An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Geography
Lanesboro Community College
Lanesboro, County Longford
Roll number: 71720L
Date of inspection: 19 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Lanesboro Community 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 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
In Lanesboro Community College Geography is an optional subject at junior cycle. First year students are provided with the opportunity to sample all subjects as part of the taster programme for a number of weeks. Following this an open choice system of subject selection is in place. Four class periods per week are assigned to Geography across each year of junior cycle. Whilst this time allocation is commended it is recommended that timetabling provision in Geography for each class group is put in place from the start of the school year. Based on the current student cohorts in second year and third year an average forty-seven per cent of students are opting to study Geography. On transfer into senior cycle Geography is also an optional subject. There are currently no students studying the subject in Leaving Certificate Year 1 and uptake in Leaving Certificate Year 2 is low. Notwithstanding the fact that the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) can limit uptake of Geography it is recommended that school management and the geography teachers explore ways of raising the profile of Geography in the school to ensure its continued viability as a subject on the senior cycle curriculum. Five class periods including two double periods are assigned to the subject in senior cycle. It is recommended that these class periods are distributed more evenly across the week.
School management has made available a good range of resources to support the teaching and learning of Geography. There is a dedicated geography room which is the base classroom of one of the geography teachers. This room has a stimulating and attractive learning environment created through the display of maps, geographical posters, rock samples, project work and photographs. The other main classroom where Geography is taught should be similarly developed and provided with large maps of Ireland, Europe and the world to support the teaching of locational Geography. Information and communication technology (ICT) resources are available in the school. It can be difficult to access the computer room due to demands on its use by some school programmes. Given that the geography room has a ceiling-mounted data projector some access to this room should be made available to all the geography teachers to facilitate the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in the subject.
School management is supportive of teachers professional development and has facilitated their attendance at in-service in the subject. The geography teachers should avail of the upcoming course on Scoilnet Maps to be provided in local Education Centres.
Students have had the opportunity to engage in a number of co-curricular activities in Geography including trips to the Burren, Corlea bog, the local quarry and power station in addition to a river study. This provision is highly commended as it enriches studentsí learning and experience of Geography.
Collaborative subject planning is supported by management with the provision of time for formal meetings each term. Minutes of these meetings are recorded which is good practice. Good progress has been achieved to date in the development of a subject department plan. A common teaching programme is in place for class groups where relevant. The first-year geography programme has been recently reviewed and adapted to incorporate a non-linear approach to the teaching of Geography. This provision is commended. Curricular plans for each year group were reviewed during the evaluation. It is recommended that the syllabus topics included in each curriculum plan should be linked in an integrated manner to the corresponding learning outcomes, the modes of assessment used to assess studentsí progress and the methodologies and specific resources used to support teaching and learning. †
The subject department plan contains a catalogue of Geography-related resources available within the school. More detail should be added such as a list of videos and DVDs, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and aerial photographs. This would assist teachers in the ready identification and selection of suitable resources. As discussed during the evaluation it is necessary that future planning for resources should focus on acquiring additional fieldwork instruments so that geographical investigations based on physical Geography can be carried out.
There was clear evidence of planning and preparation by individual teachers for the lessons observed. The planned learning outcomes were shared with students at the start of the lessons. This is good practice as it provides for a focused learning context. Lesson content was well structured and in all cases in line with syllabus requirements. A variety of resources had been prepared by teachers to support teaching and learning. Ongoing planning for Geography was also evident in the extensive range of resources for various sections of the syllabuses that have been compiled by the main geography teacher.†
Good quality teaching and learning was in evidence over the course of the evaluation. The dominant methodologies employed in the lessons observed included teacher exposition, question and answer session and some pair-work activities. Lessons in the main centred on presentations by teachers using the digital data projector. In all cases presentations were clear and incorporated a range of visual stimuli which supported studentsí understanding of the topics. The integration of a visual approach to scaffold and enhance studentsí learning is commended. There was some good use of individual learning tasks and pair work activities that facilitated the active engagement of students in the learning process. In one lesson students were required to complete a comprehensive worksheet as the topic of the lesson was presented through questioning and discussion. This activity provided a very good focus on the key learning points and ensured the full engagement of students throughout the lesson. Given the mixed-ability composition of class groups it is recommended as a support to student learning that the key points of the lesson are structured on the board and that students are required to record them in their copies. This would provide an effective summary for use in learning and revision. The use of graphic organisers is encouraged in this regard. †In other lessons pair work was also facilitated which provided some very good opportunities for peer learning and practical reinforcement of key concepts. Whilst these active learning strategies are commended it is recommended that in all cases the tasks chosen should be sufficiently challenging for students in order to maximise the learning outcome.
Teacher instruction was well interspersed with questioning of students to progress the delivery of material and to enhance the participation of students in the lesson. A good mix of both global and directed questions was in evidence which required factual recall of information and also challenged studentsí higher-order thinking skills.
Where relevant there was an appropriate focus on the development of studentsí geographical skills involving analysis and interpretation of population pyramids. This is good practice. As geographical terms were encountered in the lesson they were explained. To further support students in the acquisition of subject-specific language it is recommended that key word lists be prominently displayed on topics as they are being taught. The board could be used for this purpose. Students should also maintain a glossary of key terms in their copies for ease of reference.
While teachers have access to information on students with additional educational needs there is no learning-support department in the school. It is recommended that the school review its †organisation of resources provided to support students with additional educational needs to ensure that they are fully utilised for the purposes for which they were supplied. There was evidence of differentiated teaching strategies when teachers monitored studentsí work as they engaged in tasks. There were also good efforts to include all students in the questioning process. The further use of differentiation is encouraged to support students with additional educational needs in the mainstream setting. The website of the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie will provide advice and information to support teachers with this work.
A positive learning atmosphere was evident in all lessons. The students engaged very well with all planned activities and they were appropriately affirmed by their teachers for their contributions and efforts. Most students displayed a good knowledge and understanding of the topics under study and their written work was of a good standard.
Teachers use a range of methods to assess studentsí progress in Geography. In the lessons observed informal assessment of studentsí learning was evident through the correction and setting of homework, questioning of students and the completion of class exercises based on the lesson content. Class tests are set when sections of the teaching programme are completed. The geography teachers are encouraged to include small-scale project work in their range of assessment instruments. This work will help to cater for the variety of learning styles in the mixed-ability class setting and enable students to develop as independent learners. It could also be used as a means of enhancing the learning environment in classrooms and thus increasing the visible presence of the subject in the school.
In the majority of the classes observed a review of studentsí copybooks indicated that an appropriate quantity of work had been carried out by students since the start of the academic year. In one class this was not the case due to a delay in timetabling the provision of Geography for the class group. Appropriate timetabling arrangements for the subject should be put in place from the start of the school year. Copybooks are regularly monitored and studentsí work was annotated with constructive feedback from the teacher in line with assessment for learning (AfL) principles.† The use of this good practice is recommended in all lessons. It is also encouraged as a means of enhancing standards that the presentation of work in copybooks is acknowledged in end-of-term grades.
Standard arrangements are in place for summative assessment. The school has appropriate mechanisms to keep parents informed of studentsí progress including school reports issued following formal assessments, the use of the studentsí journal and an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group.† The teachers undertake an analysis of studentsí performance in State examinations on an annual basis. This is good practice.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010