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Teacher as author;Geography;Subject of the week;Interview;Simon Chapman

The first in an occasional series about teachers who write textbooks

Writing textbooks evolves out of the inadequacies you see in what is available for the courses you are teaching. For me, it came out of a discussion with a geography colleague at Haberdashers' Aske's school, Elstree, about what we'd like to see for our key stage 3 pupils.

High quality resource material is essential for both key stage 3 and GCSE, and particularly at key stage 3 you need enquiry-based exercises related to that. The Oxford Geography Programme was written in 1990, with enquiry very much in mind.

We found that teachers were using textbooks as a basis for writing their own worksheets and documents, and very few textbooks tried to construct a course. The national curriculum was helpful in that it gave textbooks more structure and focus - although that could be frustrating for the writer when things you'd liked doing in class, such as plate tectonics, couldn't be worked into the curriculum.

A textbook should never be depended on as the only resource. But geography textbooks today are much better at providing a structured course and stimulating activities for pupils, promoting effective teaching and enabling teachers to plan better. Design and graphics have also improved: books have colour spreads throughout, and can include satellite and ordnance survey pictures - compared with the old format of two columns of text and a few pictures.

As the writer, you get the satisfaction of designing your own course to use in the classroom. The frustrations are that publishers are now wary of bringing out something very new or different, and so textbooks tend to rework the same material. This makes it hard for schools to choose between them, and as a result many schools stick with what they've already got.

Simon Chapman was talking to Diana Hinds

Simon Chapman is head of geography at Warwick School. He is author of the 'Oxford Geography Programme' (for key stage 3), and the 'Complete Oxford Geography' (for GCSE), both published by OUP

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