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18th June 2004 at 01:00
Re-presenting Geography

By Liz Taylor

Chris Kington Publishing, pound;35

Aspects of Teaching Secondary Geography: Perspectives on Practice

Edited by Maggie Smith

Routledge Falmer, pound;19.99

Liz Taylor's innovative look at secondary geography should be on every department's list of essentials. The thinking behind it would stretch even the most forward looking department as this is an authoritative curriculum, lesson planning and assessment guide rolled into one. It could even be a coherent professional development programme. It combines the latest thinking in the teaching of geography with inspiring ideas about how to motivate and engage.

Re-presenting Geography sets out to provoke thinking, discussion and action, and to challenge teachers to produce more worthwhile and thoughtful sequences of lessons. Can a sense of place be taught and if so, whose perspectives are being brought to bear? How can we use images and film in a critical way to examine geographical concepts? Why are certain images of places used to market food? Does fieldwork have to limit itself to measurement and observation of physical phenomena, especially in an area of outstanding natural beauty? How do people respond emotionally to landscapes and places? How do you then design enquiries, written work and assessment activities around these concepts?

All these questions are examined with clarity and authority, within a framework that gives teachers examples of how to adapt the ideas for themselves. To read references to the original sources for such widely used ideas as "a sense of place" and "assessment for learning" is a real relief and demonstrates a welcome authenticity, given the amount of times these terms are bandied about and misinterpreted.

At the heart of this book is the idea that students should be engaged through a series of challenging and intriguing enquiries, which if planned systematically by a department could last a whole year or key stage.

Teachers are also given the challenge of designing pieces of extended writing, a skill often developed in English and history, but traditionally neglected in geography. Teachers reading the book can certainly rediscover the art of curriculum planning, an activity that has been under threat for the past decade. Liz Taylor has certainly represented a very enticing vision of geography.

Aspects of Teaching Secondary Geography supports the Open University's flexible postgraduate certificate in education. It is aimed at anyone training to teach geography and brings together the considered view of the geographical world on teaching the subject. Most of the book is devoted to issues relating to geography in and out of the classroom. There is relatively little that could be applied to teaching geography post-16, apart from chapters on the new A-level specifications and the subject's contribution to vocational courses. Other sections deal with geography in the secondary curriculum, geography in the 21st century, as well as research geography and professional development.

Many contributions have been published elsewhere, one as long ago as 1986, and inevitably show their age. Many of the more current chapters are taken from the Geographical Association's journal Teaching Geography and it is useful for aspiring teachers to find such words of wisdom in one place. The sections on assessment in practice, for example, cover the latest thinking about the purposes of marking students' work and are genuinely thought provoking.

David Leat's ground-breaking work on thinking skills and their assessment has influenced a generation of geography teachers as well as being taken up in other areas of the curriculum. John Morgan's contribution on geography and race, which was specifically commissioned for this volume, is a timely reminder to prospective teachers that "what counts as geographical knowledge is never 'innocent'. It has been produced by particular people under particular circumstances and, as teachers, we need to be aware of this."

Morgan illustrates his argument by analysis of the conceptual shortcomings of some school geography teaching and, in particular, the values in some popular textbooks. These are challenging ideas and provide a welcome link between the development of the subject in higher education and what is going on in schools. Such critical analysis is vital if geography teachers in the classroom of tomorrow are going to arrive with the sense of moral purpose required to engage students.

Andy Schofield is head of Varndean School, Brighton

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