#GeoEdChat Think Piece from David Rogers

How do you assess the development of geographic skills?

Progress and Achievement

 

Before you start, my aim with this post is to provoke and ask more questions.  I’m not an expert, and I don’t even have a beard….

We all work within the confines of formal examination systems, but how do you develop geographical skills as well as knowledge and understanding?  If you choose to develop skills, which skills are developed?  What are the informed by? Why those skills?  How do you identify and measure skill progression?  How are these skills taught – in isolation or embedded within a geographical context?

These questions go to the heart of what it is that makes a good geographer. In my view, the teaching of irrelevant or poorly defined skills or skills constrained toward examination technique only, are responsible for much of the bad geography lessons I have seen over the past five years.  I think that it is vital to teach skills alongside content, but how should this be done and how can it be measured?

We had the Personal Learning and Thinking Skills framework in the UK but skills without a strong geographical context is the wrong approach.  Why subject children to a ‘map skills’ unit when map skills can be developed in other ways?

Are there any skills that uniquely geographical?  We improved the quality of geographical writing at Priory by teaching in the same way as English colleagues – using the same rules and techniques. Therefore, should geography departments be making links to other parts of the curriculum to enable children move away from assimilative learning, which they then struggle to apply to other disciplines, toward transcendent learning?  Should we as ‘teachers of children’ focus on furnishing our charges with the skills needed to succeed in later life rather than subject specific skills?

At my current school, the Art department are developing a skills web, a way in which to track skills development.  Colleagues at Priory Geography have also started the process of developing this skills web.  Consider the following – are they on the right lines?  What could be added?

Skills

 

Designed by Patcham High School’s Art Department

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#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.)