#GeoEdChat 10 with Stephen Matthews (@srmdrummer): Are traditional #skills in geography still useful?

A variety of skills

Most geography educators would probably agree that skills are woven into the fabric of geography; skills in the classroom and skills in the field, as well as skills involved generally in geographical inquiry. Often, it is inquiry that is used to organise how skills are articulated in school geography, as seen for example, from National Geographic or in the newly released Australian Curriculum: Geography. In other places, skills are formed into lists or other categories in their own right, as for example, from the NZ Ministry of Education. Regardless of how they are organised, it would be fair to say that, across these categories of skills, we would encounter some skills that would be termed as ‘traditional’. This raises some questions:

  • What might be considered the traditional skills of geography?
  • Are these traditional skills as relevant and useful as they always have been?
  • Are the more contemporary skills that are emphasised today more about employing modern tools and technologies to do ‘traditional’ things?
  • Is there a case for ensuring that students are able to utilise traditional skills in the traditional, as well as contemporary ways?

There are some, however, who would argue that skills have been, or are overly-emphasised in some school curricula at the expense of other important aspects. When UK education secretary Michael Gove initiated the review of the National Curriculum a couple of years ago, he was critical of a “lack of facts and vital knowledge” in many areas of the curriculum. We might consider whether a focus on skills, especially when not in the context of content, a good idea? Does the ‘knowledge turn’ potentially affect the quality of skills teaching in geography?

As the Australian Curriculum: Geography* was under development, there was early criticism that skills at the primary level expected too much of essentially non-specialist teachers. More recently, questions have been raised about the lack of specificity in skills, with fieldwork and the sequential development of skills using geospatial technologies not technically included in the Curriculum’s mandatory ‘Content Descriptions’. This has undoubtedly come about because the Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority (ACARA) required inquiry and skills to be combined in a single strand with generic inquiry as the organising structure. Having said this, is there the risk of creating potentially vast ‘checklists’ of skills to be covered in a curriculum? Should choices about how and when particular skills are covered be left solely for teachers to determine?

Where, then is the balance in teaching skills in geography to be found? Traditional versus contemporary, stand-alone versus integrated, explicit versus implicit, and so on. Has geography moved past the need to teach traditional skills or are there other imperatives? Join us for the next #GeoEdChat to share your views on skills in geography via Twitter on Wednesday, 5 June, or if you can’t make it, leave your replies here.

(* Declaration: This blogger was involved as a writer of the Australian Curriculum: Geography but the views expressed here are his views are his own.)

Advertisements

One thought on “#GeoEdChat 10 with Stephen Matthews (@srmdrummer): Are traditional #skills in geography still useful?

  1. Excellent piece, Stephen. I think you are raising some valid concerns. I always loved drawing graphs, maps, doing cross-sections etc., so on a personal level I think teaching skills is very important:) My feeling is that students develop a deeper understanding of the things when they do it for themselves. This is also what the students themselves have told me. So I regularly make my students draw climographs, maps and diagrams by hand in class. I also insist they have a decent base of knowledge (i.e. names of oceans, continents, countries, cities, weather, directions). I know we can “Google” all these things, but I’m convinced that “Googling” unnecessary information is very distracting for modern students. It’s distracting for not so modern students as well!

    The other side of this is that skills will come up on exams (whether NCEA, IGCSE, IB) and so are important in terms of gaining a good grade. On another level though, is the notion that these skills are part of the essence of what Geography is. That is, literally, writing about or describing the earth. If we don’t teach these skills I think we are losing ways of describing, explaining, understanding the earth.

    I hope that makes sense!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s