A Modest Proposal for Structured Sociology Teaching: Part 2

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.

This first representation was designed to suggest two things:

  1. Each category (problematise, contextualise, etc.) while discrete is also embedded in all other categories. The suggestion here is that although focus is on one category at a time elements of each can be covered in other categories. For example, the initial statement of “a problem” can be considered in all the other categories during the teaching process.schema2
  2. It suggests outward organic growth – the graphic gets larger as more ideas are added during the course of teaching.

An alternative representation is one shaped like a target:


While the categories and rationale are the same, such as discrete categories embedded in others to create the whole structure, categories represented as a target suggests “something for which to aim”. In this instance, exploring “the problem” in ways that are illuminated by the content of the surrounding categories.

The easiest way to illustrate how this might translate into the teaching process is to use a worked example that goes through each of the categories in turn – and this is what we’ll do in Part 3

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