An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet, County Cork
Roll number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Millstreet Community 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
There is very good whole-school support for Geography in Millstreet Community School. Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle. The school offers students the opportunity to sample all available junior cycle subjects during first year. As a result, Geography is allocated two class periods per week during this year. The allocation of class periods increases to three for second and third-year. Geography is also present on the school’s Transition Year (TY) programme. This optional programme contains a significant geographical module. It is commendable that the geography teachers have modified and adapted the contents of this module over time to match both changes in economic and social developments in the country and syllabus changes in Geography at senior cycle. These changes and modifications are clearly documented and are to be highly commended. TY Geography is allocated four class periods per week. At senior cycle, Geography experiences a strong level of uptake and is allocated five class periods per week. There are two geography teachers in the school who share responsibility for the subject and teach to all levels.
All geography class groups are mixed-ability in nature. While there was clear evidence of differentiated teaching methodologies in the lessons observed, it is recommended that the geography teachers establish more formal links with the learning support department to assist in supporting the range of needs of students in these mixed-ability settings. This support could include strategies to support literacy and numeracy in Geography and a range of methodologies to assist in engaging the multiple intelligences of all the students. These strategies should be developed in parallel with a whole-school approach to developing teaching strategies to support the needs of all students within the mixed ability class groupings. The Special Education Support Service (SESS) web site www.sess.ie could be of assistance in supporting these developments.
The geography department has advanced the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into both the planning for and the teaching of Geography. Teaching programme plans are prepared, modified and presented using ICT. The internet was used to gather up-to-date teaching resources and stimulus materials based on current events. One of the geography classrooms contained a desktop computer and data projector. These resources were shared by both teachers and there was clear evidence of their effective integration into teaching in the geography classroom. This level of integration of ICT is to be highly commended.
There is clear evidence of a highly developed and functioning geography department in the school. One teacher acts as subject co-ordinator which forms part of a special duties teacher post. There are two dedicated geography classrooms. One room is assigned to each of the geography teachers. These rooms are joined by a shared resource room. This physical layout is very conducive to a working subject department. Classroom resources, fieldwork equipment, audio-visual materials and student projects are stored in the resource room. Each teacher also has an individual work space in the resource room. The range and quality of the resource materials developed over time is a clear indication of the dedication and commitment of the teachers to the development of the subject and to the delivery of high quality teaching to all students. School management is to be commended for facilitating the physical layout of the teaching and resource areas. The outcome of this physical design, the support of school management and the commitment of the geography teachers have resulted in a working geography department that clearly reflects best practice.
There is clear evidence of extensive and highly effective collaborative planning for Geography in the school. Planning documentation shows that this level of planning has been on-going for many years. The geography teachers have agreed teaching plans for all class groups in junior cycle, TY and senior cycle. It is also clear that these plans have been reviewed and modified, according to their perceived effectiveness, to the changing needs of the students and to the requirements of the subject syllabus. There was also evidence of an outline TY plan and documentation supporting the development of fieldwork strategies and a range of co-curricular activities. There was also clear evidence of reflective practice around this collaborative planning process. This allows for the review and evaluation of the outcomes of the resulting teaching programmes to ensure the development of effective teaching strategies and positive outcomes for the students. This level of reflective practice clearly represents the quality of the planning process within the geography department and the high level of professional engagement of the teachers. This process is to be highly commended. To further enhance and build upon these effective collaborative planning strategies the geography department could consider drawing together the various strands of this ongoing process into a formal plan for Geography in line with the school’s progress in whole-school development planning.
The geography teachers are engaged in very effective individual planning for teaching and for the development of resources. There was extensive use of printed summary material provided to students during the lessons observed. These sheets enhanced and summarised the learning point of the lessons. They also ensured that the textbook became just one of the many resources available to the students. It was also clear from the range of materials contained in the resource area that these materials were available for all aspects and levels of the geography syllabuses. In other cases these resources were prepared using ICT and presented in the form of summary notes using a data projector in the classroom. In all cases these plans and support materials were shared with students during the lessons. This level of individual planning and preparation is clearly very successful. It has an obvious impact on the effectiveness of the lessons observed and is to be highly commended.
There was a very high quality of teaching and learning in evidence in all the lessons observed. It was quite evident that all the lessons had been carefully planned and both the learning intention and the connection with previous learning were clear to the students. Methodologies and teaching styles varied considerable in all the lessons observed. In some lessons, while carefully planned, the main points in the lessons evolved naturally through the sensitive and effective questioning of the students by the teacher. This was combined with the use of visual stimulus materials and the highlighting of the main points on the white-board. In other lessons the development of the topics for study was teacher driven within a highly planned and structured learning environment. Students were stimulated by printed materials and the effective use of prepared diagrams and summary points on overhead transparencies. A non-linear approach to the teaching of the subject was also evident in both the lessons observed and the student notebooks examined. Junior cycle students begin with an introduction to map skills based on their school and local community. Geomorphology and physical geography are introduced using a study of a local geothermal spring. This initial focus on local settings forms an excellent entry point to geographical processes in a national or global setting. Another example of excellent practice was the use of a school tour to Paris to re-enforce the study of all aspects of a core region. This study was supported by the overlaying of overhead transparencies to build up the key points in the understanding of the geographical processes at work in a core economic region. In all lessons observed, the students were engaged actively in their own learning and displayed a clear understanding of the topics for study.
Classroom management in all cases was effective and sensitive. The management of the lessons was clearly informed by the detailed planning of the lessons and the obvious familiarity of the students with the various teaching methodologies employed. In all cases students were orderly, organised and attentive. Students answered questions with confidence and were engaged by the tasks and challenges set during the lessons. All responses were affirmed and students were encouraged to further develop their thinking in relation to the topic. The variety of stimuli used in each lesson focused the attention of the students and seamlessly drew them into the fabric of the lessons. The level of engagement of the students was evident as this resulted from both the planned structure of the lessons and the very effective guidance and management of the teacher.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was warm, inclusive and mutually respectful. Students were secure and comfortable within the lessons and were clearly aware of the planned linkages between the topics. Students were addressed by their first names and there was an obvious sense of fun and enjoyment of the subject in the interactions between students and teachers. The physical decoration of the geography classrooms also contributed to this positive learning environment. One classroom had varied the traditional desk layout to encourage student interaction and group discussion. This room also contained a range of maps, rock samples, audio visual and ICT equipment. Another geography classroom was extensively decorated with maps, posters and student projects. Both classrooms clearly demonstrated to the students the depth and range of learning experiences that were available through the study of Geography in the school.
Student responses to the teacher were appropriate to the level of understanding expected at each level in the study of the subject. Responses to discussion initiated by the inspector also showed understanding and the ability to think and apply concepts to other settings. Evidence of learning was also visible in student notebooks and files. Class notes and homework were ordered and completed and reflected the teaching plan for the class group. These notebooks were monitored by the teacher with appropriate marks and comments. It was clear that high quality learning was taking place in all the lessons observed.
Teachers assess student learning informally through the monitoring of homework in student notebooks and folders and through oral questioning in class. Informal class tests are given on the basis of completed topics in the teaching plan. The results and teacher comments from these informal assessments are recorded by the teacher. They are then available to the students and their parents through comments and marks in student notebooks and journals. To build on this practice, the geography teachers are encouraged to examine Assessment for Learning (AfL) methodologies to further enhance the impact of formative assessment on student learning. Information relating to AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) web site www.ncca.ie
Formal assessments are organised in November of term one and in February during term two. Third-year and sixth-year students also have pre-examinations in February in preparation for state examinations in June. Feedback from all formal examinations is provided to students and parents through school reports and parent teacher meetings.
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 recommendation is made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Geography and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.