Tools for rebuilding a Geography department
Geography: 35% A*-C
School: 70% A*-C
Was the information I was presented with at the start my data analysis task in the interview. “What was your reaction to the data you were presented with” Was a question I was asked in the subsequent discussion interview.
Well, from the outset I knew it would be a challenge and certainly different from the outstanding school and department I worked at in my previous position, but it was a challenge that I was excited about and felt I was ready for. A year in, Mrs Humanities’ invitation to write a guest blog presented me with a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what I have done as well as to look at some of the tools I have used to help make steps towards becoming an outstanding Geography department. I hope that others will find them useful and would love to hear others’ experiences, this is in no way meant to teach people to suck eggs, so apologies if this is all obvious! I have put some of the resources from this entry on Google drive: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BzjsXrvgQ2-mMUo0U2JxS2YxUWc?usp=sharing
Ensuring assessments are rigorous and accurate:
I was very lucky to stumble across the Edexcel Progression Grids early on last year and developed a way to track back so that every assessment had descriptors which would:
Challenge the students appropriately
Work in line with the new GCSE specification
Fit the school’s “Emerging, Developing, Secure, Mastery” Progress descriptors
The idea was that we could work our way back to make sure that students predicted any grade in Year 11 would be assessed and tracked accurately no matter what year they are in. All assessments would be based around the Exam board criteria by using the table below:
The grids themselves are far too complex for students/ everyday teaching, so once I have worked out what I will be assessing/ in-depth marking I adapt the language to make them more accessible allowing teachers, including non-specialists to use the same marking + feedback. Below is an example of how I have used the Edexcel grids to create ‘student friendly’ feedback for Year 8 climate graphs assessment.
Developing Academic literacy:
Early on I realised that students’ exam experience was lacking, not only did they not feel confident about writing their answers but they were also intimidated by the possible range of questions which could occur. As a result I developed the following ‘command word wheel’.
At the centre are all the command words for GCSE Edexcel B. The rings then explain what the command word is asking for, then give an example of a key question that could be asked and finally give them a hint/ example of a sentence starter. Students in all KS4 classes have adopted this into the front of their books and if in doubt will check what is required, as they get better practiced there is less need for referring to it! Not only do we use this in Geography but it was also used in a Year 10 skills workshops which went down well.
Targeting students for appropriate intervention
Having only worked at one school previously I was surprised when at my new school there wasn’t the use of transition matrices, either on programmes like 4Matrix or in any other form, so I asked around and was told that staff didn’t find them useful – I love them! It really helps me to judge which students in my classes/ in Geography need extra support with making progress. At school I have a target list of all students ‘making less than 3 levels’, ‘at 3 levels’ and ‘exceeding 3 levels’ of progress.
I found that ‘easy wins’ (closest to the 3 levels of progress area and particularly more able) appease senior management, and give a boost to the department’s confidence in being able to make an impact. More long term intervention is then aimed at students who are further away from 3 levels of progress, intervention is then both appropriate and challenging.
My new school had never run a residential fieldtrip and I was determined to make this a corner stone of our department! I really believe that residentials add a huge amount of extras and deserve the extra funding required. Students gain so much more by being embedded into the environment they are studying, we get more time with them so that they can reflect properly on their learning, and it also helped me to get to know the cohort better through the inevitable ‘fieldwork bonding process’. I know other departments are having issues with fieldwork so I have shared a letter/ proposal on the Google Drive linked that I put together to help support our case…
Ironically with the sudden increase in Geography’s popularity and further cuts we have now been told that the residential aspect of fieldwork may not be able to happen next year…!
Sharing good practice!
I am not a technology kind of guy, but over the last year and a bit I have seen the wonders of sharing practice on Twitter. Not only does it reduce the workload enormously but I get a wonderful sense of community from sharing and stealing! I am constantly inspired by others online who drive me to challenge my practice and create new exciting material. So thank you to everyone out there for sharing their thoughts and ideas.
There are many more challenges to face before I can confidently talk about our Geography department being an outstanding department but I am happy we are making baby steps towards that. I have the luxury of an incredibly supportive colleague, who on many occasions I feel could/ should be doing my job!
As I say, I hope people find some of this useful and not all obvious!
Enjoy the summer holidays!