided to students to think, without interruption, before responding to questions. These questioning strategies combined with a variety of other methods could result in the active engagement of all students in their own learning.
While uptake of Geography is strong, a significantly small number of students study the subject to higher level for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. While it is clear that students have access to the level of their choice it is of importance that all students are continually motivated and encouraged to study the subject at higher level. The quality of learning and understanding of geographical concepts and skills, as evident in student copies, was good in almost all lessons but it is clear that the level of achievement at both higher and ordinary levels in State examinations is low. It is recommended that school management and the geography teachers monitor achievement in State examinations and focus on the uptake of levels appropriate to students’ abilities. The recommended focus of teaching methodologies to engage and motivate students could also assist in raising levels of achievement. The full implementation of the JCSP is also seen as critical in this process.
Classroom management was effective in lessons and students were courteous and respectful of their teachers and their fellow students. The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was positive and teachers are to be commended for their commitment to the care of their students.
Students’ knowledge and understanding of the topics for study are assessed informally in lessons through the monitoring of homework, questioning by the teacher and class tests on completion of significant syllabus units. In some lessons observed students read out their answers to homework questions. These contributions were affirmed by their teachers. It is clear that homework is regularly assigned and annotated by the geography teachers, however some attention should be given to the quality of feedback given to students on homework and work completed during lessons. One possible approach could include sharing the learning target, outcome or success criteria with students from the outset of a unit of work. If students are made aware of what they need to achieve or know on completion of a unit of work they will then have a clear learning target and will know when this has been achieved. The successful achievement of the learning target or outcome should then be followed by positive affirmation and developmental comments in students’ notebooks. This approach should be applied to all lessons at both junior and senior cycles. With this in mind it is recommended that the geography teachers focus on the quality of developmental feedback given to students in their copies and following class tests as they progress through the junior and senior cycles towards the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations in Geography.
Formal assessments are given to all class groups at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations at appropriate times in preparation for State examinations in June. The outcomes of formal and informal assessments are reported to parents through the student journal, parent-teacher meetings and school reports.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Geography is well supported by school management.
· Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and experiences a strong uptake at senior cycle.
· The integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography is progressing.
· Individual and collaborative planning for Geography is well established and developing.
· Good quality teaching is in evidence in lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Geography students identified for inclusion in the JCSP should be provided with the opportunity to engage in all aspects of the programme for Geography.
· Active teaching and learning methodologies should be used in all lessons at both junior and senior cycle. These methodologies, with an appropriate focus on
numeracy and literacy, should also be used in JCSP geography lessons.
· The geography teachers should reflect on the questioning strategies and the quality of developmental feedback given to students.
· School management and the geography teachers should monitor achievement in Geography in State examinations and focus on the uptake of levels appropriate to
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 January 2009