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Teaching about a place? Stop and think first!

This post seeks to provide teachers with a set of questions to ask before attempting to introduce a new location to children

It can be challenging to teach about any distant place that is likely to be beyond the experience of most children. There is a danger of over-generalising, of projecting stereotypes and out of date images or of over simplifying information.

Questions to consider before planning a unit

  • What are your views of this place?
  • As a teacher what view of a location are you trying to portray? Is it balanced?
  • Are you showing many different aspects of a location?

Think closely about vocabulary. As with all areas of the curriculum, children need to learn a new vocabulary to be able to deal competently with the many new ideas they will meet. There is also a danger that vocabulary and terminology is used without thought thereby reinforcing stereotypes.

For example, think about the use of terms such as ‘them’ and ‘us’; ’black’ and ‘white’; or words such as ‘native’, ‘slum’ and poor.

Look for ways that life is similar as well as different. Avoid exoticising the imagery and use images of all aspects of everyday life. Show people in professional dress as opposed to only traditional dress.

When looking at daily life think about sustainability and impact on the globe. It is important to compare with life in the UK and make pupils think about how people live. Discuss this and think about who has the ‘more sustainable life’.

Do you think that people have the same feelings about the place you are teaching about in different parts of the world?

What would someone from another place think about your place? How would you make sure your own location was portrayed to someone from another country? Pupils could bring in a photo of their own location or somewhere that is locally important to them and think of 3 words that sum up this place.

Apply that same approach to your planning of the non-UK location.

Where have you, as a teacher, gathered your information about this location? Is it a fair representation of what it is really like?

How has your understanding and view of this place been influenced by your own experiences of imagery and multimedia if you have not visited or as a tourist?

How could you contact people who live here to ensure it is accurate? Tourist boards can be helpful but show the side of the location they wish to portray.

Choosing images

What images and multimedia have you gathered to show different aspects of this location? Where were these images sourced?

Remember that Google search engines are selective. Look at copyright free images on Pixbay or Pexels images, but remember there will still be bias

How will changing the selection of images show the pupils a different perspective of the location?

Could you select images showing one representation of a place (e.g. tourism images) and ask the children to think critically about the source and use their geographical knowledge to select different images based on their enquiries into place? (See activity about images and misconceptions below)

Do other people in the community use the locality differently? Are you choosing images that represent a range of ages, social class, gender, ethnicity, professional groups, service groups, care sector groups etc?

Pupil perceptions

When planning, think about the class and their views/knowledge of the location. Do not make assumptions.

Consider how your choice of images and multimedia may influence your pupils’ views and sense of the place you are studying. This is worth discussing with older KS2 pupils.

Starting moments…

What views do your pupils already have of the location you are studying? It is vital to have an idea of pupils’ views before starting so that you will know if your lessons have any impact.

Ask them to write 5 words/ sentences that sum up their views (good for seeing how perceptions change). Teachers may be surprised by either the depth or lack of knowledge. Assessment – repeat the 5-word task and note any changes.

Split class in two and tell your pupils that you are giving them images that represent their new place of study. They have 15 mins to look at images and draw conclusions about the location to give feedback to the other half of the class. (Don’t let each group see the other images)

Give half the class a selection of images of the country to study and the other half a contrasting location within that country. It can be as simple as rural/urban, tourist/local life, industrial/agricultural.

After their presentations tell them that this is actually the same country just different aspects of it demonstrating that what you are shown in an image informs your view of a place. Pupils could then ‘guess/work out from their own geographical knowledge’ the location of their new place of study.

Reflections/ Assessment or Evaluations

Ask pupils to reflect upon what they have learnt and how they learnt it.

  • What were your assumptions about this place before? Have they changed? How have they changed? What helped you gain a better understanding / view?
  • What do you know about this place now?
  • Why is it important to find out what a place is (really) like?

Resources

Dollar Street –

https://www.gapminder.org/dollar-street

Royalty free images to use –

https://pixabay.com/

https://www.pexels.com/

https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/

This resource was initially written to support primary geographers in their planning and teaching about places, but is likely to also be useful to secondary teachers and teachers of subjects beyond geography. If you have found it useful, please share it more widely. Lets get everyone thinking about how they teach about place.

Photo credit: Johnny Miller/Unequal Scenes