GeoCapabilities: Teachers as Curriculum Leaders

By Bustin, Richard; Butler, Kelly et al. | Teaching Geography, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

GeoCapabilities: Teachers as Curriculum Leaders


Bustin, Richard, Butler, Kelly, Hawley, Duncan, Teaching Geography


Introduction

Duncan Hawley

The initial impetus for the Ge°Capabilities project was to find a way to help geography teachers think more powerfully about the aims and purposes of what they teach and how it makes a distinctive contribution to developing students' capacities to participate effectively in a 21st century world (Lambert and Morgan, 2010). The project has been developing approaches that can help geography teachers re-assess the roles of geography as a subject, and of geographical knowledge in their classroom teaching, to help teachers become curriculum makers and curriculum leaders.

The project has partners from the USA, Finland, Greece and the UK and a growing pool of 'associate partners' from all over the world. The main output of the project is a framework of practicable ideas, designed to develop curriculum leadership in geography teachers, that can be explored through four flexible online training modules (Figure 1). These can be undertaken by individual teachers, form part of in-school CPD training or be integrated into teacher training. The contributions that follow exemplify how two of the project's school partners have interpreted and developed two of the core ideas of the Ge°Capabilities approach and demonstrate their direct classroom relevance.

The Ge°Capabilities approach chimes with a number of the Geographical Association's (GA) key principles, e.g. its mission 'to further geographical knowledge and understanding through education' and its strategic aim to 'demonstrate the value of geographical education more widely' and to 'meet teachers' professional and educational needs'; it also accords with the GA's manifesto A Different View (2009). It will be no surprise, therefore, to learn that the GA has been a leading partner in the project.

Where's the geography? A capability approach to curriculum thinking

Richard Bustin

As teachers of geography we want to ensure that geographical knowledge is at the heart of our lessons; yet in practice this can be a challenge, given the ubiquity of thinking skills and child-centred approaches pervading education. In this article I offer a practical method of curriculum planning using the 'capability approach' which ensures that subject knowledge is included. The ideas here are based on original doctoral research as well as the Ge°Capabilities project.

Margaret Roberts (2010) drew attention to the lack of knowledge content in geography:

I have become particularly concerned about the extent to which lesson plans, lessons and debriefing give more attention to general aspects of lessons than to the geography being taught and learned (p. 112).

Only three of 33 Teachers' Standards (DfE, 2013) required for qualified teacher status actually refer to subject knowledge, and inspectors can judge geography lessons 'outstanding' with only a cursory mention of the knowledge content. An increasing number of non-specialists are teaching geography classes, and there are fewer subject-specific university-based courses for trainee geography teachers (Tapsfield, 2016). If teachers do not have a thorough understanding of geography, it seriously erodes their ability to introduce the subject and engage students with it. However, a curriculum framework such as the capability approach can help teachers plan a strong geographical content into their lessons.

The capability approach

The 'capability approach' derives initially from studies of human development by Amartya Sen (1980; 1999), which were taken up by Martha Nussbaum (2000). Levels of development are understood not in terms of measurable data, such as literacy rates or income, but as an articulation of individual freedoms. These freedoms are the 'capabilities' that people and societies have to live life in the ways they choose. Some educationalists, such as Walker (2006), argue that success in education should be measured by the 'capability' it affords young people to think in certain ways and to make life choices, rather than primarily by the grades achieved in examinations. …

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