An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Saint Brendanís College
Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 61320M
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Brendanís 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 well supported in St Brendanís College. The subject forms part of the core curriculum in junior cycle and is allocated three class periods per week. On transfer into senior cycle, students are offered an initial open choice of optional subjects. Option blocks or bands are then created from these first choices which allow students to make their final subject choice. Five class periods including one double lesson are allocated to the subject in fifth and sixth year. Uptake of Geography at senior cycle is particularly strong and has not been affected by the recent implementation of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in the school. This programme can limit uptake of Geography as the subject is not included within the subject groupings required for qualification. The numbers of students opting to study Geography in the school at senior cycle is significantly above national norms. Uptake of higher level Geography is equally strong at both junior and senior cycle. The geography teachers and school management are to be commended for their commitment to the subject resulting in this strong and sustained pattern of uptake.
All geography class groups are mixed ability in nature and it has been possible, due to the high uptake in the current fifth year, to run two class groups concurrently. This allows students to move easily between class groups and may result in the creation of a higher and ordinary level group as the Leaving Certificate examination approaches.
There are six teachers of Geography in the school and each is allocated to a base classroom. This allows each teacher to develop individual teaching resources and to decorate the classrooms with visual geographical materials. A number of these rooms had a range of maps and posters while some examples of studentsí project work were also on display. These classrooms displays created a positive geographical learning environment for these students. Resources acquired through the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service (LCGSS) are spread throughout a number of these geography classrooms. While there is much informal sharing of geography resources, it is recommended that these resources be gathered, catalogued and stored in an accessible area. This will ensure that all teachers and their class groups have equal access to these valuable teaching resources.
There have been significant advances in the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into the teaching and learning of Geography, particularly at senior cycle. Teachers are very effectively using a laptop computer and digital data projector in their classrooms. School management is planning to extend internet access using a wireless system to all areas in the school. These developments are to be commended. As a means of ensuring the effective impact of these ICT developments on teaching and learning in Geography, it is strongly recommended that the teachers access Scoilnet Maps, an internet-based mapping and geographical information system (GIS) that was provided to all schools through the LCGSS. The use of this resource will enhance the integration of ICT in Geography and should ensure the active engagement of students in their learning with up-to-date GIS technology.
Good quality planning and preparation for Geography was in evidence during the subject inspection. Individual teachers had engaged in a significant level of planning for their geography lessons. A number of teachers had created files of lessons notes, worksheets, and overhead projector transparencies for use in their lessons. There was also evidence of the use of a range of geographical sources, including maps, digital images and the internet in the presentation of lessons. A film, downloaded from the internet, featuring the Giantís Causeway was integrated into a junior cycle lesson on igneous rock formation. In all lessons teachers had engaged in considerable and effective planning for teaching and learning.
It was also clear that the teachers operate as a geography department and a significant level of informal support and collaboration was ongoing. Two of the geography teachers have engaged in a cross-curricular project on assessment for learning (AfL). The outcomes of this project have been recorded and were in evidence in a number of lessons observed. Formal collaborative planning for Geography, however, was at a developmental stage in the school. Some steps in planning have been undertaken. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed. The teachers have engaged with materials supplied by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and have developed a limited subject plan. Within the subject plan an agreed teaching programme for all year groups has been developed. Common assessments for all class groups are also under consideration. These first steps are to be commended and should be built upon. It is recommended that the geography teachers further develop their engagement in collaborative planning to enhance the quality of teaching and learning by setting a number of key priorities to be achieved within an agreed timeframe. These priorities should include the further development of ICT, the dissemination of the learning outcomes of the AfL project to all teachers in the department and the development of differentiated teaching and learning strategies to include students with special educational needs and those for whom English is an additional language in geography lessons.†
Good quality learning was observed and demonstrated by students during the evaluation. In almost all lessons students had appropriate subject knowledge and an understanding of geographical skills. Students also demonstrated their ability to use and apply geographical skills. Students were engaged in the analysis and interpretation of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, photographs and diagrams in many of the lessons observed. Teachers are to be commended for the quality of learning in evidence in lessons.
Teaching was also of good quality in the majority of lessons observed. Where very good practice was observed students were actively engaged by the methodologies employed by the teachers. In these lessons the learning intention was clear from the outset and inputs from the teacher were limited. Students were questioned to stimulate attention and to gauge learning and understanding. Tasks, worksheets and visual stimulus materials were used to good effect to engage students in the topic for study. The students worked throughout these lessons and responded appropriately to the prompts and questions of the teacher. It was clear that students were actively engaged in their learning by these well-planned and well-paced lessons.
In a minority of other lessons, while learning did take place, the students were largely passive participants in this process. These lessons were dominated by teacher-led presentations. Visual stimulus materials were used but patterns were often described and interpreted by the teacher. Students were required to listen and to take down notes prepared in advance by the teacher. While significant preparation was in evidence for these lessons, it is recommended that active teaching and learning methods be employed to increase student engagement in their own learning. Higher-order and lower-order questioning should be employed and students should be challenged to individually interpret visual stimulus materials and then respond. Note-making based on the learning rather than note-taking from a prepared text would also place further responsibility on students to listen, engage and learn for themselves. The learning outcomes of the AfL project should be shared with all the geography teachers. This discussion and collaboration relating to teaching methodology and student learning would serve as a valuable outcome of the schoolís engagement with this project.
ICT was integrated into teaching and learning in a number of lessons observed and particularly at senior cycle. Teachers are to be commended for the development of these skills and for the added value that the use of this technology can provide to learning in Geography. To maximise the impact of ICT, the use of Scoilnet maps is strongly recommended. This resource will engage students actively in learning and will complement the use and application of geographical skills that are central to the syllabus at both junior and senior cycle.†
Students with special educational needs and those for whom English is an additional language were present in a number of the lessons observed. It was clear in many of these lessons that these students were fully involved and engaged by the teaching methodologies used. In some lessons however, students for whom English is an additional language had just arrived in the school and were in the process of adjusting to their new learning environment. It is essential that the geography teachers engage the skills of the schoolís education support team to assist them in the inclusion of all students with additional educational needs in geography lessons.
In all lessons classroom management was effective. Students were courteous, attentive and responded to the questions and tasks set by their teachers. The classroom atmosphere was inclusive and the planned lessons ensured an appropriate learning environment for Geography.††
Studentsí knowledge and understanding of the topics for study were assessed informally in lessons through the monitoring of homework and questioning by the teacher. Homework was assigned and completed tasks were annotated by the geography teachers. Formative feedback on homework assignments in line with AfL strategies was also used in some lessons to very good effect. In these lessons, AfL strategies were evident throughout the lesson and included the outlining of a clear learning intention and learning outcomes at the beginning of the lesson. What students would know and would be able to do at the end of the lesson was clear from the start. Homework was also assigned at the beginning of these lessons. In line with the recommended focus on AfL as a planning priority, the geography teachers are encouraged to incorporate these assessment strategies in all lessons.
Students are given four formal assessments in each school year. These assessments involve formal written examinations in an examination-hall setting. Written reports are generated from these assessments. The outcomes of formal and informal assessments are reported to parents through the student journal, parent-teacher meetings and school reports. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations at appropriate times in preparation for State examinations in June.
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, January 2009