When everyone benefits

18th November 1994 at 00:00
Developing a broad curriculum for pupils with a wide range of learning difficulties will help all pupils, says Judy Sebba.

Greater access and ach-ievement have been provided in geography through effective planning, teaching and assessment. Far from watering down the curriculum, this process has involved creativity, flexibility and rigour. In some schools it has shown that developing effective teaching for pupils with a wide range of difficulties is likely to benefit all pupils.

A significant feature of this work is the use of teaching approaches which enable every pupil to experience geography, many pupils to achieve in geography and some pupils to achieve skills identified as their individual priorities in areas other than geography within the context of a geography-based activity. The examples given here will illustrate this distinction.

Class 4 at George Hastwell School in Cumbria has nine pupils aged 14-19 years whose difficulties range from moderate to profound and multiple. Recent geography teaching has included pupils recording on video their own weather forecasts; a project on the use of local trunk road involving interviews with lorry drivers about their loads, destinations and travel times; work on occupations including "A day in the life of. . ." the headteacher, a local farmer and others, linked to a project on careers; a local study on employment including the toilet roll factory; and links with schools in different parts of the world using an electronic mail system. A specific link was developed with a school in Norway with which detailed information about the area, maps, biographies and photographic material have been exchanged.

A project on dwellings was undertaken which included looking at homes around the world and work about their own homes. In this context some pupils explored why they live where they do. The class then opened an "estate agent" compiling details to display in the shop window. Paul's house details have been produced using a writing with symbols program on the computer, with support from the teacher. Pupils compared their details and explored preferences and opinions.

This project covered some geographical skills (direction, map use, identification of geographical features), human geography (use of buildings, similarities and differences between localities) environmental geography (likes and dislikes about their environment) and place geography (address, location on map).

This breadth and balance might have been more difficult to achieve had the group included pupils with additional visual difficulties for whom geography presents particularly acute accessing issues. While all pupils in the group experienced some geography, some achieved specific understanding or skills in geography, and others with profound and multiple learning difficulties pursued their individual priorities such as single-switch use on the computer or mobility in the context of geography including fieldwork.

John Smeaton Community High School in Leeds is an "inclusive" school providing mainstream education for pupils with diverse needs including visual, hearing, physical and severe learning difficulties. The learning support staff and subject specialists work together to ensure that in geography, as in other subjects, pupils can participate in subject lessons.

Some pupils' work demonstrates that high expectations in geography can be met when appropriate teaching approaches are used. Furthermore, many pupils have the opportunity to pursue their individual priorities in reading, writing, speaking, listening, number and information technology within the context of geographical activities.

For the teachers of pupils in key stage 3 described in these examples, the revision to the geography curriculum has been particularly helpful. Following the final Dearing report an attempt has been made to create greater access to earlier levels in later key stages. Furthermore, where necessary, teachers can select material from programmes of study from an earlier key stage "to enable individual pupils to progress and demonstrate achievement". This flexibility, which is in all the subject Orders, protects pupil entitlement while eliminating the need for modifications or disapplications. It does, however, inevitably lead to the need for more enlightened teaching approaches.

These examples demonstrate that effective geography teaching for pupils with identified learning difficulties involves the best features of geography teaching in general.

These include seeking relevance by using pupils' own experiences and interests, using a variety of teaching methods and sources, video, photographs, direct experience through fieldwork, stories, games visitors and group work.

Access to activities can be in-creased by using total communication systems (Braille, signing, symbols) and information technology. Every opportunity is taken to introduce geographical language across the curriculum and above all, to ensure the requirements of the Code of Practice are met by providing opportunities to address pupils' individual priorities (which may not be geographical) within a geographical context. Pupils with identified learning difficulties should benefit from these strategies and the quality of learning for all should be improved.

o More ideas and examples from primary, secondary and special schools on teaching geography to pupils with diverse needs are described in Geography for All by Judy Sebba just published by David Fulton Judy Sebba is a tutor at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Education.

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