I cannot believe that a year has gone by since the last Regional Primary Geography Conference. It was lovely to see some familiar faces, as well as a few news ones, who have been assigned or have volunteered to take on board the Geography/Humanities Subject Leader role within their schools. David Weatherly and I have regular contact by e-mail or telephone throughout the year, but it is great to be able to catch up in person from time to time. David is a School Improvement Advisor and an accomplished teacher with an international reputation for being an inspiring trainer. Whether working with colleagues in schools or at CPD events, he always provides practical and achievable approaches to improving the engagement and outcomes of pupils. He is also the author of the award-winning Primary Connected Geography scheme published by Harper Collins and adopted by many primary schools across the UK. Every time I attend one of David’s events, I always come away feeling enthused and ready to inspire the many local educational professionals and pupils that I come into contact with.
Following registration with an array of refreshments, David welcomed everyone and made clear the aim of the day to all those present:
‘This day will explore how the key principles of mastery can be applied to geography in order to improve pupil outcomes. As in previous years, the programme will be practical and interactive. All colleagues will leave with a number of fully documented and resourced enquiries exemplifying mastery to use immediately in their schools.’
He then outlined the key objectives:
- ‘Understanding the core principles of mastery learning;
- Recognising how mastery approaches to learning can contribute to improving pupil outcomes in geography;
- Aware of how pupils make progress in geography and able to plan their curriculum accordingly;
- Having trialled and evaluated a number of geographical enquiries EYFS – Year 6, which exemplify good practice in mastery learning in geography;
- Confident and inspired to design your own key question-led enquiries, which adopt a mastery approach and support pupils to think like geographers;
- Able and self-assured to lead colleagues to improve provision and outcomes in geography in your schools.’
The first session provided an overview on applying the principles of mastery to geography. David emphasised that ‘mastery’ is a principle of learning that aids progression and outcomes. It has to sit within a system that allows children to make progress, e.g. a progressively challenging curriculum. It is not about rote learning, but instead involves contextualisation, e.g. putting things into a meaningful context. A mastery model of learning in geography should, therefore, move from procedural knowledge to concept building to procedural fluency; from the particular to the general to application. There should be progression in subject outcomes, increasingly confident and appropriate use of subject vocabulary, geographical terms and language and the application of geographical skills and processes. David reinforced mastery’s focus on oracy and suggested that we should really be talking about ‘communication’, as opposed to literacy. He also prompted us to fight for geography’s place within the curriculum since it is the home of critical thinkers. Next, David referred to his infamous ‘table of outstanding curriculum provision’ (four legs and a table top). He stressed that we must aim for an outcomes-driven, enquiry-led curriculum. We should strive to do less better; we cannot do a whole topic, but must be selective, taking one key question per term, and breaking it down into a series of ancillary questions. We looked at progression in geography in some depth, moving from the basic to appropriate to specialised from EYFS to Year 6 and discussed what it meant to be ‘working as a geographer’.
We then looked at putting mastery principles into practice at EYFS and Key Stage 1. At EYFS, geography really falls under the unit ‘Understanding the world’. David suggested that EYFS teachers should simply aim to ‘drop’ some geography into purposeful play. He had us interacting with various floor maps, toy vehicles and images and drip-fed topical vocabulary at the same time to indicate how easy and effective this can be. Next, David used the key question, ‘What do we find at places where the land meets the sea?’ and a series of ancillary questions to exemplify how we might explore coasts with pupils at KS1. He suggested displaying subject-specific vocabulary around the room and also introducing pupils to four figure grid references at this stage to highlight geography’s links with numeracy. In addition, David demonstrated how to make use of Clip Grab to enable video footage from You Tube to be showed safely, e.g. without adverts appearing. He emphasised that assessment should only be considered at the very end and should be the professional judgement of the teacher.
After a welcome break, again with plentiful refreshments, we thought about putting mastery principles into practice at lower Key Stage 2. David used the key question, ‘Why is Jane’s house only worth one pound?’ to show how the topic of coasts could be taken a step further. We were introduced to the concept of erosion in various guises and later asked to write. David stated that we should put parameters on writing in order to encourage pupils to write fully, but concisely, e.g. add time constraints; x number of lines; word limit. Any extended writing must be developmental, providing a list of words that children should aim to use at least once. David showed how more able pupils could be challenged via ‘free flow writing’ opportunities, simply providing paragraph limits and giving them more complex diagrams to refer to.
Our tummies were rumbling, so we broke for lunch. Moving into the restaurant encouraged delegates to mingle rather than just staying with those that were sat on their table in the conference suite. Here, I chatted with a number of individuals, as well as David about possible future freelancing opportunities. I am hoping to establish a working party for local Geography/Humanities Subject Leaders after Easter, so this gave me an opportunity to gauge interest. Keep an eye on my blog and your Inbox for further details shortly (meetings are likely to be held on Tuesday afternoons on a termly basis and hosted by different schools across the county).
After lunch, we explored applying mastery principles at upper Key Stage 2. Here, the theme was natural hazards, with particular attention given to tornadoes. This time, the key question was ‘What should Ashley put in the hole in her garage?’. David read the first page from the book, The Wizard of Oz, and showed us a short clip from the film. He asked us if the book and film were identical. Aspects were missing from the film and we were prompted to consider why this was the case. We mapped tornado alley and were encouraged to explain why the state of Missouri was omitted (perhaps, due to the channeling of winds, although several theories have been put forward by experts). It was later revealed that the hole was a tornado shelter. We learnt a couple of surprising facts at this point too … Birmingham has the greatest frequency of tornadoes in the UK and the second highest frequency of tornadoes in the world (after The Netherlands). My Year 8 group are learning about the Oklahoma tornado in a couple of weeks’ time, so I may well be able to ‘magpie’ a few of these ideas and adapt them for use with Key Stage 3 pupils.
Alongside the final hot drink and cookie of the day, David reinforced the key messages and we contemplated our next steps on returning to school. I hope to be able to work with several delegates in the near future to ensure that these next steps come to fruition and they are able to have an impact on colleagues and pupils within their schools.
Many thanks, David, for inviting me to participate in today’s conference. It was a pleasure, as always.