An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale
Roll number: 76061W
Date of inspection: 23 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Trócaire. 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 principal, deputy principal and subject teachers.
Geography forms part of the core curriculum for junior cycle in Coláiste na Trócaire and is allocated three class periods per week. While Geography is not included in the Transition Year (TY) programme it experiences significant uptake in both fifth year and sixth year. An allocation of five class periods per week, including a double lesson, is provided. This places Geography in a strong position in the school.
School management has prioritised languages, business subjects and the sciences within the TY programme to allow students to gain some experience of these optional subjects in advance of the subject choice process for Leaving Certificate. While this decision is laudable, some consideration could be given to the inclusion of modules in Geography and History in the future to allow students to experience these subjects within the guidelines and spirit of TY.
The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) has been provided in the school since 2005 to support the needs of Traveller students and any students identified as at risk of early school leaving. While all class groups are mixed-ability in nature, the JCSP programme is focused on a number of students in two of the three class groups in each year of junior cycle. JCSP methodologies are limited to a number of subjects taken by the targeted students in these class groups. Geography does not currently form part of the JCSP in the school. The programme uses student profiling based on the achievement of a learning outcomes based modified junior-cycle syllabus. The skills, spatial and visual emphasis of junior-cycle geography are very suitable to the structure, teaching and learning processes of the JCSP. It is strongly recommended that students who have been targeted for inclusion be afforded the opportunity to study Geography within the programme.
The geography teachers have begun to develop as a geography department. There were five teachers of Geography in the school and one was acting as subject coordinator at the time of the evaluation. Teamwork and cooperation have led to the gathering and cataloguing of equipment and resources for Geography. The resources provided through the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service have also been stored and catalogued and are accessible to all the geography teachers. While a designated geography room does not exist, teachers have decorated a number of rooms appropriately with print rich and map rich materials. These developments are encouraged as they raise the visibility of the subject in the school. The integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into teaching and learning in Geography is also developing. Teachers now have access to digital data projectors and laptop computers. Teachers are encouraged to access Scoilnet maps; a web based geographical information system (GIS) that allows teachers and students to use an extensive range of maps, aerial photographs and geographical information. The infrastructure to facilitate this access is in the process of development in the school and almost completed.
In line with other developments in Geography, the teaching team has developed a subject plan. This plan has arisen from ongoing subject meetings that have focussed on the development of Geography in the school. The plan includes a common teaching programme and a fieldwork policy. A homework policy for Geography is also under development. Records of meetings made available during the evaluation show that a meaningful collaborative planning process is ongoing in relation to Geography. Progress in collaborative planning is to be highly commended as these developments ensure a level of consistency in the experience of the subject across all class groups. Collaborative planning also harnesses the range of experiences of all teachers on the team. To build on this good progress it is recommended that the teaching team continue to develop the subject planning process to include a focus on the JCSP methodology, assessment for learning (AfL) strategies and the use of Scoilnet maps in the classroom.
It was also clear that a significant level of planning and preparation was in place for a number of the lessons observed. While all lessons observed followed the common teaching programme, in a number of cases a significant level of planning and preparation enhanced their effectiveness. The planned mix of methods using visuals, tasks and questions ensured that students benefited from these active and dynamic lessons. These lessons had clearly planned learning objectives leading to equally clear learning outcomes. It is recommended that individual planning for all lessons should include clarity on the learning intention or objective, the methods to achieve this learning and on the outcome of the learning process for the students in advance of the lesson.
The quality of teaching and learning was very good in a number of lessons where students were engaged actively by the planned teaching methodology. In these lessons the learning intention was clear and in many cases was placed on the board from the outset. Teachers presented the topics for study at a pace that was both challenging and suitable to the mixed abilities of the students. Questioning in particular was planned and differentiated. Higher and lower order questions were used appropriately and these questions were clearly connected with the planned learning. Visual materials linked to the learning point were used very effectively. In some cases tasks further enhanced the engagement of students. In these lessons students responded to the methods used by the teacher and it was clear that effective learning was taking place.
The absence of lesson planning and clarity relating to the learning intention was in evidence in some other lessons. This created a lack of focus and purpose to the learning in these lessons. Students were largely passive and were not engaged actively by the teaching methodology or challenged by differentiated questioning or tasks. Questioning was used to develop the lesson topic but it was largely unplanned and neither challenged nor targeted the range of abilities of the students. Some students were disengaged while others were unclear in their understanding of the topic for study. While these lessons followed the common teaching programme, the lack of focus on the teaching methodology and student engagement resulted in passive students and uncertain learning outcomes. It is strongly recommended that the learning intention and the teaching methodology employed to achieve the learning outcome be established in advance of the lesson. It should be clear to the students what the lesson is about and what they are expected to know on completion of the lesson. The methods chosen to achieve this learning should be effective in engaging students in the learning process but should be differentiated to include the range of abilities in the class group. These basic steps are required in lessons to ensure that students receive their entitlement to effective teaching and learning in Geography.
A range of teaching resources was used in a number of lessons to enhance the learning of the students. These included the use of rock samples, maps, worksheets and contrasting digital photographs. In most cases these resources were very effective in developing the learning point and in providing engaging activities within the lesson. In other cases these resources were under used as the students simply looked at the material and were not afforded the opportunity to question, discuss or engage with the geographical points that these materials presented. Teachers should focus on achieving the maximum value from teaching resources within planned geography lessons.
All the lessons observed were well managed. The students were courteous and well behaved. While it was clear that all interactions between teachers and their students were mutually respectful, the quality of these interactions varied according to the nature of the lesson. In cases where students were challenged by the planned lesson these interactions centred on the learning and on the understanding of the topic for study. In other lessons these interactions lacked depth and did not always develop learning and understanding for the students effectively.
Uptake of higher level geography is good but it is of importance that all students in the mixed-ability settings are continually challenged to achieve to their full potential in the subject. This process will be more effective if the JCSP is made available for some students in geography lessons. Equally the use of AfL strategies, differentiated approaches and clear lesson planning will ensure that all students achieve at the highest level appropriate to their ability.
Students’ understanding and knowledge of Geography was assessed in lessons through the monitoring of homework and questioning by the teacher. Homework was assigned and the tasks completed were monitored and annotated by the geography teachers. The wider use of detailed formative comment on tasks is encouraged as an extension of the clear lesson planning already outlined. In a number of lessons the homework tasks were discussed and corrected at the beginning of the lesson. This was good practice as this homework was then linked to the learning intention of the new lesson.
Students are given informal assessments throughout the year as the class group progresses through the agreed teaching programme. The outcomes of these assessments are recorded by teachers to monitor students’ achievement and progress. The outcomes of formal assessments at Christmas and summer 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.
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 and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published April 2009