Evaluating and expressing knowledge

Evaluating Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge (PDK)

This section of the toolkit deals with how to enable teachers to develop their own Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge (PDK) and how they can support their students.

Evaluating and expressing knowledge is the fourth step in the GeoCapabilities process.

Concerning expressing powerful geographical knowledge, Biddulph et al. (2020) said

“…. The results and reflections of the teachers in the project will be shared through an online ‘exhibition’, which will include: lesson materials and sources; reflections on the PDK teachers and pupils learned (and PDK which remained inaccessible) and the process by which the teachers selected and developed the ‘what, why and how’ of a curriculum about migration.”

Biddulph, M., Bèneker, T., Mitchell, D., Hanus, M., Leininger-Frézal, C., Zwartjes, L. and Donert, K., 2020. Teaching powerful geographical knowledge–a matter of social justice: initial findings from the GeoCapabilities 3 project. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 29(3), pp.260-274. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10382046.2020.1749756

Examples of PDK

Powerful knowledge expressed on migration (in English)

Powerful knowledge expressed on migration (in French)

Evaluation tool

Evaluation of learning (how far PDK and understanding) has developed in students is helped by the tools using a ‘before and after’ approach.

The evaluation tool is for you to use with your students, to find out what they know and understand before, and then the same template of questions used again after you have taught them. This tool should be adapted by you, depending on the topic/ geography you are teaching. The example here is for one teacher, teaching migration with a focus on the concept of ‘home’. View the evaluation tool

Concept maps are a really useful tool for evaluating your students’ knowledge and understanding

concept map diagram

A concept map is similar to a ‘mind map’ but with the attention to the connecting lines between the terms used. Concept maps have the benefit of encouraging discussion (particularly when a group activity) explanation, reasoning and making all this thinking visual. Words (geographical concepts & sub-concepts) can be prepared in advance on cards. Students’ concept maps can be easily photographed or captured byf you (teacher) as well as by the students.

mind map guidelines image

For a more rigorous evaluation, in which you are becoming the ‘teacher as researcher’ you can plan some questions based on the concept map to structure discussion, based on the concept map. In doing this you become a ‘teacher as researcher’, which encourages teachers to be collaborators in professionalising their teaching, and improving the learning that takes place. The sStudents are likely to find this really engaging and there is a sense of co-constructing an understanding of the geographical topic, its significance and how it is learned / taught.

Download and use the evaluation tool and questions developed and used with teachers on the migration project as a guide.




This video shows a Czech example of the use of concept mapping in the reflection phase of a lesson.

After their lessons, we interviewed small groups of students about their learning about migration.

Some found the terminology associated with migration studies confusing to remember and therefore found it difficult to apply these terms in the course of their learning. Others indicated that studying migration had helped them to better understand the difficult choices some people have to make in deciding to migrate or not, whilst there was some sense that, based on their learning, they now appreciated how the media could misrepresent migrants and their migration stories.

When asked: In what ways do you think your understanding of migration has changed because of the lessons you studied?

One student replied: ‘I understand that migration is not a bad thing. It’s not that it was a bad thing, but like it can be just a process of living in another country, and it may not be illegal, at first I was like ‘is that illegal’, but now I understand’ . whilst another student said the emotional aspects of it. Like I think they would feel panicked and scared because they are forced to move, but now I think that people do move and can be happy because they make more money and get a better education and stuff’.

And when asked: ‘ Why do you think it is important to learn about migration in school geography? How might it help you/be important to you in the future?

One student replied: ‘So when you are learning about migration, you learn about other things like countries, statistics and whether its poor or rich there, so just learning about migration, there’s things there as well, whilst another felt that they had learnt ‘not criticise other people for it, and basically it helps to understand it.’

Final reflections (on teaching & your own PDK)

In GeoCapabilities, teachers found that their original ideas – (the geographical concepts they wanted to teach, after they were inspired by engaging with colleagues and academic geographers in step 1 (Thinking Geographically) – changed somewhat, as they planned for student engagement and taught in the context of their students’ needs. This approach is all part of teaching – a social and dynamic process, in which you, the teacher, are learning and developing, along with your students. It is therefore very valuable to reflect at the end of the process, and to look back at your vignette – how far were you able to help your students develop that particular powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK)?

This and other reflective questions are contained in the document here. Use these questions to evaluate: your teaching; the GeoCapabilities approach; what you might do in the future with this approach.

This reflection forms part of a continual professional development for you as a geography curriculum maker.

Curriculum making is teaching with purpose.

The key idea is that students and teachers both interact with specialist subject knowledge. However, they do so from entirely different perspectives. The teacher’s responsibility is to ‘recontextualise’ the specialist discipline for students. In GeoCapabilities, this is understood to be a central part of teachers’ professionalism.

Use the final reflection document for teachers to evaluate and reflect on your own teaching

The GeoCapabilities Case Studies and  StoryMaps offer other tools for reflection

Teaching Mediterranean migrationsmigration class photo

French version

English version


Migrations : images and student’s conceptionsImmigrants

French version

English version


Migration and feeling at home

Dutch versionfeel-at-home-150

English version