Becoming a Geographer: Appleyard’s Model applied to Geography?

One of the real joys of the work that I now do is exploring different pedagogies from disciplines that I’ve never encountered before. Here, I’d like to talk about something that I’ve seen in English pedagogy, and consider if – and how – we might want to conceptualise something similar for Geography.

Appleyard (1990) Theory of Reader Development.

In this model, Appleyard (1990) is setting out how individuals make progress as readers of literature. Each chapter represents Appleyard’s suggested stages of development: early childhood, later childhood, adolescence, college and beyond, and adulthood. At each stage, Appleyard describes the essence of the reader’s psychodynamic approach – rather than focusing on what they are reading, underpinned by different psychological and literary theories.

Appleyard’s theory of reader development, showing the progression from player, through hero, thinker and critic towards pragmatist. This diagram has Goodywn’s (1997) pedagogue adaptation added.

The five stages are:

Player: This is the stage where young children engage in make believe and story telling. The begin to learn what makes something a story, but they position themselves in stories they present – stories are mostly play.

Hero: This is the stage where a young person identifies with a hero in a story, or another character – they are swept up in the story. They might feel strongly about a character, not recognising they are a construct created by an author.

Thinker: This is the stage where a young person understands that characters are constructed, created by an author. They begin to be able to comment on how the writer has does this and the effect on the reader.

Critic/Interpreter: This is the stage where a reader can take different stances and apply different lenses to the literature they read. They engage critically. They might develop this through learning about different movements in literary criticism. This stage is needed for A-level and degree reading.

Pragmatist: A pragmatist is the adult reader, able to make selections as to what reading experience they want. You might have experienced this – you are reading and analysing texts for your course of study but once you have a break from studying, you might turn to texts you have read before for comfort or to fall in love with a character.

This model is widely adopted as an underpinning theory for how you can teach or encounter readership, for students and for readers in general. We can see how this might link to key phases of a National Curriculum sequence, or where we encounter components of learning, and this provides a useful framework for scholarship and for pedagogy alike.

A Geographical equivalent?

So, the logical question is whether there is a Geographical equivalent, and if so, what might it include? Based on Appleyard’s five stages, I’ve proposed the following:

Local Hero: in the first phase, the understanding of the world is grounded in place and personal experience. The initial stages of Geography are descriptive, about the world that the student knows – and almost exclusively that. The scale of the world is personal, and fairly local, and the engagement with it relatively descriptive in nature. Like Appleyard, this early Geography engagement places the student experience at the hero centre of the world.

Storyteller: in the second phase, the Geographer is process focused, and learning ‘how things work’. This requires conceptual understanding of time scale and process, and may see some spatial process development. We might see the synthesis of space, scale and time, to help generate explanation clarity (e.g. showing multiple phases of a coastal landform on the same diagram) which creates a relatively singular or linear explanation sense in the student.

Us vs “Them”: in the third phase, the Geographer is able to compare and look for differences between places or examples. We may see this in a ‘place’ case study, or something similar – e.g. the NC studies of “a comparative location”. This is still grounded in personal experience relative to an undefined or unexperienced and tentative ‘other’, and there is likely to be an implicit ‘othering’ that takes place as part of this comparison. There may start to be a tentative global scale of process and ideas. This feels like the top end of KS3 or first part of KS4 in experience for many students, where they have a sense of differences and places, but not quite got the experience or empathy to bring them together, or have a coherent sense of representation and their role in co-constructing the narrative of other.

Evaluative Observer: in the fourth phase, the Geographer is able to judge and evaluate and hold comparative opinions. They are able to provide some relative importance or understanding of connections and synthesis. As they move through the end of GCSE towards their A Level experience, the student is able to generate judgements based on a range of information and selected engagement with the world, and show some sophistication in their understanding as we move towards early undergraduate experiences. This is still a relatively abstract and impersonal conceptualisation, and the Geographer does not play an active role in understanding or evaluating their own lens or structuralist approach in constructing their world view.

Synoptic Pragmatist: finally, the Geographer is able to recognise the construction of the discipline and narrative, and brings threads and components together fluently to construct sophisticated meaning. They are likely to have a stronger sense of ontology and epistemology, and be able to deconstruct their own lens in exploring the worldview and approach they have to understanding and their judgement about the world. It’s possible that they will also have accelerated through this phase by travel or increased personal experience of the world, but this is not necessarily the same as the theoretical and disciplinary consciousness that are developed through systematic and critical reading.


I think this type of thinking helps teachers and Geographers to reflect and develop the students and their experience. Having a sense of perspective, and where in the journey the ‘Geographers’ in front of us might be helps us to help them move through their disciplinary engagement and learning. Thinking about the concepts and topic knowledge only helps us so far; how do we support and develop their progress and development through the wider world of becoming better Geographers!

I do believe that this is a good tool to have in our consideration; but I’m not sure if these are the right five building blocks and themes. I’ve not read extensively on this conceptual development, and I’d be keen to have feedback and thinking shared about how we could collectively build on this further!

Appleyard, J. (1990).  Becoming a reader: The experience of fiction from childhood to adulthood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 


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