Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools: A Reader

By Maggie Smith | Go to book overview

14

Language and learning in Geography

Graham Butt


Introduction

The importance of geography teachers gaining an understanding of how the use of language can affect the learning of their subject is undeniable. Language provides the medium for learning Geography in every classroom and should therefore be a major consideration in the planning and preparation of lessons.

The term 'language' is perhaps deceptively straightforward at first glance. However, it encompasses a huge variety of talk, reading and writing that children undertake; the relationship between these activities and the process of learning; and the nature of communication between the teacher and the learner. The action of learning is closely associated with that of comprehending and using different forms of language. All teaching methods and materials used by the geography teacher therefore have import implications for language and understanding.

Research into the use of language specifically within the geography classroom is somewhat piecemeal, although valuable contributions have been made by Williams (1981), Hull (1985), Slater (1989) and Carter (1991). Nonetheless there is a considerable amount of literature exploring the relationship between language and learning (Piaget 1959; Vygotsky 1962; Chomsky 1968, etc.) as well as a major report - the Bullock Report (DES 1975) - which for a time stimulated a variety of subject specialists to explore the ways in which both teachers and children used language in the classroom. The inter-relatedness of language and learning, and the effects of the use of language on both conceptual development and the learning process, were major considerations of much of the work carried out. Unfortunately the impetus for these 'Language Across the Curriculum' studies did not continue after the late 1970s, leaving many of the issues surrounding talking, writing, reading and learning in geography largely unexplored. The role of language in the process of learning in Geography is therefore widely acknowledged, but not fully investigated.

Recently the Language in the National Curriculum (LINC) report produced materials based on existing good practice in the use of language, but was suppressed by the government for not fully emphasizing the importance of grammar in pupils' work.

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