I read a blog post tonight about learning place over processes in the earlier years of secondary geography. The fact that I'm reading it on the first day of the school holidays probably tells me that I haven't switched off yet but it set me thinking. I took the atlas skills unit out of our S1 course a while ago. I used to love atlas and map work personally (and still do) but, from feedback at my previous school, the way it was delivered in a block had been one of the reasons why students weren't continuing in geography. We rewrote the unit and tried to balance individual time with interactive work, but blocking it together all added up to an emboldening of a cultural view of the subject as being just about maps.
In developing our fourth level course for S3 at my current school, I tried to link all of the topics we cover with the national course units. Therefore, we start with coasts and all of the processes that the author of the blog post had said should really come after place knowledge has been established. We have interspersed place knowledge in other parts of our lower school courses, so I don't think we have ignored it at all. In fact, from feedback, learning about a place such as Dubai or Tokyo or an empty land often remains one of the most enjoyable parts of students learning because it is the backdrop for all sorts of geographical themes but all within the context of an alluring place. When we separate this out to teach about 'coasts' or 'glaciation', even when case studies are included, there is much more of a turn off from the students. Indeed, they find the processes repetitive and coasts is most definitely the least popular of all of the topics we cover in S3. Conversely, the over- emphasis on the exam that CfE was supposed to tackle but hasn't is precisely the reason that some of the same students by the end of S5 have it as a 'banker'. It's one of the topics where rote learning wins every time.
I suppose what I'm trying to say is that, from experience, the best learning and the most satisfying episodes of our students time in geography seems to be when we DON'T try to create big blocks of content, including how we teach about place, that separate rather than link learning and that, as a subject, we lose relevance if we make the content more important than the context. This is something I think I and other teachers can be guilty of, particularly in relation to physical topics. I'll state clearly that this is not a criticism of the blog I read as the author was at pains to explain how he links place content to the current, just a reflection on how and why I see myself going in the opposite direction.