Curriculum Geography Teaching

There’s a TAXI… with PICTURES on it!

Hothfield Common

“OMG, There’s a TAXI… with PICTURES on it!”

This was a response from a pupil on a visit to London as recorded by @RantingTeacher who was trying to shepherd a group safely across the road at the time. It triggered a response that urban children react in similar ways when confronted for the first time with sheep in fields etc. I recall a PE teacher keeping a mini-bus full of young people busy by telling them to look out for signs to Wembley – on a two-hour journey. I had been thinking about learners with very close and limited horizons as I heard about all the Iceland trips taking place either side and during the Easter holiday. Such visits provide a great experience of some of the most gee-whiz geography on the planet: memorable and character-forming.

Having worked on global learning and development issues it has often arisen that the connections need to be made with children’s own experiences. Otherwise, interdependence is just another difficult word to be dropped into an exam answer. Although the school curriculum asks to look at differences and similarities between places we know the differences are usually made more explicit than similarities. It is, perhaps, harder to make connections with our commonalities.

Even in terms of pupils’ understanding of their local environment there is little we can take for granted. What proportion of 12 year-olds have used public transport? On their own? Have they seen and thought about geographically

  • a young river and/or estuary
  • a manufacturing plant
  • large and small retail facilities
  • different coastal features
  • intensive farming methods
  • modern housing development
  • ‘natural’ landscapes?

Clearly, each of these experiences would have associated knowledge (or core knowledge) such as their named example and terminology to exhibit specific understanding. However, there is greater value in the implications of the first-hand experience in contributing to a broad and balanced curriculum. And there is support for this from a, perhaps, surprising source:

“Hirsch … makes an important distinction between extensive curriculum, which is the domain of cultural literacy and intensive curriculum where topics and issues “are studied in greater depth and where more choice and flexibility are possible.” (Smith, 1994, p. 26) Those who criticize Hirsch on grounds of superficiality and his focus on rote memorization seem not to have grasped the key distinction that Hirsch makes between the two types of curriculum since Hirsch is not stating that intensive curriculum is superfluous; what he is arguing, instead, is that both “extensive” and “intensive” curriculum are indispensable to students’ attainment of a well-rounded education. While the former provides the general cultural framework (i.e. schemata), the latter allows for depth of understanding and sophistication in a more flexible and freer context by focusing on a set of specific texts. In fact, according to Hirsch, the twin curricula should be viewed as complementary rather than competitive or exclusive.”

Source: Shamshayooadeh, George (2011) ‘Cultural Literacy in the New Millennium: Revisiting E.D. Hirsch’ International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Vol. 1 No. 8; July 2011
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I am grateful to Phil Wood (@geophil) for re-tweeting this reference.

In trying to accommodate the ‘knowledge turn’ for National Curriculum 2014 we must not lose sight of the intensive curriculum. Even Hirsch would agree that a core knowledge curriculum is a half-baked curriculum.

Cross-reference posts: Climate change and National Curriculum 2014.