An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Douglas Community School
Roll number: 91396R
Date of inspection: 19 and 20 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Douglas Community 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 two days 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 is in a strong position in Douglas Community School. It is a compulsory subject at junior cycle, is included in the Transition Year (TY) programme and experiences a strong uptake at senior cycle. The organisation and structure of Geography in the TY programme is commended as it supports the wider study of the subject using content appropriate to the programme and yet informs subject choice for students as they transfer into fifth year.
Geography is allocated three lessons per week in junior cycle. TY geography has an allocation of one single lesson and one double lesson per week, while this increases to three single lessons and one double lesson for fifth year and sixth year. This allocation represents good practice and school management is to be commended for this provision, particularly within the TY programme as the allocation is provided for the full year.
Teachers are provided with base classrooms and students move to these rooms as they follow their timetable throughout the week. This method of classroom organisation has resulted in a number of very well-developed rooms for the teaching of the Geography in the school. All the rooms visited were very well maintained and decorated with maps, posters, photographs and samples of students’ work. This has created a map-rich and print-rich learning environment for the students. The shared resources for the teaching of the subject have been catalogued and are stored in one of these classrooms. These resources are accessible to all the geography teachers. School management has also provided each classroom with a digital data projector and a laptop computer has been allocated to each teacher. One geography classroom has been equipped with an interactive whiteboard. This investment in the provision of information and communication technology (ICT) in the school is to be highly commended as it will both challenge and facilitate the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography. This provision will also facilitate the use of Scoilnet Maps, an internet-based mapping and geographical information system (GIS) that was provided to all schools through the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service (LCGSS). The geography teachers are encouraged to build on the good practice in evidence in enhancing both teaching and learning in Geography through the use of this internet-based application.
Class groups in Geography are mixed-ability in nature while resources for learning support are mainly focused on one class group within each year group at junior cycle. Very effective methodologies and team-teaching strategies were observed in some of these lessons. Some formal and informal support is also provided by the learning-support team to assist teachers of the other mixed-ability geography class groups. The geography teachers and school management should focus on the dissemination of the very effective skills and methodologies used by the learning-support team to ensure their appropriate use in the other mixed-ability settings throughout junior cycle geography.
There was clear evidence that the geography teachers operate as an effective geography department. A subject convenor has been appointed and the position rotates among members of the team. The teachers hold a number of subject meetings each school year that have facilitated the subject-planning process but have also allowed for the analysis of state examination results. The outcomes of these meetings have been recorded. The geography teachers are encouraged to continue the development of the subject department and to focus on sharing individual skills and teaching strategies, particularly in relation to engaging the range of abilities and learning styles in the mixed-ability settings.
Individual planning for lessons was of a high standard. All lessons observed were effectively planned and many included the use of worksheets, visual presentations using the digital data projector, ordnance survey (OS) map sheets and rock samples. In all cases these planned materials enhanced both quality of the lesson and the students’ learning. This level of preparation by teachers is to be highly commended.
Collaborative planning is well advanced and an impressive subject plan has emerged from the subject-planning process. The plan outlines policy and practice in relation to the subject, including health and safety on fieldwork activities, a common teaching plan and a homework policy relating to geography classes. The subject plan is also commendable in that it focuses on teaching and learning in the classroom through teaching for understanding strategies, higher-order thinking skills and other associated classroom methodologies. It is recommended that the geography-teaching team should further develop the subject-planning process by discussing and sharing a number of teaching and learning strategies. This will ensure that this planning process has a meaningful impact on classroom methodology and learning. The skills and expertise of the learning-support team could be used by all teachers to enhance and share both skills and practices in the classroom. Engagement with the use of Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies would be a useful entry point for this development of the planning process. Looking at Geography, a Department of Education and Science Inspectorate publication, that discusses good practice in geography teaching, and the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), will be useful in developing this process.
The teaching of Geography was of good quality in the lessons observed. The students were largely engaged by the methodologies employed in the lessons observed and were impressive in their understanding of geographical concepts and in their proficiency in using and applying geographical skills. This was particularly evident in some of the lessons that had a learning- support focus.
The quality of learning was also good. Students, in a number of lessons, demonstrated an impressive ability to engage with higher-order skills and questioning that clearly demonstrated their level of understanding of the topics for study. Achievement in state examinations is good and teachers are to be commended for their high expectations of the students in their care. Uptake of higher-level geography is also impressive as students in all class groups are encouraged to study to the higher level for as long as possible. The final decision on the choice of levels is taken in consultation with the student and parent at the appropriate time in the final year of both junior and senior cycle. This is very good practice, as it allows time for the individual learner to develop and grow for as long as possible within the subject before making this important decision.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed in lessons. The most effective methodologies focused on the active engagement of students in learning. These lessons used a variety of strategies and integrated skills and tasks throughout. There was an important emphasis on questioning. Students were named, questions were targeted and all answers were affirmed. The level of preparation by the teachers ensured that a variety of stimulating and engaging tasks were integrated into these lessons. These methods ensured that students were engaged in their own learning and this created some time in the lesson for the teacher to give some attention to students who were either challenged by the task or displayed limited attention and focus. These were very effective and successful lessons.
In other lessons the voice of the teacher was the dominant method employed. While these lessons were effective in delivering the lesson content, the students were largely passive and were not always fully engaged in their learning. These students were required to listen, to be silent, to take notes in their copybooks and to answer questions when asked. In some cases, students grew restless due to the absence of more active and engaging methodologies in these mixed-ability settings. It is recommended, in parallel with the development of subject planning, that geography teachers should focus on the development of a range of active-learning methodologies to give students more responsibility for their own learning. The identification of clear learning intentions, learning outcomes and success criteria, in line with AfL strategies, would be very useful in the context of these lessons. This process could be enhanced by the discussion and sharing of successful strategies among the members of the teaching team.
Classroom management was effective in all cases. There was an appropriate attention to punctuality, homework journals, notes to parents and established disciplinary procedures in lessons. Students moved between lessons and entered the classrooms in an orderly and respectful manner. Students were courteous and respectful of their fellow classmates and of their teachers in all lessons. An atmosphere of mutual respect and commitment to learning was clearly evident.
A homework policy for Geography is in place as part of the subject plan. Teachers’ practice in relation to homework varied with the context of the class group and to their position in junior cycle, Transition Year or senior cycle. Students’ knowledge and understanding of the topics for study was assessed informally in lessons through questioning and the setting of homework by the teacher. It is clear from the homework journal that homework is assigned regularly. In some cases students are required to learn from the textbook and their notes copybook in preparation for regular class tests. In other cases, students are set sample examination questions or required to produce short written answers that are filed within a subject folder. Another strategy at junior cycle involves the completion of workbook tasks in one class period during the week. While all these strategies are effective, it is recommended that the geography teachers should focus particularly on the feedback provided to students to ensure that the completion of these homework tasks has an impact on their learning. Developmental feedback, including comments on how to improve, should be provided to students regularly on completion of homework tasks. Teachers should reflect on their current practices in relation to homework and feedback, with a view to assessing its impact on students’ learning within the mixed-ability contexts of the geography class groups.
Students in first-year, second-year and fifth-year classes are given in-class assessments in October and February and they have formal year-group examinations in December and in May. The results of these assessments are reported to parents through written reports and at parent-teacher meetings. TY students are assessed on projects and portfolios presented during the year. Third-year and sixth-year students are also given an in-class assessment in October and sit pre-examinations in February in preparation for state examinations in June of each year.
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, deputy principal, and the subject teachers at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009