Last term HPL Members enjoyed a webinar presented by Jeremy Reynolds, on High Performance Learning in geography. Here he summarises why he thinks geography is so suited to this approach.
Geography is an excellent subject to demonstrate how High Performance Learning can work and have an impact in the classroom. This blog suggests a variety of lesson ideas and strategies that can developed to illustrate the clear application of the different types of thinking and dispositions that are at the heart of HPL. I would encourage all teachers to reflect on their practice and lessons, thinking about their students, and I would stress the importance of being overt when developing these cognitive and behavioural competencies.
I suggest a twofold approach, that can be applied to all subject and phase applications of HPL. Firstly, look at existing successful and effective lessons and teaching strategies and ‘deconstruct’ them to see what thinking is being developed (ACPs) and what behaviours are nurtured (VAAs). Secondly, use specific ACPs and VAAs as the ‘drivers’ in planning new schemes of work and lessons in Geography.
Geography as the ideal subject for HPL
Geography readily lends itself to HPL and is an ideal subject for many reasons. It is a synoptic and connecting subject, linking together many other disciplines with a spatial focus. It is intrinsically relevant to the world around us and problems and issues that feature ‘in the news’. Several of the ACPs and VAAs can be automatically associated with Geography – those links to the real world already mentioned, and also enquiry-based learning. The skills and qualities of the geographer – e.g. the ability to analyse, synthesise, evaluate and present – are highly prized by employers and are part of HPL’s approach in developing students who are college-, career, and life-ready. Finally, Geography can and always should excite, fascinate and inspire passion for learning (through, for example, highlighting the grandness and splendour of the natural world), which surely is the key to motivating students’ high performance learning and achievement.
Developing the ACPs in Geography lessons
Metathinking can be developed by considering Geography’s contribution to the curriculum, linking together other subjects such as Economics and Biology, but giving a unique, spatial perspective. High performance is encouraged by asking students to ‘think like a geographer’ in understanding real life situations and issues.
Comparison and contrast of similar yet different things such as cities or ecosystems encourages linking; and two hugely important ideas in ‘big picture’ thinking are the concepts of geological time and human impact on the environment.
Analysing is fundamental to the understanding of all geographical processes and systems (e.g. rivers, glaciation, plant succession) and graphs can be brought ‘alive’ by asking questions, constructing scenarios and hypothesising, rather than just relying on closed response to simple data-led questions.
When students are asked to view issues and problems in different ways and come up with innovative solutions, creativity comes to the fore, and a personal favourite of mine is the use of geographic analogies, which can be hugely effective in developing understanding.
More ‘standalone’ activities used regularly in Geography, such as problem solving, role playing and decision-making exercises, cover many areas of HPL and there is value too in ‘working backwards’ from a stimulus such as a photograph, to encourage high level thinking and questioning in the form of Socratic dialogue. Spatial awareness and a good geographic general knowledge are both helpful to the geographer and demonstrate the ACP of realising.
Geography and the VAAs
The behaviours encompassed by HPL’s VAAs are also inherent in all aspects of Geography. Fieldwork and fieldtrips, so integral to the subject, provide wonderful opportunities to bring out the key features of HPL, and these do not have to be on a grand scale, as the local area offers opportunities as well.
In conclusion, Geography is a subject which ideally lends itself to High Performance Learning. Teachers who can develop their understanding of how to develop the ACPs and VAAs in students will be able to capitalise on Geography’s inherent advantages and enable all their students to achieve at the highest level.