Planning with the national curriculum at key stage 3

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2. Planning approaches

One approach to curriculum planning is set out in the figure below. This is based on a circle because, although the most logical approach might seem to involve starting with aims (1) and finishing with assessment strategy (5) and schemes of work or lesson plans (6), we do not always have to follow such a linear sequence. Curriculum planning is not a 'cut and dried' process, but more of a dialogue between the teacher, the subject (geography) and the students. Many excellent curriculum plans result from the inspiration provided by a new resource or the flash of creativity. But each of these stages needs to be covered in some way, in order to provide an appropriate curriculum for students.

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Journal article

Martin F (2014) Interpreting and implementing the 2014 national curriculum, Teaching Geography (Spring 2014) vol 39, pps.14-15 - in this article Fred Martin summarises the key features of the geography Programmes of Study and suggests how they can be interpreted and implemented to achieve high quality teaching and learning in the subject.

The process of curriculum development also applies to schemes of work covering anything from two or three lessons to a half-tem or term. The GA's KS3 Geography Teacher's Toolkit series provides guidance at this level, and these exemplify some important general principles about planning a scheme of work.

The importance of enquiry

Scheme-of-work planning is often best focused around enquiry. Geographical enquiry is an active process of investigation in which young people are fully engaged. Enquiry work can and should include open-ended activities in which students are independently discovering things for themselves as well as more tightly teacher controlled activities, and a full range of more or less structured approaches in between. The diagram below represents a teaching-learning continuum showing activities that are closely teacher-directed to those in which the student has control. Whether the teaching and learning situation is one of exposition/response (e.g. a teacher explaining an idea to the class) or creative activity with minimum support (e.g. students carrying out an independent project or piece of creative writing) it may be described as enquiry if the activity is oriented towards answering questions, opening up problems and issues and moving towards general principles and solutions, with the teacher managing and organising an appropriate range of teaching and learning experiences.

A suitably-framed enquiry is the most powerful vehicle for developing geographical knowledge and understanding, and is not simply a ‘bolt on’ for skills development. An enquiry approach helps us to select suitable content and appropriate geographical questions in order to tackle an issue or theme in a distinctly geographical way.

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Questions are fundamental to enquiry. Margaret Roberts goes so far as to say that "the value of an academic subject lies in the extent to which it answers questions we are interested in." Although explicit references to enquiry are absent from the National Curriculum, it does contain numerous references to enquiry-related skills, such as data collection, analysis, interpretation and communication. The challenge for teachers of geography is therefore to find ways in which the content of this latest curriculum can be expressed in the form of suitably challenging and engaging questions. Good enquiry questions:

  • capture the interest and imagination of students
  • place an aspect of subject-specific thinking at the forefront of the mind
  • result in tangible, lively, substantial, enjoyable ‘outcome activities’.

More on questioning geography.

So questions that students can relate to, are beginning to pose themselves, want to know the answer to or that allow them to develop their geographical thinking are all more likely to be successful in the classroom. Fortunately, there is no shortage of options available. For example, the GA’s manifesto for geography, A different view, is a good source of geographical questions about our identity and our place in the world (p.21).

The table below provides a useful template for incorporating enquiry into schemes of work. It is not intended to imply a rigid sequence of questions that must always be taken in full. Sometimes it may be appropriate to start from an interim point (e.g. by envisaging the future or predicting the impact of a development). Some approaches to enquiry may require missing out one or more steps (e.g. decision-making) or undertaking a smaller enquiry loop using only two or three steps (e.g. when carrying out a structured teacher-led piece of work analysing some photographs or statistics). Some pieces of work may not follow an enquiry route at all, but merely focus on some serious and critical questioning of a situation or definition. However, the template has the benefit of reminding us about the kind of questions geographers ask and the kinds of ideas and processes they explore.

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