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Adaptive fieldwork

‘Students with behavioural problems are beset with insecurities – low self-esteem, self-image, self-confidence and self-worth. Asking them to work as a team, devise a questionnaire, carry out a random survey, talk to strangers, analyse the results, etc. poses a challenge which can make geography fieldwork almost inaccessible.’

Morris et al, 2014

Topics on this page:

Planning fieldwork for students with disabilities | Further considerations and adaptations | Higher ability students | Reading

Introduction

Fieldwork should be organised so that it is appropriate for as many people as possible. However, as the opening quote illustrates, some students face huge challenges that can make fieldwork almost inaccessible.

Planning inclusive fieldwork can improve the experience for all learners. If there are students in your teaching group that have particular needs or disabilities you need to seek ways to provide them access to as much of the full fieldwork experience as is possible. This may include on-site support to ensure they can participate.

Planning fieldwork for students with disabilities

All successful fieldwork requires a high degree of planning and preparation. A risk assessment is required for all visits, and this needs to take account of how adaptions for temporary disabilities such as a sprained ankle can be made. This needs to be taken further and developed in more detail where a group includes students with physical disabilities.

Consider ways in which students with mobility impairments can share all the experiences available to the other students. These means that itineraries may require some adaption or additional assistance required from helpers for rough terrain.

If access to a particular location is insurmountable, you might need to consider alternatives so that a student can participate in the activity but in a different location. The whole party should use the new location, not just students who have mobility impairment, to avoid any sense of exclusion. Access depends on both the site conditions, which might vary seasonally, and the student’s disability.

You might need to allow additional time for an activity for gaining access – it is not inclusive if a student with a disability arrives later than everyone else. Therefore, you will need timing to be flexible so students can move between localities. Also bear in mind that fieldwork is tiring – and this is even more so for a student with disabilities.

Try to choose a quiet location for delivering teaching. If this is not possible, hold the introduction and debrief in quieter locations. This will help students with hearing difficulties. Providing written details about the main features to be seen in the field and the activities and projects to be undertaken for the benefit of a deaf student also clarifies the learning to be experienced by all the students on the field trip.

Supplementing verbal information with written information also limits the amount of note-taking that is required and can benefit students with disabilities that make note-taking difficult and time consuming, such as dyslexia. Technology offers several potential benefits with more ways of communicating, collaborating and participating for students with SEND.

The benefits of buddies: One approach to support students with SEND is to arrange a ‘buddy’ that can act as an assistant during the field activity. This can be particularly useful because the student is working in a strange environment which can present particular challenges for them, for example for visually impaired students in those in a wheelchair. A buddy could be a student companion or an adult helper or support teacher. Their presence can reduce the risk of accidents.

  • Refer to Pook (2017) who discusses planning fieldwork on the beach to include a wheelchair user.
  • Refer to Lang (2022) who discusses supporting autistic students with fieldwork.

Further considerations and adaptations

Some students’ disabilities might be obvious and known, but there are many other disabilities that may generally go unseen in the classroom, but need to be considered for field activities in the outdoors, such as specific medical conditions including epilepsy, diabetes or asthma.

Pre-fieldwork planning and gaining consent from parents should alert them to inform the school of any matters the fieldwork leader should be aware of. Include reminders, for example, of any potential allergens, such as pollen, in the environment so students can take appropriate medication.

Other hidden problems you need to be prepared for are students who lack confidence or get anxious about undertaking activities outdoors, or have phobias, such as a fear of heights. Think too about the localities to be visited in terms of any religious/cultural sensibilities they might involve. 

Refer to Maddison and Thurston (2022) and Tucker (2024), who consider the factors that affect students’ experiences during residential fieldwork in relation to wellbeing and mental health.

Making a video of a fieldwork site that is not accessible to a student with SEND is worth considering. It can be used with others in post-fieldwork lessons. This could be taken further to provide a virtual fieldwork experience for a student who cannot be physically present (see Fieldwork and technology).

  • Read Morris et al (2014) for an insightful account of developing fieldwork questionnaire skills with special needs students with autism.

Higher ability students

Fieldwork offers huge possibilities and potential for higher ability students, particularly through enquiry fieldwork. This is a good opportunity to provide a challenging investigation for a group of such students to work on collaboratively.

  • Refer to Craven and Best (2003) for an ambitious example of a cross-school project.

Reading

  • Craven, S. and Best, B. (2003) ‘An environmental challenge for gifted and talented students’, Teaching Geography, October. This describes a cross-school project.
  • Desforges, H. (1999) ‘Inclusive geography fieldwork’ Teaching Geography, January.
  • Hawke, R., Sheriff, F. and Robinson, H. (2024) Fieldwork for everyone: how to plan more inclusively GA Conference presentation, April
  • Healey, M., Roberts, C., Jenkins, A. and Leach, J. (2002) Disabled Students and Fieldwork: Towards Inclusivity?. Planet, 5:1, 9-10.
  • Lang, B. (2022) ‘Supporting autistic students with fieldwork’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Maddison, J. and Thurston, S. (2022) ‘Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of learners during residential fieldwork’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Morris, C., Lapthorn, N. and Moncrieff, D. (2014) ‘A questioning approach to fieldwork’ Teaching Geography, Summer. Includes an insightful account of his experience developing the questionnaire skills of special needs students.
  • Pook, B. (2017) ‘Inclusive geography for students with complex learning needs’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Sheriff, F. (2024)  Fieldwork in an area of deprivation: remaining inclusive GA Conference presentation, April 
  • Tucker, F. (2024) Fieldwork, mental health and wellbeing: co-producing a guide to inclusive fieldwork  GA Conference presentation, April 
  • Yorke, L., Hutchinson, S.M., Hurrell, L., (2022). 10 ways to make field work more inclusive and accessible: a guide for educators. https://www.cultivate-project.com