Smoother path, shared horizons
The publication of Foundation Geography in Action is an important milestone in the development of geography textbooks. These three additions to the series, intended for lower ability pupils, can be used alongside the original or as an independent course in its own right.
Geography in Action was published in 1995 with the advantage of being written to match the revised version of the national curriculum, and reflecting a good deal of current thinking on teaching and learning styles. The original series of books was thoughtful, with a refreshing topicality and originality.
Each of the Foundation pupil books has identical content to the earlier books in the series, which ensures that both foundation and mainstream could be used simultaneously in the same classroom. Each page is laid out in a similar format to the mainstream books and identical photographs are used. This is important if lower attaining pupils are not to be faced with inferior products.
The main changes are the enlarged and simplified text and modified tasks. In general, this works very well. There are a few places where tasks which are notoriously difficult for lower attaining pupils have slipped through. For example, in book 2 pupils are asked to copy and then add to a 3-D diagram of a tropical coastline. However, this sort of task is the exception.
The new tasks in the Foundation books are to make national curriculum geography more accessible without undermining pupils' self-esteem. The quality of the original series persists in that lower attaining pupils are still expected to do worthwhile and at times open-ended activities.
The authors claim not to have compromised the integrity of the subject matter, and this is overwhelmingly the case. Simplifications such as "Rich countries can be found in the North. Poor countries can be found in the South" in book 1 are thankfully few.
Each of the original books in the series was accompanied by an extensive teacher's resource guide, including copymasters at three levels of difficulty - support, development and extension. The Foundation series also includes accompanying copymasters for each textbook, which could be useful in supplementing the support materials already published.
The original series was written by a large team of authors, whereas the Foundation series textbooks and copymasters are all written by Miranda Ashwell. This may well make the series more coherent. Departments using it will still need to think hard about some of the more problematic issues relating to progression, assessment and the use of level descriptors.
The Geography in Action series was a welcome addition to the range of new books available to geography teachers. If the Foundation series improves accessibility to national curriculum geography for lower attaining pupils, as well as stimulating teachers to think about the way teaching and learning is structured, it will have done a valuable job.
Andy Schofield is deputy head of Varndean School, Brighton