Check out the lie of the land
Investing in a set of key stage 3 textbooks is expensive. It also reduces the money available to widen the range of resources. When textbooks are overused, they may limit students' progress by presenting the subject more narrowly than is necessary or desirable. So first decide whether you want to go down the core text route at all.
If you do - and it is clear that a well-chosen textbook mediated by the teacher and supplemented by other resources will support good geography - here are some points to look out for:
* Does the series build on achievement at key stage 2?
After six years of primary geography much should be expected of children entering secondary school - it is unacceptable to assume they know nothing.Key stage 3 work often starts from too low a base.
* Does the content mirror pupils' progression through years 7, 8 and 9?
A key stage 3 series should allow for progression in skills and understanding as reflected by the level descriptions. Breadth of cover needs to be balanced by some in-depth work.
* Does it meet the needs of the full ability range?
This is a tall order. Some texts are insufficiently challenging for able pupils, setting too many tasks which involve simple transfer of information. Look for open-ended assignments and tasks which call on higher order skills.
* Does it support core skills?
Pupils need to use a varied writing range, to read extended text, and sometimes to write at length. Content should also support lots of work using and applying number, and developing applications in information technology.
* Does it support good assessment practice?
A textbook series should provide a good range of assessment activities. Are there opportunities for oral assessment, project work, presentation, display and fieldwork? Or is the level of attainment narrowly linked to end-of-unit tests?
* Is the series well presented?
Are photographs and diagrams clear, sharp and of reasonable size? Is there clear signposting through the book and within chapters? Can resource materials be used in combination? The best results are often achieved when pupils work with more than one resource.
* Does it cover the key stage fully and accurately?
Is there a representative sample of places and scales; are mapping and investigative skills developed; is content, particularly statistical material, up to date?
* Does it support the teacher as well as the pupil?
Nearly one third of key stage 3 geography lessons are taught by non-specialists. However conscientious and well-prepared, they may lack the sureness of touch to stray far from the text. Does the series recognise this by indicating worthwhile extension or homework activities?
Any series about to enter the market is unlikely to match precisely the revised Order for year 2000. This alone reinforces the need for departments to use textbooks to support their own teaching programmes. Three new series (reviewed right) have made genuine attempts to address the criticisms of earlier publications, highlighted in the QCA's Analysis of Key Stage 3 Geography Textbooks (1997). The standard is high; and all these books should have a positive influence on geography at key stage 3.
Roger Carter is president of the Geographical Association
Pupil's Book Pounds 7.99, Teacher's Book Pounds 49.99.
Geography Direct targets pupils of middle to lower ability (the lower 60 per cent) so the text and tasks anticipate levels of achievement broadly in the range 2 to 5 with some extension work in the copymasters.
As a result, the core text is thinner and there is more focus on varied source material.
There are plenty of activities which involve re-presenting material through lower level tasks. Activities are organised with an increasing difficulty allowing for more open-ended responses towards completion. Where these are included a wider resource range may be necessary to support them.
The series comprises three pupil's books, each with a set of photocopiable teacher's resources. The pupil's books are attractively presented. Units are developed through double-page, lesson-sized spreads, each of which begins with a key question.
Headings are clear and helpful, although in some cases the spreads have a rather cluttered appearance. Support for the teacher in the resource pack is excellent and the audit of coverage and difficulty levels is very thorough.
Six titles covering physical geography, meteorology, economics and ecology.
Pupil's books Pounds 4.99 each. Teacher's resources Pounds 39.99 each.
Hodder Geography offers an integrated course for a wide ability range. The pupil's books suggest a strong thematic thrust, with an investigative approach which often pursues the content through issues. Careful editing has ensured good cross-referencing and consistent overall standards of presentation and content.
South Africa and Germany are studied in some depth through content developed in the place unit as well as permeating the themes books. Other places are used more sparsely to illustrate a pattern or process, but they are at least real places, varied in type and scale, with a welcome proportion of global work.
The teacher's resource book is good on assessment practice - there is a clear rationale and advice - with varied and differentiated tasks. Items are identified as suitable for homework, group or oral work, fieldwork and ICT applications. The series is designed to be used flexibly; each theme is presented with increasing complexity.
Guidance suggests how the books can be used consecutively, integrated with place work, or divided into sections which pupils revisit through the key stage. This is a well conceived series, bright, fresh and well illustrated. There is scope to make it work for you, although it does rather depend on commitment to the whole package.
By John Widdowson.
Pupil's book Pounds 8.99, Teacher's book Pounds 35.
The John Murray 11 - 14 geography project Earth-works is designed to cover the full programme of study; books 2 and 3 for Years 8 and 9 will be published next year.
Book 1 provides good evidence of the scope and intentions of the full series. The series targets a wide ability range and links with John Murray's geography special needs support materials, which have been available for some time.
There is guidance on using the material as a course, teaching each unit in sequence, or as part of a school designed programme, taking care to develop progression. The books offer six units per year, one for each half term throughout the key stage. There is scope to develop some aspects in greater depth since activities are well graded and structured with good ideas for extension.
The teacher's book contains useful advice on planning, differentiating, delivering and assessing geography. The pupil's book will be attractive to many youngsters; it is well-illustrated and full of stimulating ideas, some of which are very suitable for homework, since they don't depend on taking the books home.
Throughout key stage 3, pupils should become more confident in undertaking geographical investigations. Earthworks is particularly strong on supporting teachers and pupils in developing such inquiries.