An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Mayfield Community School
Old Youghal Road, Mayfield, Cork
Roll number: 91400F
Date of inspection: 25 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mayfield 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 and subject teachers.
Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle in Mayfield Community School. The subject has an allocation of three class periods per week. One class group from each year follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Geography forms part of the programme of study for these students. Students taking this programme are identified during the enrolment process and follow a modified and targeted programme of study leading to Junior Certificate. The other class groups studying Geography in first and third year are mixed ability in nature while the two groups in second year are streamed.
The Transition Year (TY) programme in the school is compulsory. Geography is allocated four class periods per week in a modular structure. This generous allocation of time to the subject is effectively used to provide an interesting and challenging programme of study based on meteorology, the use of a weather station and fieldwork.
Students are offered the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) on transfer into fifth year. Those opting to pursue the LCVP are offered an open choice of subjects. Subject option blocks are then created from these first choices based on available resources. Students then choose again from these option blocks. The combination of three of these subjects must correspond to the vocational subject groupings outlined by the LCVP for qualification. Geography is not currently accepted nationally within these subject groupings. This has contributed to the low uptake of Geography at senior cycle in the school. The uptake of higher-level Geography at both junior and senior cycle is also of concern. It is clear that the expectations of the teachers for their students are very high and that all students are encouraged to study the subject to the highest level. Increasing the uptake of higher-level Geography is stated as a priority of the geography teaching team in their development of the subject in the school.
There is a well established geography department in the school. There is a coordinator for Geography and a dedicated geography room which has been developed over time. The walls of the geography room are decorated with impressive mural representations of physical geography features and maps of the Cork region. The department is well equipped with teaching resources including a desktop computer, maps, weather equipment and a range of fieldwork instruments. The geography teachers have been assigned to base classrooms, with one member of the teaching team occupying the geography room. While these base classrooms also provide an impressive print-rich learning environment for students, the geography room and its equipment is accessible to all teachers of the subject.
Students with additional educational needs were included and engaged in the geography lessons observed. Class groups observed contained a diversity of students including newcomers and those with special educational needs. Some students in these lessons are provided with extra support in English language, numeracy and literacy, in withdrawal and small group settings. Informal contacts exist between the individual geography teachers and those involved in the delivery of these supports. It is recommended that a formal communication process be established between the mainstream geography teachers, the school’s special education support team and those providing language supports to students for whom English is an additional language. This communication should include discussions relating to the differentiated teaching methodologies and strategies for the effective and ongoing inclusion of these students in geography lessons. This communication should also feed back to the teachers providing additional supports. Formalised communication will further enhance the educational and social experiences of these students in the classroom.
Planning for the teaching of Geography is at an advanced level in the school. The quality of collaborative planning in evidence reflects the high level of engagement of the teachers in the geography department. There was clear evidence that the geography teachers are enthusiastic and committed to the development of the subject, and to sharing both skills and resources to the benefit of the students. One tangible example of this enthusiasm is the planning and organisation of a joint physical education (PE) and geography outing combining physical activities and fieldwork in each year of junior cycle. These activities are highly commended as they provide valuable learning experiences for students and raise the profile of the subject at junior cycle. The geography department is also engaged in ongoing planning for resources particularly in the area of information and communication technology (ICT). Plans are under way to provide further access to ICT for geography teachers through the provision a laptop computer and data projector that will be based in the geography room.
The department has developed a very impressive subject plan that outlines an agreed teaching programme for each year group. The plan has detailed monthly teaching schemes covering both the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses. The geography plan also outlines very clear and laudable planning priorities for the subject. These prioritise the need to increase the uptake of the subject at senior cycle, to increase the number of students taking higher level at both junior and senior cycle and the review of Geography in the TY programme. This plan has resulted from the collaboration of the geography teachers and is in line with the school’s progress in whole-school development planning. This level of engagement by the members of the geography department in collaborative subject planning is highly commended. This geography plan has also been produced as a CD resource for new or substitute teachers. The CD includes lesson plans and work sheets referring to different parts of the teaching programme. The development of this planning resource using ICT ensures that beginning teachers and substitutes can continue the teaching programme with minimum disruption for students.
Teachers are engaged in a significant level of individual planning for teaching. Individual lesson plans and teacher files containing resource sheets, overhead transparencies and visual stimulus materials were clearly in evidence. This level of individual planning is to be highly commended. As a means of developing this impressive engagement in both individual and collaborative planning, the geography teachers should focus on the need to plan for differentiated strategies and methodologies that will be required to meet the needs of the diversity of students in the geography lessons.
There is a very high quality of teaching in evidence in the lessons observed. There is also clear evidence of significant learning in the geography lessons. Students understood the topics for study and had a good knowledge of Geography appropriate to their level and programme of study.
There was a range of teaching methodologies used in the lessons observed. The learning intention was clear and a review of previous learning was central to the opening of all lessons. Students were questioned on the topic for study and these questions were targeted at named individuals and spread throughout the class groups. Higher order questions were used in a number of lessons to good effect. In all cases, students were encouraged to develop their answers and were appropriately affirmed by their teachers. The very effective methodologies associated with the JCSP were also clearly in evidence. The use of key words, short manageable topics for study and strategies to continually focus students through tasks, stimulus materials and the application of skills were very effectively used. There was an impressive focus on literacy in all the JCSP lessons observed. In other lessons, worksheets, tasks for completion, posters, world maps and graphs were used to engage students in their own learning. In all cases, students were engaged actively by the methodologies used. Over-head transparencies and the whiteboard were also used to very good effect to gather students’ responses and to provide short but relevant notes on the key learning points in lesson. It was noteworthy and commendable that the textbook was not the dominant source or stimulus in any lesson. In all cases, the textbook was an additional source for the students and the illustrations and maps were used appropriately to further develop the topic for study. The application of this range of teaching methodologies and resources is to be highly commended. To build on this good work it is recommended that teachers focus on the use of differentiated learning and teaching strategies in the classroom to ensure the continued inclusion of all students in lessons, particularly those for whom English is an additional language. The skill sets that have been developed through engagement with the JCSP could be very effectively applied to other lessons. These strategies and skills could be applied to achieve the level of differentiation of methodologies required to fully engage some of these students. Formal communication between the geography teachers and those providing language supports could also assist in this process.
The integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography is ongoing in the school. ICT in the form of a PowerPoint presentation and task sheets was used in senior-cycle lessons to focus students effectively and to stimulate responses to questions. The geography teachers have access to a laptop computer and data projector and are engaged in the use of the Trail-Master DVD to support the teaching of map and photograph interpretation skills. The use of internet sources and ICT in both the planning and delivery of lesson content was also in evidence in the lessons observed. The further integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Geography is to be encouraged where possible and practicable.
In all lessons observed the management of students in the classroom was firm, fair and focussed on learning. Students, including those following the JCSP, were engaged by the planned lessons and by the tasks and visual stimulus materials presented by their teachers. The examination of absence notes, roll call and attention to textbooks, pens and copies, in some lessons, ensured that students quickly focused on the lesson. There was a warm, secure and ordered classroom atmosphere. Students were courteous and responsive in all the lessons observed.
The geography students in the lessons observed displayed clear understanding of the topics for study. Students displayed their understanding of complex topics, including endogenic geomorphic processes, demographic structures, migration processes and indices of human development. Students also showed a significant competency in applying geographical skills. The basic map-work skills of finding location, measuring distance and drawing sketch maps were displayed. Students also displayed the ability to interpret graphs, diagrams, numerical tables and cartoons. It was clear from the work in students’ folders, and from their responses to questions from both the teachers and inspector, that significant learning was taking place in geography lessons.
Students’ knowledge and understanding is assessed informally in all lessons. Students are questioned on previous learning to monitor understanding and progress. Homework is assigned and regularly monitored. Students also record homework for geography lessons in their student journal. In some lessons, detailed formative comment was provided to students to guide the further development of answers. This is to be highly commended. The students in the JCSP class groups monitor their own progress, under the guidance of the teacher, through the achievement of the learning outcomes as set out in the geography profile statements. Informal class assessments are given to students at appropriate times in the curricular plan. The results of these assessments are recorded by the teachers. It is recommended that the geography teachers focus on the type of feedback given to students following the correction of students’ copybooks and class assessments. The teachers should implement strategies associated with the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project. These strategies include the sharing of the learning intention and the learning outcome of the lesson. They also include a focus on the questioning and formative comment on students’ work. The school is already engaged in a pilot project relating to AfL and the outcomes of this project should be used to inform and stimulate progress in this area.
Formal assessments are given to all class groups at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Third-year and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations at appropriate times in preparation for state examinations in June. The outcomes of formal and informal assessments are reported to parents through parent-teacher meetings and school reports. These outcomes are also used by teachers to encourage students to study Geography to the highest level at both Junior and Leaving Certificate. It is planned to organise a further formal examination for all students during the first term. The outcome of this first-term examination will be a mark for each subject that will be reported to parents/guardians. The outcome and method of feedback of this planned assessment should be reviewed in the light of the AfL pilot project that is ongoing in the school.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.