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From intent to implementation: curriculum making

“A successful geography curriculum reflects teachers’ careful thought about what is to be taught, the rationale for it, the sequencing of learning and the relationships between the forms of knowledge. With this in place, pupils are likely to know, remember and be able to do more.”

Ofsted Research Review Series: Geography 2021

Topics on this page:

  • Curriculum making as a creative process
  • The key decisions
  • A toolkit for curriculum making
  • Teachers’ advice on geography curriculum making
  • Curriculum making and GeoCapabilities
  • Curriculum artefacts
  • Review and refine
  • Assessing the impact of the curriculum
  • Ongoing curriculum review
  • Reading

Introduction

The Geographical Association describes curriculum making as a creative process. It is about interpreting an examination specification or the National Curriculum and turning it into an engaging and challenging sequence of teaching and learning. 

It offers teachers a good deal of freedom and they should grasp the opportunity to bring the curriculum to life and make it exciting for the students to learn and the teachers to teach. Refer to the diagram below that shows curriculum making as described by the GA.

Curriculum making diagram

As the diagram shows, when a department creates a geography curriculum designed for its students, it can take advantage of all the opportunities available within the school, the local area and further afield. 

It can ensure they the best use is made of the specialist expertise and interests of the teachers. The third element, the subject discipline, provides the curriculum content. Kinder and Owens (2019) identify curriculum making as drawing on ‘the rich resources offered by the subject discipline, specialist ped­agogies and students’ own experiences’.

Teachers decide what they teach, what depth and breadth is required and how they teach it. At key stage 3, teachers must translate the expectations from the DfE and into their curriculum to make the content subject-rich, challenging and rigorous.

There is more detail for expectations post 14, but examination specifications are not the same as the curriculum. Schools should exploit the potential to link key stage 3 with GSCE and again with A level, to provide coherence in geographical content and help students to develop better in-depth understanding across the whole of the secondary phase.

It is a good idea to do find out how other teachers have met the challenge of curriculum making. The reading list at the end of this page is a good place to start.

Curriculum making as a creative process

Curriculum making builds from the curriculum intent, agreed by the department, and the fundamentals and principles that have been agreed for the geography curriculum design. 

The curriculum plan will focus on the longer-term goals and provide the big picture of what students will learn over each key stage. The day-to-day planning of lessons and sequences of lessons (scheme of work) will use the curriculum plan as the framework.

The diagram above shows the curriculum making model, as discussed by Lambert and Morgan (2010). It will help you to visualise curriculum making and the elements involved, which should all be in balance with each other:

  • Students’ experiences: their curiosities, interest, experiences and spatial encounters, which are very different to those of adults.
  • Teaching/pedagogy: teachers draw on their knowledge and understanding of the subject and their professional understanding of teaching to support students’ learning geography.
  • Geography the subject: the subject is recognised as the ‘resource’ around which learning occurs.
  • Watch and listen to David Lambert’s answer to the question, What is Curriculum Making?‘.

Once a department has researched about good curriculum design, knowledge-rich teaching and progression in geographical learning, they will assemble together lots of ideas and examples to use in making their curriculum. This wheel sets out the stages to follow.

Curriculum making diagram

The key decisions

Curriculum making involves these key decisions to be made:

  • What topics will be taught – and in what sequence? How will these be adapted for all students and the local area.
  • What activities and experiences will be provided – and in what topics will these occur?
  • What different teaching and learning experiences will be used?
  • How will students’ progress be assessed and reported?
  • What resources will be required? How will they be sourced?
Geography is a broad subject and incorporates as much from the natural sciences as the social sciences. Therefore, the structure of a geography curriculum is complex. Teachers have to carefully select what content to include so that students learn about the full scope of the subject.

 

A geography curriculum should be planned so that students build their knowledge within each topic as well as over a series of topics. The aims of each topic must be carefully defined so that there is a clear ambition, and students should have opportunities to apply what they have learned.

teachers need to identify both the content (substantive knowledge) to be taught and the knowledge of relationships that enable pupils to understand how ideas are connected (disciplinary knowledge). They also need to identify when to teach different aspects of procedural knowledge and how students would have opportunities to become more skilled in applying it. Fieldwork should be planned as an integral part of the curriculum, and at key stage 4 and 5 it should not be confined only to preparing for exam questions.

The core knowledge and key geographical concepts should be clearly articulated, and the curriculum plan should clearly indicate what students need to know, when it will be taught and when it will be returned to. It should also show where there are opportunities to practise skills and apply previously-learned knowledge.

Enquiry questions can have a positive role in curriculum planning where a topic builds towards students being able to answer a key question.

At key stage 3, plans should refer to the aims of the national curriculum as well as the substantive content. The national curriculum sets out broad areas of geography that are to be taught; it does not provide details on the specific content. For example, it lists ‘rivers’ or ‘economic activity’ but does not specify what should be taught about these topics. The key and organising concepts, like place or earth systems and scale or interconnection, that sit behind the content of the national curriculum, should be used to guide curriculum planning and how it is taught.

At key stages 4 and 5 teachers should distinguish between an exam specification, which is a list of prescribed content, and a curriculum for the key stage, which considers how this content will be sequenced, combined and built on. The curriculum at these key stages should ensure that students develop a full understanding of geography over time by making links between diverse topics e.g. how processes of glaciation interact with those of population and urbanisation. They should consider how geographical concepts run across topics and places are taught in different contexts.

 

The school geography curriculum cannot include everything, so which aspects of the discipline of geography should be included in the school curriculum and why? Roberts (2023) p 58 discusses this in ‘How does the geography curriculum represent the world?’

 
Refer to A framework for the school geography curriculum: briefing sheet. Section 4 is about school level curriculum design and suggests ways for teachers to use the GA’s curriculum framework when designing and planning their curriculum. The page references are to A framework for the school geography curriculum.
  • Look at this video about how one teacher has used the GA’s curriculum framework to provide a ‘big picture’ against which to assess why we teach what we teach.

 

A toolkit for curriculum making

The geography curriculum created by a school is unique. There is no fixed template for such an individual curriculum. The school chooses how to organise the units/modules/topics. The teachers could use places, themes, big questions – or something else altogether. The choice is theirs.

Remember that places can be studied at a range of scales – from a street to a continent. A good geography curriculum should involve the study of a range of places at a range of scales.

The Teaching Geography articles by teachers listed in Curriculum design should make it clear that there many different choices. Other teachers, who have gone through the process before, have plenty of advice, as you can see below.

  • Always start with the WHAT and the WHY of the geography to teach, not the HOW
  • Don’t forget the context – your students and school location
  • A curriculum plan will never be completed – it evolves and improves
  • Build on what you know works with your students and they respond well to
  • Be honest about what you can, and can’t do, what you understand and what confuses you – identify if/where you need help and use CPD for this
  • Put key concepts/skills on cards or post-its and move them around to construct your curriculum map
  • Focus on ‘big ideas’ – fill in the detail later
  • Work as a team on an overview, then allocate units to plan and review them together. Expect this to take time
  • Plan backwards. Think what students need to know at A level/GCSE and lay the foundations in KS3. This is very important to do for skills. 

Once a department has researched about good curriculum design, knowledge-rich teaching and progression in geographical learning, they will assemble together lots of ideas and examples to use in making their curriculum. Find this, and more ideas about curriculum making, on the GA website in Curriculum planning.

Refer to Gardner (2021) Chapters 4 and 5 for guidance on how to create a coherent geography curriculum.

This ‘toolkit’ of ideas has examples to download and dip into as a curriculum is put together.  These might answer some of the questions that arise.

A curriculum toolkit
How are we going to present our curriculum? dartboardKS3 planning templateSustainability curriculum and pathwaysExample programme KS3/4
Things to rememberLocal-globalCurriculum mapping 5-19 overview 
What building blocks can we use?National Curriculum Geography AuditToolkit gridList of mapsConcepts
What might we have forgotten?  Big pictureWhat to consider in planning?  
What do Ofsted say?Ofsted curriculum constructionEvaluating with EIFPedagogyConstructing curriculum
What do the students think?What do the students say?   
Practical examples of curriculum makingMay KS3 planKS3 plan HoveKS3 plan Soar Valley 

Curriculum making and GeoCapabilities

GeoCapabilities was a project concerned with helping geography teachers become curriculum makers and re-assess the role of geography as a subject and the importance of geographical knowledge (see Bustin (2019)). The framework shown below was used to focus thinking on powerful knowledge. In this example, it was used to brainstorm ideas for a curriculum unit on Russia.

A group of teachers completed this without reference to  the internet or resources, but drew on their own understanding of the significance of geography as a subject and what they felt young people would benefit from knowing. Different teams of geography teachers working in different schools might well develop a different set of content around the same topic, using the same column headings. Read more about this in Bustin et al (2017).

Capability approach diagram

Hesslewood (2023) explains how one department set out to design their key stage 3 geography curriculum:

Some students won’t choose geography yet have an educational right to know about the world and how it is changing (www.geocapabilities.org). In recognising this, our curriculum is designed around the PDK that enabled students to understand geographical change, but it also allows several different facets of curriculum making to become more ‘visible’: the sequencing of concepts, the use of case studies, and a focus on the knowledge that we want students to embed in their long-term memories. This also allows us to identify key ideas for assessment.

Curriculum artefacts

Curriculum making can be powerful by making effective use of curriculum artefacts. An artefact is more than a simple teaching resource. It is special enough, in geographical terms, to help students extend their existing knowledge and challenge their understanding of geographical content and concepts.

A teacher has to plan carefully to develop the artefact’s learning value so it fully accesses geographical knowledge. The artefact could be, for example, a video clip, photograph, a first-hand account, or a map. The important thing is its potential to release powerful knowledge through the curriculum. Consider how specific curriculum artefacts could empower your curriculum. Be very selective.

  • Read Biddulph et al (2020) pp 44-8 for an example of using an Irish folk song as a curriculum artefact to introduce the topic of international migration.
  • Refer to Butler’s contribution in Bustin et al (2017) to see how she used infographics and video clips in curriculum making.

Review and refine

When you have created a first draft of your curriculum, review it with these ten questions and adapt:

  • Have we remained true to our vision set out in the intent statement? Do we develop students’ cultural capital and include diverse voices?
  • Have we included a range of places studied at different scales from local to global?
  • Will students see this curriculum as relevant and interesting and want to learn geography?
  • Is there coherence between our curriculum goals, pedagogy and the assessments we propose?
  • Does the curriculum develop in a logical sequence and provide a clear journey to progressively develop conceptual understanding and skills?
  • Is there breadth of understanding? Is this at the expense of depth?
  • Have we built in opportunities to revisit, deepen and consolidate subject understanding?
  • Have we included rich fieldwork experiences that are connected to the rest of the curriculum?
  • Have we built in a secure understanding of maps, GIS, and geographical enquiry?
  • Does the curriculum address social disadvantage and ensure all students will have access to the intended knowledge and skills?

 

Assessing the impact of the curriculum

In good geography departments curriculum development is ongoing. Teachers will continually be reviewing the geographical content, teaching approaches and learning resources and deciding what to change or update. 

In order to assess the impact of the curriculum, teachers need to consider what student outcomes tell them about its appropriateness. Have students progressed towards the curriculum goals?

  • Read Hesslewood (2023), which shows how a geography department sought to evaluate the impact of the key stage 3 curriculum without a reliance on examination-based data.

Consider questions such as these to review your curriculum regularly

Short term (e.g. weekly)

  • What specific skills and knowledge are set out in the curriculum plan?
  • Are my learning objectives explicit to teach this?
  • Will all students be able to achieve it? What scaffolding is needed?
  • Are there any topical events I should consider including to ‘tweak’ the curriculum?

Medium term (e.g. every half term)

  • Do I have a clear idea of the skills and knowledge that students have developed and how successful they are at achieving the curriculum objectives?
  • What opportunities have I given for reviewing work? Should I consider more?
  • Are the students clear on the ‘big picture’ and where they are going? Am I giving them opportunities for self- and peer-assessment?

Long term (e.g. yearly)

  • How are the units working overall? Is the content developing the geography knowledge and skills that I expected?
  • How am I making links between units of work that help students to develop their geographical thinking?
  • What aspects of the curriculum plan need revising? 

The Ofsted inspection framework (2019) focusses on curriculum intent, implementation and impact and Kinder and Owen (2019) use the curriculum making diagram to consider evaluations (see diagram). Departments could seek first hand evidence e.g. from book scrutiny, student interviews, lesson observations, to find out the impact of the curriculum on students’ attainment and progress.

  • Refer to Gardner (2021) for further information on assessing curriculum impact.

Reading

  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. London: Routledge pp 44-47
  • Bustin, R. (2019) Geography Education’s Potential and the Capability Approach: GeoCapabilities and Schools, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bustin, R., Butler, K. and Hawley, D. (2017) ‘GeoCapabilities: teachers as curriculum leaders’, Teaching Geography, Spring, pp 20-1.
  • Enser, M.(2021) Powerful Geography Crown House Publishing Chapter 6
  • Enser, M., (2020) ‘Interweaving geography: retrieval, spacing and interleaving in the geography curriculum’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Gardner, D. (2021) Planning your coherent 11–16 geography curriculum: a design toolkit. Geographical Association: Sheffield. Chapter 4, 5, 7.
  • Hesselwood, A. (2023) ‘Evaluating curriculum impact: using powerful disciplinary knowledge as “waypoints”‘, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Kinder, A. (2008) ‘A teacher’s toolkit for key stage 3’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Kinder, A. and Owens, P. (2019) ‘The new Education Inspection Framework – through a geographical lens’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Lambert, D. and Morgan, J. (2010) Teaching Geography 11–18: A conceptual approach. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Rawling, E. (2022) A framework for the school geography curriculum, Sheffield: Geographical Association.
  • The High Arcal School Visualising key stage 3, GA Magazine Spring 2008 and Going round in circles, GA Magazine Autumn 2009.