An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Saint Brendanís College
Belmullet, County Mayo
Roll number: 72050U
Date of inspection: 2 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brendanís College, Belmullet. 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.
St. Brendanís College is a co-educational school with a total enrolment of 420 students. Geography is in a very strong position in the school. It is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and has a generous allocation of four class periods per week across each of the junior cycle years. The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) has been introduced in the school on a pilot basis since September 2008. There is currently one class group studying Geography as part of the programme. Geography is also included in the schoolís Transition Year (TY) programme and is assigned two teaching periods per week for the duration of a half-year module. For the Leaving Certificate, Geography is an optional subject and students are offered an open choice of subjects prior to the generation of option bands. This is commended. The subject experiences very significant uptake at senior cycle. This reflects the commitment of both management and staff to the subject and its popularity as an optional Leaving Certificate subject. Class period provision at senior cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations. Class organisation at all levels is of mixed ability.
Teaching and learning in Geography is very well supported by school management. The geography department has access to a broad range of subject specific resources. †It is recommended that these resources are listed in the subject department plan according to category type. This will enable teachers to readily identify the resources available for teaching topics and will also facilitate planning for future resource needs. The geography teachers expressed satisfaction with the level of resource provision and the system in place for obtaining additional resources. The school has very good information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities which are to be further expanded following the completion of the new extension to the school. In addition to the schoolís current computer rooms the installation of a ceiling mounted projector in each classroom and the provision of a laptop for each teacher are planned. This planned level of ICT resource provision is commended. Whilst there was evidence of the use of ICT by some teachers its increased integration as a teaching and learning resource is recommended, particularly at senior cycle. The infrastructure to facilitate this is in the process of development in the school and will enable teachers to adopt innovative approaches to teaching and learning in the subject. In this regard teachers are encouraged to use the broad range of resources and geographical information available on Scoilnet maps and geographical websites.
Teachers are assigned to base classrooms. These were decorated with maps and geographical posters. These developments are encouraged as they create stimulating learning environments. A dedicated geography room is also to be made available on completion of the extension. This is commended.
The school management is supportive of the continuing professional development of its teachers and has facilitated their attendance at the in-service training provided by the Geography Support Service. †Some teachers are members of the Association of Geography Teachers Ireland (AGTI) and one of the teachers is involved in State examinations. It is encouraged that teachers share at department level the knowledge and expertise gained from these experiences.
There are currently five teachers of Geography in the school.† A senior teacher has taken responsibility for co-ordination of the department for some time. It is recommended that this role be rotated so that each member of the geography teaching team has the opportunity to develop the skills attached to the role.
The geography teachers are engaged in collaborative subject planning and have developed a subject department plan and schemes of work for each year group. These schemes outline a list of topics to be taught to each year group and the broad aims and objectives to be achieved in relation to these. It is recommended that more comprehensive curricular plans be developed to indicate in an integrated manner the syllabus content to be covered,† the corresponding learning outcomes to be achieved, the specific resources employed to support the teaching of topics, and the methodologies and assessment modes used by teachers. In some cases appropriate timeframes are indicated on these schemes, it is recommended that clearly defined time frames are documented on all schemes.
The section of the subject department plan that refers to planning for students with additional educational needs should include the procedures and practices within the geography department for supporting these students. In view of the increased ICT facilities to be made available to each subject teacher it is also recommended that the geography teachers develop a strategic plan for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning in the subject. One of the geography teachers competent in the use of Scoilnet maps articulated a commendable willingness to support colleagues in this regard. It is also encouraged that the geography teachers attend the current evening courses on Geography and the use of ICT resources provided by the Geography Support Service at selected Education Centres.
A written plan TY Geography is in place.† It is commendable that there is a good focus on the local environment to enhance studentsí understanding of geographical concepts and phenomena. This plan includes a study of aspects of physical geography, environmental geography and map and photograph skills. In order to effectively bridge the gap between junior cycle and senior cycle Geography it is recommended that this provision be reviewed. In this regard it is recommended that, among other areas of study a geographical investigation broadly modelled on the Leaving Certificate geographical investigation in terms of depth and skills development be undertaken. It is also encouraged that the use of Scoilnet maps be incorporated into the programme
It was noted that the first year programme is primarily based on the teaching of physical geography, meteorology and climatology. These topics place significant demands on students at this early stage in terms of technical vocabulary, complex geomorphic processes and landform descriptions. It is recommended that this provision be reviewed and that some less technical areas of the syllabus be taught in first year. It is also encouraged that the development of map and photograph skills, using maps and photographs of the local area take place at an early stage in first year. This will expose students to a practical and familiar encounter with the subject initially and these key geographical skills can then be integrated into the teaching programme for successive years. †In Leaving Certificate Year 1 teachers are also encouraged to review the successive teaching of topics in physical geography. ††
There was evidence of short-term planning for the lessons observed. Lessons were generally well structured with clear learning objectives identified at the outset and shared with students. In most cases effective planning facilitated the achievement of these objectives and provided for focused and well-paced lessons. It is recommended that this good practice be incorporated into all lesson planning. Teachers had prepared materials including transparencies for the overhead projector, handouts, a worksheet, Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and use of Scoilnet maps to support student learning. The provision of such materials is commended.
The main teaching strategies used in the lessons included teacher exposition, question and answer sessions, pair-work and some student tasks. In one lessons ICT was used to identify and examine the urban functions of Waterford. This visual resource stimulated student interest and enabled them to become actively involved in the learning process. In this regard the increased integration of ICT into teaching and learning of Geography is recommended where practicable and relevant.
Questioning featured as a dominant teaching methodology in all lessons. This strategy was used to ascertain studentsí level of knowledge and to elicit information from them in relation to the topics under study. Studentsí higher-order thinking skills were appropriately challenged as students were required to reflect and offer explanations for geographical phenomena. The increased use of targeted questioning is recommended in lessons to ensure that all students remain engaged throughout the lesson.
An integrated approach to the teaching of Geography was observed in lessons when links were established between lesson content, studentí previous learning and other areas of the syllabus. This good practice is commended.† There was an appropriate focus on subject terminology. As geographical terms were encountered they were well explained and reinforced throughout the lesson. As a means of further supporting students in their use and understanding of geographical terminology it is recommended that key words pertaining to topics be displayed strategically in the classroom as these topics are being taught.
Excellent use was made of the local environment and students direct experience to explain, clarify and discuss geographical concepts. Students participated eagerly at this level and it was clear that meaningful learning was taking place. This practice is highly commended and further encouraged.
Students preparing for State examinations in June were well informed and advised on answering techniques, the distribution of marks, the required number of Ďsignificant relevant pointsí and appropriate time allocations to questions. The use of past examination questions for this purpose is highly commended.
The students illustrated a good understanding of the topics under study. The mixed-ability nature of classes was reflected in the variations in standard of studentsí written work. It is recommended that students are encouraged to organise their copybooks so that homework and notes taken in class are kept separate. In some lessons the students recorded the key points which provided a clear and simplified summary of lesson content. These notes would serve as a good revision aid for future reference. In this context the students should be encouraged to retain any such notes.
There was a positive learning atmosphere with students being affirmed and supported in their learning.
Formal assessments are held for non-examination students at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate sit mock examinations in the second tem. It is good to note that common assessments are in place for first-year students. It is encouraged that this practice be extended to all year groups. In addition there is ongoing informal assessment of studentsí progress using a variety of methods including end of topic tests, homework, questioning, discussion and in-class activities. It is recommended that small scale project work in be included in the repertoire of assessment instruments for all year groups. †This provision will promote independent activity-based learning and cater for the range of learning styles in the mixed-ability classroom setting. It is also recommended that this project work be displayed in classrooms as a means of acknowledging student achievement and further developing geographical learning environments.
It was evident from a review of a sample of studentsí copybooks that homework is set on a regular basis. Best practice was observed where this work was provided with developmental comments and marked using examination criteria. It is recommended at both junior cycle and senior cycle that examination criteria be used by teachers in the correction of students written work. The regular monitoring of copybooks in terms of presentation of work and the increased use of formative feedback are also recommended as means of assisting students to improve the standard of their work. †
Parents are kept informed of studentsí progress in the subject through school reports which are issued following formal examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group. The school also operates a journal system which can be used as a channel of communication with parents.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Geography is a very popular optional subject at senior cycle.
∑ Timetabling arrangements for the subject are appropriate.
∑ Geography is included in the Transition Year (TY) programme.
∑ The teaching and learning of Geography is very well supported by school management by the provision of a broad range of resources including information and communication technologies (ICT) equipment.
∑ School management facilitates the continuing professional development of teachers.
∑ Subject department planning for Geography is ongoing and a subject plan is in place.
∑ Effective planning for lessons was evident. Lessons were in most cases focused, well-paced and resources had been prepared to support teaching and learning.
∑ Excellent use was made of the local environment and studentsí direct experience to explain geographical concepts.
∑ Students displayed a good understanding of the topics under study.
∑ There was a positive learning environment with students being affirmed and supported in their learning.
∑ There is ongoing formal and informal assessment of studentsí progress in the subject.
∑ Parents are appropriately informed of studentí progress.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The geography teachers should develop a strategic plan for the increased integration of information and communication technologies (ICT), particularly at senior cycle.
∑ Subject department planning should be further developed in line with the recommendations outlined in the main body of the report.
∑ The Transition Year (TY) programme should be reviewed to ensure that it effectively bridges the gap between junior cycle and senior cycle Geography.
∑ The current focus on teaching topics from physical geography to first year students should be reviewed.
∑ The regular monitoring of copybooks and the increased use of formative feedback on students written work is recommended.
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 2009