Thursday, 6 December 2012

Teaching quality Geography: reflections on Iwaskow's Status of Geography paper

No matter what sector you teach in, the good news is that Geography, has never been a more topical subject.  In the maintained sector, the new EBacc qualification has meant Geography's status has had a bit of a resurgence - its been 'rebranded' to some extent - and numbers taking up at the subject at GCSE are rising with 187,022 candidates taking it at GCSE in 2012 (up 3.48% compared to 2011 - outperforming History and English!).  It is even estimated that 36% of GCSE pupils will take the subject in the summer of 2014...

However, the challenge facing all Geography departments across the nation will now be this:  how to encourage GCSE geographers to take the subject as an AS-Level/A2 option or IB module?  Furthermore, is the quality of teaching Geography, as an academic subject, improving - are standards rising? For instance, I have noticed at GCSE and beyond, map work skills and general geographic knowledge i.e. where places are located, are particularly poor.

Interestingly a recent report entitled 'Quality Geography - Learning to make a difference' by Leszek Iwaskow, the National Adviser for Geography touched upon many of the teaching & learning themes to do with geography I have been exploring this term. Please click the link below to access the report.

Below are some of my thoughts on his paper and the wider context of geography teaching in schools:

The traditional model for departments it seems is to put the specialist teaching at the top end of the pyramid (Sixth Form) and any non-specialist teaching at the bottom end (Year 7 & 8 Lower School Geography). However, is the best long term approach?

Surely, some of our most skilled geographers need to teach the core skills to students at the bottom end of the school so as to inspire them and equip them with a good set of core geographic skills? What tends to happen with the current approach is that students have to often wait to be inspired at GCSE and even till A-Level before they receive quality geography teaching from a specialist - is this not the wrong way round? The flip side to this, of course, is that specialist teachers are needed at A2, which I do not dispute, but GCSE and even AS specifications, (take Edexcel's for instance), are biased to some extent to covering 'popular geography' and 'popular science' themes, which any good teacher could teach maybe?

Furthermore, in my latest blog entitled, 'a template for outstanding teaching' I discuss the need to shift away from prescriptive outcomes and instead focus on one primary outcome, with a series of learning loops built in, offering a flexible approach and quite organic approach to classroom teaching.  Leaving room for the lesson to progress naturally as opposed to a pre-conceived prescriptive format MUST BE A GOOD THING?!

In relation to Geography teaching, I have been focusing on actually teaching about the geography of case study topics much more e.g looking at the physical geographic aspects which make the city or tourist attraction what it is.  I have used GIS and maps much more to build in the core skills, which are lacking, and have then built in the critical Socratic questioning and higher order thinking skills needed to excel and gain top marks. I find the latter approaches to have been much more rewarding in comparison to trying to speed through a lesson, purely focused on ensuring all the assessment boxes for HMI are ticked or all of the exam spec content is touched upon, however briefly.  Furthermore, more time in lessons has been handed over to the pupils to work independently, the misnomer known as 'lazy teaching.' By only having a single outcome and focusing on the core geographic issues at hand, I have been able to simplify and gut the often wordy syllabus waffle into a series of clearly focused lessons that focus on the GEOGRAPHY & INTERCONNECTIONS between particular spaces and places.

Consequently, my teaching and learning targets for next term are to explore & evaluate:

1. A variety of main tasks (inc. advs & disadvs of each method) - reflecting on what went well & how we would change it, if we had to deliver it again.

2. Assessment for learning strategies/techniques - Investigating what they are, how they work and how best to apply them and to what situations and classes.

3. To make key skills and key terms a core part of our teaching across all of the curriculum levels.