An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Roll number: 62981P
Date of inspection: 29 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éinde, carried out as part of a WSE. 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.
There is good whole school support for the organisation, teaching and learning of Geography. The time allocations to the subject at both junior cycle and senior cycle are in line with syllabus guidelines. The class periods assigned to the subject for the various year groups are well distributed across the school week. This is good practice as it facilitates regular contact between the students and their teachers and the geographical materials being studied. Classes generally retain the same teacher from first year to third year. This is commended as it allows a consistent pedagogical approach to be developed from year to year. School management has facilitated the attendance of three of the geography teachers at the recent in-service provided by the Geography Support Service. This is commended as it enables the teaching of senior cycle Geography to be rotated among the teachers.
The geography teachers expressed satisfaction with the level of resource provision made available to the department, including subject-specific resources and audio-visual equipment to support teaching and learning in Geography. The geography department has a dedicated laptop and data projector and access to the school’s computer room can also be arranged. Whilst there is no dedicated geography room the majority of teachers are provided with their own base classrooms. These classrooms were decorated to varying degrees with geographical posters, maps and students’ project work. Some teachers with base classrooms should develop the potential of their rooms as geographical learning environments. It is recommended that large maps of Ireland, Europe and the world be displayed in all base classrooms where geography is taught. These maps are essential for the teaching of locational Geography which features in all aspects of the syllabuses.
Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and becomes an optional subject offered within an open choice structure for the Established Leaving Certificate. There are three mixed-ability class groups in fifth year. In sixth year the geography class groups are streamed, resulting in two groups following the higher level Geography programme and two smaller groups studying ordinary level Geography. The uptake of Geography is good and reflects the national norm even though the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is a popular option at senior cycle and Geography is not currently accepted nationally within the LCVP subject groupings.
Geography is also present on the school’s Transition Year (TY) programme and is allocated two teaching periods per week.
The geography teachers work very well as a team and have collaboratively developed a subject department plan. The subject plan makes reference to grouping of students, textbooks used, homework structures, assessment and record-keeping procedures. Common programmes of work have been developed in varying degrees of detail for each year group and these are useful guides for teachers in planning their lessons. In building on the good work completed to date it is recommended that for each section of the syllabuses that all plans should include the learning outcomes to be attained and the specific resources to be used in teaching these topics. It is also recommended that the programme plans should be used to record progress and to indicate those areas which students have most difficulty with. This will serve as a useful focus when planning revision of course material.
Planning documentation for TY geography was available during the evaluation. The students undertake model making and have developed some impressive three dimensional working models of geographical processes and features. This work is commended and is in keeping with the philosophy of the TY programme. Some aspects of the programme on offer aim to bridge the gap between junior cycle and senior cycle. It is recommended that the curricular programme for TY be developed in consultation with the senior cycle geography teachers. A geographical investigation based on the local environment should be included in the programme. Given the variations in the extent to which teachers are using ICT it is recommended that this module could be used to further explore the potential of ICT as a rich learning and teaching tool for Geography and to develop a bank of visual and other resource materials for the subject. These resources should then be shared at departmental level and be incorporated into planning for the increased integration of ICT in the classroom. The availability of such resources may also have a positive impact in encouraging teachers to use ICT to support teaching and learning in Geography across all programmes.
From a review of the first year programme of work it is evident that there is a marked emphasis on the teaching of physical geography, meteorology and climatology. It is recommended that this focus be reviewed and consideration be given to the introduction of less technical areas of the syllabus in first year.
Formal subject department meetings take place three times per year and teachers also meet informally on an ongoing basis to discuss any issues that may arise. The geography department has a co-ordinator in place. It is recommended that this position be rotated in order to devolve responsibility and so that all teachers can acquire the expertise attached to the role.
There was evidence of short-term planning in the lessons observed. This included the preparation of teaching and learning aids appropriate to the material being covered including worksheets, overhead transparencies, a summary handout and a PowerPoint presentation showing a series of visuals on shanty towns.
In each lesson the teacher outlined the expected learning outcome at the outset of the lesson which is good practice as it gives the lesson a focal point. Standard routines such as roll call, checking for absentee notes and the setting of homework which students were required to note in their journal featured in lessons. These routines are commended as they help to establish an ordered learning setting and communicate clear expectations in relation to the completion of work and attendance. Lessons were well structured and in most cases proceeded at a suitable pace. It is important that all teachers are mindful of the organisation of lesson time to ensure adequate coverage of new material given the breadth of syllabuses.
Good quality teaching and learning were observed during the course of the evaluation. A range of methodologies was used and included teacher exposition of a topic, question and answer sessions between teacher and students, use of ICT, handouts and practical tasks. Active learning methodologies such as individual student-based tasks, pair work and group work were observed in some lessons and these proved effective in enhancing student engagement with the lesson content and enabling students to reinforce their learning. The students worked diligently in their groups and it was clear that peer learning was taking place. These practices are commended and encouraged in all lessons.
Teachers’ explanations were clear and accurate and the good levels of teacher student interaction through questioning and discussion appropriately supported students’ understanding of the topics under study. It is recommended that the key points of the lesson are highlighted on the whiteboard and that students are required to record these in their copybooks. Such provision would provide a summary of the lesson and focus students’ attention when undertaking independent study. In some lessons the main focus was on revision and the use of past examination questions in preparation for the impending State examinations. It is recommended when conducting revision that teachers give consideration to the use of mind maps or other visual aids to summarise topic material and to highlight the links between various aspects of a topic. Where large units of work are being revised this strategy will facilitate coverage of material in a simplified and clear manner within a relatively short time frame.
The language of Geography was well reinforced; as technical terms were encountered they were clearly explained, revised repeatedly and frequently used throughout the lesson. This provision is commended in supporting the development of students’ literacy skills in the subject. Given the mixed-ability nature of geography classes it is recommended that lists of technical terms are displayed in the classroom as topics are being taught as a further aid to students in becoming familiar with and accessing geographical terminology. The development of such word lists with matching visuals could be incorporated into the small-scale project work assigned to students. It is laudable that there were clear efforts to link the content to the local environment and the familiar experiences of students. This practice can foster a deeper meaning of the topic being taught. In some lessons locational Geography was seamlessly integrated into the development of the lesson. This practice is recommended in all lessons and thus the display of a range of maps in classrooms is advocated. There was effective integration of visual stimuli including rock samples use of a soil profile model and ICT which enhanced student learning. This visual approach is highly commended and encouraged in all lessons as it helps to maintain student interest and caters for students whose preferred learning style is visual.
It was reported that the geography department liases regularly with the learning-support department. One of the geography teachers is also involved in the provision of learning support and provides additional help in Geography to students at junior cycle level. The geography department plan outlines a number of strategies employed by teachers for supporting students who have learning difficulties. These strategies are commended.
A very good rapport which contributed to a constructive learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. The teachers supported students in all aspects of learning and positively affirmed them for their contributions. The students appeared secure in asking questions or seeking clarification and were interested and participated well in all activities. There was evidence that most students had a good understanding of the work being carried out in lessons. An examination of a sample of students’ copybooks indicated that work has been completed on a range of topics in line with the planned teaching programme. The quality of students work was generally of a good standard.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways. For non-examination classes formal classroom assessments are held in October and February in addition to longer in-house examinations at Christmas and the end of the school year. State examination classes have tests at October, Christmas and a mock examination in February. Common assessments are administered to all year groups. This good practice is commended. Parents are issued with school reports twice a year. The student journal is also used for communication with parents should teachers have any concerns in relation to students’ progress.
There is ongoing informal assessment of students’ learning in lessons through questioning, correction of homework and monitoring of class exercises. Homework is assigned on a regular basis to all year groups. However, there were variations noted in the extent to which students’ work is corrected. Some work in copies contained comments providing formative feedback to students and indicated the quality of their work, in other instances students’ work lacked correction. It is recommended that the good practice of annotating students’ work with developmental comments be used more intensively across the department as a means of supporting students in improving the quality of their work. Teachers are encouraged to access the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment www.ncca.ie to obtain information and guidance on implementing ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) practices.
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 2008