Concepts as the Grammar of Geography: A Reflection, pp. 2 of 4

Geography’s grammar

Jackson (2006) presented four sets of geographical concepts that could provide geography with its connective tissue: Space and place; scale and connection; proximity and distance; and relational thinking.

Other authors have also suggested other concepts that could provide this function. For instance, space, place and scale are commonly found in lists made by other authors (Geography Advisors and Inspectors Network, 2002; Holloway et al., 2003; QCA, 2007 cited in Taylor, 2008, p. 51). Proximity and distance, along with relational thinking, are harder to find in other lists but are similar to the Taylor’s organising concepts of diversity, interaction, perceptions and representation (Taylor, 2008). However, in emphasizing geography’s concepts, two problems present themselves: the importance of geography’s “vocabulary” may be overlooked, and we run the risk of oversimplification in the teaching of geographical concepts.

The problem with the conceptual approach

In discussing geography as language, Jackson (2006) points out the importance of both the vocabulary (content) and grammar (concepts) of geography, but does not discuss the role of geographical vocabulary in the paper. This gives rise to two questions. The first question being, is geographical content vocabulary not as important in the teaching and learning of the subject? Lambert (2004) acknowledges the importance of content vocabulary and place names within geography, stating that “Good geography uses its vocabulary,” and that geography as a subject “has an immense vocabulary” (Lambert, 2004, p. 1). Jackson, on the other hand, does not discuss the benefit of learning any of geography’s vocabulary.

The second question that arises is: where and when should the teaching and learning of geography’s vocabulary come in? Students obviously need to have a certain degree of familiarity with the geographical knowledge of places, spaces and names in order to appreciate and apply the geographical concepts. However, neither Jackson nor other authors championing geographical concepts have discussed what would be an appropriate amount of geographical content vocabulary required before the teaching of geographical concepts. Should students learn everything about the characteristics of the tropical rainforest before learning about how the rainforest affects global warming or how humans interact with the rainforest? At what point do teachers stop teaching facts and figures and allow students to explore relationships?

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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