Where Literacy Meets Geography: Using Talk Moves to Engage Students in Geographical Data


The theoretical foundation of this study is social constructivism which believes that knowledge is produced and constructed in a social setting. This socialcultural perspective emphasises that literacy is shaped by social practices (Moje, 1996) and serves the purpose of knowledge construction in a discipline (Moje, 2008). It builds students’ understanding of the acceptable form of “socialisation into how members of a community talk, write, and participate in knowledge construction” (Quinn, Lee, & Valdés, 2012, p. 49). Like other disciplines, the geography epistemic community has its own ways of seeing and understanding the world (Roberts, 2013) which are different from “everyday thinking” (Lambert, 2017, p. 20).

The demands of each discipline determine the literacy skills that students need to address the domain-specific problems of the discipline in question (Brozo, Moorman, Meyer, & Stewart, 2013). From a geo-literacy perspective, the implementation of a literacy approach in geography should then serve the needs of geographical learning by taking into account the characteristics of knowledge formation and interaction in that discipline (Burke & Welsch, 2018). Therefore, the social construction of geographical knowledge requires students to be “geographically literate” in order to effectively comprehend geographical information, engage in reasoning, communicate their ideas and make informed decisions (Dolan, 2019). Geography teachers draw upon a rich range of data representations to bring the geographical concepts to life in their teaching (Lambert & Balderstone, 2010) and guide students in studying physical and socio-cultural phenomena, and interactions between people and their environments. These data representations include graphs, maps, photos, sketches, table of figures and texts (CPDD, 2013). Therefore, to help students become “geographically literate” entails equipping them with skills to make sense of and critique geographical data presented in multimodal formats (Roberts, 2014). Such data analytical skills are also required in Singapore’s Geography curriculum (CPDD, 2013):

  1. Extract relevant information from geographical data;
  2. Interpret and recognize patterns in geographical relationships data;
  3. Analyse, and evaluate and synthesize geographical data to make informed and sound decisions.

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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