Title Researching the development of a primary geography resource: why, how, issues and implications Author Position and address Graham, Jane & Walker, Greg

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Title Researching the development of a primary geography resource: why, how, issues and implications


Position and address

Graham, Jane & Walker, Greg

Senior Lecturers,

Roehampton University
Presentation locale

.Paper given to the Charney Manor Conference, Developing Primary Geography, Oxfordshire, UK 2003

Published in ‘Researching Primary Geography’ Ed Simon Catling and Fran Martin Special Publication No1 Aug 2004 London Register of Research ISBN 0-9538154-3-9 Available from The Editor, 9, Humber Road, Blackheath, London SE3 7LS


The principles of the process of compiling a resource pack are reviewed; specific geographic requirements are supported by reference to relevant research and the actual process detailed. The underlying principles that guided the compilation of resources, the timeframe from gestation to publication, the constraints that faced the authors as the process developed and the conclusions to be drawn are all exemplified.

Address for correspondence

Greg Walker

School of Education

Froebel College

Roehampton Lane
London SW15 5PJ
E mail g.walker@roehampton.ac.uk

Researching the Development of a Primary Geography Resource: Why, how, issues and implications.
Jane Graham and Greg Walker

Introduction: Why did we develop the resource?

As education lecturers with a primary geography specialism, a major focus of our work is showing trainee teachers appropriate ways to teach geography, enabling them to work with confidence in school. We have noticed the increasing use of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority [QCA] Geography Scheme of Work (DfEE/QCA, 1998/2000) in whole school planning. A popular unit is number 3, An island home, which seeks to link geography and literacy. The unit purports to show ‘how a storybook can be used to develop children’s understanding of geographical features and ideas’ [Unit 3, ‘About The Unit’ (QCA, 1998/2000)]. The unit is focused on the imaginary island of Struay and what it is like to live there. The unit prompts children to investigate similarities and differences between their home and Struay and consider whether they would like to live there.

Some Roehampton trainees had been asked by schools, where they were completing school experience, to teach this unit with the single resource, the storybook ‘Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers’ (Hedderwick, 1995). They were not given ‘pictures and photographs of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, on which the island of Struay is based’ [Unit 3, Resources (QCA, 1998/2000)]. Whilst the story offers a range of opportunities to explore a sense of what it might be like to live on a remote island, photographs of the real place, the Isle of Coll, would greatly extend the range and potential for children’s geographical learning.
We decided to give tangible support to both trainees and teachers by developing resources for use with unit 3. We wanted to retain the use of the popular Katie Morag story but to complement it with resources about Coll. Photographs and associated activities, including those that would probe values and attitudes, had the potential to enhance teaching and learning opportunities within this unit. Our aim was to meet the aims of the National Curriculum Geography Working Group (DES, 1989) enabling children to view the place from the perspective of people who live there.

What principles guided the process of compiling the pack?
We wanted to produce a resource that would:

  • Motivate and challenge children to learn about this locality;

  • Encourage discussion and exploration of ideas and thoughts and feelings;

  • Develop conceptual understandings;

  • Support the development of enquiry skills;

  • Be seen to be relevant by classroom teachers offering links to programmes of study, relevant practical ideas and a range of approaches with accurate up to date information.

Catling (2003) argued persuasively for the importance of children being involved in decisions about what should be studied in geography and he suggested criteria that might be used to provide a geographical framework for them:

  • A focus on real places, from local to national scale, and/or on elements of real environments, such as types of environment, human settlements or activities, physical and human processes creating and changing environments;

  • The use of resources such as maps, the real environment beyond the classroom (and school), photographs of various sorts, information books and technological sources such as CDs, the internet and email;

  • Reflection on key geographical ideas, including location, patterns and environmental processes;

  • The recognition of environmental concerns and issues;

  • The development of a sense of the world, its cultural and environmental variety and of the interdependence of people, places and environments;

  • The examination of personal positions and values and of those held by others and of the views and reasons for them. (2003, 193-4).

Although the resource pack would clearly be presenting children with a locality to explore, we found it useful to take account of these criteria in developing the pack.

Our aim was to produce a resource that would offer opportunities to explore the geography of the real Scottish island of Coll, whilst retaining the valuable literacy links with QCA Unit 3 and the imaginary island of Struay. Norris Nicholson has stated that ‘stories can supplement other geographical resources to help children visualise different places and lifestyles’ and that ‘they offer children windows and doors upon other worlds beyond their own’ (Norris Nicholson 1994:5). The detailed illustrations and content of the Katie Morag stories, produced by the author and artist Mairi Hedderwick and based on her own experiences of living and working for many years on Coll, would provide a springboard for children to share ideas and to ‘generate valuable discussion with strong geographical elements’ (Palmer 1994, 130).

As well as using Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers to introduce the unit of work in an enjoyable way, other links to this story and other Katie Morag stories were made in the resources to offer children mapping opportunities, placing geographical vocabulary and ideas in a meaningful context, following routes, actions and events and sharing their ideas and feelings about other people in other places. Wiegand highlighted the importance of opportunities in place studies to be ‘able to think and feel yourself into them’ (1993, 65). We wanted to offer activities that would focus on, and allow children to explore ideas in relation to themes presented in the Katie Morag story, that is, of a remote island, its environment, weather, wildlife, transport and the daily lives of the people who live on or visit the island.

Whilst literary links were to be important in motivating and challenging children, the use of photographs would be central to the resource. Young and Commins (2002) have stressed the importance of presenting positive images of people in distant places. We sought to do this by giving an all-round view of the place, by finding out as much information as possible about it and the people who live there and presenting images that treat both sensitively. We felt that this necessitated developing resources that offered a range of honest representations for children to explore, resources that would not only engage them but also offer access to the thoughts and feelings of people who lived there. This in turn would encourage children to express ideas and be able to make reasoned judgements from accurate and comprehensive evidence. Our set of photographs, background information and activities would focus on the real, named people who live, work and visit Coll. In this way the resource would provide opportunities for children, most importantly, to answer the questions about what life on Coll might be like.

The evidence of Shevelan et al (2002, 3) highlighted more recent thinking in the use of simple maps and aerial photographs by young children. Children can start with an aerial view and a map of an unfamiliar place as ‘establishing shots’ and, as Spencer (1998, 17) noted, teachers can then confidently promote and encourage geographical discussion and ideas. Catling agreed that the use of a vertical aerial photograph and matching pictorial map would allow children to build a sense of place of a locality they could not visit. (Catling1995, 12). The publishers provided us with the A3 aerial photograph of the island and we designed a simple pictorial map to be used alongside.
The work of Mackintosh on children learning from photographs highlighted the need to select photos that not only interested children but also challenged them by ‘exploiting their curiosity and flexible attitudes about other people and cultures’(Mackintosh, 1998,18). We needed to offer teachers’ ideas that would include photograph and map content to promote graphicacy, to encourage identification, decoding, interpreting, predicting, observing, supposition and narrative. Our photographs should offer opportunities for line drawings, sketching, annotation as well as allowing children to appreciate that what is not in the photograph is just as important and that a photograph may offer only a partial representation of a place or of the people who live there.

Central to planning active, practical and meaningful geography that would motivate children to find out more about the world around them is the enquiry process. This process involves encouraging children to ask questions and to look for answers to them. Whilst this is not the place to discuss the nature of geographical enquiry, or issues of teachers’ understanding of enquiry (Martin, 1999; Carter, 1998; Owen and Ryan, 2001; Catling, 2003,) we felt our resource needed to exemplify an enquiry approach, stressing the importance of children raising their own questions and using evidence to seek to answer them. Catling highlighted a structure for geographical enquiry: ‘to cultivate children’s learning by working from their own interests to explore, understand and learn further from the world, as well as to contribute to it through active engagement and participation.’ (2003, 192).

The work of Davidson & Catling (2000, 280) in examining further the process of enquiry and a question led curriculum, was also to prove useful in the planning of the resource as was Catling’s work (2002:7) on thinking geographically. The work, providing geographical examples to promote thinking skills, was particularly helpful when we considered the activities for using the photographs. Scoffham (2002, 6) also reminded us, in his review of recent work on brain function that ‘these skills, which are crucial to meaningful learning, can all be developed and promoted through primary geography. We need to keep them high on our agenda.’
The importance of a value - based approach to learning (Scoffham, 2000; Owen and Ryan, 2001; Catling, 2003) guided us to offer activity ideas that would allow individual responses and discussion from children based on images and information about the real people of Coll. These would include children, individuals and families expressing their thoughts and feelings about work, home and leisure on Coll as well as from visitors to the island. A consideration of the way people interacted with their surroundings was also important, for example, what children had written about living on Coll and what tourists valued about the island. There was also the notion of safeguarding special places on the island such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Reserve at Feall beach whilst also allowing locals and visitors to use it.

When we developed our ideas based on the photographs we sought to make explicit links with the Key Stage 1 programmes of study (DfEE/QCA, 1999). For teachers using the resource who might have limited confidence in teaching geography we sought to highlight clearly key geographical skills, knowledge and concepts whilst trying not to be prescriptive in terms of what children should do. We did not offer ideas for differentiation as, with any resource pack, teachers need to be selective and amend ideas to cater for the needs and learning styles of their own children.

Owen and Ryan (2001, 60) argued that in order to motivate all pupils it is important to provide a variety of approaches to teaching and learning and we incorporated a number of their ideas into the pack:

  • Following a map/drawing a map/using a CD-Rom atlas;

  • Interpreting photographs;

  • Making a model;

  • Reading a reference book;

  • Designing a poster;

  • Undertaking traffic and land use surveys;

  • Assessing environmental quality;

  • Searching the World Wide Web

  • Sketching;

  • Discussing an issue;

  • Taking photographs.

We aimed to promote cross-curricular links including the use of ICT throughout the pack. The resource would be QCA unit specific and consequently seen as relevant and appropriate by schools who chose to purchase the photo pack. We hoped it would offer resources that would enhance the teaching and learning for any teacher using unit 3 An Island Home. Integrating the many ideas from our literature review provided a structure when we began the process of creating the resource.

When and how did we produce the resource?
The following outline sets out the sequence of the events in the development of the pack from origination to publication.
October 2001: Origination

  • Initial discussions about the project and contact with the publishers to gain their approval in principle.

November 2001: Proposal outline

  • Written outline proposal presented to the publishers.

January 2002: Proposal acceptance

  • Approval gained from the publishers, including funding for a visit to the Isle of Coll.

February 2002/June 2002: Preparatory work

  • Selecting suitable dates for the fieldwork – this was guided largely by a desire to take photographs during the summer with the likelihood of better weather conditions;

  • Contacting the primary school and an island family on Coll;

  • Carrying out research on Coll – this was largely through internet sites and OS Landranger map 46;

  • Research into the most appropriate structure for the resource pack.

June/July 2002: Fieldwork.

  • 28 June: Travel to Oban – gathered information and photographs about Oban that would represent the reality of Mairi Hedderwick’s ‘mainland’;

  • 29 June: Ferry to Coll – drove / walked around the island locating areas of particular interest for photograph locations – meetings with key people e.g. the tourist family and shop, hotel and holiday home owners;

  • 30 June: Whole day taking photographs (in excess of 60 in number with 2 copies at each site) – each site marked on the OS map and relevant notes taken - visited the holiday home;

  • 1 July: Further photographs taken and held a meeting with Mairi Hedderwick – return to mainland.

  • We discussed the nature of the project with those individuals who featured in our photographs and sought permission to use their image in the pack.

July to August 2002: Photographs

  • July: Publishers developed and return photographs.
  • August 2002: Selected the 24 most suitable images, the limit set by the publishers. We wanted photographs that would capture children’s imagination and prompt them to want to know more about this place and the people who live there.

September to December 2002: Devising the pack

  • The substantive work on devising the activity ideas, the resources and other details for each photograph, finalised the exact choice of photographs. Extensive email contact with both the island and tourist families, including acquiring further resources from them, produced a revised version of QCA unit 3 that would best utilise the photo pack resources.

January 2003: Piloting the pack

  • Resources piloted in a Year 2 class and feedback received from the class teacher and one other experienced infant teacher who reviewed the resources;

February 2003: Completion

  • Final version of the resource pack completed;

April 2003: Publication

  • Publication of ‘Discover Coll: the real Struay’ (Graham & Walker, 2003)

What were the constraints on the project and how did they affect the outcomes?

In spite of the considerable time spent in discussion, research and preparation whilst aiming for the best possible final product, we inevitably faced constraints that limited our ideas and the final outcome.

Time constraints
There were time constraints in our work.

  • The publishers were willing to fund one short visit to Coll but this meant that taking photographs, direct contact with people and further research and data collection had to be completed in a restricted timeframe;

  • Work commitments and a desire to visit in summer made it impossible to visit the island’s primary school whilst children were present and a key opportunity for comparison / contrast was therefore limited.

Privacy/sensitivity constraints
There were sensitive issues to ensure we took careful account of.

  • Discussions with the headteacher of the island’s primary school prior to the visit revealed that the introduction into the curriculum of QCA unit 3 had led to a deluge of letters, from schools all over England, for information about the school and requests for twinning links. This was particularly problematic for such a small school since they had neither time nor resources to respond to requests. It was clearly a very sensitive issue and one that we did not wish to further complicate. It became essential to dissuade schools purchasing the pack from seeking contact with the school by highlighting this issue strongly in the resource introduction. The headteacher did, however, feel that once the resource had been published that this might reduce unsolicited contacts;

  • Whilst the contributions of real people on Coll would be invaluable to a case study approach we were concerned not to exploit their goodwill nor to compromise their privacy.

Organisational/resource constraints
There were organisational and resource constraints in the development of the pack.

  • Researching Coll prior to the visit gleaned limited information and, with no existing first hand experience of the island or similar islands, we approached the trip with restricted background knowledge;

  • Internet information was largely aimed at tourists and was not representative of daily life on Coll;
  • The weather for most of the visit was grey and wet and meant that not all the photographs taken were of sufficiently good quality to reproduce at A3 size. Additionally, content showing a dull, damp place had the potential to tell a biased story. However, this type of weather is representative of periods of time in the Western Isles in summer, including the years 2000 to 2002. The gift shop owner in the village of Arinagour mentioned this in terms of its adverse affect on her livelihood. Fortunately our ‘tourist family’ contributed a number of photographs of family members engaged in outdoor leisure activities on the island taken in bright sunshine in May 2002 and these helped to give a more balanced view of the island’s weather;

  • There was much we hoped to include in the final product but the limit of 24 photographs with key written information and photocopiable resources, confined to the reverse side of each A3 photograph, proved a challenge. Whilst we wanted to give teachers a structured pathway through the resource to enable them to enhance geographical learning rather than merely give out information we did not want to convey the idea that this was the only way to use the materials;

  • Significant island events like the Coll Show were omitted because we had no access to appropriate resources;

  • Insights we gained were often intangibles such as the friendliness of the people, a lifestyle quite at odds with the urban experiences of most of us and we had difficulty in conveying a sense of these intangibles through pictures and words;

  • Presenting sensory dimensions like sounds and smells were problematic.

Meeting all our objectives in just 24 photographs was a challenge and the end product is inevitably partial – it is after all the photograph selection and activity ideas of just two adults, neither of them island inhabitants, and our own values inevitably come through. As with any writer or photographer we are all interpreters.


In conclusion we feel that the visit to Coll gave us invaluable insights into a previously unknown place and consequently we would advocate first hand experiences as part of distant place studies whenever possible. We are concerned that time constraints will find teachers using the resources in a limited way and just ‘scratching the surface’ of a fascinating place, missing opportunities for an in-depth exploration of Coll. Additionally, by relying on the ideas in the pack and not giving the work a personal dimension the ideas of both teachers and children’ may not be effectively explored.

We believe that with time and inclination, and at no great expense, teachers could use some of our ideas for their own distant place photograph resource. If the place were not too distant it would enable children to have invaluable first hand experiences. Such a resource would have a personal dimension, would make it possible to add resources over time including photographs taken by children and to explore their ideas and enquiries. A locality in the UK that contrasts with the children’s locality does not have to be very distant or very different. The majority of UK primary schools are probably no more than a short distance from a place that has characteristics that would allow children to find both differences and similarities with their own place. Moreover the processes involved in producing a photo pack are largely similar for all localities.


Carter, R. (ed.) (1998), Handbook of Primary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical Association

Catling, S. (1995), Mapping the environment with children, in de Villiers, M. (ed.), Developments in primary geography, theory and practice, Sheffield: Geographical Association, 12-16

Catling, S. (2002), Thinking Geographically, Primary Geographer 47, 7-9

Catling, S. (2003), Curriculum Contested: Primary Geography and Social Justice, Geography, 88 (3), 164-210

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