Presentation on theme: "GTE Conference 2013 Hull Do you speak geography? David Rayner Institute of Education, University of London."— Presentation transcript:
GTE Conference 2013 Hull Do you speak geography? David Rayner Institute of Education, University of London
A (person) with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one's vocabulary and the greater one's awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one's thinking. Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science (1916)
The aim of my research project was to investigate a little researched are of language and learning – the role of specialist subject vocabulary and its value as a cognitive tool rather than simply as an aid to communication. The age focus of the research was Key Stage 3 (11-14 years).
The data collection part of the research was based on a survey of teachers of varying experience using questionnaires, and on the language analysis of textbooks and news reports.
The literature waters have been muddied somewhat by the general adoption of Lamberts use of vocabulary and grammar (Lambert, 2004). The concept of a bank of specialist subject vocabulary unique to geography (and comparable to a foreign language vocabulary) was central to the research.
The assumption that a set of words (a specialist vocabulary) unique to geography actually exists, raised a number of important questions that provided a basic framework for the research. 1. What are these words and who decides on the body of words? 2. Do the words change over time – if yes, how and why? 3. In secondary education, and specifically at KS3, what are the sources that teachers draw on? 4. How do teachers ensure that their students are made aware of, and make effective use of these specialist words?
Issues: There is currently no one body of accepted geographical vocabulary that can be easily applied in a secondary school setting with students in the 11-14 age range. The question of which words are uniquely geographical is problematic.
Research: 1. Analyse specialist vocabulary identified by a range of teachers in relation to teaching a specific KS3 topic – Drought in London & SE England. 2. Analyse media coverage of associated topic and specialist language used.
3. Analyse lesson plans and resources from trainee teachers to ascertain how often they explicitly identified key specialist terms and the strategies they then developed to use them.
From the questionnaires there was almost universal agreement (98%) that specialist subject vocabulary should be made explicit in both lesson plans and in the resources/activities that form the core of the lesson being taught. The reasons expressed to support this point of view covered a wide range of emphases and went far beyond the link in academic writing between language and learning.
The most common view expressed was that explicit incorporation and effective use of key words did enhance understanding of the skills and concepts underpinning geography at KS3. These teachers believed that in order to promote deep learning, pupils need the specialist geographical vocabulary….. Teacher A: 'Key words are an essential part of trying to understand and then explain how patterns and processes work in Geography.'
A second group of teachers focussed on the fact that specialist subject language was what gave the subject its distinctiveness although few were prepared to hint at any form of vocabulary uniqueness in relation to geography. Teacher B: ….these words underpin what Geography is; they help to make the subject distinctive.
A number of responses focused on the concept of thinking geographically. This was linked in many cases to the ability of pupils to express themselves clearly – to be geographically literate. Some teachers talked about pupils using everyday language for many activities and then struggling, through a lack of appropriate specialist vocabulary, to offer precision and accuracy in their work when asked to move beyond their everyday language.
Although linked to the ability of pupils to express themselves clearly, teachers also said that specialist geographical language gave pupils confidence in both their writing and in classroom discourse. Teachers reflected that pupils often lack confidence in terms of attempting extended writing activities or in joining vibrant classroom discussions as a result of a language deficiency.
A minority of teachers seemed unable to see beyond the pragmatic benefits of using specialist vocabulary and a number expressed as their rationale doing well in tests andpreparing for GCSE.
The final set of views was rather more esoteric and hinged on the notion of pupils developing a passion and an enthusiasm for the subject. Comments included, it allows them to immerse themselves in the subject and it is part of the wonder of expressing oneself about new learning.
The majority of trainee teachers claimed to list in their plansessential geographical vocabulary (key words) as a matter of routine or at least sometimes. However, 40% of the sets of lesson plans and resources looked at had no obvious clues as to the use of specialist vocabulary in either the lesson plan or the resources used by the teacher and pupils.
The remaining 60% of the sample provided some evidence: Much of the evidence came from lesson objectives which made specific reference to the key words underpinning the topic. The remaining evidence came from teacher activities, particularly the teacher explaining key words to the pupils or from pupil activities which included pupils copying definitions at one extreme through to pupils making more active use of key words in order to develop and reinforce their learning.
When asked about the source of inspiration for setting out the essential key words that underpins a topic to be taught, the broad range of participants were almost evenly divided between those who drew on their own geographical knowledge (42%) and those who used an agreed scheme of work (36%) from the school they worked in. Textbooks as a source of specialist vocabulary currently appeared to play only a relatively minor part (16%) in planning and few other sources other than a couple of vague references to the internet were mentioned.
Questionnaire: essential key words which all students will need to know and be able to use whilst studying the topic of water shortages in London and southeast England. The lesson objectives presented to the teachers prior to completing their lists of key words. Lesson Objectives: All students will understand the causes of the current and past water shortages in London and south-east England Most students will know the various strategies which can be used to deal with these droughts. Some students will be able to evaluate the strategies in terms of their impact (Soc/Env/Econ).
Questionnaire results Quantity of key words specified: range was 2 – 21 words. 1 – 5 words22% 6 – 10 words34% 11 – 15 words 30% 16+ words14% The results are surprising given that the group of 50 teachers were theoretically planning to teach the same pair of lessons. Even taking into account the varying school contexts of each individual teacher, there would appear to be a huge variation in terms of the expectations of this group of teachers in relation to the essential geographical vocabulary that underpins this topical issue.
Breaking the sample group down into trainee teachers, NQTs and experienced teachers again revealed a surprising similarity in data: SUB-GROUPRANGEAVERAGE Trainee teachers 4 - 21 key words10.1 NQTs 3 – 20 key words9.3 Experienced teachers2 – 17 key words10.2
As far as human versus physical key words is concerned, there was a good proportion of physical geography words overall but almost half the research participants included only one or two physical geography words (most of these same people also had very short key word lists). Of the key words themselves, there were 134 unique words offered in the lists from the 50 research participants. Of these, 89 were human geography words and 45 physical geography words.
The top 20 words in each category are shown below:
Earthworks 3 First published 2000 [2003 edition] 3 double pages How much water do you use?, Water supply in Britain and Do we need a new reservoir? Reservoir, drought, recycle, purify, water consumption, hosepipe ban, standpipe, conserve, water company, water meter, surface water, ground water, impermeable, permeable, water table, saturated rock, spring, well, lake, reservoir, water transfer, annual rainfall, water company, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, runoff, aquifer, supply, demand, borehole, forecast growth, desalination, leakage control, water meter, inter-regional transfer, water conservation, public enquiry. (38 words) Textbooks: The majority of textbooks appeared to have a more rigorous and comprehensive list of key words which in the words of one of the authors... are words you really need to know (John Widdowson, 2000).
Bearing in mind that the average teacher in the questionnaire survey listed only 10 words and many listed less than 5, either they failed to engage with the survey (and there is plenty of evidence to contradict that view) or they are failing to identify the essential geographical vocabulary needed to develop a deep understanding of this complex and highly topical issue.
Media Analysis: Media Word count: Reading Complex Key score: words: words: BBC News2, 4086413%38 The Guardian 1, 5725512%33 Daily Mirror1,15670 8%25 Daily Mail2,27470 9%25 The Telegraph1,27270 7%22 Daily Express1,02372 9%21 [Word count = total number of words in each article; Reading score is based on Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease test in which a score of 60 to 80 should be easy for a 12 to 15 year old to understand (lower = harder); Complex words = 3+ syllables; Key words = words or phrases that could be construed as being geographical]
As an example, the online BBC News Magazine did an article on the drought containing the following geographical words: aquifer infrastructure surplus rain average water usage irrigate total water demand carbon footprint leakage waste water climate change leaking pipe water company desalinisation planning system water industry domestic water usage population water meter drinking water population growth water rationing drought potable water restriction dry weather reservoir water storage ecosystem river water transfer environment river basin water-stressed region industrial water consumption standpipes run-off
According to the readability score, a typical 12-15 year old should be capable of reading and understanding the BBC article. What can also be seen, however, is that anyone reading this article would require the knowledge and understanding of a complex range of 20-30 technical words. Whilst some of these could be considered everyday words (river, population, environment), others require a degree of conceptual understanding in order to make full sense of the article (carbon footprint, climate change, population growth and water-stressed regions for example).
How do teachers of geography know how to effectively teach vocabulary? The simple answer seems to be that they dont. Teachers receive very little formal instruction when training (Lewis & Wray 2001: 52) and very little whilst in employment.
Marzanos Six Step Process to learning vocabulary is extensively documented but teachers appear to be using fragments of the process when research has shown (Metcalf & Mahurt 2010) that gains are only significant if the whole process is carefully implemented as an integral part of the teaching programme.
A key element of the Marzano strategy, strongly advocated by most writers, is that teachers should not introduce a new word together with a definition and yet this would seem to be fairly commonplace in the research examples. There were elements of good practice suggested by a few teachers in terms of: students writing their own definitions of new words students discussing words in pairs or small groups students playing Pictionary and Taboo students creating visuals which incorporated new words There was, however, no evidence from the limited data collected that teachers were following any kind of structured approach to using new vocabulary.
Although the data is limited, it paints a mixed picture of classroom practice with teachers in many cases acknowledging the importance of specialist geographical vocabulary but falling back on tried and tested classroom methods (albeit with some modern twists) of: getting students to learn new words learn how to spell them correctly learn definitions of these words. Too few teachers currently appear to spend time developing pedagogies which use the acquisition of new geographical words to develop a deeper understanding of geographical concepts and to facilitate students thinking geographically.
Questions Arising: Is the apparent declining use of textbooks in classrooms at 11-14 (alongside increasingly specialist university geography degrees), leading to a disturbing variance in the use of specialist subject vocabulary? Is there an argument for the geography community developing an agreed core of specialist vocabulary to become part of the new focus on core knowledge in the 11-14 years curriculum? what in ITE can we do to support and encourage teachers to take a more structured and productive approach to the use of specialist geographical vocabulary?
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