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Archive for February, 2016

A Modest Proposal for Structured Sociology Teaching: Part 1

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

It’s a fair bet that sometime within the first few weeks of teaching you’re going to be talking, if only in very basic terms, about the distinction between structure and action and its significance in Sociology.

I’ve done this a number of ways in the past, using something like Meighan’s concept of “haunting” as a relatively simple way to get students thinking about these concepts in their immediate, educational, context – sometimes expanding it as necessary to get them thinking about the structure of their course; how, for example, the exam board has determined what will be taught, how it will be tested and validated (through a range of performance criteria such as knowledge, interpretation and evaluation) and so forth.

On a more practical level it’s also a good bet most teachers apply, at least implicitly, ideas about structure to help students fulfil these performance criteria in their examination work through the use of simple mnemonics, such as PEEL, that help students construct clear paragraph structures in line with performance criteria.

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A Modest Proposal for Structured Sociology Teaching: Part 2

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

Part 1 looked at what we might think of as the bare bones of a structured sociology teaching schema and in part 2 we can start to add some visual and verbal flesh to this skeleton.

What we’re aiming to do here is create a structure that’s simple enough for students to remember and easy for teachers to apply; on the one hand it must be flexible enough to accommodate things like different teaching styles, but on the other it can’t be so loose that it fails to function effectively as a teaching and learning structure. In other words, while the general structure must be simple it must also be robust enough to accommodate the “messy complexities” of classroom teaching.

In this post, therefore, we can start to see what such a structure might look like and I’ve chosen the Module “Differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society” as a way of illustrating how it might work – mainly because it’s reasonably clear and straightforward and therefore easy to illustrate using the schema. In a later post I’ll go through a “worked example” based around this topic and also look at examples that might not appear quite so straightforward – but for now it would be useful to just introduce the structure.

This consists of 5 related categories – although the fifth category (Evidence) might simply be seen as an extension of the fourth (Theorise):

  1. Problematise: Each teaching section always starts with a sociological problem, one that might conveniently, but not necessarily, be expressed as a question – an easy way to get students thinking. In addition, framing modules in this way sets an overall teaching theme: everything that follows is focused on the problem in some way.
  2. Contextualise: Once the problem has been stated we need to provide an interpretive context within which it can be explored. This may involve, among many other possible things, statistical evidence that can form the basis for later expschema1lanation.
  3. Conceptualise: Once we have a general context – one that probably outlines different types of empirical evidence – we can narrow the focus by identifying conceptual ideas that can be used to structure and explore the initial question in slightly more depth and detail.
  4. Theorise: In this category we introduce a range of explanations focused on “the problem”. These can be linked to conceptual categories in the sense that the concepts we’ve identified (such as, for the sake of illustration, class, gender and ethnicity) can be illustrated by related theoretical explanations.
  5. Evidence: Whether or not this is used as a discrete category, it contains the various forms of evidence that derive from the theoretical explanations used. It might, for example, include evidence for and against particular explanations drawn from different studies.

To help you get a handle on the above we can represent these ideas through a couple of visual representations of structured delivery that, while covering the same ground, potentially have slightly different visual impacts.

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A Modest Proposal for Structured Sociology Teaching: Part 3

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

The previous post identified and briefly outlined the 5 categories that make-up the Structured Teaching scheme and in this post we can look at each category in a little more detail by way of a “worked example” based around Differential Educational Achievement.

We can start with a visual example of what a mind-mapped structure might look-like, keeping in mind it’s just a simple representation of part of an overall structure for what is quite a large Module (it covers Outside School factors and Social Class).

If you’d like a more-interactive version of this graphic you can download a pdf version that includes some sample Notes to schema3accompany each of the Items I’ve included in the example.

  1. Problematise: The questions we could ask here are many and varied; this is a particularly wide issue that can, if it’s more convenient, be broken down into a number of different, specific, questions. However, for illustrative purposes we could specify something like “How is class, gender and ethnicity related to differential educational achievement?” as a very general way of framing the problem.
  2. Contextualise: The general purpose of this category is to generate links between how the problem is framed and how it can be explained and as with different possible questions there are a range of ideas that could be examined as part of the contextualising process. These include:
  • how achievement is defined: this is significant because different definitions impact on how we understand and explain achievement differences.
  • how achievement is measured: this conventionally involves looking at exam grades, such as GCSE and A-level in the UK, but this is not the only measure of achievement. Different measures, therefore, will similarly impact on our understanding and explanation of different achievement.
  • statistical evidence based on categories like class, gender and ethnicity. This may, for example, involve using a range of Key Stage data (including GCSE and A-level) to highlight achievement differences that can then be examined trough different theories / explanations.

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