An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Maynooth Post Primary School
Maynooth, County Kildare
Roll number: 70700A
Date of inspection: 14 and 15 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maynooth Post Primary School, Co Kildare. 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. 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.
There is very good whole-school support and provision for Geography in Maynooth Post Primary School. Geography is a compulsory subject at junior cycle and it is offered through the medium of Irish in the Sraith lán Gaeilge up to Junior Certificate. At senior cycle the inclusion of Geography through the Social and Environmental studies (SES) module in the Transition Year (TY) programme is commendable. Geography becomes an optional subject for the Leaving Certificate and is offered within set option blocks. Geography is offered within three of the four blocks. This is praiseworthy. Students and parents receive appropriate advice and support prior to making subject choices and management is commended for this. Uptake of Geography at senior cycle has declined recently. It is recommended that the geography teaching team, in consultation with school management, consider strategies to address this. These could include increasing the profile of Geography throughout the school through the use of charts, posters and a GeoNews notice board, the promotion of careers in Geography and the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning of Geography.
Time allocation for Geography at both junior and senior cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations. The inclusion of double period lessons at senior cycle is good practice as it facilitates teachers and students undertaking practical work. However the allocation of two double periods in the week reduces teacher and student contact time. It is recommended that wherever possible only one double period be allocated. In most cases the class periods assigned to the subject for the various year groups are well distributed across the school week. This is good practice as it facilitates regular contact between the students and their teachers. However, it was noted that the distribution of some junior cycle and TY class periods is not as effective. It is recommended that future timetabling should provide for a balanced provision of classes to all year groups as far as is possible. This would further support continuity in the learning process.
School management supports the work of the geography teachers and is committed to the continuing development of the geography department. While there is no specific annual budget allocation to the department, requests to management are generally met. A wide range of resources has been made available for the subject including videos, DVDs, weather instruments and fieldwork equipment. It is recommended that these resources be catalogued in the school plan and the catalogue be reviewed regularly. This will assist with the identification of future resource needs and the subsequent planning for their provision.
There is no dedicated geography room. Base classrooms are made available to teachers and the majority of these are decorated with maps, charts, students’ work and other course related materials. The geographical materials on display create colourful and motivational learning environments. Teachers are commended for the time and effort invested in developing and maintaining the appearance of their classrooms. It is recommended that such stimulating print-rich geographical environments be developed in all rooms where geography is taught and that large maps of Ireland, Europe and the world be displayed. This would be most beneficial in supporting the teaching of locational geography, which permeates all aspects of the syllabuses. Maps would also serve to enhance the visible presence of Geography.
Management is lauded for the very good provision of information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. This facilitates the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography and is very good practice. Within the geography teaching team there is considerable expertise in the area of ICT. This should be exploited in the future to support the up skilling of other members of the geography teaching team.
School management is supportive of continuous professional development for teachers. Members of the geography department have attended the in-service training provided by the Geography Support Service to facilitate the introduction of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. The commitment on the part of management and staff to continuous professional development is commendable. Cross-curricular links have been developed at both junior and senior cycle, for example, the geographical content included in the Spanish module in TY, the organisation of a Green Week and the geographical element to educational tours. This is highly commended.
A clear subject department has been established where teachers provide support for each other and share their considerable expertise. One teacher acts as co-ordinator of the subject and there are plans for this role to rotate in future. This is effective practice as it facilitates all members of the geography teaching team in gaining the experiences and leadership skills associated with the role as well as ensuring that the workload is shared. Formal collaboration is commendably facilitated by school management on a termly basis and regular informal collaboration takes place among the teachers to discuss subject issues. This regular collaboration and communication is commended. The main areas discussed and key decisions taken at formal meetings are recorded. This is very good practice and supports continuity in the planning process.
Good progress has been achieved to date in the development of curricular plans for each year group. To build on this good progress it is recommended that the geography teachers develop the subject plan to identify key priorities for the subject. Targets to achieve these priorities should be set within realistic timeframes. These priorities should include planning for the use of active and differentiated teaching and learning methodologies with a view to engaging all students in the geography lessons. The list of resource materials to support the teaching of syllabus units, expected learning outcomes and modes of assessment should also be integrated into the plan. The department should engage in further planning for the integration of ICT to support teaching and learning. Within the common teaching programme at senior cycle it is recommended that flexibility be allowed regarding choice of option and elective for the Leaving Certificate syllabus from year to year.
A written plan for SES within the TY programme was observed during the evaluation. The modular format of the programme is commendable as it provides variety and flexibility. One module of the TY programme is involved with the green schools’ initiative. The school’s recent success in being awarded the green flag is highly commended. It is recommended that, in the planning for the TY programme, consideration be given to the inclusion of a module on a local geographical investigation. This provides students with an opportunity to engage in an exploratory and investigative approach to learning while developing appropriate skills which will be of benefit in pursuing the Leaving Certificate. This investigative approach to learning is very much in keeping with the spirit of the TY programme and it serves as an effective bridge between the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Geography Syllabuses.
Planning and preparation by individual teachers showed many examples of excellent practice. The majority of individual lessons were well planned and organised. Best practice was observed where planning and preparation involved the use of a variety of different stimulus materials and resources. This level of individual planning is very praiseworthy. To build on this all the geography teachers should focus on the need to plan individually for active teaching and learning methodologies in order to fully engage the range of students in geography lessons. Teacher files were made available containing revision notes, overhead transparencies, PowerPoint presentations, worksheets and assessments for use in their lessons. This clearly demonstrates the commitment of teachers to providing high quality educational experiences for their students and is highly commended. The files also showed that teachers had made extensive use of ICT both to research and to prepare materials to support teaching and learning. The geography teaching team needs to plan for the future development of the subject in order to optimise the use of these valuable resources.
A committed approach to the teaching and learning of Geography was evident during the course of the evaluation. Established classroom routines helped to focus students at the beginning of each lesson. Best practice was observed where learning intentions were set out clearly and shared with the learners. This provides a focus for students on the work in hand and communicates a clear expectation of what they would be required to know at the end of the lesson. This good practice should be extended to all lessons to engage students in the learning process.
A variety of teaching strategies was employed during the course of the evaluation. Best practice was observed where these methodologies were used in a manner that created an appropriate balance between teacher input and student input. The topic of climate change was taught using the board, overhead transparency, a newspaper article and questioning strategies to build up the content of the lesson in a clear and systematic manner. The teacher regularly interjected in an amusing manner to ensure all students were focused on the lesson adding to the positive learning atmosphere. Significant levels of knowledge and understanding on the part of students were evident. This is effective practice. In other lessons there was good evidence of the use of student tasks. Students completed worksheets either independently or in groups. Teachers circulated to support and affirm learners and to target students who needed extra support. This is very good practice. The inclusion of practical activities is commended as it provides opportunities for students to reinforce and apply their learning.
A focus on the development of map and photograph skills was evident in other lessons. As students completed map reading exercises the teacher circulated so as to provide one to one assistance to any student requiring it. It is recommended that during such lessons the Ordnance Survey map be displayed on the overhead projector to further facilitate whole-class teaching of skills and concepts and for ease of reference.
A visual approach to teaching and learning was evident during the course of the evaluation. Visual stimulus such as maps, photographs, overhead transparencies and posters were used and the integration of ICT through the use of PowerPoint slides had positive outcomes for both student engagement and understanding. A wealth of geographical materials and visual resources can be accessed through the use of the internet. It is recommended that these be sourced and integrated into the teaching of Geography, as a further means of enhancing student understanding of geographical processes and of serving the variety of learning styles that exist in mixed-ability class groupings.
Teacher instruction was clear and accurate and there were good links to the students’ direct experience as a means of clarifying points and supporting students’ understanding of topics. Recent global events were integrated into lesson content. This is very good practice. In some lessons key points were outlined on the board. This is good practice and its wider use is encouraged in all lessons. It is recommended that students be required to record these points as they provide very useful summaries and will support their study and revision of the topic. In other lessons where the textbook was the primary resource for learning, students were directed to underline key sentences and learning points. This is good practice as it focuses the learners’ attention on the most important elements and assists them in accessing independently the textbook in a focused and effective manner. It is recommended that the textbook be used as a resource to support teaching and learning in geography and that it does not dominate the lesson. It is encouraged that consideration be given to the use of mind maps or other visual aids as a means of presenting lesson content in simplified format and to highlight connections between the various aspects of a topic. They also have the added advantage of being quickly and easily developed and are most beneficial as a revision aid.
The geography teachers are aware of students with special educational needs and the nature of their various learning difficulties. Informal links exist between the special education support team and the geography teaching team and this involves the sharing of subject specific resources. It is recommended that formal links be established with the special education support team and the geography teaching team to ensure the inclusion of all students in geography lessons. This collaboration should focus on the exchange of information on methodologies and resource materials to assist the geography teachers in differentiating the syllabuses.
Classroom management was effective in all lessons. Teachers were encouraging and affirmed students for their contributions. This contributed to a positive learning environment. It was clear from classroom observations that students were learning and they displayed a good understanding of the topics under study.
Students’ knowledge and understanding were assessed informally in all lessons observed. Questioning was effectively integrated into the majority of lessons to test students’ understanding, review previously learnt material, progress lesson content and to elicit information at different levels of ability. Best practice was observed when students were included through focused questioning. In some lessons, global questioning tended to dominate and in these cases it is suggested that greater use be made of targeted questioning strategies requiring responses from named individuals. This approach will ensure the increased participation of all students.
A sample of copybooks was viewed in the course of the evaluation. It is evident that homework is assigned to students and monitored by teachers. Homework is very important in consolidating class work and plays a significant role in enhancing student learning. In some instances it was noted that detailed formative comment was provided to students to guide the further development of answers. This is to be highly commended. Maynooth Post Primary School participated in the Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century (TL 21) initiative facilitated by the National University of Ireland-Maynooth (NUIM) and through this teachers have introduced the use of Assessment for Learning principles in assessing students’ progress. This was evident from an examination of students’ work. This development is very highly commended as the application of these principles, with guidance from teachers, encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning. It is recommended that AfL principles be developed further. Useful information on the principles of AfL which will assist with the extended implementation of this practice is available through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
An appropriate focus on examination preparation for those sitting the state examinations in June was observed during the course of the evaluation. Homework was assigned from past examination papers and this provided students with valuable experience in answering questions. This is good practice. It is recommended that past marking schemes be accessed on the State Examinations Commission website at www.examination.ie to further support students regarding answering techniques.
Formal assessments are given 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. Students are encouraged and supported by their teachers to study Geography at the highest level possible. This is very praiseworthy. 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 senior cycle. This is effective practice.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole-school support and provision for Geography in the school.
· Management is lauded for the very good provision of information and communication technology (ICT) facilities.
· The commitment on the part of management and staff to continuous professional development is commendable.
· A clear subject department has been established where teachers provide support for each other and share their considerable expertise.
· The school’s recent success in being awarded the green flag is highly commended.
· Planning and preparation by individual teachers showed many examples of excellent practice.
· A committed approach to the teaching and learning of Geography was evident during the course of the evaluation.
· Classroom management was effective in all lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the geography teaching team, in consultation with school management, consider strategies to address the decline in uptake of Geography at senior cycle.
· It is recommended that the geography teachers develop the subject plan to identify key priorities for the subject.
· It is recommended that the textbook be used as a resource to support teaching and learning in geography and not dominate the lesson.
· It is recommended that formal links be established between the special education support team and the geography teaching team to ensure the inclusion of all students in geography lessons.
· It is recommended that Assessment for Learning principles be developed further.
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 2008