Archive for November, 2018

Rational Choice Theory | 2

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

This second (of two) posts evaluates Rational Choice Theory and, by extension, any New Right / Right Realist theories based on the notion of rational cost-benefit analyses of criminal motivation.

Digested Read

A list of all the relevant bits to save you having to read through the rest of the post…

• Rational Choice Theory (RCT) reminds us that an understanding of social action – how and why people make certain choices – is important for an understanding of criminal behaviour. It also focuses our attention on crime as a rational process.

• A cost-benefit analysis of offending fits neatly with a common sense understanding of criminal behaviour. It also underpins a range of contemporary crime theories – such as RCT, Broken Windows and Routine Activities – that can be generally characterised as Right Realist. It has, however, serious limitations related to how offenders receive and process information, particularly in time-limited situations.

• An alternative and, according to Simon (1956), more realistic way to understand the behaviour of offenders, is to see it in terms of a bounded rationality. Interview evidence, for example, suggests burglars evaluate alternative forms of behaviour within what Walters (2015) calls “the limits of their knowledge and abilities”. Offenders, in this respect, seem to make “rational enough” decisions based on a range of “rule-of-thumb” beliefs and experiences.

• If a cost-benefit model of criminal decision-making is invalid, this has important ramifications for both crime-control theories and situational crime prevention techniques and strategies. More specifically it suggests that if offenders do not rationally weigh likely benefits against potential costs any attempt to lower the former and raise the latter will have only a limited long-term effect on crime.


Sociology Revision Cards

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Back in the day, before the invention of Learning Tables / Knowledge Organisers, students had to make do with Revision Cards – lists of all the key ideas and concepts you might need to know for an exam (you’ll find a selection here if you want to take a trip back to a time before mobile phones ).

Anyway, I chanced upon a mix of PowerPoint and Pdf Revision Cards (dating from around 2014 so they may require a bit of editing to bring them into line with the latest Specifications) on Chris Deakin’s SociologyHeaven website. I’m guessing the PowerPoints were designed for whole-class revision but if you want to give your students the slides as Revision Cards just use the Export function to create pdf files.

If you find the Kristen ITC font used in the files a bit too racy for your taste, just convert the text to something like Arial.


Marxism Sim

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

The Prisoner: A Picture of Portmeirion. Apparently.

This is a slightly weird one because it seems to be an unfinished, abandoned, web site dating from 4 or 5 years ago created by Chris Deakin (who has another sociology blog you might find useful).

It has precisely two blog posts.

One of those posts – “Using simulation to illustrate basic Marxist theory” – might, however, be useful to you if (probably more-accurate to say “when”) you find yourself introducing Marxism to a sea of blank faces. It’s just a relatively simple “Marxism sim” that casts your students in the role of owners and labourers, the experience of which should help you to introduce – and them to understand – a range of basic-but-important Marxist ideas and concepts (Means of Production, Social relations to production, ownership and control and so on).

Although I’m not altogether sure this post is complete (there’s reference to creating “a chart on the board which looks something like this” that is signally absent) but there’s enough here to successfully run the sim. In addition, it strikes me that there’s also scope to expand the basic sim if you want to introduce further elements / ideas.

If you have a large enough class, for example, you could set-up a number of “factories” where different “companies” compete against each other for your custom. The effect of this competition on the production process might be interesting to illustrate, as might further ideas about companies being bankrupted, the establishment of monopoly controls when there’s only one company left in the market (and its effect on prices etc.).

Confirmation Bias | p1

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Confirmation bias involves the tendency – usually, but not necessarily, unconscious – for individuals to look for and accept information that confirms what they already know and believe.

In other words, it involves a cognitive tendency to place greater importance on “evidence” that generally supports a position we already hold.

This process has been famously simulated by Wason and Johnson-Laird’s (1972) “Four Card” puzzle, the objective of which is to solve an apparently simple “If X, Then Y” statement using just the aforementioned 4 cards.

The significance in relation to confirmation bias, as will hopefully be demonstrated if you run the sim in your classroom, is that the majority of your students will choose a solution that confirms what they already know, rather than testing that knowledge, as the puzzle requires.

The beauty of the sim is its apparent simplicity.

Students only have 4 cards from which to choose and the number of potential combinations is very small (reduced even further if they immediately realise they must initially choose a vowel).

In all probability, most students will choose A and 4, but a reasonable number should work-out the correct solution.


Psychological Studies: A Free Text

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

40 Studies that Changed Psychology is a free (presumably because it’s around 10 years old and out-of-print) text I discovered while rooting around the Web that offers-up a selection of influential psychological studies that, in the opinion of its author Roger Hock, changed the way we think about – and in some cases do – psychology.

Whether or not you agree with the author’s claim (an alternative title – “A collection of psychological studies, a lot of which you’ve heard of, some of which you haven’t” – probably doesn’t have quite the zing of the actual title), students and teachers will definitely find something here of interest in its 10 chapters that cover:

• Biology and Human Behavior (sic)
• Perception and Consciousness
• Learning and Conditioning
• Intelligence, Cognition and Memory
• Human Development
• Emotion and Motivation
• Personality
• Psychopathology
• Psychotherapy
• Social Psychology

Each chapter contains 4 readings (Social Psychology, for example, features Zimbardo (1972) “The pathology of imprisonment” / Asch (1955) “Opinions and social pressure” / Darley and Latané (1968) “Bystander intervention in emergencies” / Milgram (1963) “Behavioral study of obedience”), each of which is sub-divided into sections covering:

• theoretical propositions
• research methods
• results
• discussion
• criticisms.

This consistency of presentation is an attractive feature that makes it relatively easy for students to hone-in on the main ideas in each reading, how the research was carried-out, the results it gave and a short discussion of the main criticisms it has attracted over the years.

Although the majority of the studies will only be of interest to psychology teachers, a few – Rosenthal and Jacobson, Rosenhan, Zimbardo, Asch, Milgram – will also be useful to sociology teachers.

Psychology Learning Tables | 6

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

It’s been a while (March 2018 if anyone’s interested. Anyone?) since I posted any psychology Learning Tables / Knowledge Organisers so I thought it might be helpful to post a few more to add to your growing collection.

As you may have noticed, I’ve decided to post the Tables in a slightly different way, as small collections of related areas rather than individually, on the basis that this is an easier and less cumbersome way of downloading the Tables. I have, however, indicated below exactly what each Collection contains.

The majority of the Tables have been created by, or under the direction of, Miss K. Elles and while some take the standard Knowledge Organiser format others take a more-sophisticated approach – an indication of A / C / E grade answers in a PEEL format. (more…)

School Climate: Narrowing the Gender Gap?

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

In a UK context, the relationship between gender and educational achievement – whereby girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of the education system – is both well-known and persistent. More-interestingly, per

Canford Public School: school climate may be affected by a range of external factors, such as the public perceptions of a school and its value.

haps, this situation is not, as Legewie and DiPrete (2012) note, confined to the UK, given that “boys generally underperform relative to girls in schools throughout the industrialized world”.

As you might expect, numerous explanations for the “gender gap” in achievement have been put-forward – biological, psychological and sociological – that variously focus on:

• outside school factors, such as poverty, innate intelligence or family background.
• inside school factors, such as teacher labelling or different types of pupil subculture.

More-recently, however, there’s been a tentative shift in (sociological) focus towards a more-integrated, holistic, approach to understanding the precise mechanics of differential achievement, one that places the concept of school climate centre stage.

School Climate

One of the benefits of a standardised secondary education system is that all students, regardless of social attributes like class or gender, follow the same basic curriculum, sit the same exams and are evaluated to the same basic standards. All things being equal, therefore, we might statistically and sociologically expect a fairly random distribution of achievement across a general population.

The fact there is a distinctly non-random distribution – higher socio-economic status (SES) groups achieve more than lower SES groups, girls generally achieve more than boys in each SES grouping – suggests things are far from equal. The problem, as we’ve suggested, is how to explain these skewed achievement distributions?

The concept of school climate involves the idea that a combination of material and cultural factors, centred in and around “the school”, inhibit or foster academic achievement.

The school, in other words, is the place where a range of processes – from social class backgrounds through pupil subcultures to pupil-teacher interactions – meet and interact and the main question to resolve, in terms of differential achievement, is whether or not schools are simply conduits through which wider social and economic inequalities pass. In other words, do schools simply reflect and refine wider inequalities or are they capable of mitigating and transforming them?

The Male-Female Gender Gap…

Legewie and DiPrete’s (2012) research in Berlin, Germany, suggests that school climate may be a significant, if largely-overlooked, factor in differential achievement, at least in relation to gender (although the research does have wider implications for both class and ethic differences).

Drawing on a range of research from Willis (1977) onward, they argue that one of the crucial variables in both achievement and underachievement is the concept of “gender differentiated adolescent cultures”, developed and reinforced in peer groups, that are “important influences on how children view school, whether they take school seriously, and how hard they work as students”.

In a nutshell they argue that adolescent constructions of masculinity in contemporary industrial societies generally foster a range of anti-school attitudes and behaviours that impact on boys’ levels of achievement relative to girls. While it’s not necessarily the case that these attitudes are overtly hostile to schooling, per se, Legewie and DiPrete argue there generally exists a “peer culture that constructs resistance to schools and teachers as valued masculine traits”. To put this another way, Younger et al (2005) suggest there’s strong evidence that, in the UK at least (and very probably elsewhere), the most valued ways of “doing boy” tend to be “anti-school”, with academic work closely associated with femininity “and effortless achievement as the ideal”.

While this resistance appears in male peer groups right across the class spectrum – upper-class girls, for example, generally show greater levels of achievement than upper-class boys – its effect diminishes the higher up the class structure we look: upper and middle class boys, for example, consistently outperform lower class girls.

One reason for this, Legewie and DiPrete suggest, is that “High-status parents generally foster an orientation for their boys that is at least instrumentally focused on high performance in school. These parents also have resources to intervene in their children’s lives to counter signs of educational detachment or poor performance”.

For lower-class males whose families lack such resources the types of successful interventions common among their higher-class peers necessarily fall on the school. Or not, as the case may be. Female peer groups, on the other hand, “vary less strongly with the social environment in the extent to which school engagement is stigmatized as un-feminine”.

In other words, female peer groups right across the class structure don’t see “resistance to authority and disengagement from school as core aspects of feminine identity”. One important consequence of this non-association, therefore, is that girls don’t see “attachment to teachers and school” as unfeminine.


Gender and Subject Choice

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Another little bonus to add to yesterday’s offering from the work I’m currently doing on the concept of school climate and its possible effect on achievement.

This one comes in the form of a couple of pieces of research commissioned by the Institute of Physics that cover gendered subject choices at A-level.

Closing Doors: Exploring gender and subject choice in schools (2013) provides a raft of information on male-female representation across 3 “comparable pairs” of 6 A-level subjects:

• English and Mathematics: both core subjects at GCSE
• Biology and Physics: two science choices at A-level
• Psychology and Economics: A-level subjects not normally taught in earlier years.

Although the presentation, findings and commentaries are probably a little too dense to be given directly to students, there’s plenty here for teachers to get their teeth into and selectively use. There is, however, a neat summary of the research right at the start that students will find helpful.

It’s Different for Girls (2012) is a companion piece to Closed Doors focused much more tightly on Physics A-level. Once again, probably not something to simply hand-out to students but, again, it’s a piece of research that teachers’ might find selectively rewarding.

If, for example, you were looking for examples of a “school climate” effect in relation to gender, it’s interesting that while the socio-economic background of a school has, as you might expect, a significant effect in terms of the raw numbers of those studying physics at A-level, there is little effect on cohort proportions. That is, the proportion of girls and boys studying a-level physics is similar across all socio-economic groups – an observation that suggests factors additional to social class impact on subject choice.

DEA: Mythbusters

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

I’ve recently been looking at the idea of school climate and its possible relationship to the gender gap in educational achievement for a forthcoming blog post, a fact I mention for a couple of reasons:

firstly, because I think the notion of school climate and its possible impact on educational achievement is an interesting idea, both conceptually and practically, that’s not really been adequately, if at all, addressed in the A-level literature and, secondly, by way of trying to create the impression that I actually plan these blog posts. I’ll leave you to decide which, if any, of these is more important (but I know where I’m placing my bet).

I mention this by way of introducing a useful and informative document I chanced across called Addressing Gender and Achievement: Myths and Realities (2009) and published by what was then the Department for Children, Schools and Families (it’s anyone’s guess what it’s called now).

In a nutshell, the document sets-out to bust-some-myths about gender and educational achievement in a simple and straightforward way:

• state the myth (“Coursework favours girls and ‘sudden death’ examinations favour boys”).
• bust it with evidence (“Changes in assessment practice reducing the value of the GCSE coursework component have had little impact on gendered achievement patterns”).
• briefly explain the evidence.

As such, it’s not only a useful and informative little document, it’s also one that’s a decidedly student-friendly read (which is quite handy if you like to get your students to read stuff).