An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
MeŠn Scoil an Chlochair
Kilbeggan, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63221U
Date of inspection: 22 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in MeŠn Scoil an Chlochair, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath. 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 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Geography is well provided for in MeŠn Scoil an Chlochair. A dedicated geography room that is well equipped and resourced has been provided. This is very praiseworthy. Teachers are commended for the time and effort invested in developing and maintaining a colourful and motivational learning environment in the geography room. School management is commended for its efforts to maximise access to this room. Due to a reported shortage of rooms some geography lessons take place in practical rooms. This is not effective practice as the physical layout of these rooms is not suitable for geography lessons and the creation of print-rich environments is difficult. It is recommended that in such cases at least one of the class periods be timetabled in the geography room. A dedicated annual budget is made available to the department and the geography teaching team has access to a wide range of resources. It is recommended that all resources be catalogued and be reviewed regularly to assist with the identification of future resource needs.
Management is lauded for the very good provision of information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. A laptop computer, data projector and digital camera have been provided for the department. This facilitates the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography and is very good practice. It ensures that the maximum benefit can be derived from the resources provided by the Geography Support Service. Within the geography teaching team there are considerable ICT skills and expertise. These should be exploited in the future to support the upskilling of other members of the geography teaching team.
Geography is in a strong position in the school curriculum. It is a compulsory subject in junior cycle. A geography module is offered within the optional Transition Year (TY) programme and is assigned two class periods per week. This is commendable. At senior cycle there is a high uptake of Geography. This is a reflection of the popularity of Geography as an optional Leaving Certificate subject and also a reflection of the commitment and dedication of the geography teaching team. It is offered within an open choice system where studentsí preferences determine subject option blocks. This is effective practice. Students and parents are well supported prior to making programme and subject choices. A booklet containing information on the various programme options in the school and information and guidance on the different subjects provided is made available to parents and students through individual meetings and an open evening. The school is commended for this comprehensive support for students and parents as it facilitates more informed education and career planning.
The time allocation for Geography at both junior and senior cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations. This is good practice. The inclusion of double period lessons at senior cycle and the even distribution of all lessons throughout the week are examples of effective timetabling. It is clear that the expectations of the teachers for their students are very high and that all students are encouraged to study the subject to the highest level. This is very praiseworthy.
School managementís support of the continuing professional development of its teachers is commendable. Members of the geography teaching team have attended the in-service training provided by the Geography Support Service to facilitate the introduction of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. All of the teachers are members of the Association of Geography Teachers of Ireland (AGTI) and this is supported by school management.
Collaborative planning by the geography teaching team was evident during the evaluation. Formal subject department meetings take place on a termly basis and the geography teachers also have regular informal contact to discuss relevant issues. Records of a number of these meetings were kept and provided during the evaluation. This is very good practice as its supports continuity in the planning process. One teacher acts as co-ordinator for the department on a rotational basis. This is effective practice.
A copy of the subject plan was viewed during the evaluation. Long-term curricular plans have been devised for each year group. In building on the good progress to date, it is recommended that these plans be developed further to include a more detailed breakdown of course content to be covered within shorter timeframes. The list of resource materials and methodology to support the teaching of the syllabus units and expected student learning outcomes should also be integrated into these schemes of work. Future planning for the use of ICT, indicating targets within realistic timeframes, should also be documented in these plans.
A written plan for teaching and learning of Geography within the TY programme is in place. The module aims to expand studentsí knowledge of regional and social geography and fosters links between TY students in other schools in Ireland and Europe. This is lauded. It is recommended that in planning for the TY programme, consideration be given to the inclusion of a local geographical investigation. This provision would enable students to develop their existing skills, acquire new skills and have the opportunity to experience their practical application in the real world. This is very much in keeping with the ethos of the TY programme and would also benefit those students who wish to pursue Geography for the Leaving Certificate.
Planning and preparation by individual teachers showed many examples of very good practice. Clear objectives were established and learning was supported by the provision of appropriate resource materials. As a means of developing this engagement in both individual and collaborative planning, the geography teachers should focus on the need to plan for differentiated strategies to engage all students in the geography lessons.
Good quality teaching and learning were evident in all lessons observed. In the majority of lessons definite teaching objectives were imparted to the students. Informing students of the work in hand provides a clear focus to both teachers and students on the direction of the lesson and facilitates students to monitor their own progress. It is recommended that this effective practice be extended to all lessons.
Individual lesson preparation, incorporating a wide variety of stimulus materials, engaged students effectively in the learning process. Overhead transparencies and PowerPoint were used to good effect. A wealth of geographical materials and visual resources can be accessed through the use of the internet. It is recommended that these be sourced and integrated into the teaching of geography. This will serve to enhance further student understanding of geographical process and to accommodate the variety of learning styles that exist in mixed-ability classes.
The overhead transparencies and PowerPoint presentations were used to present key points of information. To maximise the value of this as a useful revision aid for students, it is recommended that the material presented be confined to key points. It is also recommended that teachers be mindful of maintaining an appropriate balance between instruction and active student engagement in the learning activity. To achieve this, teachers should consider a range of additional teaching methodologies such as pair work, group work and worksheets that will actively engage students in their own learning.† Tasks and the application of skills should be interspersed with questioning and note-taking. These activities would engage students in their own learning and provide the teacher with short periods of time in the lesson to monitor individual studentsí progress.
The geography teachers liaise with the learning-support department in relation to any student in receipt of additional supports. This involves the sharing of subject specific resources and photocopyable materials. Given the mixed-ability nature of all geography classes and the diversity of students, including newcomers, it is recommended that key word lists be displayed on topics as they are being taught. This strategy will further assist students in their literacy development and in their understanding and application of geographical terminology. It is recommended that a formal communication process be established between the mainstream geography teachers, the learning-support department and those providing supports to students for whom English is an additional language. This communication should include discussions relating to differentiated teaching methodologies and strategies for the effective ongoing inclusion of students with additional educational needs in geography lessons.
An atmosphere of co-operation was evident in all lessons. Teachers encouraged and affirmed students for their contributions to class discussions. Classroom management was effective. It was clear from classroom observations that students were learning and they displayed a good understanding of the topics under study.
Teachers in Mean Scoil an Chlochair use a wide range of assessment methods to monitor student progress. Questioning of students was frequently used to check levels of knowledge and understanding which is to be commended. Questions were distributed throughout the class groups and targeted at individual students. The development of higher-order thinking skills was encouraged by teachers challenging students to reflect on what they had learned and to develop their answers. This good practice is affirmed. Teachers encouraged students to seek clarification and they responded in a positive manner.
A variety and range of homework tasks are assigned and monitored. This is good practice as homework is important in consolidating class work, and plays a significant role in enhancing student learning. In some lessons, detailed formative comment was provided to students to guide the further development of answers. This is to be highly commended. As part of the ongoing collaborative planning process, it is recommended that the geography teachers focus on the type of feedback given to students following the correction of studentsí written work. The methods set out in Assessment for Learning (AfL) should be used to implement these strategies. Information on AfL is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) www.ncca.ie.
Formal assessments are given at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. In addition, there are regular class tests on the completion of topics. Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate students sit pre-examinations in the spring.
Comprehensive records of attendance, homework and assessment results were observed in a number of teachersí journals. This good practice is commended and encouraged as it helps to build a profile of the studentsí engagement and achievement in the subject over time. A variety of procedures are in place to ensure that parents are kept well informed on studentsí progress including school reports, parent-teacher meetings and the student journal. This level of communication with parents is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Geography is well provided for in MeŠn Scoil an Chlochair and school management is lauded for the very good provision of ICT facilities.
∑ At senior cycle there is a high uptake of Geography.
∑ There was evidence of collaborative planning by the geography teaching team and a written plan for teaching and learning of Geography within the TY programme is in place.
∑ Good quality teaching and learning were evident in all the lessons observed.
∑ An atmosphere of co-operation, which was supportive of learning, was evident in all lessons
∑ It was clear from classroom observations that students were learning and they displayed a good understanding of the topics under study.
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 subject plan be developed to include a more detailed breakdown of course content to be covered within shorter timeframes. The list of resource materials, methodology, learning outcomes and the integration of ICT should also be included.
∑ In future planning for the TY programme, consideration should be given to the inclusion of a local geographical investigation.
∑ In all lessons teachers should be mindful of maintaining an appropriate balance between instruction and active student engagement in the learning activity.
∑ A formal communication process should be established between the mainstream geography teachers, the learning-support department and those providing supports to students for whom English is an additional language.
∑ Assessment for Learning strategies should be implemented when giving feedback to students on the completion of written work.
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 October 2008