Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Breaking Through the 'A' Level Effect: A First-Year Tutorial in Student Self-Reflection
Originator John Bryson
Department School of Geography, University of Birmingham, B15 2TT
Tel. +44 (0)121 414 5549
Fax. +44 (0)121 414 5528
E-mail j.r.bryson@bham.ac.uk

The 'A' level experience of geography is structured around carefully written textbooks which provide comprehensive 'maps' to the discipline. Such structured geography does not encourage sophisticated critical faculties and results in what I term the 'A' level effect. First-year students all too frequently transplant the learning skills acquired at 'A' level, using lectures to replace the school geography textbook.

The following tutorial is designed to overcome this effect by fulfilling four learning outcomes:

  1. To reveal the production process by which geography and its texts are constructed.
  2. To develop critical reading skills and abilities.
  3. To demonstrate some of the limitations of 'A' level geography.
  4. To encourage students to develop arguments for undertaking reading around lecture courses.
There are many ways in which to address each of these objectives by, for example, critiques of essays, and attempts to show the limitations of an over-reliance on lecture-based material. None of these are particularly effective approaches as they consist of passive learning experience, experiences in which knowledge is being transferred from the tutor to the student. To overcome this problem a tutorial was designed in which students would take control of their learning experience, and in which they would be forced to engage in a process of self-reflection on their former geographical education. Such reflection results in active student-orientated learning. The ability to re-examine a learning experience encourages students to explore its limitations.

Each student in a tutorial group was set the task of undertaking a critical review of one of the popular 'A' level geography textbooks. The analysis of this text and the tutorial discussion resulted in the students thinking about the apparent neutrality of texts and the process of construction behind them. One student noted that they now understood my attempts to encourage them to engage in reading. The students also noted that they were now aware that they should not treat texts (books and lectures) as neutral, but as something which they should explore critically.

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Keywords:

Critical reading
Developing arguments
Self-reflection
Tutorials


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