Knowledge Organisers (or Learning Tables if you prefer) have become something of a standard teaching and learning tool at both GCSE and A-level and while you may or may not find them helpful, one problem I’ve always found with them is the deceptively-simple one that they focus on knowledge.
But one of the key things at both High School and A-level is that “knowing stuff”, while necessary, is not sufficient. An important dimension to study at this level is what students are able to do with what they know, in terms of things like applying knowledge to sociological questions, the ability to use some forms of knowledge to criticise others, to draw conclusions from their applications and criticisms and so forth.
A potential weakness of knowledge organisers, therefore, is that they have a tendency to encourage students to see “knowledge” as the most important element of study at this level; as long as you “know the right stuff” everything will be okay – a mindset that can difficult for teachers to dislodge.
In thinking about how to resolve this problem I came across an idea by Paul Moss that combines the knowledge organiser with both retrieval practice and techniques of essay-writing.
Which, all things considered, is no small achievement.
And quite possibly an Act of Genius.
Although Moss originally developed and applied his hybrid Organiser to English Literature A-level I’ve adapted it to what I think fits more easily with the needs of Social Science teachers (although the example I’m going to use here is based on Sociology – because that’s the subject content I’m most familiar with – it’s equally-applicable to subjects like Psychology).
Where the original focused on a particular text (such as King Lear), my reformulation focuses on theories and theorists as the basis for getting students to organise their knowledge about a particular Module or Unit (most-likely the latter given the large amounts of knowledge content covered by Sociology (and Psychology) students).
The Hybrid Organiser
As a way of running through the mechanics of what’s involved I’ve created an example Hybrid Organiser – pretty much based on Moss’ original template. I’ve also created a blank Hybrid Organiser you can use as a template with your students. These should help you get to grips with what’s involved and, if you like what you’re seeing, help you design your very own Hybrid Organisers.
Walking through the Hybrid Organiser:
1. The first three rows are for basic housekeeping (name of module, name of unit and an example essay question. These are optional, but you may want to incorporate them into your design because they help students keep track of the knowledge they’re creating.
2. The fourth row combines the knowledge organiser element (students need to identity key theorists / theories / concepts etc in the left-hand column and provide a brief explanation of key content in the Content column) with the essay-writing element.
The three columns AO1, AO2, AO3 refer to A-level Assessment Objectives with which students should be very familiar.
3. Students should be encouraged to create the Knowledge Organiser part of the template as they proceed through their course. In this example I’ve used the Crime and Deviance Module with the (AQA) Social order and Control Unit that focuses on perspectives / theories of crime and deviance.
Once a Module / Unit has been completed students should have an Organiser containing all of the relevant knowledge they are likely to need in order to successfully answer exam questions.
4. The essay question is then used in conjunction with the Assessment Objectives.
A bonus of this process is that it’s useful for retrieval practice because it means students will need to look at the content in their organiser a number of times as they make decisions about what to include in their essay and what to exclude.
5. Students then practice writing an answer to the essay question. They will learn most from the overall process if they do this under timed exam conditions. This follows because when students first try the essay-planning exercise its odds-on they will want to include too much knowledge. Consequently, they’ll discover that when they try to answer the question as part of a timed-essay answer under exam time constraints they will run out of time, over-populate their answer with AO1 information and consequently neglect / loose marks for AO2 and AO3.
This, however, is all part of the learning process. Once they realise they don’t have to over-use knowledge they are much more likely to get up to speed with how to cover the AO2 and AO3 objectives. In addition, the more exam questions they practice the more students will come to understand how to get the balance right between each of the Assessment Objectives.
You may have noticed that the example Hybrid Organiser I put together to illustrate the general concept involved was based around crime and deviance, for no better reason than the exam question I based it around was the first I chanced upon.
You may also have noticed that I only included 3 or 4 knowledge examples of “Functionalist Theorists” to illustrate the general principle behind the concept.
As luck would have it, I came across a 2018 Crime and Deviance Knowledge Organiser from a now-defunct Blog that contains a whole load of information you could copy-and-paste to the example Organiser if you’re so inclined.