Shaken and stirred
In the post-Dearing era, Andy Schofield finds great improvements in the content and style of textbooks. Geography in Action is a completely new series. Writing post-Dearing, the authors are able to start making sense of issues such as progression and assessment, which have proved elusive over the past few years. Geography teachers can now also be spared such dubious pleasures as the comparison between the energy resources of America and Japan.
The nine themes of the revised curriculum form the basic structure for the series. This content improves greatly on the superficial dash through topics which has become an unfortunate feature of geography textbooks in recent years. Two chapters in each book are also given over to an in-depth look at certain countries - the US, Bangladesh, Kenya, Spain, Japan and Brazil.
The topicality of the series is illustrated by a case-study of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, with guidance in the support material on how to use the Internet for further research.
Satellite images, mostly with alpha-numeric scales for ease of interpretation, are included but not as widely used as they might be. Several Pacific-centred maps make a major contribution to challenging Eurocentric viewpoints. An Ordnance Survey map of Jersey, along with Japanese, Spanish and Nigerian map extracts are other plus points.
Small globes accompany each case study, enabling pupils to place it immediately in the world. Talking heads with speech bubbles, so beloved of geography textbook writers, make occasional appearances, but do not dominate.
The double-page spread format is used creatively, with a good deal of continuity between each section.
This series is actually much more than three textbooks. The extensive teacher's resource packs include more than 40 thoughtful pages on planning and assessing the geography curriculum - all in relation to the new Orders. The many copymasters are coded at three levels of difficulty (support, development and extension). Each pack finishes with a section on using IT and a guide to the availability of video and CD-Roms. Departments which struggled with the original national curriculum might find this guidance very helpful as the basis for a revised departmental handbook.
The authors have written numerous short assessment activities, accompanied by level of response mark schemes. They have also made a valuable attempt to relate these levels to progression in relation to skills and under-standing. These ideas will provide a good basis for departments looking to further their work on internal moderation and portfolios of evidence. This is the sort of thinking that should have been applied to the development of the national curriculum in geography from the start.
The Geography Today books remain unaltered from the previous national curriculum editions. This is presumably good news for departments where the books are in use and further copies need to be bought. There have been some changes to the teachers's resources which accompany each volume, as well as some new copymasters, which the publishers recommend teachers should buy.
One can't help feeling that an opportunity has been missed here, as the teacher's resources are only slightly updated. Each unit now contains guidance on assessment opportunities, with some rudimentary advice on levels of response. However, there is no attempt to tie this into curriculum and assessment planning in relation to the revised national curriculum. There is now a brief section on using information technology. However, the general guidance to departments, though still extremely important in terms of approaches to teaching and learning, remains essentially unchanged.
The series is already familiar to geography teachers and widely used. It has been praised for its success in ordinary mixed-ability classrooms. It provides clarification of values and attitudes in an accessible way. That said, the series itself cannot avoid looking slightly dated in terms of presentation and content.
Book 1 was first published in 1992. The original series even pre-dates that. In general the series now suffers from some of the design faults of the original national curriculum. It tries to get through too much, often superficially. For example, the landforms associated with river valleys are covered on one page (Book 1, page 25). This series is also notable for its ubiquitous talking heads.
Departments which have already invested in Geography Today will probably continue to make very good use of it. The limited extent of this most recent up-date, however, is unlikely to attract a new market.
Andy Schofield is deputy head of Varndean School, Brighton.