Drawn to distant places

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Jonathan Barnes explains why a fieldwork notebook is an essential tool for learning in geography - for pupils and teachers

I am a geographer largely because I loved art at school. Maps, diagrams, blue-crayon oceans around complex coastlines, and field sketches drew me to a subject which remains highly visual even today. Love for drawing and passion for places came together in my fieldwork notebooks. These visual diaries, with their rain-spotted sketches and notes, ensured an emotional engagement with place, and have become a valuable aid to reflection and record of much revisited data.

Canterbury Christ Church University College has been running study tours to India for the past five years, and I have encouraged the primary student teachers on these visits to keep fieldwork notebooks. Looking back on their work, I have concluded that these largely visual journals form a vital element in engaging with environments and places.

Research at Canterbury has shown that fieldwork, especially when it takes place in the developing world, has a life-changing effect on teachers of the future. The experience helps challenge stereotypes built up from years of one-sided tv and press coverage.

Students become powerfully aware that there is human reality behind the geography of distant places, and other ways of organising life and making sense of the world.

A fieldwork notebook encourages students to take time to observe and draw, list, keep tallies, transcribe conversations, sketch plans or routes. And it gives students time to pause and reflect, resulting in new understanding of issues to do with race, difference and inclusion.

So, along with the anti-malarial tablets, camera and minimal baggage, our trainee teachers cram a hardback sketchbook into their rucksacks, with the following simple directions: lUse the notebook daily to keep a visual journal of your trip; include drawings, notes, reflections, lists, poems, tallies, surveys, plans, maps and diagrams when possible.

lAdd tickets, bills, leaves, packaging and other flat local artefacts which help capture the place.

lGuard it with your life, because it will have multiple uses for memory jogging, lesson planning, activity-sheet design and schemes of work.

Fieldwork notebooks can be used with primary school children with equal successful. For example, the illustrations in the box below were produced for a recent Year 5 unit of work involving a local monument set in a quiet meadow between two rivers at the centre of a thriving city.

Jonathan Barnes is senior lecturer in primary education, Canterbury Christ Church University College FIELDWORK NOTEBOOKS IN PRIMARY SCHOOL

* Focus on place - a key concept of geography.

* Include prompts and other structures to help pupils appreciate the detail of place from different perspectives.

* Use frequently so pupils gain a sense of their own progression in observation, mapping, field sketching and reflection.

* Emphasise the cross-curricular content in all places - notebooks can be a resource for work in many other disciplines as well as geography.

* Provide blank pages for maps, drawings, diagrams and plans.

* Add appropriate gazetteers, lists of key geographical words and key questions.

* Reinforce previously taught geographical skills by page headings: maps, plans, materials, field sketches, direction and orientation.

* Use Howard Gardner's nine intelligences to encourage children to look at a site from different perspectives: Linguistic: Wordsmiths record their observations in words, poems and prose.

Logical mathematical: Mathematicians measure, enumerate, tally and use co-ordinates.

Bodily kinaesthetic: Movement artists work on body shapes, movements, games and dances arising from the site.

Musical: Musicians listen for sounds and find musical patterns in the detail of the place.

Spatial:"Thinkers in space" make maps, plans and conjectural drawings.

Intra-personal: "Lone thinkers" are allowed to take an introspective view.

Inter-personal: Artist teams plan and resource an exhibition about the site.

Naturalist: Naturalists focus on the natural environment.

Spiritual or existential: Spiritual thinkers look at the wider meanings of aspects of the place.

This broad and creative approach to place may not look like traditional geography but, using insights from their notebooks, the Year 5 teacher constantly brought pupils back to the key questions of geography. Back at school, motivated by their personal commitment to their notebooks, pupils'

answers were individual, enthusiastic, rich and full. The questions will be recognised by any geographer: * What is this place like?

* How could we describe its character?

* What makes it special?

* How might we represent it visually?

* Who is involved in making this place what it is today?

* How is it changing? How could it be improved for the future?

* Where is this place in relation to others we know?

The intelligence and commitment of pupils' answers to these questions were testimony to the effectiveness of the fieldwork notebooks in their learning. Answers came quickly and passionately, they were detailed, multifaceted, involved all children and generated a huge fund of motivation for future geography.

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