Picking up the picture
Children with learning difficulties were ill-served by the original national curriculum for geography, because so much content was tied to statements of attainment at particular levels. Low attaining pupils suffered most from the speed with which they were taken through content in a frantic effort to cover the ground. Teachers in special schools found difficulty in connecting the programme to the needs of their pupils. And publishers found the Order equally mystifying, sometimes reducing content to narrow, instrumental tasks which understated the richness and joy of the subject.
The revised curriculum, it is claimed, will make programmes of study more accessible to less able pupils and these Special Needs Support Materials, with guidance notes, work sheets and photopack, are a very welcome attempt to "do less better".
The pack is the first of three which together offer a full and varied geography experience at key stage 3, suitable for a wide range of pupils with learning difficulties. Together they aim to provide a range of flexible schemes of work to suit most classroom situations.
A route is sketched out for pupils with severe reading difficulties which rests largely on the picture stimulus materials. Alternatively the resource pack and pictures may be used as a free-standing course, or to supplement an existing course by providing additional support.
The materials are thoughtfully constructed. Worksheets are not condescending or trivial. They get pupils into a range of activities, working individually, in pairs or groups, or as a whole class. Attention is given to a variety of writing with scope to draft, write for different audiences, and retain some ownership of learning through open-ended tasks.
I like the structured support provided by the worksheets, which always contain a unit title, a well-defined objective, and vocabulary support. The text is clear and not wordy, and the sheets combine to enable themes to build sequentially. A coding system enables teachers to differentiate further by extension, alternative approach, or more accessible underpinning.
Of course there are problems with any unmediated text series. Pupils need to connect learning to their own lives and people and places familiar to them. More prompts in that direction would have made the resources even more accessible. The tight structure of the worksheets, though supportive, may inhibit opportunities for pupils to develop their own questions and explore their attitudes to them.
In total the three resource packs will not, however, come cheap. Although the worksheets are photocopiable the excellent photographs are not. Nevertheless both author and publisher are to be congratulated on supporting a full and varied experience of geography at key stage 3 for pupils with special educational needs.