How to map the road ahead

20th November 1998 at 00:00

Edited by Roger Carter.

The Geographical Association Pounds 16 (members). Pounds 24 (non members).


By John Halocha.

Falmer Press Pounds 12.95.

There's a primary school in Whitstable which appears to teach nothing but geography. It is featured in the Handbook of Primary Geography and the many photographs show the standard of work as high and the enthusiasm as great as when the school appeared in a national curriculum training video some years ago.

Certainly the Geographical Association's new handbook portrays geography as a vehicle for both the arts and sciences, and the skills of literacy and numeracy, as well as being essential preparation for tomorrow's citizens and decision-makers. The temptation to trim to reflect current government priorities is resisted. The handbook covers the full spectrum of primary geography with the aim of supporting "the best possible provision for the subject".

Many teachers will turn first to those skills and themes where they feel least secure - diagrams and maps, enquiry as a learning method, information technology, weather and climate, rivers. They will not be disappointed. The focus on classroom practice in almost every paragraph, illustrated by the many photographs of children exploring, measuring, recording and presenting should give confidence to the least knowledgeable as well as providing many opportunities for whole-school in-service.

There is a high level of practical support for topics including planning frameworks, recording sheets, questionnaires and fieldwork exercises which provide classroom tools and clear, jargon-free guidance on everything from air pressure to the use of Kenya as a locality study.

References and further reading are provided in each chapter and the resources section will be well-thumbed with its summary of map types and scales, list of textbooks, photo and video packs and addresses of organisations and suppliers. The list of 25 atlases needs annotating. Geography advisers receive more calls for advice on atlases than anything else.

The picture that emerges is of a subject which is challenging, futuristic and enjoyable. Exploring by scavenging and eyeballing and recording by rubbing and sketching reinforce the notion of a subject which is "done" rather than "taught", particularly when studying the "little geography" which is the school itself. Venturing further, teachers are helped to plan their locality studies and detailed activities matched against key questions. Planning the place studies is often a problem for co-ordinators,and advice on their scheduling in particular terms will be welcomed, as will the starting points and templates.

This is an impressive but not entirely flawless book. Inevitably with so many contributors some are better able than others to relate theoretical perspectives to classroom practice. The chapter on differentiation might have illustrated different levels of match for particular concepts and abilities. And David Hicks's exciting reconnaissance of our global future is off-set by the subject-bound chapter on environmental education. A more positive encouragement to collaborate with science, with examples of joint topic development, would have greater resonance in today's climate.

John Halochra knows what hard-pressed co-ordinators need in the geography title of Falmer's subject leader's series. Not only does he give detailed guidance on creating and structuring a policy (seen by co-ordinators as "one of the biggest jobs they have to do") but he also provides an example.There is detailed advice on what constitutes a subject portfolio, on fieldwork planning and coping with inspections: "First, take a deep breath."

This book not only covers every aspect of the work, but tells co-ordinators what they need to know, including current research. The chapter on assessment is more an overview based on the questionable premise that "colleagues will have considerable expertise in assessment". Although it raises important questions and makes some valid points, examples of assessment and recording mechanisms and reporting frameworks would have been useful.

Heads should take the initiative and order this book for their co-ordinators who often combine geography with other responsibilities and cannot easily access information about publications and resources. It will improve the management and development of the subject.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and RE in the London borough of Hounslow

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