An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Causeway Comprehensive School
Causeway, County Kerry
Roll number: 70540E
Date of inspection: 28 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Causeway Comprehensive 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
Geography is a well-supported subject in Causeway Comprehensive School. Geography is a compulsory subject in junior cycle and has an allocation of three class periods per week in first year and third year. Second-year geography has an allocation of two class periods per week. Geography is also present on the Transition Year (TY) programme and is allocated two class periods per week. On transfer into fifth year, students can access Geography as one of a range of optional subjects. The subject has an allocation of five class periods per week in both fifth year and sixth year. The school also has access to the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and this programme is targeted at a limited number of students in the junior cycle classes.
First-year class groups are mixed ability in nature. All first-year geography class groups follow a common programme of study and sit common class tests at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Class groups are then reorganised within a banded structure for second and third year. Classes are often subdivided again in third year in relation to the number of students studying at higher and ordinary levels. The numbers of students studying the subject at higher level is above the national average. Geography teachers and school management are to be commended for their high expectations of students and for their encouragement of all to study the subject at higher level for as long as is possible at junior cycle.
The school provides an interesting module for Geography to the small group of students that opt for the TY programme. The TY geography programme consists of tourism studies, map skills, locational geography and demography. Most students, however, transfer directly to fifth year following their Junior Certificate and do not engage with the TY programme. Students are given an open first choice of subjects and are then asked to choose four subjects from the groups or blocks of subjects created based on their initial choices. While uptake of Geography in fifth year is low, numbers have been increasing towards the national average of fifty percent uptake in recent years. As at junior cycle, uptake of higher level is in line with, and sometimes above, national norms. The geography teaching team is to be commended for their commitment to the sustainable growth of the subject at senior cycle. It is recommended that the geography teachers and school management continue to review uptake patterns to ensure the continued growth of the subject at senior cycle.
There are two classrooms serving as geography rooms and these are allocated as the base classrooms of two of the geography teachers. These rooms are appropriately decorated with laminated maps, wall charts and rock samples. They also provide storage areas for geography equipment and teaching aids gathered by members of the teaching team. All geography teachers in the school have full and open access to these geography rooms.
The geography teachers are also advancing the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning in Geography. A number of teachers have attended the “ICT in Geography” evening programme designed by the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service (GSS) and are in the process of acquiring a dedicated laptop computer and digital data projector for the geography rooms. The teachers have also explored the use of “Trail Master” and “Scoilnet Maps” in the teaching of geographical skills in the classroom. These DVD and online resources, provided to geography teachers by the GSS, facilitate interactive access to a range of maps, aerial photographs and geographical information systems (GIS) for all areas in the country. The further engagement with these resources by the geography teachers and their use in the classroom is encouraged. The geography teachers are to be highly commended for their enthusiasm to engage with new developments and initiatives with a view to developing the subject in the school and to improving the engagement of students with the subject in the classroom.
There is an impressive level of planning for Geography in evidence in the school. The teachers form an active, enthusiastic and effective geography teaching team. The appointment of new geography teachers in recent years has contributed to a well-balanced department that is actively developing new ideas. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed and the geography teachers hold two formal meetings each year. Short written records are maintained arising from these meetings. The team also meet and work together informally on an ongoing basis. A very high quality plan for Geography clearly illustrates the level of collaborative work in evidence. This working document outlines a common teaching programme for junior cycle classes and makes clear reference to students with special educational needs, homework procedures and access patterns to the subject. This plan is also impressive in that it contains an analysis of the grade profile achieved by geography students in the school and agreed procedures for health and safety relating to fieldwork activities.
The geography teachers are also proactive in developing the experience of the subject for students in junior cycle. Some class groups have engaged in geography project work relating to the access programme for University College Cork and the geography teachers are also engaged in an initiative to introduce structured fieldwork activities and fieldtrips for junior cycle classes. The level of engagement in very effective collaborative work by the geography teachers is to be highly commended.
There was an equally impressive level of engagement in individual planning by the geography teachers. All lessons were very well planned and prepared. Students were provided with worksheets, examination-based tasks, diagrams to be completed and detailed information sheets. ICT had been used to prepare many of these stimulus materials. Overhead transparencies and key word cards were also used to engage students in effective learning. This level of individual planning and preparation is to be highly commended.
The quality of teaching was of a very high quality in all the geography lessons observed. Students were actively engaged by the well planned methodologies employed by the teachers. In all lessons observed the learning intention was clear from the outset and the range of methodologies, stimulus materials and student tasks employed ensured that learning was taking place.
All lessons involved the students engaging with visual stimulus materials. Teachers had prepared key word lists around a topic in social geography and the key learning points in an answer to a sample examination question in physical geography. In other lessons maps, photographs, a video extract and overhead transparencies were used to illustrate topics for study. The explanations of the teachers and the questioning of students ensured understanding.
In all lessons students were also engaged by tasks that were relevant and achievable in response to these visual stimulus materials. The students were familiar with these approaches and engaged in the various tasks with focus and enthusiasm. These tasks allowed the teachers to view individual progress and to encourage all students to engage. Tasks included map and aerial photograph analysis, short written questions, worksheet and diagram completion. These tasks were seamlessly integrated into the lessons. They reflected previous learning and were linked to topics for study for future lessons. These tasks acted to limit the oral inputs of the teacher and to maximised the active engagement of students in their own learning
Students were also questioned in lessons and encouraged to develop their answers where appropriate. The first names of students were used at all time in these exchanges. Higher-order and lower-order questions challenged students to engage with the topic. It was clear that students were secure and confident in this approach and enjoyed these methodologies. It was also clear that these planned methodologies were effective as learning was taking place. The responses of students to questions from the teacher and the inspector, and to stimulus materials and tasks, illustrated a significant level of understanding of key geographical concepts and proficiency in geographical skills. This standard of learning is also reflected in the good level of achievement by students in state examinations.
Classroom management was very effective in all classrooms observed and the resulting classroom atmosphere was warm, secure and very well ordered. The interactions between students and their teachers were mutually respectful. The geography teaching team is to be highly commended for its professional engagement with students in a caring learning environment.
Assessments are carried out informally in class through teacher questioning, the completion of tasks and the correction of homework. Homework was assigned and monitored as part of the planned lesson in all classrooms. Copies and notebooks are regularly monitored and teachers’ comments on students’ progress are often placed either in the copy or in the students’ homework journal. The assessment processes observed are in line with the school’s homework policy and the discussion on assessment in the geography planning folder. The teaching team is encouraged to reflect on the type of feedback given to students on their progress in Geography. As the team further develops its collaborative plan for geography, consideration should be given to the application of assessment for learning strategies (AfL). This could assist in embedding formative assessment processes and meaningful developmental feedback in classroom practice.
Teachers assess learning through informal tests for each class group at appropriate times during the teaching programme. The outcomes of these assessments are recorded by the teachers. Formal assessments are held at Christmas and the end of the summer term for first-year, second-year and fifth-year class groups. The outcomes of the first-year assessments at Christmas and summer are used to band the students for the second year and the third year of junior cycle. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations in preparation for state examinations in June. Feedback from all these assessments is provided to parents and students through parent-teacher meetings and school reports.
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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2009