A Modest Proposal for Structured Sociology Teaching: Part 1

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.

If you think about these two ideas – introducing theoretical ideas about structure and encouraging students to work with structures on a practical level – they’re a bit like the slices of bread in a sandwich; useful and necessary, certainly, but neglecting one important dimension – the filling between the slices. In this series of blog posts, therefore, I want to focus on the filling; how to structure the delivery of course content to make it easier for students to actually arrive in the exam room equipped with the understanding and skills they need demonstrate to achieve a good exam grade.

If you’ve managed to avoid choking on the slightly – okay, very – dodgy food analogy there’s a serious point to be made here; namely that while we spend a lot of time thinking about and fine-tuning the structure of A-level Sociology courses (schemes of work, lesson plans…) not so much time and effort has been devoted to developing course structures that help students get to grips with their day-to-day work. In some small way, therefore, this proposal – modest as it may turn out to be – is an attempt to address this situation and, in so doing, kick-start a debate (I’m kidding!) about how to develop a robust way of structuring Sociology teaching for the ultimate benefit of both teachers and students.

The question, in this respect, is not so much can we develop such a structure but rather how do we construct it, keeping in mind that it will need to satisfy all – and possibly more – of the following criteria:

  • concreteness: it will work for any Unit or Module (although there may be some modifications here, depending on how some aspect of the Specification is being taught).
  • consistency: it can be applied throughout the course.
  • coherency: it reflects the knowledge and skills students are expected to master.
  • convenience in the sense of being transparent to the student. While the structure is ever-present in everything they do inside and outside the classroom, it doesn’t intrude into the teaching and learning process. In other words, the adopted structure doesn’t dictate how the course is delivered – content can be taught in whatever way a teacher likes (lecturing, blended, flipped…). What matters here is the categorisation, not the content a teacher chooses nor how they decide to deliver said content.

In Part 2 we’ll move towards outlining the Proposal in more detail, both schematically (I never think an idea is complete until it’s been expressed as a graphic) and pragmatically (in terms of exploring and applying the schema to some aspect of the A-level Sociology course – probably Education in the first instance) because:

  1. I’m going to be busy editing a range of films (Jim Fallon: Natural Born Killer? is nearly complete and should be an exciting and informative look at the good Professor’s neuroscientific work on American serial killers).
  2. We’re currently filming some short psychology films – based around inferential statistics, (featuring Deb Gajic) that will help psychology teachers and students cope with the “increased mathematics” on the new Specification – and I need to get them edited before the start of the new term.
  3. I haven’t actually have now worked-out what’s going to be in Part 2.

You choose.

You decide.

You all come on back sometime, y’hear?

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