An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ School
Fairview, Dublin 3
Roll number: 60390F
Date of inspection: 22 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s CBS. 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 and the 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 Joseph’s CBS is a voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST). The current enrolment is two hundred and fifty-nine students, most of whom are boys. There are four girls who are repeating the Leaving Certificate through a one-year enrolment in the current sixth year in St Joseph’s. The organisation, teaching and learning of Geography is well supported by school management through the provision of teacher-based classrooms, information and communications technology (ICT) facilities and a range of resources to support teaching and learning. ICT facilities are available in the staffroom, data projectors are available to teachers and the school has a computer room which can be booked. It is recommended that a detailed inventory of the resources available be prepared by the geography teaching team and arising from this future resource needs should be identified.
In the junior cycle Geography is part of the school’s core curriculum. The subject is appropriately timetabled and lessons are well spaced throughout the week. First and second-year classes are allocated three single-class periods per week while third-year classes have four periods per week. At senior cycle students continue their experience of the subject by studying a half-year module within the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme where three class periods per week are assigned to the subject. Students in TY also take a module titled ‘Urban Studies’ which has a geographical content. For the established Leaving Certificate Geography has become a mandatory subject for all students reflecting the high number of students wishing to take the subject. All classes are taught in a mixed-ability setting.
Five teachers currently deliver the geography teaching programme in St Joseph’s, most of who are subject specialists. They work collaboratively and form a clearly identifiable subject department within the school. There is only one teacher currently teaching the Leaving Certificate programme and as a means of building capacity within the geography department it is recommended that other members of the geography team be given the opportunity to teach the subject to this level when school resources permit.
Teachers have availed of continuing professional development (CPD) in relation to Geography and some teachers have registered with the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) in relation to Scoilnet Maps. All geography teachers should register with the NCTE and make use of this valuable resource to support teaching and learning.
The school participates in co-curricular activities by engaging with the Green-Schools programme and by collaborating with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies through recording and submitting seismograph readings. During the evaluation a student demonstrated the seismic recordings that had been recorded over a period and it was evident that the school’s seismograph makes an important contribution to students’ understanding of the measurement of the intensity of earthquakes.
Subject department planning is well established in St Joseph’s and is supported by the appointment on a rotating basis of a subject co-ordinator and by the provision of formal planning time once a term by school management. Minutes dating back to 2006 were provided and these indicated that the planned teaching programme has been monitored, reviewed and amended in the light of experience. This is very good practice and reflects the desire by teachers to adapt the planned teaching programme to the needs of students.
A detailed subject department plan is in place. The planned teaching programme for first and second year is set out on a term basis while the programme for third year, fifth and sixty year is presented on a weekly basis. Planned periods for revision are included in the plan. There are plans for fieldwork in junior-cycle classes and for the geographical investigation for Leaving Certificate students. Planning for out-of-class learning is very good and will help to develop students’ geographical skills and to promote interest in the subject. In reviewing the subject department plan consideration should be given to establishing learning outcomes linked to curriculum content, timeframes, resources, teaching methodologies and assessment.
First-year students are introduced to map reading at an early stage and there is a good balance between topics from physical and human geography in the planned teaching programme. This is an appropriate introduction to the subject for first-year students. In discussions it was indicated that some students found map reading difficult. It is suggested that the use of large-scale maps of the local area may help students to acquire appropriate geographical skills and would be less challenging than the use of small-scale maps. Consideration should also be given to introducing topics from Section C of the Junior Certificate Geography syllabus, Economic Activities, into the planned teaching programme for first-year students.
A plan for the TY module on Geography is included within the subject department plan. The geography module focuses on the development of key geographical skills and this is good practice. However, it is recommended that the planned teaching programme for the geography module within the TY should be reviewed so that the content of the programme provides more challenge for students. Suggestions made during the evaluation in relation to the introduction of topics related to the geography of Europe should be considered. In any planned programme for the TY a clear distinction should be maintained between the content and methodologies used in the TY and those of the Leaving Certificate. TY students could engage in a geographical investigation where their geographical skills would be further developed in an exploratory and investigative approach to the subject.
Planning for all of the lessons observed was of a high standard. All lessons formed part of a larger unit of work and the aim of the lesson was clear. In most instances the aim of the lesson was shared with students at the outset. To further build on this good practice teachers are encouraged to propose three or four specific learning objectives for the lesson. These could be written on the board and could be ticked off the list, as each outcome is achieved. A good sense of progress is achieved in this way both for student and teacher. Teacher preparation for lessons included the provision of resources which were effectively used to support teaching and learning. The resources used included: Google Earth photographs, rock samples, a geological map of Ireland, past-examination questions and Ordnance Survey (OS) maps. The use of teacher-generated resources developed over a period of time is noteworthy.
High quality teaching was observed in the classrooms visited. Teaching was most effective where students were actively engaged in the learning process. This was achieved where there was a good balance between teacher exposition and students’ tasks or where teacher and students were involved in a discussion of the subject matter of the lesson. Teaching was less effective where there was an over-reliance on the use of the textbook. In one lesson observed students were provided with rock samples and were allowed to examine them. It is suggested that this could have provided an opportunity for students to work in small groups, examine rocks and complete a worksheet with a limited number of focused questions. This could then have been followed by feedback in a whole-class setting. In another lesson where students were learning the techniques for examining aerial photographs the use of Google Earth photographs of the local area showing the school and its environs did much to engage students. More active participation of students could have been achieved here by having one student point to features shown on the photograph and then asking other students to give the location of the feature using the correct terminology. The use of ICT in this lesson is commended and the greater use of ICT by all teachers is encouraged.
Lessons were well paced and teachers taught with competence and in some instances with enthusiasm. Teacher exposition was clear and in one classroom the outline of the lesson was gradually developed on the whiteboard providing students with a very clear outline of the link between Irish place names and evidence from different historical periods. This was then related to the study of OS maps. The integration of OS maps into the planned teaching programme is very good practice and in keeping the skills-based approach recommended by the geography syllabuses.
There was evidence of some differentiated teaching strategies in the classrooms visited. Teachers are aware of students with special educational needs in their classes and in some lessons students received personal attention as other students worked on set tasks. There was a careful approach to teaching the language of Geography and new terms were clearly explained, spelled or written on the whiteboard. As a means of further supporting students it is recommended that the geography teaching team develops lists of key geographical terms related to specific topics. This good practice has been commenced by one teacher. These terms should be displayed in classrooms and be made available to the learning support department. The learning support department could advise the geography teachers on the use of appropriate teaching strategies to support the development of students’ literacy and numeracy. Resources provided during the evaluation will support this development. Students for whom English is an additional language should be assisted in developing a glossary to key terms. Teachers should provide short lists of key terms at the end of lessons and require these students to look up and write their meaning in their first language. This would facilitate understanding of the language of Geography and would be good preparation for examinations in the subject. The agreed procedures should be recorded in the subject department plan.
Students showed a good knowledge of their courses, used correct terminology and were impressive in their discussions with their teachers and the inspector. Teachers encouraged students to seek clarification of topics being discussed and students responded to these invitations and contributed from their personal experiences when appropriate. Good classroom routines are in place and a positive, affirming and respectful atmosphere was evident in all of the lessons observed.
In some of the classrooms visited there were clear procedures in place to support students in maintaining a record of their written work, for example some students have folders where their work and supplementary material provided by their teacher are stored. Folders provided evidence that students had watched videos in some lessons and had answered questions based on the video. The setting of questions is good practice as it requires the students to engage with the visual presentation and not just become passive observers. The standard of work was good, as students kept their work in order and work was neatly presented. However, some students in the junior cycle need support in recording their written work and in improving the quality of their work. It is recommended that agreed procedures be established for all class groups to support students in maintaining a record of their written work and that clear guidance be provided as to acceptable standards for this work.
Students’ progress in TY is currently evaluated exclusively through a formal examination at the end of the module. Consideration should be given to reviewing the method of assessment so as to include the development by students of a portfolio of their work in which they could include examples of their best work. This would encourage a greater degree of personal responsibility by students and would engage them in some personal evaluation of their work.
Homework is regularly assigned, monitored and corrected. In some instances teachers should allow time at the end of lessons for students to record homework and ensure that students write this into their journals. It was evident that students preparing to sit certificate examinations in the current school year are engaged in revision on an ongoing basis as some time each week is devoted to answering past-examination questions. As a means of supporting the improvement of students’ written work it is recommended that the geography teachers develop policy and practices in relation to assessment for learning (AfL) and include these in the subject department plan. Support for this can be obtained by accessing the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (www.ncca.ie).
Formal assessments take place at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Third and sixth year students sit pre-examinations in the second term. The good practice of setting common examinations has begun and its wider use is advocated. Students’ progress is reported on to parents following formal assessments and at formal parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group. Teachers carry out an assessment of results obtained by students in the certificate examinations in line with best practice. While there is scope for some more students at Junior Certificate level to attempt the higher level paper in Geography students perform satisfactorily in the certificate 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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and the geography teachers when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2010